Everyone will have heard of this documentary recently, and if you haven’t then go and watch it…now. On BBC iPlayer. I’ll wait…
Now that you have seen it, this was an excellent, thought-provoking two-part documentary about gender stereotypes and how these stereotypes are formed. Before watching this programme I was very much aware about how we can influence the gender views of the rising generation. However, I assumed there was some element of nature as well as nurture behind the preferences and that these influences created the strengths and characteristics of the gender. In this article I will not attempt to provide a summary of the documentary as I would not do it justice in my humble writing. However, if you seriously have not seen it, it is well worth a watch.
What I will do is pick out some of the reflections I had watching this enlightening documentary as an intrigued teacher, a curious observer and a riveted parent.
1 The need to be more reflective
One thing that hit me straight away was the way in which teacher-extraordinaire, Graham Andre (@grahamandre), allowed a crew of BBC television cameras into his classroom and watch him as he taught. Now, I know many professional teachers who shudder at the thought of having their headteacher who wonders around the school often into their lesson for 20 minutes occasionally. The thought that Mr Andre had a national television programme recorded in his classroom l leaves me in awe as my classroom is barely presentable at the best of times. However, not only the facades of the classroom were on display for the nation to witness, but Mr Andre himself in action.
However, as always on social media, there was criticism – particularly around Mr Andre’s use of the terms ‘love’ and ‘mate’. Now, I’ll be honest, I was a little surprised by these terms being used in the classroom – just not what I do. Despite this, the harsh words used online were unwarranted. I then thought over this further…it takes an incredible practitioner to have the confidence to allow television cameras into their classroom and teach for all to see. I had to applaud Mr Andre and his brilliant class.
This got me to thinking – teachers are often monitored by others and receive feedback from them. However, one technique that has been aired is the recording of one’s self whilst teaching and then looking back over the footage to self-evaluate teaching styles. I had this done during my teacher training in my final placement on request of my University Tutor who was doing research into it. I found it very informative and useful. Possibly could be something I will look into this year. Graham Andre was extremely reflective and willing to adjust practice from the feedback given to him and this is the mark of a reflective practitioner.
2 The (unrecognised) power of parents
The power and influence of parents cannot be overestimated. As teachers, we know this. We despair when children are not given the focus of daily reading or times table practice at home and rejoice when an engaged parent arrives at your door, willing to listen to any advie to help their child progress in their learning. However, this reflection came as the concerned parent of a 5 year old son and 2 year old daughter. As I sat and watched this documentary I started to analyse the influence I have on my own children. Whilst I feel we do ok, there is a recognition that I have an immense responsibility as a father to help my children develop in a world where they feel anything is possible is they put there mind to it.
This is not simply wishful, idealistic thinking but helping them realise that they can aim for whatever they wish to do and I have to be careful not to stunt any potential growth in any area. Not easy in a world where, as shown by the documentary, retail, the media and other influences are becoming ever more skewed towards gender stereotypes for children – ironically when we are aiming for a more equality view towards gender amongst adults.
I am hoping many more parents watched this and recognised the power and influence which they have.
3 Schools do not hold ultimate responsibility…
Here my thoughts switched back to me as a teacher. My thought was ‘What can I do in my classroom?’ What shone through in the documentary was that schools cannot do this alone. I can stand before the children and promote gender-equal views and challenge any stereotypes the children may have, however there are a number of other influences besides the teacher and school. Friends play a huge part and home life have a massive stake in the opinions and views.
As such this is where schools have to be proactive and reach out to parents and communities. In the documentary, the Head of Lanesend Primary School commented on how they will intend to continue the initiative to avoid gender stereotypes. What I would be interested to find out is how they involve parents in the drive…
4 …BUT schools do hold some power
Schools have power. They can take the initiative to make a difference. As was shown in the documentary, not only does breaking down the walls of ‘gender skewing’ give children the belief that they can achieve any goal (gender is not a barrier) but also there were other benefits. Most stark were the reduction of poor behaviour in boys (by over 50%) and a higher self esteem amongst the girls. Schools must therefore be focused on doing everything in their power to assist in challenging gender stereotypes. Yes, they are not the only stakeholders that need to act on this. However, they can get the ball rolling.
It was great to hear that Mr Andre had presented the experiment to the Institute of Education – hopefully there will be something that comes along in the pipeline. However, as professionals I had this question:
What can YOU do now?
I cannot influence multiple schools and local authorities to have a focused effort to challenge gender stereotypes. Maybe you reading this can (please do so)! However, I can begin where I have influence, in the walls of my classroom. It will not be easy, the first challenge is recognising the habits or tendencies I may have that reinforce gender stereotypes but then, once recognised, I can change that. I would encourage you to do the same!