To get young kids to thrive in school, we need to do more than teach them how to read and write — we need to teach them how to manage their emotions, says educator Olympia Della Flora. In this practical talk, she shares creative tactics she used to help struggling, sometimes disruptive students — things like stopping for brain breaks, singing songs and even doing yoga poses — all with her existing budget and resources. “Small changes make huge differences, and it’s possible to start right now … You simply need smarter ways to think about using what you have, where you have it,” she says.
How one school’s inspirational work with one 6 year old pupil, D, transformed a whole school.
Below, a few of Olympia’s most compelling and useful tips for shifting the focus from “Get out!” to “How can I help you”; “What’s wrong with you?” to “What happened to you?”
- To start with, we had to figure out where D was struggling the most. In his case, the transition from home to school, chaos to structure, needed support, so we created a calming area in our time out room to help the transition.
- Next, we found other ways to help calm him down. D loved working with younger students, so we made him a kindergarten helper. What we found was that the influence of peers on behaviour was far greater than any of the adults on some of the hard to reach kindergarten kids.
- We used humour and songs to help calm him and connect with him in his world.
- Once we figured out the tools and tactics that worked with D we were able to roll out what we’d learned to help all our students.
- We realised we had to teach kids how to identify their own feelings along with appropriate coping strategies to help deal with them – eg counting to ten, finger spinners, going for walks.
- We introduced flexible seating, rocking chairs, exercise bikes etc, which encouraged kids to stay in the classroom, helping them to learn and we introduced breaks helps learning.
- The magical thing? It didn’t cost a lot of money. We simply thought differently about what we had.
- We took the social tools seriously, alongside the academic, and the results speak for themselves. We saw huge growth in reading and math scores.
- We also used local leverage to help address issues students facing at home. We reached to local charities, groups and even the local university. Student teachers mentored young people. A partnership with the local hospital helped build a health clinic in the school.
- We moved from a philosophy of exclusion to one of trust. This positive way to make change helped the adults too.
- We read the research of Dr Bruce Perry, about how many issues children face (eg chaotic home life, absent parent, poverty, illness) can cause genuine trauma and real barriers to learning.