Adverse Childhood Experiences - ACEs - A Wholehearted Learning Approach
A paradigm shift is needed in our education system to overcome the effects of Adverse Childhood Experiences and, become a local and national priority. Wholehearted Learning in an innovative programme, taking the emerging evidence on childhood adversity together with the neuroscience, and is implemented within an educational setting. Schools are provided with a structure to become ACE-informed, bringing about a culture change through an ACE-informed lens that not only improves outcomes for our students and institutions, but also supports our staff and parents / caregivers.
Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are a complex set of related childhood experiences which can either directly affect a child/young person (sexual, emotional and physical abuse; physical and emotional neglect) and, indirectly affect them due to the environment in which they live, often referred to as household dysfunction (such as living with a parent/caregiver who has mental illness; is incarcerated; has substance dependency; where there is domestic abuse or, loss due to separation / divorce).
The research provides a strong dose-response relationship between ACE and poor physical and mental health, chronic disease, lower academic success in childhood and, into adulthood. It also shows the relationship between ACEs and violence; if we could prevent ACEs, violence would be halved – for both victims and perpetrators of violence. Children and young people who are exposed to ACEs have increased – and sustained - levels of stress.
When exposed to stressful situations, the fight, flight or freeze response floods our brain with corticotrophin-releasing hormones (CRH), a normal and protective response. However, when repeatedly exposed to ACEs, more CRH is produced by the brain, which results in the child being constantly in heightened state of alert, constantly in fight, flight or freeze mode and do not reach the natural recovery mode. In this heightened neurological state a young person is unable to think rationally and it is physiologically impossible for them to learn.
Wholehearted Learning within an educational setting is an innovative programme which provides a framework for educational settings to meet the challenge of addressing the factors which directly affects brain development and subsequently learning as a result of repeated exposure to ACEs. Wholehearted Learning provides a school or college with a structure to become ACE Informed, bringing about a culture change through an ACE-informed lens - that not only improves outcomes for students, but also supports staff and parents too.
One key area of Wholehearted Learning focuses on working with staff to build strong relationships with students and/or parents to help them understand how resilience can be developed to combat the negative impact of ACEs – therefore reducing the consequences of ACEs.
Wholehearted Learning focuses on a change management approach, creating the conditions in which an ACE-informed culture is developed and enhanced. Wholehearted Learning is a vehicle that leads to a cultural change of our staff and clients, all through an ACE lens.
The strength of Wholehearted Learning is that it is implemented over a time period to embed the thinking, the understanding, the responses and consider how the ‘organisation’ becomes ACE-informed.
Wholehearted Learning also challenges resistant to change and recognises that each establishment is unique. Particular emphasis is given to leadership and managing change which impacts positively on teaching and learning and builds capacity within a school, contributing to the monitoring of progression and individual needs of the child/young person.
The delivery model supports staff in recognising how childhood adversity impacts on brain development. Once staff understand this, which is a challenging learning curve for many, they will be guided to identify effectively the ‘fight, flight or freeze’ behavioural patterns in children, young people and families who they work with. This approach allows them to look at their approach and to implement ACE-informed and trauma enforced strategies, including the building of strong relationships, within their own working environments. Recognising that staff can change their practice, resulting in a positive contribution to culture change is a significant step forward, as is educating parents and families. There are various components to the Wholehearted Learning Approach in order to provide a structure to inform the action planning, monitoring, evaluation process and meet the current national Ofsted standards for schools.
There have been different conversations, instigated by the pupils themselves who have recognised the impact that their ACEs are having on their behaviour within school and how they are behaving. Previously, these discussions would not have taken place and these very students would have remained undetected and struggled with their school work and, their behaviour.
Staff attending Wholehearted Learning workshops will have the opportunity to be able to consider their teaching groups from a wellbeing perspective, subsequently identified students that were potentially of concern. In each case students felt able to open up to discuss their levels of anxiety and stress due to their adversities.
What will an ACE informed school look like?
An ACE Informed school will:
- Respond positively to early intervention, ensuring that children and young people who have had a stressful and traumatic life lead a happier and healthier adult life; raise awareness, drive forward and implement trauma enforced strategies which will improve efforts towards prevention and recovery.
- Recognise the importance of the social and emotional aspects of how children and young people learn. These skills of social emotional competence will be taught in order to support the overall development of the child, effective learning and academic success.
- Be able to demonstrate positive relationships between adults (predominantly teachers) and children and young people, thereby providing the attachment, stability and support the children and young people need.
- Develop a culture that encourages children and young people to express their feelings and be optimistic about their ability to learn. This will have a profound impact on their academic achievement and behaviour for learning, leading to an increase in attendance and a reduction in exclusion rates.
- Place emphasis on teaching the children and young people to be resilient, have a growth mind-set, which will subsequently equip them with the tools needed to successfully address the symptoms brought on by ACEs and address longer term goals.
- Monitor and evaluate impact. The outcomes of which will support: a school’s own self-evaluation framework; further development and continue to build capacity within the school.
Whole Hearted Learning Leadership Partner- Sharon Gray can work alongside school leaders and staff to provide a wide range of bespoke guidance, support, coaching and training opportunities. Leadership Partner Sharon Gray will work with leaders to identify the school's needs and implement strategies to improve school effectiveness and pupil outcomes.
Sharon can work with schools to co-design a consultancy day or package based around the school's own identified needs.
1 day Leadership Partner day is a 6 hour process, (1/2 day in school, 1/2 day report) including preparation, meetings and any record of visit requested by the school.