This is not rocket science, deep down as teachers we know this in our bones. It is what makes teaching both so rewarding and so frustrating at the same time.
But I have never delved more deeply into the science of relationships and just how important they are until most of my staff went on a course about attachment theory with Joseph Driessen.
What they came back with from that day hit me like a truck and made so much sense that I sat up and wondered why I had never thought about it before. It was like I had all the pieces of the puzzle, but was trying putting them together without any idea of what the picture needed to look like in the end.
We have a strong focus on emotional learning at our place, developing social and emotional understandings through play, directly teaching empathy and kindness, and a push into valuing wellbeing over academic achievement. It has become what we are about, who we are, our why.
I even identified emotional safety as the first priority in brain development and often talk about children 'reverting' or being unable to learn when they are feeling unsafe. But I had not gone that one step further and explored attachment. When I started reading about it, it made absolute sense to me.
There have been so many children that befuddled me over the years, but once I looked at them through a different lens, attachment seemed to really make sense based on what I knew about them.
This is an interesting, yet short article that sheds some light on what I am talking about.
"Attachment theory is well known to professionals within health and social care, but is less understood by teachers. Teachers may misinterpret insecurely attached children’s behaviour as uncooperative, aggressive, demanding, impulsive, withdrawn, reactive or unpredictable. So it’s important for teachers to better understand this behaviour and some of its possible causes."
It is all so interesting to me, there are so many children who I have been puzzled by in my time, for all intents and purposes they show all of the ability to achieve, but often display odd, oppositional, disruptive, disconnected, negative behaviour. For these children it never seems to matter how much you pour in in terms of extra support, and they certainly don't respond to consequences for behaviour, actually it often makes their behaviour worse. I used to describe it as if they were putting up walls, protecting themselves, hurting us, before we could hurt them or let them down. Low and behold I was pretty darn close with this definition.
This info is great, if not a little long, however so worth the read if you are struggling with children that just seem to be a puzzle.
So what does this mean for us?
Well very simply it means continuing to focus on wellbeing and emotional learning as a school, but it also means working as a team to identify individuals that need us to be their attachment, supporting each other to be able to do this. It means ensuring that we all learn about emotion coaching, and think at every step about how we interact with every child in our school. It means helping children to understand and accept their emotions, and to know how to behave in these situations.
A very simple way we are trialling is just taking more time with a particular child we believe has issues around attachment and ensuring that every day we have had at least 3 or 4 positive interactions/conversations.
Trying to avoid the negative, we will be working on our understanding of emotional coaching and restorative practice.
Another simple way is teachers being able to keep children in their class for more than a year if they think they would benefit from this. We all have them, the children that we struggle with for the first two to three terms and then suddenly, that connection happens, that attachment...and then we do it to them, we move them on and the teacher next year struggles in the same way we did. At our place we are now nominating children that we think would benefit from a second year, taking to whånau and going from there.
The other strategy is to identify those children that we think are going to have difficulty attaching to a new teacher and taking deliberate opportunities for them to develop a relationship over term 4, this may mean swapping classes a few times in the term to give that teacher an opportunity to bond...or the new teacher making a real effort to interact with that child in the playground on a daily basis.
All so simple, but it could be groundbreaking for us.
I know it does not seem like rocket science, but if we are to put this understanding at the centre of everything we do, in every school, what a difference we could make.
Of course play-based learning and Mantle provides us with the perfect opportunity to promote wellbeing and attachment, another reason to embrace play-based learning!
This book is a good starting point.