How do you begin to share what it means to be a force for positive change, to a group of 9 and 10 year old girls? This was our week 3 challenge at a Greater Manchester primary school in Crumpsall, as part of the Mosaic primary school mentoring programme.
Talisia (my co-mentor) and I had thought long and hard about how we could get some of the quieter year 5 girls to come overcome their shyness and be heard by the group. We opened with an icebreaker, asking all the girls and mothers who they would like to speak to, if they could talk to anyone in the world. A couple of girls wished they could speak to sports and music stars, but most wished they could talk to cousins, aunties, and grandparents who either lived very far away, or had died before they could meet.
We talked about role models and the wonderful ideas that some people have of improving the world around them. A common thread between role models is that they each start with a clear picture of what society could look like, and they hold onto this image so clearly in their minds that it makes them act and talk in a particular way until small changes start to take place.
The girls spoke about Malala Yousafzai and her desire to improve education for girls. They know she is young, and said she was brave. We told them lesser known facts such as calling herself the only Nobel prize winner to have still fought with her brothers! And that her Dad, a teacher himself, strongly encouraged her to speak up.
Our learning outcome for the day was that we can help shape society by being good role models for others. We set an additional goals as mentors, to give each of the girls the chance to speak to the group. We handed out one quality or attribute to each person and had them discuss it in pairs. Dependable, kind, persuasive, persistent, hardworking, courageous, adaptable, determined and so on. Talisia and I went around the room to make sure they understood what their word meant.
After 5 minutes we asked them to come to the front of the room, one at a time, to say their word and to explain to the others what it meant. We had to gently encourage one or two of the shyer mentees, but everyone did it! And their definitions were brilliant. Determined: “You see the finish line, and you know when they say ready steady go that you have to go and go and then you get there.”
We broke into groups and gave them one role model each with a photo and biography, asking if any of the previous words could apply to these individuals. After 5 minutes we asked them to plan how they might act out one of the qualities as a group.
Girls stood on chairs and broke up play acted fights; chanted for their rights to education; slept on imaginary straw beds and convinced their friends to give some money to the poor. Role models: Dame Sarah Storey (high performance athlete in two sports and UK’s most decorated Paralympian, Malala, Oprah Winfrey (humble beginnings, to scholarship recipient and billionaire, Elizabeth Fry (invited her wealthy friends to sleep on straw beds in prison to empathise with women in custody, and Emmeline (a Guatemalan 14 yr old campaigning for better health care and education for young girls).
The last 10 minutes were spent talking about the older children in their school. The year fives shared that sometimes when a younger pupil is hurt on the playground that all the older ones form a wall around them and make everyone stop running so that the little one can be looked after. Older students read to the younger pupils. Some have older brothers and sisters who help explain complicated homework to them. They realised through this activity that they have lots of positive roles models around them. They also realised that although young, they too could set an example and be role models for younger children.
So how do you be the change you want to see in society? Well, I’ve learned to look at things a little differently myself. First decide what it is you want to change (any small thing) and then start to practise any small act of kindness that makes another person’s life a little bit easier or better – they might even begin to see you as a role model. Recognise that having one single attribute is enough to get started; and that we all have the power to encourage someone when we see them making even the smallest of efforts.
We’re all human, and we won’t solve everything in one hour or in ten weeks. But this group gives me so much to think about each week that I really won’t be the same person when we’re done. I just want to keep on practising.