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‘You’re very easy to talk to’

dogmike-haslam-finalMike Haslam gives insights into the very varied conversations he holds as Chaplain of Taunton Academy…

The life and ministry of a chaplain is hard to quantify. Of course, not all things are quantifiable, or should be. However, it is important, for Chaplains, as for anyone else within education, to be reflective practitioners, for us to review where we are, what is good and what could be improved. In my last SSAT article I shared a day in the life of the Chaplain. (I found that writing such a journal is, itself, a useful reflective process.)

Here I offer a log of two weeks of pastoral conversations with staff, students, parents and members of the community. I have also noted the chaplaincy footfall, the number of visits to the chaplaincy each day.

Chaplaincy conversations

DayNumber studentsNumber staffNumber parents/members of communityChaplaincy football – before school/break/lunch
Mon 31 Oct810314/12/School closed
Tue 1 Nov1031018/21/22
Wed 2 Nov159517/21/27
Thur 3 Nov532724/18/25
Fri 4 Nov128219/25/28
Mon 7 Nov18111515/21/Closed
Tue 8 Nov15111919/18/22
Wed 9 Nov1412418/22/27
Thur 10 Nov-132Closed
Fri 11 Nov1610317/21/24
Av. per day11.37.81251.5

Some of the conversations are very brief, but significant; some go on for hours. I describe them as conversations but often there is very little conversing from me; my role is mainly to listen. There are conversations about work, helping a year 11 student to create a revision timetable for mocks and realise why revising for mocks is important. Others focus on friendship issues as the new year 7’s settle into a new context. Students inevitably bring joys and challenges from home into school, from wining yet another national sports award (we have some very talented athletes) to the excitement and sleeplessness that comes with the birth of a new sibling and the pain of illness and bereavement.

There are conversations about work, helping a year 11 student to create a revision timetable for mocks and realise why revising for mocks is important. Others focus on friendship issues as the new year 7’s settle into a new context

Then there are the matters of the Spirit as students probe into faith and philosophy. ‘I don’t believe in God, but I do pray, and I believe that someone hears me and it makes a difference.’ Was one recent comment that led to all kinds of conclusions. Another question that is asked fairly frequently is ‘What does God look like?’ To which I usually start by responding, he looks like you. Amidst the incredulity of a teenager I explain my belief that each of us is made in God’s image and reflects something of his truth and light. It is transformative.

Some of the conversations veer towards mentoring, others involve tears and tissues; and there is laughter as well. I value comments such as the one I hear quite often, “you’re very easy to talk to.” Perhaps that is because I’m there to listen.

The two weeks described here involved a significant amount of training, mentoring and pastoral work with members of the community. For instance, I was training and supporting a new team of community mentors who will work with our students, meeting with them once a month, throughout their five years in school and helping them to raise their aspirations and live life in all it’s fullness. I was also training and supporting other chaplains. Hence there being more community conversations than those with students.

Within Taunton Academy’s caring, compassionate staff team these conversations with the chaplain are only a part of the whole. The big picture also includes conversations with our School Pastors, a team of volunteers from local churches who support students one to one, help with clubs, activities and school trips and do after school patrols three times a week. In all of these they are there to listen, to care and to help.

The next question is the classic ‘so what?’ What impact do these conversations have? Sometimes we are privileged to see lives change, sometimes it’s harder to discern. However, I end with an email received from a colleague on Friday 11 November. This is not directly about any of my pastoral conversations. It relates to our School Pastors, who offer one to one reading and mentoring with students.

“Just to say that the School Pastor who is reading and doing mentoring with N is really helping him. He came to literacy period 1 this morning really enthused and keen to read more. Please pass on my appreciation as both N’s tutor and English teacher. It is really helping and I’m seeing genuine progress.”

Read Mike’s first article here.

We’re delighted to offer Mike the opportunity to document his experiences through Taunton Academy’s participation in the SSAT network. Find out more about getting involved.

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