When asked, any member of the teaching staff or SENCO would admit that supporting SEMH (Social, Emotional and Mental Health) is one of the greatest challenges in the classroom.
In an SEN (Special Educational Needs School) where there may be many children in a single classroom with these needs, this can be an even greater challenge.
In this month’s blog, we look at strategies to adapt the teaching and classroom environment to support pupils and help staff.
Creating a safe environment in the classroom
Some pupils with SEMH will have challenging relationships outside the classroom, so making them feel unthreatened and safe will help them develop trust in the teaching staff and to feel comfortable in the learning environment. Having set routines can prevent the anxiety brought upon by constant change, which is something that may affect them outside of the classroom.
Alongside the safe environment that you create for SEMH pupils, there needs to be an emotional connection with the child or young adult. Managing challenging behaviour, in particular, is not about discipline but about caring and showing empathy. Sometimes a child will deliberately seek attention as a reaction to no one listening to them or caring about what they do, so it is of paramount importance that you are able to show them that you are listening and that you do care and that you can give them positive attention. This helps to build the trust and the bond between you.
Think bigger than the classroom
Some pupils cannot see beyond the four walls of the classroom where they struggle with their learning. When this is the case, it is sometimes beneficial to look beyond the classroom to find alternative learning opportunities – this may be exploring the local area, time spent in a school garden, or visiting a local museum. Some children with challenging behaviour will lose out on school or family visits, and this is an opportunity for them to participate and engage with people and activities other than what just happens in school.
Deal with incidents as they happen
Planning classroom activities is part of the everyday life of teaching staff, but when you have SEMH pupils, you may need to deal with issues as they occur, and this means thinking on your feet.
Not all lessons will go to plan, so be flexible and adapt to whatever is occurring. You may feel that you have wasted a planned lesson, but the reality is that you can take this as a learning experience for all of you. This is an opportunity to understand what happened, what were the triggers and what you can change for the next lesson.
It is certainly worth remembering that whilst routine helps many children, there may also be some for whom routine means monotony, or where routine is associated with a lack of progress, so be prepared that things may not always go to plan, and be flexible in your approach.
SEMH is not always visible
It is important to remember that many mental health issues can go unnoticed, as they don’t manifest themselves physically. For this reason, you should always focus on the mental health and wellbeing of all pupils, whether it be ensuring that they understand that they can talk about their own feelings and share experiences in a safe environment where they will not be judged. Helping to build resilience through reflecting on actions or through praise for an achievement, no matter how small, can have a positive effect.
Encouraging one random act of kindness every day reminds everyone that not only does it make you feel good, but it makes the person on the receiving end feel good also – even if it is as simple as holding a door open or picking up an item that has been dropped.
Look after yourself
Finally, don’t forget to look after yourself. Working with children with SEMH is demanding and can be extremely challenging at times, so you need to ensure that you also have a good support network of friends and teaching staff who are there to support you and remind you not to take things personally and to remind you that you are in an incredibly rewarding job where you will make a huge difference to the lives of the children or young adults that you work with.