I was reading an article this week on the ‘dangers of sweating the small stuff in the classroom’ and it really resonated with me. There are so many times that my teenagers come home with detention slips and warnings about seemingly minor things. I know as education staff it may not seem minor, or those tiny things build up to what is referred to as low level disruption.
Many of you will have read my previous post on the new warning system brought into our Secondary school that is designed to address these low level disturbances that seem to create such a lot of concern for schools and I’m just not sure how I feel about this.
As a parent of children who’ve experienced early trauma my desire is that they enjoy learning and can make the most of the opportunities given them. Of course they can’t do that if they can’t concentrate because of students messing around, or they can’t focus due to fear and anxiety created in the chaos of classrooms. BUT I do wish schools would realise that much of the anxiety students may be feeling is actually a result of these clamp down systems that make it hard for young people to be able to express their concerns for fear of being penalised for not being able to manage their emotions.
In the article, by Jariath O’Brien, that triggered these thoughts the writer was drawing attention to the fact that we often see behaviour as an issue because it’s out of the ordinary or not uniform. For example, a child crossing their legs on their chair – is this ok? What harm is this doing to others or to the learning environment? If a child is happy to be on their own at break and lunch time should we be worried about that? Should we be constantly telling children to be quiet when they ask questions or ask a friend for a pen?
‘Do we have rules that children can break that say more about what we think children should look and be like, rather than because they cause disruption to learning?’ O’Brien asks – what a great question?
So what are the important things we need to be instilling in our young people? Other than the academic learning that of course we’re trying to teach I think there are three things that are vital to our functioning as human beings.
- TRUST – the ability to trust others, that they will do the best for you, meet your needs, help and support you and not harm you. What we think about others around us is really important in how we can feel safe enough to learn, make mistakes and grow.
- WORTH – what we feel about ourselves is so important too. Do I deserve to be part of this class? Am I worth someone’s time to teach me? It’s really hard to engage with others and in learning if we feel bad about ourselves at the core of who we are.
- REGULATION – the ability to regulate our emotions, reactions and responses means when things are tough we can still carry on. We have resilience and determination to succeed even when the odds are against us.
These three areas are fundamental in being able to connect with the world around us and to function as ‘good enough’ adults.
For many children one of these three may be more difficult than the others. In other words, they may know their parents are trust worthy and will meet their needs but they still struggle with self-esteem due to bullying and the pressures of modern teenage lives. They may feel good about themselves and others but find controlling their temper difficult or being able to manage conflict with others.
However, for vulnerable children and young people, these three areas can all be quite challenging. If they’ve had a disrupted attachment cycle in early years they may not trust adults to do the best for them. As a result, shame has a strong hold over them – they may feel worthless and undeserving of good things. If no-ones helped them to regulate their emotions and self-soothe early on they can flip at the slightest thing – can’t find a pencil and all hell breaks lose.
If I had to boil it down to three simple things that need to be worked on with children and young people I would say it’s trust, worth and regulation. These three things are what we all need to be able to function in life. Does it matter if they sit on a chair and not the carpet for story time? Does it matter if they want to wear patterned socks to school? Is it really important to stop them from asking questions that help them to manage their anxiety? If you took a step back and looked at what we are telling children off for, does it really matter? Will it build their trust in others, sense of worth and the ability to self-regulate?
If not, then let’s consider spending our time and energy on something else.