How do you teach learners with social, emotional and mental health (SEMH) needs?
Here are my 10 top tips for working with students with social, emotional and mental health.
Many of these young people have had difficulties forming relationships at home and at school.
They may have underlying attachment needs or have learnt that you get nowhere in life if you show anything remotely ‘soft’ to an adult. Go gently, take your time, but build that relationship of trust. You are going to get nowhere teaching a GCSE set text without it.
SEMH learners love boundaries! You might mistake that rebellious nature as a disregard for them, but you would be wrong.
A lot of that pushing and fighting against is to see if you mean business; a test to see if you mean what you say.
As long as your boundaries are fair and consistent, keep going.
8. Change Of Face
Knowing when to walk away and let a colleague take over is a skill. Don’t see it as backing down because you are not engaged in a battle. The learner needs you to be the emotionally stable person and you simply can’t take anything they say or do personally.
7. Holistic View
Join the dots up about the learner. If they are acting out of character, try and find out why. It could be a change of taxi driver or a new coat; it could be a larger issue like the prospect of a new sibling – either can cause dramatic reactions and these young people don’t have the skills to cope with and regulate their emotional responses. If you understand them fully then you are better placed to help them.
6. Restorative Justice
The visible behaviour that SEMH learners display mustn’t be covered over with the ‘poor bairn’ approach. This means we don’t do the young person any favours to say, ‘she’s had a really hard time, the poor kiddy’ whilst letting them repeatedly throw a pen off their friend’s head. We have to prepare SEMH learners to live as adults in the real world and we know how hard that can be even when you are emotionally stable and feel secure! Restorative justice actually supports the learner to identify their own faults and work out how to ‘put things right’.
Not in terms of being green, but a recycling of strategies.
You need a deep bag of ideas and if the current successful strategy begins to fail, don’t bin it but save it to be used later.
You can often end up returning to past strategies and find that they ‘work’ again so the key thing is not to think that they have failed, they might just be failing at the moment.
When an SEMH learner calls you the worst thing possible (and I have been called every name under the sun, plus some very creative phrases) don’t take it personally. For some SEMH learners it is an automatic defence and self-protection strategy; for others it’s a test to see how you cope for the expectation will be that you won’t carry on being there; for others it is simply the normal way they communicate within their home environment. Try and empathise.
3. Fresh Start
Try and make every day a fresh start. Ensure that, where possible, any consequences happen on the day they were given and that the learner knows that tomorrow is a new day. Sounds simple but imagine the opposite where you are walking to school not knowing how you will be treated. We’ve all been there as adults, we are emotionally more developed but still find it hard, so what will the learner be feeling?
2. Keep Your Promises
If you say that they can join a certain lunch club then they must join; if you tell them that they can play football at break then you must let them. This builds trust and encourages relationships. For those SEMH learners that constantly feel let down by adults, be the one that shows them that the opposite can also be true.
1. Be Real
Many SEMH learners are relationship savvy and know when you are being authentic or when you are putting on an act.
They will have so much more respect for you if they know that it’s ‘you’ they are dealing with. However, it goes deeper as it’s also a way of saying, ‘hey, I’m not perfect either’. Let them see you make mistakes (oops, I’ve spelt that wrong!), let them know that you find things hard (I always struggled with learning tables too), so that they can begin to realise that they are actually allowed to be imperfect.
These are my top tips, but there are many others that could be in this list – what would you add?