Diversity, Student Leadership, Student voice

Why Learning to Lead Matters

Kaydee Neale-Kenwright

In ‘The Danger of a Single Story’ author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie discusses the impact of the narratives children consume. When the world around us tells a limited or negative story about us, it takes a breadth of experiences and a certain confidence to rise above the cynicism around how you should be acting and the role you should be playing in the eyes of society, your community and your peers. We must also strive to listen to the stories that are told, and amplify those that are lesser heard. Our students live across multiple intersections, with so many perspectives to be heard; their stories cannot stay with them or us. If we want to see a change in the world, we have to enable them to use their experiences, perspectives and ideas to shape the world around us. Only 32% of MPs are women; fewer are Muslim women, black and Asian women, and LGBT women. While many of our students may not make it to parliament, they should all have the sense that not only can they make decisions, but that they should make decisions where they can.

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Where does the SB Award fit with this? In short, the single-story told about the students we work with is often not the same one we watch play out. How did you last see Muslims portrayed in the media? Female MPs of colour? Economic migrants? Then imagine your identity at the centre of that narrative. That doesn’t tell the story of trilingual 12-year-olds who translate for their parents, students studying the Aleemah course alongside striving for 12 GCSEs or students working with local businesses and police to tackle youth violence and create safer streets in Stratford. So our students are already leaders, in their own lives and the lives of others. The SB Award recognises and rewards the collaboration, communication and organisation skills as well as initiative, innovation and ingenuity that is shown through engagement in school and beyond. The recognition and celebration of taking and making opportunities tells students that we recognise them for their talents, ideas and attitudes. It says that what you think and do matters, not just in the classroom, but in making a stamp on the world around us. 

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If our students see themselves as stakeholders and capable of making change now, their continued resilience and perseverance in later life is bolstered. 80% of pupil premium students drop out of university in the first year, and only 18% of Russell Group university students are BAME. Studies show it’s not the lack of aspiration; it’s the overwhelming sense of imposter syndrome. Students who are secure in their ability to navigate different modes of being in different contexts have a far greater chance of defying self-fulfilling prophecy. If we teach students to make themselves heard, listen to others and see the value in working to achieve goals and create the change they want to see in themselves, others and the world around them, they will have the skills to face the hurdles they will inevitably meet with grit and determination.  

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Our students experience and navigate living in a world shaped predominantly by cis white men. We need to show them that their stories are worth sharing, and they too should create a world that speaks to and reflects them. We celebrate the achievements, attainment and attendance of students; why not celebrate them being bold and curious, having perseverance and determination too? In the not too distant future, they will be voters, doctors, nurses, teachers, lawyers, business people and policymakers. We need them to be active citizens, not passive passengers. 

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