Dear young person,
Please could you regulate the following, through the school day:
1. The time you arrive to school. There is no point blaming the bus or your baby brother, you are responsible for this so take the detention and leave earlier next time.
2. The equipment you have brought. Go through your timetable and pack it all the night before, then you can just pick it up and go! If you lost it yesterday, then you should have replaced it by this morning.
3. The homework you are set. This is why you have a homework planner and record the deadlines in it. If you have any problems doing the homework, then contact other students / the librarian / the teacher for help. If you didn't leave enough time to do this, then you need to start sooner next time.
4. What you eat and drink. Junk food is not allowed, so spend the £2 cash your family have given you on something healthy in Poundland and make sure they have topped up ParentPay for your lunch card.
5. When you need the toilet.
6. Your output level. This should not be affected by boredom, fatigue, stress or low self-confidence as you should be practicing the important life skills of resilience, focus and determination.
7. What you say and do to others. No matter what they say or do to you.
8. What you feel. When you are angry... calm down. When you are worried... put it to the back of your mind. Avoid these feelings "spilling over" into your interactions with others.
9. Your special educational need. We accept that this is not something you can regulate, but it needs to be contained within whatever extra support or strategies we can provide.
10. Your behaviour. The only thing you can control is yourself. If you are behind your peers in terms of brain development of the structures needed to self-regulate, you had better catch up fast... (see https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-49150993 "Disadvantaged pupils stuck 18 months behind)
Pause for thought: Educationalists, if you could rank these in order of importance, (discounting number 10), how would you do it? If you were leading a school, are there any of these "battles" you would choose first?
There has been a lot of discussion about a behaviour curriculum that sits alongside an academic one, but maybe less evidence of what that might look like.
Maslow's hierarchy of needs seems like a reasonable starting point in terms of regulation. Level 1 "Physiological" - from here the particularly relevant needs would be food, water, sleep and excretion. I wonder how many of us chose 4 and 5 from the list as priorities? There are definitely students who struggle with food and sleep due to welfare issues and mental health difficulties; however it is usually the school itself that tries to control excretion! Plenty of good advice is given around going to bed earlier, switching off mobiles etc., but actual sleep can be very difficult to regulate. As can getting through an hour and a half lesson after lunch without your body digesting and needing to excrete whatever you ingested. Some suggestions for how to help students regulate level 1:
- Co-create some strategies for tiredness with them that they can use during the day - getting up and stretching their muscles, opening the window, splashing cold water on their face, checking each other, going outside during breaks, getting some exercise where possible, setting small work progress targets in lesson, etc. Flag up the persistently tired or sudden "zombies" to pastoral/health teams in school. Remember sleeping problems are associated with depression and anxiety; two of the most common mental health issues. And that tiredness happens to all of us (particularly I find when I sit still and listen for a while); it is not the fault of the teacher, lesson or child. Teach and remind them of strategies to wind down before bed, but also those to try when they cannot sleep.
- Be proactive and prevent issues with your schools' food, water and toilet plans. How do students who don't have enough to eat subtly remedy that? Educate all students and staff about the effects of low blood sugar or dehydration on their performance and mood. How do you move forward with parents/carers who don't put enough money on their card? How many water fountains and toilets are there? How would you react if someone told you that you couldn't go to the toilet? Is your system for going for water / to the toilet, something that meets their needs or simply something you believe you can cope with? Review whether your Free School Meal and food provision for internally excluded students is enough to meet their calorific need.
On to Level 2 "Safety", and some questions from Maslow to reflect on: "Do you feel physically safe right now? Do you have enough money to feel financially secure? Are your family and the people you care about safe? Are you concerned about your health? Are your belongings secure from damage or theft? Are you under any kind of attack, whether emotional or moral? Are there people around you, who care enough to try and keep you safe?
My most memorable teaching quote was from a primary headteacher collecting a lifetime service Teaching Award, who turned to the camera and said "They cannot learn until they feel safe". Do not fool yourself that because you are a safe human being that the brain of the young person is telling them they are safe in your classroom. You are not the person who might steal their mobile phone, insult their mother in front of a crowd of people, lie about them to the rest of the class, bully them, post on social media about them, take away their best friend, push in front of them in line, point out their bad hair, shit trainers or funky smell... and that is well before we consider what more important things might be on their minds from their lives outside school. (At some point I will do an additional blog about the brain of someone who has experienced trauma or who has been raised in a chaotic and unstable environment, whose amygdala is firing all the time meaning they cannot feel safe and pretty much cannot learn in your classroom, regardless of how safe you are, the other students or the situation around them).
So my argument would follow that the greatest stressor in the mind of a student is not you; but in terms of how they react, you are very much having to deal with the fallout and then it is often "socially safer" for them to focus on blaming you than the real instigator. Some start-up suggestions for how to help students regulate Level 2 (basically become safer with each other...):
- Co-create strategies for as many situations as possible, e.g. What COULD you do if someone pushes in front of you in line? Avoid over-reliance on "tell the teacher"; get them to think through the potential consequences of each action and help them practice empathy ("What if the teacher didn't see it happen? What do you expect them to do then? Is that a reasonable expectation?)
- Get them to reflect on the "why" of each others' behaviour. Start with themselves; how does their mind and body change when they are angry/frustrated/sad/bored/tired/happy/excited? Then onto the thinking behind someone else's behaviour - why might someone insult your mum in front of a crowd of people / deliberately knock your work off your table / start a rumour about you? Go through options for their responses again.
- Teach them about differences between them; why it is easy for some to ignore an insult and feels nearly impossible for others. Get them to think about how little they might know about someone's life if they only know what shows up at school.
Most importantly: get them to plan their own strategies for when their emotions are "feeling too big" and support them in using them. Then get the class to plan group strategies for when someone is out-of-line and help them be consistent with them. Review regularly.
Structure, particularly for lesson starts; routines and consistency (although it doesn't need to be obsessive - look at the level of distress of the child in front of you and be flexible accordingly). If you have varied from these, briefly explain your reason why.
TBC in future blog on trauma-informed education as the overlap is massive.
In summary: As you can see these are early thoughts and I do not assume that they will meet the needs of all staff or contexts. I am a fan of discussion and of reaching for complexity; with that in mind, please be gentle with your disagreement!