Stirling Council Friends for life

Stirling Friends for Life Project

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When setting up this website we wanted to have a forum where people who have undergone FRIENDS training can record there thoughts and experiences, as well as commenting on the website itself and on others' contributions. Anyone wishing to do so should forward their contribution via the CONTACT US page and your contribution will soon be posted.

Ian Liddle


Article by Gill Christie

 

FRIENDS for Life

Gill Christie, Primary School Teacher

I attended the FRIENDS for Life training in Stirling in November 2007.  At this time I had a Primary3/4 class that, although being at the lowest age range for the course, I decided I wanted to give the programme a go and modify it where necessary to suit the children’s abilities.

During the delivery time of the programme I had extra support in the classroom with me; a full-time classroom assistant for the total duration of the programme and a social work student for the first half of the programme and a teacher, currently on secondment with Barnardo’s, for the second half. For this school year I had a class of 24 children.

I found the study books were far too wordy for my age group and right from the start I decided to modify the programme to suit their needs. I copied the activities so they looked more like worksheets for project work the children were used to. I also removed lots of the writing and read that to the group as a whole when I needed to. I scanned and used my white board for some activities so all the class could get involved.  This allowed the children to focus on each activity without being distracted by the big workbook. I tried and hopefully succeeded in keeping the lessons true to the workbook.

 

The children loved the programme from the start. The fact it was called FRIENDS confused them initially but eventually we got past the idea that they would all have to be friends with each other. 

They were keen to join in, contribute to discussions and share experiences. They didn’t perceive these lessons as work and thought it was just “fun”.  Thursday was our FRIENDS day and they looked forward to it.

 

I would say that 90% of my class manage to take part and understand the concepts of the programme. Some children found it difficult to focus for the whole 1.5 hours session and these children tended to require extra support for the activities.

 

 Problems for the group as a whole occurred only when we got to the last few lessons. There were several reasons for this:

 

  • Lack of parental support at home – homework was rarely returned and some lessons depended on this
  • The sheer task of discussing a goal with each child – even with 3 people in the room it was difficult
  • Deciding on a goal which was realistic and possible to complete in the time frame and with the required parental support
 
For the last few lessons I decided just to set up a few imaginary step plans for the children to work on as a class. They managed to work out small steps which would be realistic to complete so they obviously understood the concepts and how to do it. Rewards were hard to keep realistic and not all money orientated.
 
Even without this final part of the programme I still feel that it was worthwhile. The children could discuss situations they would worry/feel stressed about. They could also recognise the feelings of stress/worry and knew how to cope with these feelings and minimize the effects of stress/worry using techniques that they could use throughout their lives. They could also problem-solve imaginary situations and find a solution/step plan which would help them get through the situation.
 
The fact that they were readily talking about theirfeelings and difficult situations must be a good thing in any shape or form. It was amazing how honest and open they would be even in a large group setting. They were also very supportive of each other and were helpful when discussing things they might feel would be an issue for them as an individual. It was frightening how insightful they were on each other. You can still hear them telling each other to change a “red thought” into a “green thought”. The confidence they have gained has in part been down to this programme.
 
They learned valuable stress-reducing techniques and enjoyed taking part in them and we use them in the class even now.
 
Personally, I found this programme to be valuable, not only for the individual children in what they had learned and took with them, but also in terms of the whole class ethos and supportive culture. This has an immeasurable value but I am still feeling the effects in my classroom nearly a year on. It also allowed me to share personal feelings and events in my life with the children. This I felt helped my relationship with them as a group and we have a strong bond which still exists.
 
Luckily I have been allowed to keep this class another year and the progress as a class as a whole has been huge. I do feel FRIENDS has had a large part to play in this – they have grown in confidence and are much more relaxed about tackling new challenges and having a go without the fear of “failing” which is what learning is all about:
 
 

 

 

 

 

 

WORKING WITH FRIENDS IN A SECONDARY SCHOOL CONTEXT

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Tina Stockman, Harelaw Academy Aberdeen

Sometimes good things emerge from apparently bad things. As a former Guidance Teacher and now Co-ordinator for Alternative Arts Activities, Harlaw Academy, Aberdeen, I had been concerned for some time that counselling services for deeply troubled secondary school pupils were declining. The funding for the trained counsellor was discontinued last year and increased administrative demands on Guidance staff limited their scope for individual care. Social change has led to unforeseen pressures on young people, making the world a confusing and possibly dangerous place for them. Small wonder that some succumb to depression which has been identified as a major cause of illness in Britain, leading to lack of motivation, absenteeism and raised suicide rates.

In September 2007, I attended a training course offered in Stirling for preventative approaches to anxiety disorders and other mental health issues in young people. The well planned course was informative and good fun. The participants, including teachers, school nurses and educational psychologists, were introduced to the FRIENDS programme. The programme, led by Stirling Psychological Service, had been offered in a number of Stirling Council’s primary and secondary schools and was being rolled out in schools across the Council area throughout 2008.

Impressed by the materials and the quality of the training session, I was keen to start a FRIENDS group in Harlaw Academy. There is, after all, no point in going on a course if you don’t do something with it! The first step was persuading my Head Teacher of the worth of the programme. That proved successful. The next step was persuading the Guidance Staff and asking them to suggest suitable pupils. Before they could do this, they needed a clear picture of the FRIENDS scheme. Perversely, I started by saying what it was not.

· Despite its title, FRIENDS isn’t entirely about personal relationships

· It is not a substitute for clinical psychological therapies

· It is not a substitute for School Guidance

· It is not a substitute for one-to-one counselling

What it does offer, is a rigorous programme directed at building self-esteem and confidence, which complements the work of the Guidance Teacher in much the same way as other support initiatives. I then presented the Guidance Staff with a list of criteria suggested by the FRIENDS training manual. Pupils might be experiencing:


· bullying or family break down
· transition anxiety, e.g. moving school, home/area/country
· illness or death of a family member
· prolonged absence from school due to fear of bullying or periods of illness
· poor body image – over/underweight, scarring, birthmarks, etc.
· child abuse (although major causes and symptoms would be referred elsewhere)
· examination or test nerves
· low self esteem
· loss of or inability to make friends

So far, so good - I had SMT approval and the Guidance staff had selected a small group of appropriate pupils. These
pupils, all from S2, presented problems ranging from self-harming and poor body image through to hyper-activity and social isolation. It was now left to me to

1. familiarise myself with the resource materials,
2. pass information to pupils, staff and parents,
3. find accommodation

and deal with two other urgent issues, namely

1. finding an appropriate partner to work with
2. seeking funding to pay me and resource the programme.

.The first three were fiddly but not insurmountable. Finding funding was another matter. With every expectation of failure, I duly threw my hat into The Fund Raising Game. Well, I did obtain the funding by contacting the local Health Promoting School Education Officer who introduced me to the Project Co-ordinator for Aberdeen Young People’s Mental Health Project. He was not only enthusiastic and encouraging, he was prepared to express that enthusiasm in practical terms – and I acquired some funds.

The next challenge lay in seeking a partner prepared to work with me and a group of very distressed children. Who
would have time? Who would have the commitment? As fortune would have it, the right person was there all along - the School Nurse! She showed immediate interest and subsequently attended the FRIENDS training course. We were up and running by January 2008.

We completed the trial run of the FRIENDS scheme by May 2008. The implementation of the programme was not without
setbacks. Some staff raised objections to pupils missing classes – disappointing as all affected teachers were given the
opportunity to voice their opinions. The title of the programme, ‘FRIENDS’, confused some staff and parents who assumed the group was concerned with helping lonely children form friendships. A few parents refused the opportunity of sending their children to the group for no apparent reason. Some pupils found performing the simple home exercises problematic –they sometimes forgot to do them and time was taken up completing them. One or two of the pupils slipped into ‘broken record’ mode and wouldn’t – or couldn’t - let go of their problems.

On the other hand, the School Nurse and I have set up a successful working relationship – a positive mix of
complementary skills and shared attitudes towards the welfare of young people. The pupils responded well and attendance levels were high. They appeared not to feel stigmatised by attending what is, in pupil-speak, known as the ‘spesh creche’. We adapted the programme to match the needs of our client group and our own skills. We took the occasional walk, ending with coffee and a chat.

We have a real sense of professional achievement and it is especially heartening that our efforts have resulted in a
continuation of the funding and opportunities to develop the scheme further. There has even been some icing on the cake in the form of a nomination for the Healthy Living Award as part of the 2008 Children and Young People’s Services Award.

In conclusion, I would say the FRIENDS programme is
successful because it offers

· A good training programme prior to implementation

· Satisfactory resources

· Clear aims and objectives

· Achievable targets for pupils