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5 Great Ways to Create an Inclusive Culture in Further Education

Sid Madge is a transformation and change specialist and founder of Meee.
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Did you know that Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein at the age of 19?

Or that Blaise Pascal wrote a treatise on vibrating bodies when he was only 9 years old? His first proof was written on a wall with a piece of coal, at the age of 11 years, and his first theorem was complted by the time he was 16.

German-born musician Clara Schumann didn’t speak until she was four years old, but by the time she was seven she was already spending up to three hours a day mastering the piano. She began composing her own pieces at 10 years old, and made her concert debut at the age of 11.

Alexander the Great was successfully leading armies into battle as a teenager and became King of Ancient Greece at 20 years old.

The lists of young accomplishments are endless.

Young people make huge contributions to the world. We can see that recently at COP26 where it is the young voices that stand out. And yet too often we look at young people as unprepared or lacking the ability to go unsupervised to the corner shop to buy milk. We rob them of opportunities to take responsibility and develop capability because we want to protect them from the world, or our expectations are just too low.

It all comes down to culture. The culture at home and the culture in their places of learning and communities. What culture are we as parents and educators creating around children? Is it a culture that supports them and protects them, but also prepare them for the world, allows them to make mistakes, solve their own problems and develop their own unique capabilities?

According to Google, “Culture is an umbrella term which encompasses the social behaviour and norms found in human societies, as well as the knowledge, beliefs, arts, laws, customs, capabilities, and habits of the individuals in these groups”.

I believe there’s always a clue about the deeper meaning of a word in the word. Looking at the word ‘culture’ the first thing I noticed is that there are two ‘u’s’. The first ‘u’ represents you as an individual, your knowledge, beliefs, customs, capabilities and habits. The second ‘u’ is everyone else within your group or community be that family, school or FE college.

Let me share five great ways to create a supportive, nurturing and inclusive culture so you, those you teach, and everyone you work with can shine, individually and collectively:

1. Fostering an Asking Culture

When children are very young, they ask questions all day long. As they grow up, this begins to slow down until they reach adulthood and stop asking questions all together. One of the quirks of adulthood is that we stop asking questions to avoid looking like we don’t know the answer. We also stop asking for what we want in case we can’t get it. We need to encourage both.

Culture isn’t changed overnight. It comes when lots of other ‘u’s’ start to speak up and ask questions. What is your culture – at home or in the classroom? Does it reflect the ‘u’ you want it to be? Does it encourage others to be the ‘u’ they want to be? If we start there then we (the collective ‘u’) can build something that accepts, honours and nurtures youngsters to become all they can be. To speak up, to ask questions and to learn in an open and inclusive culture.

There is an adage which states that we get what we expect. But I’d go further – we get what we are willing to settle for. To create a better culture we need to stop accepting the one we currently inhabit and ask for something better.

Take a minute to think about the culture of your home and your classroom. What stands out about those cultures? Is there a specific something that really bothers you? If so, make a decision to stop accepting it, speak up and to start leading by example.

2. Finding Your Bilbo

I recently lost my best friend, a 12-year-old Springer Spaniel called Bilbo. It can be difficult for people who have never had a dog, to understand the devastation of losing a pet. He never growled or complained he simply lived life to the full. Every new person he came across was a friend he just hadn’t had a chance to sniffed yet. Every morning he was welcoming and loving. He was content with the simple things of life – a walk on the beach, a nice tennis ball or a snuggle. The feeling I have for him is one of absolute respect, admiration and love. He was joy itself and my life is much emptier without him. Although I am incredibly sad right now, I am also extremely grateful that he shared his life with me. I’ve vowed to Be More Bilbo from this moment onwards.

I think we should all Be More Bilbo. Maya Angelou famously said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Bilbo could make me feel better even after a really tough day. All I remember are those wonderful feelings.

Culture is the same in many respects. Take a minute to think about how the culture you work in and live in makes you feel? How, over your day, do you make others feel? Are you supportive and uplifting or demanding and grumpy? How are you contributing to a negative or positive culture in your home and place of work? Be More Bilbo.

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3. Embracing Change

Many of us might like things to stay the same, but they never do for long. Life is full of change. Besides we’d get bored if everything around us was always the same and we were always the same. Great cultures are able to adapt. The less than great die out. It’s that simple.

The better we are at adapting to change, the richer our lives will become. I’m frequently asked how I deal with change and have been called a change expert. In essence I accept what is, and I adapt to what is happening without trying to fight it. The more we resist the more things tend to persist.

As educators, parents and guardians we need to become much more comfortable with failure. It relates to the same issue as our unwillingness to ask questions. Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck describes the differences as the growth and fixed mindset. Children naturally have a growth mindset, they try, fail, try again and ask questions about everything. Adults try, fail, cover up any attempt they tried and refuse to ask anything in case they look silly. The youngsters have it right and we need to become more like them.

Take a minute to think about the last time you resisted change? How did it turn out? Do you have a fixed or a growth mindset? As change is inevitable, we may as well embrace it and enjoy the adventure.

4. Being Your Best

Be the best ‘u’ you can be. Always give your utmost in whatever you are doing. Athletes often say, “trust the process” and the outcomes will take care of themselves. To put it another way, be the person you want to be, do the work, hold yourself to a higher standard and the results will follow. We can’t always control the outcome, but we always have control over what we do and who we are. Of course, sometimes we’ll do our best and it won’t work out, but there is still a quiet satisfaction to be gained from knowing we did all that we could.

Everyone’s path to happiness, greatness or whatever your ‘ness’ is, will be different. But what remains the same is the need for perseverance, passion and principles.

Take a minute to think about the last 7 days. Can you point to at least one example where you were your best self? The more we demand that of ourselves the quicker cultures will change around us.

5. D-Day + One

I was struck recently by the power of looking at what happens next versus what we are doing now. What is left behind versus what is now on the table. The day after versus D-Day. I think this is especially important to remember for parents and educators. This is because we are so often focused on getting youngsters through the ‘now’ part of learning or the day-to-day challenges without thinking too much about ‘what comes next’ for them.

What happens after school? What happens after FE? What happens after they get the qualifications, or not? Life is a continuum, not a fixed point. Tomorrow is another day. Regardless of what happened today there is a fresh start in the morning, an opportunity to reset. We always find a way.

Instead of laying all this guilt and pressure on youngsters about what they need to do or get in terms of qualifications what if we just encourage 1 to 4 above, and today and tomorrow will look after themselves.

Take a minute to think of some of your own D-Days. What happened after? Did everything work out? Maybe not immediately but did it work out in the end? We all need to remember that from time to time.

By taking just a few minutes a day to check in with ‘u’ and monitor how we are impacting the other u’s in our environment we can all develop better, strong and more inclusive and supportive cultures – at home and in the classroom.

And always remember to Be More Bilbo!

Sid Madge is a transformation and change specialist and founder of Meee.

Meee draws on the best creativity and thinking from the worlds of branding, psychology, neuroscience, education and sociology, to help people embrace change and achieve extraordinary lives.

From pupils to CEOs, we’ve helped thousands find their magic to transform themselves, their communities and their organisations. From leaders of PLCs and SMEs to parents, teachers, students, carers, the unemployed and prison inmates we help people excel.

Sid Madge is also author of the ‘Meee in Minute’ series of books which each offer 60 ways to change your life, work-, or family-life in 60 seconds.

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