A culture of inclusion - the 'beating heart' of every school

The Big 8 on the Big Leadership Adventure

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2020 was a year that shook up the education system. The increased motivations across the sector to ramp up their commitments to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion has led us to recognise the value in sharing our own practices more widely. The intention of this blog is to share the work we’re doing with leaders to foster a culture of inclusion on the Big Leadership Adventure, our two year programme that explicitly supports passionate change makers in the mindsets, behaviours and confidence required to think and do things differently in education. We hope this insight will provoke discussions and spur action in your own contexts.

‘Everyone wants to change the world, but no one wants to change themselves’ (Tolstoy, L)

This quote sits at the core of what we, at Big Education, believe about leadership. 

Too often, in education, we see ourselves and others as ‘experts’, meaning that leaders don’t always act in situations with the best intentions. This can create a defensive culture, where contributions do not feel welcomed or valued. 

We believe that a huge part of being a leader is the ability to reflect on yourself and show a sustained commitment to achieving self-actualisation, as well as living and breathing the mantra that all people should be seen, heard and valued as a foundation. If fostered well and by everybody, this creates a culture of inclusivity, openness and people feeling they can ‘bring their true self to work’.  We call this ‘leadership of the heart’ and believe this should, quite literally, be the beating heart of any school. 

Creating a culture where everybody values this, not just yourself, can be seemingly challenging. People may argue that some leaders ‘aren’t that type of person’ or that this type of leadership ‘isn’t going to change students’ lives’. 

We do not believe this to be true and spend three intensive days on the Big Leadership Adventure programme focussing on this. We fundamentally believe that with the absence of an inclusive and open culture, where everyone feels valued and listened to, the education system will not change. 

How do we do this?

On the Big Leadership Adventure – the ‘The Big 8’ is key.

These are a set of tools that contribute towards creating an inclusive environment, whereby;

  • Every person’s voice and opinions are heard – not just those of your senior leadership team sitting around a table, making decisions to solve problems they are disconnected from. 
  • Every person is genuinely listened to, without judgement and feedback is given with ‘unconditional positive regard’ – the intention of helping.  (Rogers, C.,2011 )
  • There is a common belief in the potential of every human to grow and develop.
  • Relationships are key, building trust and empowering the client is always the intention.

This may sound like a very challenging thing to achieve – every single person?!

This codified practice enables us to name our actions and create a common language for everyone. The tools are focused around the importance of being ‘person centred’ and leaders on the Big Leadership Adventure are explicitly trained in each of them;

  • Entry – the process of forming relationships with one another, both personally and ‘professionally’ to build the trust needed to do meaningful work.  
  • Contracting – the process of forming mutual agreements that aren’t one sided.
  • Catalytic style – a process of truly listening to somebody, without guiding their thinking or giving advice – purely speeding up their thinking. 
  • Acceptance style – the process of truly listening to someone and supporting them to get in touch with an emotion, without bringing your own emotions into the situation.
  • Feedback – providing this without judgement (there is a huge difference!)
  • Prescriptive – process of giving advice, which we have a tendency to do as default.

For many, this seems like ‘common sense’ from the outset, but we think the reality can  often be very different. These tools create a common language that can be used by every single person – the kitchen staff, SLT, TAs… everybody! 

The three days can feel like an emotional journey for some and it is not unusual to see tears. In creating a high trust, high challenge environment, some of our leaders may reveal issues they have been grappling with for some time, and others may feel resistant to start with.

When going through the training, one of the key surprises for people, is the extent to which they realise how often they give advice rather than truly listening to someone and empowering them to find the answer themselves. Are we truly supporting someone by projecting our ‘advice’ onto them, with no real consideration of the valuable contributions they could find themselves? 

Or, how often they fail to create mutual agreements within a team with a diverse group of contributors. 

Or, how they have a tendency to dive straight into a team meeting without intentionally providing the opportunity for everyone to connect on a personal level before diving into meaningful work. 

All of these things matter. All of these things enable us to develop ‘heart’ centered leadership within our institutions. All of these things create an open and inclusive environment that builds psychological safety – this  is paramount in enabling all staff to feel safe to take risks without fear of failure and creatively problem solve in response to new challenges.

Once our Big Leadership Adventure leaders have been through the training once, they are given the opportunity to become a Big 8 trainer in the second year of the programme – we call this ‘Train the Trainer’. This aligns with our belief in exponential growth. We recognise this work does not stop at developing brilliant individuals and are actively working with participants to be able to deliver this training in their own schools and  build a lasting culture around the Big 8. 

The past year has highlighted why this work can’t wait. The wellbeing of our valued educators and students must not wait. Building a culture of inclusion, openness and authenticity should be at the heart of any school. 

The BLA takes leaders on a journey, connecting on a deep and personal level to themselves, their teams and the world in which they operate. The Big 8 builds capacity through empowering others, creating an inclusive and developmental culture and ensuring that leaders leave a legacy of change, inspiration and a better future for education. This brings us one step closer to providing an education of the Head (academics), Heart (character & wellbeing) and Hand (creativity  problem solving) for all students.



  • Leo Tolstoy (n.d.) Three Methods Of Reform
  • Carl R Rogers (2011) On Becoming A Person

In collaboration with @DiverseEd2020, this blog series, is a way to showcase a range of voices, giving space to share examples of practice, personal reflections, and calls to action #DiverseEd

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