“Kindness Unleashed: Transforming Schools into Safe and Inclusive Spaces”
In this blog, Nic Ponsford, CEO and Founder of GEC, shares her journey from a teacher who cherished the idea of school as a “safe place” to a passionate advocate for creating safe and kind learning environments. Her story reveals the challenges and pivotal moments that inspired her transformation, including witnessing the mistreatment of students and personal experiences of unkindness in the education system.
From being the student who found school a “safe place” myself to being the teacher-turned-AST, I’ve been obsessed with making schools safe – kind – places for students and staff alike – and it turns out, I’m not alone. I’ll tell you why.
As a child, all teachers were kind – that classrooms were compassionate.
I’ve learnt since, sadly, that school life is not always kind to everyone.
It ironically hit me when I qualified back at the turn of the century.
It started with seeing how my colleagues mistreated students – ‘banter’ about our most vulnerable students, ignoring their homelives and expecting them to be ‘ready to learn’ despite surviving a society that did not favour them.
I used to be that student. I didn’t find it funny.
Then, as an early career teacher, I was pushed against a wall by my mentor after she found out I had won a Teaching Award in a fit of jealousy – and even worse, I didn’t tell anyone.
Kindness was lacking again when, at another school, a headteacher refused to help me get out of my contract when my OH (not a teacher) had to change jobs over 100 miles away. I had to stay on from May to December, live three days a week over a garage – just after getting hitched. It’s not the best start to married life.
The thing is – the further I went up the ranks of senior leadership, the more I saw the underserved students – due to poverty, their adults, the specialist teaching they lacked – weren’t being served a safe education system. Classrooms lacked compassion, and privileged teachers and leaders denied them opportunities just because they were who they were.
Instead of sugar, they got salt.
Therefore, it’s no surprise that those with the hard time give us the ‘hard time’.
Then, in 2010, due to my firstborn’s needs, I needed flexible working – but my headteacher told me that I had to be at work five days a week to be SLT.
I had no choice but to leave the classroom.
Now, I felt excluded from school as a teacher.
I then channelled my frustration into an agency and looked at how we could create safe spaces for all – but mainly those lacking and needing it.
I knew that I could not do this alone. That was when the idea of collective knowledge and collective action hit me. I didn’t need to do this by myself. As I had become an examiner when I needed to learn about curriculums as a HOD, who could I contact to learn how to make schools kind, inclusive and driven by wellbeing? I had hoped that within the system, we would find the solution.
I started to (kindly!) hunt down the kindest kind people – the good ones in the education system: academics, authors, and change-makers alike. I hit up Twitter/ X and asked if people liked the idea of working together to learn how to make our classrooms inclusive.
The response was – and is – amazing.
As 2020 and COVID hit, my access to the online world of incredible people and organisations grew. I founded the Global Equality Collective – the largest inclusion and wellbeing experts collective, with over 300 individuals and organisations who have made kindness their MO.
Then came the next huge feat of kindness… My dogged belief that technology is the equaliser for our time meant I knew I needed expensive tech to make this accessible and crank up kindness.
My ‘Collective’ helped me.
At a time when the necessary grants weren’t focused on purpose over profit, and being the primary carer meant I couldn’t commit to London-based ‘female-focused’ startup accelerators (even though I won them) – the kindness of others stepped in.
First with angel investment and then with a successful crowd-fund – making our dream of driving change in schools by schools – built by school leaders for school leaders, students for students – with four universities a reality. All from my small room in Dorset – reaching out for change through kindness.
Through co-designing this, alongside those with lived experiences, all
we have now co-created and built the GEC Platform, the world’s first inclusion and wellbeing platform that empowers schools to become confident in creating safe and kind places. In return, we can work out the gaps and help close them, celebrate the most inclusive schools, and signpost the Global Equality Collective – amplifying the experts and their fantastic work…
And you know what I have learned?
There are incredibly kind people out there — who need other kind people to collaborate to make their dreams happen. Kindness is the gift that keeps giving.
And, ultimately – I will assume, like you – kind people are my kinda people.
Conclusion: “Kindness Unleashed: Transforming Schools into Safe and Inclusive Spaces”
In the end, this journey has taught me that kindness is the most powerful tool for positive change. We’ve built a collective force for good, making our shared dream a reality. And it’s a reminder that countless kind people are ready to collaborate and make a difference in a world that sometimes lacks compassion. Kindness truly is a gift that keeps on giving, and I’m proud to say that kind people are my kinda people.
Nic Ponsford (she/her)
CEO & Founder
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