It’s Time.

It’s Time.

If we believe the purpose of education is to prepare pupils to thrive in the future, then we have to develop the skills that will enable them to do that.

The question is – will we?

What’s standing in our way from putting human development at the heart of education? And what do we need to acknowledge before we can make this a reality?

In this white paper, we bring you research and insights from changemakers in education and business on the real opportunities to create meaningful change in our education system.

Download the whitepaper

The system is broken

The system is broken

If you’ve sat where I’ve sat – around boardroom tables with managers and leaders of all kinds – you’d know the system is broken. And, we can’t let it stay broken. If we want a better world, we need better leaders and if we want better leaders we need to change what we teach them, how and when we do it.

This begins by broadening and deepening our understanding of leadership.

In doing this we need to let go of a number of myths. Myths like ‘leaders are born and not made’.

Of course, some people are born with natural talents that will help them become great leaders. But the truth is, the skills needed to become great leaders are broad and deep and in the main, are learned skills

Another myth is that leadership consists of a specific set of skills and behaviours. In reality, great leadership can be experienced in countless ways, and that is going to depend on the individual, their personal blueprint and the skills and knowledge they bring to the job.

The final myth we need to let go of is that leadership is solely about leading other people. While in many instances it is, but it’s also about creative leadership, thought-leadership, being a change-maker, challenging the status quo, creating environments and driving communities. It’s about leading families. But first and foremost, leadership is about self-leadership. Before we earnt the right to lead others we have to learn to lead ourselves.

As some of you may know, between my husband and I we have five girls aged between 17 and 20. They’re all different.

Sian is the scholarship child, she won an academic scholarship and music scholarship for the whole of her senior year, she got straight As in her GCSE and straight A*s in her A levels. She ticks all of the current boxes – she is the perfect child for our system. She likes to see the path ahead, likes to know what the rules are so she can follow them and succeed.

We also have Lara. Lara is dyslexic, wildly creative, she’s bright and funny, she’s hardworking and she did incredibly well in her GCSEs.

But she’s also constantly questioning everything.

Ill thought-out rules, discrimination, a system that insists on only seeing part of the person. The truth is that schools struggle with Lara. They struggle with her questioning, her disinterest in following the normal path.

Lara she spent years thinking that she wasn’t bright enough. I remember an interview with her teacher when Lara was 7 and the teacher saying ‘she’s just not trying hard enough with her reading’ and I said ‘well she is, maybe she’s dyslexic?’ The response was ‘No, she’s just not trying hard enough’.

Sian, I predict, is going to get a great job in a great company and she is going to climb the career ladder, and I have no doubt that she is going to do really well.

Lara is probably going to be an entrepreneur, because that’s who she’s born to be. So we need Sians, but we need Laras too.

Lara had no idea that her incredible people skills and her entrepreneurial thinking, her questioning, her challenging is probably going to be her passport to success. And if Lara wasn’t surrounded by a team of coaches like we are Ivy House, I don’t know what would have happened to her. Well actually, I do – I’ve seen what happens to so many young people.

When we as a society adopt a broader understanding of leadership, we’re going to start to value difference. And we’re going to see the leadership potential in people of all kinds, and it’s that mindset that we’re going to need if we want to create real change.

Ultimately, leadership is just a life skill and we need to take this mindset in to helping the next generation.

The Ivy House mission is to put leadership and life skills at the heart of how we develop each generation. Find out how we do this.

Naming the elephants in the room

Naming the elephants in the room

The ultimate aim of education is to teach young people to thrive, while they are in education and throughout their lives. This idea is not new but it has taken on a new level of urgency.

We are all aware of the disturbing growth of mental health problems in children and young people – among teenagers rates of depression and anxiety have doubled in 30 years, and 75% of mental health problems start in adolescence.

Then there are the complaints from employers that young people are not equipped to deal with real life.

Take this 2015 comment by Annmarie Neal, Chief Talent Officer at Cisco Systems, to the authors of Most Likely to Succeed: “The students that thrive within today’s education systems are achievement driven, rule-oriented, compliant, linear… The world of today requires future leaders to be relationship or collaboration driven, rule-defining, creative and innovative, lateral and polymathic in focus. The gap is huge.”

Surprisingly, this is true even of academic high-flyers.

Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google, has said that, “We rarely employ straight A students. What we’ve discovered over the years is that their field of knowledge is too narrow and they haven’t developed as people. We find that they just can’t cope with life, and they cause endless problems and frictions. We like to choose students who are bright, but broad, with character. The thing is, if somebody’s intelligent we can teach them the skills we need – and the skills they learnt at school will probably become outdated anyway.  But what we can’t do is teach them to be rooted.”

So the question of how schools can promote human flourishing it is a ‘hot topic’ in contemporary education, particularly around so-called character education – those skills of self-knowledge and social learning that are so important for success both at school and at life.

Of course, as soon as you start talking about teaching character values, the question arises: whose values are you going to teach? You can go back to the Classical notion of civic virtues, like the influential Jubilee Centre at Birmingham University. Or you can turn to an increasingly robust empirical research literature that has developed from sociology, political science, economics, education, psychology, medicine, public health, and other empirical sciences.

The Nobel prize-winning Economist James Heckman published in a paper with Kautz in 2013 that claimed that certain character traits when taught at school, especially to younger children, can significantly enhance a young person’s life chances. They identified character skills or dispositions which are nearly universally admired across cultures, including perseverance and resilience, self-control, empathy, humility, and engaging productively in society.

We know all this. So why are so many of our young people struggling? What is preventing us from teaching them what they need to know?  If we are going to get serious about this, we need to acknowledge the elephants in the room.

The first of these is the way schools are held accountable. This system is a key driver of school behaviour. It has been the subject of much scrutiny in recent years including from the DfE, driven by concern that we are using the wrong incentives and the wrong sanctions. I am not against accountability per se: it’s important that the government has mechanisms for holding educational institutions to account for the quality of education they provide. The problem occurs when this system results in a narrowing of the curriculum. It’s inevitable that when pupil performance is used as a high-stakes accountability measure, schools will prioritise those parts of the curriculum that are tested, often at the expense of others that are not. Worse, the children who stand most at risk of having an impoverished experience are those who are regarded as borderline and receive teaching that is narrowly ‘to the test’ to get them past a threshold.

Ofsted’s chief inspector, Amanda Spielman, has noted the fact that “Where (an) accountability measure becomes the sole driver of a school, college or nursery’s work, their real purpose – to help young people learn and grow – is lost.” And indeed Ofsted has attempted to address this problem in recent years. The inspection framework that was introduced a year ago emphasises the importance of the curriculum and a broad co-curriculum, and introduced non-statutory benchmarks for measuring character education, focusing in particular on resilience, confidence and service to others. This is a start. But even these welcome changes are not enough to give human flourishing the priority it deserves.

There’s a groundswell of opinion among educators that our current system of high-stakes exams, especially during the period around 16 years of age when young people are emotionally vulnerable, needs to change. The movement calling itself Rethinking Assessment [that Peter mentioned] includes senior figures from education, such as Geoff Barton from ASCL and Alison Peacock from the Chartered College of Teaching, heads across sectors, and academics such as the neuroscientist Sarah-Jayne Blakemore and Bill Lucas from the Centre for Real World Learning. This group is calling for change in how we assess. They are conducting a horizon scan of assessment systems around the world and will put forward alternatives to our current system, which we know is one of the drivers of mental ill health in our young.

As for the accountability issue, it’s hardly surprising that schools feel compelled to focus on curriculum areas that have accountability consequences. In 2018 the NFER conducted a rapid literature review on the impact of accountability on curriculum, standards and engagement. They reviewed some of the best available evidence on the accountability systems in six countries. One of their recommendations was a further review of horizontal structures that exist internationally to make teachers accountable not so much to administrative authorities but to their fellow teachers and school principals, and thus promote a form of ‘professional accountability’ founded on professional development and collaboration.

This brings us to the second elephant in the room: not all teachers – perhaps not many –are experts at this kind of teaching, in two senses. The first is that the knowledge and self-knowledge required to flourish cannot easily be taught through the normal curriculum: they must also be taught through the co-curriculum, explicitly and implicitly, cognitively and experientially, through collaboration between peers, between schools, and between the school and the wider community.

This is not a small endeavour.

The second reason is that teachers are not all themselves expert in these life skills. Consider this: the skills we are talking about are those that enable each of us to know who we are; to understand why we think and behave in the ways that we do; to know how to change those habits of thought and behaviour if we want to. These are the skills that enable us to build authentic, trust-based, flourishing relationships. Living these skills means taking full ownership for our own behaviour and the impact we have on others. It also means knowing how to stay healthy – mentally, physically and spiritually. How many of us can claim that we have ourselves mastered these skills? But imagine the impact it would have on our pupils and on our profession if we were to do so!

Ideally, this sort of expertise would not be confined to a small group of teachers who have been trained up, leaving the rest outside that circle: all teachers would need to learn these skills because they need to inform the ethos of a whole school, and one of the most powerful ways they are taught is by modelling. Teachers need to be willing to facilitate and be alongside pupils, learning with them. That’s a role some are uncomfortable with. So right now within the system we don’t have the capacity to teach these skills.

A third elephant in the room is that there’s a tension between the ideal I have just described and making the shift necessary to get there. We are not going to get to a place where schools are teaching fully developed curricula in life skills in a context where these values are modelled by the adults within a few months. But we need to start making progress on it – we can’t just decide the issue is too difficult to address and give up.

We can start by teaching everyone a baseline. If we create some experts, the less expert can partner with them to learn, creating peer-to-peer support within schools and horizontal networks of support between schools. Longer term, it would need to become a part of teacher training.

A fourth elephant from this family of elephants is that we need to make time for this teaching and learning in the curriculum. If time is scarce, these skills need to be given their due priority. If that sounds unlikely, we need to change our priorities and take the teaching of these skills more seriously. They are not just a ‘nice to have’. They are crucial for pupils’ personal and professional flourishing.

Some will try to tell you that there’s yet another elephant: we can’t make these skills a central component of children’s education because they are hard to measure. How will we know when we have taught them successfully?

Leaving aside the fact that some of the most important things in education are hard to measure and the absurdity of the claim that because we cannot measure something it’s not worth teaching, the truth is that we have access to robust measures for a wide range of these skills. For example, the Harvard program that I mentioned at the start has developed a measurement approach to human flourishing based around five central domains: happiness and life satisfaction, mental and physical health, meaning and purpose, character and virtue, and close social relationships.

These are the skills that enable us to lead flourishing lives. They are the skills that form the foundation for how we lead both ourselves and others successfully.

We owe it to the next generation to empower them with these skills. Knowing what we know, it’s vital that these skills are given the highest importance within our education systems.

Hear more thoughts from education leaders and find podcasts, webinars and resources with our thought leadership community.

Being simply brilliant

Being simply brilliant

“You’re only as good as your last deal”.

I still remember the team leader announcing this, 29 years ago when I was a front line sales advisor in a contact centre, as she attempted to somehow motivate us all to perform consistently well.

It’s always seemed a bit unfair and not at all reflective of someone’s true capability or achievements, yet it was widely accepted as a way of gauging high performance.

Fast forward to this age of social media and as consumers we are now able to see a history of performance and achievements of suppliers through referral sites such as Check a Trade, Trustpilot and Tripadvisor, an all together much more balanced overview of many experiences and examples of excellence to build true consumer confidence and understanding.  

Back in the world of learning however this hasn’t been available and we have long since relied on key account management, referrals, marketing campaigns, HR events and award dinner round tables to build our credibility and expand our organisations reach.

That is, however, until now!  

We were very excited to hear about an innovative new organisation called Simply Brilliance who have been set up with the sole intention of being the ‘go to’ place for customers to source the very best suppliers in the market to support their people development needs.

This was not just another portal for suppliers to tout their wares, in fact as a supplier you can’t automatically join this unique ‘club’ as it’s invitation only.

How do you get an invite?

Well there needs to be a selection of customers who have consistently nominated you as ‘simply brilliant’.  

You can imagine then how excited I was when Ivy House London was invited to be part of this new platform, an opportunity for us to be put forward to future potential clients when looking for the very best providers in their chosen fields, saving them from trawling through endless google searches or walking the stalls of the latest HR forum (not this year mind you!) trying to separate the sales spin from the credible experts.

So here we are! Proud to be part of the Simply Brilliance family, truly being recognised for not just ‘our last project’ but for multiple client projects, and committed to continuing to be brilliant in order to stay there! Here’s what Simply Brilliance said about us:

We love Ivy House because …

They have years of expertise developing leaders at the highest level of business. They are passionate about supporting the next generation, have reframed their expertise to offer that same quality development to those earlier in their career. For those we know who have experienced it, it has been life changing. In the L&D industry it is hard to find something unique but this is, and it is simply brilliant.

Simply Brilliant

Now that is all together much more motivational don’t you think?

My thinking

My thinking

I’ve talked about how we choose our behaviours, but this doesn’t happen automatically.

Session 8 of The Ivy House Award shows us how we can be more conscious of the thoughts we focus on, so that we ultimately feel different and we can make different choices about our behaviours. This all happens through our thinking. As much as we often either won’t admit it or don’t realise it, we also have a degree of control over our thinking. We have countless thoughts come into our minds every day, every second, which, ultimately, we can’t control. What we can control are the thoughts we choose to focus on.

Knowing the impact of our thoughts is the key to understanding why it’s so important that we choose to focus on the positive thoughts. Sixth form has the potential to be a very overwhelming time for students. There are loads of exams and some pretty big life choices to be made. These events can result in lots of negative thinking, so having the skills to understand and address these thoughts will make life a lot easier.

We all have to do exams, and the chances are most of us find them a bit stressful. I’m sure we all know one or two people who are alarmingly calm around exams, floating around as if they don’t have a care in the world. Some of us envy them, some of us despise them. Now, I’m not saying that is necessarily the best way to be, because it’s always good to have some drive behind you. But it’s important to behave in the most effective, productive way for you, especially when it comes to exams. The Ivy House Award sets things out very clearly: we have thousands of thoughts every day, but the ones we choose to focus on impact how we feel, and how we feel will dictate the behaviours we choose. So, what’s the answer? Focus on the thoughts that are benefiting you, not bringing you down.

For a long time, I struggled with stress around exam time. I’d work painfully hard and run myself into the ground pretty fast. My results were at the expense of my mental, emotional and sometimes physical health. The thoughts I chose to focus on were like this:

‘I’m never going to be able to remember all of this’

‘Have I even figured out the best way I learn?’

‘What if the exam takes a completely different approach?’

‘Why does everyone else do better than me but not work as hard?’

‘If I want to get the grades, I need to work all hours under the sun and more’

Sound healthy? No, not really. This thinking made me feel, as you can imagine, pretty rough. The feelings I felt were:

  • Worry/ perpetual anxiety
  • Panic
  • Fear
  • Stress and a whole host of other (negative) feelings

The thoughts I chose to focus on, and the feelings I felt as a result, meant that I chose behaviours that were not serving me as well as they could have. I would be exhausted all the time but still somehow force myself to work until 1am most evenings. I didn’t allow myself any rest time because I considered this a ‘waste’. I did well in my A Levels, but I genuinely think I would have done even better had I been kinder to myself, by choosing to focus on healthier thoughts.

My attitude to exams has changed completely since The Ivy House Award, and I have seen a great improvement not only in my work standard, but in my mental, emotional and physical health in general but in particular around exam time. I work hard but within reason. I start early because that’s when I know I’m most productive, and I never work in the evenings.

This change has stemmed from a change in my thinking. I still have those negative thoughts I used to, I focus on them much less. Instead, I choose to focus on thoughts like:

‘I’m working as hard as I am able, and that is more than enough’

‘I am doing my best and that’s all that matters’

‘Whatever the result, I’ll be proud of myself’

‘The world will not end if I don’t get top marks’

‘My health and sanity are far more important than any exam’

Focusing on these thoughts mean I feel much more content around exams. I’d be lying if I said I never got stressed, but I feel more balanced now. I couldn’t have continued the way I did in the past because it wasn’t sustainable.

The Ivy House Award helps us deal with our thousands of thoughts, walking us through how to focus on the positive ones, and how it will serve us better. It’s hard to realise that we are not our thoughts. We are the observer, which means we can choose whether or not to dwell on certain thoughts. With each day that we get better at focusing on positive thoughts, we’ll feel better. What happens when we feel good? We behave more positively. The sooner sixth formers have this awareness, the sooner they will be able to see a positive change in their lives.

Find out a bit more about Anouska here.

The workplace revolution

The workplace revolution

I will confess to being one of those who has been lucky enough to really enjoy some aspects of lockdown, however I really worry that we are at risk of sleep walking into a massive skills shortage, putting organisations at risk of failure.

I also get it; this has been far from idyllic for everyone. For some, working at home has meant juggling childcare and home schooling with work commitments, not to mention additional worries over job security and finance. Others though have seen an improvement in wellbeing – ditching the daily battle on public transport, having more time to see loved ones or maybe even taking up a new hobby.

I believe that long term we will settle on a middle ground – a more ‘blended’ workplace – reducing (but not eliminating) office space, lowering numbers on public transport and hopefully stress levels. But hang on, this isn’t new: technology has been taking us down this path for a while; anyone who lives in commuter belt sees station car parks 30% quieter on a Friday as people work from home. COVID has massively accelerated this change though and that means we now need to carefully think through the wider impact on our organisations and our people.

Even before the pandemic we have been drifting towards a skills shortage; the type of skills that help our people thrive – those human skills. These are the skills that help with problem solving, that enable our team members to flourish, that transform innovation into solutions, that help leaders inspire their teams and our people to feel supported.

So, as we prepare for what the workplace of the future will look like, let’s not just think about the ‘tangibles’ – the tech platforms, the new hot-desking and how meetings might work. Let’s really focus on what leadership will need to look like in the new normal, what skills will be needed to thrive (not just survive), and also on how our people will acquire those skills.

Over the last month I have spent time discussing this with senior leaders in both the corporate and education world and 4 common themes have emerged…

  1. When lockdown initially happened, people turned to those leaders sitting at the top of the tree for clarity on ‘what’s next?’ But the truth is over the last few months, leadership is no longer exclusive to those with a ‘chief’ or ‘senior’ title. In fact, it’s become an every man job. It’s relied on every person throughout our organisations to step up and lead themselves and others; to have the courage and skills to make decisions, rather than stand behind processes and to become leaders who are capable of making steps to drive our businesses forward every single day.
  2. In a world where we no longer sit next to each other, observe behaviours and overhear conversations our people also need to be far more autonomous and self-led, taking more ownership for asking questions, sharing their thoughts and sometimes just having a go. 
  3. Although there are lots of examples of brilliance, humour and innovation, many of us don’t find these new ways easy – we are having to adjust the way we do daily tasks (at work and at home) as well as cope with massive cultural change.  And the truth is even the most motivated and engaged staff are finding it challenging. Finding ways to improve staff motivation, engagement and wellbeing and maintain culture are absolutely critical.
  4. And importantly, it is probably the least experienced in our teams that will be the most impacted – how do new hires learn from more experienced staff? How will we on-board a new graduate intake? I know that I learnt so much as young wide-eyed new hire in finance, not from the courses I attended and text books I read, but from listening and watching, observing those senior people that seemed to know all the answers.

Therefore this ‘shift’ in leadership and change to our culture needs focus.  Both need to be a key part of our future strategies. We also need to recognise that the critical human skills that are needed aren’t just going to appear – they don’t come on Amazon Prime.  They can’t just be picked up by osmosis, or learnt by forcing people just to have a go. We need to invest in people’s development.  We need to give them the skills to lead themselves, be authentic leaders of others and take care of their wellbeing.

Finally, let’s also recognise that corporates, although ecosystems in themselves, also sit within a much bigger ecosystem of our society. If the workplace of the future requires a greater emphasis on human skills, then let’s put a greater emphasis on these within education – we also have a real opportunity to redesign education places of the future. We know that Gen Z will have longer working lives than any generation before them, and be doing jobs that none of us have even heard of today, so surely we must arm them with the types of human skills that gives them every chance of thriving?

At Ivy House, we put game-changing leadership and life skills at the heart of how we develop every generation. Are you ready to be part of the revolution?

Our virtual reality

Our virtual reality

‘How do we make the virtual experience as good as face-to-face?’

This was our starting point when turning our face-to-face leadership development programme into a virtual offering – we are deliberately disruptive and have a value of remarkable quality after all!

We consistently got feedback that what makes us special is the connection we create, the trust we build, the tribe we set up. It is challenging to do this virtually, especially with the groups sizes we want to work with (larger numbers mean extra stretch when completing certain skill building activities such as pitching or feedback and a wider network to learn from) – but not impossible.

The Ivy House design focuses on 3 key principles:

Interactivity

We definitely do not deliver webinars or presentations. The virtual programmes are interactive, proactive, engaging and memorable. We ensure the delegates have to ‘lean in’ at least every 5 minutes – whether that is to type into the chat box, use an icon, answer a polling question, take part in a group word cloud, grab a pen and paper, shut their eyes, break out into a pairs discussion or group activity, turn on webcam and mic to ask a question,  be coached live or download an interactive worksheet to complete. We use multiple facilitators to ensure there is a mixture of voices during any one workshop. There is a focus on ‘do’ not ‘listen’.

Build relationships

We have a high coach to delegate ratio to ensure the experience feels personal despite the larger group size. Coaches join home group activities and provide radical support and radical challenge. We ensure every single delegate has ‘air time’ – joins the lead facilitator on the virtual stage with their webcam and mic on, introducing themselves and asking questions, interacting with the facilitator. The multi-channel learning approach means more people can get involved, delegates use the chat box to ask questions which supporting facilitators answer during the sessions and also use it to reiterate any key points made by the lead facilitator. We focus on creating a community pre and post the workshops using a closed LinkedIn group and the Ivy House HUB. We also use 1:1 coaching and Virtual Coaching Groups in between masterclasses and live workshops to connect with the delegates 1:1 and in smaller groups.

Fun and playful

Online learning can sometimes seem serious and loses its fun. We don’t let that happen. We set the tone at the start that this is a safe space to play, experiment and have fun – we know more learning happens with more recall in these conditions. Energisers and peak ends are different virtually compared to face-to-face and we have had to be really creative here, but have come up with a list that the groups love and link to the content – including chair yoga, virtual heads and tails, using the break to find an item that depicts your passion… even come back wearing a hat when discussing courageous learners!

We are very proud of our face-to-face NPS score which is 95. Our first virtual NPS was exactly the same – 95 and we even have had a feedback comment: ‘It’s been run so flawlessly I don’t feel I am missing out in any way by it not being face-to-face! I also never thought I’d be on a leadership programme in my slippers!’

If someone could just invent the virtual hug we would be happy to never go back in the classroom again!

Now that you’ve had a peek into how are virtual programmes have been created, why not check out the content?

Behind the teacher persona

Behind the teacher persona

It was hard to see behind the persona of ‘teacher’ when I was at school.

OK, so they probably didn’t appreciate being sniggered at when they bent over a student’s desk (poor Mr Horse Bum) or having a chorus of parody coughs every time they cleared their throat to get our attention (sorry Miss Phlegm).

I’ve carried a belief since leaving school that all teachers must have a calling, an innate need to make a difference and influence young lives. Why else would they put up with a bunch of unruly and at my school, sometimes downright insubordinate kids? Sorry Mr Shouty science teacher, who warned me not to cool down a thermometer by dangling it out the window.

But at the time, I didn’t think about why my teachers were teachers. Awkward confession time: It’s because I didn’t really think of them as ‘people’.

I didn’t think about the studying or qualifications that they had done to become a teacher. I didn’t think about the hours of work they put in outside of the 50 minutes they stood at the front of my class. I didn’t think about them having a life outside of school; a family, interests, hopes and dreams. Favourite food. Musical taste. Dogs or cats.

You could put this down to me being a self-absorbed teenager… But, unsurprisingly, I look at it another way. My teachers didn’t show me their human side.

There were exceptions, and those exceptions were teachers that I learned the most from. They gave their opinions, engaged in debates and brought their humour and personality to the classroom. I’ll never forget my French teacher mentioning to me as we were filing into the ‘hut’ – one of the temporary units still going strong today – that she was feeling out of sorts because her bra didn’t match her pants. We shared a genuine laugh, I enjoyed her lessons, and I did well in French. Coincidence?

I’m not suggesting that a declaration of mismatching underwear is the secret to academic attainment. (Image of Mr Horse Bum uncomfortably flashes across my mind.)

At Ivy House we talk about ‘human leadership’ a lot in the corporate world. Leading with empathy, compassion and genuine care for the people you work with is far more effective than giving orders and expecting people to believe in you.

It’s no different in the classroom. But how to be a human leader, and learning leadership and life skills in general, isn’t part of teacher training. Some people are naturally engaging, their personality shines through. In most cases, leadership isn’t a skill that is just learned over time from experience. How to build resilience, how to speak with authority and influence others, how to understand your values and how they affect your life both at home and at work – this is learning that everyone should have access to, because it can make such a huge difference.

To my teachers who showed up as themselves, who brought us on an educational ride and talked to us like we were people they wanted to spend time with – thank you.

To my teachers who put up with me when they were just trying to impart knowledge in the way they knew how – I’m sorry I didn’t see you as more than just Mr Nickname.

Life Leader is a programme that allows teachers to reflect on what’s important to them, what kind of life they want to live and gives them the tools to make it happen.

My Brand

My Brand

How others experience us will influence not only how we are perceived, but whether we’re granted a favour, recommended for a promotion, invited to a party or given a place at our first-choice university.

Session 7 of The Ivy House Award encourages us to discover what our current brand is, teaching us how we can alter and improve that brand if we choose to.

It’s easy to view this as being overly concerned with what others think of us, and many of us take pride in not getting too affected by what others think about them. However, the reality is that other people are the source of opportunities. Developing your brand doesn’t mean being obsessed with others’ opinions. It simply means that we’re able to recognise that who we are and that the impact we have on other people counts. The first step to developing a brand that we’re proud of is being truthful about where we are right now. This means being completely honest with ourselves, so we are able to paint the clearest picture, and therefore get the best outcome in the future. When we no longer fear what people are honestly thinking about us, we can get started working towards our ideal brand and can make real progress. Session 7 guides us each step of the way.

My brand is something that I have been consistently working on since doing The Ivy House Award. I homed in on what my brand was (at the time) by noticing how I behaved in various situations, as well as asking for feedback from people in different areas of my life. This gave me an all-encompassing picture of how people experienced me. Then, I figured out how I would ideally want people to describe and experience me, whether as a friend, co-worker, student, sister or daughter. When I had these to compare, it was easy to see where my focus needed to lie. The work I’ve done on my brand as a whole has made me realise two things:

  1. The work is on-going.
  2. People don’t notice change easily, especially when they’ve experienced you be a certain way for a long period of time – so tell them you’re making a change!

These two learnings have affected how I go about upholding my brand in everyday life. The first has resulted in an acute awareness about when I do and don’t behave in a way that reflects the person I want to be. I am human, and this means I slip up every now and again. I established during this session that I like to be calm and collected in discussions. Sometimes, though, I snap, raise my voice or am a bit sarcastic, which is definitely not part of who I want to be. Often, this is because I’m tired or stressed. But I don’t want to be snappy or rude ever, and that means putting in extra effort to uphold my brand when I am feeling a little run-down. It’s not a one-time-job and the work certainly can’t be done in a matter of hours, days or even months. It takes continuous work, but it’s rewarding and gets a lot easier over time.

The second learning was one which I came to me over time. I was making a lot of effort to be more compassionate towards my mum and sister, but I realised it wasn’t being noticed at all. I was aware that this was because they’d experienced me being unempathetic for so long that they didn’t notice that I’d changed. Instead of getting annoyed that I hadn’t changed, I had a conversation with them explaining the effort I was putting in, how and why, and asked them to be a little more aware of how I behave. After this conversation, my effort was acknowledged. Had I not mentioned it, I could have been waiting for ages!

Say you’re a bit of a troublemaker in school and have been since you can remember. Around A Levels, you decide it’s time to get your act together, so you stop messing about and get your head down. The next time something is muttered or joked in class while the teacher has their back turned, they assume it’s you. You insist it wasn’t and that you really were working but, due to your track record, their assumption remains, and you end up in detention. It carries on this way because the teachers haven’t noticed that you’ve got your act together. You could simply go up to the teacher, explain how you intend on behaving yourself, and ask that they allow you to make the change and support you through it. Then, the next time the teacher has rude words written on the board in permanent marker, she won’t automatically blame you.

Our brand affects how we’re perceived in each area of our lives, with family, friends, teachers and everyone else we encounter. The Ivy House Award coaches us, step by step, through how to refine our brand. Very few people think deeply about the people they are and the mark they leave behind. The Award provides us with the invaluable opportunity to consider and reconsider the impact we have on others, and whether we’re happy with that impact. The Award helps us establish a rock solid, honest brand that we are proud of, so we can be our true selves, and focus on creating an extraordinary life.

Find out a bit more about Anouska here.

My communication

My communication

Session 6, My Communication, follows perfectly on from the previous session, My Behaviour, as altering our behaviours almost always requires effective communication.

Could you improve the effectiveness of your communication? Would you like to feel different when you’re handling challenging conversations, or any conversation for that matter? Session 6 helps us refine our communication skills, allowing us to be more productive, confident and understanding in any given conversation.

I’ve taken a number of really significant learnings from this session:

  • Communication is something we can develop, just like we work on any other skill
  • Not everyone communicates in the same way
  • It’s important to adapt your communication style depending on the other peoples’ styles in order to communicate most effectively
  • Difficult conversations are going to arise throughout my life, so there’s no better time than the present to begin working on the skill

I have always been a pretty straight talker. I don’t tend to sugar coat things; I just say it how it is. This trait of mine has sometimes resulted in me being perceived as not very compassionate and lacking in emotion. These are labels that were placed on me by my family at a relatively young age which has resulted in an easy ‘out’ for me if I know I’m coming across this way. I received this feedback a long time ago. Showing compassion and empathy has been something that I’ve worked on for years, but it wasn’t until The Ivy House Award that I began to make some real progress.

I do have emotions (believe it or not) but conveying them in a genuine and authentic way has been somewhat of a long-standing challenge for me. My dad has a relatively similar communication style, and it’s for this reason that he’s never had any issues with me being straight talking and unempathetic. It was only an issue when talking with those who had totally different ways of communicating that my style was not received well, for example, my mum and my sister. Following the Ivy House Award, I began experimenting with different ways of communicating and approaching conversations with an open mind. I sought to notice and understand the different approaches various people took, and tailor my approach to fit in with theirs more easily. What I found is that conversations are far more pleasant and productive when I tailor my communication to the person that I’m communicating with. When laid out so simply, it’s seems easy! The Award set me on the right track and explained how and why it’s so much better to be adaptive than uncompromising.

Looking back on my journey of improving my communication skills, it seems like such a simple change, but it has had a significant effect on my relationships. Not only this, but I feel so much more confident in my ability to handle any conversation, as I know that, whomever I speak to, I am able to be adaptive in my approach so that the best outcome is achieved together.

Not only is adolescence a significant challenge in itself, sixth-form gives us unrelenting hoops to jump through, all of which will require interaction with others. Communication skills are only beginning to matter in sixth form, and they become very important very quickly. From familial turmoil through to future managers and bosses, we’ll face it all at some point. The Ivy House Award supports students through their journey of understanding the logic behind developing conversational and communication skills, why they are so important and why developing their skills will make their lives so much easier.

Find out a bit more about Anouska here.