A useful tool for all school staff is the ability to reflect on themselves and their practice in an open and honest manner. Whilst this is not easy, the benefits to both staff and children in schools are enormous. The professional behaviour and relationships between staff can create either a supportive and effective team or a place of disharmony and conflict. The quality of relationships between staff impacts on their ability to work together effectively and to model positive relationships to the children. The relationship between staff must incorporate open and honest communication, along with mutual respect and appreciation so the team are able to work together effectively. This can be demonstrated in front of the children so they can experience the impact of relating to other people in this way. If the relationship between staff is one of mistrust, resentment and animosity then this may be observed by the children through verbal and non verbal interactions. Some children are very tuned in to relationships and will recognise atmospheres and behaviours between staff that can make them worried and anxious. If the staff team are not happy and working in harmony together, then this may result in disharmony between the children.
It is important for staff to explore how they communicate with each other both verbally and non-verbally, for example, do you sigh or complain if you are asked to work with a particular person? It can be beneficial to keep checking yourself and how you respond and react to situations. An honest appraisal of the real reasons behind your behaviour can help diffuse situations and make them easier to manage. It is useful to explore what you are reacting to and try to identify the feelings behind your behaviour.
It is important to consider situations that may occur during the day that can cause anxiety or stress in staff and ensure that these are responded to in a mature and professional manner and not transferred on to the children. It is essential to remember that children’s cognitive understanding is often more developed than their language and not to assume that they do not understand what is being said just because they may not be able to articulate themselves in the same way as adults. Therefore, it is essential to remain professional at all times and not have discussions in front of children.
In order for children to feel safe and secure at school, it is essential that the staff have awareness of the children’s physical and emotional needs and are emotionally aware themselves. This involves being able to recognise and acknowledge both their strengths and areas to improve on, along with accepting feedback from their staff team. However, this not always easy to do and can be a challenge and cause tension between members of staff. The extent to which the staff are able to be aware of and reflect on their own behaviour, impacts on the children’s behaviour and wellbeing.
As adults we can all bring experiences to work with us, but it is important to have awareness of this and ensure it doesn’t impact on either your relationships with the children or your colleagues. For example, if you are late for work because the bus was delayed or your car wouldn’t start, then it can be hard not to bring your frustration in to work and allow them to impact on your day. It can be useful to have a morning self-awareness checklist that you ask yourself on your journey to work every morning:
- What am I bringing to work with me today?
- How may this impact on the staff and children in a positive or negative way?
- What can I do with these feelings so that they don’t impact on my work?
There are endless opportunities throughout the day to reflect and share experiences about how we feel about situations as they occur. For example, if a member of staff is absent this can be shared with the children and the potential feelings acknowledged by saying “It can feel sad when Mr.Jones is not in and we all miss him.” It can be useful to consider situations that we may find difficult to manage as adults, such as working in a different room or with another member of staff, and ask ourselves how the children may feel about this. As adults we have developed language skills that enable us to share our thoughts and feelings if we choose. Children’s language skills are not as highly developed and they need adults to provide them with the emotional vocabulary to gradually help them learn to articulate their feelings. School staff can develop self-awareness to ensure they are not being dismissive by using phrases such as ‘don’t be silly’. This can be discounting of the child’s feelings and can exacerbate the child’s fears. We may expect children to manage changes and difficult experiences without showing any reaction and may be surprised when they do. The more that staff are able to develop their own self awareness, the better they feel and the more they are able to provide children with the emotional vocabulary they need.
All adults working in school settings have a responsibility to create a happy and relaxed atmosphere for children, or to decide what they can do to change it. It can be a demanding and exhausting but rewarding and enjoyable job. In order for staff to work most effectively and give their best to the children they need to feel happy and fulfilled. It is important they feel they are making a difference and that they are an essential part of the team. The setting needs to be emotionally safe for staff in order to be emotionally safe for children. This involves being able to discuss challenges openly and honestly and ask for and accept support when it is needed. The increased awareness of the staff’s own feelings can result in increased awareness of the children’s feelings. The more that staff are able to develop understanding and awareness of their own behaviour and wellbeing, the better equipped they are to be able to meet those needs and respond accordingly to the children in their care.