In a fresh series on BBC Two titled “Helping Our Teens,” esteemed behaviour expert Marie Gentles visits Beacon Hill Academy in the West Midlands to evaluate if her empathetic approach can lead to positive changes in behaviour, ultimately fostering student success in school.
Across two episodes, the audience will become acquainted with students such as Jayliyah, who grapples with the school’s stringent behaviour policy, and Scott, who harbours anxieties about his return to school.
Marie has imparted her invaluable advice to students and outlined ways in which parents can lend support to their teenagers.
The concluding episode is scheduled to be broadcast on Thursday night at 9pm on BBC Two, and for those who miss it, it will be available for streaming on BBC iPlayer.
Marie Gentles engaged in a conversation with Bradford Zone regarding the series.
What advice would give you to students nervous about going back to school?
Firstly, that it is normal and ok and to be expected. Prepare your equipment etc, so that there is no extra stress on the morning of school and remind yourself that most of the students will be feeling something very similar!
How can school friends support each other?
Talk to one another, laugh and have fun! It’s so easy to forget the importance of joy and happiness, especially when adults may be telling teens that school is serious and important. It is, but balance is crucial for mental health and well-being and will actually support the teen brain to do better at school.
What would you say to students who might have been getting in trouble at school and want to make a fresh start this term?
Every moment is a fresh opportunity. It is never ‘too late’ to make a change. Have small goals initially, nothing too big or overwhelming, and then every step of progress is a step in the right direction, and remember my saying: There is no such thing as perfection, only progression.
What can a student do if they feel it’s too late for them to change their behaviour?
Firstly, allow others around you to support you. Then think about what I call separating yourself from your behaviour – we all, even adults, sometimes behave in ways that are undesirable, but it does not mean that we are a ‘bad person’ overall. It is the behaviour that is not likeable, not you. Simply having the desire to change demonstrates just that. Then start small and acknowledge and celebrate each step of progress.
This new term will be a big year for students about to start their GCSE’s, what tips can you give to help them to manage the pressure?
My daughter is one of these students, and what I have said to her is get yourself into a routine from the beginning of the school year, eat well, sleep well and then do 20 to 30 minutes of revision as day. That then feels manageable and when it comes to exam time, you just continue to do what you’ve always done, significantly reducing overwhelm and stress. I had immerse success with my students in the past and their test results when I used to be a Headteacher using this method.
How can parents encourage their teens to attend school?
Work with the school, to understand why they do not want to attend. What is the behaviour communicating? Is it anxiety, worry, fear, inability to access the curriculum? Then once the need has been identified you can support them to meet the need.
What should parents do if their teens are getting in trouble at school?
I have a phrase: Be curious rather than furious. Ask why? What thoughts and feelings are manifesting as undesirable behaviours? Once identified you can then begin to meet the need. All behaviour is a form of communication.
How can parents protect their mental health?
I talk about emotional containment. Identify things that are emotionally containing for you – in other words things that make you feel good and practice on a daily basis. Start with a couple of minutes a day if needs be and prioritise the same way you do brushing your teeth. These practices will release chemicals in the brain that help you to feel a little better. When I was a full time carer for my mum who has dementia, working and raising my children, these practices changed my life! It can be a cup of tea or coffee by yourself each morning, to a walk around the block, or a phone call with a friend or family member.
What tips would you give teachers to support students with challenging behaviour?
Learn about and understand the attachment theory. Children and young people need to feel emotionally safe before they can learn and before their system can wire for calm. Another saying I have is ‘be what you want to see,’ children and young people will learn more from what they see from you, than what they hear from you.
You met some inspiring people at Beacon Hill Academy, what did they teach you?
They taught me and reminded me that we are all in this together. There is no one person who knows it all. We can all learn from one another by sharing our knowledge and expertise, as we are all uniquely different, just like the amazing young people that we support.