As we move towards the possibility of social distancing restrictions lessening and the prospect of a return to “normal”, we are taking a moment here at the Schools and Community Psychology Service to think about and question ‘What does return to normal look, sound and feel like??‘.
We cannot go back in time and change how things have been, but we can influence the future in ways that do not feel regressive and that inspire us to dream ahead and develop. So, what is the story of our future?
We might start this by asking ourselves:
- Does everything need to go back to how it was?
- What have we learned from the past year?
- What continues to work?
- What new ways of doing and of being did we experience, and can these continue going forward?
- How can we as a collective find the energy to build our resilience and create a vision for the future?
Building individual resilience- a new item on the to-do list?
We have all been bombarded by messages to turn this whole experience to one of growth and an opportunity to build resilience. We feel the pressure to create something purposeful when events feel out of our control……how can it be built without adding to the ever-growing list of tasks on the school development plan?
Resilience is dynamic. It can change across time, context and situation and individual resilience depends on the resilience in other parts of the system (Masten, 2015). However, school leadership teams do not have to feel alone or lost in their efforts to help pupils, families and staff regain their strength. The factors that support the process of resilience for children include:
- A sense of belonging
- Strong relationships
- High expectations
- The opportunity to participate as valued members of the community
In line with these factors the Schools and Community Psychology Service (SCPS) has helped to promote pupils’ participation in their community through questionnaires at various points during the pandemic. These have explored how children and young people have felt throughout different parts of the pandemic and come up with strategies from what the pupils themselves have shared.
“I just wanted to feedback on the surveys – I have been through them individually and it has been really fascinating. There were only a small number of children in each year group who flagged concerns, but the majority of those were children who would have slipped under the radar otherwise. It has been a really useful exercise and we now know which children to target the interventions to. Thank you so much for your expertise in this, the questions were spot on in pointing out the children who need extra support” (Feedback from primary school HT)
We have also thought with our schools about how to promote a sense of belonging with the help of the Top Ten Tips poster. The shift in practice and the strategies that come when we give voice to our children and young people are always the most relevant. Examples of strategies that pupils and young people inspired our schools to implement include:
- Playground zones with group activities that promote friendships whilst maintaining social distancing and friendship benches
- Development of participation strategy within a specialist provision with a particular focus on those pupils who present with social/communication difficulties alongside other physical and sensory needs.
- A secondary school reflected on the limited opportunities children with SEND get to be included in group work and group projects and worked with the EP to think about how different departments could improve in including differentiation as part of their group work planning.
Building community resilience- it’s all about coming together to think
Here at the Schools and Community Psychology Service, we are in awe of how our schools have remained strong and determined during the pandemic, showing incredible stamina and focus on whole community well-being when it mattered the most. We supported school leadership teams through ‘Wellbeing for Return conversations’, the development of resources for creating resilient classrooms and ELSA check-ins. Throughout the pandemic the SCPS ran free sessions for school senior leaders, SEMH leads and SENCOs. Each session focussed on one of the principles for adjustment as well as staff, parents and pupil wellbeing. It was a great way to bring schools together to exchange ideas and provide support to each other.
We also created resources for parents and helped schools think about how to best support parents in their community. Some schools used their Educational Psychologists (EPs) to offer parents ‘Space to Talk’ and help them think about how to support the learning and wellbeing of their children whilst juggling the challenges of home schooling and work.
Schools at the heart of community recovery
Community recovery is a long, slow process. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Despite the challenges, attention to their most vulnerable members of our community was at the centre of our work with schools. And now it’s time to take a step back, listen to the stories of surviving and focus on the community as a whole and this starts with you thinking about and creating your own story for the future.
When people go through challenges or trauma, they are more likely to recover when they are living in supportive and validating communities. Successful community recovery comes from the vision, dreams, hopes and challenges of community themselves. It is about community choosing what their future looks like, and then acting on it with the support of services. It is about community recovery and it is more than that — it is COMMUNITY LED RECOVERY.
There are a number of EP led initiatives that have provided support before and during phases of the pandemic that would also support our school communities with rebuilding the future too. Some examples include:
- Planning Alternative Tomorrows with Hope (PATH) – A tool to support planning and problem solving for individuals, teams and organisations. It is a way for a group of people, who share a common problem situation to align their purpose, understanding and actions and visualise a journey towards a positive and possible future.
- SEMH audit – A process to help schools with identifying strengths and areas for further development in relation to whole organisation emotional wellbeing and mental health
- Reflective Space for teachers – The Reflecting Team approach (Andersen, 1987), has been adapted to offer a unique opportunity to staff to bring an issue to a group of colleagues for group reflection. With the help of group thinking and positive feedback, staff are provided with the time and space to consider a variety of new ideas and perspectives for challenging situations.
Community recovery requires local knowledge and the belief that individuals and families are inherently resilient and able to recover. The Schools and Community Psychology service comes from a solution focussed and strengths based consultation model that recognises the expertise of the school communities that have already contained our families, day in and day out for the last 15 months and understand their strengths as well as ongoing needs. With our understanding of risk and protective factors as well as the steps towards collective recovery, we will continue to offer our support to schools in order to create stories of growth and hope together.