1 November 2018 • Gideon Wille
Putting inclusivity into tangible practice
The Inclusivity Training Tool Kit by Professor Aminata Cairo continues to take shape. The tool kit provides lecturers with practical assistance in implementing inclusivity in their classrooms. On 25 September, the Hague University of Applied Sciences organised a Brain Awareness Week symposium that centred on the theme of ‘participation’ and featured a workshop given by Aminata. During that workshop, she offered participants the chance to familiarise themselves with aspects of the Tool Kit.
Whereas most workshops held during the afternoon portion of a symposium are rather static — one finds oneself fighting the post-lunch food coma while perched on a hard chair in a stuffy room — Aminata’s session kept us wide awake. We were assigned tasks such as walking around the room like we had a bum leg. And at the end of the workshop, we sang and danced all together (with proper caution, of course).
I recognised these exercises from when I used to do amateur theatre. The next task that Aminata assigned, however, was entirely new. She asked each of us to share a pleasant memory with the person beside us. We were supposed to do so by describing the memory briefly using imagery, like a series of snapshots. The images burst forth from my mind: salty air and blazing sun, the wind in my hair, the waves thumping against the hull, the low growl of an outboard motor, splashing (my memory was about a dolphin-spotting excursion in the Atlantic Ocean). The proverbial ice between myself and neighbour Nassr, on whom I had never laid eyes before, was broken really quickly.
After the workshop, I asked Aminata about the purpose behind these exercises. She explained that the Inclusivity Tool Kit helps lecturers develop the skills they need to do things like creating a safe space in the classroom, for example: a space in which everyone can be themselves. But to get to that point, they must first develop a relationship with the class. Aminata continues, “You have to trust people, be open and willing to accept criticism, even if it stings a bit. Each of us has layers of defences we’ve built up to avoid being vulnerable. By casting off those layers first, and ‘getting out of your own head’, you’ll find yourself able to truly connect with other people.”
Making contact with another person, as we did in the snapshot exercise, is important because it is the first step in getting to know each other’s story. Aminata continues, “Lecturers often feel that they’re there to deliver a lesson, and either you pick it up or you don’t. They fail to take the student’s own story into account. And yet: the student’s story plays a role, as does your personal story as a lecturer. We act as though we’re completely impartial — All I care about is my lesson plan — but there are reasons why you respond to a given student the way you do.”
The quiet student
So what exactly does Aminata mean when she says “the student’s own story”? I ask her to give an example. “We’re trained to think of a ‘good student’ as one who asks questions and is verbally assertive. In other words, when you have a quiet student, you think: they’re not participating like they should, they’re not motivated enough. But maybe that particular individual is just shy. The standard image, the ideas we pick up about what makes a good student — those concepts are very limited. When you think: there’s that quiet kid again, it affects how you treat that student, how you approach them, how attentive you are to them.”
Interested in learning more about the Inclusivity Tool Kit? You will have various opportunities to do so, such as during THNK FST on 1 November, when you will be welcome in the Inclusivity Cafe from 10:00; you can also attend the workshop on 6 November, from 13:00 in Ovaal 3.37 (see the THUAS calender).
Refugee children play with a boy of native Dutch heritage. Schoolchildren have no trouble embracing inclusivity: now it’s the adults’ turn.