Life Lessons that Aren’t on the Curriculum

You’re 16-17, you’re just starting out at Sixth Form. It’s all good, bar the acne of course.

But wouldn’t it be great if besides lessons studying for exams in your specific subjects, you could also spend some time interacting with other students THINKING about and discussing together some BIG life issues, which the standard curriculum just doesn’t cater for.

Step up The Big Think festival!

Engaging students with a range of vital topics – important both on a personal and global level – ThoughtBox Education‘s event on Friday 14/09/18 took sixth-formers at Kennicott, KEVICC’s Sixth Form Centre, off their normal timetable for a whole day.

Instead of regular lessons, their hearts and minds engaged with workshops and cleverly-designed exploration zones on some key questions that will stay with them to some degree for life, including, for example: How do I get over limiting beliefs and negative emotions? How can I learn to find common ground with others? How can we stop polluting the planet?

The brainchild of Rachel Musson and the organisation she created, ThoughtBox Education, The Big Think event develops critical thinking and empathy among students.

The day had something of a fresher’s fair about it, but rather than learning about what clubs they might join, the young participants were able to broach a range of topics with their fellow-students, led by some inspiring guides.

So, after a hearty welcome from the mayor of Totnes, Judy Westacott MBE, and headteacher Alan Salt, the kids went off to their chosen initial workshops.

These were led by some wonderfully inspiring change-makers who deserve recognition:

  • Ben Yeger, whose workshop I was fortunate to sit in on, focussed on Conflict. Called “Humanising the enemy – a journey from conflict and separation to connection”, Ben started the session by sharing how he had experienced a major direction-changing moment in his life when, as an Israeli soldier, he was ordered to shoot a blindfolded and cuffed Palestinian prisoner, but refused (life-changing for the prisoner, too). After telling us about himself a little more, Ben then helped students to share some of their own similarities and differences through interactive games. Everyone in the room I believe was moved in some way by Ben’s excellent guided exploration, and the overriding sense at the end was that though conflicts are natural and unavoidable, they needn’t be so extreme and we really shouldn’t keep them bottled up for years – as is the norm – so that they damage us. Ben is the founder of Moving Conflicts which aims to reduce conflict and build inner and outer peace.
  • Dinah Gibbons, who held the UK’s first Bodykind festival in Totnes in 2017,  ran a session called “Celebrating who you are – Social Media in context: a focus on body image” – relevant issues for all of us, but often most critical at the age these young people are at.
  • Ali Knowles is a therapist who created The Ollie Model which uses language and metaphors that young people can relate to, so that by better understanding how our minds and emotions work, she aims to enable young people to take an active role in working through their own issues.
  • Alex Tempest, an ex-KEVICC student himself, ran a session telling his story of how he changed a dream into reality: he turned his love for trees into The Woodland Presents, which helps small British woodlands to thrive.
  • Anna Thomson, a registered nutritionist and the founder of Nourishing Families, ran a session on how we eat – our food habits and our relation with food. She aims to transform how young people and families experience food and mealtimes.
  • Chukumeka Maxwell ran a session called “How can we break down the taboos surrounding mental health?”. He is a suicide prevention trainer and the founder of Action to Prevent Suicide.
  • Emma Bussat and Astrid Jabuti, recent graduates from Schumacher College, ran a workshop based around the idea that “the future is not some place we are going, but one we are creating” – a hugely life-affirming message for young people starting their journeys into adulthood.

As well as these inspiring workshops, students spent time independently engaging with some hands-on activities that required them to think carefully about and respond to complex issues such as how we can help poorer countries, and deal better with waste.

Speaking to some of the students in the Connecting the Dots feedback and reflection session at the end of the day, it had clearly been a valuable experience.

The Faculty Leader for Humanities, Natalie Clark, saw the day as extremely beneficial for the young people.

There was no doubt in anyone’s mind there who I spoke to, among staff and students alike, that these kinds of interactive explorations are a crucial complement to the academic side of learning.

It was inspiring for me as an observer to spend time with the young participants, and Totnes Pulse would be very keen to hear from students interested in involvement in local reporting on issues that affect them.

Let’s hope to see many more Big Think style events on a regular basis offering interactive engagement with life issues for our young people.

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