Youth Work Toolbox was recently contacted by a local academy in Walsall after it heard about the effective group impact workshops we run in schools to help students achieve their aspirations and meet their potential.

These highly interactive sessions are usually 45 minutes long and can be delivered to year groups of up to 150 students at a time with activities, audio visuals and worksheets playing a key role in their success.

With staff training taking place, the academy which contacted us asked to extend the workshop to one hour and fifteen minutes, so with some careful planning and preparation, we created a session to fill that timeframe.

Into the lions’ den

On the afternoon of the workshop, I was greeted at reception and led through the school to the dining hall which was full to the brim with noisy students – 260 students to be exact! You can imagine my horror when I was told, with raised eyebrows, that this was to be the group I would be working with that afternoon. A cold sweat came over me…

(Un) fit for purpose

Youth Work Toolbox delivers interactive sessions where all young people are encouraged to participate. The larger the group is, the more challenging this can be. However, it was not just the sheer number of students which had to be overcome, but the environment in which the session was to be held.

Fixed rows of tables and chairs meant some students would have their backs to me and I could hardly see the back of the vast room. The technology I had requested in advance would never project to this audience – the school’s PA system was two small USB speakers you would plug into a laptop and the projector would only be visible to the front rows.

When a member of staff came up to me and asked if I was delivering the session, I thought she would be able to offer some technical or logistical support. Instead, when I confirmed, she simply wished me good luck and hastily retreated!

The show must go on

With the task at hand I began the session, but quickly realised that my usual approach of storytelling and group interaction was not going to work in this room. I couldn’t physically walk around the room to encourage dialogue with the students and the opportunity for them to have their own unrelated banter was too great. The supply teachers were quite clearly disrespected and it was virtually impossible to settle them back down again.

Best laid plans

With time racing ahead and a lot of time wasted settling the group back down meant that after an hour we were only half way through the planned activities. It was clear that the session would have to be cut short and I was bitterly disappointed.

I felt that I had failed to deliver the task but the planned format was impossible in this challenging and unsuitable environment.

Afterwards the school staff were extremely complimentary about the session and commended my resilience at seeing the session through.

Communication is king

The biggest lesson I learned from this experience is that communication is key to achieving the best outcomes.

1. The external provider delivering the workshop. Me.

Whilst I explained my requirements for suitable audio visual equipment, I now know that I could have communicated my needs more clearly and stressed the high importance and impact unsuitable equipment would have on the quality of the learning experience.

The ability to walk the room and connect with the students is absolutely key to how I run Youth Work Toolbox’s workshops and it is what we continually have excellent feedback about.

2. The school.

In providing their brief, the school should have been clearer about the environment in which the session would be delivered, the number of participants and the various challenges which would impact on the workshop.

It also quickly became clear that the session’s content wasn’t best suited for that year group. As Year 9 students they were not thinking about career options and the future in any real, serious capacity. It is therefore important for both the school and us to work together to identify the students’ specific requirements so Youth Work Toolbox can tailor-make a suitable session.

Forewarned is forearmed and if this information had been communicated better I could have adapted the session and put measures in place to mitigate the potential challenges.The students.

3. The students.

Without effective student engagement in the session, their interaction and full participation, the students would not achieve the objectives of the session which was to help them reach their full potential.

 

Communication is key to achieving satisfactory results and outcomes and it is only through effective communication that service providers will deliver services to the appropriate standard and schools will get value for money.

If you would like to find out more about how to engage young people effectively, click here.