Walls and Toes
When ‘Paul’ first came to me, he had no knuckles. Well, knuckles so damaged from punching walls in rage that, in places, the bones were barely discernible. He was uncommunicative, sad, immersed in his Aspergers world. But beneath the hair and the hood there was a flicker of a smile when I suggested our quest was as much about saving the walls and buildings of our town from any further demolition, than it was to help him to manage his anger.
‘Amir’s’ lack of confidence was so severe, that he was at risk of dropping out of college, so terrified was he of completing work. Supported by his teachers, yet his harshest critic was himself: a barrier of self-doubt so embedded and huge that, to him, much as he wanted it, education seemed futile, even though academically he was capable. He was terrified of ‘getting it wrong’, of what others would think – to such an extreme, debilitating degree that, throughout his school years, the ‘wall’ had become insurmountable. It rendered him almost paralysed, intellectually and physically. It was difficult for others to understand.
Teachers were, understandably, frustrated, investing time to try various methods to boost his confidence and encourage Amir to complete work. Amir was frustrated too, but he just didn’t know how to sort it: his frustration and helplessness impacting his confidence further.
But then he did. Some months of hard work later, he completed an anonymous questionnaire in which he said:
I admire the young people I support and teach, through weekly 1-1 Strength-Focused Coaching (SFC) sessions. Within the settings of school and college, these teenagers and young adults have overcome debilitating low self-esteem and shyness; conquered anxiety; learnt how to manage their anger; change their negative mind sets – and other barriers to their happiness or success.
They have learnt to thrive, often turn their lives around (or begin to) and – in short – become better versions of themselves. The process is a fascinating and powerful transformation, which, in my role as SFC Coach, is a privilege (and a challenge!)
Both young men above achieved lasting change. Not the kind of change that allows them to scrape through school or college by the skin of their knuckles. But a change that allowed them to go deeper into self development and learn about who they are, HOW to change – and how to genuinely like themselves, which for some, is the biggest hurdle.
The young people either refer themselves to me, or are referred by a member of staff. When they come along for their first meeting with me, many of these young people tell me that this is their ‘last chance’: the anger in their faces, the nervous, twitching leg and the defiance of their body language
doing little to hide the fear and self-loathing beneath. The shy, withdrawn ones that can’t meet my gaze, twist their fingers and point their toes at me in hope.
‘Ned’ was in danger of being ‘kicked out’ of school (Ned’s words, not his school’s, who were trying hard to help him). Again – no knuckles. Always in trouble for fighting and being abusive to staff. Yet when he slumped in front of me, he confessed that he was terrified that he was following the family tradition of male members going to prison for violent offences.
“I’m just an angry person”, he said. “That’s all I am. I’m nothing else. There is nothing good about me.” This wasn’t said for effect. He believed it. Ned believed he was evil, bad.
So I could choose to tell Ned that he wasn’t these things. That would be easy. Give him a ‘pep’ talk and show him I cared; I could point out his possible good points. Or I could yell at him, threaten him with exclusion. (Actually, it’s nowhere near my role to yell at or exclude pupils, but you get the gist). I could have told Amir that he was capable and actually quite gifted and to just get on with it for heaven’s sake. But that wouldn’t have worked either. They wouldn’t have really changed. Not properly. They wouldn’t have believed me for a start. They may have stumbled along, intermittently managing to change for the better, then dropping back into old habits again. They needed to believe in themselves, but they needed more than that to enable the process.
‘More than that’…So..what do young people really need in order to succeed? I’ve learnt a lot about this over the last 15 years or so and I am proud of my best teachers: them.
So this Blog will hope to share the ‘secrets’ of achieving true success for young people and celebrate the awesome transformations that they have achieved – all within the settings of either their schools, colleges or their homes. And ‘Ned’ and a few others may come along with us.
Colette Norbury – Strengths-Focused Coaching
Find out more by clicking on the links below: