Reflecting, Connecting and Belonging

By John Whitwell | ISP Conference Introduction, 1st Feb, 2002.

An introduction to ISP’s internal day conference.

Why do I think a day like this is important for ISP?

When a child comes into a family it’s obvious that how that family functions will have an important effect on that child.

When a child comes into a school it is obvious that how the education staff work together will make a difference to that child’s ability to learn in school.

It is less obvious, but I think just as important, that how ISP is working as an organisation will have an effect on our children.

Today provides an opportunity to reflect on that. Today may lead to a greater level of mutual understanding between different parts of ISP. Today may also lead to some suggestions about how we may improve the way we work.

We had to go through something like a messy divorce 14 months ago when we parted company with Brigidin Gorman. We did it ultimately for the sake of the children because the state of conflict at the top of the organisation was bad for everyone.

We lost something in that divorce as well as gained. Not everything in the past was bad and not everything in the present is good. I hope today can also offer an opportunity to re-evaluate our history. For children a divorce will be less harmful if both parents can retain some respect for each other and convey that to the kids.

Initially there was a strong feel-good factor about a new era, a new beginning. We are now through that initial honeymoon phase, having to face a new set of problems, which can’t be blamed on the past. In fact I’ve encountered a bit of a tendency to say nothing has changed, it is the same old ISP.

I can’t promise that life within ISP will be problem free, or that communication will be perfect, or that no one will make mistakes or get things wrong. I can promise that we will try and solve problems in a different way. I am trying to create a greater sense of safety, so that it is possible to acknowledge that a mistake has been made, to apologise if appropriate, but most important of all to learn from the mistake. We live in an era where this can seem a dangerous thing to do but if ISP is going to grow and develop we have got to be open about our shortcomings and learn from them. This will be a tremendous role model for the children in ISP because that is exactly what they need to be able to do rather than remain stuck in a repetitive cycle.

Our biggest asset is the people in ISP – us – you. Several visitors have said to me recently that there are some very impressive people in ISP. ISP has always had good people but has not always used their potential. If we can harness this potential ISP will fly, if we don’t it will bump along.

What excites me about this last year is the wealth of new ideas coming from you the people doing the work.

I see my job primarily as trying to create the sort of environment, climate, and culture which supports and encourages a growing sense of confidence and self-belief in the people who do the face-to-face work with the children.

Donald Winnicott said that, “In a sense all communities are therapeutic in so far as they work”. I think we have to strive for an ISP that works and this will have a therapeutic effect on the children. The opposite is also true.

This day is the first of its kind for ISP. We don’t know how it’s going to work. I hope that we all feel it is worthwhile and this will depend on whether we make it so.

John Whitwell.
Managing Director