Want to learn more about Arbor? Join a free webinar Want to learn more? Join a free webinar

The Arbor Blog

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

Recent Posts Popular posts

blank Maddie Kilminster - 4 May, 2021

Category : Blog

The ultimate guide to wellbeing initiatives in schools

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 seven of the top school wellbeing initiatives you could consider for your school.    Mental health and

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 seven of the top school wellbeing initiatives you could consider for your school. 

 

Mental health and wellbeing in schools

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.

 

7 top wellbeing initiatives for schools

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.

If a whole week doesn’t work for your school, why not hold termly workshops with a focus on mental health and wellbeing.  Developing a partnership with a specialist charity like Young Minds can support with this.

 

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.

 

4. Create wellbeing lessons and resources

There are lots of ways you can introduce a focus on wellbeing into lessons across the curriculum, especially in Drama, English or Art. These subjects in particular can be useful to process their emotions and experiences through creating personal projects or pieces of work. 

Another great way to spread awareness of wellbeing and mental health around school is through physical or virtual noticeboards, where students can share posters with their wellbeing tips. You’ll also find some great visuals online like this one from the Anna Freud Centre.

 

5. Mindfulness-based interventions in the classroom

Mindfulness is proven to have a profound impact on our overall wellbeing, with studies showing the positive effects of meditation such as reduced stress and anxiety, improved memory and focus, better relationships and reduced emotional and physical pain. There is now growing awareness of the benefits of practicing mindfulness in schools to help students build attention span, emotional regulation and resilience. Why not introduce a five minute mindfulness session during assemblies, or to begin or round off the school day?

 

6. Create safe spaces in school

As many schools have found during the pandemic, students are coming to school with difficult experiences that they haven’t been able to process. It’s important to carve out some dedicated time once a week during form or tutor groups for “circle time”, which creates a safe space for students to share what they’re going through. Give each student the opportunity to share either a word or a sentence that describes how they are that day, and create a culture of no judgement from their peers.

 

7. 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! 

 

Promoting staff wellbeing in schools

Wellbeing initiatives are great, but making sure staff are happy and healthy to support them has to come first. Promoting a culture of staff wellbeing is essential to a healthy school. Supporting staff and building trust leads to a happier team, higher performance, better retention and a motivated environment.

Check out why nurturing staff wellbeing is so important at Woodland Academy Trust from CEO, Dan Marrow

Not sure where to start? Here are some ideas:

 

Staff wellbeing ideas:

  • Monthly wellbeing workshops – When school staff have limited time, carving out time for staff to connect with each other whilst doing something different can really boost their mood. Why not arrange a workshop each term such as cooking or meditation?
  • Designated Mental Health Champions – It can be really effective to give selected staff the ownership over promoting mental health to their colleagues. See Mind for guidance on how to appoint “Mental Health Champions” at your school. If staff are nervous about committing, why not have staff rotate every term?
  • Mental health training for staff – Making sure staff have the background knowledge they need to support mental health at school should be a top priority. Place2b and MHFA England both offer excellent Mental Health First Aid courses for school staff
  • A wellbeing noticeboard – Create a go-to space where staff can check out all the wellbeing initiatives that are going on. This could include a “menu” of events and activities, contacts of who your Mental Health Champions or Wellbeing Ambassadors are, and how to sign up for training 
  • Staff Stars – Consider how you show gratitude for each other at your school. Handing out a “Staff Star” award in your weekly staff meeting can be one whimsical but effective idea. Encourage each winner to nominate the next person each week, and explain why

 

For more ideas and resources check out the following websites: 

 

Find out more about Arbor 

New to Arbor?

If you’d like to find out more about how Arbor MIS could transform the way you work, join one of our free webinars to see the system in action, or hear from our community of over 1,500 schools.

Already using Arbor?

If you’re not already part of the online community, sign up here for free to share best practice, tips and tricks with fellow Arbor schools.

blank Danielle Arkwright - 31 March, 2021

Category : Blog

5 ways to unwind and de-stress this Easter break 

As schools end a hugely busy term, Arbor’s HR and Office Manager and trained Emotional Literacy Support Assistant, Danielle has put together some guidance on how to ease into the Easter break and allow yourself to enjoy some well-deserved rest.  1. Laugh Everyone has heard the phrase “laughter is the best medicine” but did you

As schools end a hugely busy term, Arbor’s HR and Office Manager and trained Emotional Literacy Support Assistant, Danielle has put together some guidance on how to ease into the Easter break and allow yourself to enjoy some well-deserved rest. 

1. Laugh

Everyone has heard the phrase “laughter is the best medicine” but did you know that over the past few years there has been growing research to back this up? There is now a proven link between reduced stress and laughter. A good laugh has been proven to:

  • Stimulate our organs
  • Activate and relieve our stress response
  • Soothe tension
  • Boost the immune system

So my first piece of advice is to make sure you find time over Easter to speak to a friend or family member who never fails to crack you up. Failing that, be sure to watch a funny film or some stand-up from your favourite comedian. 

If you really want to integrate a good laugh into your wellbeing routine, why not follow in the footsteps of This Morning’s Phillip and Holly and try out laughter yoga.  

2. Make time to connect with others

Bonding with loved ones, either through touch, conversation or a shared hobby, can increase our feelings of trust, calm and safety. These help to alleviate the body’s stress responses which can improve both our mental and physical health. 

Things as basic as a small gesture of kindness, a longer than usual hug or taking a walk with someone close to you can have a profound effect on how easy you find it to cope with life’s stressors. 

3. Nature 

Spending time in nature has a range of positive impacts to our overall wellbeing.  Getting in touch with nature will look different for everyone and doesn’t need to be time consuming or require you to travel. If you’re a city dweller, your local park counts!

To reconnect with your natural surroundings, you could:

  • Take a walk in the park
  • Try cloud-watching or find a local viewpoint
  • Take photos of beautiful scenery and make them your phone or computer background
  • Listen to recordings of natural sounds such as rain before bed
  • Buy flowers or house plants to bring nature indoors 

Check out this article from Mind for more information and ideas for how to feel the benefits of nature. 

4. Learn to say no 

This might be one that some of us (myself included) find very difficult. But therapists and other mental health practitioners advise that the practice of saying no and setting firm boundaries are crucial parts of self care. 

You may be tempted to agree to lots of “Rule of Six” walks over the Easter break which, if you’re in the mood for them, will be great! But if you’re feeling overwhelmed by the thought of lots of socialising for the first time in a few months, consider how might be better for you to spend your time to feel your best.

There’s no right way to spend a vacation – the ultimate purpose should be to leave you feeling de-stressed and ready to face the new term. Remember – this isn’t selfish. Managing our own stress levels and maintaining healthy boundaries will ultimately have a positive impact on our relationships too. 

5. Try a stress-reduction challenge 

Why not extend your stress-reduction efforts to after the Easter break, as well? Throughout April people across the country are getting involved in Stress Awareness Month. The way to take part in the 30 day challenge is to pick one action you can take for your physical, mental and emotional wellbeing, and to do these every day. 

It takes 30 days to turn actions into habits, so this 30-day challenge will maximise your chances of turning useful wellbeing techniques into long-lasting behavioural change. 

I hope you have a wonderful and relaxing Easter break and look forward to welcoming you back to summer term.

Want to learn more about Arbor MIS? 

We’d love to show your school or MAT how Arbor could help you work faster, smarter and collaborate more. Arrange a free demo here, get in touch at tellmemore@arbor-education.com, or call 0208 050 1028. 

blank 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 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 an 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. 

blank 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 employee 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 staff 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.

blank Maddie Kilminster - 29 October, 2020

Category : Blog

5 top behaviour management strategies for the classroom

Behaviour management is a constant challenge and can take up a large amount of Teachers’ time. With students struggling to adjust to change during the pandemic, managing difficult new behaviour is just one of the challenges Teachers are facing. With awareness of students’ mental health at the top of the agenda, it’s important to understand

Behaviour management is a constant challenge and can take up a large amount of Teachers’ time. With students struggling to adjust to change during the pandemic, managing difficult new behaviour is just one of the challenges Teachers are facing.

With awareness of students’ mental health at the top of the agenda, it’s important to understand how best to support each individual. A large part of this is looking at how we can reframe and manage “problematic” behaviour in the classroom, to understand what students are dealing with emotionally.

 

Managing behaviour in the classroom

We spoke to Rob Long, Educational Psychologist, about his work with schools and the best strategies for managing classroom behaviour. 

 

How do most schools manage behaviour and 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 mainstream 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. 

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 schoolwork 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 the training to be aware of and support students to manage their emotions. 

Behaviour Management Strategies

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:

1. 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.

2. Support the personal

Cultivate a compassionate and understanding atmosphere in the classroom with the Teacher as someone they can open up to and share their concerns with.

3. Stop, think, choose

Some students may not have learned how to deal with challenging emotions in an appropriate way. Teachers can help by modelling problem-solving skills. Talk out loud, showing them how to weigh up and think through problems.

4. 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.

5. 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?).

 

Behaviour and 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. 

Discover more about Arbor MIS

If you’d like to find out how Arbor MIS could transform the way you work for the better, join our webinar series, which includes live demos, as well as sessions walking you through how we move schools to Arbor and work with you to drive long term impact. Check out what’s coming up and book your spot.