Article written by Shalina Patel, Head of Teaching at Claremont High School Academy in Middlesex & Pearson Teaching Awards Silver Winner in the Teacher of the Year category in 2018.
Flick through any textbook in your school and it will soon become abundantly clear that sadly the contributions of women are few and far between. Speak to the students and they may tell you that women are wholly unrepresented in certain subject areas. Are students able to name living female role models beyond members of their own family?
Thankfully it’s never been easier to showcase brilliant, successful and inspiring women– thanks to The Female Lead.
As someone who has strived to celebrate women as much as possible over the last decade as a secondary school History teacher, here are my thoughts on how best to utilise The Female Lead in your school setting.
Where to start? The website itself!
The first place to start is to share the website with colleagues. That in itself should spark interest as biographies and videos related to women who do a plethora of jobs are in abundance. However, you could go a step further and target specific department areas by for example sending the ’20 in Data and Technology’ lists to Science, Maths and Technology related departments or the 20 in their 20s list to your Careers lead. This is more important than ever given The Gatsby targets that all school need to comply to by 2020. The 4th benchmark states, ‘All teachers should link curriculum learning with careers. For example, STEM subject teachers should highlight the relevance of STEM subjects for a wide range of career pathways.’ The website is a fantastic resource that easily allows departments to find those links with ease. Within minutes of viewing different profiles, the links to specific school subjects is obvious; Majora Carter with Geography, Aja Duvernay with Drama and Masha Gessen and English for example. Why not even set a challenge for staff at the start of a meeting? Send them the website and give them 10 mins to find a living female role model that relates to their curriculum area.
We’ve identified living role models. What do we do now?
Ask yourself – what do your students see on the walls of the classrooms they sit in and along the corridors they walk across?
One of my suggestions is to use the profiles on the website to create an (in)visible gallery wall
-Print out 10 or so individual images of inspirational women – on A4 paper in colour and with their full name above the image – to create a wall display. The women on my gallery wall include some of my favourite women from History (such as Sylvia Pankurst, Princess Sophia Duleep Singh and Noor Inayat Khan) as well as living inspirations like Nimco Ali and Rupi Kaur.
-Ensure this wall display is intersectional with women from different classes, races, cultures, ages – trust me, what will follow is questions from your students.
-Students will often ask who specific individuals are, in which case I either explain (if there is time) or I ask the student to research the person and to then tell the class who they are in the next lesson.
-The gallery can be easily updated and students have even suggested new women to place on the display.
Another display in my class room relates to the latest campaign to #DisruptYourFeed which is a Social Media pledge to promote healthier and more positive social media use amongst teens and young people.
The display is simple – it suggests some Instagram accounts that students should follow by simply printing out a post from the account and typing the account name above it. I’ve stuck some Instagram logos and ‘like’ hearts around it to get their attention... and it works! I’ve had students look at the display and then ask permission to get their phone out so they can follow the accounts. The social media feed suggestions are split into categories like Sports, Politics and Business and cover a huge range of brilliant women from a range of backgrounds. The Female Lead Instagram account is an obvious one to encourage students to follow.
Mandela, Gandhi, King Jnr and Parks – play assembly bingo with these four on your card and you are guaranteed a win. Why not share living role models from The Female Lead? Their YouTube channel is an excellent resource to use in an assembly. What student is not going to be inspired by these amazing wheelchair dancers for example?
Have you ever considered sharing your own experiences? The response from students is quite unprecedented if you do. Just a few weeks ago I presented a 6th form assembly related to the struggles I’ve had with my identity as a British Asian woman. I ended the assembly by sharing some of my favourite living British Asian role models, including Jameela Jamil and the founders of Bella Kinesis, Roshni Assomull and Shaleena Chanrai. And it goes without saying that it does not need to be International Women’s Day or Black History Month to present students with a diverse range of female role models.
Order the book
If you haven’t done so already, order a copy of The Female Lead book.
-Photocopy a few pages for students and then give them to students to read as extension work. Ask them to share some facts with the rest of the class so everyone learns something new.
-Use the book as a springboard for homework research tasks; ask students to research further into these women, propose suggestions from the book for new bank notes and statues, or even a proposal for an addition to your (in)visible woman classroom gallery.
-Make a link with your school setting and ask students to suggest someone who should feature on The Female Lead from their local area.
-Keep it on display in your class room and allow students access to it.
-The ‘object’ answer at the end of each interview is a great ‘hook’ into that particular person and proves to be an excellent conversation starter with students.
Use the free educational resources
The free resources created to go alongside the book can be incorporated easily within PHSE, registration and form time as well as the basis for collapsed curriculum days. The activities can be used in stages, for example across a series of registration periods with tutor groups. Some of the suggestions can take very little time to prepare but can have a huge impact such as the discussion about gender stereotypes which centres around a comparison between image children’s toys for girls and boys. Again all of the resources are downloadable and can easily be adapted for your school setting.
Go Extra-curricular: Start a society
The free resources for the weekly Female Lead Society are fool proof. Upon signing up you’re provided with a PDF of materials which sets out a suggested structure for lunchtime meetings as well as timings and resources. The meetings guide the participants into reflecting on themselves as well as allowing them to practice their presentation and research skills. The result of the pilot scheme tells you everything you need to know; with 83% of girls feeling more optimistic about their careers by the end of it, surely it’s worth a try.
I wholeheartedly agree with Edwina Dunn when she says that you cannot be what you cannot see. The Female Lead has done all the hard work for you - hopefully the ideas I’ve suggested show just how easy it can be to utilise their excellent research in your own school setting. By doing so we are moving one step further to providing students with a truly intersectional school experience which empowers and inspires the young female leads of the future.