9th August 2016 ARE YOU IN YOUR ELEMENT? by Ruth Adams

I have just returned from an energising cycle ride along the Monsal Trail, Derbyshire in the pouring rain and feeling proud of keeping up my daily (almost!) exercise routine.

Despite the wet conditions I was very aware of the scenery around me, probably because unlike a day when the sun shines, there was hardly anyone else around; no need to try and avoid groups of walkers or other cyclists today.

So the elements in their natural form were more evident to me as I cycled this morning. The earth with its amazing variety of plants and flowers, trees and hedgerows. The river Wye was visible at different points and the sound of rushing water filled my ears. It was windy too and I was battling against it on the return journey making slower progress than I’d have liked. And in the distance at one point, someone had a fire going. Earth, Fire, Wind and Water – the four elements that form the building blocks of the universe and essential for life.

It was these elements that were the focus of the second of three monthly Taafa training days during this last term, with staff from the Lincoln Teaching and Learning Centres. We were looking at a wide range of strategies which could be used with their pupils to help them engage with education, and personality is a passion of ours. We use the four elements in their natural form as a way of helping staff and pupils understand their own personality type.

As part of Day 2 we looked at Personality, Passion and Purpose – there’s a link to some international articles about this in a previous blog by this name, illustrating how widely this idea is now used.

Self-understanding is an important key to success and school staff around the country are finding how this training helps them understand their own strengths and challenges as well as bringing a greater understanding about their pupils.

There was one consistent plea from those who attended these training days and it’s summed up in this one quote: ‘Please ensure all school staff including other teachers have access to this training about behaviour, personalities etc. It helps put the theory into practice in school i.e. meeting the needs and personalities of our children while also meeting the government and OFSTED requirements’. Brilliant training, thank you!

Another of the staff said, ‘I am thoroughly enjoying this course. Not only is it giving me the tools to help and work with my students, it is also enabling me to find out more about myself, and with that understanding I will be better able to pass on knowledge. This has equipped me to look at my students in a different way. The key to working with our students is to be able to adapt/amend ideas and I feel that this course is providing me with many more ideas. I look forward to the next training day’.

Adam’s story illustrates how the training the LTLC staff went through can be used with pupils. Adam was 14 and lived on a large housing estate. His mother is a drug addict and he had four siblings, all of whom had different fathers. When I first met him, a few years ago, his life had little structure, he missed great chunks of school and he had no expectations that his life would ever be any better. He had no aspirations or goals.

Adam’s mentor had suggested he might be willing to spend some time with me, as a last ditch attempt to get him interested in something. Basically, the thinking was, if it could work with Adam, it could work with anyone!

As I brought up a variety of descriptions of the different elements, Adam began to show an interest and after a bit of humorous interaction he decided he was a ‘water’ type personality – a great team player, loyal, sensitive, likes stability and security (although as he perceptively pointed out ‘I don’t get any of stability, that’s why I’m like I am’). Lots to unpack here.

Next, in the ‘Where am I going section’, I started by talking about the mission statements of Adam’s favourite football team, McDonald’s, Facebook etc. and he certainly knew his stuff as he matched the mission statements to every one of the organisations, correctly. We then chatted about what it might be like if he had his own personal mission statement for his life – giving him something concrete to measure his decisions and his life choices against. He looked a bit bemused but agreed to give the process a try. It begins with choosing a core value and once it was explained to him, Adam found it surprisingly easy to find his top core value – it was ‘healing’ and after a short time we had the basis of his personal mission statement which was – ‘my mission is to demonstrate, encourage and maintain healing and respect in myself and others’. Wow! We then went on to talk about what Adam would like to do if there were no barriers to his future career. He said he’d never told anyone before but he’d really like to be a sports physiotherapist.

When I showed him how well this fitted with his personality type and his mission statement, he was amazed. I had his full attention by now and he wanted to be reminded what the third question was. ‘How am I going to get there?’ I said, and I told him we were going to work out how to make his mission a reality – basically, to work out a vision for his future.

For Adam, his vision had to begin with returning to school regularly! We’d looked at the exam results he’d need if he wanted to train as a sports physiotherapist and what colleges he could apply to. Adam was …. excited! In a two-hour slot, he’d got a real idea of who he was, where he was going and how he could get there. And returning to school on a regular basis came out of Adam’s own desire to achieve what he wanted, not because someone was hassling him.

Adam’s story is being repeated in many different venues around the country, from NEET’s to sixth formers and the unemployed to business men. It’s something which gives each of them, no matter what their situation, a focus as they look to the future and it helps enormously with decisions about course choices, employment possibilities and even career changes. 

The LTLC staff went through these three sessions and all went away with a clear idea of their own personality type, along with a better understanding of some of their pupils, a personal mission and a vision for their future.

On Day 1 we looked at ‘Nature, Nurture & Trauma’ and on Day 3 we considered specific strategies to help disengaged pupils find a purpose in their education.

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