Community Matters: Leading with Character in the Classroom - Sajeela Shah

October 20, 2021
Community Matters: Leading with Character in the Classroom - Sajeela Shah

The below extract is a reflection written by Sajeela Shah for the eBook Community Matters: Helping Young People Lead with Character in a Post-Covid World. Download the full eBook here.

I believe that Character Education is more relevant than ever in our schools and classrooms. The pandemic has highlighted how important it is to support others in your community, carry out acts of kindness and check in on your neighbours. This is the essence of the Young Leaders Award (YLA).

The pupils at Bingley Grammar are ethnically diverse and come from a wide range of socio-economic backgrounds. The YLA supports students in engaging with people in the community, giving them the opportunity to develop and hone crucial communication and teamwork skills. Given how much learning and social interaction has taken place online over the past 18 months, these are fundamental skills in developing our students for life after education in the workplace.

Each year, my students surprise and inspire me with their passion and enjoyment for this Award. The YLA educates pupils in a different way, alongside academic subjects, and plays a key role in allowing students to build their confidence and self-belief, helps them to develop social skills and allows them to see the benefits and impact of being the change and helping others. It encourages students to decide the projects that they want to work on: they come up with ideas, they plan events and all I do is facilitate the projects (within reason of course!). It may seem a simple action but, one of my students learnt how to make a cup of tea, so they could help at our annual garden party. Another asked for help and ideas to engage an elderly person in conversation.

These are skills that perhaps have become less commonplace, as communities have grown and become less connected. Some of our students may not have experience of speaking with the elderly. Through running the YLA, I have seen the importance of working alongside other organisations. In our previous partnerships with elderly residential homes, the impact has been profound, on both pupils and residents. For students, pottery painting with residents with dementia was an incredible experience, an afternoon full of care and laughter and they are memories they will all share forever.

As part of the YLA pupils learn about different inspirational leaders, both past and present, and the positive impact these leaders have on communities locally, nationally and internationally. One of the people that stands out to me and I think is a huge inspiration for students, is Amika George, who campaigns for period poverty. Her story is one that can inspire pupils to make a difference, as they start to look wider than themselves and see the needs that people in community might be facing. We have also been privileged at Bingley Grammar to be visited on several occasions by Holocaust survivor, Arek Hersh. His story of courage is incredibly powerful and moving. How he has used his experience to bring unity and hope to others is truly inspiring. I believe this is so important for our students to have these experiential learning opportunities, examples of people in community who are living out core values and leadership skills that are central to being an active member in any community.

The pandemic has brought many challenges and difficulties for our students. While it has encouraged all of us to look after each other, to be kind and supportive, it has also put a lot of our social interactions on hold and meant that lots of our young people have become more isolated and withdrawn. The YLA is one way in which we can address these issues. It encourages kindness, compassion and thankfulness whilst also encouraging self-belief, confidence, determination and perseverance. I strongly believe that this kind of education is something that all schools should implement within their curriculum and that it is essential for rebuilding and reforming connections within and outside of our school community.

This reflection written by Sajeela Shah for the eBook Community Matters: Helping Young People Lead with Character in a Post-Covid World. Download the full eBook here.

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