If I am walking with two other people, each of them will serve as my teacher. I will pick out the good points of the one and imitate them, and the bad points of the other and correct them in myself.

(Confucius)

What is a Good Role Model, and Why Are They So Important?

Good role models are authentic, they are who they appear to be.

Role models are said to possess the qualities that we would like to have and those who have affected us in a way that makes us want to be better people. A role model could be a friend, a family member, a sportsperson, a celebrity or someone who just goes about their business doing their every day job. A role model may be someone you know or know of.

Your role models may be role models for life, or your role models may change as you grow and develop over time.

Role models can influence our aspirations, our life choices, our career paths and our dreams.

A role model may teach you something about yourself.

You will likely be a role model for somebody in your life.

Children have the potential to be amazing role models!

However...

Role models are not perfect, they might not appeal to everyone and they don't always have to be 'heroes' in the recognised sense.

Why are Positive Role Models Important for Children?

Positive role models set a good example for children to follow, and influence a child's role as a citizen and the need to work and contribute to society.

Children may come from a culture of low aspiration, a positive role model may help children to develop aims or dreams in order to better their life chances.

A range of representative, positive role models within a school environment can ensure all school community members feel included, represented and valued.

Positive role models can help counterbalance the negative influences children encounter as they grow up, particularly within peer groups, media, TV, internet and celebrity culture.

Significant adults in children's lives will influence their development; as teaching professionals we aim to develop empathy, self awareness and healthy choices as opposed to negative or damaging behaviours.

Why Are Openly Gay Positive Role Models Important for Children?

Because some children, from a very early age may be aware that they are LGBT. For a child or young person growing up heterosexual there are many positive role models available. Gay people traditionally have tended to shy away from acting as role models, for fear of judgement or discrimination, despite this there are countless LGBT people world wide who act as positive role models in a variety of jobs and situations.

For any child or young person who has LGBT family, friends or may be questioning themselves, it is vital that they see their own lives reflected positively in both the school and the wider community. An openly gay person who is well respected and doing their job well may provide some of the qualities of a positive role model.

Children who see school staff being open and authentic about who they are implicitly know that they will be accepted and welcomed into the diverse community of the school.

Children should have access to a wide range of positive role models from a wide range of backgrounds; in this way schools can foster good relations between people with a diverse range of backgrounds and beliefs.

Shaun Dellenty on his Role Models

My Father as a Role Model

My first and most important role model was my late father Richard, he was someone I always looked up to and there were definite character traits and things that he said and did that made me look up to him and think 'Yes, I want to be like that'.

A very specific example of this occurred on 1975, I was attending a small village church school just outside Buckingham at the time. One day two new children arrived at the school, a brother and sister of Afro-Caribbean descent.
I can recall being very interested in the children from the outset, they were the first black children I had ever met.

I was full of smiles and questions for the new children, and decided I would try and sit near them at lunch time. For school lunch pupils were required to eat in the school hall, the entrance to which was through a dusty cloakroom which had a second entrance to the toilets, meaning that the smell of antiseptic and toilets often permeated this area. How surprised I was to find that the new children were eating their dinner in the cloak-room area and not with the rest of us.

Taking it upon myself, I located the Headteacher and asked why the new children were seemingly excluded from the hall:

'Because they are different- now go and eat your dinner' came the reply.

Later that afternoon, on arriving home and over a glass of milkshake my Father asked me how my day at school had been. I told him excitedly about the new children, about their black faces and the fact that they had eaten by the toilets as Miss has said they were different.

My Father's face went so red, for a moment I actually thought my he was going to shout at me.

'Are you sure she said that?' he asked.

'Yes' I replied, slightly nervously.

Within half an hour we were stood in the Headteacher's office, my Father was explaining in no uncertain terms that he would visit the school the following day and check that the new children were eating with the rest of us.

And then he did something I have never forgotten, he picked up a small pin from the Headteacher's desk and he pricked his finger, a small glob of blood welling out as he did so. He looked straight into the Headteacher's eyes and said:

'That is my blood, it is red in colour and it is what makes me human, what keeps me alive. If you go and prick the finger of the new kids, their parents or any other human being in the world whose face is a different colour than yours you will see the same blood. Come on son, we are going home'.

And with that we left.

I can't say I was looking forward to seeing the Headteacher the next day if I am honest, but I never forgot what I saw and heard and learnt that day and to this day I remain proud of my Dad for speaking out.


Other Role Models

As a younger boy growing up I had two main role models apart from my Dad; one real and one fictional.

My teacher, Mr Peter Biebrach, was massively important to me, he showed me that learning could be creative, that it could be fun, that it should be relevant to our lives and embrace this wonderful planet. He also showed me that the best teachers brought humour, warmth and passion to the role; he also showed me the importance of setting clear boundaries! Mr Biebrach also saw my strengths at a time when family life was difficult and I could only see weakness in myself. He enabled me to overcome my extreme shyness and lack of confidence by encouraging me to get on a stage and act for the first time; he also booked a television actor as an Inspirational Speaker to talk to us in assembly, two decisions which led directly to me becoming a professional actor for a number of years.

My fictional role model was that of 'The Doctor' in the television series Dr Who. He appealed to me because I was aware that he was, well different, he was 'not like the other boys' (sound familiar?!) He believed in solving problems through peaceful means, using a smile, a joke and a jelly baby. However bad things got he could always see the beauty in the universe, and I liked that- in fact I still do.


Being an Openly Gay Role Model at School

I have worked in many working environments, in none of them have I walked in an said 'Hi my name is Shaun and I am gay'. I have never wanted to be defined by my sexual identity, especially in the workplace. To me I would rather be known as a hopefully nice guy who works well and if I choose to tell people I am gay then so be it. If my colleagues are able to openly discuss their weekends, holidays and family lives then so should I. Openly discussing your love, your social life and the fun things you do is as much part of work as the professional side (at the appropriate times of course!) This helps relationships at work and should be for everybody.

I was always openly gay at my current school Alfred Salter Primary School, except for the first six months when I had just moved to London in 2001 and was nervous about lots of things. Truth to told, there was a part of me that felt really uncomfortable keeping quiet about being gay at work, as I still would hear people making links between gay male teachers and child abuse- I didn't feel it would help my cause by hiding the truth away. In fact it might make people suspicious if they guessed the truth.

After a rather drunken Christmas party the truth came out and the reaction of the majority of my colleagues was 'I told you so'. And then we all got back to the job in hand, developing brilliant and successful children.

Over the new few years, several staff members who had children themselves in the school asked if I minded if they mentioned that I was gay when at home. Of course I did not, it was after all no secret; in turn these children would mention at school to their friends that I was gay. My partner would always come to school concerts and sit with me, no questions asked.

In 2010 I passed my Headteacher Qualification, that particular academic year the school experienced a number of pupils, mainly boys, who were showing signs of either openly questioning their sexuality or in one case their gender identity. It was glaringly obvious to us that no single staff member, including myself felt fully equipped to support these pupils. Additionally I was concerned that by getting involved I could be seen as 'leading' these pupils.

Concerned by this situation Alfred Salter Primary School did a questionnaire with Junior pupils around equality issues and we also chanced upon the Stonewall School Report. The evidence provided by our questionnaires matched the Stonewall findings almost exactly and showed that as a school we were failing ALL pupils, not just those who may be emerging LGBT, by not tackling head on the issues of gender stereotyping and homophobia.

It was at this point that I decided that I was personally failing pupils in not providing an openly gay role model. I cast my mind back to my own difficult emergence as a gay youth, what factors could have helped smooth my difficult journey? How powerful could it have been just to know that a senior school leader, well respected and well liked (I hope!) just happened to be gay? In acting as an openly gay role role model, one provides a living, breathing, every day example against which some of the negative association and discriminatory views can be offset. Pupils and parents can make their own minds up. First and foremost one strives to be an outstanding teacher, but one who just happens to be gay; as a male Year 6 pupil put it in 2011 when interviewed:

'A gay deputy headteacher? Why not, it isn't whether he is gay, it is whether he is a good teacher, gay or straight'.

And so I did 'come out' to the Junior School, not in an all singing all dancing over the top extravaganza, but as part of an assembly where I fed back the data from the equalities questionnaires. These showed that 75% of pupils were hearing homophobic language on a daily basis. I asked the pupils how they thought a black person in the school would feel it this statistic represented racist bullying. Pupils were clear that it could be very hurtful.

I then asked them how somebody gay might feel if they knew homophobic bullying and language was being used so often in our school and again they were able to identify the potential for hurt. It was at this point that I put up a slide featuring photos of popular media figures that I knew they liked, but I knew to be gay, Will Young, Gareth Thomas and John Barrowman for example. I also included myself on the slide;

'What have these people got in common?' I asked

'They are all gay' came the reply from a Year 6 boy.

'That's right, these people are all gay including me, so how do you think I/we would feel if we heard the homophobic bullying in the playground at this school?'

'Hurt, devastated, upset, terrified, suicidal' were the pupil responses.

This assembly was then followed up by more staff training and work in classes and work with the school council. A parent session was run in addition to a governor training session.

As of July 2012 Alfred Salter Primary School has had no recorded incidents of homophobic bullying.

The most important role models in people's lives, it seems, aren't superstars or household names. They're 'everyday' people who quietly set examples for you - coaches, teachers, parents. People about whom you say to yourself, perhaps not even consciously, 'I want to be like that.'
Tim Foley

Authenticity at Work

Being open with pupils, parents and staff at school has been a great joy to me and I feel my relationships with the whole school community have deepened. Of course the support of my headteacher was really important and whilst I would encourage any gay teacher to be out at work they need to know they will be safe and supported. Moving through life as an LGBT person is not always easy and amongst LGBT people there are a variety of view points about being out at work.

From my point of view I hope I am providing an example for all pupils, staff and parents of someone who can get on and do his job well and is also happy and open being gay. Some of the children we teach WILL grow up to be LGBT, thus by serving as a role model of a good school leader who is gay one shows that success can be found regardless of sexual identity.

A side effect of my 'coming out' at work has been a noticeable rise in the number of other staff wanting to openly celebrate their heritage and backgrounds, perhaps because they see clearly now that in our school we value and celebrate the individual. Staff feel that they can be more authentic across the school community and this has led to greater confidence, creativity, motivation, performance and success at work.

The logical extension of this ethos has been the launch of a whole school topic 'Our Diverse Heritage' which starts the school year; this topic is an opportunity for every stakeholder in the school community to share and celebrate who they are, where they are from, what they do and what they believe right from the outset. This starts the school year in such a manner that binds us as a community and shows that every is valued, every one has the freedom to be authentic and that every single one of us had the potential to be a role model.

The Use of Inspirational Role Models at Alfred Salter Primary School

The original idea for Inclusion For All actually began life as part of a our 'Inspirational Role Model' strategy at Alfred Salter Primary School. Pupil performance data was showing us that children from certain socio-economic backgrounds were displaying very low aspiration and a disinterest in academic studies either in the present or the future.

As part of our strategy to raise aspiration the school brought in a new 'creative curriculum' and started a programme called 'Inspirational Speakers'. The school invited a number of speakers from a wide variety of professional and cultural backgrounds to come and talk to the children to share their journey through school and their working lives beyond. Inspirational Speakers are asked to be open and honest about the challenges they have faced and the hurdles they have overcome; we ask them to celebrate and highlight the impact of their achievements. In doing so speakers highlight key attributes and qualities that have enabled them to do well, both at school and in their lives beyond. Speakers are asked to be honest about their own schooling, it is important for the pupils to hear from adults who may have struggled or shown little interest at school alongside those who did well academically from the outset.

In this way some of our speakers become role models to our pupils; evaluations and ongoing teacher/pupil dialogue around career aspiration has shown the Inspirational Speakers Programme to be an unqualified success. Some examples of our Inspirational Speakers are:

  • Journalist
  • Actor
  • Sportspeople
  • Visually impaired sportspeople
  • Faith Leaders
  • Doctor/Nurses
  • Firemen and women
  • Lawyers
  • Politicians
  • TV presenters
  • Disability groups
  • Cultural group leaders
  • Youth workers
  • Teachers
  • Parents
  • Police
  • Bankers

To Find Out More About Role Models

Stonewall Role Models
In 2012 Stonewall produced a booklet entitled 'Role Models - Being Yourself, Sexual Orientation and the Workplace'. This booklet gives examples of successful gay and lesbian role models in the workplace.

The booklet can be downloaded here (link opens in a new window)

Diversity Role Models
Diversity Role Models are a charity that put role models in front of young people to take about acceptance and respect for diversity.

You can book role models, some of who are LGBT and find out more by visiting the DRM website (link opens in a new window)