Teaching pupils with behavioural needs is fun* at the best of times – and now we’ve been doing it remotely…
*read – challenging, unpredictable, addictive, frustrating, exhausting, exhilarating…
Amidst the steep technical learning curve, the many phones put down on me and frustration as pupils become nocturnal, I have learnt some new things about teaching.
The first couple of weeks was chaotic at best – with no idea of the difference between a google hangout and a google meet (Why?! Why?!), I battled to work out how to teach – without actually being in the room. As a self-proclaimed technophobe, the challenge of still being able to connect with pupils who are, even at the best of times, renowned for not-being-connectable, seemed unsurmountable. There were many missed calls, lots of google docs that ‘got deleted’ and some tears (mine).
On top of this, working with pupils with Social Emotional Mental Health (SEMH) difficulties and other vulnerabilities, there is also the very real worry about some of our young people’s safety and wellbeing. Some of the children I have been attempting to teach have also had to deal with parents splitting up, moving house, contact with biological family now taking place ‘within’ their homes via video call, moves into and around care – as well as their historical triggers causing anxiety and mental health issues.
Several weeks down the line now – there’s some shape. There’s some routine. There are some who manage to engage. Most wonderfully too, there are even those who progress better academically than ever before! These are usually the ones who have a steady home life, whose trusted adults are supporting their needs intuitively, putting their wellbeing first – it’s amazing to watch and be a part of.
In the midst of it all, one of the most valuable things that has been reaffirmed to me is this –
Building a positive relationship with parents and carers DOES make a difference.
As pupils have refused to speak with me, been stuck to a digital computer world, or are still asleep, I have found myself spending more (virtual) time with parents and carers than I ever usually get a chance to, and it’s been an honour. Working in special schools we usually get more opportunity to connect with home than mainstream schools, and yet there still never seems quite enough time.
Over the past few weeks parents and carers have shared with me their worries – about their children, their health, where they’re going to get food, about not feeling like they’re doing a good job, worried about the child’s academic progress (or lack of it). In some homes, with many daily challenges to deal with even without a global pandemic, teachers have been some of the few people who have made regular contact with the family in a supportive role. Because I’ve been doing this more regularly and with more time, I have started to learn when things are actually ‘fine’ and when parents and carers need someone to listen for a while. There is little more I have been able to offer in most cases – but that listening has been golden.
The after effects are two-fold – I am not used to emotionally supporting adults in this way – they tend to have different challenges to their children, and so I have felt myself become overwhelmed sometimes, exhausted and in awe – how do some of these parents and carers actually do it?
The other effect is the beautiful one. With parents and carers who were never *quite* on board with the school our relationships have got closer. They see the value of our approaches and how we are trying to support their children more, they feel supported and understood themselves – and so they help us more to connect and educate their children.
It’s as if that: it takes a village to raise a child saying is right – by strengthening our relationships with the adults around a child, the child benefits.