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Recovery at its best: 5 key principles to support school following critical incidents

Large, ancient tree with many branches reaching out

In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, Nottinghamshire Educational Psychology Service were asked to develop a resource to support schools and education settings following critical incidents.

Funded by the DfE and working with the AEP, NASEN and Whole School SEND, we have developed ‘Recovery, Re-introduction & Renewal: Safe & Successful Returns‘ – a handbook, a set of information packs for schools to use and share, an online resource library and a webinar, all free to access.

This handbook and linked resources were designed to support schools with the return to school post-coronavirus but also to provide a longer lasting resource to inform recovery following major critical incidents, at an individual, group and whole school level.

The handbook

In addition to Nottinghamshire EPS values and what works in Nottinghamshire schools, we drew on the collaborative, ‘psychology rich’ discussions taking place across the EP profession through various online platforms.

Over the last few months it really has felt like an EP community venture, with many EPs feeding back that the resource resonates with their core values as a psychologist and offers both reassurance that we are ‘on the same page’ and, inspiration to find the capacity to do ‘this kind of work’. The handbook appears to sit alongside the key recommendations acknowledged in the report from Southend and Nottingham City EPS which crucially captures the voice of children and young people and calls for a change in our education system. 

The handbook describes strength-based practices to empower adults and children or young people to actively construct their own recovery, within a graduated response framework. We have included 5 stand-alone resource packs which we felt would be most valuable for staff and parents or carers including;

  • Talking to Children and Young People
  • Supporting Adult Wellbeing
  • Loss
  • Bereavement and Change
  • Targeted Groups and Curriculum Support.

5 key principles of recovery

Our best hope is that the 5 Key Principles of Recovery are shared widely with our school communities to facilitate change and promote recovery at its best.  The 5 Key Principles, all promoted with equal value, are based upon the psychological models of resilience (British Psychological Society, 2020; Masten, 2001; 2018), post-traumatic growth and recovery (Herman, 2015; Joseph, 2012) and positive psychology (Seligman, 2014), as well as the evidence base linking social emotional learning and attainment (Durlak et al, 2011). 

Image shows the 5 key principles of recovery in a circular relationship. The five principles are discussed individually below.
5 key principles of recovery

Put emotional wellbeing first, for everyone

Plentiful time is needed for emotional ‘healing’, building resilience and restoring social relationships, for staff and pupils alike. For learning and growth to happen, there is a need to invest in the secure foundation of emotional readiness.  This will require schools to rethink the role and purpose of educational staff beyond developing curriculum and academic knowledge, to cultivate opportunities to offer emotional support and promote self-care.

Place relationships front and centre

Relationships, relationships, relationships. Packaged prescriptive interventions are not needed in the wake of a critical incident. The relationships that exist within a school setting are the key interventions and the primary mechanism for supporting our recovery from adversity.

“The primary way to prepare for the unknown is to attend to the quality of our relationships, to how well we know and trust one another.”

(Wheatley, 2004)

Reaffirm school’s strengths and core values

As psychologists who wish to empower others, we hold the assumption that schools already possess the skills and strengths they need to recover from a critical incident.  For example, many schools have been operating 3 systems of support;

  1. A unique school environment for a small group of children
  2. Online platforms aimed to keep connections alive or encourage learning, and,
  3. A hub providing support to their surrounding community.

We have found that as an organisation, schools have drawn upon their outward facing and implicit values and they will undoubtedly build upon these in the new academic year and beyond. 

Reaffirm safety and routines

A critical incident can shift our sense of normality, challenge our views and assumptions, and make us feel as though the world is unpredictable and unsafe. The familiarity of and reconnection with routines will be key protective factors facilitating resilience. Routines create a sense of safety and when staff feel safe they are more settled to teach and pupils, more settled to learn.

Acknowledge loss, change and bereavement

Everyone is likely to have their own unique experiences of grief, whether this is a change to their circumstances, loss of a rite of passage or a bereavement. Grief is normal and does not usually follow a neat linear stage model. It is helpful for schools to feel confident to give support and understand that a school community member’s response may take many forms, and that is ok. Acknowledgement, active listening and relationships are usually intervention enough. 

Resilience is made of ordinary rather than extraordinary processes.

Masten, 2001

Using our EP role to promote what’s needed

Due to the pressures that our socially constructed ‘education system’ has created, these 5 Key Principles can be challenging to prioritise. Yet these psychological principles, are simply about the importance of being human and encouraging connectiveness and understanding. In the face of the coronavirus and other challenges to come, we call on psychologist colleagues to build upon this EP community venture by continuing to share these messages with school communities and promote policy change. 

The handbook has been cited as a key reference in the DfE Wellbeing for Education Return project, which many EPS across the country are leading on or are involved with currently. Access the handbook, the related webinar, resources and references


References

Durlak, J. A. (2011). The impact of enhancing students’ social and emotional learning: A meta-analysis of school-based universal interventions. Child Development, 82(1), 405-432.

Herman, J. (2015). Trauma and recovery. New York: Basic Books.

Joseph, S. (2012). What doesn’t kill us: The new psychology of posttraumatic growth. London: Piatkus Little Brown.

Masten, A. (2001). Ordinary magic: Resilience processes in development. American Psychologist, 56 (3), 227-238.

Masten, A. (2018). Resilience Theory and Research on Children and Families: Past, Present, and Promise. Journal of Family Theory and Review, 10 (1), 12-31.

O’Hare, D., & Riverie, H (2020). A resilience and coping framework for supporting transitions back to school. British Psychological Society.

Seligman M.E.P., C. M. (2014). Positive Psychology: An Introduction. In Flow and the Foundations of Positive Psychology. Dordrecht: Springer.

Wheatley, M. (2003). When Change Is out of Our Control. In M.Effron, R.Gandossy, M. Goldsmith (Eds), Human Resources in the 21st Century (Park 4). Wiley Publications.


About Katie Ruane

Katie is a Senior Educational Psychologist who works for Nottinghamshire Educational Psychology Service. Katie has a passion for positive psychology, promoting staff well-being and facilitating organisational change

View all posts by Katie Ruane



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