What’s needed for an orderly and planned return to school?

What’s needed for an orderly and planned return to school?

I wrote and published this two months ago.

Since then a great deal has happened that we couldn’t have predicted then. But the issue of how to deal with children’s behaviour when and if they return, and more pressingly, how to meet their increased needs arising from their experiences, remains. So here it is again, unedited.

It’s hard losing touch with the thread of regular routines, but the abrupt stop, once we’ve coped with the immediate shock, opens up an opportunity for rethinking exactly what it was we were doing before corona virus arrived. And thinking through and planning for what we can do differently and better when calm returns.

There are some big ideas being floated, about the new sense of cooperation and community from international to street level, about the repositioning of science from something ‘they’ do to something ‘we’ rely on for safety, and about the new sense of truth and love being at the heart of human flourishing.

There are big problems ahead of us too, as we attempt to restart paused systems. It’s not as simple as pressing the red button and resuming life as if nothing had happened.

The talk of the possibility of positive changes to global systems is exciting but within our local world of schooling, I want to focus on the opportunity we have today to improve children’s lives now and in the future.

How do we go about developing an orderly and planned return to school. What’s needed?

Recently, (Mark Townsend; Guardian: 12 April, 2020) Professor Susan Michie, director of the centre for behaviour change at University College London, said if groups feel that government recognises and addresses the situation they’re in, trust and acceptance rises. Professor Stephen Reicher, a crowd psychology expert from St Andrews University said “perhaps government could start by asking … How do we help people comply? Rather than starting from a punitive perspective, you start from a facilitating perspective.”

This applies to children and adults alike.

Today, millions of children are experiencing stress and trauma at unprecedented levels. The loss of the familiar, the interacting routines of home and school life, their daily contact with friends and trusted adults and the varied things individual children love about school, combined with the sharp rise in domestic violence, pre-existing mental ill-health and disability, partings without proper farewells and the fear in the air all cause stress and distress. When these children return to school, how are they to settle back in a way that recognises and addresses their situation and the situation of the families and carers? By starting from a facilitating perspective, not a punitive one.

Some schools are following their pre-crisis, strict discipline approach and letting parents know that if their children’s behaviour at home fails to meet schools’ expectations, they should know they’ll be punished when they return to school. The punitive perspective. As things were before corona, for many vulnerable children stepped punishment led inexorably towards the approved ‘last resort’, exclusion. If schools continue on this path we can expect a flood of exclusions.

So what’s the practical alternative?

What’s needed in tough times is a straightforward strategy to initiate practical action, feedback and follow-up to shape it.

From my own experience I can confidently say bringing Solutions Focused Coaching into schools, pastoral support provided by school staff, displaces exclusion as the real last resort.

How do I know?

Twenty five years ago I was working as a special school teacher with children who’d experienced disability, trauma and distress in their lives and whose behaviour was seen as unmanageable in mainstream school. This special school, like most others, depended on the old routines of sanctions and punishment to control behaviour, but the children exceeded its reach. I started searching for an effective alternative. I’d been woking with adults with severe  learning disabilities for many years, and I had a good idea of what facilitated their learning; kindness and empathy. In my next job as Children’s Services Specialist Behaviour Support Teacher, tasked with preventing the exclusion of children who’d passed unreformed through the entire gamut of consequences and punishments and were on the brink of permanent exclusion. The old routines clearly hadn’t worked and I had to do something different and do it instantly, and I only had a rag-bag of squeeze balls and folk wisdom to draw on.

Until, in 2001 and three years into my PhD research, I met up with Solutions Focused Coaching, an approach which gives children the opportunity to know their strengths, to feel successful, to look ahead, to make changes through their own agency and reliably prevent their exclusion. A simple, structured, evidence-informed way of working with children to open up their resources, strengths, and successes to power themselves towards their hoped-for future.

An orderly and planned return to school.

All good schools set out to be places of calm, engagement and learning. They have a simple, essential baseline of rules, regulations and practices aimed at enabling children to grow into self-motivated, productive members of their community. We know that most children comply readily without the need for strict discipline, and this is just as true in zero-tolerance schools which promote strict discipline as it is in others.

Some children find it more difficult to become members of the settled majority, but it’s clearly demonstrated by meeting their needs through the Solutions Focused approach they can overcome barriers to learning and remain securely settled and included in school. Staff find the approach easy to use given brief training and on-going support and supervision. As a whole-school resource, SF Coaching increases its capacity to support children’s mental health and wellbeing and that of their families and teachers. It supports their inclusion at minimum cost for maximum benefit, a key factor when the cost inclusion, or in its absence exclusion, will be a significant factor as we face likely long-term austerity following the corona virus emergency.

Solutions Focused Coaching – one plank in the bridge to an orderly and planned return to school.

#stress #trauma #mental health #engagement #wholeschool

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