Cromwell Primary School pilots counsellor for students

A Central Otago primary school is releasing a teacher for a role similar to that of counsellors in secondary schools.

The initiative is not common in primary schools and reflects a widening of the role of Te Kāhui Ako o Ngā Awanui (Cromwell’s Community of Learning) in the local community.

Student Juno with school dog Jed who is allowed into the teaching spaces and helps with wellbeing. Caleb, left, and James play chess, one of the activities that helps boys to relax and open up.

Student Juno with school dog Jed who is allowed into the teaching spaces and helps with wellbeing. 

Because of a variety of complex issues affecting local families, Cromwell Primary School is using a teacher as a counsellor to help students who in many cases have no one else to turn to.

Students often bring concerns to school from their personal lives, and not just learning or school issues, says Principal Wendy Brooks. There is a significant need for a counsellor/social worker in the school and the benefits for children are clear, she says, but there is no funding for the role.

Cromwell is growing fast and the former quiet country town is changing at pace.

“We get a lot of stressed children and challenging behaviour due to what’s happening in the community, such as families under pressure,” says Wendy, “and that can limit students’ learning.”

Her school is having to focus more and more on students’ mental health, anxiety and other issues.

“We become the first point of call, as there are not enough social agencies to manage these issues. The community looks to us to take a lead, and we are building the school’s local curriculum based on our community’s needs.”

Sharing the load

Listening and counselling are part of Wendy’s work as principal, but her work as lead principal of Te Kāhui Ako o Ngā Awanui (Cromwell’s Community of Learning) means she is away for two days each week.

Caleb, left, and James play chess, one of the activities that helps boys to relax and open up.

Caleb, left, and James play chess, one of the activities that helps boys to relax and open up.

Andrew Ede has been released from teaching for one day a week to step into her shoes. “He does on-the-spot intervention, and he’s very good at managing playground conflict,” says Wendy.

Andrew has trained in behaviour management and other related areas.

“He is part mentor, part counsellor, part social worker. We jokingly call him 
‘A & E’ because of his name, but also because it reflects what he has to deal with.”

Wendy believes that sometimes other schools could benefit from their own version of ‘A & E’.

“A lot of his role is just listening and doing things such as playing chess together, and seeing what emerges if they talk during play. He will kick a ball with them, or shoot baskets on the court. The children relax while doing sports, and start talking, and that’s when they open up about what is troubling them.”

Student Finlay with School dog Jed.

Student Finlay with School dog Jed.

The school also has a dog to further support the children’s emotional wellbeing. Jed is the pet of a volunteer at the school. The dog is allowed into classrooms and teaching spaces, and the children read to him and show him their work, as well as stroking him and enjoying his physical presence.

Wendy says any teacher who takes on a counselling role needs to have the opportunity for professional learning and development that will support them, including coaching and mentoring, social work and providing counselling or guidance.

“PLD could involve Child Matters workshops, mindfulness training and Seasons for Growth, which deals with changes such as separation, trauma and grief.”

Broadening the kāhui ako concept

In broadening the concept of kāhui ako, the school has established a Cromwell Community of Learning whānau group to connect families. It is also holding events such as expert-led workshops to support professional development and enhance community connections and parental capability.

The first event was a whānau picnic last summer. Wendy says there was an excellent turnout, with many families mixing with other newcomers to Cromwell for the first time.

“We believe that if all the right support blocks are in place, the learning will happen, and you can achieve so much more when working together than by working alone,” she says. 

Source: Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero

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