Unstoppable: How & Why it started

Unstoppable featured in Teach, Read and Write.

Blackpool FC Community Trust have long since enjoyed a working relationship with Dan Freedman. When he released his new book ‘Unstoppable’, we were very keen to again work closely with him to produce a new P.S.H.E scheme of work for local Blackpool Primary Schools. As one of the Physical Education officers for the Community Trust I was given the task of writing the scheme of work and delivering it in the local schools. The scheme was introduced to schools through a book event held at Bloomfield Road, in which Dan attended and addressed the children about his new book. All children that attended also went home with a copy of the book.

Thursday afternoons sees the time for me to deliver the first sessions of the new PSHE programme ‘Unstoppable’ in Westminster Academy in Blackpool. The year 6 class chosen to trial the programme is made up of a varied demographic and the school itself is in one of the most deprived areas of Blackpool. These reasons contributed to the class being chosen for the trial.

Kyle is an 11 year old boy and a prominent member of the class. On meeting Kyle, his class teacher Miss Moore described him as the usual ‘class clown.’ He would play up in order to get a laugh out of the class, which often led him to be removed and sent to the focus room. The ‘focus room’ is an area where students have a time out session with members of senior management. Kyle was the first to admit that he spends far too much time in there but couldn’t explain the reasons he kept getting removed from class. ‘I just get bored and can’t help myself’ was the response he gave when questioned about his removal. Kyle also struggles academically and very rarely records his ideas through written work.

From the very first encounter with Kyle I was able to form a bond made up of mutual respect and understanding. Kyle had previously struggled to explain his feelings and give his opinion. When questioned later on as to why he enjoyed the PSHE lessons so much he stated ‘I’m allowed to give my opinion and no body can say I’m wrong because that’s my opinion.’ This is something that I reiterated throughout the lessons – there was no right or wrong answers and we were always respectful of others ideas and opinions. The very first lesson was discussing family dynamics, a topic for which some of the children found extremely hard. Many of their families were separated with a parent or siblings living in different houses. We used ‘Unstoppable’ to look at the relationships between the Campbells (the main family in the book) in the first instance; that although there were times they didn’t like each other it was still clear they loved each other and that also we need to celebrate our differences as well as our similarities. The children were then asked to produce a collage of their own families. In the beginning Kyle was reluctant – he has many siblings and was convinced they didn’t have anything in common that they did as a family. However, after some discussion he realised that they enjoyed watching the football together and going to the cinema to watch a film. He recognised that these events didn’t happen too often but when they did, they were special. He could relate to Kaine’s feelings in the book of dislike towards his sister who he thought he had nothing in common with, however, it didn’t mean that they weren’t still a family and he realised he needed to take more of an interest into his sister’s life.

As the weeks progressed Kyle became more confident and very insightful, answering questions in a way myself or the teacher hadn’t thought of. His classmates began to notice a difference in Kyle also with one of them making a fleeting comment ‘Kyle is always answering in these lessons, he’s normally been sent out by now.’ For once Kyle was getting attention for the right reasons and the change in him was amazing; his behaviour was exemplary and his contribution to the class was more than he’d made all year. In one instance, when a fellow student was starting to distract him, he stood up and moved himself away in order to continue his work.

Throughout the weeks there were a number of tough subjects and issue tackled: appropriate adult relationships, a five-step behaviour model, a three-step process to tackle difficult situations, good and bad secrets, fair and unfair behaviour and family dynamics. For each lesson, the structure was very similar; we would first discuss the topic using the characters and situations from the book before moving on to considering the issues in their real-life setting. This made the children feel safe and comfortable talking about the issue in the first instance as they were almost ‘hiding behind’ the characters first before having to talk about themselves. The end part of a session would be looking at signposting children to ways of dealing with any issues that came up. For example, what to do and who to talk to if you felt you had an inappropriate relationship with an adult.

Miss Moore, the class teacher said The issues in the book are very current and relevant. The sessions have worked really well, children are all excited as it covers age appropriate issues. Being able to discuss those issues in a non-pressure situation has made the children feel really comfortable.’ 

An example of this was seen when we used the five-step model to recognise thoughts, feelings, behaviours and physical responses to a situation. The students were given different scenarios from the book for example Kaine dealing with the death of his Grandmother and asked to fill in the five-step template provided to them. We discussed the different scenarios as a class so that the children felt comfortable with the model. They were then asked to choose a situation from their own lives and again fill in the template. I always made it clear that nobody would be made to share anything that they didn’t feel comfortable in doing so. Kyle shared with the class his thoughts and feelings on moving up into high school, a topic that then was very relevant to the rest of the class. Kyle again was insightful on how he might feel and how he planned on coping with the huge change in his life. With him sharing his thoughts it encouraged others to contribute to the discussion. This was often the case in the sessions, once one of the students (typically Kyle) started to open up the about real-life personal issues the rest of the class would follow.

The children have benefited greatly from the sessions, with some even being signposted for further support. Using ‘Unstoppable’ has been a great tool for the sessions as the children are able to relate to the characters on a deeper level and it aids the discussion of tough issues.