past 39 years, I have spent much time working with disturbed and
disturbing adolescents. My brief for my work was quite clear (if
originally woolly in the methodology).
I was trying to help these troubled young people to develop the social
skills they sorely lacked, in order to make their lives easier to
manage for themselves.
In the 1970's I was in charge of an "Off Site Centre" (currently known
as a Pupil Referral Unit) where I was responsible for young people at
risk of permanent exclusion from a large mainstream comprehensive
In the 1980's I qualified as an educational psychologist and learned
about "cognitive complexity". More recently I read about "emotional literacy". Additionally I worked
alongside Tim Francis who
now practises as an independent educational psychologist who showed me
a framework on which to base my previous (albeit unstructured)
My current work with permanently excluded teenagers is founded on
my own early experiences at the "Off Site Centre", my theoretical
knowledge of psychology, the practice of Tim Francis
and my additional studies of "emotional literacy".
Skills Training - First Aim
To develop cognitive
Tim uses a framework that he calls "Choice Points". This
encourages the student to look back at the history of an event/s with a
view to identifying "choice points" - cusps or nodes where a different
choice could have been made. Tim usually asks "What else could you have
done?" but he does not offer an answer.
The underlying idea is to encourage students to pause, think and with
peers, generate an array of potential responses, evaluate the outcomes
and fall out and then make an informed choice.
( When Tim
and I tried to explain this approach to a Pastoral Head in a large
secondary school, he said that he did this all the time - "I tell them
straight, if they do that again they will be excluded!" Tim
suggests that this "if A then B" conditioning actually programmes
students for failure.)
Often, same age peer advice is more compelling than any tomes of
wisdom handed down from grey bearded men (me not Tim). This is
why this work is best done with a group of similar age peers.
With judicious button pushing from the adult leader, some
youngsters (but not the ones with the immediate problem) can come out
with some veritable pearls of wisdom.
Over the years I have been told many times by students that school
problems would evaporate once the individual student had a job.
Financial reward would resolve any difficulty.
In one group session, Simone (not her real name), a 15 year old
excluded pupil summed it up wonderfully. She said "It's just patterns
isn't it? You skive off school - you throw a sicky at work.
You cheek the teacher - you bad mouth the boss. It ain't no
different. You get excluded - you lose your job."
Out of the mouths of....
Skills Training - Second Aim
To develop emotional
I genuinely believe that many young adults and sadly a good few grown
ups (for whatever reason) are just unaware of the messages they
out by their actions and words.
For me, emotional literacy is trying to be aware of what message we are
giving during a communication.
Some people talk about "meta communication". I understand this to
mean the subliminal (perhaps) message that surrounds the content of the
communication. For instance, is a female person of 60 years of
an "old woman" or a "senior lady".
When a student of 15 years sits in front of me with a hooded sweat
shirt covering his eyes and his school tie in his mouth, what is he
"saying" to me?
When I as a 53 year old man, put my jacket over my head, suck my tie
and lounge in my chair before a 15 year old, what am I saying to
the "client"? My provocation is often perceived as monstrous!
But it's ok for them to do it to me and anybody else!
Skills Training - Third Aim
To combine a developing depth of response with an awareness of
effect on other people's feelings.
I try to use role play and
peer comment to explore the array of possible responses to given
Ideally, I want my clients to think ahead and avoid the situations in
the first place, but living in the real world I like to offer practical
Once the mechanics of a course of action have been decided, the
emotional consequences must be considered.
What could you have done? How would s/he have felt? What would have
been the consequence for you?
"But she was a minger!" said a young boy who was surprised
to be slapped in the face by a woman whom he had told was ugly.
These are my personal opinions which
reflect my experience of 39 years in education
including the last 25 years of practising as an educational
Chartered Educational Psychologist
Cert. Ed., BSc.(Hons), MSc.,
C. Psychol., AFBPsS.
British Psychological Society No: 34097
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