The future is made of yous, it is made of encounters, because life flows through our relations with others. Life is not merely time passing by, life is about interactions.
His Holiness, Pope Francis
I had an encounter this morning that will sound familiar to those of you who have ever taught young people. On our way home, my wife and I called in a local supermarket. As we approached the checkout I noticed ‘A’ straight away; a former pupil at one of my previous schools. When our turn came, he looked up, smiled broadly and said, “It is you, isn’t it? Mr Feasey?” For those colleagues who work in secondary or tertiary education the leap is not so great, I imagine, but seeing the young man (or woman) version of the boy (or girl) you remember as primary school age is always quite something, often stunning. I extended my hand, ‘A’ shook it firmly, and then (as he whipped several items across the scanner) told Gill and I of his plan. He was working when he could to earn money as he attended college. I leapt in with, “So you will be going to university then?” ‘A’ put me right. He is working hard to get good grades and hopes to secure an apprenticeship with a firm in the sector he is interested in. That, so that he does not have to saddle himself with a big debt. I walked out of the shop smiling inwardly, and outwardly, no doubt. I earnestly hope that ‘A’ achieves all of his goals, and more.
Not so long ago I had the privilege of being a guest speaker on a webinar led by Dr Russ Quaglia. Russ (Twitter: @DrRussQ) has spent decades researching Student Voice and Aspirations with his team at the Quaglia Institute in the U.S. – working with and supporting schools in the U.S. and nationally.
Russ is probably the most passionate, committed and articulate academic/practitioner I have ever come across. His work on School Voice (Student/Teacher/Principal/Parent) is grounded in deep and extensive research, over a considerable period of time. What draws me to Russ’s work is that its core intention is to offer agency, hope and purpose. Russ says that school voice isn’t just about asking and listening – it is also about what happens next. The Quaglia Institute define Aspirations as the ability to dream and set goals for the future while being inspired in the present to reach those dreams. Aspirations are both “then” and “now.” They involve both dreaming of the future, and doing in the present. They are made up of a vision of where we want to get and, at a minimum, a willingness to do what is necessary to get there.
I would place ‘A’ squarely in the top-right quadrant. I cannot take credit for that, other than knowing that, as a team, we offered ‘A’ the very best we could at our school. I cannot remember his attainment levels but I am confident that he would have done well. I remember ‘A’ exemplifying all that we valued and celebrated in our school. I remember ‘A’’s parents as supportive of school, of their son, and wanting the very best for him. I do not know how secondary school went for ‘A’ but I would hazard a guess that ‘A’ has largely driven himself to where he sits right now, in the top right quadrant of the Aspirations Profile. That said, I have no doubt that certain stand out individuals would have given ‘A’ a nudge in the right direction from time to time. We all need that.
Did you know that His Holiness Pope Francis has given a TEDTalk? He has. In 2017, Pope Francis’ talk was transmitted live from the Vatican to an audience attending a TEDTalk event named ‘The Future You’. His Holiness stressed that he aimed to give out the message “the only future worth building includes everyone”. He said that he liked the event title because:
While looking at tomorrow, it invites us to open a dialogue today, to look at a future through a “you”. The future is made of yous, it is made of encounters, because life flows through our relations with others. Life is not merely time passing by, life is about interactions.
He reminds us that we all need each other, none of us is an island, separated from the other, and “we can only build the future by standing together, including everyone”.
Pope Francis talks of Science and how it points to an understanding of reality, as a place where every element connects and interacts with everything else. “How wonderful would it be, while we discover faraway planets, to rediscover the needs of the brothers and sisters orbiting around us.” He wonders how good the world would be if solidarity became the default attitude in political, economic and scientific choices, as well as in the relationships among individuals, peoples and countries.
His Holiness offers a stark warning on the issue of power, saying that the more power you hold, the more your actions will have an impact on people, and so, the more responsibility you have to act humbly.
He tells us of a saying in Argentina. Power is like drinking gin on an empty stomach. You feel dizzy, you get drunk, you lose your balance, and you will end up hurting yourself and those around you, if you don’t connect your power with humility and tenderness.
The future of humankind isn’t exclusively in the hands of politicians, of great leaders, of big companies. Yes, they do hold an enormous responsibility. But the future is, most of all, in the hands of those people who recognise the other as “you” and themselves as part of an “us”. And we all need each other.
How wonderful would it be if in all our school communities solidarity became the default attitude in the relationships among students, their families, school staff, and extended community members? How many of us drink gin on an empty stomach and fail to join the community dots? Not wilfully, I might add, but dizzy perhaps with the ever increasing demands placed upon us. We have the power to do good work here. And God forbid we leave the future of mankind in the hands of our politicians and big business!
‘A’, the fine young man who served us this morning has Hope. He has Aspirations. Returning to Dr Quaglia’s definition:
Aspirations are both “then” and “now.” They involve both dreaming of the future, and doing in the present.
His Holiness, Pope Francis:
We all need each other, none of us is an island, separated from the other, and we can only build the future by standing together, including everyone.
I say it is not naive to believe that all schools, in embracing their communities and fostering solidarity can shape a better and more socially just world. To do so, we must address the needs of all those orbiting around our communities by listening to their stories and addressing traditional lines of power. Together, we can multiply Hope and drive and guide those young ones we are all there for; their Aspirations “then” and “now”.
Whether or not ‘A’ needed a safety net, I know not. You will have a store of similar encounters and stories of your own. I do wonder how many more young people would have hit that top right quadrant if, typically, solidarity marked family-school-community partnerships.
I offer a coaching service to schools and school leaders on community capacity building. The approach I advocate is one based on relational leadership and lessons drawn from the field of community organising. I begin by listening and seeking to understand both school narrative and community narrative. We then work on bringing the two together by designing and embedding a relationship-centred and dialogical problem-solving approach that works for your school community. This process is bonded by the connections between people that are based on values of respect, trust, mutuality, reciprocity and dignity, and which result in conviviality, compassion and cooperation. Collective efficacy and action grow in strength as individuals form groups, groups identify issues and develop projects that recognise and harness the potential in the overlapping spheres of influence in the lives of our young people: family, school and community. We build school community partnership and generate this sort of activism by bringing people together and adopting a number of tried and tested, and impactful, techniques.
As an outsider I can bring a fresh perspective to issues. This is particularly useful where the issues are highly charged. In the first instance, my relationship with parents and community is established by directly seeking out their stories.
If this is something that interests you and you would like a first conversation then please contact me on 07793055719 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org