• Wellbeing for Educators and Leaders in Learning

Perspectives #7 - "Injustice, Privilege, and Faith"

"Perspectives" is a series of blog posts written by people different to James, the usual writer of this blog: a white heterosexual non-disabled male. Through this series, we will hear from people from Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic, LGBT+, and faith communities, as well as women, people with disabilities, and people from a low socio-economic background. Each individual is speaking from their own experiences alone, not speaking on behalf of a group of people. The aim is for all of us to hear voices of those who are different to us, so we can understand and build a culture in our schools and organisations where the wellbeing of all is at the centre, not just the wellbeing of those who are the same as us.

Susie McGibbon was a primary school teacher for 7 years, then an Enhanced Learning Teacher in a secondary school for children with SEND before becoming Head Teacher at Transforming Lives for Good (TLG). Now, following her heart for justice, she works for TLG's National Support team, supporting their work across the country. She lives with her husband and two young boys in an area of high deprivation in Lancashire where they lead a church.

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'Justice – oceans of it […] Fairness – rivers of it'. This is a paraphrase of the verse Amos 5:24 from the Bible, where God says He wants people to be bringing justice, not just singing songs. I believe we can go as far as to say God hates injustice and inequality, yet we find ourselves seeing so much of it deep-rooted in beliefs, language and systems. The events of recent weeks have highlighted this once again; maybe to some for the first time, yet for so many it’s the daily battle. Outrageously, this systemic injustice has become the ‘norm’ of our society.

My journey so far

From a young age, I was lining up my dolls and teddy bears (and my poor younger brother!) as I set up ‘school’ in my bedroom. I would write all their names in a register and call them out one by one. As I grew up I knew I always want to be a teacher. Much of this stemmed from having a very positive primary school experience and inspirational teachers who really invested in me; one in particular was ‘Mrs B’, the school music teacher. She was fun, vivacious, inspiring, and encouraging. She would take risks such as getting primary children to lead the whole school in songs in assembly, and would give responsibility to pupils to perform and lead the music that would accompany the Year 6 show. Mrs B grew leaders even at the age of 8, 9 and 10. The dream was to ‘be’ Mrs B, and I am so thankful for the investment and opportunity to grow that she gave me.

I did follow my childhood dream and became a teacher, but only now do I look back and see God leading me to become the kind of teacher I was: motivated by His heart for justice; backing, empowering and cheering on those marginalised by society and denied an audible voice. All through my teaching years I would see those on the fringes. I wasn’t satisfied that boys were behind in their writing at the age of 6, so I studied it as part of my Masters, and I wasn’t satisfied with a quarter of my class struggling to keep up with a system that would label them as ‘not yet meeting age-related expectations’ for the rest of their school life. I became SENDCo in order to try and support the fight for what was right for each child, but the problems are systemic: our education system empowers those who already have a head start.

Eventually, I decided to leave mainstream teaching. I wanted to celebrate the small steps of progress that were made by individuals. I wanted to advocate for those who had been let down too many times by a system that was always against them. I wanted to have time to sit with individuals: to listen, to speak truth and life, to kick down lies, and to watch flourishing happen bit by bit, one by one.

As a white female, I know I have privilege. It’s not something I earned, it’s something that has been there since the moment I was born. My ‘success’ in becoming a teacher was to do with hard work and perseverance, the backing of my family, and the opportunities I grabbed, but it was also much to do with the head start I was given in life simply from the colour of my skin. As a female teacher, maybe I didn’t have the same opportunities with career progression as a white male, due to being on maternity leave twice and choosing part-time employment for 5 years to balance home and work, but I am so grateful I was in a position to choose family life without having to work full time; I recognise not everyone has a choice. However, to leave one school and move to another meant sacrificing my part time role and therefore returning to work full time with two small children because advertised part time teaching roles are practically unheard of. This was a move I believe God led me to make, yet one that was a sacrifice for our family. Nonetheless, I recognise the ease of applying for and moving jobs for someone white, non-disabled, and heterosexual: to only be judged on suitability for the role, without having to justify my skin colour, race, disability or sexuality is something I have taken for granted for most of my life.

What should we do with our privilege?

What would it look like if those who have privilege chose to give away the power it gives us? I think it would look like true humility: beginning with thinking of ourselves less, and then moving out the way to create space for others to rise. Jesus is the best example of having more power than we will ever know what to do with, yet what He did with power was to humbly give it away:

‘And consider the example that Jesus, the Anointed One, has set before us. Let his mindset become your motivation. He existed in the form of God, yet he gave no thought to seizing equality with God as his supreme prize. Instead he emptied himself of his outward glory by reducing himself to the form of a lowly servant. He became human! He humbled himself and became vulnerable, choosing to be revealed as a man and was obedient. He was a perfect example, even in his death—a criminal’s death by crucifixion! Because of that obedience, God exalted him and multiplied his greatness! He has now been given the greatest of all names!' - Philippians 2:5-9, The Bible (TPT)

Jesus spent His years on earth sitting with the broken, binding up wounds of the marginalised, challenging the systems, speaking out against injustice, empowering the oppressed. In order for things to change, it’s got to start with an individual heart change and then spread through people into society. If we're going to see the systemic inequalities in our world change, we should become more like Jesus in our humility.

How can schools support a person of faith?

As you will have seen in this post, my faith in Jesus plays a huge part in my life, including the decisions I make, the way I see the world, and the reasons I do what I do. Some ideas of how schools can support a person of faith, in terms of wellbeing, are:

1. Don't be afraid to ask questions to understand their faith better - most of the time, they would be happy to explain.

2. Avoid assuming that you understand someone's beliefs - faith is personal and may be different from person to person even within the same faith or religion.

3. Think about how a person of faith can add value to your school - e.g. leading a prayer group, assemblies, faith celebrations, or extra-curricular groups.

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Twitter: @mcgibbon_susie

If you'd like to check out the amazing work of TLG in helping struggling young people and families, visit: www.tlg.org.uk.

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