Alison is an LGBT+ inclusion lead and former Head of Year at Plume Academy, a large mixed school in Essex. She has been working on LGBT+ inclusion for the last three years and it’s now her sole focus.
We’ve been doing this for a while at Plume. I’m so lucky to have a supportive Principal - for him, there’s no ceiling to LGBT+ inclusion. He just wants me to keep the momentum going.
In my previous role as a Head of Year, I saw how some young people struggled with their sexual orientation or gender identity. It was this which made me keen to act to improve LGBT+ inclusion at Plume, which I’ve been doing now for three years - and believe me, they all know me for it now! I’ve even earned the nickname Lady Rainbow.
Like everyone else, this year we’ve been adapting to the changes brought about by coronavirus. We’ve been setting all our work on a remote learning platform (Microsoft Teams) and as the teacher of a very interactive subject (Drama) I can tell you that this was a big learning curve. But I was determined that School Diversity Week would still go ahead. I could even see opportunities for bringing our students together - we’re split across two sites a mile apart.
We had big plans for the week, so I had to decide where to begin.
The upsides to remote learning
One of the highlights of my week was being able to reach the whole school community with the kick-off assembly - to the biggest audience my assemblies have ever had!
I probably ended up with more minutes of outtakes than final footage, but eventually I got it filmed. We showed it to the entire school population on June 19 at 09:00.
The students watched along whilst writing their thoughts in a comment area - the Year 7s were so excited to hear about the week’s activities and photo challenges. They had loads of questions about which I was able to answer straight away, and encouragingly I also saw comments from students who I know would never put their hand up in assembly.
It worries me that remote learning can sometimes encourage young people to be passive learners. The History activity about changing attitudes to LGBT+ people through time was a fantastic, interactive, tutor time activity. Young people were surprised to see the research on how attitudes have changed, and I supplemented the activity with polls so students could take part in the quiz online, and tutors could get instant feedback. Everything is recorded so I can go back and see the student responses, refer back to them and use them to help decide future initiatives. Seeing their answers to this activity helped them to understand that it is possible for attitudes to change quickly, and see the huge benefits of allyship.
I love that Just Like Us has such high-quality resources out there for free. The blackout poetry lesson is outstanding. I showed it to our Faculty Leader for English, and she actually added to my original idea of just doing the lesson - we ended up running it as a whole-school competition. All the students had a drop-down English lesson where they all took part simultaneously, which again built on our sense of community.
Share, share, and share alike
There’s no point making a fantastic resource and not giving it a life beyond the first time you use it.
It’s so important for teachers to share. And we have the ability to share much more widely then just with our colleagues in school. One of the main places I share the work I do is on the Just Like Us Facebook Group: Educators who want to champion LGBT+ in UK schools.
Not only do I want to share, but I need feedback when putting together resources. During the past few months I just haven’t had that in school, but I’ve been able to reach out to the group, which really does have a staff room feel. You can get feedback really quickly. You can post your stuff and make a cheeky request for people to look at it, but you can also watch what other people are posting - and pinch their ideas!
Not only that, but it’s great for networking. I’ve been able to make some “real life” connections! When you’re working in LGBT+ inclusion in a school, you’re usually the only one - there’s no one else who’s responsible for it in the same way. I’ve messaged people outside of the group, and I’ve even got a visit to another school lined up, when we’re both up and running again. It’s also just nice to have like minded people on the group who have the same interests as you and can acknowledge what you’re doing.
Next year? Bring it on
School Diversity Week has really kept the momentum going, and got everyone excited for the next academic year. We’re continuing with our Pride Group, and getting ready to run it remotely. We’ll be:
Running Plume Pride Festival
Selling Rainbow Ribbons to raise funds for Just Like Us
Whole Academy competitions
Organising Just Like Us ambassador visits
Lady Rainbow and the rest of the Plume Community are ready to go!