I’ve been privileged to work with two similarly vulnerable cohorts of young people over the last 3 months – one group through the Virtual School in Derbyshire and another at the CE Academy in Wellingborough who serve young people permanently excluded from mainstream schooling. Both groups have trained to become Peer Tutors for their younger peers.
Both groups carry young people with serious distress and trauma in their histories – and to some extent in their day to day lives. Both groups exhibit challenging behaviour. Both groups asked me to dig deep to sustain my positivity in the face of their brash negativity at very regular and sometimes unremitting intervals! Each group tugged at my heart strings more than any others I’ve worked with as I witnessed their volatility and acting out to mask catastrophic crises of confidence and self-worth. They required me to find the courage and skill to establish their trust without which I couldn’t reasonably expect them to take the learning risks that training for Peer Tutoring requires.
At the Academy I followed the lead of their highly skilled and dedicated staff in choosing which behaviours to quietly carry on around and which to quietly challenge. I dealt with young women telling me there was no point to the training since they already knew how to do it, watching videos on mobiles, arguing with other students who came to the door to disturb and distract, angrily describing the minutiae of the latest round of insults and incidents from family and friends, along with much walking in and out of the training room. At times I was left with a single young woman to work with – which led to some great learning conversations and sharing of personal content on their behalf (trust won!) UFA’s core principle of holding an UNSHAKEABLE belief in the potential of all to achieve was invaluable to me throughout this sometimes trying, tiring, yet deeply rewarding process! We achieved 3 signed off Y11 Peer Tutors from the initial group of 5 which was beyond the success criteria the Academy had hoped for.
The Virtual School chose to take their small group of Y9/10’s on a residential with associated outdoor adventure activities which nicely broke up the classroom based training. We had the benefit of an almost 1:1 ratio which was invaluable in keeping full engagement. Travelling the mountainous journey of one young woman who had great insight and ability yet carries a very fragile self-concept was a fascinating exemplar in how digging into self-talk using a range of approaches (like Dweck’s growth mindset, Seligman’s learned optimism and VIA’s strengths awareness) can give someone down a dark well some ropes with which to pull herself out. Another of UFA’s core principles – learning based on ACTION research from our network gave me confidence in the interventions I was employing with such complex needs in the room.
Making a positive difference to young people’s lives is why I do this job, why I get up at silly o’clock to travel the length and breadth of the country, why I do long days in their service. These two cohorts of Children in Care and Excluded young people have enriched me more than any other because it is such an honour to see the lights go on in their eyes when they recognise that they’re better than they thought they were before a UFA Peer Tutoring opportunity walked into their lives.