Summer days are making way for autumn colours and schools are back with a bang. As seasons change, the children grow and with the view out of the window getting older, we waved our Year 6’s off to their Year 7 schools, hoping that the transitionary period will work out well.
For me, I still can’t get over the fact that those young people I work with who just a few years ago were leaving Year 6 are now gearing up for GCSE’s having lost a lot of formative learning and friendship building time due to some bug that we try to forget. Now of course there’s a concrete saga weighing us down.
Through all the disruption, schools, youth workers, other professionals, and families continue to provide some form of stability, safe spaces, and build respectful relationships for our young people to flourish. The first couple of weeks back to school seem to have flown by. Last week, I’ll admit, I felt out of sorts. Maybe you’re finding the same with young people you work with. How about yourself?
The days felt rather muddly last week, with four CPD courses to complete, several young person profiles and action plans to finalise, new education programmes and associated packs to create from scratch, funding bids to submit, a fundraising event to organise for this weekend, schools to liaise with, and a youth club restarting where our Year 9’s are already pushing boundaries and the primary school group struggle to focus for more than a nanosecond. In amongst this, a plethora of questions from professionals and parents to respond to and a lot of personal matters that are going to bring added pressure time-wise are creeping in.
I’m not alone. We’re all go through challenging times, yet as the adults, we’re here to look after and support our young people. How do we do it when our own cup overfloweth? A lot of the work I’ve been focusing on recently has been around attention in young people – the profiles on each have pointed to inattentiveness. So, why can’t they focus? Is it behaviour? Are they developmentally immature? Maybe they’re lacking in basic organisational skills and this means they’re more bothered by what the teacher will say because they can’t even remember the day of the week despite it being written on the board. Why are they struggling with group sessions? That pushing and shoving might be tiredness, or as identified in one young person I work with, a chance to have a voice heard. What’s important though, is those two key building blocks of building relationships and gaining attention. Once we have these in place, where we are able to hear and respect each other, the rest can follow.
I’ve taken some reflecting time with my own life. My mind has been pulled in different directions the past week. How have I felt when something was explained and my mind was elsewhere? Why is it elsewhere? I looked as what has happened before that point. What had occurred before I even sat at the desk, walked into an organisation, went to a meeting? What was impacting my attention? How were my own organisational skills? I’m quite pleased to have set up a new system which allows me by the end of the week to see clearly that I’ve ticked everything off. It’s a messy system, I’ll admit that, but it works for now. I am aware that this week is super busy too. Should I worry that I might not tick it all off? If I was in a classroom and the teacher had written on the board this morning everything I have on my list to achieve this week, I would have walked out as soon as I walked in. My mind would have been blown and I know from crossing the threshold, I wouldn’t have been able to focus.
It’s a lot of headspace being taken up, so I will have to prioritise and chunk tasks in order to manage my wellbeing. Some of our young people can’t cope with long lists of work, or getting from one classroom to the next, or if they stay in the same room, that switch from one subject to the next. They may struggle with even knowing where they put their pen (I know how that feels sometimes hence why I drafted this on the laptop and not in my notebook). Just like this morning where I needed to ground myself in the present day and the present moment in order to better concentrate, if we don’t help them with these basic skills of attentiveness first, how do we expect them to even want to learn or be able to respond well to others?
One thing I tried hard to prioritise last week as I felt things slipping was being more attentive to my needs first and foremore, focusing on what is important to me. I knew I needed protected time to be absorbed in a good book, to do some deep breathing, to meditate, to connect with people who will simply let me cry or explain how I’m feeling before those slightly easier to manage emotions could be put in a box, pushed aside, and I could continue. I can always go back to the box later and sit with those thoughts and feelings again.
How often this term have we already had young people pushing the boundaries who we’ve said ‘You’re not listening to me’, ‘Joe Blogg’s stuff’s in a mess. He’s all over the place’, ‘They’re always out of class and unfocused’? Those crazy days of lockdowns aren’t that far behind us, the hazy weeks of unstructured summer are even closer, and now, we’re expecting miracles for the young people in our charge and ourselves. Perhaps you’ve felt similar. Sat there at the end of a long school day or youth work session and thought ‘I’ve not heard anything those young people have said to me. I don’t feel I can plan anything. My head is all over the place’. You can plan of course, and you have heard, but your attentiveness has not been fully on point. As we reach that weary mid-point of term, let’s model those brain breaks and build strong enough relationships where we understand the young people and they know us well enough for us to help each other and say ‘You know what, let’s stop, take a breath, and start again with us both listening to each other properly’.
Let’s build or rebuild those relationships that each young person requires of us, and those with colleagues, and as we get back into structured timings and a mass of information, remember it’s OK to allow time and space to process what’s being asked, making tasks smaller so they’re more manageable, but above all, be consistent in the message we’re trying to get across. This is so important for our young people and ourselves to feel safe and able to work well together. That’s what I’m aiming for this week – Be consistent in my work with young people, be present with them, and allow them to learn how to be present with me. In doing so, we may push through other barriers, and find some equilibrium in the day.