How do I know how you feel?

I was talking to a group of Special school leaders at the recent Key conference, (Highly recommended by the way), and whilst discussing our approaches to assessment I was asked an interesting question. One of the delegates observed that assessing cognitive development was one thing, but could we assess, and in turn evaluate progress, relating to emotional development and in particular resilience. I tried to answer but resorted to describing what we did in terms of context based opportunities in the community rather than what was achieved, so then accepted that I’m unsure whether we do this particularly well. Coincidently this week the focus of our weekly curriculum development meeting, our only compulsory after school meeting, was on how we support the emotional needs of our pupils.

These meetings are guided by our development planning and are tightly focused on improving the outcomes for our pupils. They are intellectually demanding and robust discussions that shape the consensus necessary to achieve the consistency of provision that enables our pupils to succeed. This particular meeting was no different and threw up some really interesting and thought provoking questions.

They were, in no particular order:

How effective are we at supporting pupils to understand the nature of their feelings when they haven’t necessarily developed the linguistic skills required to express how they feel?

How effective are we at developing the relationships necessary to enable pupils to have the confidence to open up?

Do we focus too heavily on supporting the behavioural symptoms of emotional turmoil rather than investing time in developing our pupils’ strategies to manage their own emotions?

Given that much of the social behaviour we teach successfully comes from effective modelling, do we suppress our negative emotions in front of the pupils even when there is a shared emotional context?

Do we apply our own emotional reference points to the pupils’ responses too readily without evaluating objectively the extent to which our pupils may or may not respond to situations in a comparable way?

Can we develop resilience in our pupils without crudely exposing them to negative experiences and how can failure and disappointment be used in a sophisticated and constructive manner whilst progressively increasing the challenge?

Do we have a desire to make everything better and in doing so deny our students the opportunity to be better equipped for a world which can be quite bruising at times?

Is there a particular response we are looking for within certain emotional situations and is that informed by a preconception about what is typical?

Are our pupils inherently resilient as a result of the challenges they may have had to overcome?

Do we know how our pupils feel?

Now this is the beginning of a professional development journey and some of those questions will be answered very quickly and others less so. Some will require a longer term evaluative process and many hours of discussion before we begin to consolidate our thoughts, but consolidate them we will. This will result in the development of our collective understanding and the pedagogical approaches we use in order to try and ensure we do our very best for the pupils we teach.

Then it will be on to the next challenge.

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