Pupil Support at St Patrick’s Christian Brother’s College
With the rapid growth in pupil numbers at St Patrick’s Christian Brother’s College (CBC) in Kimberley in the Northern Cape over the last few years, together with the dire shortage of remedial support structures in this region, in-house pupil support became a priority.
Jacques Tredoux, the executive head from 2016-2020, began assembling a Pupil Support department that most schools would envy. I was appointed to head the department in April 2019 and set about consolidating and extending the roles and responsibilities of the department.
Our goal is to teach emotional agility. When students and staff are empowered with this skill, they start to recognise that control in life or control of others is an illusion. They need to allow themselves to learn new patterns to acquire emotional agility skills instead of being stuck in old thought patterns.
Susan David’s four practical steps
Susan David, Ph.D., is one of the world’s leading management thinkers and an award-winning Harvard Medical School psychologist. She gives an example of four practical steps that enhance the development of these skills: ‘Show up’, ‘Step out’, ‘Act on values’ and ‘Move on’. David reminds us that if we ‘Show up’, all sorts of different emotions or thoughts must be faced with curiosity and acceptance. By naming them, we take their power away, acceptance steps in and change comes.
When we ‘Step out’, we learn to notice that we are dealing with emotions and that these emotions don’t define us. The way we use our words will make us understand our feelings. For example, saying, ‘I notice that I am feeling lonely’, instead of ‘I am lonely’, provides you with options that develop sensible perspectives.
By ‘Acting on your values’, you learn to let go of persistent negative thoughts and emotions, and to adapt them to new valued-based choices. This enhances the realisation that we can learn to respond rather than react, and that our responses are based on those values-based choices. This system is unique, and relates to each one’s own value system. Values that may be explored include honesty, integrity, goodness, kindness, and forgiveness.
‘Move on’ teaches the development of new skills and habits that will support motivation to live the value system determined by the pupil. It is not a set of rules, but rather lived values. Daily lived value-based steps bring about the new life desired and expressed by the person in each learning session. David’s steps are a practical example of emotional agility, which explore change from rigidity to something new and more flexible. This enables people to adapt to difficult circumstances.
Our school counsellor, Pastor Duff, explains that we teach emotional agility with different methods, suited to each person. According to David, we want to guide and empower each one not be a victim, to get out of comfort zones and into personal growth. Less energy is spent on negative thinking and anxiety.
Collage Inquiry and mindfulness
Pastor Duff explains that at St Patrick’s CBC we also employ the ‘Collage Inquiry’ method to provide a visual and art inquiry into the pupil’s state of mind. This is reflected in ‘collage’ work, where pupils use pictures and words to reflect where they were and where they would like to be.
Professor Lynn Butler-Kisber developed this method for those who are visually minded and, as she said, ‘It provides a different way of using instinct and creativity to see an alternative truth’. Mindfulness is also practised through our structured work where we teach breathing and relaxation techniques, which allow time to develop positive attitudes and effective thinking processes.
Structured drama play
We also work with high functioning children on the autism spectrum. They benefit specifically from structured drama play before which they are taught that each play session will be structured according to a visual schedule shown to them. Each instruction is accompanied by a picture. This visual schedule not only benefits the child on the autism spectrum, but also those with high anxiety levels, attention deficit disorder (ADD), attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and sensory overload disorder or sensory disintegration disorder.
The picture schedule prepares them to understand what is expected of them in the session. They will see that they have to:
roll out the mat,
move or stretch,
participate in a transition activity with art or a song, and
Each instruction is meant to teach the child functionality. By showing the child with high anxiety, ADHD, or autism visually what will happen in the session, we are helping them to relax and feel grounded and safe in the space where the session is taking place.
The greeting session enhances reciprocal communication and socialisation skills. Breathing teaches a child to relax, and movement supports the child to get into their body and out of their head. This aids relaxation and body awareness. The play session also improves communication and socialisation skills. We are fortunate to be equipped with several toys suited for boys and girls and this increases communication while playing out chosen scenarios related to the session. Enjoyment and relaxation are observed in these play-sessions.
Many issues can be addressed in such a session, such as aggression or bullying, and difficulty in making friends. Few people realise that play-sessions enhance the feeling of success in a child, which builds their self-esteem. If they struggle academically, the play sessions add value to their dwindling self-esteem, by providing them with the feeling of success and enjoyment.
Structured play-therapy also helps pupils who experience high levels of anxiety. With high school pupils, play-therapy is not necessarily a popular method, so picture/word collagetherapy or drama-therapy may also work well. It is a blessing and a privilege to help our pupils get through an emotionally difficult time and to help them realise that they can come to positive conclusions on their own. Helping them to shift their focus and to see their challenge from a new perspective is what we aim for and love to do.