In this conversation Carrie talks with me about her ongoing journey toward being “being ok for me to be.” As part of this journey Carrie strives to create spaces where there is trust and belonging for both staff and students. Carrie promotes inclusion for all and everyone but in this conversation we focus on inclusive spaces for members of the LGBTQ community through visual and language representation.
Resources from this episode
Book: Inclusify: The Power of Uniqueness and Belonging to Build Innovative Teams ( Stephanie K Johnson)
Transcript of this episode
Inclusion, language, education, visibility, inclusifier
Mags, Carrie Archer
Welcome to talking about all things inclusion, a podcast where I get to meet and learn from people in the field of inclusion in its broadest sense that inspire me. I hope they’ll inspire you to. Today I am talking with Carrie Archer, having worked as an educator in further education and training sector for 12 years. She currently works as a professional learning and development coordinator for City of Dublin Education and Training Board. In addition to lecturing on programmes in both initial teacher education and postgraduate courses, all specifically FET and mainly in inclusive practices under assessment. And FET there stands for further education and training. As a qualified special education teacher, Carrie is heavily invested in the active inclusion of learners with additional learning needs, and is passionate about the use of innovative and creative teaching and learning methodologies. Carrie is always seeking new opportunities to expand her knowledge and skill set, and has more recently become a life and leadership coach. And IS specialising in being an ADHD coach. Carrie is an advocate for increasing the visibility of her lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and non binary plus staff and students in the education system in Ireland. Most recently, Carrie won the first excellence and equality award with the Education and Training Board of Ireland ETBI. Carrie, we have been inclusion buddies for many years now. We’ve attended the same webinars and courses, sought each other out for advice, and have even had the opportunity to work together on UDL, Universal Design for Learning programmes. Your Award for Excellence and equality is so well deserved. And I’m delighted to be talking to you today about your work in the field of further education and inclusion.
Carrie Archer 01:55
Hey, thank you so much. I am exceptionally excited to be here. I’m very honoured that you’ve asked me to come on the podcast, so thank you for that Mags.
Carrie the honour is absolutely ours. Can you start off with an easy question.I always tell my guests but they don’t always believe me. So can you start off by telling us a little bit about yourself, your background, and what it was that led you to your work in inclusion in the Further and Adult Education sector?
Carrie Archer 02:24
Sure. And so a little bit about myself. And so you’ve given quite a broad overview there of all my areas, I suppose of interest, but in terms of me, and what brought me to inclusion within the that fat space is very much around my own personal experiences with my daughter, and I my own personal experiences within and I suppose the further education and training sector myself. So first of all, and my daughter is, she got diagnosed with ADHD ahm so and oppositional defiant disorder when she was only six, and as a single mom, I experienced loads of challenges, right the way throughout our whole education experience, right. So she’s had, we’ve been in every single facet of the education system with her. So from that perspective, in terms of inclusion, it’s something I was always really interested in as a parent. But then I was always kind of looking and going, why in any of the areas that she has gone into, why were there always barriers there for her, or even in spaces where people said that it was going to be really inclusive, there were barriers that were put in place, that excluded her in some ways. That was one reason that I suppose I ended up on this inclusive journey, but then the other piece is probably a little bit more personal. So I’m, at the age of about 25 I came out as being gay, lesbian, and had a child. So it was quite a really kind of an interesting experience for me as an individual and being a parent. Ahm, but at the age of 30 when I went back into studi, I went into a PLC college myself to study and where I was out in my home life and my personal life, I wasn’t when I went back into study. So I started to become really, really interested in this. Why was it okay for me to be out and be myself in certain spaces and not in others? And what I decided was that I wanted to work out what would promote the visibility of an LGBT student -at the time it was students- and got a job teaching straight from doing my beauty and holistic therapies course I started to teach. And then I went and did a Masters. And managed to flip a Masters in elearning in strands in leadership and management into looking at my thesis was, ahm, how teachers in Further Education promote the -and I had in brackets- invisibility of their LGBT students. And part of that really brought me down this huge journey of self discovery. And, and looking at what actually was okay for me to do. And who was it okay for me to be in the spaces I was in. So I was doing all of this stuff. But nobody, when I was in my teaching space, initially knew that I was not heterosexual, or knew anything that was going on in my personal life. So that just brought me into this whole space, or this journey of, of kind of self discovery and this idea around what actually creates an inclusive environment for anyone. And I suppose that’s been a massive part of why I am so invested in inclusion within that FET space.
There’s, it’s so interesting there. And it’s wonderful when somebody comes into the inclusion space, and they’ve got multiple perspectives. And you have the perspective, from special education from LGBTQ from being a student from being a parent, and from being a teacher.
Carrie Archer 06:47
and there’s a lot there. I, I’ve picked up on a lot of interesting things, but where I’d like to start off is where you were talking about who you could be in different environments. So literally spaces, identities, and and was it , did you feel there was a barrier to you being who you are in different spaces? Or was it biases? What was it that was filing who you are in different aspects of your life?
Carrie Archer 07:16
Yeah, that’s what’s really interesting is because I actually came out as being lesbian, but I’m bi, right, so I come out in that space, because that was more socially acceptable,
Carrie Archer 07:27
to be out. And it took me until I was going through this journey of, of who I was being. So through doing my workshops with other staff about how they could promote the visibility of their LGBT students, I went through a process of like, what was okay for me to be. And what I started to see was that, the more I felt that I could trust people around me, right, and so, people who just use inclusive language, spaces where I could visibly see that this was okay. So I mean, when I go into a space, and I know, it seems like just quite, you know, seeing that rainbow flag or hearing people use language, that’s it; I heard somebody else speak about their wife, and it was a woman and all of a sudden, I kind of knew, Okay, this language is okay for me to use here. And, and I had avoided even when I started teaching, I avoided mentioning, I always used my partner, I didn’t mention gender, I didn’t give names. So once I started to hear other people use that type of language around me, then I started to know that this was a space that I was okay, in. And from my personal perspective, and myself and my daughter have been through an exceptionally difficult, and we’ve a very, very difficult relationship over the course of our entire lives. And we’ve had so much to navigate. And when people didn’t judge me, based on my experiences, or they didn’t seem shocked, or that it wasn’t expected of me that you know, because you’re white cisgender middle class woman highly educated that therefore that makes you a perfect parent. Right. So when people removed that, and I felt like it was actually okay for me to discuss and share how difficult our lives have been. Those spaces were okay for me to be myself. And I suppose what I started to realise then was that actually, I could be creating those spaces for other people. So I was always looking for people to make those spaces for me. But then I started to realise that actually putting myself out there and going into that space of vulnerability and actually starting to admit this, you know, by daughter’s an early an early school leaver. Yes, I’m a teacher, we couldn’t manage for Sky to stay in school. Sky is care experienced, I could not cope as a parent. You know, we’ve been through many facets of the criminal justice system. That’s our lives. And these are things that we’ve experienced, um, for me to actually harness those pieces of those experiences. And rather than feel shame about them, actually say, you know what, these are just, these are parts of our journey that have brought us to the space that we’re in now, for me to openly say, when other people were talking about what they did at the weekend, well, this is what myself and my wife did it, using that language started to open up conversations, even with my students in the classroom. So they started to I don’t mean going into it, like in any great detail, but just using that kind of language around people and creating that space where this is just part of our conversation. This is just who I am, it’s part of us, it’s part of our journey, started to open up so many different things with the people that I’ve been around.
Yeah. And you You started off talking about the process of it been okay. For you to be you.
Carrie Archer 11:27
Like that should be put on a poster; the process of it’d been okay for me to be me. It should be literally the logo that we have. And you started talking about trust and visibility. And when you were talking about visibility, I really started thinking about representation, and seeing ourselves and seeing others in the environment we’re in. And visually, you got me thinking, so visually we often go into a classroom and you know, we’ll see everything represented lovely on the wall, you talked about seeing the rainbow flag, but we often see things but we don’t hear them. And you’ve moved into that language space of visibility and representation. So just flying the flag isn’t enough.
Carrie Archer 12:17
if, if we’re not using the language, if we’re not asking you, what did your wife and you get up to at the weeken. If we say what did you and your partner get up to,
Carrie Archer 12:26
because we’re uncomfortable. that language piece is really, really important in that visibility representation piece?
Carrie Archer 12:34
Absolutely, absolutely. And I think that, you know, it’s the words that are hard to say out loud, aren’t they? So I mean, you know, because connotations come with those things. So you get boxed off based on the label that you’ve been given. So, I mean, I look at Sky, you know, and I think about her and she, she got the label quite early of ADHD, and the attention and the deficits and the disorder and all of those pieces. And actually, as a parent, I honed in on all of those like I’m, I’m the reason that I’m in the space that I’m in is because of all of the mistakes and all of the things that I went through, it’s not because I did everything, right, it’s most certainly isn’t. And, you know, it’s, it’s about that like, thinking about the language that we use around things. So for me just being open and trying to be myself and trying to acknowledge the journey that we’ve been on, rather than keeping it all in and not saying things out loud, because you don’t want that judgement or you don’t want, again, the connotations that come along with, you hear these certain things, therefore, that person must be this or must be something else. And I think for me, that language piece is so important. When I did my research, and I was looking at what it is like language came up everywhere. Yeah. So I mean, that was one of the biggest things. It was like, I don’t know what language to use, and I’m afraid I’m gonna get it wrong. All right, that comes in every single facet of inclusion, doesn’t it? Like everywhere you look, it’s like, Oh, my God, I’m and I’m not even sure what the correct term is this week.
Carrie Archer 14:14
So it’s like, it’s not even that there’s this constant, or you’re in a different country, and that the language, or the terms that you’re using there is completely different. So it’s about that, I suppose the willingness to want to know and to learn and to try to get it right, even if you don’t, and I think is so important. And then there were other you know, there there were teachers who were saying I’m afraid to say the wrong thing, okay, incase, in case I get it wrong, and I offend somebody. And then there were other teachers who were saying, but I don’t hear this language around my staff room and I can see that there is not an acceptance or a willingness and that makes me feel uncomfortable and that I don’t feel like like I belong and Yeah, and language is just so exceptionally important to me. That’s what builds trust, isn’t it?
It really is. And when you were talking about language and you were talking about your your identities, because you have a number, we all have a number of identities, we only get labelled with one. Yeah. But we are, we often get labelled with the bad one, not the good one. When you were talking about your identities and your your journey, and your journey of mistakes, and you spoke about your journey of mistakes, you talked about taking ownership of them being vulnerable, and moving into a brave space. And I always think of Nicole Tucker-Smith, when she says that we need to lean into our discomfort. And we need to create brave and safe spaces, where in the spirit of learning that we feel comfortable to say the wrong words, so that somebody who knows the word or can explain the word can inform us.
Carrie Archer 15:59
so that is an inviting and welcoming space. How do you go about creating that, and I know you share your stories, I know your openness is the biggest part of you creating your space. What else do you do?
Carrie Archer 16:12
Yeah, I think a lot of it is around like, so. I’ve done a lot of work in trying to take that step, step back and listen to people. And I think that that’s so important. And I don’t just mean the tokenistic, like listen because I want to respond to something, but trying to hear what underlies something and actually doing the coaching, ahm it’s probably out of everything I’ve ever done, the coaching was the best piece for me. And it has absolutely opened up this space where I am more open to being aware of myself and the language I use around myself in and around others. But that space of actually stepping back myself and coming from a place of non judgement. I think that that’s exceptionally important. Because just because I’ve got these multiple pieces that are going on does not mean that I don’t have bias, it doesn’t mean that I don’t jump to judgments, including about myself, and actually challenging myself in that. And taking a step back when somebody’s speaking about something or speaking about themselves or their own experiences, and actually listening for what’s underlying that. So not just the words that they’re using, but the tone, and the feeling that comes behind that as well. And I think that what’s exceptionally important is not jumping in and trying to understand the pain. But taking that step back and allowing somebody an opportunity, and just being able to reflect back to them, as opposed to me coming in with what I think about something. And I try really hard to do and that is hard work. Like, you know, that is hard work. But I really try to do that. I would like to think that, that people can do that. And can they’ve got that sense of becoming. And around me, I think that’s really important. And that’s shaped a massive amount of my relationship with my daughter. And now, for us to have a good relationship as well, is that openness and willingness to have the conversation about the difficult stuff, you know, it’s easy not to talk about what we’ve been through. Ahm but that taking a step back and going, you know what, this is her experience. Right, so I have an experience of what we’ve been through, but she has an experience of what we’ve been through. And they’re two very different experiences, but neither of them are right, and neither of them are wrong. They’re just what we feel and how we are and where it brings us. I try to come from that not that space, of, of judgement. Judgement that because somebody’s saying something that, you know, I might find really challenging. I need to know that that person has had a lived and a learning experience that has brought them to the point that they’re that they’re feeling like this or that this is the way that they approach things. So I think that’s exceptionally important.
I really do. I think that taking a step back and pausing and as you said, not jumping in with a response is vital. Because sometimes, you know, we jump in with the response because we want the person to feel heard. But by jumping in, we can’t check our own biases and our own judgments. So our intentions don’t have the impact that we wanted them to have because we just didn’t stop. We didn’t pause. We didn’t consider everyone’s different views and perspectives. And that can actually cause more damage and create barriers rather than creating this inviting welcoming space.
Carrie Archer 19:57
Yeah, and don’t me wrong, right. I still do it. So I’m not going to, you know,
Don’t we all
Carrie Archer 20:02
Yeah, like one of the parts I suppose, of when I went through my own coaching journey was that I actually got my own diagnosis of ADHD, which I had like zero knowledge of, and I’m so shocked because I’ve lived. I’ve lived the medical deficits, textbook, ADHD through my daughter. And I was like, oh, so there’s, there’s other ways that this can happen. So I do have to work really hard not to jump in with people and, and to come, you know, blurt things out and just take that step back. But what I find is when you do that, actually, you learn way more about yourself, apart from the fact that you’ve listened to someone else, but you get that opportunity to stick with the things and feel the things that that are jarring for you and to confront those biases, then an go, right, I don’t work well, in this space. I’m finding it really challenging and difficult to be in this space. What more do I need to do? And do I need to learn ahm to be actually more inclusive, I suppose.
Absolutely. And I like we come across each other. And we’ve seen each other out events, and I’ve seen you, where you withdraw yourself from the buzz. So you won’t to leave the event, but you take a step back in your mind yourself. And when you’re ready to come back in. You’re also not afraid I call them fidgets, I don’t know if that’s the word you use. You’re not afraid to take out your fidget. And I think that’s a wonderful thing for other people to do. Even in the classroom. I like and I would do that, like, for me, it’s my pain in the classroom. And my students will know, that’s me fidgetung. Once I don’t tap it on the table and disrupt everyone else. But that’s it. And I just think it’s wonderful that you do that in a public space and you going back to owning your ideas, you’re owning that identity of being somebody with ADHD in that moment.
Carrie Archer 22:03
Yeah, and that’s been really difficult. Because when I was in the classroom, right, I never noticed it when I was in the classroom, because there was just, I was always teaching different stuff. And I always worked in student support. So every five minutes, there was a completely different challenge that was coming in front of me, when I needed that space, I always had a coffee. So for me, it’s always been like, that’s where I took my spot, like, I’d step back and have my cup of coffee if I was listening to what was going on. So I didn’t jump in, but then go into conferences, or if I’m speaking at something, and I would have just forced myself to go through the discomfort previously. And now I’m like, I actually don’t have to do that. You know, I don’t have to put myself into that space where, and I find this really, really difficult and people will find it. It’s it’s quite interesting, because I do get really anxious around those pieces. Ahm but it’s because of the representation on the visibility that I will put myself into those positions. It’s not, because I absolutely love it. I don’t, but I see that I actually have a position where I can.
Absolutely and I know representation is it’s just one small facet of the work you’re doing within further education and within your City of Dublin, ETB and I know it’s only one facet of the work where you were recognised with your excellent inequality award. Can you tell us a little bit about that work?
Carrie Archer 23:35
Oh, yeah, I can I find this really uncomfortable. Ahm so because I actually fundamentally disagree with awards, so it was really challenging space to be put forward for something. Ahm because it’s all of the people around me that have really contributed to that. So one of the pieces that I did, or that I was involved with is that, that has, I suppose was recognised as part of that award, is that City of Dublin partnered with Trinity College to create the first ever postgraduate certificates for and in diversity and inclusion specifically for FET, right. So we’re always boxed in with, take a piece when you go to post-primary Take a piece come in with it. With this and I worked with Juwan banks and Michael Shevlin and then and Costello, his head teacher and my joy prison. And we were the design team that put that cert together and we’ve had 27 City of Dublin staff graduated this year. We’ve 27 on the programme at the moment, and now we’re enrolling for next year as well. And we’re hoping that there’s going to be a Dio and a Master’s out of that as well. And so that’s one of the pieces. City of Dublin have so many UDL badgers, we call them so ahm we’ve had like 170 of our staff in the last three years have done the have completed the UDL badge. And we have a load of facilitators who help with the national roll out. So, and I believe facilitator on that, but they tease me because it’s actually the peer facilitators who do all the work, right. So there’s 12 facilitators and not as well, and they do all the work. So I suppose where that piece is, and the fact that I just keep challenging people about the the LGBT space, you know, I’m that’s not going to go away, I’m not going to stop doing that. And that is really hard work. It’s really hard work putting yourself out there. It’s the only stuff that I get emails about, it’s the only stuff that there’s any kind of why is this being put on? Why are you doing this, it’s the only thing that’s ever come back. And it’s seen as a personal thing that I’m pushing. And I don’t mean that from everybody, but it’s the only piece that you get challenged on, it’s hard to put yourself out and do that. And then more recently, we’ve just made a partnership with cricket Ireland where we have our staff working, we have a yes project, which I didn’t even know about til I became a PD coordinator. And, and it’s working specifically with migrant youth. And, and a lot of unaccompanied minors that Jessica Fornan and in our curriculum development unit leads out on that they’ve had loads and loads of young people coming in and coming into YouthReach, where cricket is their first language. And our staff are going what’s going on. So we just want to cricket Ireland have a thing called cricket connect. And they’ve developed skills like 17 of our teachers and staff in what is cricket and small side games and all of these pieces. So, you know, it’s, it’s the award, I suppose, acknowledged connection. So I will just constantly if I hear and I’m like, oh, that sounds like something really cool. Let’s just give it a go. And I’ll give it a go. And I’m just really, really lucky that I’ve got lots of people around me who are prepared to I don’t know if they’re coming along on the journey with me, but they’ll, you know, they’ll get stuck in. And it’s really a representation of that. Not not me, it’s attached to a person. But it’s it’s us I suppose,
yeah, I love that you’ve brought it all back to connection, because that’s what inclusion is all about, isn’t it?
Carrie Archer 27:23
Yeah, absolutely. You just have to you have to you have to find those connections don’t Yeah. And and that’s what really what sustains you. It’s the it’s the connections, it’s the people, it’s the making links. It’s the no two days been the same and seeing how can I grab this and do something differently with it that maybe other people haven’t thought about?
Absolutely. And sometimes if we stay in our own safe space, or our safe bubble, we miss that we the experiences and the joy and the new friendships that we make, or even learning something new.
Carrie Archer 27:58
Yeah, absolutely, absolutely. I like I’ll just home to people. So I’ll just keep going. If I see something, I’m like, Oh, what’s that about? What could we do there? And they’re the pieces. They’re the pieces that keep you going when I stepped out of my classroom. And leaving my students was really difficult for me, I cried for three weeks, right? Because it was at the beginning of COVID. And I’ve been working a lot with, with learners who were in direct provision centres, and then losing all that contact was really hard. But I did it because I always wanted to do myself out of a job. So I didn’t want to be a special ed teacher I wanted, I wanted us to have classrooms that were so inclusive that our teachers and felt really supported and well equipped to be able to cope with the majority of of needs, whatever that is within their classroom. That’s why UDL is so important to me. And, and that’s what keeps me going on the days where I’m like, here’s another 25 spreadsheets that I have created in three days, because I thought that was a good idea. And on the days that that happens, it’s like well, I’m on the other side of it. I’ve got that opportunity to shape conversations in different spaces that I didn’t have when I was within my classroom. And you get the tangible like, let’s the you can see the difference with the student who’s right in front of you. You don’t get that in something like this, but you just have to trust that it’s there.
Absolutely. And you get to reach more people.
Carrie Archer 29:26
You know, I think that’s the hardest part for teachers is you know, I’m in my classroom. These are my students. I don’t want to leave I’m making a difference. But actually, you are making a much bigger difference since you left the classroom because you’re supporting so many more people to make a difference in their classrooms.
Carrie Archer 29:47
Yeah, I hope so. That’s what I keep telling myself anyway Mags.
Yeah. Well to keep telling yourself because that is what you are doing. Carrie. We are coming to the end of what is very inspiring. conversation for me. And I know we could keep going. But I’m wondering as we do come to the end, are there any resources for further independent learning that you would like to share with us today?
Carrie Archer 30:10
Yeah, do you know, one of the, one of the best books that I’ve read and is a book called Inclusify. And, and, to me, that was a book that really, really challenged me, right. Because what it does is, it takes it, it makes you question, are you a thing called am an optimist, right. So I’m not going to stand in the way of inclusion, right, I’m not going to exclude anybody, but I’m not going to actually do it to be in an inclusivifier. And an inclusivifier is somebody who actually just gets up and goes on doors, right? And let’s just see what’s going to happen. Put yourself out into that space and see, you know, I don’t know and debate this, or it might be a particular thing in your life, like, I’m really comfortable with this, but I’m not comfortable with that. Put yourself into that uncomfortable space and go Alright, well, actually, there’s a much bigger picture here. And every time I do anything within that book, there’s this idea that there’s two universal pieces, and that’s to be unique, and to belong. And we all want this. And that, to me, that is actually really, really those two things that the bit. Are you an optimist or an inclusifier? And I asked myself that question when stuff crops up for me, I’m like, right. Carrie,. think about that. And then I’m like, Am I in a space here where I can be myself, but I still feel like I belong. And if I’m not, then I don’t want to be there. And I want to create spaces where people feel that they can be themselves. And because of them being themselves that they belong. So it’s not your traditional academic piece, but I think it’s a pretty cool, really easy read.
Well, I know, I’m going to download it when we finish here. Yeah, so I love that. Carrie, have you any final words that you would like, share with everyone?
Carrie Archer 32:07
Yeah, just be an inclusifier. Like, it’s not a comfortable space, if you’re looking for comfort going into, you know, trying to, to look at inclusion is not the place for you, so just it’s, you can think and you can say, and you can be whatever you want, it’s your actions that are really going to show it like so. Ahm do that and be that person be an inclusifier, and that that, to me, is massive, and just continue to create spaces where there is an trust, where your students and your colleagues feel like they do belong and that they can be themselves.
Creating spaces where there is trust. I think that’s, that’s amazing. I think that’s the note to end on today. Creating spaces where there is trust. On that note, I’ll say goodbye to everyone. Thank you so much for joining myself and Carrie for talking about all things inclusion, and I hope you will all join me again soon. Thank you again, Carrie for sharing so openly with us today.
Carrie Archer 33:19
Thank you so much. It’s been an absolute pleasure.