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Coach Corner

From coaching to providing insight and experience into the workplace, the work we do at ThinkForward focuses on giving young people the independence and confidence they need to be successful so that they have control over their own lives and futures and can maximise their potential.

The key to our success is our highly skilled coaches who build consistent, trusted relationships with young people through one-to-one and group coaching. Every month we will be hearing from one of our wonderful coaches in a new coach blog series, Coach Corner. 

Coach Nina, FutureMe, Kent

It can be a different life for some young people at The Marsh Academy. We’ve got loads of beautiful open space and we’re near the sea which is great in the summer, but it can be quite isolating during the winter months. There are no fast-food restaurants or large shopping centres and no train station. Buses only come every half hour or every hour.

Here on the south Kent coast, we don’t have as many career opportunities on our doorstep as London or even other parts of Kent such as Maidstone or Canterbury. We’re quite out on a limb so some students face significant challenges even just to go to college.

It can take up to two hours for young people to get to one of the local colleges
on public transport, and that’s even before they start their day. Then they
have to travel home. If you imagine a cold, wet December morning when it’s dark
and you have to get up to go to your college course, you have to be very
committed. It’s the same for apprenticeships and jobs. It’s such a different
landscape for some of my young people compared with students from inner cities. They need to have a wealth of resilience and a lot of drive.

At times, it may feel that the journey – emotionally, mentally and physically – is
just too much. Money can also be a barrier too. If young people need to travel
to college, a job or an apprenticeship they must factor in the cost of transport
and how they’re going to get there, then decide if it’s even worth their while.
Not as many opportunities come up here, so you also have more competition than you might in other areas.

Despite some of the barriers, the Marsh Academy offer a great range of 6th
form courses for students in Year 12 and Year 13 which local students and those
from other areas enrolling onto.  However, 6th form may not be right for everyone which is why I also encourage young people to go to college. It means they can meet new people, develop their social skills and also come out of their comfort zone, all of which helps to develop their resilience and self-assurance.

One good thing to come out of lockdown is that we’ve been able to adapt the
FutureMe programme and deliver online. This means we can access high quality
connections with the world of work for students digitally.

The legacy of moving activities online during the pandemic is that young people are continuing to benefit from opportunities with global businesses. For example, my business mentoring partner this year will be Microsoft, who are based west of
London in Reading.

I’ll deliver a hybrid model which will see the first and last sessions held in
person at the Microsoft offices, and the rest delivered online. Before lockdown,
we wouldn’t have considered running the business mentoring programme remotely but now it feels really normal. My young people are also a lot more confident about turning their cameras on and engaging in conversations online. It’s part of the working culture now, so students being able to conduct themselves confidently and professionally online supports the development of their employability skills.

As a coach, one of my roles is to encourage my young people to develop their
career aspirations. Taking students to career insight days with companies such
as JP Morgan, Sky, NewsUK and Microsoft – alongside business mentoring and
one-to-one coaching – really does help students develop and achieve their own
individual career goals and helps prepare them for the pathway they wish to

Yes, it’s harder for them because of the remoteness of where they live and all the
different challenges they face to get from A to B, but I know they can do it!

Regional Delivery Manager, Shelly, London

Before I joined ThinkForward I worked in a secondary school and part of that involved looking after the mindset of young people, and the young people that were going through trauma and difficulties that prevented them from engaging with education.

I was working with a cohort that we hadn’t thought about when the education system was designed. We just thought everybody was able to learn and engage and had no challenges. In reality, the system doesn’t suit a lot of young people who have barriers at home or face instability. What we do is squash everyone in and expect them all to secure the same outcomes, but it doesn’t work like that.

I see the brilliance in these young people and the tenacious spirit they have in them, and I feel that a lot of them get left behind purely because they can’t meet a certain criteria academically. That’s what motivates me to really champion these young people. It means they’re missing from some really important jobs in society like social work and teaching where they could bring a lot of value. The flip side is we have some people with very academic mindsets in those roles but, they don’t have the common sense, empathy, social skills or emotional intelligence, they don’t have the ability to connect with the child. That’s a big miss.

Let’s not discount the innate qualities that a broad mix of people can bring to the talent pool. I think it’s really, really important that we don’t exclude that talent and it’s one of the reasons I work at ThinkForward.

Another reason is how we help prepare our young people for life after school. I love the fact that primary schools do mindfulness with their pupils but why do we then stop at primary school? Why is that not happening at time when you need it even more, which is a secondary school. Students have assessments, constant benchmarks and milestones to get to, but we stop doing mindfulness as soon as they come into secondary school.

We talk about building character, and we hear the word resilience a lot now but it’s something we’ve always worked on with our young people at ThinkForward. It’s so amazing when I go into a school and I see one of our coaches sitting with a group of Year 10s doing a resilience-focused session. But that shouldn’t just happen at lunchtime for our students, it should be part of the curriculum so everyone can benefit.

I think we all need a greater understanding of what the reality is on the ground now, and how it’s different from when the education system was developed. Then we need to look to the future. They say 60% of the jobs young people are going to go into haven’t even been invented yet.

What we do know is that young people are going to need emotional intelligence, social skills and a growth mindset if they’re going to thrive and navigate their future with confidence and with clarity. These skills should also count for something with employers and universities because they’re an essential part of what’s going to make a person good at their job.

Coach Jen, FutureMe, Nottingham

I’ve always been a creative and hands-on person with a particular interest in pursuing art and design, which is strange because that’s not what I’m doing now. I went to university and studied interior design but ended up changing my mind because some of my family members were doing social work with young people and I loved it. I was so drawn into wanting to help and support them. A natural part of me came out and so from there I went to university and completed a separate degree in social work.

That led me into qualifying and specialising in children and young people which I really enjoyed. I worked in loads of different settings that involved supporting young people including homelessness and domestic abuse, always putting the needs of young people at the heart of it all. What inspires me the most is being able to strengthen the resilience of the young people I work with to try and overcome some of the challenges they face. I also try to embed creativity into the work I do with young people – anytime there’s a possibility of doing anything more kinaesthetic I take it.

My greatest lesson as a coach is to be present. I don’t think you can be a coach unless you’re completely committed to being present in the moment with each individual young person. There are just endless amounts to continually learn because every young person is unique. There will always be another way that you can approach a conversation or a coaching session with a young person, and there will always be different tools but that’s what makes it so exciting for me.

Collaborating with colleagues is important too. I can speak to another coach, and they might bring an approach that really inspires me or makes me think differently, which can help a young person that I was either struggling to engage, or might need to take a different approach with.

Being a coach – guiding a young person and taking them on a journey for five years – is a privilege. Supporting young people who are talking to me about the different things that they’re experiencing and to engage in the coaching process, which may challenge or push them to think differently about themselves, can be challenging so for a young person to allow me to have those conversations with them is wonderful.

I’ve got a young person that I worked with from one of my first cohorts. When I first met her, she was so shy. I was at the start of my coaching process with her, and I was still learning, but she really engaged and she joined me and supported delivering some first aid training. She supported me to deliver CPR training to a year group that were older than her and that started building her self-confidence.

She wanted to be a vet and secured work experience at her final year of school, and since then has been working and completing an apprenticeship in animal care. Throughout lockdown she continued to work when her apprenticeship was put on hold. She took up other opportunities involved in animal care and now she’s pursuing specialised nutrition and behavioural management with dogs. She’s just been incredible; her journey has been fantastic and she’s so independent now. She does it all for herself which is awesome.

It is amazing knowing that I’m a part of a young person’s journey, but their achievements come from them. The coaching process teaches us that people have the ability to unlock some of their barriers. I believe that all these young people absolutely have the potential to do this without us, we are just showing them, helping them find or opening a door for them to walk through, rather than them having to find the door.

Coach Hannah, MoveForward, Kent

I’ve been working with young people with additional needs or vulnerable young people for over 10 years, partly because my brother is dyslexic. He was diagnosed very late and attended a grammar school. He’s incredibly creative, but his English wasn’t up to scratch, and it was picked up rather late.

He was badly bullied at school, to the point where he was beaten up and his nose was broken. The severity and extent of the bullying meant that he ended up dropping out of school. The tenacity of my parents meant he was encouraged to not stay at home, so he went to college and met the most amazing teaching assistant who ended up changing his life within the space of three months.

He went from being anxious and depressed; lacking a sense of direction in life to finding and pursuing something he thoroughly likes, which is trees. After studying countryside management at college, he found ways to translate his thoughts onto paper which was initially something he always struggled with. Following that, I was inspired about the way he spoke about her as his hero. I get the sense that he feels that he owes everything to her.

It’s astounding that someone can challenge eight to nine years of schooling in three months and turn a traumatising experience into something amazing. My brother now works for the Forestry Commission because his TA really unhooked and unlocked his potential. I thought to myself that I want to emulate that, because my brother’s journey was so inspirational to me.

Often the young people we meet have been let down and think this will continue throughout their teenage years, so programmes like MoveForward where we are able to create a safe space of support, guidance and allow mistakes to be made and lessons to be learnt, can make the whole world of difference.

As coaches we bridge the gap and help young people get into work and I absolutely love the outcomes. Having only been at ThinkForward for six months, I really believe in the work that we do and the ethos and values of the organisation where we help young people reach their potential and unlock their passions.

A lot of our young people do not think they will succeed in securing a job or career, but as coaches we help them overcome barriers, no matter how big or small to change and create positive destinations for them. I like the relationships you can build with young people, and I think we learn just as much from them as they do from us.

One of my young people, Michael, completed an application for a Royal Mail apprenticeship. He’s 24 years old and he had applied for so many jobs and had never been successful. He was very employable – punctual, team player, good attendance – but struggled to form answers in the interview. But the Royal Mail had a very sensitive approach and were inclusive and it was a warming process to see.

Michael is currently three months into his apprenticeship and loves it. Royal Mail were able to look past a tick box application form and see him for the person he is. SEN young people are frequently marginalised throughout the employment process, so it was a real highlight to see Royal Mail treat Michael so well and set a standard a lot of other places would do well to follow. 

I love seeing young people and my cohort isn’t based in just one school, we are all over Kent, and our Costa coffee meetups are the best. I’m passionate about the growth of the relationships with the young people. When they first come in for a one-to-one it can feel quite stiff and official, then the young people start to get comfortable and ease into the safe environment, and there’s more space to find out really what’s going on.  

I really love being part of the journey and seeing them change and feeling like we are part of the rest of their lives. We are fostering independence for them to be successful, and I think everyone needs that, whether you are SEN or not. Everyone needs a different staggered approach and different support at different times. I think if we can help young people find out how to get there and break down the steps, then it shows how powerful the MoveForward programme is.

Coach Patrice, FutureMe, London

First up is our FutureMe coach Patrice from City of London Academy Highbury Grove in London.

“With my career, I wanted to get into education because I initially didn’t like education – growing up, I didn’t like secondary school and I didn’t like college. From this I wanted to go back and make college and secondary school more digestible for young people, which led to teaching.

I taught for five years and realised I wanted to do more for my disengaged students. I found I was giving a lot of time to young people that didn’t want to be there and not enough time to those that did. I always thought there should be a broker – someone between the young people that didn’t want to be there, their parents and their next step. When I heard about the role of a coach at ThinkForward, I thought it was amazing and a real opportunity to pursue what I wanted to do, as well as help young people.

I enjoy being a coach because you’re witness to incredible change and growth in the young people you work with – seeing young people go through a full 180 change, which often happens in very different timescales with some at the beginning, some during the five years of the programme and some even post-programme. A big drive for me is seeing them blossom and grow and start doing things that they want to do. We teach young people to not give up, and helping them to realise their brilliance is kind of my thing. We’re helping them to realise their worth.

Taking young people out on activities or ready for work events is great. It is such a massive eye opener for them to experience a new environment and thoroughly enjoy it. These visits also reinforce all the key behaviours we try and teach them such as punctuality and attendance within a work environment. I also enjoy my regular one-to-ones, seeing my young people follow and achieve their own set targets with determination and resilience.

A memorable moment for me was one of my young people Sumaya. Sumaya initially struggled with the school environment and faced negative interactions with teachers and disliked school.  When she started ThinkForward I saw her flourish with regular one-to-one coaching, hit her work readiness capability targets and enjoy ready for work events.

By the time she left in Year 11, Sumaya was in a completely different space. She achieved high GCSE marks and she was able to carry on further education in sixth form. I’d say she’s been an outstanding person on the programme, and she’s really pushed herself, remaining focused and committed to her future goals which was beyond inspiring to see.

One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned, whilst being a coach, is patience. Sometimes that turning point might happen straightaway or it might take a little bit of time to build a rapport. But I never lose faith in the process. There may be setbacks along the way at home or school, but the young people that we work with on our programme are always going through different things, so to be patient and accommodating can make a world of a difference.

This month is Black History Month which shouldn’t be reduced to a month, you should just be teaching every day of the week and every month of the year. I’ve been learning history every day. For instance, I’m named after Patrice Lumumba. He was the first Congolese Prime Minister when the country got independence from Belgium. Tragically, he was murdered as many black activists in the 60s were, but he is my namesake, and without him, I guess I wouldn’t have been named Patrice.

Everything ThinkForward is doing regarding our equalities manifesto and rollout of content for BHM has definitely been a step in the right direction. The big push on the Equality and Diversity training has helped create an equal footing for everyone at the organisation, increasing knowledge, understanding and awareness of important issues which is really good.