During the global health pandemic we have seen impaired learning, increased child stress, decreased connection, increased loneliness and declining mental health, including anxiety and depression.
Furthermore, the Royal Commission into Victoria's Mental Health System found the impact of mental health on young people results in adverse life outcomes, impacting their ability to learn. Evidence is now emerging that highlights why schools are a critical system to deliver support and interventions to address complex stress and trauma.
The MacKillop Institute is a non-profit that seeks to build the capacity of schools and organisations to deliver trauma-informed support to those who have experienced change, grief, loss and trauma.
Our model, Reframing Learning and Teaching Environments (ReLATE), has been designed for Australian schools and aims to build teachers' understanding and responses to behaviour to improve teaching, student learning and wellbeing outcomes.
We know that adverse experiences and trauma in childhood have negative impacts on a child's developing body and brain and there are lasting impacts into adulthood.
Teachers are the foundation for all students to productively engage in learning and feel safe and supported in their daily experiences. However, teachers are being asked to respond to students that present with a range of behaviours such as emotional dysregulation, aggression, school refusal, anxiety and heightened stress responses.
Teacher burnout is real and measurable, and we must consider ways in which we are supporting our teachers to support our children. They are a lighthouse for their students, but who is helping them to keep their light burning? We must set our teachers up for success and we must do more than just acknowledge that they need to be supported. We need to stand alongside them.
The MacKillop Institute is currently engaged with schools implementing the ReLATE model. ReLATE is a whole school sustainable culture change model that is positively impacting lives. Schools currently implementing the ReLATE model are seeing incredible outcomes in both their students and teachers.
“We've always been very conscious of the wellbeing of everyone in our school community. Since introducing the ReLATE model we can see it recognises the inter-relationship between the adults and the children within the school community. ReLATE enhances a community by building a feeling that people care about each other on a personal level not just colleagues or student peers - it goes deeper than that,” says Helen Healy, St Mary Magdalen's School Principal.
Combining educational research, social science, behavioural theory and neuroscience, ReLATE supports teachers to implement practical strategies in their classrooms.
ReLATE gives teachers tools, knowledge, skills and resources that enable them to be cognisant of the impacts of adverse childhood experiences on engagement, learning, health and wellbeing.
Skilled ReLATE consultants work directly with schools, to provide bespoke implementation based on the individual schools' needs. ReLATE follows a three-year implementation cycle, with annual professional learning to deepen and embed staffs' understanding of key concepts that informs practice.
Schools are often the first and the most important place of contact for children and teachers play an important role to support student resilience and general wellbeing. However, it is critical that teachers are supported to understand how to create and sustain a counter-stress, safe and supportive environment without being subjected to hardship and unnecessary stress throughout the process of their learning.
While our ReLATE model focuses on reducing aggression in schools, educator burnout, managing toxic relationships and developing positive behaviour planning, we are also committed to supporting schools to respond to the complexities of their environment whilst building a climate of excellence.
Through The MacKillop Institute model for schools, staff develop individual safety plans, and implement whole of school ReLATE Circles, which enables both students and staff to feel comfortable and safe to share their feelings at the beginning of the day.
Schools also leverage broader understandings of neuroscience to enhance the school culture and attitudes towards adverse experiences and responses to concerning behaviours.
There is a real sense that teachers are empowered to build their confidence in creating a growth-promoting climate where individuals can move forward and be capable of becoming their true self. ReLATE resonates with schools because of its acknowledgement of the place that teachers have come from and the culture of school communities that they are working within.
This article originally appeared in Education Matters Magazine