On Thursday 17th March 2016, Helen Quinn, primary 7 teacher, met with Yvonne McBlain, curriculum support officer, to describe how she and her colleagues at St Francis-Xavier RC PS have developed their pupils’ resilience.
The journey began in 2012 with a partnership between the school and Dr Sally Paul of the University of Strathclyde, who was then a social worker with Strathcarron Hospice. Members of staff wanted to ensure that they were supporting pupils who had been bereaved. Some felt they coped by avoiding potentially emotional or upsetting conversations while others were keen to demonstrate their understanding, but they lacked confidence in what they should and shouldn’t do and say. With Sally’s support, Helen and other members of staff, began a whole school action research project which continues to grow and develop in a very positive way.
The process included:
- academic reading
- consultation with parents,
- staff collaboration to create learning resources (click here to see the progressive package used throughout the school)
- whole school use of the package
- on going review and development
During this process, the scope of the learning resource widened to include resilience generally, rather than specifically for supporting pupils with their ability to cope with bereavement. However, pupils showed a keen interest in learning about the “nitty, gritty” and practicalities of death – the physiological changes, causes, legal procedures and different religious customs and rituals past and present. Staff responded to this interest by creating another learning resource specific to primary 6 and 7 pupils. Click here to view this resource. Pupils voluntarily did much more than required for a homework task as part of this unit, and parents shared positive feelings about the value of this work, and said how worthwhile the whole project had been for their children.
Staff would probably say that they are still travelling this journey with their pupils and parents. It has become a collaborative “action research” project which has had the following impact:
- staff now have a progressive learning resource which contributes to their broad general education within Curriculum for Excellence
- this resource form part of their progressive programme for Mental, social and emotional wellbeing within Health and Wellbeing
- staff feel confident and comfortable delivering learning around sensitive and emotional issues
- pupils can talk eloquently about their feelings and how to cope with a wide range of challenges
- they say and do things which show that they are able to respond to new and challenging situations
- they are able to empathise with others experiencing difficulties
- they know what kinds of things they can say and do to others to help them
- death, bereavement, and the customs around dying have been de-mystified for them
- pupils see death as a part of life
- parents have admiration for all of the above and obviously feel that this work has enriched the learning their children are receiving
The materials and training developed run alongside the curriculum, ensuring that staff are skilled and supported in acknowledging and supporting children through specific bereavement experiences. Staff attend training offered by Strathcarron Hospice on Childhood bereavement. As part of the research, the staff advised Strathcarron Hospice in developing this training programme which is now offered to all schools free of charge in Forth Valley and North Lanarkshire. The link to Strathcarron’s Bereavement Training http://strathcarronhospice.net/schools/
Supporting children, and staff, with bereavement also means that the school adopts Falkirk Council’s ‘Service Circular’ on Bereavement, which offers specific guidance on managing bereavement in schools. This was developed in response to the research in the school which coincided with instances in another school where there had been a significant bereavement and staff were aware that there was no specific guidance from the Local Authority. Sally, Helen and pupils at St Francis helped to develop this alongside other staff within the local authority.
You can read more about the pupils’ views of this work by clicking to their post here.