Wellbeing Hub: Exemplification of Effective Practice

Kilronan School

The following information and resources, including photos and videos, are from Kilronan School, Magherafelt, and set out the Recovery Curriculum designed to support their pupils following the Covid-19 pandemic.

In this video, teacher Hannah tells the children the story of ‘The Colour Monster’, and outlines the rationale of the curriculum, and how the story has benefited the pupils.

The Recovery Curriculum

At Kilronan School, in August 2020, following the Covid-19 pandemic, we supported pupils on their return to school through access to a Recovery Curriculum. Throughout the pandemic pupils had experienced much loss – loss of structure, routines, friendships, confidence, freedom and self-esteem. As a school we shifted our focus to meet their needs, focusing on re-establishing routines, re-building relationships and developing wellbeing.

These three areas became the focus of our Recovery Curriculum. One of the ways in which our staff helped to support the smooth transition from home learning back to school was to teach the topic of emotions and feelings through storytelling. One of the stories we used is ‘The Colour Monster’ by Anna Lenas. This is a colourful and descriptive book that supports pupils’ understanding about feelings, associating them with colours they might know.

Find out more about our Recovery Curriculum: ‘The Colour Monster’ story and how it is used to teach emotions.

Introduction and School Context

Kilronan School is a place where we ‘Learn, Grow and Achieve Together.’ We are a school for children aged three to 19 years with severe and profound learning difficulties, situated in Magherafelt. We currently have 174 pupils on our roll. Our teaching staff is made up of 22 teachers, one home school liaison teacher, a Vice-Principal and Principal. We are supported by Classroom Assistants and have access to Allied Health Professionals from Speech and Language Therapy, Physiotherapy, and Occupational Therapy. From the day a child arrives in Kilronan, we strive to provide each individual with a range of high-quality learning opportunities to meet their own needs and abilities.

At Kilronan School we aim to provide a happy, safe, and stimulating learning environment where pupils are motivated to achieve, feel valued, and are respected as individuals. We believe that our inclusive approach meets the needs of each pupil and empowers them to reach their full potential through experience of and participation in all aspects of the curriculum.

The Recovery Curriculum: Rationale

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, like all other schools, we had to reluctantly close our doors to our pupils in March 2020. We had no idea of what lay ahead and the impact that this would have on the teaching and learning experiences for our pupils. Throughout the period of lockdown our pupils engaged in online learning activities, but like so many other pupils in the Special Educational Needs (SEN) sector, these approaches to learning did not adequately replace face-to-face teaching. Our pupils struggled to understand why school had moved to being faces and activities on a computer screen, instead of the inspiring and busy classroom full of activity and opportunities for them to develop alongside their peers. This change in the delivery of the curriculum brought many challenges to the teachers as they prepared to welcome pupils back into the classrooms in the Autumn of 2020.

At Kilronan, pupils were supported on their return to school in August 2020 through access to a Recovery Curriculum as devised by Barry Carpenter, CBE, Professor of Mental Health in Education, Oxford Brookes University, UK. It would have been naive to think that our pupils would pick up the curriculum at exactly the same point at which they left it on the day their school closed. Too much had happened. We needed to listen to what the pupils were telling us, observe how they were behaving; and to analyse what they had experienced. None of what had happened had followed the usual pattern of a school year, with all of the annual cycle of events.

The Recovery Curriculum: Developing Classroom Practice

As a staff, we looked at what now was important to focus on for our pupils, to ensure that they would emerge from the previous few months more able and better equipped to deal with how lockdown had impacted on them. The common link in everything our pupils experienced during the pandemic was that of loss – the loss of structure, routines, friendships, confidence, freedom, and self-esteem. These, and many more feelings of loss triggered responses in our pupils such as anxiety and trauma. Instead of focusing on the Areas of Learning of the Northern Ireland Curriculum, we moved towards placing an emphasis on the following three areas when writing the Kilronan Individual Education Plans (Pupil Learning Plans (PLPs), see example) for our pupils: 

  1. Re-establishing routines.
  2. Re-building relationships.
  3. Developing wellbeing.

These three areas became the focus of our Recovery Curriculum, providing the pupils with meaningful and restorative learning opportunities which encouraged them to express their emotions and feelings: for example, during Circle Time each morning pupils were encouraged to explore how they were feeling. As many of our pupils are non-verbal, we used Makaton sign language, role play activities and visuals of emoji expressions to enable them to communicate their feelings. This discussion often gave the staff a means of addressing individual pupil concerns or anxieties.

At Kilronan, we always place an emphasis on physical as well as emotional wellbeing. To enhance this during the pandemic, we registered our school onto The Daily Mile programme. This was an excellent activity for classes to do on a daily basis, and gave pupils an opportunity to get outside and take part in regular exercise.

Our approach aligned with CCEA’s guidance on developing a whole-child, whole-school, whole-community approach to Emotional Health and Wellbeing (EHWB). One of the eight principles on which the guidance is founded is ‘Curriculum Provision and Teaching and Learning’ through which the emotional health and wellbeing of all pupils is promoted and supported. As a school, we had to rethink how we approached the curriculum and refocus on pupils’ emotional health and wellbeing as they returned to school.

One of the key approaches adopted by our school was informed by ‘Trauma Informed Practice.’ Our approach involved using emotional wellbeing sheets for pupils to use to record their feelings. These gave staff a baseline to inform their practice for each pupil. Staff monitored pupils’ wellbeing by recording their wellbeing on arrival at school and just before their departure on a daily basis (See Kilronan Pupil Daily Wellbeing Assessment Form). Pupils were given a choice of activities that would address their emotional wellbeing: wellbeing and sensory activities to promote relaxation, for example TakeTen, yoga or TACPAC. This pupil-centred approach ensured that each pupil had a learning plan that was specific to their own individual needs, which was our main objective and priority. The Kilronan Individual Education Plan provides further illustrations of teaching strategies that we used.

We provided a range of preferred activities daily to ensure that each pupil experienced a smooth transition from home to school.

The Recovery Curriculum: Using Storytelling to Teach Emotions

One of the ways in which our staff helped to secure this smooth transition was to teach the topic of emotions and feelings through using storytelling. Our pupils are mainly visual learners, and it is difficult for them to understand and grasp non-tangible concepts such as feelings and emotions.

Our Key Stage 2 classes really enjoyed and benefitted from the story of ‘The Colour Monster’ by Anna Lenas.

This colourful and descriptive book supports pupils’ understanding about feelings, associating them with colours they might know. It encourages emotional development through expressing emotions and feelings and helps pupils understand what it is they feel, and in some cases why they feel as they do. It helps them to visualise the different emotions they experience as colours, and it invites pupils to explore their emotions.

After reading the story our pupils thought of different scenarios that made them feel:

  • happy, symbolised in the colour yellow;
  • sad, symbolised in the colour blue;
  • angry, in the colour red;
  • afraid, in the colour black;
  • calm, in the colour green; and
  • loved, through the colour pink.

As a follow-up activity to the story, the pupils used large sweetie jars of various colours, (similar to the ones in the story) to sort the emotions associated with the various scenarios into the correct colour of jar.

See Photo 1: The Yellow ‘Happy’ Jar.

See Photo 2: Pupils sorting emotions into the coloured jars.

They also discussed the meaning of some big words that we don't hear very often, for example, ‘frustration,’ completed reading and colour matching activities, and contributed lots to the class discussions. This has been very useful in expanding vocabulary and helping pupils to express themselves. Here is our class den that we converted into a wonderful colour monster.

See Photo 3: Our Colour Monster Class Den.

The Recovery Curriculum: Using the Story of ‘The Colour Monster.’

View The Colour Monster Story Photo Gallery.

Next Steps: Beyond the Recovery Curriculum

As the new normal has now become the accepted normal or new reality, we, as a school, still need to have the Recovery Curriculum on standby as we work towards setting new IEPs and delivering the Northern Ireland Curriculum to our pupils. While some pupils relish routines and activities being back to normal, not all pupils have been able to cope with this and still rely on the safety net of the Recovery Curriculum to help them self-regulate and cope with the day-to-day business of the classroom. The Colour Monster story and similar stories, such as My Many Coloured Days by Dr. Seuss, are used by staff to help our pupils deal with expressing their emotions. Wellbeing will be prioritised for as long as pupils require it. As we are told in The Colour Monster story….

“This is happiness. It shines yellow like the sun and twinkles like the stars.”

This is our hope for our pupils as they continue on their learning journey and become more resilient.