So, you want to change the world? What better way to do this that to work with children and young people! And to do that within an educational setting has the potential to make a huge impact. Think of Musharaf, the boy who overcame his stammer during the filming of Educating Yorkshire in 2013; or Malala Yousafzai whose passion for the education of girls is undimmed by the obstacles she has had to overcome. You might be able to think of successes you have seen in your own work, but it can be tricky to see it for yourself. I can highly recommend going to see others doing schools work – not because they’ve all got better ideas than you but because it is an honest privilege to see what others are doing well and actually telling them! We could all do with that kind of encouragement.
I have recently had the opportunity to go and see two different organisations who are both changing the world for the young people they are working with. Both offering the young people the chance to earn a qualification in employability through CYM, both working with groups of young people on the fringes of mainstream education, both having struggles with these young people, battling to see the change they are making. And yet, in both contexts I was really encouraged and excited to see the potential for transformation! One of the boys from one of the groups had as one of his Personal Development targets: to make more eye contact. As I sat with that group around the meal table in the middle of their day he looked directly at me when I said I’d travelled more than 90 miles to visit them. He was so surprised I’d come that far that he looked directly at me and asked ‘Did you say 90 or 19?’
I saw young people who would clearly struggle in a class of 30 students, even for those who may have been in smaller groups, school would be a struggle for them and for their teachers! These two organisations are taking them on and encouraging them, befriending them, teaching them, changing the world for them and it’s a joy to watch.
Encouragement is a little used tool but one that really can cause change. Imagine how different life would be if we showed a whole generation of children and young people how to encourage and build one another up rather than tear each other down. Wouldn’t that be an amazing way to change the world?
Here then are some practical ideas for encouragement: these are based on icebreaker type games I’ve used in the past. Of course, if we are going to show young people and children how to do this then we should be modelling this behaviour as well. As Brits we can find this kind of exercise very difficult, and might be tempted to do it only very occasionally. But let us recognise that encouragement of each other is a spiritual discipline, required of us by Paul (1 Thess 5 v11), as well as recognising the positive impact it has on us when we are encouraged and let’s commit to doing something to encourage and build our teams and groups up at each session, not only once in a season.
Each of these activities can be adapted for use with your team as well as with young people or children.
M&Ms – use a couple of packets of M&Ms, Skittles or Smarties, you may need to adapt the colours depending on which sweets you use. Allocate 5 or so sweeties of different colours to each member of the group. Write up these instructions (can be adapted!)
Brown – say something you appreciate (or like) about the person sitting next to you
Red – say something you have enjoyed about today’s session
Orange – say something positive you think will come as a surprise to the group
Green – say something you appreciate (or like) about the person sitting opposite you
Yellow – say something positive about the whole group (not necessarily each individual)
If your group is 10 or more people then divide into 2 (or more) smaller groups and ask each person to choose one colour for each round.
Is there any activity that doesn’t benefit from having post it notes added to it? Give out post it notes and pens and ask each person there to write down something positive about every person in the room. Then take it to that person and stick to their clothing.
I think this one would work best with a group that has worked together for a while and can be trusted to be encouraging! Give each person an A4 sheet of paper and a pen. They write their name at the BOTTOM of the paper and then everyone passes their sheet to the person on their right. That person writes one encouraging thing about the named person at the TOP of the page and folds the paper over so it can’t be seen before passing the paper to their right again. The papers go all the way around the group until they end up back with the person who’s named. They then open the paper and read the comments. If you aren’t sure your group will do this in the spirit intended you can ask that the papers come to you before they are returned to the person who is named! Then you can check what is written before handing them to the owners. Another dimension to this would be to take the papers away with you and use the internet to make a word cloud for each person.
Modelling this as a leader can be useful and one way to do this is to buy a stack of thank you cards and send them to your team, telling them one thing you’ve noticed that they have done well that week. It’s amazing the way you will change the world for other people simply by handing out encouragement regularly.