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Interventions that Support Children with Social, Emotional and Mental Health Needs by Natalie Cook
Teaching and leading at a specialist provision is one of the most demanding, challenging and rewarding things I have ever done. Having the privilege to teach and work with children with additional needs allows our team the opportunity to build strong positive relationships with children that are often disengaged with learning. Watching these children flourish and develop as individuals gives me a sense of pride.
The Elaine Education Centre provides a supportive and caring environment for teaching and learning based on our values which are designed to help pupils reach their full potential. We have high academic expectations and focus on preparing children for future education and the world of work. Our ethos is of concern for others, unselfish attitudes and an awareness of the responsibilities of good citizens.
The diverse range of activities, broad curriculum and differentiated planning encourage the self-confidence of pupils and helps the development of their character. As a result, lifelong interests are established which stimulate a desire to serve the community.
Within the Elaine Education Centre we develop education through nurture, providing a range of opportunities to develop children’s social and communication skills. Children have access to a variety of interventions which include Lego therapy, fine motor skills and social stories.
A mindset, according to Carol Dweck, is a self-perception or ‘self-theory’ that people hold about themselves. Believing that you are either ‘intelligent’ or ‘unintelligent’ is a simple example of a mindset. People might also have a mindset related to their personal or professional lives: ‘I’m a good teacher’ or ‘I’m a bad parent’, for example. People can be aware or unaware of their mindsets, according to Dweck, but they can have profound effect on learning achievement, skill acquisition, personal relationships, professional success, and many other dimensions of life. Dweck further states that success is not determined by innate talents and intellect. Rather, success depends upon mindset - the degree to which we believe we have the capacity to cultivate our intelligence and abilities.
Children attending the Elaine Education Centre can often arrive with a fixed mindset and a negative view of themselves for a variety of reasons. It is our aim to promote a change in the children’s mindsets, enabling them to challenge themselves and reach their full potential.
Staff have embedded an ethos of celebrating mistakes. Within classrooms there are learning mistake walls; children can build the wall by adding a brick when they make a mistake within their learning which they can explain. We aim for the wall to be fully built by the end of the academic year. This was introduced to demonstrate to children that it is ok to make mistakes and that they are part of our learning journey.
Lessons are planned that focus specifically on growth mindset, which have developed pupils’ self-understanding and encouraged them to challenge themselves. Adults ensure that the language used when giving praise focuses on effort rather than ability. They also encourage pupils to see learning as a process that is more valuable than the end result, which has had a positive impact. Examples of these are in the following messages.
Praise for ability:
Teacher says: “You learnt that so quickly! You are so clever!”
Child hears: If you don’t learn something quickly, you are not clever.
Praise for effort:
“Well done, you’re learning to...”
“Every time you practise you are making the connections in your brain stronger.”
“Super effort, you have... (praise the learning process)”
“You can use this mistake. Think about why it didn’t work and learn from it”.
By focusing on and praising the effort the child has made rather than their ability the pupil realises that learning is an ongoing process and a continuous journey. They are also given specific feedback on what they were successful with. Through the introduction of this praise script in the EEC, children started to adapt their mindset and verbalise how mistakes are beneficial.
Pupil A (September): No one needs school. It’s a waste of time, you don’t need it. When I get older I’m going to do what my dad does and be given money and not have to work.
Pupil A (May): I really want to do well at school as I know I need the skills Miss Cook is teaching us so that I can have a good future and be able to do the things I want to do in life.
Research has shown that children make greater academic progress if they embrace growth mindset concepts. It helps to create more independent learners, builds resilience and creates a collaborative culture in the classroom where everyone feels supported.
We also promote children’s engagement with Lego therapy, a social development programme that helps young people with autism spectrum disorders and related social communication difficulties. The programme is based on the highly structured, systematic and predictable nature of brick-building play, which makes it appealing to children with social communication difficulties who are particularly attracted to systems.
Through brick-building therapy, children can learn to communicate with others, express their feelings, change their behaviour, solve problems and understand the world around them.
Pupil B: I really enjoy taking part in my Lego intervention as it helps me to think about the words that I am using. If someone in my team doesn’t understand what I am saying to them then I have to try and think of another way to explain it. It has also helped me to learn how to take turns and to work as part of a team.
The Den is an intervention available to all children at Elaine Primary School. Children attend the group in the afternoon but nurture support is not limited to the group; it is an embedded principle and is practised at whole school level, providing appropriate support where and when needed.
The group is small, typically six children at a time, and is structured for pupils showing signs of behavioural, social or emotional difficulties, particularly those who may be experiencing distress or disruption outside of school. Our aim is to provide a predictable and safe environment where pupils can build trusting relationships with adults.
The Den aims to give pupils the skills and strategies they need to manage their emotions and regulate their own behaviour. This is achieved through a variety of structured activities such as Lego therapy, draw to talk, art therapy, social skills and talking workshops, which all help pupils to build relationships with adults and each other. They work as a group to develop these new strategies to help them cope with their emotions.
The centre’s pastoral care assists pupils to develop positive self-esteem, take healthy risks and set goals. The Den also gives parents and carers practical support and strategies they can use at home with their children. Working together we enhance pupils’ strengths and build resilience as well as developing their sense of general wellbeing.
Excellent pastoral care is much more than just being nice to a child; it’s putting a child’s need at the centre of a school’s operation.