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Digital Storytime Luvvies

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When I’m not presenting dance music and cultural reproduction, my day job is as a teacher. My expertise is primarily emotional literacy (ELSA). Teaching is extremely challenging at the moment. You’re in contact with people but you’re really not. We will all end up square-eyed; stuck inside. The school environment is nonetheless a completely different looking place.

Sure, school kids may not think twice about remote learning, but lots of teachers and students alike are missing the classrooms. And probably a few thousand parents too, who have had to adjust to take on both work-from-home, teach-from-home, double duty. 

In recent years, we have seen a strong government-led focus on raising pupils’ attainment, with schools being placed in league tables on the basis of test results. For a time this seemed to cause a narrow focus on academic achievement, with teachers feeling there was no time to be concerned about wider aspects of children’s lives. Yet, experience always shows that when we are faced with serious life issues like bereavement, relationship difficulties or financial stress it is harder to concentrate on our work and other daily responsibilities.

Anxiety, fear, and sadness are intrusive feelings that can incapacitate our ability to absorb information or learn new skills. Despite this, we have sometimes shown a naive expectation that children will come to school ready to learn. Educational psychologists have known this for a while.

Recent figures suggest that mental health issues are on the rise. Meanwhile, the subject in schools has become more of a discussion in the past few years with England’s teachers trained to spot early signs of mental health issues in children. This means improved support for our most vulnerable children. 

Emotional literacy support assistance (ELSA) is one intervention. Following the publication of the Government’s guidance on supporting mental health and behaviour in schools, many schools are considering ways to expand their support for emotionally vulnerable pupils. I completed an ELSA training in 2017. ELSA training gives teachers/TA’s knowledge and skills they need to plan and deliver individualised programmes of support to pupils with additional emotional health/well-being needs. This very successful intervention programme coaches staff to develop and deliver targeted emotional literacy and well-being interventions in their schools/settings.

Daniel Goleman’s book Emotional Intelligence provides the basis. Much is written about emotional intelligence or emotional literacy. Salovey and Meyer were the first psychologists to make a specific link between emotional and cognitive aspects of intelligence. In education, the term emotional literacy tends to be preferred because it breaks away from the notion of a fixed underlying level of intelligence that cannot be significantly altered. Emotional literacy, by contrast, can be nurtured and developed throughout life.

Peter Sharp defined emotionally literate people as those who are ‘able to recognise the emotions we experience so that we can define them’. As we develop an emotional vocabulary we are able to put our feelings into words. Emotional understanding is important if we are to learn from our experiences and develop resilience. Being able to manage our emotions allows us to build and maintain healthy relationships with others. As we learn to express our emotions in appropriate ways we are able to help ourselves as well as others.

The five main areas to develop in young peoples’ emotional literacy are self-awareness; motivation; self-regulation; respect; empathy.

Mental health is part of a schools’ pastoral duties. The best schools take care of the academic and pastoral. The BACP has undertaken a study which sets out the need for school-based counselling. Please if you get a chance to watch this.

Findings reveal that young people are less concerned about coronavirus than adults because they are less affected by it. Notwithstanding lockdown and all the uncertainty, particularly those who were vulnerable before, their mental health has actually improved. What does this mean? School is just a really stressful place to be. This also suggests anxiety is not necessarily a within-person thing, but rather environmentally-based. Mental health isn’t something that is either there or not there. We all have it, just like we all have physical health.

Pupils miss their friends.

I know from experience that children and young adults want us to provide more group activities which will help them to build confidence and trust; encourage their enjoyment of out-of-school activities that will increase their social skills and make sure that they get confidential support when they need it. My aims and collaborations set out to engage children/young adults through their interests in sport and play and to present the best of their work, helping them to contribute positively to their environment by accessing their own vitality and creativity, is the key to maximising opportunities, raising educational attainment and participation in the wider community.

Talking to friends and family over video calls help, though the clunkiness of much of the software makes them an imperfect substitute for an encounter in person.

A pixilated version of spending time with a friend merely slows down the ‘rate of decay’ of the relationship, but will never be able to replace the experience of seeing someone in the flesh. You have to see the eyeballs – the whites of their eyes – and be able to hold them, in order to maintain a friendship and feel a social bond.

For Claudia, that moment will come when her football team, which for her is both exercise and a kind of group therapy, can meet up once more, rather than just chat virtually. ‘It is going to be beautiful,’ she says.

I want to be tackling the broader aspects of children’s health and well-being. We must become better at tackling the commercial determinants of ill health in schools. Whereas the school system is geared up for left-brain dominant people. We should try to ‘facilitate’ rather than support children with right hemisphere dominance too. I’m all for it. Long live feelings.

Lawrence Batchelor is a DJ, broadcaster and ELSA, leads in PSHCE supplementary activities: particularly anger management, self-esteem and social skills accessed via Wired Health.

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