Support goes a long way – busting myths and misconceptions around learning support

A school, undoubtedly, is a place of learning – learning and gaining proficiency in various traditional disciplines Mathematics, Science, Languages, and other disciplines such as the Arts, and Physical Fitness. A school is also a place where children learn who they are, they learn about their emotions and feelings and their role in the larger society outside the four walls of the school. Academic learning and socio-emotional well-being go hand in hand and there is a close relationship between the two. The pandemic has ushered in and brought into prominence the importance of students’ emotional and psychological well-being and its impact on their academic life.
Psychological well-being is a commonly used but a highly misunderstood term these days. So what does it mean to be a psychologically healthy person? Many people assume that good mental health means feeling happy most of the time. However, there’s much more to good mental health than pleasant emotions. What well-being actually means is when an individual finds peace in what they are doing, leading to happiness, comfort, and a sense of meaning/purpose. All individuals, especially adults, have strategies to take care of their mental health. However, it is different for children. When children experience a stressful trigger for a period of time without having appropriate tools to manage it, it affects their mental and emotional wellbeing. They get easily affected by the environment they inhabit and the moods and behaviours of the adults in their environment. What it means is an adult’s mental well-being influences a child’s mental wellbeing to a great extent.
Care and nurture are the pillars that support the academic growth of our students. B.D. Somani International gives a strong emphasis on the mental, academic, and socio-emotional development of a child. The Learning Support Team at BD Primary comprises two Counsellors and two Special Educators who cater to behavioural, emotional and academic needs of our learners. They work during school hours and very closely with parents, teachers, the Leadership Team and external professionals, to pick up early signs and provide timely help, support and necessary intervention.
Let’s delve deeper into the individual roles of Counsellors and Special Educators in the mental as well as academic well-being of a learner.
There are a variety of concerns and stressors children face. Also, there is a strong connection between emotional stability and academic performance. How many times are you able to concentrate on your work if you are clouded with emotions? The answer is no different for children. Children feel stressed about many things like friendships, bullying, home environment, learning issues, confidence, sibling rivalry etc. All of these not only affect children’s daily functioning but also lead them to feel anxious or scared.  All children are different and so is their reaction to these feelings and their coping mechanism. Some of them act out; however, others just withdraw into their shell. At times like these, a counsellor is one who helps children understand themselves, and cope and adapt to overcome complex situations and emotions. We support them by providing a psychologically safe space and environment; we listen to them to explore and understand their concerns and emotions; we show empathy, build trust, and implement the timely intervention with helpful positive/healthy strategies. We also use a gamut of therapies to help them cope.
When children are referred to the Special Educators, for academic challenges, struggles, difficulties or concerns, they gauge not only the academic prowess of the learner but also his/her psychological makeup. Once their emotional concerns are dealt with by the learning support team, we usually find that most of the learner’s issues melt away and the residue can be dealt with easily and quickly. When we start seeing a learner individually, we do an informal evaluation with them, which helps us estimate their skill level and see if their performance matches their grade level. These informal assessments are relevant to the BD Primary Program and are designed depending upon the school’s context, taking into account the curriculum and grade-level demands. Very often, our team has noticed that just boosting a learner’s self-esteem and nudging them in the right direction can work wonders; the accompanying ‘learning issues’ sometimes sort themselves out with minimal intervention. Sometimes, however, there is a deeper concern and the child is referred to an external professional, such as an Occupational Therapist, a Speech Therapist or a Clinical Psychologist, for a psycho-educational evaluation, to identify the root cause of the learner’s academic struggles and emotional concerns and plan the appropriate intervention. This not only helps identify the root concern but helps the professionals and teachers make appropriate adjustments to their plans and goals for the learner.
We work with the learner either individually or in a group. Many times we also work with the learners in their classrooms. The strategies used and taught by us definitely help build the skills of the learners we work with and are helpful to others too. Strategies used by us such as highlighting the keywords, scanning, using various graphic organizers, using mnemonics, manipulatives and assistive technology are beneficial to all learners. Beginning with a level lower than what the learner can actually do, also helps us build rapport with them and ensures comfort and stress-free sessions. Most of the time, the learners enjoy working with us and attend our sessions enthusiastically.
BD Primary has a caring learning environment and instructional models to provide meaningful learning opportunities for each student. At BD, a school that believes in Being Different, instead of seeing us Counsellors and Special Educators as a separate entity, we are seen as an integral part of the teacher fraternity at BD Primary. We participate in all school events – Fun and Fitness Day, Family Math Night, Arts Evening, accompany students on the overnight trips, participate in PTMs and are ‘visible’ in the school and not asked to work behind closed doors.
It may be noteworthy to state that we do not put a time-line at the beginning of Support, be it Counselling or Special Ed, since the progress for each learner has its own graph. Everyone has their own individual styles of learning and it is important to keep those in mind while setting short-term and long-term goals. Finally, the goal of any therapy or support system is that the client functions independently and we strongly believe that the support can be weaned off, albeit gradually, once the child achieves that.
We are proud to have a strong Learning Support Team that is dedicated to creating an engaging learning environment that fosters academic success and addresses barriers to learning in the least restrictive environment possible.
This post has been co-authored by our Learning Support Team.
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