Recovering from closure – Priority 1: Become Trauma Informed

The trouble with schools is that we were never prepared for the events that have happened.  We now need to learn how to recover. 

Before Easter we dipped our toes back in the water and to some degree welcomed all of our young people back into school.  And about time too, but I won’t go into that rant.  When we return I have 6 priorities for my school that I think are worth sharing:

  1. Become Trauma Informed
  2. Give more time to tutors
  3. Develop aspirations in young people
  4. Developing extended activities
  5. Focus on skills and habits of learning first
  6. Re-set/re-group; there will be gaps to close

The remainder of this blog will consider the first of these priorities, while subsequent blogs will focus on the other 5 areas.

1. Become Trauma Informed

Over the course of the pandemic, it’s amazing how many times I’ve heard the term ‘resilient’ used indiscriminately to describe young people.  While a few may develop resilience (especially those from more affluent backgrounds), for the vast majority their apparent malleability is often mistaken for resilience.   I borrow here from the work of Bruce Perry (For an introduction to his work click HERE) who when referring to children coping with trauma stated:

“Of course children ‘get over it’ – they have no choice. Children are not resilient, children are mailable. In the process of ‘getting over it’, elements of their true emotional, behavioural, cognitive and social potential are diminished – some percentage of capacity is lost, a piece of the child is lost forever.”

This in short, is the impact of trauma.  If we chose to ignore this then we are preventing young people from achieving their potential and only serve to widen the deprivation gap (which has already increased significantly during school closures). 

The majority of schools are no familiar with the term ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences) when supporting the young people in their care (If you have not familiar with this, click HERE for a good summary).  During the period of school closure, those who were already subject to ACEs in the home experienced these to a higher level and all young people were subject to new ACEs in the form of mental and emotional stress. 

Yes, some will have been more resilient than others, but most will have adapted to the situation and internalised the worries and fears they had.  We have only been able to measure the tip of the emotional/mental stress iceberg in young people at the moment at the moment, but it’s worth watching part of this Webinar (at 1:02:30) hosted by the British Medical Journal, where Dr Sunil Bhopal describes some of the research findings at the time.

The diagram below highlights the impact of ACEs on a person’s life.

It would be remiss of me to use this space to try and give you shortcuts to managing ACEs and trauma in young people. It’s a long process to becoming a Trauma Informed school but a real investment in time and excellent professional development for all staff. I have no affiliation to them, but if your school does want to work towards TIS status, Trauma Informed Schools UK (TISUK) have been for our school an excellent support and a training provider over the past few years, on our journey to becoming Trauma informed.

I’d advise investing the time and money in this, but if you really want some tips to tide you over in the mean time consider the following:

The 5 Ms

I introduced this into our school to help provide a framework fo managing effective working relationships with young people:

MAKE & MAINTAIN good relationships.

TIS schools use the acronyms PACE (Playfulness, Acceptance, Curiosity, Empathy) and WINE (Wonder, Imagine, Notice, Empathy).  

PACE is about accepting and not being judgemental:

  • Injecting fun into the way you communicate and interact with young people (be careful not to patronise!);
  • Accepting when they make mistakes or errors of judgement and being able to take that step back from the situation and consider why before reacting (boundaries still need to be there, but managed appropriately);
  • Being curious about the young person you are interacting with: Ask them questions about themselves, show interest.
  • Showing empathy, where you put yourself into that person’s shoes and try to show understanding of what they are going through rather than sympathy

WINE is about becoming an emotionally available adult:

  • Wondering how the child is, what they are feeling, what they are thinking
  • Trying to imagine what the child is going through
  • Showing that you are noticing certain behaviours in a non-confrontational way
  • Once again being empathetic to what the child has or is experiencing.
MANAGE things positively when they start to go wrong

Between Student and you or another member of staff consider:

  • Accepting they are young and will make mistakes
  • Consistency in approach
  • Clarity and consistency with regards to consequences
  • Giving space and time to reflect
  • Understanding and staying in the “blue zone”
  • Being aware of any identified personalised responses where appropriate
  • Developing an ethos of reflective practice

Between student and student consider:

  • Calm Voice
  • Calm Approach
  • Diffusing rather than escalating the situation
  • Help them make sense of what is going on by reflecting the feelings underling their thoughts, words and behaviour
  • Dispersing ‘the audience’ effectively
  • Positive handling
  • Restorative conversations
MENDING situations when things break down or MOVING them on in a positive way.

This involves Restorative Approaches; another whole facet of school improvement which would be one of our priorities if we weren’t already well down the road on this journey.  If your school is not doing this, investigate it now.  There are many organisations offering support and guidance in restorative approaches.

Finally, thanks to Kay Lewis, the Assistant Head at Eastern High who put together this really useful list of resources and organisations which will help you begin the journey towards becoming Trauma Informed, following the pandemic.

10 things about childhood trauma every teacher needs to know
10 ways nature can help you stay healthy and happy during lockdown
A children’s guide to understanding Coronavirus
A trauma-informed approach to teaching through coronavirus
Connect before you correct
Copy of 2020 Covid-19 time capsule sheets.pdf
Feelings wheelFeelings Wheel
Five ways to help children heal after the pandemic
Helpful advice for parents during lock down
Impact brief – school shut down
Information about Dan Hughes and PACE
Meaningful May
Mental Health – Children (during pandemic)
Modelling self-regulation, teaches self-regulation
Resources for schools / parents and carers
Self – care during pandemic
Self regulation (pupils)
Supporting teachers during closure
T&L – A Recovery Curriculum
Top tips for families in isolation
Trauma, Challenging Behaviour and Restrictive Interventions in Schools
Tutors…questions you can ask instead of “How are you?”
Understanding the teenage brain
Understanding the teenage brain
Vulnerable Young People: COVID 19 Response
The importance of play during COVID 19

Next Blog: The importance of giving more time to Tutors

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