Management Information System (MIS) for schools
Mental Health and Wellbeing
Category : Blog
As Teachers face lots of new challenges in the classroom this term, with students sometimes struggling to adjust to constant change, it’s important to build our understanding of students’ mental health so we can best support them. A large part of that is looking at how we frame and manage “problematic” behaviour in the classroom.
We spoke to Rob Long, Educational Psychologist, about his work with schools and young people and his advice for how we can better support the emotional and mental health of students, particularly as they experience the challenges of Covid-19.
For more information about Dr Rob Long and the training and services he provides, check out his website.
A lot of schools look at behaviour at a surface level. Though it’s worth saying that schools differ greatly, many focus on “managing” behaviour, having “zero tolerance” and relying on rewards and sanctions. These strategies are based on the assumption that the child is wilfully misbehaving; that is that they can control their behaviour. While such approaches will work for many children, there are “repeat offenders” whose behaviour needs to be understood if they are to be supported effectively.
In some main-stream schools it can be 3-5% of the school population who are responsible for something like 50% of the discipline referrals. So it’s often the same children/young people who are being sanctioned. It would be fair to say therefore that sanctions are not working for them. In fact some children, sadly, have habituated to sanctions. It’s what they expect as normal.
The problem with a “zero-tolerance” culture is that some students (3-5%) are consistently at risk of being excluded. There is a case for trying to understand these problem behaviours – an approach that more and more schools are developing.
A one-size-fits-all behaviour policy doesn’t work – we need to address individuals.
We need to understand students’ behaviour on a deeper level in order to get to the root of why they’re acting the way they are. Often students who misbehave are dealing with Adverse Childhood Experiences, such as mental health problems at home, deprivation or abuse. It’s evidenced that children who have had four or more of these experiences are especially vulnerable to having problematic behaviours.
Behaviour is never random – there’s usually a motive for it. Even aggression can be driven by such emotions as fear and anxiety. We should see behaviour as a form of communication, and ask what it is that the student is trying to communicate to us. Have they had breakfast that morning? Is their school work at the appropriate level for them? Are they being bullied? Are there learning difficulties? Have they experienced trauma? Behaviour is ambiguous, three children may have the same problematic behaviour, but for three different reasons.
Given that 1 in 8 children are dealing with some sort of mental health problem (according to MentalHealth.org), and most adult mental health problems start before the age of 15-16, schools need training to be aware of and support students to manage their emotions.
This term, as a result of Covid-19, some students will be processing trauma through bereavements and other losses, and many will be experiencing an increased level of anxiety.
Typically, as children develop, they learn to contain their emotions in order to function with a degree of anxiety – these are emotional regulation skills. There will be some students however, who may not have learned such control skills and therefore have we can describe as an “over sensitive smoke detector”. These students are likely to react to worries about Covid-19, for example, in a more pronounced way, and may cope by either “acting out” or “acting in”.
Schools should be aware that it’s common for vulnerable children to also have other co-occurring mental health conditions (50% of autistic children have a predisposition for co-occurring anxiety).
Here are some techniques I’d encourage schools to use in order to reframe “bad” behaviour (I would prefer the term “problematic” behaviour) and promote a positive, supportive environment for students:
It is important to recognise that schools today face even more demands on their time and resources. They therefore often don’t have the time to support students’ mental health problems to the degree they’d like to.
I encourage schools to make wellbeing a whole-school priority. Evidence shows that the more students feel belonging to a school, the better their emotional wellbeing. Feeling connected to their school results in less externalising and internalising problematic behaviours.
It’s true that there is a growing openness to mental health within the education sector – I’m seeing a “therapeutic” understanding approach to emotional health filtering down to schools and there’s more and more information and support out there. However, the Government needs to support, with resources, the importance of wellbeing and mental health in schools. We need to change the culture that turns students with added mental health needs away from schools because they can’t manage them.
The pandemic has, for many schools, justified and emphasised what they’re already doing to support students’ emotional health. It’s given us a vocabulary for students’ emotions and experiences, and crystallized what’s important. We need to celebrate such good practices. Going through this difficult period will enable schools to include wellbeing, mental health and resilience at the heart of their school ethos. Such policies and practice will support us all to come through the pandemic stronger and more resilient in the future.
If you’d like to find out more about how Arbor MIS could help your school work faster, smarter and collaborate more, join one of our free webinars to see Arbor in action, or arrange a 1-on-1 demo.
Mental Health and Wellbeing
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