Schools invest considerable time, effort, and energy in supporting pupils with SEMH needs. However, the question remains: How do you ensure that this tremendous dedication is recognised?
In this episode of School Behaviour Secrets, we explore the key elements of an effective and collaborative approach to supporting children with social, emotional, and mental health (SEMH) needs.
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Show notes / transcription
Emma Shackleton 0:00
Sometimes what I see is a plan is written maybe by a Senco, or a senior leader. And then it's given to the teacher and the teaching assistant and the pastoral team. And sometimes the adults aren't actually in agreement with the strategies on that plan. And what happens there is you'll get some adults who follow the plan to the letter, and others who don't follow the plan. And if you think about it from the child's perspective, that's really confusing because some adults are saying one thing and some adults are saying another thing.
Simon Currigan 0:31
Hi there. My name is Simon Currigan and welcome to another episode of school behaviour secrets. And I'm gonna say this upfront, I disagree with insects on one important point, your skeleton should be on the inside. And I know I'm gonna get loads of angry emails now from cockroaches and ants and beetles calling me a skeletal typical able-ist who lives in a muscle should be on the outside echo chamber. But sometimes you've got to call it the way you see it. I'm joined today by my co host, Emma Shackleton. Hi, Emma.
Emma Shackleton 1:40
Simon Currigan 1:41
Emma, I'd like to kick off today's show by asking you a quick question
Emma Shackleton 1:44
Simon Currigan 1:45
Can you tell me about a time that you've tried really hard at something? And then didn't get the credit you thought you deserved?
Emma Shackleton 1:51
How long have you got? That's a really good question. Over the years, I think I've come to realise that something that really motivates me is recognition. So I'm the sort of person that a little thank you goes a really long way with me. And sometimes I feel like I work really hard on something at work, for example, and I put in lots of time and effort. And then other people don't really seem to see that or I feel like they don't appreciate it almost like they expect that level of effort because kind of 'That's your job'. It's hard to think of a specific example now. But I have learned to rely less on other people's validation, and just try to be satisfied in the knowledge that I've done a really good job. Anyway, that was a long answer. Why do you want to know and how does that relate to this week's show?
Simon Currigan 2:42
So we're going to look at what an effective planned joined up approach to supporting kids with SEMH looks like from beginning to end. And a lot of schools put loads of effort into supporting those students. But when external professionals turn up, say for an inspection, whether that's an Ofsted inspection, or HMI inspection, or whether you're just auditing each other's practice within a group of schools, sometimes you don't get the credit for the work you're doing. And to avoid that, we're going to look at an approach to SEMH that is solid. It's clear how it works. And it has integrity. I'm using the word integrity here. Like the term structural integrity, meaning there are no parts missing. So your approach in the classroom has strengthened impact and won't collapse when it's being scrutinised. And it makes sense to external partners. This is going to be an important episode, whether you are a teacher implementing strategies in the classroom or you're a school leader, or a special needs coordinator who wants to make sure their work has impact at a whole school level. And the approach we talked about today is also going to cover the sorts of things that external professionals, people like inspectors and school improvement partners will want to see in place when they're judging your school's effectiveness.
Emma Shackleton 4:02
Oh, cool, that makes sense. Just before we get into that, though, I've got a quick request to make from our listeners. If you're listening to this podcast and you're finding it useful or helpful, please take 60 seconds to leave us a quick rating and an honest review. All you've got to do is open your podcast app and tap the review button. And when you leave us a rating it prompts the podcast algorithm to share school behaviour secrets with other listeners too. That helps us to grow the show and share our information with more listeners just like you.
Simon Currigan 4:37
Which means it's now time to lick the salt off the delicious roasted peanut we call behaviour.
Emma Shackleton 4:43
Okay, so let's imagine that we're inspectors going into a classroom for the first time and seeing how a school is responding and supporting a child with social emotional and mental health needs. And we're going to explore what a joined up plan and approach to that child support looks like. And alternatively, what looks like a mess of random strategies that hasn't really been thought through and isn't consistent.
Simon Currigan 5:11
So let's take the example of a child who has a background of childhood trauma, we're going to imagine the case of a teacher who's got the child in the class, and they want to do the best for them to support them. And they're just using their kind of own individual best efforts to respond to that child's needs and behaviours in class. But what she's doing is she's kind of working independently, okay, and she's adapting the behaviour policy as she goes. So the strategies she's got in place are she's put in place work, recovery breaks. So that means the child does some focused work for say, 10 minutes with a timer. And then they're allowed a recovery break, a learning break, to help them cope with the stress, and the pressure of focusing their attention down and managing their emotions. There's a table outside the classroom where the child opt's to go to when they're overwhelmed. And the child's allowed to sit and look at a book in the book corner during carpet time, rather than having to sit on the carpet amongst all the other children. Because the child finds that provokes their anxiety, they find that really, really difficult to do. They don't like being in a crowd.
Emma Shackleton 6:15
Okay, so it sounds like the teacher is being proactive here. They're thinking about the child's needs. They're thinking of strategies to try and meet those needs. And all of that's good, right? But let's start by thinking about what can go wrong here. What might this look like if the teachers got good intentions, but they're not really using a framework or a strategy to guide their support? Simon, what would that look like for you?
Simon Currigan 6:42
Okay, so in class, we have a WAGOLL what a good one looks like, let's have a WABOLL what a bad one looks like. So if I was someone coming in external to the school, to me, it might look like this teacher has gone completely rogue. She is implementing strategies with a good heart with the best of intentions, but no one else knows about them. So she's using great strategies. But those strategies haven't been communicated with other members of staff, particularly, you know, someone like the SenCo, or senior leaders, they've not been implemented in conjunction with the leadership team. So imagine I'm an inspector or something, and I talk to your head teacher or your your lead or your SenCo. And I find that no one knows that the class teacher is making these adaptations for the child. So it just looks like lack of consistency. And someone not following the school's behaviour policy just doing their own thing, which is something that the leaders in school should know about and should be tackling it looks like this kind of.. this teachers that is just doing their own thing with the best of intentions. What about you?
Emma Shackleton 7:47
I see what you mean, and also if the approach isn't being recorded in any way, so often, I work with educators who are doing great things with the children, and they are having an impact with them as well. So it feels like it's working. But those great things aren't being recorded anywhere. So they're not on an individual education plan, for example, or the school's behaviour plan. They're not written and recorded anywhere. Strategies need targets so that you can measure whether or not the child is making progress, there's a saying isn't there 'action without strategy is a nightmare'. And making big adjustments like this teacher is doing for this child needs to be part of an overall bigger picture plan. And that plan should have a target on it. Because the strategies we use in class really need to be like stepping stones. So we're strategically helping the child move from where they're at now, towards achieving the target. So if the child is becoming overwhelmed daily, for example, and they're getting aggressive as a result, then our strategies need to be targeted to help them achieve that.
Simon Currigan 9:00
Yeah. And those strategies should be about addressing the underlying need that the child has that causes them to show behaviour that's challenging in the classroom. So the example strategies that we picked here, so the teacher is using work recovery breaks, she has a table outside the classroom where the child can go when they're overwhelmed, and being allowed to look at a book in the book corner during carpet time. Well, those strategies, yes, they're ticking the box that says, are you responding to the child's needs, but in a case where trauma is an underlying issue, I'd like to see some support strategies that dig a little deeper under the surface because they are management strategies, the child is having difficulties with their emotions and their behaviour. And the teacher is responding to those but we're not doing anything about the root causes of those behaviours, what's driving those behaviours. So for example, with a child with a history of trauma, it might be they have opportunities in a planned structured way to form a trusting relationship with a key adult in school, all this work about adults being able to hold the child in mind when they're not with them. So our teacher's doing the right kinds of things. They're thinking beyond things like behaviour charts and sticker charts and rewards and consequences. But for me, there needs to be more about addressing that real underlying need. What do you think? Is there anything else from your point of view?
Emma Shackleton 10:22
Yeah, I'd also be asking, how is this measurable? So how do we know whether the strategies are working or not? And I'm guessing because there's a lack of a formal plan. The answer might be no, what are we counting that indicates success? A really, really good way to do this is have some sort of before and after measure. So you're really clearly able to justify the adaptations that you're making. And that is the right thing to do. But how are you showing what was happening before you made those adaptations, and now what's happening as a result of those adaptations, so that can be really tricky. I think, with things like writing and things like reading and maths, it's much more easy to put those measures into place. And lots of schools that I work with are doing lots of really high quality things to support children through things like trauma, and children with SEMH needs. But actually, when you ask them how that's being measured, it's all a bit gut instinct. And it's all a bit. Yeah, they're much better than they were before. What does that look like? The plan needs a definite end, where we can review the success. So what was happening before the interventions? What's countable and measurable to indicate successes? and what's happening after that intervention? so that we can show that the intervention has made an impact.
Simon Currigan 11:48
And of course, plans need parental input. And if you've got a teacher who's just gone rogue, you know, she hasn't gone rogue, but she's doing this with the best of intentions, but she's not following school policy. So there's no evidence of parental input. And also, in a perfect world, we want those strategies to be supported by parents at home. So there might be giving the child additional talk about what the strategies are and how to use them in class and a bit of coaching and guidance about when things have gone wrong and practising targets or if they've got maybe a social story that they need to practice or they need to practice, when they're feeling upset, going to the table. There are adults there in a 360 degree way at school and at home, giving the child encouragement. Of course, the other thing parents can do is not just give encouragement, but they can give accountability. So the child feels accountable. They're not just being offered with strategies, there is some expectation that if you're being supported, you will accept that support and follow through on those targets. I used to work with a senior leader who used to talk about a golden thread. And this is so important in our approach, when we think about our whole school approach, and drill down right into what class teachers are doing with individual strategies, there needs to be a golden thread a golden thread of truth. So if a child is having difficulties in the classroom, with their behaviour around a traumatic background, then what I would want to see or an inspector might want to see is an overall plan. So you have an individual education plan that's got an assessment on it that explores why the child is having a difficulty. And then there are strategies and targets on the plan. And that's the golden thread that then runs through everything else written on that behaviour plan or that support plan down to the individual strategies that are being used in the classroom. Everything is aligned up and consistent. And when you've got people doing their own thing, that thread gets broken. So you might see, say, on a support plan, that a child has difficulty with social skills. But when you go down into the classroom, they get in support with regulating emotions, and there's no consistency between what's happening at the top level, and what's happening at the chalk face. So we need to make sure there's a golden thread that runs from education plans and needs all the way through.
Emma Shackleton 14:00
Yeah, so let's explore a little bit more than about a good way to do that. Let's imagine we go into another classroom, and we see another pupil with similar needs. And from the perspective of another head teacher or inspector or another Senko, whoever it is that's coming in, what does that joined up planned provision look like for that pupil?
Simon Currigan 14:22
While for me, there does need to be a formal written plan where you agree strategies as a group, so you've got perhaps the SenCo, who's coordinating the plan, you've got parental input, you've got input from other professionals, the class teacher or teaching assistants, or learning mentors or whoever's involved with the child. Also, when you do that, you make sure that everyone's in the loop. Everyone thinks the same thing about what's happening in school, and there's agreement about the kinds of strategies that we're going to use consistently in a 360 degree approach to supporting the child. Everyone knows the actions in the class, through a part of a coherent approach. There's that golden thread there.
Emma Shackleton 15:04
I think that's so important the point that you've made there about all of those people in putting to the plan, sometimes what I see is a plan is written maybe by a SenCo, or a senior leader. And then it's given to the teacher and the teaching assistant and the pastoral team. And sometimes the adults aren't actually in agreement with the strategies on that plan. And what happens there is you'll get some adults who follow the plan to the letter, and others who don't really agree with those strategies, so they don't follow the plan. And if you think about it, from the child's perspective, that's really confusing, because some adults are saying one thing, and some adults are saying another thing. So it's really crucial that we get everybody with knowledge of that child together. And I know it takes time. But this is the way to do it, so that it makes a difference. And it is effective.
Simon Currigan 15:55
You know, it's so true. Because when you think about as a student teacher, what's the first thing you learn about behaviour in the classroom? But you consistent.
Emma Shackleton 16:03
Simon Currigan 16:03
And if the child's not getting consistency, then they're going to struggle to make progress.
Emma Shackleton 16:06
And if a child is struggling anyway, and then the adults around them are being inconsistent, that's going to be double trouble, isn't it? The plan needs to identify what's the driver of the behaviour? What can we guess with our knowledge of the child, all of us that know that pupil? What could we speculate? What do we think might be driving the behaviour?What's the underlying need that hasn't yet been met? And the targets then logically need to link in with addressing that need, meaning that the strategies on the plan are needs focused. So in the example of a student affected by trauma, that could look like access to nurture provision or planned activities to form that positive relationship with a key adult in school. Deal with the underlying emotional needs, and their behaviour tends to melt away.
Simon Currigan 17:00
Now the problem with those kinds of needs focused strategies, and they're great, I'm not knocking them at all, it's that they take time to have an impact. So we're also going to be proactive classroom management strategies on the plan, because we have to manage the situation we're currently in which to be fair, the teacher was doing a lot of if we know the child hasn't got the skills yet to manage their emotions during carpet time, let's avoid repeated failure at carpet time now, before it becomes a bigger thing. And then in the background, or as a side strategy, we are teaching them those skills they need to succeed, and then we can feed them in a carpet time. So we're dealing with the situation we're in now, and the underlying need. Now the important thing with this is if you've got someone like an inspector in the room, HMI, or you've got a SenCo, looking at your practice or a school improvement partner, it is not enough just to use these adaptations and strategies, and just assume that they are going to know what you're doing and why you're doing it. When you take a driving test. I was always told when you are going to turn on your indicator, you're supposed to look in your mirror, then signal and then manoeuvre. And it's not just enough in a driving test to do mirror signal manoeuvre, the driving instructor needs to see you do those things. So you have to make a bit of a play of overacting looking in the mirror making sure they check you looking in the mirror before you signal manoeuvre. And it's the same with these kinds of inspections and these kind of lesson observations, do not wait for the inspector to ask you why you have just done that while you've just implemented the strategy of putting the child in a separate area at carpet time because that could look exclusionary it might look illogical to someone who doesn't understand the child's background, it is your job, while that person is in the room to go and push this information in their face, quietly, take them to one side and say I am going to do X, Y and Z because it's on their plan and we're meeting their needs. And it's part of a coherent approach. Don't leave it to them to join the dots and assume what you're doing is good practice. join the dots for them.
Emma Shackleton 19:08
I wholeheartedly agree with that advice, Simon. And I often tell people as soon as any visitor comes into your classroom, make a beeline for them. And as you said, Tell them upfront. If you're wondering why he is sitting over there with a jigsaw when everybody else is doing their writing, it's because we've got a plan in place to meet his needs. And that might be as much information as they need, but it's about the adult who's leading that lesson, being proactive and pointing out. This isn't me just letting someone play at the back with a jigsaw. This is part of a strategic plan. And ideally, you'd have that plan that piece of paper to hand and if necessary, you would share that with whoever's coming in if that's appropriate. So every strategy on the plan then should be linked to the overarching target and the strategy He's need to be actionable. So sometimes we might see targets such as I can manage my anxiety with mindful breathing. But that really is a bit too woolly and a bit too general. So we need to make that a little bit more specific and actionable. For example, we could turn it into when I find the work too hard. Instead of throwing my book on the floor, I will go to my table and do my breathing, that's a much clearer retarget. It's starting with the trigger. So the child knows when this trigger happens, now's the time for me to act, then telling the child exactly what to do instead of what not to do. And it's very clear and specific. And when you're having a big emotion, it's hard to think straight, it's hard to think, step by step. So thinking about the target ahead of the big emotion, and practising that skill is going to be really crucial to this success. So now we've got a plan that has concrete classroom actions, where we're working towards achieving a goal and that you'd have to talk about how the child will learn and practice that strategy, not just read about it, just because we've written it as a target. And we've made it a really clear target, on its own, that is still just writing on a page. It's all now about how we support and train that child into recognising when they need to implement a strategy. So there's got to be a high level of self awareness, which we can teach. And then when that feeling comes, when that trigger comes, what do we do, and if they do that, even one time, that is a step in the right direction.
Simon Currigan 21:44
We now need to be measuring the success of our actions in our plan. And the schools that I talk to often find measuring success easy with things like learning targets, where you can count the number of words a child can read in a minute, or something like that. But they find it much harder with behaviour and social, emotional and mental health needs. And it can be hard, but there are ways of doing it, we need a number where the child is now and we need a number, which is where we're trying to get them to. And that way we avoid in our assessments being subjective or anecdotal. When people ask us about whether the plans been successful, like Emma said, you know, yeah, it's by having better we get fewer problems, an easy way of doing that just out of the gate is before you start your input before you start your target, just count the number of incidents, in this case, maybe the child damaging his book and refusing to work. So count the number of incidents that you're having across the week before you start your support, then that your support run, and on a weekly basis are at the end of this sort of 6,7,8 week programme, count how many incidents you're getting then. And then you can end up with a target that says something like we're aiming to go from eight incidents per week to two incidents per week. So the number is going down before May the 16th. So so you've got a defined end point.
Emma Shackleton 23:05
Yeah. And I really like what you've said there, Simon about starting with the before measure. So you've said going from eight, which is current, what's happening now that's the before, then we put the intervention and the strategies into place. And then we measure the after. If we forget to do that before, it's really hard to prove the impact because we haven't got anything measurable to work from. And all too often, teachers don't realise that they need to collect that data before an intervention happens. I worked a few years ago with a teacher who was early in her career, she was really dedicated to supporting a little boy in her class who was really struggling with his behaviour, she formed an excellent relationship with him. And she implemented a little target card system with him. And he really responded to that. She also built good rapport with parents, and every Friday, they would talk about what had happened in the week, and they would celebrate the successes. And what she did, which was lovely, she gave the target card to the parent on a Friday. Mom took that home, and I think she was sticking them on the fridge or whatever for a while at home. Now that was great, and a really positive gesture. But three or four months down the line, when the SenCo came back to that teacher to ask for the evidence of impact. Everybody realised that the data was on the target cards which had gone home. And you know what it's like, they drop off the fridge, the dog eats them, they get thrown in the bin. And there was actually no record of all of that hard work that the teacher would put in. And all of that progress that the child had made.
Simon Currigan 24:45
That is so wise, actually, because that's the kind of mistake that you only make once because when it happens to you, you're like, Oh my God, why didn't we think of that in advance? So you can see how with all of these things in place, right, we've got a needs lead plan that's written In conjunction with all the parties involved. We've got the teacher implementing strategies that are based on that plan. We've got targets written in a way that are actionable. We're measuring and monitoring progress. And the plan, because we're now doing that assessment can adapt over time, if it's not working in the way we hoped it would, you've got what looks now to someone on the outside like a joined up support programme for that child based on that child's individual needs. As an outsider, you can see there's that golden thread that runs from need to the target to the strategy to assessment, it doesn't look ad hoc or random or rogue or like people have just done their own thing in the classroom, you've got yourself a joined up coherent Support Programme.
Emma Shackleton 25:43
And it's worth saying, again, make sure that you have this information to hand make sure that you are confident in sharing with any visitor to your class where it's appropriate, that you are doing something different for this child because they need something different. And it's part of a planned intervention. Because what you don't want is somebody to leave your classroom with a big question mark, wondering why you're letting a child do something different and sometimes thinking oh, you know, that's not fair, or the teacher hadn't noticed that they were doing something different. So be proactive in sharing your strategy, sharing your plan.
Simon Currigan 26:20
And that's our guide to putting in place and impactful, purposeful, intentional, SEMH Support Programme for the students in your school.
Emma Shackleton 26:29
And of course, today we've spoken quite a bit about addressing children's underlying needs, the stuff that's driving their behaviour. But if you don't know what the underlying causes, how on earth can you make progress?
Simon Currigan 26:43
Well, that's where our free SEND Handbook can help.
Emma Shackleton 26:47
That's our free download that will help you link the behaviours that you can see in your classroom with possible underlying causes such as autism, trauma and ADHD.
Simon Currigan 27:00
The idea here isn't for teachers to try and make a diagnosis of a pupils needs because we're not qualified to do that. But if we can link behaviours who see in the classroom to possible causes more quickly, that means we can get the right support agencies involved and get early intervention strategies in place as quickly as possible and we know that early intervention is the key to success for so many of our children.
Emma Shackleton 27:23
The handbook also includes fact sheets about ACE's and a range of underlying conditions that could be driving your pupils behaviour, such as foetal alcohol spectrum disorder, developmental language delay, PDA, ODD and others, the handbook's completely free to download. So go over to our website www.beaconschoolsupport.co.uk. click on Free Resources near the top of the page. And we'll also put a link in the episode description.
Simon Currigan 27:52
And finally, before we finish, remember to subscribe to the podcast to make sure you never miss another episode. All you have to do is open up your podcast app and hit the subscribe button subscribing will make you feel as joyous as a sloth who's just stepped into a Ferrari jammed his foot down on the gas pedal and experienced his first burst of sweet sweet acceleration. It's time to live life at the pace of champions
Emma Shackleton 28:16
And on that note, we're going to wish you a brilliant week and look forward to seeing you next time on school behaviour. Bye for now.
Simon Currigan 28:24
(This automated transcript may not be 100% accurate.)