The aim of this project was to build the confidence of the young people at the residential home, supporting them to re-engage in education with less fear, apprehension, and anxiety. We wanted them to begin their journey towards a growth mindset and a can-do attitude. The project sought different forms of education more tailored to the needs of each young person, as formal classroom-based education had so far had limited success for them. A whole range of approaches were considered, to try to help the young people work past previous trauma where they felt judged purely on their academic failings. By building their confidence, self- esteem, and courage, we wanted them to re-engage with education.
Overall, the project had good results and largely achieved its aim. All three of the young people have embraced the learning of valuable life skills. They have also had significant success in terms of their confidence and self-belief, by realising that they had developed and thrived within diverse educational projects. All are now less fearful of making mistakes and are more willing to keep trying. As Carol Dweck (2017) states, "even with a growth mindset, failure can be a painful experience. But it doesn't define you. It’s a problem to be faced, to be dealt with, and learned from."
The only failing was outwith the project’s control. Funding challenges meant that one of the young people was moved to another service deemed more appropriate. This was disappointing as the young person was starting to make real progress - taking a more positive approach to online education courses, building their confidence through developing their art and photography skills, and being more positive about their own emotional wellbeing. Sadly, it is likely that their progress will be impacted by this significant change at such a crucial stage.
With hindsight, it would have been better to have built in more planning time at the initial stages, taking outside factors such as funding and social work influences into consideration. It would have been useful to involve social workers at the outset, to ensure they understood the potential benefits for the young people involved. Any future work would also look for even more tailored approaches to be adopted.
An open-ended timeline was adopted for the project due to the trauma already faced by the young people. As Carol Dweck states, "some people pick up skills in the natural course of their lives, whereas others have to work to learn them and put them together. But.... everyone can do it". We wanted to take things slow and steady to gain their trust and build their confidence and set the pace of the project to best suit each of the young people individually. This was reflected in the educational projects selected also. This approach was quite successful for two of the young people. For the third, progress was more variable and we ran out of the time required, due to unforeseen circumstances.
The project was in a constant state of change as we dealt with frequent issues that arose for the young people. We had to revisit timelines, especially at the outset when we struggled to get the young people to engage, and with some refusing to participate at times. Educational targets were also revised. With young person 1, for example, it was hoped that they would re-engage with formal education, but their severe anxiety and mental health issues made this not possible. We responded by adapting how we approached and encouraged them, using home learning to reduce the pressure. With young person 2, who had very low self-esteem and confidence, we swapped literacy classes to attending a Princes’ Trust course at college and volunteering on a farm. For the third young person, he went from attending one school to now attending one in the morning and another in the afternoon.
The impact the project had on the young people at the residential home is still unfolding, as they continue their educational journey. The changes have been both significant and subtle and have been positive overall. Each of the young peoples’ experiences meant that they acquired learning issues impacting their ability to participate in formal education settings. Project staff needed to build trust and nurturing relationships with the young people as they all had low self-esteem and very little confidence. The project showed them that education does not need to be scary, it is ok to make mistakes and that it is important to keep trying and not to give up at the first hurdle. As Dweck states "can anyone do anything? I don't really know. However, I think we can now agree that people can do a lot more than first meets the eye".
It was important that the young people did not feel judged by what they perceived as failures, and for staff to encourage and praise their hard work and efforts. Young person 1 was originally volatile, destructive, and totally disengaged with formal education. With staff encouragement and patience and a lot of her own effort, she began to express herself through her artwork and produced some stunning pieces. She began to trust staff and responded to their praise for the hard work and effort that she put in. Due to the severe anxiety and stress levels of the young person, it was decided that a home study college course in National 5 English and National 4 Maths would be best for them. After a slow start, good progress was made.
Young Person 3 had an explosive nature and was prone to violence. He attended primary school but struggled to remain focused and would often be sent home. It was decided that he would benefit from support to manage his own behaviour more effectively, helping him to attend school more regularly and be more involved in classwork. He now attends one primary school in the morning and a different one in the afternoon, with good results. Carol Dweck sumed this up nicely when she stated "growth mindset lets people use and develop their minds fully. Their heads are not filled with limiting thoughts, a fragile sense of belonging and a belief that other people can define them".
One of the most important parts of the project was to support the young people to gain valuable life skills. This work is ongoing, but the project has been effective in helping to build trust, confidence and self-esteem. It has also shown the young people that there are many different paths for them to take on their educational journeys. All the young people have greatly improved and are achieving in their own way.
The evidence for this project is hard to quantify due to the focus on emotional as well as educational growth, as described in the section above. The young people have all developed through the project. Young person 2 is calmer when faced with stressful situations. Young person 1 was able to explore their artistic talents, and started to express the emotional trauma they had felt in ways they had never opened up too before. Young Person 3 feels more safe and secure, his behaviour is far less extreme and less challenging. As a result, all of the young people have managed to achieve academically and should continue making progress in future.
The feedback from colleagues was largely positive, with staff involved seeing the benefits and really wanting the project to be a success. Feedback was consistent in terms of seeing growing maturity in the young people and improved independent living skills. They felt that young person 3 could now recognise boundaries and the consequences of their actions. Two of the young people were also more effective at managing their emotions. Staff involved also felt a benefit and thought the project had improved team cohesion. There were some negatives that came out of the feedback. Some staff felt there was no follow up from management or debriefing and that the team themselves were also still on a growth mindset journey. This will be something to work on in future as the project is ongoing.
In the first instance, the next steps will be to continue to build on what has been achieved with our existing young people throughout the project. We still need to support young person 2 as they start their college course. This will require all staff to pull together and be consistent in their approach to encourage the young person to continue to build a growth mindset. As new young people join us, they will bring fresh challenges and an opportunity for staff to work on their own growth mindset approach. As the young people settle in and start to feel safe, secure and nurtured, we will then encourage a growth mindset approach in them. We will learn from the mistakes made in this project and the success of tailoring our support to their individual needs and learning journey.