Yesterday I attended the Governors Conference for our Local Authority. I had not been to one before and I wasn’t sure that I wanted to go to this one. I am so glad that I did.
The first speaker was a larger than life lady with the impressive name of Camila Batmanghelidjh . We weren’t quite sure what to expect as she started to tell us about how she was half Iranian, half Belgian and had had significant difficulties with learning. SHe drew us in and an hour and a half passed in less than 20 minutes!
(Photograph: Sam Frost Sam Frost/Sam Frost http://gu.com/p/3e25z/stw)
She talked about parts of the brain, she talked about cell memories and gene memories and things I had never heard of, but what she said made sense.
She talked about how our children in our schools respond. She described the child who absconds from the classroom every time she is asked to pick up a pencil and write. Not only did she describe her actions she described what made her do it. She talked about how the brain structure in children who were malnourished, mistreated, abused could change. She also talked about the care routine needed in school to try and overcome some of these difficulties.
I had had an idea based on nothing a few weeks ago that perhaps when some of our children “made the wrong choices” (which have now been explained as not really a choice) we should take them out and run them round the field (with me standing in the middle, not actually running obviously) until they were exhausted. Camila with great eloquence explained the cycle of stress hormones that give the fight/ flight reflex and then the come down after. She explained how for some of these children that it has become muddled – the waiting, the quiet is actually stressful – once there is violence that is the comedown, it is over. These children need that physical exertion to reduce stress and how a good way to do this is to make them run – she suggested up and down stairs until they were breathless. This way we offer them an opportunity in a controlled way to get the aggression out and let them get to a calm place – without the need to thump someone. We have a brilliant teacher at school who has always promoted exercise and has set up early morning and lunchtime running clubs – he had it right, perhaps we just need to encourage more children to attend.
Camila explained how memories can be frozen in people’s brains to be retriggered when 3 or 4 factors, seemingly unrelated, come together and the “child’s” response is to fight, although the victim is not appropriate. How if as a baby they were beaten/ abused by a man who had purple hair this could trigger the following series of events seventeen years later on a crowded bus:-
- “Child” is sitting down
- Innocent man with purple hair gets on (Part of memory 1 – physical)
- Innocent man approaches and stands next to “child” (Part of memory 2 – proximity)
- Innocent man is standing, “child” is sitting (Part of memory 3 – height difference)
- “Child” switches to fight mode and beats innocent man
The “child” won’t be able to explain the sudden switch, the sudden rage, it just happened. It explained how some (not all) of the frenzied attacks we hear about in the news can happen.
It was fascinating. I shall go back to school with a totally new awareness of how and why these children might react. It will make me consider more my words and my actions with some of our “difficult” children. It was explained that schools still need rules, they still need boundaries, these children need to be able to deal with life in “the real world” but it is how we teach them. They are a product of their environment and of their parents’ and grandparents’ environments. We cannot solve all of their problems but if we can help in the way we speak and by what we offer them then that must be good.