My student is an 8-year female who is in my Year 2 class. She is known to suffer from anxiety but does not always display signs. She has lots of friends and has been at the school since Kindergarten. She has one older and one younger sister. She lives locally with both mum and stepdad. Her biological father died when she was young. She was born in Sydney and moved to the Far North Coast of New South Wales. Her mum is a regular visitor to school and helps with reading in the classroom once a week.
My student can become very agitated and stressed when she is not forewarned about events that are occurring at school. She benefits from a visual timetable and discussion about the planned day ahead. At times, she can come to school distressed and upset and it takes some time for her to settle and calm down. She is able to do this by given time to herself and being supported by a friend.
She is very specific when completing work and doesn’t cope well when she doesn’t understand concepts. She has the ability but doubts herself and doesn’t cope well if she makes a mistake. This can lead to worry, stress and a feeling of hopelessness and anxiety.
My student has been visiting the school counsellor who has been working on her self-esteem and any “worries” that may be on her mind. She also visits an outside Psychiatrist a few times throughout the year. Her mother has been very open about her “concerns” for her daughter.
She has a lot going on in her life. At such a young age she is showing signs of not managing day to day events and feelings underlined with negative thoughts and high expectations of herself. She fears making mistakes and shows signs of stress, moodiness and anxiety at different times as issues occur throughout the school day.
Her experiences indicate unstable management of childhood interactions. Child development theories play an importance role in understanding her needs and indicate possible issues and factors that may have contributed to her experiences.
We are aware of the importance of attending to wellbeing needs of students so that they feel safe, cared for, respected and valued. (How do teachers make a difference, 2015). The role of the teacher is one of support as this is where children spend a lot of their time, pastoral care is also essential in the classroom (Bessell & Mason, 2014).
Delving into the theories of attachment, trauma and resilience can help make sense of children like my student and her experiences. Looking at the whole child it would appear that she shows issues related to Attachment theory. As Bowlby explains “This is the early child-parent relationship stage, the quality of attachment is fundamental” (McLeod, 2017). “This gives the child confidence to explore his environment and develop a good sense of self-esteem. This will help the child grow up to be a happy and functioning adult.” (Crittenden & Clausson, 2000). Research shows that attachment problems can have a big impact on later life. It can have very negative impacts on they view of themselves and their ability to form relationships with other people. (Crittenden & Claussen, 2000). This is very pertinent to my students’ behaviours.
She also shows signs of trauma theory. With the death of her father at such a young age, she obviously experienced a traumatic event. “These negative effects may include relational and behaviour problems and psychological disorders such as depression, anxiety, dissociation and posttraumatic stress” (Barker, p. 3). This describes behaviours exhibited by her. As Barker explains “Early life trauma affects future self-esteem, social awareness, ability to learn and physical health” (Barker, p.). This again is evident in my student.
In reference to resilience theory, it may appear that she has not had an exposure to
successful, adaptive functioning following trauma (Powell, p. 12.). It can be assumed that “Importantly for people supporting children through difficult times, Linke and Radich (2010) draw attention to myths of resilience. They argue that children are not born resilient and they don’t automatically bounce back.” (Powell, p. 13) This may be the case for my student and her experiences as a young child as she fails to overcome any knockbacks and has no useful strategies in place.
In child development perspectives of Maturational, transactional and ecological, it is also useful when understanding her difficulties. As the transactional perspectives incorporates interactions and sociocultural aspects in the environment. (Powell, p. 8) It is worthwhile noting from Powell that “Interactions with the environment, which are dynamic, fluid and ongoing, can have a significant influence on children’s development and behaviour”. (Powell, p. 8) Thus worth noting this in relation to her situation. It is also important to include ecological perspectives as younger children are less likely to have extensive avenues of support, and are likely to find support that is inclusive of, or mediated by, their parents helpful (Powell, p. 9). Since she is still of a young age and showing signs of experiencing difficulties that have occurred as a young child, it may be assumed that she has not had any other assistance outside of the family until recently.
My student had friendship issues and very low self-belief. She would become extremely withdrawn when an incident occurred at school. This also had a bearing on her school work and ability to complete new tasks with a fear of failing. It was therefore my role as the class teacher to build her resilience and provide skills and ways of managing this feeling.
My strategy was not to aim anything at my student but to teach the whole class. I worked on Growth and Fixed Mindsets. The theory by Carol Dweck where we learn to “Change our thinking”. It has been a personal interest area and fits into the already existing school wellbeing program called You Can Do it!
I married the two concepts together and every week taught skills and strategies to assist students in all areas of their life. I had the skills displayed in the room and always referred to them when we needed some guidance with a class, school or independent issue as it arose. We would talk through how we can manage our thoughts and feeling and apply a strategy. I used a “Super Mindset” set of cards which included; I solve problems, I do my best, I like challenges, I don’t give up, I stay positive and I learn from my mistakes (Gardner, (n.d). Eventually, the children would use these skills independently and change their thinking. My student found this approach safe and useful and she was able to use these skills to assist her when interacting with her peers and when unsure about completing a task in class. It also helped that the rest of the class were also using them. I also explained the concept to her mother and gave her the super mindset cards to reinforce it at home.
There were many skills required by myself when implementing an approach to help my students to change their thinking and apply strategies. I needed to have a strong rapport with my students, particularly students with specific needs, as I worked through specific lesson activities. As stated in Calmer Classrooms, “To be happy, we all need to know that there is someone who cares about us and thinks about us, thinks about what we are doing, and how we are feeling. This is the basis of security” (Downey, 2007. P.7). I had built a positive and trustworthy rapport with all of my students. Being available, listening to them and showing a genuine interest in them was always something I had worked on with my students. As stated in Mindmatters, demonstrating an interest in the student’s wellbeing, being approachable, being empathetic, developing good listening skills, being non-judgemental when a student tells you of difficulties, knowing where the student can get help and helping them (where possible) access it where possible making allowances for individual students (Mindmatters module 4.1 p 9). I was fortunate to be able to offer these skills due to my long-term experiences in a variety of roles as a teacher and my own training and development.
There were times though, when I could not offer support or assist as being a support role for my student. The most difficult times that I found hindered my support was when I was absent from the class or when I had other pressing issues. Trying to stretch myself to cater for all that was happening at certain times often saw me having to set boundaries. Sometimes it can be a lot to take on and I have had to step back and look after myself using certain coping mechanisms. Being professional I would always communicate with my supervisor and school counsellor to lean on to keep them informed and updated with any concerns with my student that I was not able to attend to at certain times. They would be supportive to me and my student and keep in touch with her and manage any crisis at that time.
Reflecting on my experience with my student and seeing her move on through the years, I still have a special rapport with her and see that my way of supporting her has had an impact on her development, self esteem and management of skills. I saw a huge change in her behaviour and character that year and I would hope that she has been given continued supportive strategies to assist her wellbeing and experiences. Whilst her issues will always remain with her, she has attained tools that may help her social skills, anxiety, self -esteem and resilience skills for her future schooling, growth and development.
- Barker, G. The affects of Trauma on attachment http://www.ccaa.net.au/documents/TheEffectsOfTraumaOnAttachment.pdf
- Bessell, S. & Mason, J. (2014) Putting the pieces together: Children, communities and social capital in Australia, The Australian National University, University of Western Sydney, Benevolent Society, NAPCAN
- Crittenden & Claussen (2000) UK Child protection resource. Retrieved fromchildprotectionresource.online/category/attachment-theory-2/
- Downey, L. Calmer classrooms Published by the Child Safety Commissioner, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia June 2007
- Dweck, C. (2017) Mindset Works. Retrieved from https://www.mindsetworks.com/
- Gardner, A. (n.d). Growth Mindset Posters. Retrieved from https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Growth-Mindset-Posters-Free-2074575
- How do teachers make a difference to young people’s lives Dec( 2015) . Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o6_XP3NExJc
- McLeod, S, (Feb 2017) Simply Psychology, Attachment Theory. Retrieved from https://www.simplypsychology.org/attachment.html
- Mindmatters 2014 ? https://www.mindmatters.edu.au/
- Powell, M. (2014). Supporting children through difficult times: Recognising, responding and referring. Centre for Children and Young People Background Briefing Series, no.10. Lismore: Centre for Children and Young People, Southern Cross University.
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