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“I did then what I knew how to do ... "

Updated: Jun 16, 2023

If you've read any of my posts before, you'll know that Maya Angelou was - and still is, even in death - one of my lifelong heroes. So I make no apology for quoting her yet again.

Today I attended the West Midlands Virtual School Children in Care Annual Conference held in Birmingham. It was one of those days when you're surrounded by a host of the most talented, committed and wise practitioners in a plethora of roles within children's services. I felt extremely humble.

There was a fantastic energy - in no doubt assisted by the excellent hot buffet lunch and delicious sweet delights at coffee time!! As well as meeting new people with fascinating roles, I was amazed at how many people from past periods of employment I met today. It was rather bittersweet; bringing back some lovely memories, but also the recollection of being an employee who struggled with the services' lack of funding and resources to truly give our young people what they needed. There were certainly successes, but not enough to keep me there when, sadly, some professionals secured their oxygen masks and left our young people having to put on their own.

I totally recognise the privilege of working for myself, wholeheartedly putting my efforts into what I know is right and having the autonomy to do it. I’d just like to do it more. Today’s presentations and workshops were great. The first one was delivered by Janice and Jess from Women and Theatre where, on entering the room I found myself telling Janice that I'd met her somewhere before. When the penny dropped about 5 minutes later I realised that I'd seen her on stage ... duh!! As an avid theatre-goer I can't tell you how many times this has happened!!

Marvin Molloy did a great job during his workshop Exploitation of the Teenage Mind, particularly as he was drafted in at short notice. His allocated time went quickly and generated a lively discussion. There was no modesty whatsoever when a participant in the room described him as cool!! Probably because he is!!

However, whoever planned the agenda had read the handbook on 'how to rouse an audience after a huge lunch on a hot afternoon'!! The highlight of the event for many of us I'm sure, was Mark Finnis, the director of L30 Relational Systems. He could give some of our UK stand up comedians a run for their money. In my opinion, he's much funnier than John Bishop!!

The only downside I can see to buying Mark's book would be missing out on the passion and humour when he speaks live. He had us all in stitches one minute then sharing a collective "aww" the next. So I'm doing both as I've just made an online purchase of Independent Thinking on Restorative Practice: Building Relationships, Improving Behaviour and Creating Stronger Communities.

I've had the experience a few times when I've felt as if someone extremely eloquent has reached into my brain, pulled out my thoughts and voiced them using just the right words. Today was one of those times. His message; that the language we use about children should be the language we use with children. Mark has some great 'golden nuggets', my favourites being:

❤️ Labels belong on jars.

❤️ Relationships aren't built in a day, they're built daily.

❤️ It takes two sides to build a bridge.

❤️ Change the behaviour by meeting the need.

❤️ One size fits one.

❤️ Loved children go to school to learn, children who aren't loved go to school to be loved.

It's an experience I’ll remember for a while. I'll add it to the hugely inspirational views expressed by Rob Long, the king of ‘golden nuggets’ about behaviour and Clair Graham about the subject of contextual safeguarding. I was fortunate to have a brief conversation with Mark today as we were both leaving the hotel about how the language we use creates children's experiences and the huge responsibility professionals have to do that appropriately. This John Lennon quote springs to mind:

I can recall my early teaching career when we used 'assertive discipline' and thought we were doing the right thing. Terms such as 'behaviour management' have been around for many years, but it doesn't make them okay now. The strapline for my business and the whole ethos of what I do is ...

I help and support anyone who wants to affect behavioural change for the better.

... but a key factor is that the adults need to change their behaviour for the children to be able to change theirs.

We have no excuse for demanding that an autistic child should 'just do what everyone else is doing' when that isn't how their neurological system works. We should be horrified by those describing a 14-year-old child as ‘sexually active’ when they're being groomed and sexually exploited by adults. We should be ashamed at labelling a care-experienced child as being 'attention seeking' when they're using the only behaviour they know how to see if they can trust you - or whether you’ll reject them like so many who may have gone before.

Children are letting us know what they need, we just need to realise it. There is motivation in every behaviour, as professionals it's our responsibility to find out what it is. It's vital that we closely examine what we do, challenge ourselves and the services that need to change. We should be promoting inclusivity and authenticity. In Maya Angelou's words:

“ ... Now that I know better, I do better.”

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