Think back to one of your worst days at school as a member of staff, a day when you felt totally overwhelmed. Perhaps at the time there were lots of things going on in your life, so you were really tired, edgy, can’t concentrate and everything is getting on your nerves. Then your line manager asks you to do a last-minute assessment, piece of work or task? As an adult it is likely that you are familiar with the rising agitation, the head ache, jaw tension and total overwhelm. Before things get to crisis, you know you need to do something; go for a walk, get a coffee, talk to a colleague, get some space to just breathe.
This is the kind of day we can all sometimes have, for some students however it is more than sometimes. Without the confidence, self-awareness and maturity to understand and self-manage, to go get what they need, when they need it – students can end up in more difficultly.
One of the most important aspects of managing this overwhelm whether it manifests itself in anger, anxiety or fear is developing the opportunity for a space to self-manage. This is often the aspect of school life that students who have vulnerability to mental health difficulties or who are having a challenging time need. Let’s think back to the scenario above, where you are having your worst day at school and you are not able to get out of the room or building and you are trapped there. This would add to your situation and feeling of total overwhelm I am sure.
When there isn’t a safe space or a walk-in room, students tell me they go to the toilets, hide behind cupboards or bushes. Let’s not create an environment where students are hiding in order to manage their feelings and behaviours, but rather provide them with an opportunity and the acceptance that sometimes life is hard and that we may need a safe space in which to reduce our overwhelming feelings.
In school, getting the balance between students being outside of lessons and in lessons is going to be a challenge. Some schools I have worked with have allowed students to access the space whenever they wanted, which caused problems with student’s progress. The best practise however is to provide students with a pass so that they can access the room when needed (within reason). Passes are likely to be given to those students who are known to need support with self-regulation or mental health challenges. Passes may also be given to those students who are known to be going through a particularly challenging time, for example parental separation, friendship difficulties or death of a loved one. Passes to access a safe space can be anytime during the day too, particularly during lunch and break times.
The space it’s self shouldn’t be an internal exclusion/isolation room, but should be somewhere safe where students can access adult support if needed or just somewhere to be. Not sure of the impact? I will leave you with the words of a student I met recently:
‘having a pass for the library at lunchtime worked for me, it was my safe space. I knew others couldn’t get me or make me angry. I then started to develop other friendships with the people there and I now have new group of friends.’