Teachers: Back Yourselves!

When it comes to the masters of behaviour modification then you need look no further than those that practice it on the coal face day in and day out. Not one at a time in an office, but 30 at a time in a hot classroom, last period on a Friday!great teacher

There are so many cliches that spring to mind, all of which are way too naff to add here. Simply, it is okay, in fact essential that teachers back their knowledge and experience and get on with it. This post is prompted by 17 years in a classroom, predominantly having a role with students that are struggling with their behaviour. Policy and procedure can all too quickly shunt young ones along a flow chart of ‘escalation’ as directed by policy and procedure. Take for example, one 13 year old student with challenging behaviour. Firstly the classroom teacher would be faced with challenging behaviours and have tried what they can given the time constraints that come with a whole class to supervise. From here it would then work it’s way up through the leadership / pastoral ladder with increasing strategies and quite often discipline. Then, the big guns are brought in. An Education Psychologist will come in and firstly observe the student. This will come with a hefty wait period and the outcome will be a generic report that you have seen many times before, with simply the name changed at the top. Heck, once I saw one and they had even forgotten to change the name. It is at this point the hopeful school staff will read the report in a desperate search for guidance. What happens is with each point the response will be either ‘I knew that’ and ‘I’ve tried that’.

The school can be left with nothing, the family are left with nothing and what invariably happens is the young one slips further down the slope to the muggy depths of the ‘unfixable’ label. A label unfairly allocated.

This is where I return to the teachers and school backing themselves as the experts they are. You are the ones that day in and day out teach classes in excess of 30 teenagers for 7 straight hours, before heading home to plan for the next 7 days and so on. That is 30 wonderfully unique individuals that love your subject to detest it, that are depressed, anxious and stressed, ADHD, ODD and many other acronyms. To the excitable that have sold their Ritalin to a friend to buy a half litre can of energy drink, thus being left with endless energy and an inability to focus or stop shouting ‘Muppet’ across the class. To see a strong teacher do just this is nothing short of magical and masterful. It is a unique position to have, and not one that has possibly been tried by a very well paid behaviour specialist advisor.

The answer, in my opinion, is to utilise the specialists we have in every school. Not even those with a specialist post graduate certificates in the field. The need is simply the time and space to bounce experiences and ideas amongst these professionals towards informing an outcome that will inevitably be specific and relevant to the students, staff and school community.

As soon as you relinquish responsibility and power of the proposed change you disable and undermine your ability to affect change. Fantastic, if an external specialist comes in and facilitates this but just be mindful of the skills, knowledge and resources you bring.

So, back yourself.teacherprofiles-infographic11-2

Connecting through Disconnection

Adolescent mental health, depression, suicide, risk taking behaviour, positive change and importance of connectedness.

Prevalence of mental health problems continues to be a challenge, often beyond the capacity to keep up, especially for most school counsellors. What if, rather than a mental health epidemic we are in the thick of a cultural crisis for adolescents. The challenge being, as adults and professionals, many are blindingly fast to formulate an assessment and diagnosis. Folk aren’t so open to  closing the text books and inquiring further into the why’s as it looks and sounds on the ground.

For each of us, the incredible uniqueness brings a collage of opinions and philosophies on the how’s, when’s and what’s of just about anything. The moment a penny dropped for me was after speaking to a male teenage client of mine. As part of my thesis I conducted a interview reflecting on a programme I had created targeting the reduction of adolescent depression. The quantitative data made for comfort reading as it affirmed, with bells and whistles, the efficacy of the programme I had developed.The qualitative side of things presented a real headache to start off with, and the participants clearly didn’t get the memo. What I had was three different, tried and tested measures for depression symptomatology showing clear improvements pre and post intervention. The participants I had in front of me mirrored through both sight and sound the positive changes the data suggested. It was the absolute commitment to being depressed that rang confusingly loud and clear. No better example was that offered by the client I mentioned. Without skipping a beat he reflected that he ‘did better than he wanted to’. Thank heavens it was a multi tasking head space day, as this statement has stayed with me ever since.

Psychiatrist

After five years and thousands of adolescent clients later my observations and experiences have continued to build around this topic, as both a an issue around barriers to engaging, but primarily around how to both identify risk and support positive change and increase resiliency to prevent escalating challenges in the first place.

Apart from societies eagerness to have a label and the discussion around increased diagnosis vs increase actual growth, I believe we are in the middle of a cultural shift where adolescents are connecting through disconnection. This is nothing new if you consider drugs, alcohol and gangs etc. but technology and social media is new (ish) and it’s impact-or exploration of- is a work in progress.

social-media-technology-teenagers

This topic is too huge to discuss fully within a couple of hundred words and a funky picture. One example of what this looks like is when I reflect on the substantial increase in students that confidently march into my office, outlining with immense energy their newly diagnosed Depression, Anxiety and ADHD, and then ordering the first of six CBT interventions, before looking at me expectantly and my return look of surprise.

We are now seeing social groups developing from the common grounding of having an emotional difficulty, so connecting through disconnection. Social media offers extensive input into what this may look and sound like, and all too often to excess.

When adolescents are embarking on the confusing journey that is identity formation, I feel it is really important to support and introduce as many positive connections as possible, otherwise they will find connections elsewhere, and in this technological age, that tends not to end so well.

This observation refers to an emerging adolescent culture, and certainly not a universal broad brush of all adolescents that visit a Counsellor, Psychologist or Psychotherapist. What it perhaps highlights is the real need for caution in terms of knee jerk diagnosis, to ensure professionals don’t create the very problem we strive to overcome.