Having taught for a number of years as a young probationer doing supply work in some of the more challenging schools in Aberdeen City, I was interested to read in the Press and Journal online last week that 50% of children excluded in Aberdeen albeit temporarily, have additional support needs (ASN).
The high number of exclusions of children with ASN issues are occurring, so it is claimed, because the council have reduced the number of support staff in these classrooms and so teachers are left alone with large classes and extremely challenging and unwanted behaviours from the youngsters in their classes. The exclusions occur as teachers, despite their best intentions, are unable to mitigate these unwanted behaviours in youngsters who need a great deal of social, emotional and personal support. The teachers don’t yet have the tools to cope with large numbers of unwanted behaviours with only one adult present in the room.
This news prompted me to think about my own experiences, both as a probationer with no support (before the time of guaranteed one year graduate teaching placements) and the techniques I have observed colleagues using. Coupling this with my experiences working with young people outdoors, I have been developing a simple format which can be utilised by teachers. Nothing is ever going to be failsafe. Techniques which work for one child will not necessarily work for another, but at least as we increase our skill level in these techniques, perhaps these young people can be supported and thereby and reduce the number of overall exclusions. I should write here as well that I was close to giving up teaching completely until one fantastic depute head teacher took me under her wing and supported me while I regained my shattered confidence!
- Understand the child and take to heart that behaviours are a direct outward expression of feelings. This isn’t to give the child an excuse for unwanted behaviours, it is to understand why the behaviours have happened.
See Part One of this blog post http://supportstrategies.owls-learn.co.uk/2016/07/04/supporting-youngsters-with-unwanted-behaviours-part-one/
- Sensory needs…all the usual autistic sensory provision (see the National Autistic Society website for more information) but when doing this ask the child what they think will help. Suggest ideas and let the child choose from them. It may take a little time out of class initially but you should find if you speak to the child, listen to the child, and act on what they say some of the issues will lessen.
Please note: listening and acting on what the child says seems to be the hardest part for most adults as it involves the outward perception that you are relinquishing control!
- Reduce the pressure. Missing a small part of school education or lowering the standards temporarily will not have an undue effect on the overall educational attainment of the child. It is better to focus on developing positive mental health and wellbeing than to continue battling and causing stress. Children and adults do not learn well under constant extreme stress. Some pressure can be healthy but only if you have the internal emotional resources to handle the stress.
- Consider emotional intelligence skills which may be under-developed or missing in their entirety.
- Extreme anxiety-driven need to be in control
- Very poor emotional intelligence
- Misjudge approaches to others – sabotage friendships inadvertently
- Inability to take responsibility
- Lack empathy (Children may role play this instead)
- Socially naïve
- Will rarely make connections between actions and
- Very low self-esteem combined with very high anxiety (See part one)
See the images below for the types of skills which can be lacking.
Now the most important thing to remember in all of this information is that you cannot tackle the underlying problems during a ‘meltdown’. You cannot take a reactive approach.
Imagine you are having a very heated argument with your better half. Imagine the state you might be in. Do you want a small crowd watching you? Do you want someone to start shouting at you? Do you want someone telling you to calm down in the middle of you shouting at your partner? Do you want someone grappling you and holding you down because they are frightened you may be violent while you are shouting?
Or would you rather have someone very calm saying quietly that they are here for you when you are ready? That they will not judge you and hold you to account. That they will not hold a grudge against you. That they will be there to listen when you are ready to talk.
I know which I would prefer and which worked for me when I had sudden meltdowns as a teenager which exploded into abrupt and unexpected verbal violence towards teachers. So although I was given the peace and the calm to recover from the meltdown (I was always exhausted and embarrassed afterwards) the teachers never followed up with a proactive approach to solving the underlying problems. An approach that takes into account the ideas mentioned in points 1-4 of this blog.
So quite simply, as I have challenged myself this week to verbalise what I do, perhaps you can challenge yourself to listen and act on what highly stressed children really need in school.