(When I say pastoral care I don't mean let your children loose in a paddock! But how pretty is that picture of paddocks above! Image from Trevor Wilson)
Yesterday morning, as I drove down the M1 at 6.30am, the sky was turning a spectacular kaleidoscope of colour - pinks and peaches, pale blue and silver edged whisps of cloud, warm oranges with hints of golden tint closer to the horizon. It really was a beautiful moment; an omen for the day to come?
I was off to Birmingham, a two and a half hour drive from Leeds, to attend the 21st Century Pastoral Care Conference, 2015, being run by Newman University and NAPCE (The National Association for Pastoral Care in Education). After admiring the sunrise, nearly being run off the road by someone who obviously doesn't take the habit of checking your blindspot very seriously, and getting lost in Birmingham after my phone went on the fritz, I arrived at Newman University. A small University, it was perfect for the intimate conference I was about to attend. After signing in, I made my way into the Welcome/first lecture, totally ignorant to the mind blowing ideas and inspiration I was about to receive, not just for the role of pastoral care in schools, but really the pastoral care we need for life!
The first lecture was by Professor Terry Wrigley who gave us a interesting talk on Pastoral Care in the age of austerity. I then attended Phil Jones' workshop on Challenges for Pastoral Care in Schools 2015. I feel I have to discuss these two talks together, as the impact of them both, on my thinking about my approach to pastoral care with the schools I work with, is mindblowing. Here are the most common themes that arose from the lecture and workshop -
1. Bringing the "human" back into the classroom - not seeing students as students/learners anymore, but as fully developing human beings who need education beyond the academic.
2. Starting and developing conversations with the children to fully understand where they have come from and where they want to go - aspirations are often rooted in the environment the children are living, what does this mean for the constant push for academic success in schools?
3. Believing in the individual - stereotypes was seen as a huge issue for schools at the conference, the fact that we base our assumptions on the abilities of children on their home lives, areas they live, the job of their parents ... stereotypes are generalisations and do not take into account the individual.
4. We have to start challenging how things are done - in living by the status quo we are just perpetuating the stereotypes that we have had for years, we have to shake up the system to give the best educational experience to our children.
(On a side note, Phil Jones said a very interesting thing about inspirational/motivational speakers, he said "having been a head teacher, and having bought in speakers to the school I worked at, there is a belief that the inspirational speaker must impact change on the academic outcomes of the child, otherwise it's a waste of time, but I believe the best speaker is one who may not improve the child academically, but inspire them to change their life, in whatever capacity that is." Heavily paraphrased there peeps ... but the idea gives you food for thought, what is your school doing to inspire a change in your children's lives, not just their academic results?)
This then leads me succinctly into the lecture of the day for me ... Dr Dawn Casserly, the head teacher at St Paul's School for Girls, gave us a talk on Pastoral Care: beyond first aid. To say I was inspired by Dr Casserly's talk is an understatement - her passion for pastoral care in her schools knows no bounds. In fact, she stated that they have a ring fenced budget for pastoral care and even with budget cuts coming, the savings will have to be made elsewhere, as pastoral care is most important to the success of the school and students. Here are some of the more pertinent points she made regarding pastoral care in schools -
1. Pastoral care is about nurturing the child's soul - when all their needs are met, success will follow.
2. A quote on a slide she used - "Human Be-ing
3. You have to inspire students to thrive, not just survive.
4. We have to move away from the de-personification of the children - the emphasis should be on their unique individuality, their own interests, and abilities.
5. Staff should be encourage to see and celebrate the positive, the successes, and not just focus on punishing the bad and commiserating the failures.
6. Pastoral care should be about a heart to heart conversation between the teachers and students.
7. There is a constant bombardment and attack on children's self esteem and self worth in the 21st century, teachers should be aware of this and have strategies to engage and eliminate this bombardment.
8. Acknowledgement that failing is not a bad thing, Dr Casserly put it like this - F irst
9. Children should be seen as works in progress, not an automaton programed to just pump out results for the school.
10. We live in a superficial celebrity culture and children are growing up believing that it is all about "me, me, me," this is where the school can counteract this positive role models and open up dialogue about what is success.
This is just a touch on what I learnt at the conference, and as I'm sure you can tell, it was a very enlightening conference, calling on people that work with children to consider the whole child and not just the student part that impacts the statistics surrounding education. The thing that got me though is that a lot of these points are pertinent to adults as well, adults at University and in the workforce ... there is a loss of the unique person underneath the student/employee, and if we could engage with this unique person more, imagine the fantastic growths in creativity, aspiration, and knowledge we could achieve.