What does a nurture approach look like?

Katherine McGreal explains how her school has put nurture first - and how it has impacted students

Katherine McGreal

Tes focus on...nurture groups in secondary schools

Post-Covid, taking a nurturing approach to working with young children is more important than ever. 

At The Gryphon School in Dorset, we have already embedded these practices. But what exactly is a nurture approach? And how can it help pupils to recover?

According to the charity nurtureuk, “the concept of nurture highlights the importance of social environments...and its significant influence on social emotional skills, wellbeing and behaviour”.

The aim is to give children “the social and emotional skills to do well at school and with peers, and develop their resilience and their capacity to deal more confidently with the trials and tribulations of life”.

So, what does that look like in practice? 

The short answer is that we make our students feel important. Many of our children, for a variety of reasons, have never been the most important person in their homes. But we can ensure that when they are at school, they feel valued and appreciated. 

Our strategies for achieving this are varied but it all boils down to one word: relationships. For children who may have difficulty in socialising or forming relationships with their peers, the personal relationship with their teacher is key.

This all sounds very nice, you might be thinking. But a nurture approach is about more than just being “nice”.

Here are some key principles that schools need to embed if they want to use a nurture approach:

Instil a sense of belonging

People are social beings. We are hard-wired to bond with one another. During Covid, shared moments were scarce so they are all the more important now. 

In school, we can create those shared moments and create a sense of belonging through small gestures: greeting children by name at the door, asking about their pets, finding out how they spent their weekend – these tiny conversations, probably not on your lesson plan, might be the most important ones of the day.  

We can also work to make the classroom environment more welcoming. A well-placed strand of fairy lights, a thoughtful display celebrating everyone’s efforts, a consistent seating plan – all these things help to create a space where children feel safe. 

Marking out the classroom as a space that students belong to is another surprisingly useful trick. Simply displaying students’ names in the room – whether on gold stars suspended from the ceiling or names painted on pebbles (I have even been known to decorate and personalise bananas!) – can persuade our students that the classroom truly belongs to them.

Forget the ‘new normal’

Covid has made the world a frightening place. After some children have been learning at home for nearly a year, home might feel the safest place to hunker down.  

Understanding that our children have had a rollercoaster experience – which has been particularly frightening and sad for some – is an important part of moving forwards. I hate this idea about the “new normal” – there is nothing normal about what we have all been through. 

It will take time for our students to come to terms with the changes that were demanded of us and the feelings that came with that. 

Talk is crucial. Encourage children to discuss what Covid has been like – the good and the scary. Allow time within the school day to explore and share emotions, and provide the space to ask questions.

Base behaviour policies on respect

Respect breeds respect – hand it out and you will receive it back.  A golden rule of a nurture approach is the absolute insistence that no child is ever humiliated. If there is a behavioural difficulty that needs to be addressed, this is always done privately, ensuring children are never embarrassed in front of their peers. 

Our behaviour policy is simple, clear and extremely consistent. As a result, respect is fostered. In return, our pupils respect their environment and the opportunities they are afforded. 

A nurture approach asks that teachers realise that a student’s behaviour is not a personal response to them but a reflection of what is happening on the inside. Taking the ego out of the classroom and remembering to see things from a student’s perspective is a powerful way to unlock what that child actually needs.

Remove the fear of being ‘wrong’ 

A nurture approach doesn’t demand perfection – modelling that it is all right to make mistakes helps to remove the fear of being wrong that many of our students experience. Ensure that every lesson is a fresh start, a new opportunity to experience success.  

People sometimes think that nurture is about lowering expectations but the opposite is true. A nurture curriculum looks just like a mainstream curriculum – work is not “dumbed down” or oversimplified. 

The difference is that a nurture approach is underpinned by a genuine aspiration for all students to achieve, regardless of their circumstances, and the absolute belief that all children – given the right provision, care and time – can be successful in their own right.

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Katherine McGreal

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