When the flower doesn’t bloom

Portrait of a cute little girl hiding behind sunflower on sunny day

When a flower doesn’t bloom, you fix the environment in which it grows, not the flower. Emma Mander champions a more nurturing approach to education.

This ‘flower’ quote, by Dutch inspirational speaker Alexander Den Heijer, illustrates the challenge we are facing in education, particularly for children with mental health challenges and special educational needs. We need to stop asking children and young people to conform to the boundaries of an outdated system and start to focus on changing the environment.

The behaviour approaches and policies we still see in schools have, at their core, remained largely unchanged for decades with a predominantly sanction-based approach where a certain behaviour triggers a certain response. This is regardless of the need behind that behaviour, and with little or no space in the current framework to accommodate a more therapeutic approach. 

A therapeutic approach with children and young people in education works and it is beneficial to all, regardless of whether or not there is an additional need. Promoting this in schools would benefit all children and enable them to thrive side by side regardless of need. This approach is based on theories relating to how we view human relationships and interactions as a result of the difficulties people incur throughout their lives, such as neurodiversity or trauma experiences (including trauma from unmet needs). 

Currently we are seeing an increase in the number of children struggling to engage and thrive in the current system, and there is a need for change. All behaviour is a form of communication, and there is a need to start actually listening to what children and young people are telling us—that the current system is not working in a positive way for them. 

■ Creating a more nurturing environment for learning.

A therapeutic approach does not mean that ‘therapy’ is delivered by sessions from particular professionals. It is more of an adopted approach delivered by the whole team consistently to ensure a holistic, adaptable, and understanding view is taken and delivered in line with the person’s needs.

Some would argue that children with SEND might benefit from a specialist school, and, sometimes specialist environments are indeed the most appropriate for some. On an everyday level, a therapeutic approach will support positive wellbeing and create a more nurturing environment for learning, and at crisis point it can prevent wrongful hospitalisation and unnecessary police intervention. 

This is a fully evidenced model. Research has demonstrated that a therapeutic approach which fully understands the young person’s needs has a positive impact on behaviour and progress. As a result, there is usually a reduction in trauma-based behaviours at crisis point. Young people are able to develop the ability to understand themselves and their own needs as well as being empowered and skilled to communicate using their words, rather than through reactive behaviours.

It is important to note however, that this shouldn’t just be viewed as an add on for children with SEND or an approach to use only at crisis point. We need to stop it from escalating in the first place. We need a therapeutic approach that is embedded, encouraged, and rewarded in the education framework, and that leads to a decrease in situations reaching crisis point. The only way we will see that change is if it is driven right from the top.

Emma Mander
Author: Emma Mander

Emma Mander
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Emma Mander is a Co-Founder of Great Minds Together and a SEND & Trauma Specialist.

Website: https://greatmindstogether.co.uk/
Facebook: Great Minds Together
Instagram: @greatmindstogether
Twitter: @greatmindsmcr



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