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The school social worker: schools need to find what makes individual students tick

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I met Suzanne three years ago. She was 12 years-old and had arrived in my room as an angry and frustrated young person.

She had not had a positive experience of professionals, particularly social workers, and took an instant dislike to me. I have to admit that during those first few months I questioned whether I was wasting my time trying to break down this young person’s barriers – she could be so hostile and defensive, and she regularly said she hated me.

But then, one gloomy afternoon, we had a breakthrough. I had been given permission to use an art room, so I got out a range of kit and waited for her arrival. I braced myself for another session of me trying to fill uncomfortable silences and field sarcastic comments, but on seeing what we were up to her entire demeanour changed and she visibly relaxed.

That session was a turning point. Suddenly, she was able to articulate how she was feeling. Art had given her the tools to communicate.

In the following weeks, a new young lady appeared. We created canvases detailing her past and present, and what she aspired to achieve in the future. I realised quite how complex she was, but also how difficult her childhood had been. She had been forced to grow up fast.

I also found that many of the things the school and other professionals had labelled her as being were unfair. She showed understanding, compassion and empathy for those around her and had a clear perception of right and wrong. It was all there, we just had to find the right key to unlock it.

I continued to work with this young person for a number of years and each time I worked with her I understood slightly more: sometimes we moved forward, sometimes we moved backwards, but we always kept moving.

Each and every day I see Suzanne she reminds me why it is so important to keep trying to engage with a young person, and of the value of continuing until you find the key to that individual. It might not be art like for Suzanne, it might be Minecraft, Manchester City, or a love of snails or labradors. No matter how busy you are as a teacher, keep looking until you find that special thing for a student, because the value for that young person could be life-altering.

I am grateful every single day that Suzanne taught me this lesson. She made me a better social worker and a better person.

All names and some details of the story have been changed to protect the identities of those involved. This is the fifth blog by the School Social Worker; the other blogs can be found in the related links below. 

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