Conversations on Empathy: Adele Bates
ThoughtBox Director Rachel Musson has been inviting school leaders to share their thoughts on the empathy deficit in schools, to explore some of the disconnections happening and to share best practice in their own schools for supporting empathy building within the school ethos.
Adele Bates describes herself as a teacher, a facilitator and an educator. In a previous life she worked as an English teacher and lead co-ordinator of Equality and Diversity and has seen from the inside out some of the disconnections that are happening within schools and educational facilities. Her work within Pupil Referral Units and SEND schools focused attention onto the limited provisions in schools for a diversity of learning, with regular disconnections apparent when it comes to embracing a sense of human compassion and empathy within teaching.
When talking with Adele, she explained that the fundamental reason she chose to leave mainstream education was due to the fact that she loved teaching teenagers but hated schools. Finding that her holistic and empathic approach to teaching was not only being questioned but also criticised, Adele realised that something significant had to shift – or else she did. And so it was that she found herself reluctantly leaving the profession.
“When you are called into the Headteacher’s office to be told 'Adele, you’re doing too much pastoral work', that’s when you realise something has gone horribly wrong with our education system. Our students are crying out for a compassionate engagement with their elders, and yet our obsession with regulated systems, data and compliance means that teachers are being actively discouraged from doing what comes naturally – engaging on a human level with their students. For those teachers that do focus on nurturing their students' emotional well-being (and there are many) they often do so by their own choice and (for the most part) in their own time which adds to their notoriously large workload. Data first, caring second seems to be the motto for the vocation these days. ”
She cites as an example the first line of the new National Curriculum English Syllabus created two years ago which reads: It is important that all students are part of the economic growth of our country. Coupled with the Schools Minister Nick Gibb stating (when asked about the purpose of education) that first and foremost Education is the engine of our Economy, you can see how we are being driven forwards with a very clear agenda, but one that does not seem to have empathy, connection or compassion anywhere near its heart.
Adele went on to say, “It is written into the manifesto of our systems that the aim is to produce workers, not to nurture individuals. Even though we can see this is not working, we are still following this archaic methodology of educating which is crazy. Yet trying to change the system from within just hurts. I used to deliver what my students called “The Miss Bates Monologue” on a fairly regular basis, in which I would tell them “You need to be the next policy makers to change this system, you are the future and we need you,” yet it almost felt cruel knowing that they themselves were trapped within the system that needs to change.”
Adele’s current work sees her as a Creative Educator, working to positively promote diversity in schools through teacher training programmes, LGBTQ awareness and programmes on equality and diversity. She uses creativity to make education work for students who believe themselves to be hopeless, disengaged and, at worst “not clever enough”, adapting the learning to support the students' journey. Her ultimate goal is to create an alternative education organisation for teenage pupils who have been excluded from mainstream schools.
Her vision for education is one in which all differences are included and welcomed, and an education which is flexible, relevant and leads towards positive social change.
Final thoughts from Adele come from a poem she wrote, shared on the homepage of her website: