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The power of relationships

How often do we hear ‘it’s all about relationships’? Whether it’s to do with leadership, organisational change or working directly with individuals or teams.

There is so much theory about the role that relationships play in bringing about positive change either individual personal change or organisational change – but nothing is more powerful than when you see or experience the real impact that an effective, empowering relationship can have first-hand.

I had this privilege recently in my own local authority, in Derbyshire, when a young care leaver came to talk to our Virtual School Governance Board about their experience and personal journey with their creative mentor. (For the purposes of this blog I’ll call the young person Leigh.)

What was particularly impactful was that 18 months previously I had had a conversation with Leigh about joining the Governance Board as a young persons’ representative. Initially Leigh seemed keen to do this, however, when it came to the first meeting apologies were given, as even with support, Leigh had felt unable to attend and participate.

Therefore, within 18 months, to be faced with an articulate and hugely more confident young person describing to a large group of adults (in an intimidating boardroom) the work that they had been doing with their creative mentor and the impact that this had had on their confidence and skills was amazing! Both on a human level and also as evidence of impact (I’m always looking for evidence of impact).

So what was it about Leigh’s relationship with the creative mentor that had made such a difference and had clearly been so transformative?

Leigh described the mentor as being there for them (in a way no-one else had ever been) and finding things that they were interested in and then developing that interest together. Listening, understanding – even gently challenging them but always believing in them, (as I would describe it, being non-judgmental). Leigh also said that through doing all the creative activities they had learnt more about themselves and developed more confidence.

It reminded me of a light bulb moment I had in my early days of teaching when I properly understood (following some counselling skills training), that to be effective in my relationships with children and young people (and adults) I needed to consistently demonstrate unconditional positive regard for individuals and empathy and needed to be authentic. I fast learnt that children could very quickly tell if you didn’t have time for them or weren’t being genuine in your responses.

The innovative Creative Mentoring programme that our Virtual School has developed is designed for young people in care that are struggling to engage in education, or who are at risk of exclusion or disaffection. It emphasises skills such as empathy, leadership, teamwork, problem-solving, determination, calmness, respect – which are all included in PISA’s creative and collaborative problem solving and global competency measure and aimed at preparing young people to re-engage in learning and work readiness.

It was great to have this programme recognised as good practice when it was named a runner up at the Pupil Premium Awards 2017 - so all credit to the team.

Reflecting on the transformative qualities of the relationship between Leigh and the mentor is a reminder of the importance of personal and professional integrity within the practice of leadership – as what is leadership if it’s not about relationships. So it’s no surprise that where we see partnership working and services delivering the most impact it’s where relationships are built on trust and authenticity.

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