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Can schools work together for the Common Good? They can with Leaders like these!

This blog is written by Keith Hebden, Community Organiser for Leicester & Leicestershire Citizens. A short but powerful reflection of how students in schools can develop into effective leaders in public life and take action on the issues that affect them most through the tools and principles of Community Organising.

The Winstanley School in Braunstone Town, Leicestershire is one of my favourite places to visit (at work!). I’m always made welcome, the students never failed to impress me with their courage, intellect, and talent as leaders and thinkers. Theirs is one of three Secondary schools, that – along with primaries form the LiFE Mulita Academy Trust (LiFE MAT).

The LiFE MAT has a mission, to make sure each of their schools is a place where people thrive. You can see reminders everywhere; on lanyards, on posters, in book and on their website. But the real challenge is always to make it a reality; not just in one school but across the family. They are actively inclusive and celebrate difference – the schools have intakes form outer states as well as county towns; they invest in the pastoral as well as the academic needs. But they also care about their place in the local community – which is why they are a member of Leicester & Leicestershire Citizens.

Yesterday – 21st January 2020 – was a great day for me as an organiser. I spent the day with 30 of their young leaders – 10 from each of the Secondary schools – as we thought about how they can develop their civic power to bring solutions to local challenges.

After some one-to-ones, training, and planning they want out in two groups to do some fieldwork by walking to two parks nearby. Key to this process was telling stories. We weren’t auditing how things looked. The students form Counteshorpe Leysland Community College and Bosworth Academy, asked probing questions and the students who lived in Braunstone told stories about the things that had happened on the paths and parks they walked around. Stories tell us far more about real issues than opinions ever could and, more importantly, they build relationships.

Before reuniting at the school site, the two groups discussed and agreed two issues each to bring to the table. When they came back – and had lunch – they nominate four leaders to pitch the four ideas – two people from each group. Meanwhile, students from The Winstanley School, with more experience of Community Organising, told their stories and did some teaching to inspire their new friends and co-leaders.

The rest of the afternoon was spent discussing, vote, re-negotiating and finally agreeing a single worthwhile and winnable offer and ask that they could bring to local decision makers to solve a local problem. Watch this space! Before leaving they identified unanswered questions and set up teams to go away and find the answers. Their ability to find genuinely important questions and to respectfully disagree and discuss was brilliant – better than many adults, I think!

Finally, because we are a learning community at Citizens UK, we evaluated the day. The students noticed who among them had been particularly helpful, or inspiring and said what had worked well. They also gave me some really helpful feedback on how we might improve on the process for next time. They were both gracious and on the money with their critiques!

What now? I’m confident these young leaders are going to deliver. New relationships across the three schools have been formed as they swapped contact details and began to work on their projects. They were excited and determined. I can’t wait to tell you what happens next.