Every Child Matters

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Just under ten years ago, I retrained to be a teacher. At that time, the Government were promoting the “Every Child Matters” agenda. For every lesson that you taught, you had to consider what the need of the child was and how you were going to meet it (Being healthy, Staying healthy, Enjoy and Achieve, Making a positive contribution). At the time, this resonated with me and continues to be the driving force in my career today.

There are many reasons why I am a real champion for the work of Freedom 2. Along with being married to the amazing, inspirational and pioneering founder of the charity, it is the fact that all individuals are valued and invested in. Although, “For the One” is the name of their Ambassador programme, it is actually at the core of all the work that the charity does.

But, the focus of this blog, is to answer the question on how do you prioritise the one, when you have so many other demands and distractions?

Although at the beginning of my teaching career the Labour Government were promoting the “Every Child Matters” initiative, with a new Conservative Government came a new agenda. The focus became on developing rigorous curriculums and developing systems in school to monitor progress and identify the needs of groups of children. Now the Conservatives are beginning to return to a focus of prioritising the well-being of children within schools because of the rise in children and young people suffering with mental health issues. I spoke with an ex-head teacher of mine recently who remarked on this change of stance and said, “When did we lose sight of the importance of well-being in education?!”

And that, for me, is why “For the One” must be more than just a soundbite. I don’t believe that the wellbeing of the child was ever not a priority within education, but when we look at being more efficient, when we put in layer upon layer of structure and red tape, sometimes what started being a top priority, starts to move down the list. This has become evident in my life too. I can be focused on one thing, for example, to provide for my family. I can easily get so absorbed and focused on working harder and longer hours, looking for better paid job opportunities that this becomes detrimental to my family. My focus has now become the opposite.

One of the ways that I have found of prioritising the one, has been through using empathy. Brene Brown provides an helpful explanation of what Empathy is by comparing it sympathy (https://youtu.be/1Evwgu369Jw). In her explanation, the key to empathy is the ability to connect with the emotions that another person is going through. Once you have connected with that emotion, you can then draw near to that person and ensure that they know they are not alone in experiencing that emotion.

Often, I deal with pupils who are sad after coming into the classroom from being in the playground. I would then find out that they might not have been able to play with a pupil that they had wanted to. Previously I would deal with this situation using the phrase, “At least…” So for example, “At least you played with them yesterday.” However, I would find that in the classroom after this incident they would remain detached from the learning because they are still focused on their feelings. As soon as I began to say, in these situations, “I know how that feels, not being able to spend time with people that you want to, it’s tough,” I have found that the pupils demeanour changes, as they realise they are not alone. By connecting with people in this way, we provide them with a sense of belonging and a sense of worth. If we are to be truly there for the one, then there is only one path to do this. It starts with empathy, it starts with coming alongside the one and it begins by telling them they belong and that they have value.

Another way to prioritise the one, is through connections. Currently, I am part of the Senior Leadership Team at a school in East London. The most valuable leadership tool that I have found, is that of connection. Often, we talk about leadership being the first person who leads the charge in a battle and with one cry the rest of the army follow. Although this may be what leadership feels like, the reason that people follow in times of hardship and adversity is because of the connection that they have with the leader. One of the strengths of FREEDOM 2 is the group size that they work with. Although the demand is high from the schools that they work in, it is by having a smaller group size that greater connections are made and therefore more impact is achieved within the individuals who attend.

But, perhaps of greater significance, is who you connect with. In order to ensure that you keep the one at the focus of all you do, it is important you connect with like-minded individuals. At times within education, I have felt that I don’t belong, because I connect with those who have different values to me. However, the moment I connect with those who have the same focus, I feel empowered and encouraged to keep on the path I am on.

Finally, for me, the key to prioritise the one is a matter of perspective.  I know that this story has been mentioned before on this blog, but the man on the beach with the starfish that had been washed up, could have been overwhelmed with the situation he faced but focused on just the one as his starting point.

One of the perks of being in isolation due to the Coronavirus, is that you get the chance to work through your Netflix wish list. In one of the series, ‘Ozark’, one of the characters, Buddy, says the following quote: “There’s a lot going on. And when that’s happening and you don’t know what to do, you do what’s right in front of you.” One way the you prioritise the one, is to focus on “The One” that is right in front of you.

I spoke with a friend the other day, who reflected on how during this period of isolation, we had the opportunity to hit the reset button and re-evaluate what is important to use. As for me, I will be prioritising the one through showing empathy, making the right connections and ensuring I have the right perspective.

John Manning is a Senior Leader at an Independent School in East London. He has a passion for ensuring that the well-being and pastoral support that children get in education is at the core of all he does. Before becoming a teacher, John was the Senior Football Development Officer at the Essex Football Association. During his time there, he focused on developing inclusion projects throughout the county and led on the organisations successful application for obtaining a national equality award. Away from work, John loves to cook and walk his dog. He is married to Mel, the founder of Freedom 2 and they have two children, Evelyn and Reuben.