Friday, 8 August 2014

A Quiet Place: What Is Done In Love, Is Done Well

Mike Wright reports on his recent day of training with A Quiet Place


I recently had the privilege of being invited to attend the National Staff Training Day for ‘A Quiet Place’,‘a "within schools" programme of therapeutic support for pupils experiencing social, behavioural and/or emotional difficulties’.

I had initially been introduced to ‘A Quiet Place’ after being rather serendipitously handed a book (the best kind of ‘being handed a book’, I feel) written by Penny Moon titled ‘The Practical Well-Being Programme’ (for my review of the book, see here). So, acquainted with the ethos behind Penny’s holistic approach, I was grateful to be given the opportunity to gain a fuller picture of how this ‘artfully vague’ structure comes together in practice.

The structure of the Training Day quite aptly reflected that of Penny Moon’s general approach in not adhering too strictly to formality - and therefore allowing more space for creativity and spontaneity. This was personified in Penny herself, who artfully meandered through topics with an often hypnotic style; the deviation between precision and vagueness forming the ebb and flow of her stream-like speech (and I say this in the most positive sense, of course!). Bullet points were acknowledged, providing often very useful anchors of structure in the stream of experiential anecdotes, relevant informative updates, inspirational videos and breathing and meditation exercises.

The first thing that struck me, however, on entering the conference room situated on the 4th floor of 54 St James Street, Liverpool, was that ‘A Quiet Place’ comprised of actual, real people. Now, of course it seems plainly obvious that any Training Day, for it be effective and useful, must have people there to train. However for me, as a relative newcomer to ‘A Quiet Place’ and a relative outsider to the structure of how schools are run, it was not until this moment that I realised ‘A Quiet Place’ was not simply one person’s philosophy, existing as a detached ideal, separate from a system of statistical and results-focused teaching. It soon became apparent that this was in fact a practical and organised holistic model, designed to enable individuals to realise their true potential and value. Each person in the room had a role to play in making this aim a reality within the school system - and judging from the various experiences being shared, each person appeared to be galvanised by the challenge.

Being in a room with people who appeared committed to making a difference in terms of increasing the general well-being of their students gave me a more refreshing and hopeful impression of what was being achieved in schools today, as opposed to the demoralising and slightly cynical attitude that I often sense in the current educational climate as a result of, for example, the government’s proposal of introducing performance-related pay to the profession.

Instead, the climate within the room seemed to be one of positivity and optimism, as a result, perhaps, of the ability in being able to share in the more valuable reward: helping a student achieve their potential in terms of both well-being and education, not simply by pushing them towards a high A-grade at all costs.

Each ‘A Quiet Place’ Champion or Facilitator appeared to have a story to share in which the way of learning had been a positive catalyst for change in an individual within their own school setting. Interestingly, one Champion had brought along a living, breathing example, in the form of a student who had agreed to attend the Training Day to share their experience of ‘A Quiet Place’. The young man keenly expressed that for him, ‘A Quiet Place’ had offered him valuable space in which to calm down when he felt agitated; a place in which he was not shouted at, but rather listened to and treated with empathy. He explained that this had encouraged a better sense of self-awareness and enabled him to better regulate his behaviour by remaining calm when facing certain aggravating stimulus. He admitted that his behaviour had been bad in the past, but now he was able to help some of his peers due to the understanding he had gained from his experience.

The Day culminated with some meditation and breathing exercises which quite a number of attendees had been eager to practice. This represented to me the level of commitment within the room towards the ‘A Quiet Place’ ethos, in that each participant was enthusiastic in increasing their own level of self-awareness, and therefore in increasing the experiential grounding from which they could understand and better help other individuals.

I recall watching ‘Question Time’ once and hearing one teacher’s view on performance-related pay, expressing the fact that people don’t generally join the profession because of its lucrative nature. This really brought home to me what ‘A Quiet Place’ is all about and crystallised for me the real reason that most teachers join the teaching profession in the first instance. I would suggest that the main motivational factor that I sensed during the Training Day was actually that of bringing about positive change through unlocking the full potential of an individual. And this does not mean reducing potential to equate to a grade or something easily quantifiable, but rather viewing it holistically to include a sense of well-being that could remain after leaving the classroom.

Having compassion as motivation for work, rather than being concerned towards receiving the fruits of the labour, reminded me of a quote from Van Gogh, who once memorably observed that, ‘What is done in love, is done well.’

I wonder how many people could argue with that.

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