The lockdown is chaotic and challenging and as professionals it’s possibly the most difficult time of our careers so far. Across our 150 schools, from Liverpool to Grimsby, we’re seeing two main approaches to Ed Psych involvement and that is to either:
fully embrace our support, or
‘go to ground’ and focus on the task in hand (meaning there’s little time to think about outside agencies).
We totally understand both approaches and both have their merits; however, we wanted to look at the ways psychology can support you and those around you during this uncertain time.
Our recent guidance to schools stated that we’re still working hard to support schools and listed the many ways this might be done remotely. Here’s a few for those who didn’t see:
Delivering consultations with staff, parents and young people (when appropriate) via telephone/video call. This could include information-gathering discussions as part of the assessment process, providing feedback subsequent to assessments and review consultations.
Offering advice to parents remotely via telephone/video call/email.
Staff support and development via supervision/coaching/mentoring.
Developing training packages that can then be delivered to staff or parents remotely.
Systemic work (e.g. updating behaviour/anti-bullying policies).
Conducting problem-solving discussions with key staff
Developing information sheets for staff / parents about specific SEN topics
Planning transitions back into school post pandemic.
Whilst these are some practical examples of how you might use your time with us, we’ve put some thoughts together around using psychology in general to help you during and after the lockdown.
Talk to your EP
The EP ‘toolkit’ is a Mary Poppins bag of skills, resources and creativity. If you haven’t already explored the possibilities with your EP, then now would be a great time to do so. We discussed in a previous blog article (The rise of whole school psychology) that as well as working with children, EPs:
“are also trained to work in consultation with adults drawing on elements of counselling, reflection, therapy and as a ‘critical friend’. They are skilled mediators, coordinators, meeting chairs, problem solvers, and they are often very creative”
We don’t want to blow our own trumpet but whatever the challenge, concern or problem, it is likely that your EP can help support you. That could be in the form of a solution-focused discussion to move your ‘problem’ forward or it could be to help you plan your return to school for staff and children.
No matter how good you are at taking care of yourself or reflecting, we all need help and support at times and often the first thing we need reminding of is to simply stop, pause and breathe.
Schools were thrown into a very reactive state almost overnight and although we knew school closures were going to happen, it was still a very powerful thing to hear being announced. But it wasn’t schools who were thrown into that reactive state, it wasn’t the bricks and mortar, it was the people who make a school: humans and all their complexities, thoughts, feeling and behaviours.
School leaders were set on a task of organising themselves in those early stages for an unprecedented set of circumstances, not knowing what the land looked like ahead of them. Staff, students and families responded in a variety of ways; there was a huge amount of psychological containment happening from those working in schools. It makes perfect sense that focus went into the task at hand.
Now that we find ourselves out of the immediate reactive state there is an important opportunity again to pause, because there is more uncertainty, planning and action to come. There is a human experience happening in all of us; a lovely analogy I recently saw was that:
‘We are not all in the same boat, but we are all in the same storm.’
It is essential that you pause to check yourself (the boat). This boat will get you through the storm and beyond, you owe it to the boat to make sure all is in order. Things may have been changed by the storm, you may not be facing the direction you hoped to be, and some repair may be needed. It is a time to not simply view one another as members of staff but as humans, perfectly imperfect humans. This experience will have evoked many different emotions within us and they must be acknowledged and validated in order for us to move forward in the most mentally healthy way possible.
Of course, you can do this yourself, but we cannot always recognise when we need to pause. Our advice is to be open to this suggestion of pausing and reach out to services who will help you to do this. You may also want to reach out to colleagues at this time to make sure they have the support they need.
Take a little time out to ask yourself:
Am I okay?
What have I learned about myself?
What have we learned as a school?
What did we do before, that we might not need or want to do anymore?
One of the team shared an interesting piece from recoverycurriculum.org last week calling for compassionate leadership as a way to deal with the many challenges schools are facing now and on their return to ‘normal’ working.
As part of our own work on the recovery phase of the pandemic, we’ve discussed routines, behaviours, expectations and motivation, amongst other things. How can we re-establish all of these things when everyone (staff and children) will have had a unique lockdown experience? How do we set boundaries before we understand the extent to which mental health and wellbeing has been impacted?
Prioritising compassion is surely a good starting point?
As part of this work, we’ve talked a lot about Self Determination Theory. David’s article on How to motivate your team during these unprecedented times goes in to detail on this and in the context of our current situation it provides an excellent framework for meeting individual’s needs.
But, before we get to the recovery, we’re all still dealing with our own version of the lockdown and no experience or response will be the same. Offering support for members of your team who are desperately trying to balance work with family life; those with responsibility for your most vulnerable children and who might be really worried for them or those simply needing a safe space to talk through their own situation, could be the most beneficial way of using psychology right now, and will likely pay dividends in the future…
If you would like to talk to us about supporting staff or children please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Special thanks to Dr LJ Ducksbury for her thoughts on reflection used within this article.