The Importance of a Friendly Face in School
Danielle Widger shares an inspiring reflection on the importance of a friendly face in school.
It’s been six years since I first started going to in schools. I’ve lead self-esteem and anger management lessons. I’ve lead lessons on healthy relationships, bad influences and role models. I’ve lead after schools clubs, lunch clubs and overseas trips with students. I have done mentoring and in class support. I’ve sat in Science lessons desperately praying for the Lord to give me the answers because my Science GCSE feels like a very long time ago! I’ve done mentoring sessions in stairwells because there are no rooms available in the rest of the school. And for the most part it has been an absolute privilege to serve young people in schools and work alongside some of the most hard working and inspiring teachers and support staff. It’s a privilege to work with people who are often committed to kids through thick and thin, good and bad. I worked with a maths teacher who supported the most challenging students and spent time with them every day within the school as well as having a full teaching schedule. I worked with a geography teacher who regularly gives up his weekends to take young people on volunteering trips. A Teaching Assistant who took a packed lunch in every day for a girl who was in the process of being taken into care.
But in the last six years I’ve also felt the need to reflect on my role as a youth worker in school. There is an increasing level of pressure not only on students to achieve but also on their teachers and the rest of the school. On a good day teachers and staff are there to help young people prepare for their future on a holistic and not just academic level, on a bad day you’re pushed to perform and get as many kids as possible to attain that coveted C-grade that looks good on a league table. And in that setting, I have often felt unsure of where I fit. When your passion is to help provide pastoral care for the most needy or most challenging young people, but the school wants you to sit in a maths lesson and try to get a kid to engage with the lesson and complete their work how do you reconcile those two worlds?
The conclusion I have come to is that at the most basic level, maybe Christian youth workers in schools are called to be a friendly face. It might sound like a simple conclusion to come to but it’s one that’s helped me greatly in my work. I am privileged to work for a charity that places relationships at its centre instead of results and numbers. Being in this privileged position means that I don’t have to operate under the same pressure teachers and schools do. Which means that when I go to school I can be completely open to what it is the schools says it needs and can serve them in that way. Serving in the knowledge that the God I believe is love will give me opportunities to love each person I meet in school (student, teacher, receptionist and everyone else), to be a constantly friendly face that’s always pleased to be there and pleased to help. And through that I hope I will have an impact on the impact the lives of young people in these schools. That by making school a slightly friendlier place young people will find it easier to flourish and reach their God given potential.
So whatever it is that we do in schools, let’s commit to being a friendly face to all we encounter.
A friendly face when doing in class support and the teacher is too stretched (through no fault of their own) to give individuals who are struggling attention.
A friendly face when a kid storms out of lesson and need someone to talk through and process with them what happened and why.
A friendly face in a lunch club which welcomes all and helps make school a little more bearable for the young person that struggles to get through the whole day.
A friendly face for the teacher who has been in school since 7am and will take work home with them nearly every evening.
At least, that’s the challenge I have set for myself.
Danielle Widger, Greenwich Senior Youth Worker.