The group of young people I be worked with had experienced significant Adverse Childhood Experiences. As a result they displayed distressed behaviour within the classroom. Through my project I delivered intensive input with a view to completely transforming the way in which pupils view, and therefore behave in school in the afternoons.
The aim of my project was to;
The text that I chose as my vehicle to promote increased engagement was ‘Diary of a Brilliant Kid’ by Gavin Oates. As I had hoped the pupils found it extremely appealing; it is bright, attractive, funny and has a contemporary layout but it is also is also well written.
The project was implemented with the full support of; the parents of pupils in the target group, school staff, our HT, our visiting ASD outreach teacher, our senior Educational Psychologist and most importantly the pupils themselves.
We began by coming together as a group and setting our own targets and goals for the group. We worked together and made up a charter which clearly stated the ground rules. I explained that the pupil’s books were theirs to keep. That we would be doodling on them. I then read the Blurb which is funny and explains that the book is an instruction manual for life.
The children loved the interactive nature of the book. Throughout the whole project we took turns to read, sing and act out some of the ‘antics’ which were so beautifully described by the authors. As the book unfolded the children became much more comfortable and receptive. There was a clear change in their body language. The group were very supportive of one another and as the weeks went on we were able to explore some very complex issues that they had experienced, in a supportive and nurturing environment.
Due to the nature of these young people’s experiences we were very careful never to cancel or change the sessions. I clearly outlined timescale and expectations and did not deviate from the plan.
The impact of the project was very positive for the pupils; individually and as a group. They were very proud of their identity as one of 'The Brilliant Kids' and the friendship and respect they developed in the group trickled into other areas of their school life – pupils chose to play together at break and helped one another in the classroom. The children were able to say that they looked forward to that part of the school day and afternoons became much calmer.
The SLT found the time spent dealing with distressed behaviour from these pupils reduced by 95% and class teacher reported very positively about the impact the project had on ethos and positivity in their classrooms.
As we had been very specific about the timescale and implementation of the project we are able to stay on track. Input from our Educational Psychologist about supporting pupils with ACEs, ASD and PDA was extremely helpful and reminded us that it was vital to be consistent with these pupils.
As a result we planned every session in detail. We used the school calendar at the beginning of the planning process and then updated our weekly schedules using the weekly bulletin. Where need be other factors that could have interfered with the smooth running of the project were rescheduled to allow the sessions to go ahead at the planned time.
The sessions were intensive and at times it might have been possible to continue with an activity that the children were enjoying but as the books were theirs to keep they were able to take them home to finish if they wanted.
The project worked well in the overall timeframe. This might have been different if we had been required to cover staff absence or if pupils had not been in school. Thankfully this was not the case.
From the outset this project was designed to be led by the pupils. It was always intended to be a responsive to their needs and to afford them space to celebrate their individuality. We did deviate at point to look things up or to follow an instruction from the author but as the plan was not prescriptive we are able to do this easily.
We were pleasantly surprised by the amount of ownership and pride the children took in the sessions. They delegated and rotated roles e.g. giving out and collecting in resources. The group took on its own personality and the children found a role that suited them. They identified fluent readers and those who were less comfortable reading aloud.
Then they started to read using a variety of voices. This again was the children's own idea and Participant 2 who had no engaged an any reading since the beginning of term suddenly became the star of the show, reading his sections in a voice they called 'Scottish Baby'. The other children would beg them to read the next chapter or to revisit a part of the story that they had read before. This participant self-esteem increased enormously as a result of this safe, supportive environment.
‘Trauma in childhood can lead to reduced educational attainment, mental and physical health problems and difficulties in adult relationships, which in turn are highlighted as key factors in producing negative financial outcomes. Children who have experienced abuse and trauma will perform more poorly at school than their peers. A child living with fear and helplessness from experiences outside school cannot focus or learn to the same standard as other children’
Scottish Alliance for Children’s Rights, State of Children’s Rights in Scotland, November 2016
Improved relationships and developing trust in adults
The children in the target group were selected very specifically because we had identified that they had been suffered trauma in their early life.
They did not feel confident in social situations which resulted in anxiety. They communicated their distress through their behaviour which could be extremely challenging for staff and stressful for the individuals.
From the outset, and before we could start to teach the pupils about growth mindset, it was essential to gain their trust.
‘…the quality of the relationships between children and the adults in their lives, along with children’s levels of emotional wellbeing, will largely determine the outcomes children realise.’
Children’s Parliament, ‘It’s all about relationships’.
We did this by agreeing and adhering to some firm rules for the sessions. These were generated by the pupils themselves and then implemented in line with ‘Nurture Principles’. At this point we also generated list of positive language which we could use to express ourselves and agreed that negativity would not be appropriate and the pupils were not allowed to put themselves or others down.
Nurturing approaches in schools which focus on building strong relationships with children and families has been found to improve social, emotional and educational attainment.11
Once the relationships had been built and were secure we were then able to work with the pupils to explore ‘intelligence’ and the different forms it can take. Pupils began to identify their own strengths in terms of intelligence and were able to identify strengths in other members of the group.
Meeting the needs of individuals
As the session and the book began to unfold pupils became more open to help and support from staff and peers. They also began to develop resilience and confidence that if they tried hard and accepted setbacks as learning opportunities they would actually achieve success.
Change in culture
‘The Brilliant Kids’ started to take control of their learning. They were offering ideas for activities and inviting visitors to come and see what we were up to. They created fantastic posters based on the book which we hand delivered to Gavin Oats the author. We engaged with him through Twitter and they wrote to him explaining what the book had done to turn their lives around.
They were excited to read each new chapter and used positive language almost 100% of the time. There were a few lightbulb moments along the way and also a very sad and serious disclosure made by one of the pupils.
They are also returning to class in a much more positive frame of mind. They were managing to cope between sessions including going out into the playground at lunchtime and interacting more positively
Hope for the future.
We rounded off the project by having a wonderful party with food and entertainment inspired by episodes from the book. The pupils organised this themselves, planning, resourcing and inviting guests.
We spoke a lot about applying what they had learned to different areas of their life outside of school and the pupils were keen to tell the staff about times they had tried mindset strategies and they had worked.
Inspiring young people to approach every life challenge with a ‘can do’ attitude is something that will stand them in good stead for the future.
We hope that this project and the fun we had will have a lasting impact not only on the pupils but also on the staff involved...'Schools should be joyful places'. The children's parliament.
School staff were very keen to support this project. They agreed that there was a need to try a new strategy to help this group to engage with school and understood the methodology behind it. We are able to timetable sessions so that class teacher and support staff were able to come and join us. We are fortunate to have a forward thinking staff who are already using ‘Growth Mindset’ activities with their classes and everyone agrees that developing a resilient attitude in our pupils is important.
The project was planned with the support of our senior Ed Psych and he was very keen to understand how the project was progressing. Having been heavily involved with Participant 1 and having an in-depth understanding of the challenges they faced I was delighted to accept support and advice from him before, during and after the project.
ASD outreach teacher
We had timetabled the group carefully to ensure that my colleague (and Participant 1’s ASD outreach teacher) was able to join us for one session each week. The dynamics worked incredibly well and all of the pupils in the group enjoyed the sessions when Mr X joined us. He was so impressed that he went back to his ASD Base and has roiled out the model across his 2nd Level year group.
Following on from the success of this project we intend to roll out a growth mind set programme across the school.
We are going to introduce the staff to the concept during regular staff meeting slots where we will explore ideas in a practical and interactive way.
Growth mind-set will be embedded through work we do with the children at Assembly and will also form part of each class’s health and well-being. I will lead some of these activities and share my knowledge and experience with other members of staff by modelling lessons and team teaching.
We have organised for the Growth Mind-set organisation ‘Live and Learn ‘to come in to work with our classes between Christmas and Easter 2020 and have also planned a parent’s workshop to coincide with this.
We plan to ensure that class and school displays emphasise the importance of applying yourself, taking feedback and learning from experiences. Through this we hope to encourage our learners to be resilient, determined, hardworking, responsible and happy.
We want them to have a can do attitude and ensure that they see their lives as a journey where they will continue to learn and grow everyday.