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Why It's Important To Build Resilient Relationships At School

When I was a primary school teacher, helping children navigate their relationships felt like a massive part of my job. Barely a day went by that I didn't have a chat with a group of children (most often girls) about how to be a good friend and get along.

We even trained 'buddies' in conflict resolution, so the younger pupils had someone they could go to for help and support with 'less serious' issues.

But are relationships issues ever 'less serious'?

One of my fellow MAPPCP colleagues put it into context when she explained to us that her young daughter kept getting upset because her best friend kept leaving her out at school. On the surface this might seem like an insignificant thing, and I'm sure many teachers have told children to 'just find someone else to play with'. But she asked me to imagine I was going to a meeting every day with my friends and colleagues and they all sat together and there was no where for me to sit with them. How would I feel?

And the truth is, that I knew I would probably feel left out, hurt and rejected. Even at my age, and with the ability to think rationally and flip my thinking to be more positive.

Why? Because that feeling of belonging is one that we crave and rely on to make us feel loved and wanted. To feel connected and supported, and to help us cope in times of stress. When I completed my masters research, I explored children's perceptions of what supports their wellbeing in primary school.

Guess which areas came out top?

Yep, spending time playing/socialising with their friends and having positive relationships with their teachers.

This was consistent across all year groups from age 5 to 11 years. Having friends, being liked and having fun with friends and their teachers made them feel happy; and falling out with friends or having grumpy, shouty teachers made them sad and anxious.

These insights changed how I thought about pupil friendship issues at school, and I made it a priority to treat all issues seriously. And to give children the time to be heard and understood - something that can be tricky when you have so much to get through in a day!

I think it helped. The young people I worked with seemed to have fewer friendship issues and were using more positive language and strategies to work out their differences and manage how they felt when they did fall out; something I now work on with many of my young coaching clients.

I think getting young people's perspectives on their school experience is critical to understanding how we can help them feel happier at school and get more out of their time there. And clearly, having positive relationships with friends, classmates and teachers is an important part of that.

So, do we (teachers) spend enough time helping young people to develop the resilience they need to navigate their tricky, complex relationships?

I know all schools teach pupils about relationships at an appropriate level, but how much time do they really spend teaching it? And, if it continues to be taught as a discreet subject, how helpful will it really be?

In my experience, we need to make constant reference to positive relationships, drawing attention to pro-social behaviours and asking pupils what they would do in a similar situation when issues do come up.

We need to help them understand their thinking and how it impacts their feelings and behaviour.

We need to allow ourselves to be vulnerable in front of pupils and help them understand that all human emotions are valid, and that we, like them, sometimes feel upset, angry or frustrated, but we can share our strategies to help manage those big feelings.

We need to be mindful of our own feelings and behaviours to ensure that we treat all young people with kindness, compassion and respect every day (regardless of what's going on in our own lives) and avoid being one of those 'grumpy, shouty' teachers that young people are 'scared of' and hate spending time with.

Why? Because research tells us young people are more engaged, more productive, and more likely to learn when their wellbeing is high.

So, making time for them to develop positive relationships with their peers and teachers, and helping them to become more resilient in their relationships, is a crucial part of schooling and development.

Here are some simple things I found really helped me connect with my classes on a more personal level:

  • Spend the first 15 min of the day engaging with young people and finding out what's going on in their lives. Allow them to chat with each other too, and rotate around the class each day, to try and speak to everyone in a week. (This also helps with early identification of safeguarding issues)

  • Work on your personal resilience and mindset so you have lived experience and tools that you can share with pupils

  • Work on your wellbeing so you have strategies you can use to help you unwind and relax. This will allow you to be more positive in the classroom

  • Give them 5 min to find out something new about someone in the class and share it

  • Spend the last 15 min of the day asking what people are doing that evening, or weekend and show genuine curiosity and care

  • Talk about your life outside of school and tell your class something you are looking forward to

  • Play some non-academic classroom games and ensure that everyone can engage at their level

  • Read a book and explore/discuss the characters relationships, resilience and mindset

  • Draw attention to positive character strengths throughout the day and be specific. These may be demonstrated by pupils, colleagues or the people you are studying

  • Get some fresh air during break time and have your coffee outside (in a safety cup obvs) so pupils can talk to you more informally

  • At lunch, consider joining in or starting a game. (Staff at my previous school spent one summer playing netball and basketball with the Y5/6's at lunch and it was a lot of fun!)

  • Be proactive and discuss friendship issues with the class and get their opinions about what they could do. Role playing different scenarios can help with this

  • Be firm, consistent and fair when handling behaviour issues. And explain that 'fair' doesn't necessarily mean everyone getting the same, it means everyone getting what they need to succeed

  • Above all, be kind. A simple deep breath can help you maintain calm when you are feeling frustrated

I hope you found this article useful. If you are interested in finding out how I can support your school in building teacher or pupil resilience and wellbeing please contact me here.

In the meantime, why not sign up to my 28 Day's of Self-care Challenge and see how much better you can feel in just 4 weeks.


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