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What do children need to start school? - A sense of safety created from relationships  Friday, 8 September 2017

 

What do children need to start school?
A sense of safety created from relationships

For children starting school or starting back to school, it can be an exciting adventure, but also a bit daunting.  One of the factors that will further enhance the excitement and reduce their anxiety is creating a sense of safety about school within the child.  As humans, we are wired for survival and have a drive for safety.  For the majority, a sense of safety comes from the connections we have developed with the significant people around us, therefore an essential element for safety is the relationship between school staff (particularly class staff) and the child.  However, a significant factor is for the child’s parent / carer to have faith and trust in the teacher too.  They are entrusting the teacher with their most precious beings and therefore if they are confident in the teacher, they will convey this to their children.
Often prior to children starting school, Early years / Foundation teachers hold a meeting or home visit with the parents / carers.  This enables a working relationship to begin.  We suggest that the connections with parents remain just as significant in ongoing school years.  Regardless of the child’s ages, parents are still entrusting the teacher to care, nurture and teach their child. For learning to occur, children need to have an internalised sense of safety. If children feel unsafe their defensive strategies are triggered and their cognitive thinking becomes diminished.  School staff are a critical element for creating a sense of safety. 
“The position of the teacher is very similar to that of the parent in building a child’s brain.  Both can enhance a child’s emotional regulation by providing a safe haven that supports the learning process.”  (Kegan, 2000, cited in Cozolino 2013 p. 18).
Teachers who convey a sense of safety often project this through their body language. Research indicates that non-verbal messages provide a more reliable form of communication than spoken language particularly when we receive mixed messages. In other words, a person will intuitively respond to the speaker’s body language rather than their verbal communication. Bambaeeroo and Shokrpour (2017) investigated the impact of teachers' non-verbal communication on success in teaching and discovered that pupil/teacher relationships were pivotal. The findings of this study also indicate that non-verbal communication skills can play an important role in the future of a student's life.
Whilst taking into account workload, it could be that preparing a one-page profile about themselves, which includes what the teacher hopes to achieve and how they are aiming to work with the children may begin the process of building a positive working relationship between parents and teacher.  Another suggestion would be to have a meeting directly after school within the first few weeks to introduce themselves and provide the above information.  Building key relationships early in the school year may reduce parental questions later on.
References:
Bambaeeroo, F. & Shokrpour, N. (2017) The impact of the teachers’ non-verbal communication on success in teaching.  Journal of Advances in Medical Education & Professionalism, Vol 5 (2) April 2017.  Accessed on:                   https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5346168/
Kegan, R. (2000). What “form” transforms?:  A constructive-developmental perspective on transformational learning.  In J. Mezirow (Ed.), Learning as transformation: Critical perspectives on a theory in progress. (pp. 35-52). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.   Cited in Cozolino, L. (2013) The Social Neuroscience of Education: Optimizing Attachment & Learning in the Classroom.  New York: W.W. Norton & Co.