Behaviour incidents among at-risk students are being dramatically reduced under a program which is teaching children about mindfulness, how their brain works and neuroplasticity.
The impressive results, and the strategies being used to achieve them, are just some of the reasons Stanton Lodge Head of Program, Kevin Butler, is a finalist for the Queensland College of Teachers inaugural TEACHX Award for Innovation in Teaching.
Students come from as far away as Proserpine to participate in the part-time, short-term program which has seen about nine out of ten students return to full-time state schooling with a significant reduction in suspensions.
Almost eight in ten students have fewer behavioural incidents recorded and around seven out of ten show an increase in school attendance.
Mr Butler is passionate about helping his students, some of whom have suffered traumatic experiences early in life, have disabilities or face other challenges, including mental health difficulties, not experienced by their peers.
“What a lot of people can’t appreciate is where some our kids come from. A lot of things have happened to them in their lives, and some of the choices that these kids didn’t have a chance to make, through no fault of their own, have influenced their lives negatively – they can’t change that and that’s had an impact on their brain development,” Mr Butler said.
Mr Butler said that’s why teaching students how their brain worked was so effective.
“Once the students, and I believe adults as well, have a greater understanding of how their brain is working, then they have a better ability to modify what it’s doing,” he said. “So we teach them about their amygdala, which is the emotional centre of the brain. Even the Preppies will walk out knowing about their ‘myg’, we shorten it down to ‘myg’,” he said.
Mr Butler uses anecdotes, practical activities and metaphors like shaking up and then opening soft drink cans, and YouTube videos, to explain emotions to students. They learn about “fight, flight and freeze” reactions and various What Works Well (WWW) individualised calming strategies, including deep breathing, going for a walk or run and tapping.
Other evidence-based programs being used to help students develop their personal and social capabilities include Beyond Blue’s SenseAbility, Restorative Practices, Zones of Regulation, Rock and Water, which teaches self-awareness, Drumbeat, which uses drums as part of a wellbeing program, Apps, YouTube, TEDTalks and small group lessons. Concentrating on kitchen and workshop-focussed activities also play a key role in engaging students.
Mr Butler said students feeling safe and valued was paramount.
“Every person here must feel safe, and when they know they’re important and they’re included, their sense of self-value goes up, which changes how their brain works and what it’s doing and why it’s doing those things, and they see improvement in themselves,” he said.
Kevin’s participation in professional development around Autism Spectrum Disorder, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, Speech Pathology, Occupational Therapy, Distressed and Deliberately Defiant Behaviour, Youth Mental Health First Aid, Trauma Aware Practice, Pathways to Trust for Neuroscience, and Mindfulness, along with his extensive experience with at-risk students, has also made him an invaluable trainer for other teachers and parents.
As a finalist, Mr Butler received $500 for professional development.