We Can't Leave Any Child Behind. Now More Than Ever
Updated: Sep 8
Around the world, the engines of society are slowly humming back to life. As our governments relax the lockdown measures that have imprisoned us for weeks, we have all suffered a collective trauma.
Some more than others.
As teachers, we must expect that this experience will manifest in our students' classroom behaviour and our more vulnerable ones will be the hardest hit. Children who were once focused, diligent and amiable are now aggressive, sullen and unpredictable. What happened?
For some of our children, their poor behaviour is not because they are ‘troublesome’ but because of the horrific home lives that they had to endure during Lockdown.
The UK’s largest domestic abuse charity, Refuge, reported a 700% increase to calls in a single day* and domestic abuse murders in the UK have doubled. Families are under stress and young children do not have the mental and emotional tools to process their heartbreaking situations.
God willing, the majority of your students will be resilient, flexible and will return to school with hope and energy.
But sadly, there will be some that have had experiences that have scarred them for a lifetime.
We need to look out for them.
Here’s a couple of quick facts that I want to share.
These children could be emotionally dysregulated.
Children raised in abusive homes are repeatedly triggered. If they have neglectful or even abusive caregivers, their nervous systems are devastated and their development is arrested.
They often suffer from Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder which affects their ability to attach healthily to others.
They developed maladaptive patterns to cope with the traumas that they have suffered.
This can manifest in three ways: Fight, Flight, Freeze.
Increased aggression & irritability.
High startle response.
Refusal to back down.
Aggression is the bodyguard of pain.
Rather than feel the trauma that they have experienced, it’s easy to express it as anger and rage. Although destructive, anger is a language that these young people will know well.
Their anger may be a way to get attention and could be a call for help.
Develop a relationship with them & let them know that ok to be vulnerable. In my experience, this can be a real issue for boys, especially around traditional views of masculinity.
Healing occurs when they understand that strength is not only in the body, but in the mind and spirit.
Agitation and anxiety
Not speaking when spoken to.
If students feel that they can't fight back, 'flight' is the body’s next response. They just want to get away from the situation or the perceived threat as fast as they can.
They may have persistent illnesses & will become visibly distraught if facing a task they feel they can’t do. Walking out of class and truanting are classic symptoms of this pattern.
As a teacher, you must create a calming, safe environment. Watch your tone of voice & praise successes often. Take interest in them. When correcting their behaviour, you must focus on the behaviour and not the person.
If your student feels that you are rejecting them as an individual, this could trigger feelings of abandonment.
Show that you are there for them and that you have their best interests at heart.
Being 'spaced out.'
Very low reactivity to things around them.
May say that they have no feelings.
Minimising and rejecting emotions entirely.
Projecting their feelings on others.
Lack of motivation to work.
In the face of trauma, some children learn to reject their emotions & stuff them down deep into the corners of their psyches.
I have found that sometimes the 'class-clowns' can fall into this category: using humour to negate and deflect bad feelings like a cricketer bats a six.
While this trait can, if harnessed properly, be a great advantage in life, constantly wisecracking in the face of life's more serious moments can suggest a problem.
No feelings mean no pain.
But feelings do not go away.
As they get older, these 'freeze' types struggle to contain their stuffed feelings and these unprocessed emotions can manifest as maladaptive patterns, addictions and destructive behaviour.
Emphasise that it's OK to feel and welcome difficult emotions.
Again the key to helping these students is creating stable learning environments and modelling that feelings are not the enemy but a necessary component of being human.
Emotions are like the waves of the sea and our conscious mind is like the surfer. We can learn to surf the waves or we will be buried underneath them. No matter what we chose, the waves will never stop coming.
Also, create a learning culture that celebrates effort rather than results.
Try to appeal to their intrinsic motivation. Often 'freeze' types suffer from low self-esteem & feelings of being unworthy. Their lack of effort could signify a fear of failure - and fear of success!
Your job is to help the students fall in love with the process of learning and forget the result. Install into your students the love for writing, running, painting or solving quadratic equations for the sake of it. Drill into them that they can improve if they practice.
Our modern exam system has tied EVERYTHING to a result, number or letter. I think that's wrong.
But sometimes humans do things for the sake of it. And tell your students that's OK.
Because you go for a jog around the block does not mean you want to run the London Marathon.
Trust the process and the results will come.
Dr Carol Dweck called this a "Growth Mindset" and although in our field, it's become a cliché, it's still true! That mindset will seep into every area of their life and push them to greater life success and happiness! And YOU will be responsible.
How cool is that?
The first half of 2020 will now go into the history books. The World has not seen such confusion, fear and anxiety since the days of the World Wars. We will all need time to adjust.
This blogpost is not saying that we, the teachers, should take full responsibility for our students' wellbeing. Obviously, we are not psychotherapists and we do not have the skill nor time to help our students deal with these very deep and complex issues.
But we, as teachers and educators, are on the frontlines and our awareness of these issues will help us become better caregivers.
We can create an environment that helps our students feel safe, wanted and accepted and can help them settle their rattled nervous systems.
We must learn to be patient, allow our children to re-adjust to the learning environment, teach them how to self-regulate & practice good emotional self-care.
We can be role models that show them that they can be greater than their circumstances.
You have more power than you think. Use it wisely.
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Karl from actionheroteacher.com
*The Guardian. 2020. Revealed: surge in domestic violence during Covid-19 crisis. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2020/apr/12/domestic-violence-surges-seven-hundred-per-cent-uk-coronavirus. [Accessed 5 May 2020].