With a couple of weeks left until our children return to school, I couldn’t help but reflect on the last year of schooling before my children start back again in September. In what was a very difficult year, it was a teacher who made the difference.
Children can struggle at school for so many different reasons. They could be having trouble maintaining focus due to mental health issues, diagnosed or undiagnosed; they could be feeling lonely because of trouble building friendships in school; they could be experiencing problems at home or they could simply not like their teacher. Another factor is trauma, which can often be found in adopted children and parents.
Children who are adopted often have to deal with attachment difficulties – or developmental trauma – that stem from the inability to rely on a relationship during childhood. My daughter and I have struggled with this and Mrs. M is a teacher who helped us through it.
These experiences can create a hurdle in education for children, and L, like many others, required a more specialised approach. Teachers like Mrs. M are so important because they’re able to provide that within public schools. L is an adopted child from an adopted family, trauma is ingrained in us and it’s not something we can escape from.
At the end of this term I was so appreciative of everything Mrs. M had done for L. She was the reassurance (N. the action of removing someone’s doubts or fears) in the storm (N. a violent disturbance of the atmosphere with strong winds and usually rain, thunder and lightning) we all so desperately needed.
A letter of acknowledgement and gratitude written at the end of term.
Dear Mrs M,
We would like to send a million huge thank yous. L has had an incredible journey this year with you at her side.
We are so proud of L for completing her school year happily and successfully. Everyone has been skewed with uncertainty in the storm of Covid and you have been a rock of safety. You have been her guiding light of direction and without your steering, it is quite possible that she would not be feeling so secure. We are so glad that she feels this way prior to making another leap to an even more scary place called Secondary School. There may be, for L, for us, further dark clouds and choppy waves coming.
In this place of largely blue skies and calm waters, we value the willingness, the genuine interest and the enthusiasm that you showed when we first met. It was so reassuring to be given more than ample time to talk with you about L. There were parts of her life story that could have had ramifications on her education this year. Your playful, accepting, curious and empathic walk with L continued every single day of the year
In my daughter’s words, you were “kind, funny and helpful.” The connections you made from the very first day you two met were so strong. I think of it as ‘the reassurance in the storm’. All of us were rocking about in the boat, but we remained above water, open and honest. Listening, learning and partnering with you throughout this massively significant 12 months has been so valuable.
L is an adopted child in an adopted family. We need and are entitled to that extra support and we were ready to challenge the school. As the next chapter opens, we will be ready to do it again if we think it’s necessary.
“Nurturing supportive relationships in schools is a core principle for all children, but especially for children who have encountered trauma, adverse childhood experiences and disrupted attachments.” Adoption UK January 2021
So, what makes Mrs. M so great?
Mrs. M noticed L on a daily basis. She talked and laughed with her about things they had observed. We know this because L would retell a story, observation or a question that Mrs. M had asked. L knew she wasn’t invisible.
Following our first meeting with Mrs. M, she processed what we were informing her about.
Mrs. L asked questions about what we felt might be the impact of certain situations e.g. living with a sibling with A.S.C. As a result, L felt that she wasn’t alone.
L felt valued because Mrs. M spent time with her, she listened to her when L had friendship worries during the year. Significantly, due to this close connection and trust, we felt confident in approaching Mrs. M when L needed additional help. L felt safe.
Once a closer relationship had developed between the two, based on the factors coming into play over time, Mrs. M’s confidence in the how, the when and the why regarding best approaches with L. Mrs. M’s sense of humour was a huge factor in L’s journey. Her slight quirkiness provided a “hook” for L. They shared many laughs together. L knew that her teacher could be trusted.
Teachers, try to always remember that for those children such as L, who have experienced trauma in their lives, learning can be a huge and often insurmountable hurdle in life. The symptoms of Trauma can often pass by un-noticed. Anger; masking; acting out; concentration issues; difficulty in following directions, or working collaboratively can be labelled by the un-knowing (or non-open teacher) as “this child just won’t do”… as opposed “this child just can’t do.”
Here are 5 Trauma Tips that every teacher will do well to bear in mind as they set off on a new journey in September.*
1. Children who have been through trauma worry about what’s going to happen next.
2. Even if the situation doesn’t seem that bad to you, it’s how the child feels that matters.
3. There’s a direct connection between stress and learning.
4. Build resilience by helping children suceed at something and it can influence their world.
5. Self-regulation can be a major challenge for pupils suffering from trauma. They need adults who can support them with coregulation.
Not all teachers have made it their business to connect as Mrs. M. has done in our daughter’s formative school years. They haven’t known where to start. In my role as a parent, teacher and therapist at Beacon Services, I have seen so many examples of incredible reassurance in the storms. On the other hand, I have witnessed others that are quite the opposite.
I’m certain that a whole-school approach in engaging with our children is essential, one that all educators understand, believe in and use daily. This shared approach can actively promote true connections and positive relationships with adopted children and their families. It takes hard work, determination and an ability to value the approach of others but it’s a sure winner.
Beacon Family Services works with families, organisations and schools to provide therapeutic support and resources for relationship building and mental and emotional well-being. You can find out more about our resources on our website.
If you work in a school and are interested to find out more about how Beacon can support pupils and staff, please get in touch with me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the author, Pete Brindley, Education Support at Beacon Family Services and Primary Specialist
Pete has worked closely with teaching colleagues, outside agencies and, most importantly, the parents/carers of such vulnerable young people in order to help deal with some of the challenges met.Pete is also highly skilled in supporting and leading the development of emotional literacy and counselling with vulnerable, emotionally troubled or pupils with special educational needs or disabilities (SEND). Within his role he has explored and celebrated the positive impact of music, particularly through ‘Signed Singing’ with children of all ages and abilities.
Pete has led many social skills groups and also worked more recently in supporting, engaging and challenging children and parents using Theraplay® principles. He has trained in Group Theraplay® (March 2020) and has a current DBS.
* Taken from ’10 Things About Childhood Trauma Every Teacher Needs To Know’, weareteachers.com, March, 2021