Hands up for ‘Doing Diversity Differently’!
If you are a professional, or a parent, grandparent or carer who interacts with 3-7-year-olds on a regular basis, diversity awareness is definitely something you are likely to be thinking about. Even if you don’t fit any of those profiles, but you want to increase your own levels of knowledge in a structured way, then “welcome!”. This blog post, and our resources, are equally for you too.
This blog summarises a recent face-to-face Q&A session I delivered as the member of a panel discussing how we can specifically improve positive diversity awareness within our own professional and personal settings. The live event was rather a ‘quick-fire’ session where I was required to ‘think on my feet’ and respond within quite restricted timeframes (a scenario that takes me way out of my comfort zone!).
Setting the Scene
Having now reflected upon this event and its content for a while (following my own reflective practice guide ), I realised it might be helpful to expand on the responses I made during the session and my subsequent thoughts about them, so that I could record and share them with you in this blog format.
Just before I get going on the Q&As in detail, it might be helpful to set the scene a little.
The twilight panel discussion took place in a Higher Education establishment and the members were a mix of educators, academics and music professionals. Our focus was to explore the ‘opening out’ of diversity awareness so that it becomes a more accessible and widely understood concept in general terms. The invited audience included postgraduate students, academic staff, music educators and interested individuals. The presentation was structured in a way that allowed the panellists the chance to introduce and ‘position’ themselves within the diversity landscape and then engage with the focus of the discussion, before the session was subsequently opened to questions from the audience.
I felt, well and truly, at the edge of my zone in so many ways. Imposter syndrome kicked in big time, as did its playmates, anxiety, fear, doubt and loss of confidence. I looked around me at my fellow presenters and the assembled audience, and wondered to myself, “what am I doing here?” And even more, “what am I, a late-middle-aged-white-woman-music-educationalist-with-no-specific-visual-or-social-diversity-credentials, doing here?”
When it came to the Q&A section, I could tell some of the audience were thinking along the same lines. I could read this not just in the words of the questions they posed, but also through the tone of their voices and the intonation they used, and through their body language, gestures and facial expressions too.
I recognised how uncomfortable I felt. And I eased into that discomfort. This is a familiar feeling when it comes to discussing issues around diversity and it signals to me that I’m in the right place. It means I am making an effort to do the work I need to do in order to become a better diversity practitioner myself, and that by explaining my position to others, my arguments, presence and approach might just resonate with one or two of them.
Diversity is about difference. And in my mind certainly, about respectful difference. That means there should be a place for everyone around the diversity table.
I might not get everything right all the time, but I am trying. Of course, we can and should defer to the experts in the field when we need specific help and guidance at certain times in our diversity journeys, but whilst much of the workforce in which I operate (primary music-education consultancy and examining) looks and acts a lot like me (generally minus the wrinkles), then I think there are ways in which I can contribute to making a positive difference.
As I thought about this, I felt my courage rise up out of my discomfort and I felt ready to reply to the questions openly, honestly and as far as possible, succinctly.
Although the questions were worded in a variety of ways, they generally fell into four distinct categories; the ‘when’, the ‘why’, the ‘how’ and the ‘what for’ with regard to my passionate interest in promoting diversity awareness to the 3-7-year age-group and their teachers and carers. I’ve therefore combined and rephrased the questions I received, so that in this post I present one question, plus my responses, to cover each category.
So let’s start with the first question:
Q1: When did you become interested in Diversity Awareness?
I’d like to say since forever really, but that wouldn’t be entirely true. I have charted different aspects of my journey into diversity in some other of my blog posts which you might like to explore, so here I’ll just paint some broad brushstrokes. There are three strands to this reply. The first relates to part of my doctoral research (very many years ago now). The second relates to my experiences as a freelance music educator and they are shared with many other peers and colleagues in the same field. And the third relates to the position of knowledge and skills that I found I had acquired during the lockdown. So let’s start with my doctoral research.
Having ‘parked’ a whole chunk of my doctoral research relating to diversity several years ago, I felt compelled to dig it out and dust it off in the wake of the killing of George Floyd in the US in 2020. This event upset me deeply and I felt there were so many parallels between what had just happened in the US and what happened to Stephen Lawrence in London in 1993. All those years ago. It seemed to me that nothing much had changed really. In all that time.
Although the research phase of my doctorate related primarily to educational institutions, I discovered, and then became engrossed in, the Macpherson Report which was published in 1997. This detailed the findings of the inquiry into the handling of Stephen’s death. For me, one of the ‘lightbulb’ moments of the report was that of the concept of ‘institutional, or structural, racism’. This finding really helped me to understand and identify some areas of institutional racism within educational establishments – often they were sitting within plain sight – and trace how their influences had become insipidly woven into the fabric of the institutions themselves.
I felt it was now time for me to do something with all the knowledge I’d gained all those years ago. I started to research everything I could find about diversity, and specifically, diversity awareness in society. I also attended groups and presentations about this, whilst also maintaining my working profile as a music-ed consultant. This is where the second strand comes in.
It was during a music teachers workshop one day when we had broken into small groups that we were discussing the importance of inclusivity in every musical activity that we offered to our groups. The discussion later moved on to issues surrounding diversity within the groups, and diversity awareness within the members of those groups. Soon the discussion got onto the fact that the teachers themselves were unsure how to deal with aspects of diversity within their own setting.
They were very uncertain about what would be considered politically correct and what would be considered to be disrespectful and exclusionary towards others. The discussion turned to the conundrum of whether to be brave and say something and have it misjudged by others or say nothing and live with the danger of being judged as being complicit in engaging in prejudicial behaviour. This left the teachers feeling paralysed and daunted by the whole area that is called diversity. They really didn’t know in which direction to turn in order to start grasping this challenging issue in the best way possible. So consequently they did nothing.
It was then that I realised that perhaps I could help with this area of anxiety and uncertainty. By offering little steps, or little chunks, of information about diversity, it might make the whole concept a little more manageable. And by growing our own positive diversity awareness, we may be able to model that behaviour and have others learn from our example. And this in turn, led on to the third strand of action.
The third and final strand, was that I was also at the time learning in detail and in an organised fashion all about social media, in order to become qualified as a social media manager. (This was more out of interest than out of any desire to change career!), but through all the learning that I was doing about social media, I developed a growing awareness of, and interested in, creating online courses.
It was a steep learning curve to understand and develop the technological skills needed in order to put a course together. But once I’d acquired all the nuts and bolts I needed in order to combine my knowledge with the expressed needs of the teachers that I had been in contact with, I was ready to go!
It was as if these three stars that I had been following – research, skills, and an awareness of my own and my peers’ needs – began to align. I began to see that I had the various skills needed to build a meaningful and helpful course that would help inform my fellow teachers and other individuals just like. People who wanted to learn more deeply about aspects of diversity and how to improve their own diversity awareness in relation to their own settings.
Furthermore, I could incorporate my knowledge of child psychology and child development into the same course and map, in a general way, how diversity awareness develops in children of the 3 to 7 age range.
So that, in a nutshell, is how I have ended up where I am today as the designer and creator of an accredited diversity awareness course.
I felt well and truly at the edge of my comfort zone in so many ways…
Q2: Why are you so passionate about trying to find a different way at this point in your career?
Perhaps it’s exactly because I’m at this stage of my career that I feel so passionate about this subject. I recognise there is an urgency to make a difference in this area, and I think I have a range of experiences to help inform the way that I’ve set out the course structure.
I’ve been teaching for over 30 years now, and therefore I know, to certain extent, what works and what doesn’t. I know scaffolded learning in very small chunks is an effective way to deliver information. I also know being supportive towards others, and patient in my approach is also very important.
Furthermore, I also know through my own psychological and child-development studies, some of the background, influences, and behaviours that need to be modelled in order to make a positive difference.
That’s exactly why I have included elements of child development within this diversity awareness course. It’s so that we can tie all the strands together in the most effective way. Then we will see success in ourselves and in those we teach and care for.
Another reason is that research has shown that current diversity training, and particularly, corporate diversity training hasn’t worked effectively. This is because the training tends to happen over the course of a few hours or perhaps a whole day and it is basically a tick box exercise. Current research strongly emphasises the need for active learning by course participants in order for them to receive the long-term benefits from such training.
I believe learning needs to be deeply embedded through practice, engagement, discussion, reflection, and, crucially, through taking the time to relate the theoretical learning to each individual’s practical setting. Only by doing this can such learning be truly effective.
Additionally though, as a music teacher of this age group, I do feel passionately about investing in absolutely every respect in the early years. So much research points to just how important the early years are in our development as responsible adult human beings. I understand that the investment we make into the children of this age group will be repaid in full in their adult years.
So it therefore pays to offer quality teaching and learning experiences to this age group.
In order to do this, we need to train the adults and carers who interact with these children in the best possible ways we can. We need to create safe spaces where they feel empowered to explore their own feelings, beliefs and ideas, and that is exactly what I am trying to do within this course.
We need to learn about diversity in small manageable steps. We don’t always need to think about the big picture all the time. What we do need to think about is starting to take some of the small steps to move towards this big ideal. Again, that is exactly what I’m trying to do within this course and through my outlook and approach.
As you can see, I am committed to doing diversity differently. The old ways clearly haven’t worked very well, and so I am offering my contribution towards trying a new way. I have employed innovative, inspirational and engaging new ways of learning about this subject. Ones that will guide, support and encourage others to promote diversity awareness to the children in their care.
Teachers are unsure how to deal with aspects of diversity within their own settings
Q3: So how have you gone about doing this?
The course is built upon three very strong foundation-pillars: each module contains a read section where we read, watch, and/or listen to a comprehensive explanation of one particular element pertaining to diversity awareness. Once we have a clear understanding of this element, we spend time reflecting on what we have just learnt. We take care to discover how it impacts upon our own lives and behaviours, and then we look outwards to see how it may be affecting those around us. Following that, we move onto a ‘relate’ section. We put theory into practice by relating all that we’ve learnt and reflected on directly to our own professional and personal settings. We look at ways in which we can turn the theory into practice by using small and manageable steps.
It’s also important in this type of challenging work, to be cognisant of our surroundings and interactions with others. Therefore, we create a safe and respectful space where people can learn in the way that suits them the best. They can either consume a whole module all in one go, or they might like to nibble at one lesson at a time. There’s plenty of support and feedback for our students and we arrange online ‘coffee chats’ and evening discussion groups as the course progresses.
We examine important aspects of our personal and professional lives and we apply our diversity learning to our own specific circumstances.
We also think about the children’s development with regard to aspects of diversity and diversity-awareness, and we provide a variety of resources and reading to broaden and extend our learning.
This is an approach that will guide, support and encourage others in the ways that they can relate to, whilst promoting diversity awareness to the children in their care
Q4: And what are your aims?
I want to contribute towards creating a new norm where inclusivity and equity thrive
My ultimate aim in creating and exploring diversity is, cheesy as it sounds, I want to make a fairer and more respectful world for our children. It’s not rocket science. We just need to be aware of each other, be respectful in our attitudes, and accept that the differences between us, in the majority of cases, should be celebrated, rather than defended against.
I want to contribute towards creating a new norm where inclusivity and equity thrive. Where we explore to the very edges of our own experiences and share and learn from and with others.
So I hope to contribute in these ways to the diversity landscape. I don’t pretend to be an expert in diversity, but I am an expert in being me, and I’m not unlike many other music teachers across the country who are striving to become better diversity practitioners. Slowly and simply, we can sow the seeds of change.
Together with the Musicbuds Team, we are ‘doing diversity differently’. We strive to do it comprehensively, objectively, sensitively, and non-judgmentally, and we would love to welcome you into our community if you feel you can identify with these ideals.
Thank you for taking the time to read this. If you have any questions, ideas or suggestions please do contact me.
We are creating a safe and respectful space where people can learn in the ways that suit them the best
Dr Clare Seymour
Clare has spent much of her professional career (over 30 years) in international settings. Part of her Doctoral research involved exploring the often hidden aspects of institutional racism. As a result she has a longstanding interest in, and passion for, promoting positive Diversity.
In addition to school music-teaching, Clare also has over 10 years’ experience working as an international music examiner – an understanding and respect for Diversity is so crucially important in every aspect of her practice.