This week we spoke to Julie Farmer, Headteacher at Cefn Fforest Primary School, about the realities of doing the best for children with huge behavioural needs and challenges. You can listen to the podcast here.
Julie started teaching in 1993. Her first headship was in a school with an EBSD unit attached, which was her first experience of children with real complex needs; since 2009 she has been head at Cefn Fforest, where those issues are particularly marked, whilst the school also caters for a vast range of pupils and accompanying parental expectations.
Children in Julie’s setting have experienced homes with domestic violence, substance abuse, depression and a host of unimaginable challenges, leading to displays of emotions which they can’t truly express. As a result they can exhibit poor concentration, apparent disengagement, issues with authority and conformity and behaviours that can be a huge challenge for teachers and other pupils. Julie learnt very quickly that, as she says, ‘it’s all about relationships, what you know about children, their backgrounds and their families, which helps you to know how to engage with them’.
Early in my headship career… one of the first things I said was ‘We are a no-shouting school.’ I don’t think that went down very well to start with – but you have to walk and talk everything that you say
Asked to summarise her top tips for anyone coming into a new leadership role with regard to behaviour, Julie highlights
- Ego – take it out! Don’t take it personally the first time a child shouts or swears at you. It’s not about you…
- Empathy – understand where a child is coming from. They’ve often had difficult starts, and you have to appreciate what is going on in their lives
- Interests – understand what makes them tick! Every child has interests and aspirations, and these are often key to helping teachers manage challenging situations.
It’s up to us as a school to recognise that for those children that [part of the] curriculum isn’t the thing that’s most important to them at that time
Julie has recognised the need to invest time and resources into supporting the children in her care. Some strategies include engaging a ‘family link’ worker to liaise between home and school, employing a ‘floating’ TA to dip in and out of classes, take children out and give them a safe haven, and using training from Pivotal to emphasise the importance of consistent adult behaviour and simple rules that everyone understands. The principles of restorative justice underpin all interactions with children and adults, to ensure positive relationships are maintained.
You do have to give up your time both emotionally and physically if you want to engage with these children and try to improve things for them.
Julie admits that she’s often hard to find in school, as she might be in the corridor, outside, up a tree, on the floor playing – doing what she needs to do to diffuse situations and enable children and teachers to move forward. That’s probably why she has a range of footwear under her desk – from flat shoes to stilettos!
How they come to school some days absolutely amazes me.. . If you had to walk a day in some of those children’s shoes, and see what they see and hear what they hear on a daily basis, then you’d understand the reasons why things as they are, and you get up the next day and you go back in and you believe you can make a difference
Julie on Twitter – @cefnprimary