What Might Happen When You Really Listen: Charmaine Roche and Viv Grant in Conversation: I’m Human And We’re All A Work In Progress: Speak Up Speak Out Episode 2

Above: Featured Image: Viv Grant Ex Head, Education Coach guest on Speak Up, Speak Out Podcast

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Above: Charmaine Roche of Lifeflowbalance who was in conversation with Viv Grant in episode 2 of Speak Up Speak Out podcast

Listening to Charmaine Roche’s podcast where, in this episode, she and fellow education coach Viv Grant talk about how helping others through introducing the coaching relationship as an organisational resource was fascinating.

Viv, like Charmaine, is an ex Primary Head, now working with Head Teachers, Senior Leaders and Professionals through her company in London, Integrity Coaching, to help them understand themselves better in the contexts they have to work in and navigate every day so they can better articulate, understand and even sometimes, reconnect, with their vocation, their early enthusiasm and reasons for entering the profession.

Coaching can help get that fire and enthusiasm back!

Charmaine talks about how a head of maths was conflicted by pressure to introduce a ‘setting‘ format for her subject that she and her colleagues knew was not in their pupil’s interests. Through coaching she was able to work with her colleagues to resist its introduction. Courage, purpose and meaning to that department’s work.

Coaches are valued in the educational space because as people who’ve been Heads, been senior leaders, they’re recognised and acknowledged as critical friends who can create a space where teaching professionals are for once, not judged, marked, evaluated.

Especially now under Covid Lockdown: 75 years after the end of the second world war ended we’re in a strange communication space where war metaphors are the norm.

 There have been so many war metaphors and descriptors of Covid 19 from and across government and governments and media: Boris ‘a war’ ‘a mugger’ ‘invisible killer’ ‘china virus’ President Trump: and the same kind of loud shouting is being used just now in the Daily Mail to barrack teachers as if they’re privates in Dad’s army 

This strange public communication space we’re in with Covid gives you a valuable publically available insight into what Charmaine describes as ‘ethical stress’  on individuals in educational settings. Teachers are currently being loudly harangued by the Daily Mail’s interpretation of Education Secretary Gavin Williamson’s words on the gradual easing of the Covid school restrictions. They feel under siege to comply yet they also feel they need to do the right thing by their pupils, colleagues, parents, family, wider community.  Ethically when they hear multi academy chain heads talking about how it’s morally right to open schools for the ‘underprivileged’ there’s also a frustrating sense that there’s something very wrong when deep in the heart of this disaster that the most privileged without a deep insight into the mechanisms of exclusion are (again) speaking for the least privileged/the most at risk as if nothing can ever change so it has to be back to business as usual.

It’s wrong to play the social class card just as it’s wrong to play the suffering of the BAME community as a reason to restart the same old exploitation motor without insight and some kind of reparation strategy that would allow people from different social and ethnic backgrounds to experience good health throughout their working life and into retirement. 

Why have so many people from BAME, lower social class backgrounds and older people died during this Corona period? Well if you normalise oppression then you normalise and segment the economic, social, psychical manifestations of oppressions as bodily norms. I can give you an example from my own experience. (That’s for a future blogpost!).

But you can see it in the history of the story of America for example. When Max Weber produced The Protestant Ethic and The Spirit Of Capitalism to explain why the White Anglo Saxon Protestant (WASP) was ascendant in America noone questioned that supporting the economic exploitation (and criminalisation) of different ethnic groups was at the heart of the white protestants status and success, noone looked as I did at the appendices of the piece of research where it showed that black Americans, Jewish people, Puerto Ricans and other diverse ethic groups relatively, paid up to five times more tax than their white protestant counterparts in post civil war America. 

During the Corona period we can see some of these ethical stressors on different groups on public display in the way the media is used to speak to some and ignore others. It’s quite simple really: we need to work towards ending health inequality. This should be the function of the media just now. In the Speak Up Speak Out podcast Charmaine and Viv made me think about how can we possibly go back to business as usual when it’s obvious that the conditions many people live in, are educated in, are working in simply reproduce inequality, real social distance and ignorance.  I think, as Sali Hughes, journalist/activist picked up on a podcast where a woman with dementia (asked by her daughter to keep a video diary) said: “Covid is a storm on the sea”.  Sali noted “The sad thing is we’re all in boats but not all boats are created equal and she referenced author Damian Barr’s comment.

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Above: Editorial Ilustrator Barbara Kelley’s beautiful image “Not In The Same Boat” Used in Peggy Noonan’s Wall Street Journal article: What comes After The Coronavirus Storm?

Damian Barr got it perfectly: ‘We are not all in the same boat. We are all in the same storm.” Some are in yachts, he said, and “some have just the one oar.” Barbara Kelley’s great image for me references Turner’s Slave Ship (Slavers Throwing Overboard The Dead and Dying):

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Above: the online catalogue of the Boston Museum Of Fine Arts

If we Speak Up, Speak Out about how we came to be here, now, I think we have to understand  how in our minds we’re reviewing  the settlement we made after the second world war. To me it references earlier injustices and accommodations where some lives were respected and supported while others were devalued and denied support.

We need to understand the complexity of the mechanisms our government used then to subdue what was routinely interpreted as dissent after the first and second world war, silencing the voices of returning soldiers, migrants, refugees: how we used psychologies (have a look at the Tavistock archive and podcasts) and the military to resettle some and make others permanently unwelcome (yet vital to the country’s welfare and wellbeing), how in the reconstruction of Britain, new infrastructure because we were terrified of the confident, aspirational world wise experience of men and women who’d built, fought, learnt, suffered as soldiers, workers, seamen and women, pilots who wanted a new meritocratic peace we couldn’t do that.

We had to wind the clock back so that a  military hierarchy controlled a new kind of class hierarchy in organisations based on a notion of ‘family’ which really meant: ‘First, are you one of us?  When you think about how returning service people, migrants, refugees, prisoners of war had fought and suffered for a different kind of society you can also see in early post war period that access to quality: education, work, training, housing, transport, products, fashion was highly segmented in terms of obedience to a pre war type of stratification: the officer and his wife had roles to play in the new Britain that would be rewarded with a good job for life, all the benefits of a good education for their children, good jobs and first dibs on all the benefits of the new consumer society, including regular trips ‘abroad’. In a way they were supporting a modern reconstruction of an aristocratic feudal society that would rely on a working class who’d be given what was supposed to be second class education, training, housing, products and fashion. In a way when we went on package tourist trips in the late 1950’s 1960’s and 1970’s we were turning a blind eye to the fascist states in those tourist economies that were still based on feudal principles without full democratic participation.

To pay for the gap between aspiration and desire the working class were introduced to hire purchase: in Nottingham we had companies like Cavendish Woodhouse that sold poor quality furniture to working class people on expensive credit, that credit was then used to develop a catalogue empire, where again we normalised a post war culture where working class people were denied the kinds of jobs where they might be able to save for decent quality, they were tempted by images in catalogues to buy inferior and more expensive versions of things their superiors were able to buy using cash. As if they were encouraged to think by the closeness of these offers and the distance between other better quality things “We might as well give up on having the best but we can look and we can have a version of it”. They were being finessed (as was the planet by this kind of tack!).

I know how furious my dad and mum were at the Alan Sillitoe portrayal of working class people. To them it felt inauthentic, patronising, mediating, a bit like war propaganda for the post war time, that he was ‘passing’ for someone he wasn’t to please the people who wanted a story of the working class but didn’t want to go to the people to see/feel/express the complexity of experience and knowledge.

The profits from catalogue empire (Great Universal Stores) was used to create a consumer credit business that was again based on excluding the people who’d funded it from its benefits. Great Universal Stores provided the information that created CCN systems and CCN systems became Experian.

Experian, with what is now a highly sophisticated ownership of british life data actually structured the confusion that we now have in understanding the people who live and work here. Experian is a modern tool of empire as it places the people who give most (just as the protestant ethic in the 19th century placed the people who paid the most tax at the bottom of the social pile) in a kind of purgatory between the spasm of life and the desire to become: a tense kind of purgatory that causes so many life and health issues for working people in Britain.

The settlement of our economy to America in denying the development of the franchise in Britain: our debt, if you like, has integrated intergenerational advantage and disadvantage as if they are a truth, a norm, a genetic absolute. The issue we look at when we are isolating ‘risk’ is the harms we’ve inflicted on difference historically and the way difference has reacted to those harms. 

We need evidence based data from all parts of our communities so we can begin to move on from a highly unequal society. Whether it’s safe to begin to re-open schools and nurseries based on data where the educational institutions functioning as workplace nurseries and key worker schools have been running at 50% capacity with a higher pupil to teacher ratio than you’d ever see normally is probably not the kind of data you need to make safe decisions for all of society. These are not the models for which we should be re-building society post Covid 19: the models need to be how and why so many of the 108 nationalities in the health, education, care, and service industries have experienced so much psychical, psychical, emotional and economic stress (known as Allostatic stress see this recent article by Glanville Williams for the RSA.

The whole issue of health/wellness and assigned privilege needs scrutiny and debate. We don’t need a health service in the 21st century that asks the taxpayer to subsidise South African venture capitalists like for example Jean Jacques De Gorter, (Chief Medical Officer of The Spire Healthcare group who has 64 other private hospital assets and appointments listed on companies house) in their private hospital ventures.

In 1972 companies like Schreiber Furniture turned over 72 million pounds and were planning for the next hundred years. Today in 2020 organisational confections like Spire Healthcare  (and children’s Nurseries listed on the stock exchange producing £4.9 billion revenue) create ethical stress on professionals because these ‘entities’ are not there to serve the developing needs of individuals, they’re there to make a profit for family networks (some of them internationally based) that look very much like the aristocratic networks in colonialism.

Because we’re not developing a distributive political system that can cope with challenge and difference in how we work, what the product of work might and can look like so we can give credit to talent and innovation wherever it is.  We have a culture now that just as after the second world war doesn’t fit the people who live here.

We need to create the political frameworks so that we see the practical benefits of attending to voting and campaigning, questions and answers in parliament for everyone. Benefits that will surprise all of us from kings and queens and aristocrats to the people who sweep the streets, mend the drains and empty the bins. Getting Sandhurst educated soldiers to put on a cloak of invisibility to take a patronising form of leadership over the lives and quality of life of working people pretending they understand  the peaceful joy of making things, pretending they understand creativities when really what they’ve done over the last seventy years is to consolidate a post modern feudal economy with sophisticated tools of capture and control isn’t what we need: tools that aren’t fit for people or to save the planet.

Charmaine ends the podcast asking:

“Personally, Viv Grant what is it about you as a person that shows up in your work? Is there something about you that you bring to this work?

Viv Grant “How to answer?”

“It makes me emotional, (Viv’s had Covid 19 and has recovered). I’ve been on a journey to get here, what people say to me is that we show up, we all have ego. That ego is what enables us to show up as a Head maybe, in the first place. In the second part of life you let that go: you don’t let that be your driving force: instead (you turn up as you) This is who I am, I really care: this feels like it is my calling, my vocation. I don’t want to be doing anything else. Charmaine both know that this work takes us to different places and for our Heads to the best place they can be… This work has taken me to places I thought I’d sorted when I was twenty five…it’s still there…there are threads that Heads can see in me that they connect to: I’m human and we’re all a work in progress…

The world is so different  now…I contracted Covid in March..came through: what are the parallels? In terms of Speak Up  we’re all called to Speak up, Speak out about our truths.

How are we going to show up? We’re all called to be different now. How are we going to make that last? Having got better for me the figure (of Covid positive and death) is phenomenal. I can’t hold that in my head, it’s too big.

We’re asked to Speak Up, Speak Out and can’t suppress the questions within us as a result of the changes of course.

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