Kathryn Riley introduces the ideas about the importance of place in schools for young people from her book, Leadership of Place: Stories from Schools in the US, UK and South Africa (2013).
Irish playwright Brien Friel captures the importance of place in the human psyche. Our nostalgia for home. Our personal search for a place to belong. South Africa activist, Mamphela Ramphele writes about the lives of migrant workers. Her evocative book, ‘A Bed Called Home’, gives us a flavour of the lives of migrant worker housed in Spartan and crowded conditions in Cape Town Hostels. Their bed is their one piece of personal space.
The importance of place has come to me through my work with schools in many parts of the globe. In a world of social and global transformation, place is of growing importance. Place is a physical entity, a building, a location that is important to us. It’s an emotional response to the world around us. It’s connected to our sense of self, identity, worth.
In Leadership of Place, I write about the role of schools in helping young people find their place in the world. But it doesn’t always work. Take, for example, the story of Kustrim who came to England from Albania to avoid ethnic conflict. He found himself at odds with the school. He wore an Albanian flag and a two-headed eagle around his neck. He wouldn’t take them off and he ended up being excluded from his school. The school couldn’t find a place for him. He couldn’t find his place in the school.
At the heart of Leadership of Place are three locality studies. These explore the notion of context and meaning through the eyes and ears of young people and school leaders, in schools serving deprived communities:
• Brooklyn New York, a world of contrasting neighbourhoods;
• London’s East End which encompasses some of the richest and most deprived areas in the UK;
• The municipality of Nkonkobe, an impoverished rural area in the Eastern Cape of South Africa.
I look at leadership from a new lens: leadership of place. For many young people from disadvantaged areas, the experience of place is marked by living in divided communities. Divisions create insiders and outsiders: those who feel safe and those who don’t. These divisions can be physical, socioeconomic, imported by refugees from their countries of origin, or created by local gangs or
Over recent months, the BBC has covered numerous stories about gang culture: a possible truce between gangs in El Salvadore (4th March, 2103); how gang culture is portrayed in films (31st March, 2103); the vicious life of gang membership in Birmingham (6th April, 20213). One aspect of leadership of place is understanding what this means for young people.
A story I tell in the book is that of Carla, a New York school principal whose school serves some of the toughest parts of the city. Carla brought a gang leader who had been in a Federal prison for ten years into school. “He had currency with the kids’ she told me, ‘he talked their language. What they learned from that programme was impossible to get on paper.’ Leadership of Place is about coming to grips with some of those tough issues.