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Australian scholarship recipient studies Emotion Coaching in UK schools




Maggie Tang, a school counsellor at Putney Public School, NSW, Australia, was awarded a Premier Teacher Scholarship program in 2022.  This is an initiative of the NSW Premier’s Department and administered by the NSW Department of Education.  The scholarship provided funding for a 5-week study tour for Maggie to explore best practice in the her chosen focus area. Maggie was interested in preventative approaches in schools to support children with depression. Emotion Coaching was one of these approaches Maggie wanted to find explore.


The following is taken from Maggie’s report following the study tour activities.  This may be of interest to people interested in implementing Emotion Coaching as a whole school approach.  Through Maggie’s interviews with settings in the UK, she identified themes related to implementation.


“Within the United Kingdom, there exists a collegial and supportive community of established emotion coaching practitioners in schools. It is important to note that emotion coaching theory is grounded in neuroscience and that having a neuro-scientific understanding of the role that the brain plays in the expression of emotion and social learning is important to integrate into collegial discussions about effective emotion coaching (Rose, Gus, & Gilbert, 2021). I (virtually) interviewed several leadership and teaching staff who have utilised emotion coaching as a whole-school approach - Leyburn Primary School (North Yorkshire), Birds Bush Primary School (Staffordshire), Acle Academy (Norfolk), and Frenchwood Community Primary School (Lancashire).


These school staff discussed ways they integrated emotion coaching principles with restorative practices within their school contexts on a regular basis, as part of a whole school approach for supporting student wellbeing and behaviour. Some themes which resonated were:

·     The importance of self-care and emotional self-awareness in one’s own practice of emotion coaching. Reflective practice regarding our own emotions (i.e. meta-emotion) is important. There is an important alignment of a practitioner’s values and own goals for their students with the emotion coaching approach.

·     Children learn about their world through the process of neuroception (the brain’s ability to distinguish whether situations or people are safe, dangerous, or life-threatening). The power of emotion coaching lies in being able to scaffold real-world conversations with students, to help them feel safe and seen as individuals. At each school, there appears to be a conscious decision to move away from overly focusing on sanctions and rewards; instead focusing on role-modeling of real-world skills in dealing with conflict in ways that are trauma-informed and highly relational for students. Emotion coaching can be successfully integrated into restorative practices in schools to assist teachers, students, and parents to build, maintain and restore relationships.

·     Importance of finding opportunities to connect with students through understanding their hobbies and interests.

·     Benefits they have seen since adopting this approach, including improved attendance, classroom engagement, and relationships between teaching staff and students.

·     Ongoing collaboration between schools and the Emotion Coaching UK developers to facilitate training to new staff and continually explore ways to engage parents in this approach.

·     The importance of designated safe spaces in schools to promote emotional regulation in children was highlighted in each school. The ‘problem solving’ step in emotion coaching can potentially encompass a safe space with visual cues where the child is encouraged to choose a strategy to self-regulate. Mirror neurons (a type of brain cell) respond equally when we perform an action and when we witness someone else perform the same action. When the role-modeling of strategies occurs with an adult in a safe space, children can potentially learn how to self-regulate through using their mirror neurons (Rose, Gus, & Gilbert, 2021).”


Maggie concludes that, a dedicated whole-of-school emotion coaching approach can have a powerful influence on building students' self-awareness, capacity to regulate their emotions and foster a greater connectedness with their school environment. 

 

Reflection from  Licette Gus, Emotion Coaching UK co-founder

Emotion Coaching UK’s explicit focus upon the link between attachment, physiology and an emotion coaching style of communication in response to children and young people’s challenging emotions gives a clear course of action to support the association between attachment and depression (Spruit et al, 2019).

 

Spruit and colleagues cite four levels which can explain the association between attachment security and depression in children and young people;

1. genetic (shared genetic vulnerability),

2. cognitive (internal working model of the child)

3. socio-emotional factors (emotion regulation and social skills)

4. culture and society (socio-ecological risk environment)

 

The attuned, empathic response from adults at the core of an emotion coaching response, is posited to support two of these four levels - the internal working model of the child and the development of stress and emotional regulation.  Emotion Coaching offers a viable approach for educational and community settings wanting to support the mental health and wellbeing of all their pupils.

 

We congratulate Maggie on her research report and are grateful to the schools that agreed to be interviewed by Maggie. We hope that as a result, children and young people in Australian schools will have an increased opportunity to be supported by adults who understand and are able to consciously use Emotion Coaching in their everyday interactions with them in educational settings.


Reference

Spruit, A., Goos, L., Weenink, N. et al. The Relation Between Attachment and Depression in Children and Adolescents: A Multilevel Meta-Analysis. Clin Child Fam Psychol Rev 23, 54–69 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10567-019-00299-9

 

 

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