Sharing person centred meeting, thinking and planning together with the community of a special school in Hong Kong

24 February 2017

Sharing person-centred meeting, thinking and planning together with the community of a special school in Hong Kong; going from introductory workshops for the whole school community about the underpinning principles of a person centred approach to person-centred thinking towards person-centred rich description profile meetings to person-centred review meetings.

An invitation to meet the pioneering principal of a Hong Kong NGO special school to discuss the ongoing challenge of ‘recruitment and retention of therapy staff’ took quite a detour!

Whilst I was happy to talk recruitment and retention I suggested we add another challenge for discussion; how effective and meaningful would any therapeutic intervention be, should you be able to recruit, for each and every child and young person attending the school?

Our conversation meandered and explored how the school community met together and supported each other to ensure that children and young people experienced and enjoyed meaningful learning experiences and lives. How did school, home and community experiences reflect what mattered to the individual children and young people, did these experiences result in them having lots of good days which were part of perfect weeks, full of people they loved to be with and activities and learning they enjoyed? Not that I was heading anywhere with any of this!

Children, young people and their families were most definitely at the core of this heartfelt caring school, however, they and their families, carers, friends, teachers, residential support staff, professionals and others were not all meeting together. I gently suggested that perhaps they were missing out on the opportunity to effectively communicate detail, to ensure meaningful learning and life experiences, to support each other, to share collective responsibility and decision-making and so on…

I felt compelled (I frequently do!) to describe a way forward which to my knowledge and experience would be creative, positive, meaningful, relational, person centred, all singing all dancing…not that I was getting at all excited or engineering anything here or by now quoting the wonderfully wise words of Nancy and Margaret (no they are not my friends!) with huge animation in the school refectory!

“Everything we do depends for its quality on the thinking we do first and our thinking depends on the quality of our attention for each other” Nancy Kline

“All change starts when people get together and talk about the things they care about. We move in the direction of the questions we ask” Margaret J. Wheatley

So to cut to the chase the school community made the decision over the summer break to consider new solutions to existing challenges at home, in school and in the community for children and young people. It embraced the idea of what is important to each child and young person now and in the future and to act on this ‘in alliance with their families, close supporters and other professionals’. Not a single person in the school, however, had any idea what this looked like in practice!

This called for a monumental plan with culturally specific and respectful objectives and an understanding of the culturally typical context for learning and practice; for this to happen there needed to be a shift in the way people were thinking and real changes in organisational culture and practice before considering the introduction of reviews and person centered action planning.

My sense was, that if embarking on this project with the school resulted in everyone meeting together in the same room with the children and young people and their families and carers to focus on ‘appreciation’, aspirations, ‘important to/for’ and ‘best support’ then this would be a marvelous meaningful achievement in itself. Foundations were the priority and if we could sink these firmly then review meetings could potentially follow.

The threads to this weave with such an incredible community of motivated people has frequently moved me to tears of absolute joy! We put in the hours on how to think differently using the thinking tools, people only know what they know until they know and experience something different. We took time to practice and have good conversations with detail, detail and detail – my mantra!

Starting with the whole and what this looks like then breaking it all down into component parts and working together to re-assemble it all piece by piece has been a labour of love and meaning. We mapped out time, two-hour meeting slots (yes a whole two hours!) to focus on appreciations, aspirations, important to, important for and what does best support look like. Written up as rich description profiles and circulated to everyone for review and comment. The foundations for person centred thinking and the rich description profile meeting process and content were now beginning to weave together.

Whilst there are plenty of threads to this wonderfully rich weave; people, rich descriptions, courage, relationships, meaningful outcomes, connectedness, collaboration, creativity, support, celebration, good conversations, video footage, laughter, learning, pride, moving tributes, privilege, respect and so many more, there was also a solid framework for this weave from the outset.

I anchored myself well for this weave that continues to grow and has now extended beyond the school community to other special schools and the Hong Kong Education Bureau.

  • Positive and possible clearly defined objectives and training as part of distinct project plans with 4+1 reviews, plenty of ‘working well and not working so well yet’ from everyone’s perspective.
  • Public commitment, accountability and responsibility; incorporated into the school development plan after an initial pilot of 3 person centred rich description meetings + 1 review meeting
  • Ongoing training and open access to support for everyone
  • A person centred thinking and planning workbook for the school
  • School Person Centred Thinking and Planning Champions
  • Support and nourishment for me: I was already linked to Jo Harvey for coaching sessions and she directed me to Vicky Jones and the HSA accredited train the trainer course – Jo, Vicky, Charlotte and everyone on the course were an absolute gift of support for me albeit a long commute away!

I was very mindful that the time taken initially for this project would be well spent. Schools and homes are busy places and expecting too much too quickly from everyone is counter-productive for learning, application, quality and meaning. I knew that it would take courage on the part of those volunteering to take on person centred thinking and planning facilitator roles. For me skill development and confidence building through experiencing process and content and appreciating the impact of the approach from the perspective of everyone involved needed to underpin the way forward.

It was a big ask and not culturally typical practice, however, being part of an approach and process with content that works and adds meaning and relevance to the lives of others has this inherent capacity to fuel itself! Slow and steady was the aim and to be present until I was no longer needed was the game! I had the incredible privilege of meeting children, young people, their families and others as I offered ‘real time’ training and support, how fabulous is that! I absolutely loved being part of this school community and during each and every meeting I was witness to a change in thinking, contribution and practice, ongoing learning and relational depth from everyone present.

This account just skims the surface of the effort and detail involved in taking this forward. The foundations and groundwork for person centred thinking and meeting to share and exchange information for a rich description profile were key to the review meeting process being constructive and working well. Everyone present understood what was expected of them and contributed. Appreciations, aspirations and ‘important to and for’ were re-visited with the child or young person and everyone present. What is working well celebrated and actions from the not working well yet list collectively agreed and prioritised, however, before going any further the focus is placed on ‘What will it look like for me the person if this is addressed’? Just fabulous!

By Sarah Hill, Hong Kong

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