If We Value the Expertise of Children and Young People

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“Yet, without the participation of experts we won’t be successful. And the expert is the child”

Janusz Korczak

I have recently begun to ask myself the question: how different would out-of-home care look if we truly valued the expertise of the children and young people that live in it? In fact, would so many children, young people and families be so enmeshed in the benevolent web of services that accompany the child protection and out-of-home care systems if those systems routinely and genuinely valued the expertise of children and young people right from the beginning?

My internal dialogue takes the discussion further… Let’s say, for one utopic moment, that we sit as equals at the table with young people who have experienced abuse, neglect and the terrifying complexity of the system set up to serve their ‘best interests’. Let’s imagine that they have proffered arguments and evidence alongside academics, experienced sector professionals and bureaucrats, in support of approaches (for we know without doubt that one size does not fit all) that focus on making their childhood good. What might that look like? And more importantly who would have the courage to make it happen?

We won’t ever know if we don’t ask.

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Young people who have lived through abuse and neglect and have subsequently been bounced, powerless, through the pinball machine of court processes, case managers, care placements, care plans and repeated attempts to ‘go home’ – these young people know. They know what it all feels like. Under their skin, in their hearts, they know how it feels.

Countless reforms and ‘system improvements’ will continue to achieve minimal success at best if we continue to prevent the key experts from leading the discussions and shedding light on the impact of decisions made by people so far from the ground that we all look like ants from where they sit.

Maybe childhood would be better for the huge numbers of children and young people in care if we were prepared to let them show us how to make it so. We won’t know unless we try.

Post written by:  Lauren Oliver, Youth Engagement Coordinator, Berry Street Childhood Institute

The Berry Street Education Model

Everyday Strategies for Teachers

The Berry Street Education Model was created in response to teachers requesting strategies.

  • How do I engage my struggling students in learning?
  • How do I manage difficult behaviour?
  • How do I build independence for learning?

The Berry Street Education Model has been design to support teachers as they meet the complex needs for students who struggle from the effects of chronic stress or traumatic stressors.  Our model also helps teachers to feel empowered within the classroom to teach the whole-child.

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Through our work with schools across Australia, we know that the best strategies help teachers to set up and reinforce a pro-active, pre-emptive, and de-escalated strengths-based classroom.  We know that teachers need strategies that they can start using tomorrow; and a whole-school approach is often required to unify practice to nurture success for all students.

Here is one of our favourite strategies:  GOLDEN STATEMENTS

As teachers, we hate to feel like we are nagging our students all day long.  

“Take out your books. Now turn to page 27. I’ll wait…”

Please turn to page 27. PLEASE turn to page 27…!” 

How is the following statement different in tone and mood?

“I will begin teaching when I see all books turned to page 27.” 

The first example makes the student the subject of the sentence, and the students can choose to either follow the direction or stall. The second example make the teacher (“I”) the subject, and the teacher declares what she is going to do, when she is going to do it, and the conditions for success. In the second case, the teacher maintains positive power in the classroom while describing what she is going to do rather than what she is asking the students to do. For instance, when you say, “You will…” you lose control; when you say, “I will…”, you gain control.

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Golden Statements are special statements that teachers can use in classrooms to:

  • Give directions
  • Issue requests
  • State their expectations
  • Repeat their expectations

The last function listed here is our favourite: Golden Statements allow teachers to repeat themselves without feeling like a broken record or a complaining nag.

Golden Statements build relationships because they keep both student and teacher in thinking mode. They stop the arousal escalation of the teacher because the teacher feels that they are issuing their requests in a reasonable manner. Golden Statements empower students because students can see that the teacher is holding the relationship and has clear expectations for the activity at hand.

Please check out the following link on more information, including links to research papers. Please note, we are currently in a research and evaluation process with University of Melbourne Graduate School of Education, a joint effort with the Centre of Positive Psychology and Youth Research Centre.

http://www.childhoodinstitute.org.au/EducationModel

 

Post written by: Tom Brunzell, Senior Advisor, Education, Berry Street Childhood Institute

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Building Bikes, Building Hope

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Many of the children and young people that Berry Street help aren’t told by their parents to get up and go to school every morning. The abuse, neglect and instability these children deal with daily means that going to school is not on top of their to-do list.

This is why Berry Street runs an independent school (with three campuses) for children who have been disengaged from mainstream education.

The teachers at these schools do their best to get their students involved in school and receive the education and future they deserve. They try to make school-life more engaging for the students in a variety of creative ways, such as a recent bike-building activity.

The students at the Noble Park campus were given the opportunity to build their own bikes through The Happiness Cycle. This is an initiative run by Coca Cola to provide teenagers with bikes to make them more active.

Principal of the Noble Park School, Susan Nilson, says the students responded well to the program.

“It was a really positive experience for the kids. It was a good hands-on activity,” Nilson says. “It enabled the kids to feel valued because they were given the opportunity and responsibility to build something that they get to keep. It gave them a sense of purpose and accomplishment.”

Nilson says the students got really involved and enjoyed the day. Harry*, 16, was excited by the idea of building his own bike.

“The main reason I chose to do the program was to get a bike. That’s pretty cool!” Harry says. Being involved in an activity like this and receiving a bike isn’t something the students would normally experience given their backgrounds, but Harry says getting the bike wasn’t the only positive.

“It was a worthwhile experience. Apart from getting a bike, we got to be around a different variety of people, which was interesting,” Harry says. “It was good because we got to spend time with our friends in a different environment.” IMG_0955

Expert teacher, Travis McMahon, attended the activity and says the students put a lot of effort into building their bikes, as well as acting appropriately, which at times can be a challenge for them.

“The kids were really good. If someone needed a hand with their bike, they’d jump in and help. It was really collaborative,” McMahon says. “These are young people who don’t usually deal well in social settings, but they dealt with being around all the other people really well.”

Like the other students, Harry experienced a difficult upbringing, resulting in him being asked to leave mainstream education. He’s been attending the Berry Street School for a year now and says he’s happy to be there.

“I’ve made a lot of friends here, which is good, and I can get an education. That’s very important to me.”

*Names have been changed to protect the identities of students.

Post written by: Grace Kelly, Berry Street Media Intern