Discover why building children’s resilience can play a crucial role in improving the state of social and emotional wellbeing in schools.
When researching for this piece, I searched for relevant statistics. I wanted to know about the prevalence of mental health in our society today. Unfortunately, the statistics were abundant and rather concerning.
Our lives in the last few years have been unprecedented. Experiences we could not have predicted became a standard daily practice, and now the immediate future looks equally uncertain, with the world in a place of ongoing unrest.
Anxiety in children is rising, and teachers must find better ways to meet today’s demands.
With this in mind, how can we support our children and young people with their social and emotional wellbeing?
The Current State of Children’s Social and Emotional Wellbeing in Schools
There has been extensive research undertaken into mental health and wellbeing over the last few decades, with a more recent focus on the world post-Covid.
Over the last 20 years, our understanding of the way difficult situations and trauma affect our brains has developed hugely. Nowadays, we know beyond doubt that its effects can be wide-ranging, substantial, long-lasting and costly.
In the last two years, we have faced uncertainty. We have battled with isolation, loss and grief on a scale we have never experienced.
In a study by BUPA in 2020, four out of five teenagers reported some symptoms of poor mental health. These findings, and those of other research, have shone a light on the fragility of our mental health and how we, as humans, don’t always know the best and safest ways to cope when things get tough.
Post-pandemic, schools had to hit the ground running when returning to ‘business as usual’; to not only plug significant academic gaps but to support children’s mental health in a way like never before.
School settings were having to meet the emotional needs of their pupils ‘on the fly’, often reacting to situations rather than addressing them proactively on a whole school level.
Unfortunately, many school settings could not offer the level of support needed due to time constraints, staffing levels and a lack of pastoral knowledge, experience and understanding.
What Schools Must do to Improve Social and Emotional Wellbeing
As we move forward with a greater understanding and acceptance of mental and emotional health, schools must ensure these social and emotional strategies become part and parcel of their offer from the outset. They need to be truly embedded into a setting’s ethos that they have a preventative impact as well as dealing with social and emotional wellbeing issues as they arise.
Research by the EEF into children’s social and emotional learning (SEL), suggests three categories of intervention, which can be used to promote and support children’s understanding of their emotions and provide them with the resilience to tackle these issues as they arise.
These categories encompass:
- A whole-school approach to developing a positive school ethos
- Whole class taught programmes directed at all children
- More specialised interventions targeted at students with particular social and emotional needs
This focus of social-emotional learning needs to develop the children’s understanding and recognition of their own emotions and provide them with a range of strategies to cope when those feelings become unmanageable.
Children should learn right from the Early Years to identify and express how they are feeling and understand that they may act in a certain way with each emotion.
To enable children to cope with ‘big feelings’ they may not know how to deal with, they must explicitly be taught resilience and problem-solving skills. From which they can make safe decisions when dealing with intense emotions.
To do this effectively, schools and settings must first approach this on a school-wide level, with social and emotional health wellbeing made a priority for all. A school setting’s ethos and core values must reflect the importance of this, and all stakeholders should understand the school’s commitment to addressing and supporting related issues.
As well as embedding Social Emotional Learning (SEL) into the ethos of a setting, resilience and social-emotional skills must be taught explicitly, through specific, focused lessons and throughout all areas of the curriculum. Emotional vocabulary should be highlighted, developing children’s ability to identify their own emotions and those of others. But how is this done effectively?
How to Build Resilience in Students and Make Social and Emotional Wellbeing a Priority
As you read through the steps below, ask yourselves the key questions of your school setting and think about your own next steps.
Whole School Aims
A setting must first look at their children and decide on their aims.
The lived experience of the children should be considered, and clear and whole-school goals should be decided upon which will provide improved social-emotional learning and resilience. This will differ greatly from setting to setting and should reflect the specific needs of the children in your care.
- What are your aims for this term? Or this school year?
- What are your long-term goals?
High-Quality Staff Training
Staff need training. It is not as simple as talking about feelings. All staff should be equipped with the skills and tools they need to offer high-quality support and focused impactful teaching.
At Services For Education, we offer CPD for curriculum subjects when there are gaps in our staff knowledge. Social-emotional learning should not be any different.
The quality of support your school offers will reflect the investment made in staff training. Do not underestimate what staff need to effectively support children’s social-emotional learning.
- Who do you have in your setting to provide this training?
- Who requires what training and when?
- Who are experts within your school who can support others?
Embedding in the Curriculum
Resilience and social-emotional learning must be taught explicitly across the curriculum, as well as addressed at more opportunistic moments.
Staff should be supported in making links to ensure content is taught effectively and prior learning is built upon. Curriculum leads should have time to plan SEL into the curriculum and staff should feel confident in weaving resilience and other key skills through their day-to-day teaching.
When reflecting on the teaching of SEL, staff need to be thinking back to Ofsted’s infamous 3I’s:
- What are we teaching the children?
- How do we ensure the retention and application of these important skills?
- What difference will possession of these skills make in the lives of our children?
Identify Focus Individuals
Some individuals will need more support than a whole class approach. These children will need to be identified, and their areas of need highlighted. Staff should be given adequate time to assess the needs of children. For example, completing Boxall profiles and then using these to formulate a plan to address those needs and to offer appropriate intervention.
- Who do we know needs extra support, and who is flying just under the radar?
- What assessments do we need to implement to get a clearer understanding of the needs of our most vulnerable children?
Monitoring must be ongoing and be used to inform changes and improvements in the school’s offers.
This is not a ‘critical’ judgement of staff but an exercise to continually identify whether your children’s needs are being met and to fine-tune the support available to them.
As part of this monitoring process, the children’s voices must be sought.
- What can the school do to support them best?
- What might they need to be offered that your school hasn’t yet?
A Critical Overview of Children’s Social and Emotional Wellbeing in Schools
By incorporating the children in the evaluation process, you are highlighting that they are at the centre of your decisions, that their thoughts and feelings matter and that they are worth supporting.
Social-emotional learning cannot be a tick box exercise. It is not one of those things schools do because they have to or a quick fix for a term or so.
Schools must show that they are dedicated to improving the social and emotional wellbeing of the children in their care. Ofsted state that schools need to ‘support learners to develop their character – including their resilience, confidence and independence – and help them know how to keep physically and mentally healthy’.
Therefore, schools should approach building resilience and social and emotional wellbeing as a priority, as without secure emotional learning, children will be unable to access any academic learning provided.
Life for today’s children is tough. They face challenges we never thought possible. However, this does not mean they cannot live happy, healthy and fulfilling lives.
By having an ethos of resilience and an understanding of social and emotional wellbeing, we can provide children with the skills and knowledge they need to make safe decisions, problem solve and most importantly, understand their own feelings and those of others they encounter throughout their lives.
Contact our school support team today for more support on teaching resilience and incorporating a more robust plan to prioritise children’s social and emotional wellbeing in schools.
We also have a wide range of training courses on offer, including:
- Supporting children who have Experienced Trauma
- Supporting Emotional Health & Wellbeing in Primary Schools
- Supporting Emotional Health & Wellbeing in Secondary Schools
If you would like to contact our Emotional Health and Wellbeing adviser, Lucie Welch, directly, you can do so by email: email@example.com