In slowly developing relationships with local school boards, an initial “lunch time chat” with teachers and educational assistants has evolved into a workshop where we have come to understand the importance of helping teachers and school staff remember and harness their power of relationship. Their power to be crazy about kids. Their power to change lives. And the ever important reminder that “the only way to their minds is through their hearts”. Throughout this process, and as the mental health “crisis” in our classrooms grow, we talk most importantly about looking after ourselves, and each other, in this process.
I have often said that some of the most important people who I ever get the honour to speak to about this relationship “stuff” are teachers and school staff. Here’s why. We all, simply put, want one thing: someone to be crazy about us. Human connections shape the connections in our brain. And school staff spend more time with our children then parents do in an average week. The relationships that school staff have with their students, no matter what age, can be life-changing. And sometimes school staff are all kids have. This may be their teacher, their EA, or the bus lane supervisor who is the first person to smile at them in the morning, or the breakfast club staff who hand them an extra yogurt tube because they know they don’t get enough at home.
The most “difficult” children who are in our classrooms are often the most emotionally dysregulated. They likely have “behavioural” diagnoses that include “Oppositional Defiant Disorder” and sometimes “Conduct Disorder”. Often there is a trauma history that is difficult to understand or know how to respond to because, after all, our job is to “teach”. When teaching kids with a history of trauma or those who have difficulty with emotional dysregulation, however, we often require a whole lot less “pedagogical skill” and a whole lot more “relationship”. We will discuss how our long history of behavioural modification strategies with dysregulated children and teenagers can often, in fact, do more harm than good. Based decades of research by some of my favourite clinicians and theorists who are experts on this “relationship stuff”, including John Bowlby, Mary Main, Mary Ainsworth, Glenn Cooper and colleagues (Circle of Security), Marlene Moretti and colleagues (Connect), Gordon Neufeld, Dan Siegel, Bruce Perry, Brene Brown, and Sue Johnson, I’ve been forever interested in how similar ideas about relationship can be so powerful when we bring it into our classrooms.
I am so passionate about this stuff – as I believe with every ounce of me – that teachers and EAs can change the world. I mean it.