“The quickest way to become an old dog is to stop learning new tricks.”
– John Rooney
– John Rooney
Roughly this time two years ago my Principal came to me and asked how I would feel about being the teacher in the new Foundation Stage Nurture Group, which was due to open at the beginning of the next school year. I had been teaching in the school for three years, two years in P2 and one year in P1. I was still a fairly new member of staff. At the time our school was a single form intake, so being the only teacher in my year group it had been a steep enough learning curve. I felt like I just got to grips with P2 – I knew what I was doing and was ready to refine my practices in my third year. Taking on this new thing, a brand new venture for the school, a venture that no one was really sure what it would be like or how it would work, was going to be a big jump.
I had heard a bit about Nurture Groups, but not enough, so before I could make my mind up I did some research online. Nurture Groups exist for children who aren’t settled to learn, usually have missed some early years experiences that mean they aren’t ready for the social, emotional and behavioural demands and expectations of school life. More often than not they have some difficulties with Attachment. The Nurture Group Network is a font of all knowledge if you’d like to find out more about what a Nurture Group is.
There is research that says what sort of learner you are can be worked out by how you approach learning a new skill for example building flat-pack furniture, you can ask someone you know (pragmatist), read up on it (theorist), watch someone else do (reflector) it or just give it a go yourself (activist). I am definitely a theorist.
So I did my reading and decided that I would love the Nurture Group, I saw it as a huge chance to make a real difference in the lives of young children, to impact a whole school career and send ripple affects out to families and the wider community. I’d had some children in my classes previously who would have really benefited from Nurture Group support, if only it had been in place years earlier. I was so excited about the difference it could make in the lives of the pupils, but I also felt very overwhelmed by how different it would be to normal teaching.
Nurture groups incorporate literacy, numeracy and all the elements of the curriculum but in a less formal way and in an environment that is more homelike. It is designed to be like a bridge between school and home. My new classroom was to have a kitchen, a kitchen table, a sofa and lots of home like touches. I was also to create a Nurture Curriculum, filling in those missed opportunities. Helping children to learn to share, to take turns, to manage their emotions. There was also going to be a lot of new testing approaches to learn. Boxall Profiles are the cornerstone of Nurture Group Provision. Goodman’s Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaires have a role to play too.
There was a lot to learn.
I ordered myself some books to read up on Nurture Theory and Practice, a DVD to watch of Nurture Groups in action, read lots online and arranged a visit to a school with an award winning Nurture Group. At the beginning of that first term I did my 3-day training with the Nurture Group Network and once that was completed the Nurture Group started.
The first year was tough, there was so much to learn, so much uncertainty about if I was doing the right thing, more than once I had a real crisis of confidence and second guessed myself completely. The one thing that made everything infinitely easier was that we had Nurture Group Clusters. The 11 Nurture Teachers and Assistants from the area, who had all started at the same time got together and talked about plans, got extra training, asked each other for strategies advice in helping support children displaying challenging behaviours. Having a cluster group, and the friendships that formed out of it, was so important. I honestly couldn’t have done my job half as well without the support of those other girls over the past two years. I know I’m fortunate to have that support. Many teachers could do with a group like that.
I’m now going into my third year as a nurture teacher. I’ve taken through two cohorts reaching 12 children in full time places and supporting more part time as needed through the years. I’ve completed my nurture assignment and passed it with a Merit. I’ve just submitted it to be accredited for credits on an MA pathway, hopefully to turn it into a Postgrad Certificate in Education with a Nurture focus.
I’ve learned so many new tricks over the last two years:
- how to diffuse a tantrum
- when to tactically ignore and when to intervene
- that all behaviour is communication
- when to challenge and when to support
- how to interpret a Boxall Profile
- what proprioceptive activities are and how to use them
- classroom budgeting
- working with psychologists, politicians, interdisciplinary teams, family support services and social workers
Just to name a few.
But one thing I’m sure about – there will even more new tricks to learn next year!