There must be something in the water…

Today started with a very positive staff briefing following yesterday’s staff meeting. We are introducing the Achievement For All programme and had our introduction to it yesterday after school. It was a delight to see my staff really getting into the nitty gritty of what happens in their classrooms. They enjoy a good discussion and really get into it. This spilled over into the briefing this morning and everyone started the day with a real buzz.

Door duty followed and it was lovely to see the children smiling and happy as they came into school. I chatted with a few of the parents and I was then aware of two fast-moving buggies heading in my direction. The buggies were being pushed by two of our most needy parents. Both quite young, both with drug issues and both looking for my Pupil and Family Support Worker. She was meeting another parent. I was a poor substitute!

My PFSW has been holding these parents every morning. They arrive in an ‘excited’ state and launch into what a tough morning they’ve had and how difficult their children are. She manages them brilliantly. They were supposed to be starting a parenting course last week but had each found a reason not to come at the last minute. They wanted me to let her know that they wouldn’t be able to attend this week’s course either, due to lack of childcare.

Last week this had made my PFSW really cross. She had bent over backwards to support the parents in arranging childcare to so that they could attend and I was fully aware of all the things that she had put in place.

That’s when I made my first mistake. I mentioned to the parents that my PFSW had organised a childcare place for each of their children at the local children’s centre. Not a good move. For some, the best form of defense is attack and so that is what they did. It’s quite amazing that when someone is not accepting responsibility for their own actions, they can turn it all on to someone else; in this case, me and my SENCO who was on door duty with me.

Suddenly one of them was complaining that their child was being bullied and that they were going to remove them from the school and they were doing it very loudly and in front of other parents and children. This kind of ranting is not uncommon in my playground unfortunately. (Her child is definitely NOT being bullied.) What I find interesting about this are the difficulties that some parents have in taking responsibility for their own actions or for their children. For whatever reason they just can’t manage it. It can take us a couple of years working closely with them before they will start to fully engage with any of the support that we can offer. I’m not even sure if they are aware of what they do. Suffice to say they stormed off and my SENCO and I were left, mouths agape, watching them go.

The other parents who were standing nearby looked at us and raised their eyebrows. Thankfully, I do have some very supportive parents at the school. We walked into the building, as it was time to close the doors. The incident had left a nasty taste in the mouth.

Part of the issue with incidents like this is that it is very unsettling for the children. Out on the estate adults are falling out with each other all the time, just like teenagers at school. Our children mimic this and sometimes, like this morning, the adults will ‘fall out’ with us too. I would have to repair this later, which I did. I asked one of the staff in the office to call the mum and arrange for her to come and see me at the end of the day, before she picked her child up. When she came in she started by saying that she had made her mind up and that she was moving her child and nothing I could say would change her mind.

I invited her into my office and offered her a cup of tea. I talked her through the ELSA session that her child had had. As we talked she became calmer and she allowed me to reassure her and reestablish our relationship. She has even sorted out her childcare for her parenting course now and it just remains to see if she will turn up. One of my mantras is ‘never go to sleep on an argument’ and I apply this to things that happen in school too.

The children in the support class were bubbly today. Two of them in particular. For some children we have to take the long view. The first child I have blogged about before, the one who did his maths work with the puppet. Today he was just so full of anger and anxiety he was literally quivering and completely unable to keep still. He had run out of the room and I had, by chance, been in the corridor and so I scooped him up and took him to my office. To my surprise he had come quite willingly but it was like watching a writhing snake as he tried to sit in the chair. He was contorting his body round and clenching his fists and twisting onto the table in a sort of perpetual motion.

My PFSW is his ELSA so I asked her to come and talk to him too. She brought her ELSA pack and we started working through it together with him. It starts with a range of faces showing different emotions for the children to comment on – how are they feeling today? ‘I’m feeling furious!’ He said. He didn’t really know why though. He just was. We worked our way through the pack and slowly he started to calm down. It took us about 45 minutes. He was still very wriggly so my PFSW went to fetch a special weighted toy, that you put on a child’s lap. They are brilliant! I have never actually seen one work before today but it was almost instant. He heaviness in the toy seems to centre the child and he stopped most of his moving around. They are encouraged to stroke it when they want to move and it really did work. He sat almost still!

I went to fetch his learning. Our aim was to calm him down so that he could access his learning and I felt that he was ready to try now. He is a very good reader but he absolutely hates writing. He is almost physically repulsed by it and writhes when he is faced with a piece of paper and given a pencil. His class teacher has done a fantastic job and has managed to get him to make progress in his writing but it is painfully slow. Eventually we came to a bargain: I would write half the sentence and he would finish it. I used some cubes to represent the words he needed to write and after he had written each one he put the corresponding cube back in the box. He seemed very pleased when we had finished and asked to show his teacher.

The other child was also full of anger and anxiety and was in the process of throwing things around the classroom and sweeping surfaces clear with his arm. He was swearing at everyone and was generally being very difficult to manage. He finally agreed to go with my PFSW and she took him for a walk. It turned out he was anxious as he had fallen out with his sister and he was worried because she was the only family he has. He came back to the class much calmer and was able to pick things up and was sorry for the swearing. He then got on with his learning.

I also have a child who is on a reintegration programme with us from another setting and she decided that today she would lose her temper too. A younger child had called her a name at lunchtime and so she had hit him. She knew she was in the wrong and so she lost it and went running off around the school. When eventually she calmed down enough to talk to us I was able to resolve the situation but when a child is new and doesn’t yet have the relationship of trust that is a real challenge.

Reflecting at the end of the day I realised what the anxiety for two of the children was. How could I forget? It was so obvious. They are both looked after and today was a day for contact with their mothers.

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