By Mary Myatt, 2015
‘Values lived, not laminated’
‘Our work changes lives.’ How many settings can say that? A bold claim and light years away from the mostly wishy washy aspirations many settings have for their school communities. When you nail your work to transformation you had better have some evidence to back up your claims.
And the strongest, most robust, most nuanced evidence? It’s what pupils and students say and in this setting they make it clear that they get a great ‘deal’ in terms of the range and quality of subjects they follow, the wider curricular opportunities and in the high expectations that all staff have of what they are capable of achieving. Their eyes shine as they talk about their work, their plans for the future and their teachers.
At heart, everyone craves respect and it appears to be this that is the building block for the rest of the work that Aspire does. Students talked about how they felt respected, listened to and as they in turn respect their teachers and other adults, a virtuous cycle is created. This is on going daily work, not a tick box and they make it clear that they are many of their peers were still working on this. Do these young people believe that Aspire changes their lives? Yes, they do.
So what makes this work possible? How are the conditions created for these young people to thrive? While systems and structures are in place, the heart of the work is a therapeutic approach to staff development and professional growth. However this is not from a deficit model, but from a place of deep understanding about human capacity, the limits of resilience and the importance of nurture. I have not come across anything quite like this before. A deliberate focus on considering ways of ‘being’ the most rounded professional with the capacity to support young people both emotionally and academically. And the capacity to ask terrific questions:
A truly remarkable setting, thank you.
By Debra Rutley CEO
“Be a blessing to somebody” Maya Angelou.
At Aspire we end each and every day with Blessings.
Most of what I do and encourage others to do is based on my reading and my reading of research. I first read about gratitude as a way to support positive mental health after suffering from a major mental breakdown. When I felt well enough to read I read the work of Martin Seligman and Positive psychology and I tried to make their suggestions habits. Research from positive psychology has shown that practicing gratitude can improve your overall sense of well-being and specifically your optimism. After practicing gratitude on a personal level and feeling the benefits, I took the idea to work.
When you work in AP its challenging every day. I took the idea of Blessings to support my staff well-being, keep me from the edge and fill the air with optimism. We already met at the end of every day to discuss the day: the issues, the students, what we learnt, what we could do differently and to support each other. Often, we had cake! Blessings at the end of the day complemented the cake and was an attempt to end the day positively, to feel good about what we had achieved and the differences and change we had seen.
At the end of every day we count our blessings, at least 3.
Children are our Blessings at Aspire. We collectively share which children are our blessings and why. This means it’s a collective celebration of others, collective optimism and collective hope. It brings us together as a community of staff to share the small steps of change that happens so gradually at Aspire you could miss it if you weren’t paying attention. It helps staff pay attention to the small but significant steps to self-improvement like smiling at a teacher or putting pen to paper for the first time. Our blessings, celebrations and thanks aren’t for special occasions they are for the ordinary and the daily lifting of us all.
This works. It works really well when the day has been tough and we wonder why we bother and it works in a strange way when we have discussed troubling behaviours from a student who is then also a member of staffs’ Blessing. Blessings at the end of the day ever so slightly shifts perspective, helps us see the big picture and alters how we think and feel before going home.
Blessings is now just what we do at Aspire. It’s a habit that’s well established. We never have a shortage of blessings!
Imagine… if you were the parent of an excluded child who previously had only ever had contact with a school when they called to complain. You get a call from your school to say your child was our Blessing today. Priceless!