We live in a world of unprecedented change and uncertainty, a world on the move, a world of rage and 'untruth’. These global realities give an immediacy to our concerns about what our schools are offering – and not offering – to young people.
Over recent years, my research has explored the importance of place and belonging: what this means to each of us, and what it means to schools, particularly those serving diverse communities facing major socio-economic challenges, or high levels of need.
An underpinning element of my approach has been to try and find new ways of ’telling’ the story and reclaiming the notion of schools as places of hope and possibility: dynamic and wonderful places to be, places of belonging where young people are encouraged to think and question and challenge – and to be and become their best possible selves.
Leadership of place: stories from schools
in the US, UK and South Africa
In Leadership of Place I explored the lives and experiences of young people growing up in disadvantaged communities in the US, UK and South Africa.
I asked the hundred or so young people who contributed to that research inquiry to respond through drawings to two key questions:
‘What’s it like living round here?’ and ‘What’s it like being in this school?’
Those illustrations showed many stark and competing realities: areas which were safe and welcoming and others which were ‘no go’ areas. I’ve used this approach in my work in other parts of the globe, including Jamaica and Chile. Young people’s responses revealed the challenges and realities of everyday life, as well as their hopes and dreams – and the importance of schools in their lives.
Leadership of Place also identified a cohort of ‘place leaders’ who sought to understand young peoples’ lives and experiences and connect to the wider archipelago of surrounding communities. The potential of school leaders to make a difference was inspiring. It sprang from a sense of hope, a sense of possibilities - a belief on their part that things could and should be different – and a recognition of the importance of place and belonging.
The book draws on research place and belonging undertaken by some 70 plus student and teacher-researchers (NQTs) and school leaders) from thirteen London schools who joined the UCL Institute of Education in a research and development partnership which drew on the traditions of collaborative inquiry to ask:
Is our’ school a place where everyone feels they belong? And if not, what are we going to do about it?
(UCL, IoE Research team: Professor Kathryn Riley, Dr Max Coates, Dr Dina Mehmedbegovic & Rhoda Furniss.)
This research approach unleashes the energy and creativity of staff and students alike.
It provides young people with the opportunity to voice their experiences and develop their skills and sense of agency.
It gives teachers powerful insights into young people’s lives and encourages them become outstanding professionals.