For any Scottish Secondary teachers who are anxious about tomorrow…..

Many staff in Scotland and certainly in my local authority, did training around emotional regulation and trauma last summer, ahead of the first full scale return to school buildings after lockdown. It may be a good time to remind you of or direct you too these simple slides and the key messages:

Certainly, not all of the children returning this week will have experienced trauma during lockdown. The pandemic has not been traumatic for all. But as we have said many times in education, we are not quite sure what our pupils might have been through and how they will be when they return, in terms of their ability to regulate themselves emotionally.

Learning and recall for school work assessments are likely to be impacted if pupils are not emotionally regulated.

We all know that calm, regulated adults welcoming all of our pupils back this week into familiar routine is the ideal. We know that we as adults will have to work hard on this, particularly as we are having to cope with another big change to our routines (for example, one class spread across three rooms!) and will probably be feeling all sorts of worries around where, what and how we are teaching.

But let’s remember what we CAN control. Our breath, in and out. That first interaction we have with each child as they enter our class. Our own behaviour and actions,

Evidence from the last year and the various changes to rules and protocols has shown that there are likely to be few issues with pupils remembering to follow the COVID mitigation protocols. They quickly picked up on sanitising and bubbles and will quickly get the 2m and mask protocols.

We need to remember also, however, that adolescents are biologically driven and that peer pressure can be a hugely important factor in their lives. The classic teenage brain/head and heart dilemma means that even though they know the right thing to do, they may be influenced to act otherwise if they are in an unsupervised situation with peers. If you want to know more about this, check out professor Sarah Jane Blakemore. Many of them will be craving connection after weeks of isolation. Many of them have missed out on the essential interactions, flirting, bonding and risk taking that normally characterise the natural moving away by adolescents from having their strongest bonds with their primary care-givers. Instead, they have been rather unnaturally trapped at home with these care-givers…..who, however lovely and funny and caring, just aren’t peers!

And just on peer pressure, it can be a strong influence on us all. I distinctly remember last summer, when masks were 2 weeks away form becoming compulsory in shops but Nicola had asked that we wear them, sitting in the car on the forecourt of the local garage. Mask in hand, I said to my child beside me “but no-one else has one on, I feel stupid……” And then I remembered my GP friend and what she would have said and put it on straight away……..

But if that was the process a 51 year old “good girl” went through, we can’t underestimate the power of peer pressure on younger people.

It is also understandable that adolescents may not instinctively follow the protocols as they will not have got into the habit of standing 2 m from their friends or wearing facemasks and these are habits that they need to be reminded of as frequently as possible.

However, if staff and other pupils see that the “rules are being broken”, they may well feel anxious and possibly angry and respond in a way that reflects this, unless they have pre-empted the situation and thought of a regulated response to have at hand.

I am going to adopt “face and space” as the mantra that I am going to use, if I need to remind someone that they have strayed from the protocols; calmly, assertively and with a mask-hidden smile. You may want to adopt something similar ?

I am also going to arm myself with tools to help me stay regulated through the day in school. Deep breaths, in for four, out four six.

A tissue with the smell of a perfume that makes me feel calm in my pocket. The comfiest of clothes that I can find in my work wardrobe.

This is a document I have shared with all of my S1 and S2s as part of our work on choices and speaking up when you feel that someone else has broken the rules. Peter Vermeulen has done incredible work around this. It has been very helpful and not just for autistic people.

Click to access others-not-following-the-rules-1.pdf

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