For Teachers and Support Staff

Teachers and school staff are offered consultation to develop practical approaches that enable them to support children and young people more effectively

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I am able to offer consultative support to teachers and school staff members to assist with exploring the challenges of working with children, parents and families as well as coping with the demands of teaching and delivering learning outcomes. 


Having worked on school sites as a manager of counselling services and a therapist in both primary and secondary schools in inner London, an essential part of my role was a commitment to communicating with all staff, especially in relation to exploring strategies to support interventions for students and families,  and putting in place strategies to improve teachers’ and staff responses to children, especially those who have been affected by trauma, and significantly understanding the communication behind behaviour. 


Incorporating a system of regular support with a mental health professional, someone employed from outside the school and without attachments to school management accountability, allows school staff to think and explore the cumulative impact of managing hundreds of human relationships each week and to think through and disentangle these relationships.  Education leaders and staff should take advantage of this support as a way of recognising their difficult work and that such support should be seen as an essential part of their professional development. 

Use of ‘thinking it through’ reflective sessions: 


In making myself available to all staff in this way we would discuss the many concerns or issues they had concerning their students or their own well-being.  Most sessions were taken up with exploring the social and emotional experiences which drive pupil behaviour to extend their understanding of the student so that they could change their responses both personally and educationally.  Staff were keen to understand the communication implicit in behaviour, whether reactive, withdrawn or silent and how to protect themselves as educators from being adversely affected by students' feelings and their own defensive patterns and seek to enhance practice and student achievement. 


The majority of teachers are excellent at teaching and were so focused on delivering lesson targets and seeking the best outcomes for their students (both academically and emotionally) but at times they felt they had just too much to cope with, especially if their school was going through restructuring due to funding deficits or preparing for and dealing with school inspections.  Offering my clinical insight, in these reflective sessions,  and utilising a variety of theoretical modalities and their relevance to teacher/student relationships and learning tasks; it allowed me to see and hear at first hand the difficulties presented to teachers and staff and often the emotional toll of working in a challenging and often hierarchical workplace cultures, where priority on league tables or progress 8 scores, left no room for the thinking time or to reflect on how one is feeling or coping.   

 

Behaviour Management and Isolation units:


I often worked alongside staff who were given the responsibility of supporting behaviour management units within schools where the behaviour of students meant they were often in isolation away from formal lessons and I watched and heard how the impact of this work took its toll on support staff.  They felt side-lined just like their students; left to cope with the unenviable task of getting these vulnerable students into school, coping with students’ angry and challenging behaviour, dealing with overwhelmed parents/carers.  Staff felt they were “set up for failure” as expectations were so great – running the unit, staff were expected to deliver a ‘magical cure’ for anger management, consistent student attendance, better learning outcomes and increased parent engagement.  Often the resulting outcome for students were managed moves or exclusion which left staff feeling demoralised because of a perceived sense of personal ineffectiveness. 
 

What I heard was that the job of teaching and supporting students can feel like: 

  • Teaching and supporting students is an impossible task; they often “felt inadequate or never good enough”

  • They had given up or lost the understanding of their reasons for being teachers or to work in schools  

  • They did not want to be “social workers”, “therapists” or “substitute parents”

  • They did not want to get too close to a student as it compromises their professional ethics and they did not want the responsibility of feeling needed  

  • They  want to get on with the job of just teaching but they feel defensive, rejected and overwhelmed when faced with cumulative effect of students,  parents’ and  colleagues

  • They were frustrated with their own school senior leadership teams who were often not supportive and were mistrusting and critical of all their work and approaches  

  • The felt threatened and exhausted when dealing with parents who often demanded their time and attention when they had no extra  time to give

  • They often experienced toxic stress and burnout as a result of this compassion fatigue and a sense of ethical anger and injustice against governmental and health/welfare systems that are not robust or effective enough to support families that attend their schools

  • The stress impacted on their self-confidence and self-esteem; they felt unable to disclose to colleagues their feelings for fear of blame or shaming

  • They would adopt a survive at all cost mentality, pushing themselves to meet targets, without prioritising their own self-care which resulted in ill health and time off work

  • Their relationships with partners, family members would be impacted too

Presently the challenge for teachers and school staff is to accept that they do take the part of substitute parents and family systems within most of their students’ lives and therefore being able to reflect on how this impacts on their own emotional well-being and teaching practice is extremely relevant. 

Using research and concepts from attachment theory, neuroscience, interpersonal neurobiology, systemic family practice, conflict resolution and other therapeutic modalities which are integrated to offer support, guidance and strategies for working within the whole school community to help improve the social and emotional well-being of students, families and school staff.  
By taking a holistic approach, striving to support stable and positive relationships and networks in which the whole school community is able to thrive by ensuring an understanding of the complex needs and range of behaviours but also how this can be incorporated within a school’s pastoral, well-being service provision and professional development so that all can reap the full benefit of education. 

 

The consultative support I can offer provides:

  • Understanding and exploring  what is  the communication behind the behaviour and how this impacts on teaching and learning

  • The impact of attachment and trauma on brain function and self-regulation

  • Significance of early adverse experience and intergenerational trauma on attachment relationships and behaviour

  • Understanding the many presentations of anger 

  • Helping to name and regulate emotions 

  • Focusing on patterns of comforting and self-soothing

  • To view emotional states and actions from relational perspectives  

  • Increasing understanding and tolerance for negative emotional states, such as defensive reactions

  • Promote understanding of trans-generational patterns of attachment seeking and caring 

  • How to support students and families with attendance issues and school refusal

  • Communicating effectively with students and families to build trust and avoid conflict

  • Enabling the processing of emotional experience with a view to steering ourselves towards resilience and not distress