priority. The children don’t just bring their book bags and lunchboxes into the classroom, they bring their own unique story and background – it’s our job as teachers and learning professionals to understand each and every one of our pupils within their own individual context. A child might be exhibiting some incredibly

challenging behaviour, but we’ve found that often this is when they’re most in need of an emotionally available adult. Where we may have in the past walked away and failed to deal with the situation, instead we now work alongside these behaviours through empathising, caring and supporting the child until they feel secure. In terms of practical, daily techniques, we

involve children in the monitoring of lessons and give them responsibilities to help each child feel like a valued member of the school community. This even extends to walking, looking after, and most importantly playing (!) with the school dog. We have designated “quiet zones” around the school if children need some alone time. Our site also has extensive grounds and a memorial garden, with our Year 3 cohort having access to free flow outdoor space and play-based learning every single day. We prioritise sensory-rich environments, and children can learn different skills like gardening and carpentry.

offering a Diploma in Trauma and Mental Health Informed Schools for the first time in Wales. I signed myself and my Assistant Headteacher onto the course, which aims to equip teachers and school staff to be fully literate in the field of mental health. Children spend 190 days of the year in the classroom, so we as teachers should ensure we can relate well and meaningfully to pupils in ways that heal and alleviate rather than harm and exacerbate. Following our completion of the diploma, we started to employ the techniques we had learned throughout the whole school. We now have 11 qualified TIS practitioners in school, all of whom are trained to deliver evidence-based interventions.

Can you tell us how your approach works? Our approach is, at its core, relationship-focussed. By implementing a relational approach towards challenging behaviours, the entire culture of the school has shifted. Optimizing feelings of belonging as well as actively supporting psychological and physical safety is a huge

You include your staff in this initiative - why is this? For a relational approach to work, both people in the relationship have to feel nurtured and supported. We recognise that prioritising the emotional wellbeing of staff is just as important as it is for pupils. All of our staff have access to counselling services and supervision, and we’re a social bunch so always make time for a regular ‘coffee and chat’. In addition to this, staff can take part in being a ‘guardian angel’ to a fellow member of the team. All of our SLT team check in regularly with staff regarding workload and stress levels. It’s thanks to these measures that our staff retention is high, and staff report feeling like part of a family. Without warm and caring relationships,

children are unable to thrive. Our ethos is based upon a genuine care for the children, and all of our staff realise the importance of their connections with pupils.

What benefits have you seen across the school? Following the intervention, we’ve seen significant improvements in behaviour, academic attainment, staff wellbeing as well as reduced disruptions and exclusions. It’s been a key strategy for facilitating school improvement and has been at the forefront of our work in terms of behaviour and wellbeing. Receiving the award really validated our approach and our results speak for themselves.

What do the children think of it? The recent award visit from TIS highlighted that all of the children knew they had access to emotionally available adults who were always present to discuss any concerns that might arise. Our school values reflect the importance of

promoting good mental and emotional health, and values based assemblies promote this understanding. We have a Values Council, which enables children to contribute to their own curriculum. They know that the adults at the

Editor's Choice 2020

uTo apply for a Mentally Healthy School Award or a Trauma and Mental Health Informed School Award, contact For more information on the awards, and how to apply, go to https:// awards

uFor further information on stress, child mental health and training please call 020 7354 2913 or visit: 7

school are very much on their team, and are motivated to build healthy relationships with them.

How has the wider school community reacted to the initiative? Our parents have been super, and really welcomed the approach. Some have reported that the intervention has not only made a positive difference for their child, but also to the quality of their wider family life too. Our whole school approach to using a method

called PACE (Play, Acceptance, Curiosity and Empathy) also extends to parents who might be feeling stressed or anxious. All teachers have a really secure understanding of PACE and are able to make effective use of this, not just through interactions with children but also with parents and each other. Maintaining good relationships with parents is crucial for the wellbeing of the entire school community.

What would you say to other schools thinking of implementing an initiative like this? It’s definitely not a journey you can complete overnight. A lot of hard work, time and energy has gone into getting Gladstone to where it is today, but it has all been completely worth it. You have to be willing to put the hours into training, as well as building relationships from the heart. Empathy, patience and a sense of humour are all great starting points to making your school community a mentally healthy one.

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