As part of our #DYWKeyWorkers campaign we spoke to Shona Lees, MCR Pathways coordinator at Inverurie Academy to ask her what her typical day looks like and gain insight into her career journey.
What attracted you to the industry you are in?
I have worked in education in a variety of support roles for over 20 years. I began as a classroom assistant when my own family were small and then moved to become a pupil support worker when those roles were created to support young people at risk of exclusion from school. Having spent many years supporting young people and their families, I was interested to learn about the MCR Pathways programme. I am naturally attracted to supporting people, young people especially. Young people can face many challenges and can be judged in unhelpful ways so to get to know them, know their story, build trusting relationships with them and support them to aspire and achieve something I am very passionate about.
How long have you been with the company?
I have worked at Aberdeenshire Council since 1999!
Describe your day-to-day role
Oh wow, every day is different. Schools are such busy places and the days pass very quickly. Typically, I start by replying to any email correspondence then I may have some S1 or S2 group work classes. As the programme involves volunteer mentors coming into school, I often have mentors popping in for a chat and we discuss how things are going with their mentoring sessions. I meet with young people a lot too and my room is a hive of activity at break time and lunchtimes. It’s nice to have lunch with the young people. It helps me get to know them so much better and build the strong, trusting relationships that make the difference. As part of my job I also recruit and train the volunteers, completing necessary paperwork and security checks. It’s a very busy job however it brings great satisfaction.
What kind of training have you done?
I have been lucky enough to undertake many different training opportunities over the years. Many relating to the additional support need requirements of young people e.g. ADHD, autism, bereavement, sound sleep and mental health courses to name a few. I also completed the Counselling Skills course at Aberdeen University, funded and supported by Aberdeenshire Council.
What skills have you learned?
Over the years I have learned the skills of active listening, really listening and hearing what people are saying and often, what they aren’t. This has by far been the best and most useful skill I’ve learned. I have also learned restorative approaches and how best to manage challenging situations and behaviours.
Do you like living and working in the North-east?
I have lived and worked in the North-east all my life. I even attended Inverurie Academy myself many moons ago.
What skills are the most important for you to do your job well?
It's very important in my role to have good people skills and be a good communicator. It’s important to be a calming influence especially in challenging situations. Being able to build trusting relationships with the young people and being genuinely interested in them and encouraging them to be the best that they can be supports me to do my job well.
Was there anything about the job that surprised you?
Initially, I was unprepared for the public speaking part of the role when recruiting and training mentors. I have worked hard to overcome the fears I had around this and although I would admit it’s still not something I particularly enjoy; I have found strategies to support me to manage it.
Do you get a lot of support from your company?
Yes, the team at Inverurie Academy are very supportive of me and the MCR Pathways programme. I feel very supported by the young people too. It’s a lovely place to work.
What's your favourite part of the job?
It has to be the initial introduction between the mentor and mentee. A lot of work and thought goes into creating the matches, striving to find the right fit of mentor for each young person. I enjoy the moment when I bring them both together for the first time.
Did you always want to pursue a career in this industry?
Pursuing a career in supporting young people is something I had always wanted to do. The roles within education at the time when my own family were small allowed me to dip my toe in the water in terms of an education route however once in it, working alongside children and young people inspired me to carry on. The privilege of watching young people grow, develop and learn, find their way in the world, never defined by their circumstances has always inspired me.
What is your advice for young school leavers looking to start an apprenticeship?
There is no wrong pathway. Recognise what you enjoy and move in that direction. Learning is life long, the expert in anything was once a beginner. Always remember that you are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem and smarter than you think! Grasp every opportunity and always be the best version of yourself that you can be.
What is your career goal?
I have found it! I'm very happy with where I am right now.
How does it feel to be a key worker on the frontline supporting the country's fight against COVID-19?
It can feel overwhelming at times. It remains a huge responsibility to support young people and families at this time however it is also rewarding, knowing you are providing consistency for young people and families. Being part of Aberdeenshire Council and its collaborative team approach where everyone is supporting one another is reassuring and comforting.
Tell us what makes you proud to be a key worker
Being able to reach out and provide care, kindness, help and support at this unusual time makes me feel proud. Knowing that as an education service we are continuing to reach out to our young people and deliver a service which most young people and families rely on and appreciate.