“This school Is An Inspiration” #wellbeingdgmeet
Working as a Clinical Psychologist within two schools for children with social, emotional and mental health needs I have been apart of a school development to shift the school culture from a punitive to a therapeutic approach. To give you some context, the children attending these schools have been excluded from mainstream education and can display behaviours that challenge us.
I am sure you can imagine what the punitive approach looked like. So the therapeutic approach is the total opposite. It puts the student-teacher relationship at the heart, and an environment that is empathic, nurturing, supportive, flexible and understanding is formed.
At the very beginning of our journey in September 2016, the senior leadership team asked ‘how will we know this is working?’ This is How:
‘He is kicking off’ ‘He is a nightmare’ ‘He is only doing it for attention’ ‘what is the point’ ‘he is awful’ ‘what is the punishment’ ‘I have had a awful lesson’ ‘they don’t deserve’
This is a snap shot of how the school, students and lessons were described.
Today we are proud that the language being used around the school is:
‘how can we help’, ‘what can we do differently’, ‘they are help-seeking’, ‘that must be really difficult for them’, ‘this upsets me’, ‘they smashed their functional skills exam’, ‘next time we will…’
It is important to highlight it is not about blaming or shaming. Understanding the language that is being used is a great temperature check. Now, It’s music to my ears every time I hear conversations taking place, between staff and students. #heartmelt
Over a period of two terms ‘minutes’, ‘detentions’ (whatever they are called) was replaced with ‘reflection time’. This is a space where students that are struggling to regulate themselves have some time with a teacher a break time to reflect upon the challenges and re-regulate themselves for the rest of the day. One to one or group conversations take place using a reflective and solution focused approach. Sometimes games are played such as the coping strategies bingo. We believe in using the time constructively. Lets teach the students another skill they can use in the daily lives. Now students are asking to attend reflection time!- its open to everyone.
A free tuck shop! Our student’s relationship with food is very complex. As a school we saw tuck shop as an opportunity to ensure our students are eating healthy and they have the physical energy to engage in their day, participate in lessons. Tuck shop is not viewed ‘reward’ or ‘luxury’, it is seen as an essential aspect to meeting the children’s needs, and another opportunity to demonstrate we care. Since this change, there has been a significant reduction in incidents at break time, and student-teacher relationships have blossomed. ‘Please and thank you’ are exchanged willingly. Students that have reflection time still receive tuck shop- remember food is not used as a punishment.
Creating a whole school approach and reshaping the culture is very difficult and brings it challenges however I hope I have provided you with a snap shot of some of the practical steps we have integrated to create a whole school approach that is supportive of the students whole learning journey.
A Final Note
The title of this blog was a quote from a new highly experienced member of teaching staff that had joined the school. Sometimes it’s difficult to see the amazing work we do.
A quote I love, “Do the difficult things while they are easy and do the great things while they are small. A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step” Lao Tzu.
About The Author
Dr Asha Patel (founder of Innovating Minds CIC) is a registered Clinical Psychologist with a post graduate diploma and over 10 years of clinical experience in various settings which include community, inpatient psychiatric rehabilitation, secure forensic mental health hospitals and within the education sector.
She is passionate about providing accessible psychological support for individuals in education, training and employment.
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