Why are you here?
Recently we were asked to go and work with some Year 11 students in the East of the country who have been struggling with motivation in this important part of their secondary education.
After speaking to the member of SLT from the Academy we decided a couple of sessions of the LAUNCH programme – with around 40 students in each session – were what was required.
The session opens with a couple of stories of my own to highlight my Learning Mindset (or lack of it at 17) and Attitude at the time (terrible!) and then tasks the audience with some self-reflection and actions to help them approach their exams, pathways to the future and potential careers with a more positive outlook and a bit more passion for their own abilities.
During the ‘H for Habits’ section I challenged a young man at the back of the group and asked him ‘why are you here?’ and his answer perplexed me.
The conversation went something like this:
Me – ‘why are you here?’
Young Man – ‘…so the school can get more money’.
Me – ……………’huh?’
YM – ‘… so the school can get more money because of better grades.’
Me – *scratching beard thoughtfully* ‘…how do you mean?’
YM – ‘…well if we do better the school benefits don’t it?’
Me – ‘you’ve lost me, can we have a chat afterwards? (you’re not in trouble)’
YM – ‘s’pose’.
Anyway, we finished the last 20 minutes of the session, students made themselves some promises and set themselves some targets for Easter revision (not just planning it, but doing it as well!) and then started filing out of the door.
As my friend, let’s call him Joe, was putting his coat on, he hung back and we started a chat.
Me: ‘I’m surprised by what you said, can you explain it to me please?’
Joe: ‘well, all the school cares about is our grades, we’ve been tested 6 times since Christmas and its only March. They only care about how it makes the school look…’
Me: ‘OK…I see your point, you feel pressurized. What are you looking to do after School?’
Joe: ‘I’ve got a place at college lined up and the opportunity to do a course or apprenticeship in Gas Fitting’.
Me: ‘ …which you’ll need good GCSE grades for?’
Joe: ‘Er, yeah.’
Me: ‘So don’t you benefit as well as school if your grades are good? Don’t you think that school cares about you as well?’
Joe: ‘I suppose so, yes.’
A number of Joe’s friends came and stood around us and chipped in about the changes at the school in the past 3 – 4 years, new management, a new Academy Trust has taken over and they are experiencing a lot of changes.
We chatted for a bit more, shook hands and said goodbye.
This was a month ago and the conversation has stayed with me, on the surface it’s all about one person’s attitude to their own learning and how that impacts on the organisation they’re in. Dive deeper and it tells you a lot about how crucial culture is to an organisation and what happens without a big enough vision.
In no particular order these things have been echoing around my mind for a while:
– Too much change is unsettling and can create barriers.
– Peter Drucker the business guru said “Culture eats Strategy for breakfast” and in this case I think it’s true…all of the changes that have gone on in the school and it’s Trust had had an impact on the school and the culture within…maybe not the intended consequence and as a result the culture has been left to develop with little positive influence.
– Even with bigger goals (Joe’s post-exam plan for Gas Fitting) the resentment he felt towards the organisation over-rode his personal plans for achievement.
– Peer culture is crucial to ‘permitting’ success among friendship groups at Secondary School.
– Testing without explanation or context by itself can be damaging and demoralizing,
I may be extrapolating a lot from one day in a school and a handful of conversations, but these types of feelings don’t just happen and are often the result of a number of factors. Through the LAUNCH process, we are able to explore some of these personal issues in a collective way and assist students to see themselves as the focus for success AND provide them with tools to help them achieve it.
1. BIG VISION made personal is crucial if young people are to see the value of their learning in a longer-term view. Whatever the goals of the school, college or organisation, unless employees or learners see the benefits for themselves in terms of opportunities for future success they are unlikely to be motivated.
2. As a nation we don’t often like to share success – ‘celebrating success’ in an assembly or awards-night is often seen as ‘embarrassing’ or ‘showing off’ in front of our mates. Our Gran and Granddad and parents like that sort of thing, but amongst peers it’s just not that cool to celebrate our success…easier to sit back. The celebration of success needs to be an individually articulated aspiration and needs to be performed regularly.
3. A rising tide lifts all boats. Whether students see the benefits of their efforts for themselves or for the school, it is in everyone’s’ interests to achieve whatever and wherever they can. A culture of success makes achievement more of a ‘natural consequence’ than a result for the few or as a benefit just for the organisation.
I know culture is not easy to curate and it takes a long time to develop successfully but when we take our eye off the ball and neglect leadership and communication, young people like Joe decide for themselves what the culture of the school means and they’re much more likely to listen to each other if the message from above isn’t consistent.
A rising tide does lift all boats.
What do you think?