Sunday, 4 March 2012

Looking through a different lens

I have a new friend called Emily who I met on facebook a couple of weeks ago.  A week later we were on the phone and a week after that, making plans to meet in person.  You know when you just ‘click’ with someone?  Emily’s business provides consultancy to schools where there are vulnerable children who are struggling to learn and/or thrive in their educational setting.  The children she consults on may not have a diagnosis of any particular difficulty but they are clearly having problems fitting in and/or learning.  Her approach is based on Ross Greene’s work.  I have discussed Ross’ Collaborative Problem Solving in previous posts and we continue to use it very effectively both at home and at Bright Futures School.
Over to Emily for more about her business……..

My bio through my eyes

I am called Emily and I am a mother of two boys, one is 12 the other is 7. I am a qualified teacher and have worked within Mainstream and all styles of Special Needs provision in Early Years and Primary schools for the last 11 years.

I have a dream ........that one day I will be an educationalist and change the way we communicate with children in educational settings.  I also dream that I will conquer the world (well maybe a small town!) and provide the best education possible for children with any sort of challenging behaviour.  My passion and reason for being is to ensure my goal is achieved. I feel very strongly that my philosophy has no flaws if followed correctly.  I am ox-strong with it and I am now on my journey.   I have left teaching to start my pledge and have a new company called EncompassNow

Labels to me are pretty irrelevant (obviously we need them to get support, or at least that’s the myth).  If a child has any sort of difficulty they need that extra help and support to work through it and this needs to fit to the child not the expectation of how children should react dependent on a label.

 Children and people respond like us all to compassion, love and understanding. I will expand: if children feel love they offer it back, if children feel trust they give back trust, if they feel comfortable they feel free to try out new things and if they are not constantly being instructed they will eventually work things out for themselves and regulate their own environment.  Some children - about 10-15% find it difficult, well impossible, to regulate themselves and this is where the problems lie.  These children need help and support, they need to be taught how to regulate themselves and how to work things through that don’t go the way they ‘perceived’ they should.

I kind of don’t want to mention this as it is pretty obvious where my feelings lie but I guess I have to ...... aggression, punishment and bribery puts anyone’s backs up makes people suspicious and is never going to work. I will expand, shouting, putting down, sticker charts, detentions, being kept away from friends ..... it goes on and on.  These exacerbate already poor situations and encourage children to lose faith in a system that is rapidly letting them down.

I have read and read up on the subject, almost to exhaustion and eventually after reading a lot of nonsense and non-starters I came across a man called Ross Greene.  He is amazing.  He put my words into his mouth, mixed them up a bit made them sound ever so grand and popped them onto paper.  He says it all.  He has a philosophy that is above and beyond anything else I have ever come across.  “He gets it”, he understands, he realises how people really respond to each other and how the world should be communicating and I think he is the bees knees.

Ross Greene's web site is

I have worked with children for years, many of them with additional needs and I know that my methods can help the children who find life that little bit more tricky than most.  The children I have taught have excelled, shown me immense respect and parents have flooded my doors with happy words and sounds of relief that at long last a teacher really understands their child.  I have been through four gruelling Ofsteds and been given ‘outstanding’ for every single observation.  When I was training to be a teacher many moons ago I remember being told that you must never  ask children if they would like to ..... you should always tell them.  My certainty started way back then as I knew at that moment deep within me, my empathic understanding was on a different playing field.

Teachers are in a tricky position, they are stressed and expected to meet targets which don’t really reflect anything but academic achievement.  More important to a person for their life- long achievement is to be happy and relaxed, confident and able and have an ability to work things through,  when under stress or alive with immense jubilation.  Once a person can do these things they will learn and they will excel, if they cannot do these things they get switched off and problems creep in.

Do parents really care whether their child is level 6 or can read all the high frequency words by the end of nursery? Maybe they do but not if their child is struggling.  They really don’t give a hoot, they want strategies built up, they want their child to be able to ask for help, express themselves in order to become independent and think for themselves, but also be able to function in a society where they have to conform.
As professionals it is always important to remember that it is ever so much more difficult for children to misbehave than conform.  Allowing children to work through emotions and building strategies with them enables them to work through ways in which to conform when needed.  We need to listen and listen hard to all the ways children communicate.  This can range from shouting something abusive to attempting to hit out at someone or even hiding under a table.  The way people behave demonstrate their discomforts or comforts and children are no different.  Children with heightened sensory awareness or an ability to feel emotions but not express them, may present in this way and these are the children that are crying out for help.

I have often had staff trouble shoot with me and ask my advice when having difficulties.  I have been told time and time again how good I am with the ‘difficult’ children (labelled by schools) and how on earth could I manage to get them to do certain things when other staff couldn’t.  The answer lies in the fact I never ever told them to do it.  I talk to children about what is difficult for them and we work out a solution together which is comfortable for both of us.  Here as an example of working within a mainstream classroom.  This below sounds so straightforward and obvious but many people would not even consider carrying it out.

Anxiety about whole school gatherings


Whilst working in a year one class teaching a child that found whole school gatherings difficult.  He would become disruptive and loud, causing other children’s behaviour to escalate and make lining up very challenging. Over a short period of time I soon worked out that he wasn’t misbehaving to be difficult, he was doing it as he did not know what to expect and found transitions very tricky.


I was able to help him very easily by having a quiet word prior to us leaving the classroom about where we were going and what was going to happen.


He was happy with this and we soon built up a strong trusting relationship.  .  This was a simple effective and manageable solution.  I always tried to ensure that plans remained the same as transition times were such a hurdle for him, if for any reason they changed at the last minute the trust was there and he began to calmly ask me what was happening.

My company offers a unique training package for educational settings.  I am offering to go into a setting and train staff for a day on empathic collaborative working and then spend several sessions with a class or individual child and their teacher modelling exactly how my practice should be carried out.  It is essential the staff at school are competent in this way of working in order to build up trust with their own pupils.
I hope that schools that have children who are struggling have the confidence to ask for help as it takes a much braver person to express your difficulties to others rather than struggling along helplessly.  Our spirited and special children surely prove this to us by their actions.

You can follow Emily Neal on twitter at @encompassnow

You can find encompassnow at

Great stuff – thanks Emily!  A much needed service for schools.  I like Emily's emphasis on the fact that often the first thing we need to do when considering how to support a child who is struggling is look through a different lens at what is happening for that child.  Too often, the child is labelled as ‘naughty’ or ‘oppositional’ when actually the behaviours we are seeing are either an expression of anxiety and inability to cope or a manifestation of the child’s needs not being met appropriately.

I'm looking forward to meeting up with Emily - first step, blog collaboration, next step....who knows?  The world is our lobster..........


  1. We run very similar organizations. I also train teachers to understand other ways of supporting children who have special needs in the USA ( ) . I commend you.

  2. Hi Nicole

    Thanks for your feedback, I'm sure Emily will be pleased with that :)