noun. knowledge or perception of a situation or fact; concern about and well-informed interest in a particular situation or development.
Awareness is the state of being conscious of something. More specifically, it is the ability to directly know and perceive, to feel, or to be cognizant of events.
Awareness is a big part of the work I now do as a Leadership Development Consultant, Coach and Trainer specialising in DEI and MHWB. As an accredited RLE and C-Me coach awareness is central to the coaching conversations I have with clients and the training I design and deliver.
In Resilient Leaders Elements (RLE) the framework breaks the element of awareness down into 3 facets: self, others and environment. This triangulation is important to consider as some people may be hyper self-aware, others may be deeply empathetic to others, whilst other people may be really affected by the environment (ie workplace culture rather than climate) they are in.
Awareness is about doing the inner work to do the outer work, it is about reflective and understanding ourselves in order to understand others and how we all show up in the world. Awareness for me has also been about identifying what brings me joy and what triggers me: so I can self-manage my emotions and my resilience; so I can activate my beliefs and my values; so I can choose who I align myself with.
Raising awareness is something I have found myself naturally leaning into over the years: raising awareness of #WomenEd and gender inequalities in education; raising awareness of mental health and wellbeing issues affecting our staff and students; raising awareness of the diversity, equity and inclusion needs of our school system and our workforce; raising awareness of the #IamRemarkable campaign from Google and the opportunities that LeanIn extend to women around the world.
I can remember being interviewed by Dr Kay Fuller, Nottingham University, for the research she and Dr Jill Berry were collaborating on about the impact of #WomenEd on those involved. Kay asked me about my activism, she referred to me as being a social activist. This was not a label I had identified with up until this point in my journey, and I have reflected on it ever since.
We raise awareness about the things we care about, the things we are passionate about, the things that impact us and our school communities. Each time I tweet, write a blog or article or speak at an event I am conscious that I am raising awareness of the things that I am involved in, the areas that interest me and the ideas/ beliefs that drive me.
Awareness is about putting our heads above the parapet, disseminating our ideas, cascading our learning, building our legacy and leveraging our networks.
So what I am currently banging on my drum about? What is at the top of my list of things I want to continue to raise awareness about this academic year and this term?
I want to continue to prioritise raising awareness about the important of the role of a DEI Leader in schools.
In the wake of George Floyd’s murder last year many people from my network started disclosing that they were feeling compromised – they had been approached to lead DEI in their context, but they knew it was because of their protected characteristic. They felt the burden of responsibility but also they were acutely aware of the vulnerability of this position. Moreover, most of them had been asked to take on this role for free (ie for love and for passion). They were not being offered additional time, additional training nor additional money.
We created a DM group that soon filled up on Twitter so we now have 2 groups of people leaning into leading DEI work in their schools. The vast majority of these individuals were assigned female at birth and identify as being women. An important factor to consider as I bang my drum about asking people to do this work (ie burden and additional load) for free.
In response, Angie Browne and I developed the DEI Leaders Programme to support them on their journey to combat the fear, to address the isolation and to create a safe space to explore the vulnerability of this important work.
In addition, I created a space each half-term for DEI leaders who were not formally working with us to come together informally to form a DEI Leaders Network as an opportunity to connect, to collaborate and to peer support.
I also began to collate DEI leaders job descriptions, person specifications and adverts so that the individuals could negotiate the framing of this role in their school/ trust. It has been heartening to see a flurry of tweets in the last few months of people from our network and from our programme being formally appointed and properly remunerated for this role in our schools.
Would we ask a SENCO or a DSL to strategically lead their whole school responsibility with out framing their role, giving them additional time, adequately resourcing their area (budget for books/ training) and elevating their sphere of influence to at the very least associate senior leadership?
For all of the schools leaning into DEI work I encourage you to review your infrastructure. The DSL and SENCO do not carry the burden of all of the safeguarding and all of the SEN work on their shoulders, they have a team of people they can distribute the load across, but moreover the collective responsibility of the whole staff team is expected. In my opinion, DEI needs to be framed in the same way.
We would not ask an adult who had been vulnerable to lead safeguarding based on their lived experience nor an adult with an additional need to lead SENCO without the framing, the training, the support and the accountability around them, once they had been identified as the most appropriate person to lead this work and fulfil the responsibilities of the role. So we should not be approaching the staff of colour, the staff who are LGBTQIA+ to do this work, simply because of their identity, and moreover we should not be asking them to do it without a formal process to identify they are the person who is best-positioned to lead this work, and thereby adequately remunerating them.
I thereby pledge to continue to bang my drum, to continue to raise awareness of the need for all schools to name someone to be the strategic lead for DEI, to appoint them and to adequately remunerate and support them so that the role does not perpetuate the glass ceilings, the concrete ceilings and the glass cliffs that already exist in the school system.