Small wins in a time of uncertainty
Rebecca Robinson (pictured left) and Amy Mazzitelli (pictured right), Assistant Principals at the Berry Street School, certainly have more than one thing in common. They both started working at the school at the beginning of 2020. They’ve worked in mainstream schools and as psychology teachers. And neither of them expected to be dealing with the impacts of a global pandemic!
Here Amy and Rebecca share their unique experiences of running a Berry Street School campus: Amy in Noble Park (Melbourne) and Rebecca in Morwell (regional Victoria).
Q: What does a typical day working at Berry Street School look like for you?
Amy: Even though each day is different, every morning starts off with finding out which young people are coming in that day and how they’re feeling. What things have been happening in their lives? What support do they need today? We help take care of their wellbeing so they feel safe and ready to learn. We also actively celebrate learning or wellbeing wins throughout the day.
Rebecca: At the Morwell Campus we have enough physical space for five classes to run at a time with 2 to 12 young people in each, depending on the day. Across the day, I will join in lessons to teach, co-regulate with young people (by supporting them to manage their responses and reactions), and support staff with students and wellbeing strategies. I meet with the Lead Teacher and Leader of Wellbeing daily to identify any particular needs of the school. I enjoy being with the young people as often as possible.
Q: What are the main differences between working at the Berry Street School compared to a mainstream school?
Amy: One difference is the extent to which the Berry Street Education Model (BSEM) is embedded in the school throughout the day. BSEM strategies and techniques are used in every part of the students’ lessons. We draw on the resources when a young person need support to self-regulate, like focus plans and ready to learn scales. Our wellbeing lessons are informed by BSEM’s five domains (body, relationship, stamina, engagement, character) and students’ wellbeing is tracked based on these. Staff live and breathe the model.
We also have the opportunity and resources to support students in practical ways, such as taking them to appointments or picking them up in the morning. We can do whatever it takes to get our students to the door.
Rebecca: Working in a specialist school offers so much flexibility and so many options for ways we can support young people back into school. We aim to remove all barriers to education, which can be difficult in a mainstream school without the capacity, time or scope. This goes back to our holistic approach in first acknowledging barriers, then removing them so the young people can attend school.
Q: What are the biggest challenges you’ve experienced since the COVID-19 outbreak?
Rebecca: Most services have moved away from face-to-face support, for example Child Protection is not doing home visits, which means there are fewer opportunities for our students’ families to get support. Without multi-disciplinary teams and wrap-around support, it’s a challenging time for the families and for us as a school to maintain connections with them.
Amy: There’s fear in our young people’s families around health and safety, especially with family members working on the front line. Many students have experienced multiple traumas, and COVID-19 has increased some of their mental health needs. This pandemic is another trauma and adds another layer of assistance that’s needed. There’s an increase in need but decrease in access to mental health support, which is an inevitable challenge now.
Q: What’s one of the most rewarding moments you’ve experienced since starting in the role?
Amy: It’s so hard to pick just one! At the end of term 1 we gave out some medals as a whole school, like awards for attendance. Two of our students wore their medals around their necks all day with such pride; one of them just kept staring down at it. Even though it was a small token, for him it was actually enormous.
These connections between staff and students matter. Every single micro-moment we have with these young people matters, which comes back to Unconditional Positive Regard.
Rebecca: Rewarding moments can be found every day… We had a meeting recently with one of our students who enjoyed coming to school but had a wall up with the teachers. We discussed what she wanted to focus on in her learning, her plans and explained that we just wanted to see her well and happy. After that, she was so much more open and comfortable with us – it felt like a breakthrough.
It’s all about the small wins and savouring moments.