Positive male role-models

Written by: Kim Jones | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

For many pupils, having a positive male role-model in their lives can make a big difference to outcomes. Kim Jones suggests hosting workshops to give your fathers a chance to engage with their children and the school

I am a practitioner for education charity School-Home Support (SHS), and my role partially consists of building a bridge between home and school, making sure that family issues are resolved and parents are engaged with their children’s education. One way I have found to do this is through positive male role-model workshops.

While generally school workers try to engage mums before dads, as they are often more visible at the school gate and often more engaged in their children’s education, I go to dads first. Once you have a relationship with dad, the relationship with mum often follows naturally, and male relatives are surprised and pleased when they are greeted first; it doesn’t take much effort to learn their names and to which children they are related, to greet them and tell them about their child’s progress.

Once I have gotten to know the male relatives, I invite them to one of my workshops. In addition to working as an SHS practitioner, I also design and implement workshops for targeted young people and families in Croydon. So the following tips come from years of experience.

Getting people to attend

The second best time to target parents is when their children start in year 1. The best time is before they even start school. Mentioning positive male role-model workshops during school open days means you plant the seed with future attending children and parents.

If the courses are successful, you can even ask attendees to be part of an on-going positive male role-model forum, giving them space at future open days to introduce the idea themselves: parents are more likely to get behind the idea if they can ask men who have attended about what is involved and the benefits.

The workshops are obviously popular with Ofsted, as they show that a school is focused on inclusivity, but a forum is particularly impressive. You can also run them both alongside each other, so the forum advises and assists with future workshops.

While the classes should be open to all, it is possible to do some targeting once you are aware of who will be attending in year 1. You can strongly recommend the classes or even make them compulsory to parents of children displaying behaviour issues at nursery and/or to families who you know are experiencing issues at home, such as divorce.

In the instance of separated parents, I will always make sure that the father is invited to attend if the parental relationship is positive, even if he doesn’t currently play an active role in the child’s life. If the mother has a new partner, I’ll ask them too. This is important both to avoid clashing parenting skills, and to help children feel that their family is still a cohesive, loving unit.

When organising sessions, I take into consideration national days which might spark discussion, such as International Men’s Day or Father’s Day, and holidays which may mean parents are busy, such as Eid or Yom Kippur. I also try to make sure that at least one male member of staff is also available to help.

Sessions are around one to 1.5 hours long and first thing in the morning or last thing in the day is usually best, so that relatives can drop off children or pick them up at the same time. It’s also important to consider things like time of prayer – I offer varying slots so that different family members can attend.

You can advertise the sessions in a variety of ways, such as posters, flyers in children’s bags, the school website and newsletter, and displaying countdowns around the school. Pay careful attention to the posters and flyers, including images of same-sex as well as opposite-sex couples and images of grandfathers as well as fathers: it is all about making people feel included. Other groups I organise in the school also help me to spread the word. I run a Somali women’s group, for instance, and they tell the male relatives in their families to attend the workshops.

At the end of each workshop, I send out thank you cards with a photo I have taken on the day of each child with their male relative and a handwritten thanks from the child. This gets really positive feedback, and encourages people to come again.

What to include?

What do you want to get out of the workshops? If community cohesion is an issue, make that a point of discussion. Get attendees to engage in fun activities together to foster bonding and talk about differences and similarities across cultures. This will also encourage bonding between the children and their relatives. I will usually organise cooking, reading and play sessions – anything fun and relaxing. We have even had a mini-zoo come into the school!

As the sessions develop, particularly if you have a positive male role-model forum, you can also ask attendees to share their skills with each other. Workshops can involve men teaching children and each other cricket, painting, even basic DIY skills – this can strengthen both their relationships with each other, and wider school and community networks.

You may want to get deeper than this. Before you do, it is vital that you have the confidence, the skill and the resources to deal with anything that might come up and to facilitate any healing required. Alternatively, you will need to know where to signpost people to if they need further support such as counselling.

It takes a long time to work through issues, and so I recommend holding workshops across 12 weeks as a minimum. For the deeper work, I invite pupils to come in at the same time and run two sessions in parallel – one for the children, one for the adults.

That way, they have the space to share their feelings honestly (particularly the men, who will want to engage on a different level to the children) while still being able to go home together afterwards to discuss the sessions, encouraging reflective learning.

The workshops are often empowering to men simply because you are asking their opinions about their children, their family and their masculinity in a way which no-one has before. They feel appreciated and like their voices are being heard and valued by the school.

A good starting point for discussion is to ask the group questions like, “What is a man?”, “What makes a good man?” and “Who or what tells us what a man is?” Another particularly effective question is asking the adults: “When your child is older, if they brought home a partner who was just like you, how would you feel? If you wouldn’t want him or her to be with someone like you – why?”

The core of it all – identity and culture

At the core of these questions is identity and culture. I’m a Black parent with Black children, and yet my children have different cultural identities. My eldest son would consider himself Afro-Caribbean, and my second eldest son would consider himself Black-British. That will have a significant impact on their values, their beliefs, and what they consider being a man is. Sometimes children will be trying to live with dual identities, and that conflict itself results in behavioural issues.

I ask pupils and parents to explore their cultural identities, including the media they consume and other external influences. Part of this will also be asking the men to consider their own childhoods and how they were raised. Sometimes parents have been raised with a parenting style they are keen to emulate, but times have changed and the style is no longer appropriate. Many of them have been personally failed by the system, and may have strong issues with either school or the family unit. It is difficult for some parents to accept responsibility for their children’s behaviour, so all of this work can be challenging.

Where children are showing behavioural issues, you can incorporate their individual learning plans into the sessions. It can also help when children are frequently in trouble at school for family members to see that other men are in the same boat as them.

What about pupils without male role-models? If a child has no male role-models, you can incorporate a buddy system into the programme using mentors. There are external programmes which can help – reach out to your local authority to see what is available. You can also encourage pupils to become their own positive role-models by running an adjusted course. You can ask them the same questions about what makes a man, taking care to deeply explore identity and culture. Pop culture is particularly important to this group, as they will have no male role-models in their family – the music they listen to, the television shows they watch etc, will all have strong influence.

Now that sex and gender are treated separately, it is also important to really do your research on how we define these roles and how individuals may identify. Times are changing, and your definition of a positive male role-model may need to change too.

  • Kim Jones is a School-Home Support (SHS) practitioner and specialist programmes facilitator in south London. Kim has been working with children, young people and families for more than 15 years and has worked for SHS for 10 years. Visit www.shs.org.uk

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