Representation & Exposure

By Adrian Mclean

You will have heard the phrase ‘You can’t be what you can’t see‘. Those of us who are from any of the protected characteristic groups and those from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds, will be particularly familiar with it. Quite simply, it means that it’s difficult to aspire to something, for which you have little or no example of.

As a man of colour who is a father and an education professional, it is particularly important to me, not just to seek out representation but to be it. I create opportunities, build networks and operate outside of my comfort zone so that I can be what the younger me couldn’t see.

This has been particularly true of the past year – it’s been wild! I’ve been invited to attend academic events, sat on Trust Boards and national steering groups, governing bodies and judging panels and met with influential people within the teaching profession. I even went to Oriel College. I’ve had to pinch myself and ask ‘Ah you dat?‘ (You have to say it with a Jamaican accent!)

Exposure to different people, experiences and customs is important to the building of our character. When we’re exposed to different experiences, this crazy thing happens in our brain… it changes our thought patterns.

Just take Strictly Come Dancing. Last Sunday I beamed when the series finalists were announced. AJ, John and Rose all represent truly diverse characteristics (as did others on the show). It’s been a huge talking point and through these conversations barriers are being broken down, perceptions are being challenged and most importantly, the presence of such groups has been usualised.

I was proud to be able to give my eldest daughter exposure to something new recently. She accompanied me to my graduation at the University of Birmingham. I have a beautiful picture of us together (which is rare as she prefers selfies with daft filters) but as I don’t share her image online, you’ll have to put up with a picture of just me instead!

Graduating with MA Character Education

My graduation was a big deal for me and I wanted my teenage daughter to experience what it was like. Walking across campus, seeing the different caps and gowns and chatting with the University Director of Education and a Professor were all part of the fun. At the ceremony she saw Masters of Science, Education, Arts and those being awarded PHDs in the Great Hall. The majority of the class of graduates were women and a number of them were women of colour. These were great examples for her.

My wife and younger children were watching online due to illness but I did share the day with my parents. They were somewhat out of their comfort zone and I think they still have disbelief at some of the stuff I’m involved with these days. I am the first in my family to walk this path.

A graduation gift to remind me who I am.

My studies are over for now, but my wife is currently working towards her own MA after recently publishing her first book. Studying and reading are standard in our family home. This is all our children have ever seen. So, if they can be what they see, our ambition for them is to enjoy and thrive in learning.

In her TED talk Luvvie Ajayi Jones said ‘Be the first domino. Fall first so that the others are forced to fall.‘ That is my aim. To go first, open doors and hold them open for people who look like me. This purpose drives me in my work.

My elders used to say to me ‘show me who you hang around with, I will show you your future.’ So, I ask you to consider, who and what are you exposed to? Is this aligned to what you want from your future? I urge you to be that first domino. 

Let me know our thoughts here.

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