'I stood at the school gate and saw it all. I saw children going through a personality change as they left our premises and it wasn't just a few families. Something is off track in the adult-child relationship. How do we start to address this?' These were the recent reflections of a Headteacher of a school that has recently become one of our licensed I Matter schools embarking on our next culture change programme which aims to help staff and parents revisit ideas about what children need to thrive and why and the role of a school in that.
It is exciting to see that there are others who know that the diagnostic grip on mental health practice in adult and child services is damaging and needs resisting and that this resistance is now coming together via a range of pyschologsits and psychotherapists across the country. There is the Cumbria Resliience Project and now we are having conferences run in the are of the British Psychological Society Power-Threat-Meaning Model. I think the The Adult-Child Well-Being 'I Matter' Framework puts the Power Threat Meaning Framework into a teachable format intending to help and influence those in making decisions about child and family practice.
Professional or home life with complex or challenging children can be very demanding. I know because I have worked in this area for nearly 30 years and I have often found myself often feeling helpless in the face of demands that seem to keep increasing year on year working in services that seem poorly adapted and unresponsive to the scale of the needs at hand. So I developed I Matter Training in response to my own confusion and because I felt that there was something really important missing that was making it more difficult to feel good about my job, or in my other multiple roles.. Here are the ways that the I Matter Framework, I Matter Model and I Matter Process help me and what I have heard others saying that the training offers them:
1. I feel much more confident in the theoretical basis of my practice decisions
As a teacher and a clinical psychologist, I had done a lot of training but the truth is that I left my clinical psychology course still feeling pretty confused about what clinical psychologists did and why. This is because I saw psychologists - good psychologists - practising in very different ways. I heard others saying that it was a matter of 'personal choice' but that felt pretty feeble after years of training and I wanted something much more solid that could join apparently diverse important ideas into a more connected whole. The I Matter Framework does that for me - it helps build up a big picture that connects up diverse well-established ideas into something very concrete and practical and founded upon the premise of a learning journey. Persuading others - that the I Matter Framework and Model could also help them has proved more challenging than I anticipated (I have my rejections letter wall!) but this doesn't change the fact that I feel much clearer about the day to day foundations of MY work. You could have this confidence too!
2. I am able to make sense of very diverse observations and have a method of sharing these explanations with others I know that to be effective in helping children it is vitally important to be successful in helping adults at home and at school. I know that as a professional and as a parent I am also expected in some degree to be a role model. The challenge has been finding a way to explain important ideas in a way that makes sense to professionals and parents with very different levels of experience and training. Many of my clients don't read books. With I Matter Training I have a way of integrating simple but powerful psycho-education into my sessions or informal conversations in a way that empowers my clients or others to feel much more confident in making and taking responsibility for key decisions. When I realised that there was a need to shift the hearts and minds of a much wider community, I decided to invest in having my initial scrappy drawings turned into professionally designed posters that are intended to attract attention and start important conversations. Teachers love these posters! Parents and Young People get them too. If you train with us, you could own a set of these posters to support this work.
3. I Matter Training offers a very powerful and clear alternative to an overly medicalised model for understanding mental health difficulties and challenging behaviour Have you noticed that when there are no good explanations around that people default to thinking that there must be something wrong with the child, and wanting to know what the diagnosis is? Have you noticed that the solution commonly then seems to be that the child needs a label or some medication? The demand from parents to have solutions means that as a professional you can be on the back foot if you do not have something strong and solid to support an alternative way of understanding. I Matter Training gives me confidence in helping parents and others think through these labelling and medication decisions with much more clarity. Labelling and medication can at times be helpful but many know that it is often being used recklessly and in the absence of the psychological support that should form part of a good intervention with a more challenging child. I find that with better understanding parents are often more able to resist the overly-medicalised option. I know that some children are very demanding and need adults to build really advanced skills. There is a structure there now to support this longer-term work. If you take the basics training you will be able to access that network of support opportunities.
4. I Matter Training helps me feel solid in knowing that there is a need to challenge current educational policy and practices - I have worked as a teacher and I work with some amazing schools and teachers but it is clear to me that something is seriously off track in the current regime and in the practices of Ofsted. There are so many stressed children and stressed adults that it is clear that in spite of the rhetoric of raising educational standards - the reality is that school is becoming a toxic place for many children and adults. A group that is particularly vulnerable is those children who have not mastered early social-emotional foundations of learning - due to sensory processing difficulties, or neglect or trauma. This includes children who have been given a diagnostic label, children in the looked after care sector, or those who have been adopted. These are a growing number in every school and classroom. Who can speak up for this group? Failure to 'raise standard's with this group is not just a result of poor teaching - My observation is that there is a mismatch between demands and resources and between the needs and capacities of the child and what the adults in the room are being asked to do. More therapy is not the solution. My view is that senior decision makers who are making important decisions that impact heavily on children and families are poorly informed. I Matter Training and assessments are attempts to set things out in a manner that offers clarity and gives schools a chance to 'fight back'. Emotionally healthy adults cannot emerge from large numbers of children whose emotional needs have been persistently overlooked. It is not possible. We know this - it is not rocket science - but it is important to me as a teacher and psychologist to act upon this knowing - not just to talk about it. But no one person can do this alone. Change will only come about if people like you decide to join a movement to challenge current practices.
5. I Matter Training helps me know that I cannot be effective if my own well-being is being too heavily impacted. It is easy to miss the point at which situations which were 'manageable' become 'unmanageable'. I have found that the I Matter Framework and the I Matter Model and the I Matter Process provide me with some powerful insights that make it much easier to manage very high levels of demands.. However when demands continue relentlessly at work or in home relationships then there is sometimes a need to take a stand and set a boundary - even if others don't like you doing this. Figuring out when this point has been reached and then taking the actions that are needed to protect yourself, and manage the resulting conflict, so that you can be effective in fulfilling your role or doing your job is a vital part of feeling good about what you do. Sometimes red route anger is a healthy response to an unhealthy situation. Have you ever found yourself at such a point? Your well-being matters! Not just for you but for those you are working to support. The important thing is that you understand the foundations for your own choices.
6. I have assessment tools and resources that fit the needs that I see on a day to day basis in school and clinic settings. One of the most difficult parts of my job has involved being asked to use routine assessment tools that do not fit adequately with the needs that I have observed in everyday practice. So as part of the I Matter Training package I invented some new ones - and trialled them with local colleagues. For the first time I have tools that get at the key issues that I know an effective intervention must shift in a school or home setting if change is to be longer standing. For the first time I have a developmental tool that can be used with the older child at work or at home in a manner that is informative, and sometimes shocking, to those involved. It is also immediately practical and empowering. I believe that these tools are really important as they allow us to give the numbers that educational policy makers crave, focussed on issues that matter to teachers and social workers and psychologists of the more complex child. The assessments provide a foundation for providing that longer term support. Yay! I am still working on the challenge of getting this thinking to people who need it, in a manner to bring about the changes that are needed. You could be part of that process.
7. I have a community of colleagues from different disciplines who 'get' the issues and who want to work with me and others to find a way to get this training out to a wider community of professionals and parents. Feeling professionally or personally isolated when you are coping with high levels of demands can be very difficult indeed - in fact it can be exceptionally draining to feel that you are seeing something that others are not seeing nor appearing to care much about. I Matter Training helps you join a supportive passionate community of 'old fashioned' professionals who believe that our job as professionals in children and families is to look after ourselves so that we can ensure that the emotional and developmental needs of child and family are met at home and at work. It is a community that believes that confident formal learning of literacy and numeracy will follow with much less angst for child and young person if we first ensure these strong social-emotional foundations. I Matter Training will help you join up lots of dots and support you on a journey through lots of ups and downs.
So you can take I Matter Training as a professional but will likely find that you come away also thinking much more deeply and consciously about your home-based relationships. This can sometimes be challenging but with more conscious awareness you will find yourself empowered to work more effectively with others to make important decisions. It is as you take this vitally important longer-term view that you will be better equipped to support mental health and healthy development of yourself and of those you support at home and at work.
Any more ideas?
I would love to hear from you!
Take care - you can make a difference!
There is a significant crisis in the provision of mental health services for children and families. The needs are growing and services are being cut. So maybe there is a need to think laterally?
I think the research evidence is clear: Strong attachment relationships at home and at school make a profound difference to the way in which a chlld's brain functions and develops and to their ability to understand and work with others to overcome their challenges.
Therefore if we want to impact on mental health and educational outcomes we need to actively promote understanding of the importance of relationships and relationship skills in building resilience across the life span. We need to engage with and prioritise the challenge of helping adults and children build healthier relationships. Improved relationships are important as an early intervention goal, and improved relationships with SELF and with other, are vital to healthy recovery from a wide variety of physical and mental health issues.
So how do we ensure that these well-evidenced ideas get to parents and professionals who need the knowledge? How do we get people talking about the issues that really matter if we are to see healthy change even at times of great social pressures?
An I Matter Action Research Project is an opportunity to explore this question in your setting. We may know what we want to achieve but actually getting there is not always that easy. In fact getting it can sometimes be very tricky indeed. But with trial and error there could be a way. In the I Matter Project we have done a lot of work on the presentation of key content and on delivery options: Key ideas are provided in online teaching and visual resources and the assessment tools promote discussions about outcomes. However, implementation is only implementation when it really happens. So we are interested in working with others to explore what is needed to make implementation a success.
Most importantly, there is not just one solution to promoting better relationships between children and adults and between school and parents. Some schools and services are already active in reaching out to parents, some do very little as yet. Some staff teams know a lot already, and some much less. Some families will need very little support for very little time - some need a lot more for a lot longer. Some families need group support and some families progress with 1:1 only.
The big advantage of being involved in an Action Research Project is that YOU start to observe and question these variations yourself and you as a team can invent your own local solutions.
You also start to build capacity so that you have people on your team and in your community who can take the project forward. if you would like to find out more why not Click Here
The quality of the sound recording on this is very poor - sorry - but if you can bear it the content will I hope be useful!
As a practising clinical psychologist and experienced teacher I have become increasingly concerned about the levels of stress I am observing amongst my education colleagues in schools. This last half term it seems that staff are more stressed than ever before and we are just at the beginning of the school year.
Teachers are by and large an extremely conscientious and hardworking bunch. My concern is that the expectations of what class teachers and senior leaders should be able to achieve have grown and grown and grown, to beyond what is reasonable and healthy. The resulting imbalance between the demands of the role in hand and the capacities or resources that the class teachers and senior leaders available to them is seriously out of balance for too many.
Symptoms of stress arise when there is an imbalance between demands and resources: As anyone who starts to study the content covered in the Level 1 I Matter Courses, will quickly come to appreciate, it is quite clear that excessive imbalance between demands and resources can lead to predictable physiological and psychological impact on children and on adults. One of the most important of these is that stressed adults and children all tend to become more reactive, and impatient and intolerant. This is of particular concern when those same stressed adults are interacting with highly reactive and stressed children and parents.
There is some amazing practice in our schools with committed staff seeking to offer every child an opportunity for an education. Learning I Matter principles can really help a lot. However, there comes a point with too much top down pressure to deliver results that are out of line with what these same professionals, children and parents can realistically manage, then what I have seen is that the child can become the barrier to the teacher and school delivering the required results.
The personal and professional impact of excessive demands In this content, the sheer level of stress I observe that is being experienced by too many schools in connection with the Ofsted process is an indicator of something that is seriously out of touch with the reality and needs of what is actually happening. I am appalled when I get to hear about yet another experienced head teacher or class teacher reaching total breaking point, but in the last months I have been hearing these stories more and more often. I think this is a result of an unfair and unreasonable amount of pressure on adults who deserve our support.
Not only are some personal tragedies involved for highly committed individuals, but this relentless pressure on already committed adults has in my view very serious potential impact for our most vulnerable young people. What these young people need more than anything is time to develop within the context of supportive emotionally attuned relationships with adults who are not overwhelmed. Learning to relate to other people takes time and is very difficult to learn if the task demands are developmentally insensitive and the people being interacted with are pushed to breaking point.
My greater concern is that these issues played out in the classroom with our young people have really long-term significant impact. When children who have significant delays in their social-emotional development are not given time to learn these skills because the curriculum is insensitive to the need, and when the teachers are being pushed and pushed to deliver literacy and numeracy results regardless of their pupils capacity and readiness for such formalised adult led learning, the result is not neutral. The consequence of such a mismatch will inevitably be felt in too many stressed and disengaged young people who are difficult to teach, and genuinely do not understand themselves or other people, having little or any motivation to learn.
Symptoms of stress and the issue of diagnosis The symptoms of stress are observable in quite specific patterns of brain functioning characterised by much more immature long lasting functioning. The symptoms are those that commonly come to be described with psychiatric labels: anxiety, depression, ADHD, ASD, ODD. The labels do not adequately highlight what is really happening but it is serious because these same difficulties mean that that the given young person is likely to be much less employable and much more likely to have difficulties in their own adult relationships.
I believe that this dynamic is a vital player in the rising concerns about child mental health, challenging behaviour, and crime statistics. Importantly these dynamics cannot be addressed through more and more pressure to deliver unrealistic educational results.
What's the alternative? What is needed in my view is a collective step back and a reconsideration of what we are observing. What is needed is policies and practices that give much better appreciation of child development and the adult role in the developing brain. It needs us to wake up to the extent of the real difficulties experienced by so many children in our schools in their social-emotional development and to think hard about what really needs to happen.
We as adults need to make some changes.
This project wants to campaign on these issues so if you have ideas about how this could be achieved please contact us or join a course click here
Copyright CBetoin2015 All Rights Reserved.
In my work with schools, parents and young people, I often hear people talking about the fact that they feel they have tried everything to engage parents, but the parents don't want to come along. Or I hear parents saying that they have tried everything to interest their child, but their child is not interested. I sometimes hear parents saying that they have tried to get their school interested in some training but the school have not been interested. And sometimes I hear people talking about themselves but feeling that all their apparent efforts were not paying off. So what is this issue of readiness to change?
Readiness for Change is something we always need to be thinking about when thinking about change with complex children, parents and professionals. Broadly speaking where readiness for change is concerned we can divide people (young people and adults) into three groups: those who are not interested (yet) and may seem very passive, those who are motivated if support is around but may do a lot of blaming of others, and those who are quite independent in their learning process and don't need much encouragement to get going and go further. In solution-focussed therapy these are referred to as visitors, complainants and customers
In relation to parenting, or to being a professional with complex children this breakdown might appear as follows: Have a read and ask yourself which best describes you
If you look at the above descriptions, it is clear that it is MUCH easier to help and work with Customers for change. It is much more difficult and often not that rewarding to work with people who are only Visitors in relation to change. Complainants are however an interesting group - some patience is needed as they come round to understanding that change is something we can only do ourselves.
So what about yourself? And what about your child or the parents you work with? Are you or they a Visitor, a Complainant or a Customer? It makes a difference!
Look out for more posts on Readiness for Change and how to work with it as it is important.
If you would like to check out your I Matter Readiness click here to work through our I Matter Readiness Assessment
Everywhere I go in the course of my work with complex children and families, I find schools and children and families and staff under huge pressure, delivering curriculum that are becoming more and more preset.
What I hear over and over again is that the curriculum has become so super-charged that the times that used to be available in the day and week for just easing off pressure and taking a step back to explore a wider field have become more and more rare. So, what has an understanding of psychology got to tell us about this situation and about it's likely impact on child mental health and educational outcomes?
One really important well-known graph that is incredibly important in understanding child and adult mental health and well-being, and educational outcomes is the Yerkes-Dodson (1908) arousal performance curve. According to many studies, and this well recognised graph, human beings perform best if there is a certain amount of heightened arousal around in the context that evokes and is associated with curiosity and focus. In the face of stimuli that evoke moderate curiosity and excitement and a sense of opportunity, human beings - children and adults - pay attention and focus much better than in the face of stimuli which evoke little or any curiosity or need to pay attention. With alertness, engagement and motivation to perform, we see children and adults producing better results than when they are bored and uninterested.
However, the Yerkes Dodson graph also shows us that too MUCH arousal or anxiety leads to very significant deteriorations in performance. This is important. Both ends of this Yerkes-Dodson curve are important to making sense of what is happening in our schools.
My observation is that the relentless pressure on adults in our schools is being transferred to our children and it is complex children where the crushing or explosive impact of these pressures are observed most. Most concerning is the situation when teachers find that the complex child is a barrier to them being able to deliver the results that are being expected of them.
Unless the teacher, and usually also their head teacher, is confident and able to resist and stand up to the Ofsted-driven pressures upon them, the child and adult in the classroom are placed in an impossible pressure cooker situation. What we find too often rather than collaboration and curiosity is a battle ground between adult and child where the adults feel they must MAKE the child learn, and the child's role becomes too often one of deeply reluctant co-operation or active resistance.
Not long ago I was asked to observe a young 9 year old with diagnosed learning difficulties - probably due to foetal alcohol syndrome - the aim was to help think about his future educational options. He was in Year 5 but was managing work appropriate to a Y2 child. I observed this child working with a TA who was trying to teach him fractions, counting beads and using worksheets. The child had questions of football on his mind, and what was going to happen at playtime because a friend had been sent home. 40 mins later, the exasperated TA lamented - "his concentration is really no good today". For my part, I wondered just how many times people had tried to teach him about fractions - and how many more times they were going to continue to try to do so on his journey through our school system .
The point was, fractions were not interesting to him in that moment - certainly not in the format being presented - yet adults were feeling obliged to keep working at it, because their job was to hit targets. I wondered how many more adults would have to spend a frustrating time trying to teach him something that was not connected to what he wanted to learn.
As I heard another headteacher talking about the numbers of staff who were disengaging and excessively stressed, I also wondered about the impact on the sense of Self of both child and adult of this very unsatisfactory set up. I heard that in a matter of a few months, the child I had been observing, had gone from being a child who was desperate to please to a child who had become disengaged and cocky and 'strutting his stuff'.
Frankly though, where do you go, and how do you behave when you start to realise that what is being offered to you in school involves endless hours doing things you are heartily fed up of doing? In such a situation, thinking about football and playing up the teacher sounds quite an entertaining option, doesn't it? So, does this child with challenging behaviour have a mental health problem? I think he is on his way there.
I wonder when it will become accepted that so many top down instructions do not bring out the best in our teachers nor in our young people?
I wonder when enough teachers will have the energy at the end of the day to speak up about situations that too many know cannot be right. Is there enough space to engage curiosity and enhance motivation in your school day? How do you think these issues are related to child mental health? If you are interested in reading more about these issues, why not Click here to sign up for the I Matter Monthly Digest Newsletter
So you know well the extraordinary investment of time, energy and finances that is currently invested in tracking children's progress.
But what if we were missing something REALLY important?
I think we are.
We have huge concerns about rising problems of child mental health and concerns to raise educational outcomes, with huge numbers of adults being driven to monitor more and more details of what children are doing.
But believe it or not this massive industry is are not tracking the foundations of healthy child development.
So, with the support of health visitors and health services, parents of newborns through to school age are given some support - dwindling - to monitor their child's progress through developmental milestones.
Then, however, when children arrive in the Early Years Foundation Stage, the detailed tracking of the strands of child development reduces dramatically. Soon after, when the child transfers to Reception and to Key Stage 1, the tracking of a child's acquisition of key development milestones abruptly stops, to be replaced with an exclusive focus on the acquisition of literacy and numeracy skills. For all but the child with the most severe difficulties, this is regardless of whether the child has mastered the steps necessary to thrive in school or not.
It's extraordinary, but it's true.
We stop systematic tracking and we stop paying attention to such important issues as the child's attention skills, or their fine motor skills or their ability to understand and manage emotions, or their ability to understand another person.
We stop paying attention to parental confidence or parental understanding of what children need. And, because we insist that teachers pay so much attention to the acquisition of literacy and numeracy we stop asking teachers to learn and be mindful of how children develop.
We fail to teach our teachers that children learn best in the context of relationships
And then we appear surprised that children seem to be struggling...
Let me get this clear, I am not a fan of the obsessive level of target tracking that we have today. It seems to mean adults are becoming less and less able to see the real needs of the children sat in front of them, but it would help perhaps if we could became aware of what is not being tracked that is of huge importance to the rest...
Our Action Research Group set off this week to explore the results of checking out the progress of some older children using tools that are usually used to assess progress in the Early Years Foundation Stage. What do you think they will find?
If you want to hear more about our learning why not request to join the I Matter - Network on Linked In or on look out for updates on Twitter. Or, just get in touch by emailing: email@example.com
What is the impact of a gap between developmental and chronological age on educational and mental health outcomes? Our Action Research Group
January 2015: The day to day impact of child development on outcomes is the important question that our Action Research group is setting out to explore. We had our first session on Monday and I am very excited that we have got going. We are 8 practising professionals from education and children's services. Our goal is to make space over the next 6 months to think about what we are seeing in our settings.
Because when it comes to outcomes, child development is the elephant - no, the mammoth - in the room. We live in an era in which there has been a massive collective investment of time and financial resources in, tracking outcomes in educational and mental health practice, but where is child development? What is the explanation for the collective blindness about this critical issue?
How is it that we track so much in so much detail in our classrooms and services to do with literacy and numeracy, but still pay so little attention to the issues that have potentially the most powerful impact? I think the problem is a lack of robust theoretical foundations, and consequently a lack of training in the big picture of what is important, combined with too much top down pressure to 'do what you are told', rather than observe what you are seeing and respond appropriately. If you want to produce good results from tracking, you need to be sure you know WHY you are tracking something, not just WHAT you are tracking
In my view, child development is not just about how to take a child from being able to do addition to being able to do long-division. Child development is not just about Piaget and concrete and abstract thinking. Child development is about how children's brains - and adult brains - start to function in the context of relationships and in the context of experiences. Unfortunately, aside from a few throw away references, there is a frankly a gross lack of collective understanding about child development in our training systems for teachers, social workers, medics, inspectors and politicians. No wonder parents are confused.
Children are not small adults. They are emerging in their abilities to make sense of a complex world. Their capacities to make sense of the world, and to make sense of themselves and others, are not given at birth, they need to be nurtured and awakened. This is a process that takes a lot of time. With lack of care and sensitivity, a child's abilities to make sense of Self and Other and the World can be profoundly impacted, delayed and sometimes damaged. So if we want to understand violence, and disengagement and gangs, and any number of other social challenges, we need to understand child development.
Fortunately in child development we also have very strong foundations for robust interventions. And fortunately, if we decide to respect the hierarchical nature of child development, this can provide us with a map and a guide about what we need to do to address the issues we most care about.
But we need to stop and be willing to watch and willing to learn. This makes all the difference.
If you want to hear more about our learning why not request to join the I Matter - Network on Linked In or on look out for updates on Twitter. Or, just get in touch by emailing: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dr Cathy Betoin
Dr Cathy Betoin
The I Matter Prof Blog:
How do we improve the educational and mental health outcomes of our children?
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