OK so during adolescence the limbic brain is extremely active and it craves novelty and new experiences. It’s the perfect time for young people to get out there and try loads of things, push themselves and see what they’re capable of.

It’s also a great time for them to get out and about for a very different reason: colleges, universities, work placements and jobs are handling hundreds of different applications  – it’s essential that a young person knows how to make their application stand out, in a good way.

One way to stand out is to volunteer for something. Either as a one-off or regular occurrence and there are thousands of opportunities for young people to have a go at something new throughout the UK.

www.volunteering.org.uk

www.vinspired.com

www.changemakers.org.uk

www.citizenshipfoundation.org.uk

www.do-it.org.uk

www.timebank.org.uk

www.worldwidevolunteering.org.uk

Whilst I’m sounding a little like an ad for the UK voluntary service – I do have my own take on this worthwhile activity. Bar my first application for a teaching job, some nineteen years ago, every job before and since I have either got through word of mouth or some sort of voluntary activity. Voluntary work not only broadens your horizons, makes you more interesting as a candidate, brings you into a network of new people, it can also be your passport to the work and career that interests you the most.

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I’m always aware of the role I can play in schools. I see I can provide information and ideas about options and choices in our vast world of opportunity. And also, some sense of re-assurance that all the decisions don’t have to be made right now aged 12, 16, 21 or even at any specific point in life.

I wonder if the act of taking options in school actually starts  a useful process of elimination or increases the pressure to select.

As someone who enjoyed art and design at school, completed a degree in visual art and then went on to be an architectural designer I can say I found it ‘easy’ to decide what to do when faced with careers options at school. But now I understand a different story too. I left the world of design in my mid twenties because it no longer held fascination for me and I found I had to start all over again with ‘options’.

Then began several years of trying new things out. Teaching, coaching, training, management consultancy. Each time I’d be interested, but the interest would wane and I’d move on to something else. It was really only in the last few years when all my experiences began to come together and I found myself drawn back into education. I now know what my niche is: bringing the outside world into schools.

My point being that sometimes you don’t know what you want to do with your life because you haven’t done enough yet. So the idea about choosing something to focus on during, say, options can seem less daunting when you imagine you are only choosing something ‘for now’. Not forever.

On the 25th of April two schools went head to head at the Lend Lease Buildings into Communities Project final. Both schools had an alloted time in which to arrive at Lend Lease’s Head Office in central London, organise themselves and then give their presentation to a panel of judges.

The judging panel consisted of:

Matt Beasley – Project Director for the The International Quarter which is next building phase in Stratford City.

Fay Cannings – Community Development Manager

Gareth Beaumont – Facilities Manager

Paula Lyons – Administration & Compliance Manager

I was also on the panel, as was a young man from Rokeby School who was with Lend Lease that week on Work Experience. It was quite interesting to have a young person judging with us (albeit from one of the schools in the final!) and I think it would be a great idea to have a student representative on any future judging panels.

The two groups had to present their thoughts on how to create and sustain thriving communities within new housing developments. They had a clear criteria for success which comprised:
• A clear, well thought approach to the project
• Thorough knowledge and understanding of issues
• A realistic solution
• The inclusion of attractive, relevant visuals
• A professional attitude
• Confidence when presenting and fielding questions

Both groups were exceptional in their presentations – so much so that the  couldn’t decide on a winner and Matt declared both teams should have winning Westfield vouchers. Eventually the panel got down to technicalities and it was felt that the Cumberland team really did address the criteria for success over and above what was required of them so they were the official winners on the day.

The final prize was being put together by Gareth at Lend Lease and will be something to do with a ‘backstage’ visit to the Olympic Park for the winners and their families. This will probably take place in the next few weeks.

An additional development on the day happened during judging panel discussions. The panel was so impressed with the professional attitude of all the participants that they wanted to think of a way to continue working with the young people. They agreed to find a way for Lend Lease to develop something along the lines of a youth forum and continue to develop the ideas that had been raised during the presentations.

And – because both teams were indeed winners – here’s a photo of the Rokeby team:

Yay – another SCEP blog is born – and this one has its own domain: FGCSClassof2012.com

I’ve started it to help communication between me and the Class of 2012 that I’m working with at Forest Gate School for the next year.

As I wanted to be able to demonstrate ideas and information in an engaging way I decided to have, largely, video content on this new blog so that all the students have to do is look at it to find out what the next session will be about.

My first video was the most excellent ‘Teach me how to study’ by John Paul Stevens High School, San Antonio, Texas. I was so blown away by this video I wanted to see if it inspired the class. And yeah – it certainly did.

I would so love to see them produce their own version. And I think they would be keen enough to try . . .

I have been out and about a lot this week with planning meetings, Preparation  for KS4 lessons, Lend Lease Project finals and presentations and, oh yes, my meeting with the astronaut Paolo Nespoli today at Westfield. All of which I shall blog about next week when I have some photos – so hang on in there.

Today I wanted to make a comment about the attractive April ‘showers’ we have been experiencing recently. It varies (but not much) between blazing sunshine and torrential, flooding, drain cover-lifting rain. That doesn’t stop until at least half an hour after you needed to have got out of the car to attend a meeting. I have taken to carrying an umbrella, which is unheard of for me. Challenging times indeed.

But it does bring out the very thing I find the most endearing about the community in and around Newham. The sense of humour and spirit of just getting on with it. Whilst I was in John Lewis today I was examining their huge range of Olympic Games pin badges that they have on sale – 365 different ones to be precise. Some of which were definitely tongue-in-cheek, like the Olympic pin representing the good old English fry up, cream tea and, most appropriate, rain cloud, lightning and umbrella.

We may not have the best weather here in Britain. But it will not get us down!

On Friday 27th April Westfield is expecting a very special kind of visitor. A visitor who’s been on longer than average journeys abroad – into space to be precise. His name is Paolo Nespoli and he was in space as recently as May 2011 as part of Soyuz Expedition 27. He is also one of the astronauts responsible for some truly stunning photographs whilst he’s been in space:

Vesuvio, Italia, May 17, 2011

Paolo is part of the brilliant Mission X project that has been running internationally, and across the UK, over the last three months http://trainlikeanastronaut.org/. The culmination of the project is a visit to Cumberland School where students will be taking part in events and exercises celebrating the Mission X project completion. Delegates from ten of the other participating countries will be present and Paolo will be taking part in a live NASA webcast throughout the afternoon.

SCEP became involved as part of the tour for delegates included a visit to Westfield to understand about the regeneration in the area and see how the Olympic Park was shaping up. I adapted one of SCEP’s Westfield tours to be suitable for a substantial group of, largely, non-English speaking delegates. I ensured the tour would not only encompass the Olympic Park and the massive regeneration of the area, but also the size and scope of the Westfield development itself and its considerable efforts to be sustainable and energy efficient.

Now – all we need is some fine weather for next Friday and we’re laughing . . .

A team from Cumberland School

In the last few days of term I attended two schools’ Lend Lease project finals and they were both excellent. Interestingly enough the schools had approached the project in quite different ways:

Cumberland had worked with Year 9 Gifted & Talented students allowing three days off timetable to take a more global curriculum approach and immerse themselves more fully in the project. In these three days they spent some time at Lend Lease hearing all about the planning and architecture of the Athletes’ Village and International Quarter. They then had time to work on their presentations with additional input around the geographical and sociological aspects of the project. The school final was held on the afternoon of the last day.

Rokeby had also put a Gifted & Talented group onto this project, this time Year 10. These students came together after school on Mondays and Thursdays to work on the project within the topic of Geography. They had been working on the project over six weeks, kicking off with a site visit to The Athletes’ Village and presentation by Lend Lease.

All the students were tasked with demonstrating how they would set about establishing communities within apartment block developments. They were free to look at the project from one of three angles: Society & Engagement, Security & Physical Environment and Environment & Sustainability.

Interestingly a total of four groups from each school gave a presentation, and in both schools, three groups had chosen to focus on integrating the residents of the apartment blocks and one group had chosen to focus on security.

The winners were duly selected and will go head to head at the grand final to be held at Lend Lease HQ in central London on the 25th April.

I was chatting today with someone who owns a shop. We were discussing how he could ‘sell to the world’ irrespective of where his business was based. The advent of the internet and ease of global communication have allowed that to happen. We went on to talk about how he has changed his marketing strategy over the years to reflect not only the shifting local market, but also the emerging global one.

Not saying he was able to sell his products to anyone in the world (he sold large household furnishings – so certain logistics dictated delivery) but he found he now had the power to target his marketing to his specific niche market. Wherever they lived in, say, a 25 mile radius.

It got me thinking about who were are as individuals and our own individual ‘selling platform’.

Do we know who our market is. As employees, as business owners, as entrepreneurs? To we know who we specifically attractive to? Do we know who would love us to be part of their team? Do we know categorically what we have to offer so we can spend our time targeting only those who would be interested in us.

There’s an apt sales phrase ‘low hanging fruit’ meaning that you go for the easiest to pick first. If we all knew ourselves, our aptitudes, our skills, interests and talents so well that we could instantly see if any working scenario was going to be a good fit, it would waste less time sitting in unsuitable work. Attending inappropriate interviews and applying for jobs that make us feel down just by thinking about them.

This self-knowledge is what I’m building with my Year 8 programme at Forest Gate Community School.

I am currently planning a game for Sarah Bonnell School to play during one of their drop down days at the end of next term. You may have read that I’ve been planning to put together a ‘Day in the life of a Department Store’ experience for some time so this seems like the perfect opportunity to develop this idea.

But what format to use?

I originally thought I would go down the route of role play during a staff meeting but am now thinking that could require a huge amount of reading and understanding on the part of each player prior to starting the game. Now I have widened my thinking out a little more and begun to generate ideas for formats using familiar games that everyone knows such as:

Twister, Mousetrap, Monopoly, Cranium and my favourite as a child – Buccaneer. But it needs to be a ‘travel through’ type of game where the journey has a start and an end and where a team can work together to complete the task. But each team has a different experience that they can then talk about afterwards. It was then I thought of good old Game of Life.

With its overriding purpose, decisions and general randomness it could describe any experience of any working person in the UK – I think I’m onto something . . .

Erik has some very interesting ideas. Erik Erikson that is, the psychologist and psychoanalyst world-renowned for his theories on human psychological development.

And it is through Erik that I take into account two distinct stages of development when planning my activities and projects in schools:

Stage 4: Industry v Inferiority (age 5-12 years)

Stage 5: Indentity v Role confusion (age 9-18 years)

To take an extremely detailed and absorbing work and distill it into a couple of sentences we need to give children at primary school activities that they can strive to achieve. And students at secondary school activities that help them discover who they are.

Next week I shall be starting the first of my Preparation for Key Stage 4 workshops in Forest Gate School. I’m really looking forward to how it will shape up as I have been given carte blanche to run a course for students full of all the things I think we can improve on in schools. Things like finding out who they are, how they operate, where they can see themselves fitting into the world of work, what special interests and passions they have and how they like to express themselves.

I met some of the group yesterday and it was great to see how lively and questioning they all were. My first task for them was to go on to Buzz Books’ site and do the quiz to find out what sort of Myers Briggs type they might be. Then we should have fun with the people who have had a chance to do it before the workshop on Monday and my money is on the fact that we have a large amount of E rather than I as the first letter.

For anyone not in the know and hasn’t a clue about what I am referring to – go on to the site and do the personality test yourself:

http://thebuzzbook.co.uk

Oh and the picture detail of Road with Cypress and Star by Van Gogh? Well – I could say it was linked with the psychoanalysis references, but it’s much more to do with the fact that here is someone who was so clearly passionately connected with his life’s work. Fabulous!