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Cookstown High School, Cookstown


The Solihull Approach

Let’s start by acknowledging the uncertainty, loss and stress that has been generated by the Covid19 pandemic and then perhaps draw a line under it? After what seemed like an absolute lifetime of readjustments and for some, a traumatic experience, we would like you to consider the training content as a starting point or indeed something upon which you can scaffold-build in terms of your own Social, Emotional Health and Wellbeing and professional development.

With the best will in the world, we know that there is no ‘one size fits all’, when it comes to what will assist or work for any given individual in respect of their social, emotional health and well-being. We have taken the themes from the Solihull Approach along with the Take5 Steps to Wellbeing, and tailored the content for this input to assist you in looking at ‘your needs’. It is worth noting, that this does not in any way diminish, the importance of the role that both the Solihull Approach and the Take5 Steps to Wellbeing can play within the context of your school. On the contrary, more so than ever, they can aid in developing our understanding; promote the use of a common ‘helping language’ and assist in relation to how we manage our self-care, interactions and actions using these particular frameworks as guidance.

It is generally accepted that people’s resilience and broader mental health is strengthened when they are listened to and their concerns taken seriously. In this respect, we are working from the premise that “you can’t pour from an empty cup;” hence, the importance of looking after yourself in order that your needs are met, and you can therefore be effective, not only for yourself but those that you connect with in the School Environment. In brief; The Solihull Approach incorporates the importance of understanding brain development and its links with containment, reciprocity and how this relates to behaviour (NB: it is important to remember, with containment and reciprocity, that one cannot happen without the other). Using this approach can enable us to better understand our own behaviours and emotions in a much more insightful way as well as understanding our interactions with children/young people.

When put into action, this approach can assist us to respond in a much more effective way to, our own needs, and the needs of children/young people we work with. It can assist in developing ourselves as well as the young people we engage with through the development of self-management/regulation skills. The enhancement of these skills can positively impact your lives both professionally and personally; and those you teach, will know the impact through their learning, educational attainment and personal, social development. Using this knowledge, alongside the Take 5 steps to well-being (set out below), we may be able to provide a framework to develop a foundation and consolidate our understanding in respect of ourselves and the physical, physiological and psychological transitions facing young people in a school setting.

When we consider that having returned to school following two lockdown events and the extended breaks due to Covid19 circumstances, it is understandable that, for some, this will still remain a daunting and stressful task (especially those more at risk due to underlying health issues and less obvious adversity). For some, there may be periods of persistent sleep dysregulation, mood or appetite changes, and/or withdrawal from others. Likewise there may be some who are constantly ruminating over the same negative thoughts, or find that they now have a narrower ‘window of tolerance’. On their own, these factors can exacerbate stress levels. When combined, they can provide a toxicity that can feel overwhelming. Either way, there is a clear indication of the impact of stressors on brain function, and the prominence of the Amygdala (essentially our brain’s alarm system that activates when faced with threat), during this time. Containment and Reciprocity are vital in order to free up the Cerebral Cortex so that we are able to engage in the education/learning processes as well as developing our own sense of understanding, regarding how we manage stressful/anxiety inducing situations – our resilience.

Take 5, Connect:
Social and interpersonal relationships are important to support wellbeing and buffer against mental ill health. People with low levels of social participation and small primary social networks are more likely to have negative mental health experiences. ‘Wellbeing’ comprises two main elements: feeling good and functioning well. Feelings of happiness, contentment, enjoyment, curiosity and engagement are characteristics we share when we have positive experiences in our life. In relation to Solihull, this is outlined within brain development and the concept of containment, whereby, a person receives and understands the emotional communication of another without being overwhelmed by it and communicates this understanding back to the other person. This engagement can assist in restoring the capacity for the other person to feel heard, enabling them to think, engage and learn! Having a broad social network, connecting and interacting with others can have a positive benefit on our wellbeing. The strength of relationships, a key person, is important, thus feeling close to and valued by someone will, when given the time and space, both strengthen and broaden social networks and contribute to a person’s wellbeing and enable their engagement with learning to be a positive experience. “When we look at long-term outcomes, we know that people who fare best are those who feel supported and connected to others,” Dr Busman explains. “So while you’re trying to navigate through everything, do the best you can to connect with others.” The importance of this will become more apparent as the session progresses.

Take 5, Be Active:
Regular physical activity is associated with greater wellbeing and lower rates of anxiety and depression regardless of age. There is evidence that physical activity protects against cognitive decline in later life. Generally people believe that even a single bout of exercise or physical activity of less than ten minutes can improve mood and make people feel better. Activities can also have the benefit of strengthening interactions with other people e.g. when walking or participating in a team sport. Connecting activity to transition relates to the ability to engage in something that enables people to either relax or activate the beneficial endorphin reaction in the brain that helps them to feel good, regulate mood and cope better when faced with change. Being active also refers to individuals actively seeking out supports when they recognise that they are in a slump or when they are displaying behaviours that would indicate they are overwhelmed (not contained).

Take 5, Take Notice:
The brain is designed to rewire itself all the time – this is known as neuro-plasticity. Taking notice and using grounding techniques can assist in enabling your para-sympathetic response to counteract the Fight, Flight, Freeze responses associated with stress and anxiety. Research has shown that being trained to be aware of your own senses, thoughts and feelings can result in improved wellbeing. Being aware of what is taking place in the present can lead to a more positive state of mind. Heightened awareness enhances an individual’s self-awareness whilst developing their understanding; enabling them to make good and informed choices. Perhaps, unsurprisingly, research into actions that aim to enhance wellbeing have similarly found that containment can positively affect behaviour change and exchange. These need to be aligned with personal values to be successful. Teaching a member of staff and pupils to self-regulate is an important step in enabling them to understand their needs, articulate this and engage in the learning process. Untreated anxiety can make you feel irritable and overwhelmed. If you are feeling bombarded with questions, to which there may not be an answer yet, e.g. what will the timetable look like when the school resumes, while you’re trying to complete other work assignments or whilst trying to manage your own household, you may find yourself being snappy! It can help to take a step back, and time, before responding.

Using mindfulness techniques, like deep breathing, to help yourself calm down, is one way to assist in this process. There are many other creative ways to take notice, which links with the next step.

Take 5, Keep Learning:
In childhood, learning plays an important role in our social and cognitive development (Early Brain development). Learning throughout our life stages contributes to self-esteem, social interaction and active lives, competence and self-efficacy. Goal setting, particularly when self-generated, has a positive impact on wellbeing. While not everyone may enjoy learning in some environments, or see positive outcomes, it is the case that the activity of learning in itself has benefits and is important for wellbeing, developing understanding and building confidence for the young person. In order to do so, the individual needs to be contained, their amygdala activity down regulated in order for the cerebral cortex to be accessed and freed for learning.

Take 5, Give:
By enabling others, through the processes of containment and reciprocity; by giving them your time; providing a safe place to express themselves; to be listened to and more importantly heard; you lead by example. Giving comes in many shapes and forms. Giving someone your undivided attention is containment in action and forms the basis of an enabling engagement. It is therefore important that you give yourself what you need in order that you feel contained and therefore available to engage in and with others in the learning process. It is worth considering what your support network both within and outside of the school looks like.