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#GAConf22: A paradigm shift for anti-racist, decolonised teaching and inclusion

 "You can't start a fire, You can't start a fire without a spark" Bruce Springsteen. 

Well, it's been a fair while since I felt the motivation or the need to blog. Whilst not a story for now, over the past five years I've danced along the knife edge and, often, the call of the abyss has been both tempting and compelling. Certainly, my failing in both my personal and professional life have been numerous. But. This is not about me, but the people that have (re)ignited the spark to the fire in my soul. I realise that this is from the perspective of a privileged, white, middle class male view. I even have a beard. I am scared of getting it wrong on this topic. Teach me if I am wrong, it is from the position of a learner.

I was looking forward to the GA Conference this year, the first face to face since 2019. I have to say that Alan, as president, and the Geographical Association's team did a fantastic job at being inclusive. The hybrid format allowed people to join from around the world, or if they couldn't afford to attend. I hope that this will be a feature of events to come. It was fantastic to see a mother and baby in the sessions and there were spaces available for prayer too.

I got to host the seventh TeachMeet at the Conference. And this is what I want to write about. It was events there, and the following day's keynote, that made things click in my head. For me to gain understanding and the confidence to move forward. 

Firstly, Iram's contribution to the TeachMeet was nothing short than breathtakingly stunning. I was captivated, humbled, inspired and moved by her words. 

If you haven't watched her speak, I'd urge you to head to the recording of the livestream here. I've embedded it below, starting with Iram's talk. (thank you to Richard Allaway)

Read Iram's story here also. I'll let you explore the links yourself and to reflect. For me, I lost track of time. I was immersed in the story which was told so well. The three main points for me were:

- Iram's mantra that 'Having deep conversations with people is much better than waiting for change.' I've always believed in the power of campfire CPD - teachers talking to teachers about teaching. Teachers are also agents for change and curriculum makers. Collectively, we can make the changes needed. Indeed, many already are through the various groups. Please, check out Salaam Geography, Iram's blog.

- Iram told a story of how she can oppress children in her class. This story, and the learning, was powerfully told by Iram. The key point? Everyone is different and never make any assumptions. Talk to students, Get to know them. Their backgrounds. Their stories. Understand that what we teach will affect different people in different ways.

- It's ok not to know and the make mistakes. Ask questions. Apologise. Tweak the curriculum.
It is clear from the resulting conversations afterward that publishers have listened. The next target has to be the Geography Orders so that they move away from the worrying trend under this government of becoming inward looking and 'how great Britain is.' Geography must be outward looking, inclusive and unashamed of tackling the big issues, such as the impact that colonisation has had on the world, and continues to have.  

Part of the same event, it was also fantastic to listen to Kit, a trans person who has, and always will be, welcome to tell their stories at the GA TeachMeet. As they said: there is a change happening and it is good. 

I was also inspired by Kirstin, an RGA Scholar who I worked with in some interesting times. A single mother of three children, her story and achievements are fantastic.

Finally, my public apologies here to Alistair - I couldn't get the sound sorted in time and I am gutted that we couldn't play your story at the event. I've embedded it below.

The next day, I eagerly awaited the keynote from Dipo Faloyin. His book, Africa is not a country, is a must read, and not only for geography teachers (I am listening to it on audible during my long runs at the moment). Whilst this has been a mantra of the geography classroom for many years, his book and talk really hit home to importance of both identity and context when teaching about locations in Africa. I will leave you to explore his work, the main learnings I took away is that I needn't be ashamed nor take responsibility for the past. What I must do is include both the contexts and include the multitude of identities that the continent contains and to do so with accuracy. 

Thank you Iram and Dipo for giving me the confidence to return to the classroom, in my 18th year of teaching, with renewed confidence. Thank you for being the spark that I needed.

I am also reminded of the importance of starting with the end in mind: the whole curriculum. Not single lessons but sequences of lessons based upon what a department want our young people to know. What we want them to be able to do. The importance of the curriculum and our role, as teachers, as curriculum makers. Yes, individual resources and lessons need to be consider, but the change needed is more important and fundamental than that. 

Great geography teachers change the world. We do that by giving young people the knowledge, skills, qualities and qualifications needed and show them how they can use this to change their own context, even if that is at classroom level. Geography is far more, and far more important, that what children will leave our institutions knowing. Knowing is simply not enough. This does not mean that we give our own views. It means that we give children the knowledge and teach them how to think. Not what to think.

Decolonisation and anti racist teaching does need a culture shift from government, but that does not mean that we should wait. Indeed, a paradigm shift is already occurring and it is being driven by a group of committed and inspirational people. 

I'll leave you with this, taken from the start of Dipo's book:


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