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School was no bed of roses for me. I was one of those children who just couldn’t engage. I wanted to learn, but the lessons didn’t interest me. My brain was turning 100 miles and hours and I couldn’t concentrate on what was being said.
I had a very limited attention span. Rote learning bored me senseless, but it was standard practice when I went to school on the Isle of Man.
There was a lot going on in my life at the time. My siblings and I had been moved from the UK mainland to what seemed like an alien environment. Our parents had separated, and our father still lived in the UK. I never settled and as I went through my teenage years, I rebelled.
I was the class joker; I was disruptive, and I was punished for it.
No one ever sat me down and talked to me. No one asked what was going on in my life to drive the behaviours I was exhibiting. No one looked for a cause.
Instead I was a square peg being bashed into a round hole, and when I didn’t fit, I was labelled as the naughty kid and written off, consigned to a school life of detentions and suspensions.
All that changed with Mrs Harmer.
While all the other teachers washed their hands of the problem kid, she took an interest. She talked to me. She found out what interested me and what lay behind my troubles. She could see something that the other teachers were too busy to see. She could see potential.
She encouraged my interest in performance and drama. She was the reason I finished school and didn’t drop out altogether. She gave me confidence – something I’d never really had before.
When she recommended that I sign up for a script-to-screen workshop I was apprehensive at first, but she encouraged me. It changed my life.
Those two days set me on a path that hasn’t always been easy, but that has made me the person I am today.
I realised at that workshop that I was good at something and that I’d found my calling in life.
It wasn’t easy because I struggled with the writing part (I have a mild form of dyslexia, which was never identified at school). The script I wrote had elements of comedy in it, and people actually laughed when it was performed.
When I got back to school, I couldn’t wait to tell Mrs Harmer and she was proud of me, which again, was a new experience for me.
From then on I wanted to show that I did have potential and after I finished school and scraped through sixth form, I won a place at Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts.
I finished my degree and pursued a career in stand-up comedy. I was good at it. I toured the UK and won awards. I also developed an interest in psychology and did a Master’s degree.
In 2006 I combined all these elements and set up my own consultancy called Laughology, through which I pioneered the Happy Centred Schools programme, which is used in schools across the UK to make school children and school staff happy.
It aims to give schools the tools to develop the core elements of happiness: confidence, development, support, resilience and positive relationships. They are all the things that Mrs Harmer gave me in different ways.
Back in 2011, my book was published, Laughology: Improve Your Life with the Science of Laughter. I had a launch party and got in touch with Mrs Harmer to invite her.
I wanted the opportunity to tell and show her what a huge, positive impact she’d had on my life. Unfortunately, she told me some sad news.
She had cancer and while she was delighted that I had got in touch and would have loved to come, she was spending all her time with her family and wasn’t good at travelling.
A while later, after a brave fight, she succumbed to the disease.
It was terribly sad news. The world is a darker place without her and I’m so grateful I got the opportunity to thank her and to let her know what her care and understanding had done for me.
Thankfully, having worked in countless schools with amazing teachers, I now know there are lots more Mrs Harmers out there, spending time with pupils who might otherwise be written off by the system.
Sometimes it just takes one person to make a huge difference.
Stephanie Davies is founder and CEO of Laughology, the learning and development consultancy that pioneered the Happy Centred Schools programme. Find out more at laughology.co.uk and follow on Twitter at @Laughology.
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