‘Otherness’

Otherness

The picture? Cliched, I know. Ideally I’d pretend that its trite nature is a clever counterpoint to the entirely groundbreaking and fascinating conversations I’ve been lucky enough to spend the day observing and, occasionally, taking part in. I’m not sure I’d be fooling anyone though.

I’ve just spent the last few hours in Stratford at the, ‘Working with families affected by Domestic Abuse’ conference. When I told colleagues, family and friends where I was going they gave me a, ‘I’m so sorry for you’ look and a consoling pat on the arm. Admittedly, it doesn’t sound like an uplifting day but it was truly inspiring.

Firstly, for the content. I’m lucky enough to be a part of the NewDAy project. The project has received funding from the Department for Education’s Children’s Social Care Innovation Programme to ‘rethink’ how children’s social care is delivered. NewDAy is looking at systemic change so that social workers can support families: victims, children and perpetrators, to bring about real change that improves lives. Today’s keynote was delivered by Professor Alan Jenkins – world-renowned clinical psychologist specialising in working with violence in a variety of contexts.

I’d love to neatly summarise the points Professor Jenkins made but I’m still digesting a lot of it. I just hope that I present some of the information accurately. If I don’t, this is simply down to my own interpretation of it.

His thinking on ‘otherness’ and the need for accepting different ideas or ways of thinking really struck a chord – ‘A passionate interest in otherness as an antithesis to violence’. In schools we often try and remove ‘otherness’. Conformity is King (or Queen). This is particularly the case when it comes to ‘behaviour’. I’ve started to discuss our thinking on this in a previous post. We are not particularly accepting of otherness. We reward or sanction children based on pre-conceived ideas of what they should or shouldn’t do. For some children these structures fit with who they are, others are (un)happily compliant, whilst others struggle to fit within these defined boundaries. It’s particularly hard when these boundaries change suddenly. We have an issue currently in Newham with Y7 exclusions. Permanent exclusions in Primary are few and far between but then children move onto secondary school and the numbers shoot up. Clearly the reasons for this are multiple but one is surely the sudden change in the boundaries of behaviour.

There was lots more – the difference between moral imperatives and ethical realisation – which I definitely need more time to digest. The need for co-regulation to allow both parties to enter a productive dialogue and how relevant this is to leadership. The need to look beyond the immediate narrative and dig deeper: at Kensington we talk about ‘finding the why’, which I’ll go into more detail on in a later post. The need to listen. The need to be non-judgemental and probing rather than directive when trying to find reasons and ways forward.

All of this had lots of links into the work we’ve been doing developing a coaching approach. I’m sure I will over-simplify this but the thinking is around moving away from our pre-held judgements and moral imperatives to move toward a more open way of: looking beyond the surface, building a relationship on trust, and helping the perpetrator (in this case) move towards ethical realisation, which will enable them to create a better future for themselves and their families. Whilst the content is far more challenging, the concepts are similar when we are coaching in school. When we coach we look to actively listen. We try not to judge or impose our moral imperatives but instead help the person to reach their own realisation (ethical or otherwise) to find a suitable way forward. We help the person look beneath the surface. As Dermot Brady, Senior Lecturer in Social Care from Kingston University said today (and I’m paraphrasing): rarely are the first stories we tell the true ones. This takes me on to the other inspiring part of today.

As interesting as the content was the discussion and range of people I was fortunate enough to meet and sit with was equally so. Going away from school is always a useful experience – it provides time and space to reflect: almost always this is within an education context. Today, to be in a different context with a group of people who were not working in Primary education, was really eye-opening. At our table was: an advocate who worked for a charity that represented victims of domestic abuse; a social worker for the Ministry of Defence; a senior lecturer from Kingston University; a researcher from Cordis Bright – who are commissioned to evaluate the NewDAy project; a member of the NewDAy project; my Deputy Head, and a senior associate from the Innovation Unit! It was the most incredible range of people, brought together by a will and a passion to improve the situation of children and families impacted by domestic violence. It was a true honour to be in their company for a few hours and has started me thinking about how we could create more of these opportunities. This cross-sector work, engagement and discussion would help all of us develop further. Which, ultimately, would improve our thinking and how we work. Which would lead to better outcomes; in my case for the children of Kensington.

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