The Arbor Blog

Expert ideas for a better working life at your school or trust

Recent Posts Popular posts

Danielle Arkwright - 4 January, 2021

Category : Blog

Top 5 ways you can set wellbeing goals this year

After the year we’ve had, and with most normal holiday traditions having gone out the window, the key to a happier and healthier 2021 might well start with some realistic, compassionate New Year’s resolutions.  See below for our top 5 tips for starting your year right.  Rather than beating yourself up about all the things

After the year we’ve had, and with most normal holiday traditions having gone out the window, the key to a happier and healthier 2021 might well start with some realistic, compassionate New Year’s resolutions. 

See below for our top 5 tips for starting your year right. 

Rather than beating yourself up about all the things you need to change and the new, better version of yourself you need to become, what about reflecting on the ways in which you’ve actually coped really well during the stressful and unpredictable year we’ve had?

Did you learn a new skill that boosted your self-esteem? Did taking some time for mindfulness help during the worst of lockdown? Did you feel a lot better when you were out in nature or spending time with a particular person? 

Start by writing a list of the things that helped you, or perhaps a journal entry about your reflections on 2020. While you’re at it, give yourself a massive pat on the back for making it through and taking care of yourself and your loved ones the best you could. 

If you do decide to make a New Year’s resolution, try and pick something manageable. Choosing to make small, positive changes can benefit your confidence as they’re easier to keep up. Plus, these doable changes are much more likely to become habits in the long term. 

Below are some small, practical ideas that can benefit your mental health for 2021:

1. Try mindfulness

Mindfulness is proven to have a profound impact on our overall wellbeing. Over the last ten years, hundreds of studies have been conducted proving the positive effects of meditation such as reduced stress and anxiety, improved memory and focus, better relationships and reduced emotional and physical pain

It’s important to remember when starting your mindfulness journey to start small and be patient with yourself. Apps like Headspace provide options for free trials and introductory courses to help you imbed the practice in your life. 

 

2. Start a gratitude diary

Why not experiment with how looking on the bright side could improve your life? Making a note of the things in our day that have gone well can help ground us when things are rocky.  

When considering the things you feel grateful for, be specific and keep it simple, for example, “My colleague made me laugh today” or “My partner got up early to make me breakfast”. The act of recalling these small moments is proven to help us focus on positive elements of our day and increases our sense of wellbeing

You could try writing these in a journal, which can be a lovely thing to revisit when you need a boost. If writing isn’t your thing, you could try starting a practice with the person you live with, sharing three things you’re grateful for each night before you go to sleep. I try to do this regularly with my partner, which helps us to feel connected and, if we mention something the other has done, appreciated! 

 

3. Take a break from social media

Regular digital detoxes are a healthy ritual to begin in 2021. We’ve all probably had moments over the last year when our social media apps have made us feel connected and less lonely during multiple lockdowns. However, you may also have noticed that increased usage of these apps has made you more anxious and less able to switch off. 

Why not try deleting one or more of your apps for a month, and seeing what that’s like? If this is difficult, try scheduling in a social media free hour before bed. This can also help with a healthier, calmer bedtime routine. 

 

4. Walk

Want a simple, free way to improve your physical and mental health? Just starting putting one foot in front of the other! There’s never been a more important time to ensure you’re getting fresh air and getting out of the house. If you’re working from home, or even if you find yourself with a spare ten minutes on your lunch break, taking the time out to walk has a lots of benefits. If you’ve also started a mindfulness practice, you could try embedding this into your walk too! 

 

5. Tweak your bedtime routine 

Did you know that your brain begins to prepare itself for sleep around two hours before it expects to actually hit the hay? Why not help it along by cultivating a relaxing bedtime routine? 

Try not to make it too complicated or unrealistic. You probably won’t take a hot bath, turn your phone off and meditate every single night. But maybe you could carve out half an hour to decompress before sleep. 

Setting a regular bedtime is also a fantastic way of regulating your sleep and ensuring you feel bright in the morning. Check out this article for more tips on a bedtime routine. 

 

So, hopefully you have identified one or two areas of your life where you could make small and achievable improvements. Remember, changing habits takes time and patience; you won’t necessarily see results overnight and there will be times when you want to give up and go back to old habits. 

Try letting a loved one in on your resolutions, or share them with as many people as possible. This will keep you accountable and might encourage others in your life to follow suit.

Thank you for reading and here’s to a happier 2021 for us all! 

Danielle Arkwright - 10 December, 2020

Category : Blog

Top tips for managing stress during constant change

As schools and trusts navigate this time of tough challenges and constant change, we want to offer some helpful advice for adapting to new ways of working. Danielle Arkwright, our HR and Office Manager, has put together some guidance on how to manage any stress you may be experiencing due to all this change. Danielle

As schools and trusts navigate this time of tough challenges and constant change, we want to offer some helpful advice for adapting to new ways of working. Danielle Arkwright, our HR and Office Manager, has put together some guidance on how to manage any stress you may be experiencing due to all this change. Danielle is trained in creative therapies, stress and trauma, and is in her final year studying for an MA in Drama Therapy at University of Roehampton, so we’re really excited to share her tips with you.

Up and down the country, we’ve all been working in new ways over the last year. You might have spent time working remotely, or had to quickly adapt and take on more work at a moment’s notice. Whatever your situation, you’ve probably been going at full tilt, and are in need of a break.

As you start thinking about the holiday season – though it’s not a normal one by any means – we wanted to share ways of understanding and managing some of the difficult emotions you might be experiencing.

How are you feeling?

This period of change might have left you feeling irritable, anxious or down. You may be feeling less confident than usual and having more consistent worries about body image. You might be drinking and eating more, finding it difficult to make decisions and having trouble sleeping. Maybe you’re noticing unpleasant things going on with your body, like skin irritation, muscle ache and headaches. All of the above are symptoms of stress. I’m going to cover how to recognise and manage these symptoms. 

Firstly, it’s important to say that feeling these things is a perfectly normal response to such an abnormal situation. There will be millions of people across the world experiencing similar feelings. Even if you haven’t been personally affected by Coronavirus, you may be worried about you or your loved ones getting infected, or about getting the supplies you need. You may be concerned about money or job security. 

Uncertainty is one of the most difficult things to face. Not knowing when things will get back to “normal” makes us feel powerless and unsafe. You might be feeling hyper-vigilant; constantly checking the news to feel more in control. The good news? You’re not alone and there are strategies you can use to cope.

Being aware of what is happening to our bodies when we feel in a panicked state can help us to step back and not judge ourselves.

What is stress?

  • Stress is how our body responds to external pressures (something that happens to you)
  • Stress is triggered by a stressor – this could be when you experience something new or unexpected which makes you feel like you don’t have control 
  • Stress triggers a release of cortisol which causes a “flight, fight or freeze” response. An example of “flight” would be if you deny the situation is happening, “fight” if you get angry, and “freeze” if you get depressed and turn inwards 

Is stress bad? 

Sometimes having a stress response is appropriate and helpful, for example, if you’re pushed into a dangerous or uncomfortable situation, it’s good to trust your instincts to and avoid it. However, if we constantly experience stress over a long period of time, this pressure can make us feel overwhelmed or unable to cope. This is what we call “chronic” or long-term stress, and it can have an impact on both physical and mental health.

For more info, go to MentalHealth.org

How can we manage stress? 

There are small and meaningful things you can do to lessen the symptoms of stress. Some of these techniques might seem simple and obvious, but if practiced regularly, they can have a huge impact on your stress levels. 

At Arbor, we’ve set up a dedicated wellbeing committee, who have been rolling out lots of different activities, particularly over the last few weeks, that allow colleagues to dedicate time to mental wellbeing together. We’ve had online yoga classes, weekly group mindfulness practice, fun daily challenges and art sessions. We’re also planning to send out seeds to everyone’s home address so we can start a sunflower growing competition! 

Top tips for managing stress

Stay connected – Even if it’s a few phone calls a week, sending a funny video, or doing a organised online activity like a quiz, connecting with others can remind us we’re all in this together 

Stay hydrated – You might be really good at remembering to drink when you’re in the office but during lockdown, don’t forget to keep hydrated to at least cut down on unnecessary headaches

Structure your day – Routine helps us feel secure. It can be as simple as eating lunch at the same time (perhaps “with” colleagues) or a regular time you connect with your friends 

Take regular breaks and go outside – It’s easy to forget to get up and move when a cup of tea is in reach! Try and plan breaks and a short evening walk into your day to keep your mind fresh

Try mindfulness – Now is the time for an open mind (literally!). I’d really recommend trying an app like Headspace, even if only for 5 minutes a day, to allow you to step back when it all becomes too much 

Dress for the day you want – Try and resist staying in your PJs all day! Get dressed and see how different you feel!

Remember, some days will be better than others and if you manage just a few of these things you are doing really well. My biggest advice is to lower your expectations – if you don’t feel very productive, don’t let it pull you down. When you’re kind to yourself, you’ll allow your best thoughts to flow.

Useful links 

I’ve put a list together of some resources I think are really helpful, particularly during the challenges we’re facing at the moment:

For coping with the Coronavirus outbreak:

  • Advice from Mind if you’re worried about Coronavirus
  • How to looking after your mental health while working during the coronavirus outbreak from MentalHealth.org
  • Tips from the BBC about how to protect your wellbeing during Coronavirus
  • 10 tips to help if you are worried about coronavirus from the NHS
  • Guided meditations from Headspace during Coronavirus

General recommendations:

  • Top tips for managing stress from the NHS
  • 7 Simple Meditation Techniques to Practice at Work (to Boost Productivity) from Inc.
  • 10 Minute Mindfulness Practice exercise from MentalHealth.org
  • Mindfulness sessions for kids from CosmicKids.com 

Tom, our Partnership Specialist, has some reading recommendations too!

If you have any tips to add to Danielle and Toms’ lists, share them with us on social media using #ArborCommunity or on our Community Forum if you’re an Arbor school.

We’re running a webinar programme called “Adapting to Change: Managing Your Schools and Staff Remotely” for MAT Leaders to share strategies during lockdown and beyond. You can sign up for free by clicking the link.

To find out how to manage and report on the Coronavirus situation in Arbor, you can read our blog, or find practical advice on our Help Centre. If you’re new to Arbor, find out if Arbor MIS is for you with an online demo – get in touch at tellmemore@arbor-education.com, or give us a call on 0208 050 1028. 

Rachel Coldicutt - 27 November, 2020

Category : Blog

How to reflect on rapid technology change and plan for the future

Schools have been on an incredible journey in the last year, adapting to completely new ways of working with technology to deliver virtual lessons, cope with staff and students offsite, organise complex logistics and report on a whole new range of data. But changing ways of working in such a short space of time means

Schools have been on an incredible journey in the last year, adapting to completely new ways of working with technology to deliver virtual lessons, cope with staff and students offsite, organise complex logistics and report on a whole new range of data.

But changing ways of working in such a short space of time means staff haven’t had the change to properly reflect on this change – especially since schools have remained open throughout the pandemic!

To discuss how we can use technology in a more positive way, we were delighted to welcome Rachel Coldicutt to ArborFest on 12th November to give the Keynote presentation at our customer festival. 

Rachel is the former CEO of Doteveryone and expert on the social impact of technology, having collaborated with many organisations in the charity and public sectors. She recently produced The Glimmers Report – a practical toolkit designed to support schools and community organisations to reflect on their use of technology and how to build resilience for the future. 

Rachel shared some really meaningful tips that schools can use to make sure as we move forward in a reflective way under the new Covid-19 status quo. 

Rapid change

First of all, I think it can be useful to look outside of the school context to think about where you fit in. Since March, society as a whole has had to pivot extremely quickly to cope with rapid change, living now more of less all of our whole lives on video or looking at a screen. 

We’ve started to accept new ways of behaving as normal and hardly remember things we took for granted as normal before. I’ve seen, for example graduations – institutions which haven’t changed their format for decades, transformed into a virtual events.

graduation

People have responded to new restraints incredibly quickly, and this pivot is completely unprecedented. When we think about change and progress, we normally think of things happening in a linear way; with a horizon in sight. We’re used to moving forwards a bit, then backwards a bit, then forwards again. We’re used to having time to learn the new rules and adapting as we go. We’re used to getting clues and cues so we know when change is having success. 

But during the pandemic, progress surged overnight. 2020 has been like having one foot in 2050 and one in 1630 – in some ways a lot of things have been taken away from us, but in other ways we’ve travelled miles into the future. What we need to remember is that we’ve moved into the future with the same skills and experience we had last year. 

rapid-change

No time for reflection

Everyone has been gathering around the technology, rather than the cultural or human elements of change. It’s only months later that we’re realising how exhausted we are, having had no down time to talk about the changes, or even to properly process the traumatic things that have happened. 

I drew the diagram above in June, but actually it’s probably better drawn like a fast heart rate, to reflect how we’ve been continually adapting to and integrating change at an incredibly fast rate.

Building foundations for the future

As we move forwards into a future that is uncertain, we should think about “recovery” not something that accidentally happens but something you have to nurture. At the moment, as we’re still responding and still don’t know how long the crisis will go on for, it’s important to think about how to look after ourselves, and to prioritise our culture, our team and our tools. 

The first step to moving forward is to recognise some of the compromises or problems that have perhaps been overlooked, such as burnout, lack of infrastructure and platform dependency, instead of storing them up for later. 

The designer Caroline Sinders has come up with the “digital duct tape” phenomenon which describes how, rather than having well worked-out infrastructure, we’re more likely to be using a collection of tools patched together that only sort of work.

We should also recognise the heavy negative focus that has surrounded new technologies – focusing on safety, privacy and a culture of worry – particularly in schools and the public sector when sensitive data is involved. This has meant that people tend to use platforms only in exactly the way they’re prescribed from fear of doing something wrong. But if systems are well made and safe, they should give you the freedom to adapt, improvise, and use them creatively. 

Practical tips for moving forward

The Glimmers Report is a toolkit designed to help schools and other organisations understand where you are now in terms of your use of technology and the impact it’s having, and to end up in a position where you feel you have the tools and experience to be prepared for change in the future.

When compiling the report I began talking to charities and other groups in March and April, most of whom had not really worked in digital ways before the pandemic, but had suddenly moved to operating almost completely digitally. We then carried out interviews and observations, brought together theory and a range of practitioners to share the kind of things they’ve experienced. 

Glimmers-report

The toolkit helps you and your staff reflect around three main themes:

  • Tracking your change

This section encourages you to capture and understand what has changed, what you’ve learned, what you’ll keep and what you’ll discard, helping you to move ahead with more certainty. 

  • Reflection on roles

These questions allow you to think about how people’s roles have changed, the skills people have gained, and how people have felt during the process. It also helps you reflect on the intimacy that might get forgotten when using technology. For example, without the usual in-person cues, how do we know when people are listening and engaging? How can we create space? How can we get feedback? How can we show applause? How can we celebrate achievements? You might ask these questions once, or keep asking them regularly to see how your responses change over time. 

  • Planning for uncertainty

These simple questions and prompts help you look ahead and forecast the opportunities and obstacles that are likely to happen, and how you will respond. This is different to how you might normally plan because you’ll be able to bring the skills and experience of dealing with uncertainty. Just the exercise of projecting as a group what you might do if something totally new happens is really important in building resilience.

Remember, we co-create technology

An important thing to remember about technology is that no two people use a product in the same way, and the way we use products is always changing. And they’re designed that way – rather than there being a prescribed way of using technology, most developers are fascinated by how their users adapt and integrate technology in their lives. 

So rather than thinking of technology happening to us, we should allow ourselves to adapt the tools we use around our lives and experiences, and to meet our changing needs.

Enjoying our blog? Why not subscribe to our newsletter to get a round-up of our most popular blogs every two weeks, straight to your inbox. 

Alice Martin-Hawkins - 3 November, 2020

Category : Blog

How to recognise staff burnout and prevent it

In recognition of International Stress Awareness Week, Arbor’s Partnership Specialist and Wellbeing Champion, Alice, has some tips for how you can protect your school staff against burnout. In my role at Arbor I speak to Headteachers, SLT and admin teams everyday when they’re in the early stages of exploring Arbor MIS. I’ve noticed a question

In recognition of International Stress Awareness Week, Arbor’s Partnership Specialist and Wellbeing Champion, Alice, has some tips for how you can protect your school staff against burnout.

In my role at Arbor I speak to Headteachers, SLT and admin teams everyday when they’re in the early stages of exploring Arbor MIS. I’ve noticed a question that comes up time and time again in conversations: “How can we reduce workload for staff?” 

It’s no secret that Teacher workload is high and studies have found that Teachers experience more stress than other workers. Tes reports that almost a third of Teachers leave the profession within five years of qualifying. This got me thinking about the impact of heavy workload and the difference between being busy and being burned out. 

What is burnout?

Burnout is recognised as the feeling of running out of steam at work – those days when even small tasks can feel unachievable. Psychology Today describes burnout as “a state of chronic stress that leads to physical and emotional exhaustion, cynicism,  detachment, feelings of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment.” It doesn’t just happen overnight which is why it can be hard to spot, even for the person experiencing it. One of the best ways to prevent burnout is to spot the signs as early as possible so that you can make small changes to get back on track. 

Some signs you might be experiencing burnout at work: 

  • Fatigue and sleep issues 
  • Finding it hard to concentrate 
  • Finding it hard to stay productive 
  • Feeling cynical and detached
  • Reduced creativity 
  • Not doing things to the best of your ability

Potential causes of burnout 

  1. Workload – If you consistently have a workload that goes beyond your capacity and leaves you no time for rest and space for development 
  2. Lack of control – At the moment we have to quickly adapt to new Covid-19 rules and regulations which can be stressful and make us feel out of control 
  3. Work-life balance – When work takes up too much of your time and prevents you from focusing on friends and family, this can make you feel isolated  
  4. Too much admin – If you feel like you are spending too much time on admin at work it can leave you feeling demotivated

Tips to prevent burnout 

One of the best ways to avoid burnout is to take some time off. It’s important to have time when you don’t think about work so that you can be energised and engaged when you are at work. This can take the shape of a holiday, but for school staff you might find the holidays don’t fall when you need them the most. More and more schools are introducing paid wellbeing days for staff, and in many circumstances this has helped reduce staff absence, sickness and turnover rates. Read more about how Dan Morrow, CEO at Woodland Academy Trust, implemented wellbeing days and other initiatives across his schools. 

It’s important to set boundaries to protect the time you have for yourself as well as being available in a work capacity. Set hours in the day where you don’t respond to work-related messages, no one should expect you to be on call 24 hours a day – even parents!

Work out some strategies to manage your stress by making a list of all the things that help you deal with stress. These can be things such as exercise, spending time outside or having a long bath. Self-care is often the first thing to slip off your to-do list when you’re busy so make sure you build time into your routine for yourself.

It’s important to tell someone when you are feeling burned out at work. Reach out to your colleagues, friends or family if you are feeling overwhelmed, sometimes just having someone to listen can make a world of difference. If your mental wellbeing is being especially impacted by burnout, it’s a good idea to speak to your GP about arranging some extra support.

Want to find out more about how Arbor MIS could transform the way your school works for the better? Book a free demo here or get in touch on tellmemore@arbor-education.com or 0208 050 1028.

If you’re enjoying our blogs, why not subscribe to our e-newsletter to receive a fortnightly round-up of our most popular thought leadership pieces, straight to your inbox.

Danielle Arkwright - 3 November, 2020

Category : Blog

How to create a culture of wellbeing at your school 

In recognition of International Stress Awareness Week this week, Arbor’s HR Manager and Wellbeing Champion, Danielle, shares practical tips for how schools can support the mental health of students and staff this term. Danielle is a trained Emotional Literacy Support Assistant and Drama Therapist who has delivered interventions and 1-to-1 mentoring in schools around emotional

In recognition of International Stress Awareness Week this week, Arbor’s HR Manager and Wellbeing Champion, Danielle, shares practical tips for how schools can support the mental health of students and staff this term. Danielle is a trained Emotional Literacy Support Assistant and Drama Therapist who has delivered interventions and 1-to-1 mentoring in schools around emotional communication.

We’ll all have noticed that the return to full time schooling and the ongoing pandemic has been challenging on lots of different levels for both students and staff. The last six months has been about everyone adapting to new ways of living, learning and teaching. 

Whilst coming back in the new term is a welcome chance to reconnect with classmates/colleagues, others might be finding everything that’s going on really difficult to process and could even be dealing with the trauma of loss.

Impact on mental health

With 80% of young people with existing mental health needs say that the Covid-19 pandemic has made their mental health worse, (according to a Young Minds survey of 2,036 young people), it’s time to put mental health awareness first in schools.

And it’s not just students who have been feeling the impact; according to a report by Education Support, 52% of UK Teachers say their mental health declined during the first stage of the coronavirus pandemic. 

As we head into the winter months, and some parts of the UK lock down once again, it’s more important than ever that we help students and fellow colleagues feel safe and supported in the school community. 

Create a culture of wellbeing

In this blog, you’ll find some practical suggestions for how your school can open up spaces to talk about mental health and wellbeing and support those who need it the most.

First of all, I wanted to share a mantra. If a student is being particularly challenging during this time, or a colleague is grumpier than usual, it’s always worth remembering: “Same storm, different boats”

same-storm-different-boats

Whilst we are all going through this tough time together, each of us has a different set of circumstances, levels of support and starting points when facing the virus. For more on how inequality has been highlighted during the pandemic, see this article. 

Actions schools can take to create a culture of wellbeing 

For Staff…

  • Monthly staff wellbeing workshops – This could be in the form of skill-share workshops for approx. 6 people, e.g. cooking classes or meditation. Whilst school staff have limited time, making the effort to connect in this way and learn something new will boost your mood 
  • Designated mental health champions – See Mind for guidance on how to set this up in your school. If staff are nervous about committing, why not have this change on a termly basis? 
  • Mental health training for staffPlace2b and MHFA England both offer excellent courses aimed specifically at school staff. This equips staff to deal with Mental Health First Aid and signpost young people to the appropriate places
  • A wellbeing notice board This could include a wellbeing “menu” of events and activities, who you’re wellbeing ambassadors are, and how to sign up for training 
  • Staff Stars – Consider how you show gratitude for each other. Consider handing out a Staff Star award in your weekly staff meeting, then the winner gets to nominate the next person and explain why 

For Students…

  • Tutor group check-ins If possible, create some time in tutor groups for circle time, with each student sharing either a word or a sentence about how they are that day. Having this daily “safe space” will help young people to feel safe and secure 
  • Creative spaces to reflect on the pandemic Find creative ways to allow students to reflect through Drama, English or Art. Having a creative outlet for their fears and questions will allow them to focus in other areas and process difficult feelings 
  • Visuals around the school to promote mental health and wellbeing, like this one from the Anna Freud Centre 
  • Workshops and wellbeing consultants – Try delivering termly workshops with a focus on mental health and wellbeing. Consider developing partnerships with specialist charities like Young Minds 
  • Gratitude Jar Gratitude practices are proven to boost our moods. All you need is an empty jar, strips of paper, and pens. As part of your tutor morning routine, have students write down something specific that they’re grateful for on a strip of paper and put it in the jar. Towards the end of the week, ask students to come up and read out items from the jar! 

For more ideas and resources check out the following websites: 

Want to find out more about how Arbor MIS could transform the way your school works for the better? Book a free demo here or get in touch on tellmemore@arbor-education.com or 0208 050 1028.

If you’re enjoying our blogs, why not subscribe to our e-newsletter to receive a fortnightly round-up of our most popular thought leadership pieces, straight to your inbox.

Maddie Kilminster - 29 October, 2020

Category : Blog

Managing the new classroom dynamic – A conversation with Dr Rob Long, Educational Psychologist

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.

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.

1. How do most schools manage behaviour? Is it working?

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. 

2. How should schools be looking at behaviour?

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. 

3. What kinds of behaviour might students be exerting this term?

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). 

4. How can we support students this term?

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:

  • Tell them, show them, let them – Some children will struggle to adapt to new routines and rules this term, so they’ll benefit from Teachers modeling the new behaviour and showing them how to relate to their classmates, the curriculum and themselves.
  • Support the personal – Cultivate a compassionate and understanding atmosphere in the classroom with the Teacher as someone they can open up to and share concerns.
  • Stop, think, choose – Some students may not have learned how to deal with challenging emotions in an appropriate way. Teachers can help by modeling problem-solving skills. Talk out loud, showing them how to weigh up and think through problems.
  • Analyse don’t personalise – It’s important to reframe “bad” behaviour as  “mistakes” rather than something fundamentally wrong inside the student. Do they have the necessary skills, or do I need to teach them? What is the function of this behaviour, are they gaining something or avoiding something? Teachers and Support Staff need to act as behavioural “detectives”. Also often a “behavioural mistake” can be a learning opportunity.
  • Normalise negative feelings – Students need to know that having anxious or angry thoughts is part of normal human life; they help us prepare for bad things happening. Acknowledge their negative emotions, then shift the focus to their positive emotions. Negative emotions lead us to turn in on ourselves, to self-protect, so balance this by focusing on positive emotions which lead us to go out and explore the world, such as gratitude (who has helped you today?), curiosity (what have you learnt?) and achievement (what was a new skill or success?).

5. What can schools do to support mental health?

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. 

6. What can we learn from the pandemic and how can we move forward?

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.

Alice Martin-Hawkins - 7 September, 2020

Category : Blog

Top 3 wellbeing initiatives for schools

Wellbeing and mental health are big priorities for us at Arbor, and we’re pleased to see these issues becoming more and more important for schools, too. In support of Youth Mental Health Day today, Arbor Wellbeing Champion Alice has some advice for how you can look out for your mental health and wellbeing at your

Wellbeing and mental health are big priorities for us at Arbor, and we’re pleased to see these issues becoming more and more important for schools, too. In support of Youth Mental Health Day today, Arbor Wellbeing Champion Alice has some advice for how you can look out for your mental health and wellbeing at your school.

I’ve been a Wellbeing Champion at Arbor for a year now. We started off as a team of two and have grown to a team of six, with representatives across our London, Leeds and Belgrade offices. At Arbor, Wellbeing Champions have three main objectives:

1. Promoting positive wellbeing at work
2. Organising wellbeing initiatives and activities
3. Being there to listen if anyone needs to talk

This year we’ve had the added challenge of supporting staff wellbeing whilst working remotely. It hasn’t always been easy but it’s taught us that small gestures like checking in on a colleague can go a long way. We’ve been hosting regular mindfulness Zoom calls, and at the beginning of lockdown, we sent everyone in the company a packet of sunflower seeds to start growing. This was a big hit and created a real sense of community. 

Recently, we’ve been seeing Arbor schools and MATs bringing student and staff wellbeing to the top of their agendas. Dan Morrow, CEO of Woodland Academy Trust, shared with us how they’ve been using Wellbeing Dogs to lift the spirits of students and staff. And Mark Lacey, CEO of The Diocese of Salisbury Academy Trust, says every catch-up call he has with his Headteachers starts with a check-in with their wellbeing. 

This term, as schools return after months of disruption, both students and staff may find it challenging to adjust. Now more than ever it’s vital that schools and trusts build initiatives into their strategy to support the wellbeing and mental health of the whole school. 

To help you in shaping your school wellbeing programme, we’ve tracked down three of the top school wellbeing initiatives you could consider for your school. 

1. Plan a Wellbeing Week

Organising a Wellbeing Week at your school is a great way to raise awareness of the importance of wellbeing, and gives students the resources to help them support their own mental health. The Mental Health Foundation has created a free downloadable pack to help you plan the week based around the 5 Ways to Wellbeing: Connect, Get Active, Be Mindful, Keep Learning and Give to Others.  

2. Appoint Wellbeing Ambassadors 

Embedding a whole-school culture of wellbeing doesn’t happen overnight, but a good basis to start from is building supportive and respectful relationships between students, teachers and parents. A great way to do this is by appointing student and staff Wellbeing Ambassadors to create a supportive environment where students can talk openly about how they are feeling. Worth-it provides training for Wellbeing Ambassadors to equip them with approaches and strategies to support the wellbeing of their peers as well as their own. 

3. Encourage Mental health literacy 

Mental health is often not talked about enough in schools because of the stigma around it. One of the best ways to combat some of the misconceptions around mental health is through education. Stem4 offers free teaching resources for Key Stages 3 and 4 that cover topics such as anxiety, stress and depression to empower students with knowledge about mental health.

And remember .. don’t forget your staff wellbeing!

Something that we always tell ourselves in the Arbor Wellbeing team is that if you look after your own wellbeing first, you’ll be in the best position to look out for others. This is something that Nansi Ellis, Assistant General Secretary at the National Education Union, also advises for schools.

This term is going to be especially challenging for staff, so make sure you’re supporting your colleagues when they need it. Arbor HR Manager,  Danielle, has some useful advice for understanding more about stress and how to manage it in her blog for some tips for managing stress. Remember, you can’t pour from an empty cup! 

Arbor helps schools of all sizes work faster, smarter and more collaboratively, with intuitive tools designed to make a difference.

With over 1200 schools and trusts, we’re proud to be the UK’s fastest-growing MIS community. Join in and book a demo today, or contact us on tellmemore@arbor-education.com | 0208 050 1028.