Therapeutic Classrooms

Chronicals of a therapeutic classroom continues

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Shevington Vale Primary School


Last year I embarked on a special project which aimed to transform the way the UK approaches the design of mainstream, primary school classrooms. For years I had been delivering my 6-part Therapeutic Teaching Course in schools, helping embed trauma-informed, attachment-aware approaches that put children’s wellbeing and mental health and the core.

Part of the course focused on the classroom environment which would always leave schools buzzing with excitement at the prospect of enhancing the learning space. Schools would implement changes to their environments based on the course modules and saw immediate benefits for their children and staff. However, as time went on, I became frustrated by the fact that I didn’t have a classroom myself. Somewhere I could create the ultimate therapeutic classroom as an example of best practice.

A primary school in Wigan signed up for our Therapeutic School Award and as I began to visit and teach the modules, I noticed how in sync the Head Teacher was with his décor around the school. The breakout spaces were therapeutic already and I had never seen that before. I approached him with an idea, to make over one of his classrooms in the style of the therapeutic classroom that lived in my head. He agreed! For those of you who are new to the concept of my Therapeutic Classroom, this was a bold step for the Head Teacher. It involved agreeing to take away all plastic chairs and tables and taking down all backboards. Essentially, reinventing the concept of a classroom as we know it!

So, in November 2021 we transformed his year three mainstream classroom into a Therapeutic classroom. Somewhere that reflected all the teachings in our course and created a safe, nurturing, attachment aware and trauma-informed space for both the teachers and the children. This became our first ever therapeutic classroom makeover and I documented our journey in last year’s magazine. We also filmed the process and created our first YouTube episode of Reinventing Classrooms. The project was a huge success and the children have now been in the space for nearly a year!

This Year

This approach has had so much interest since then and so, this academic year we will be helping a whole host of schools create their very own therapeutic classrooms. I have been amazed at the number of schools that believe in my vision for classroom environments, and I want to share some of their stories with you. I will be documenting each school’s journey as diary entries for you to read in the magazine. We will also be releasing more episodes of our Reinventing Classrooms program on YouTube which will now shift slightly from a documentary to a makeover show. I hope this becomes a source of inspiration and part of your evening TV watchlist!

Each diary entry this year will spotlight a different school and their unique story and journey with us. The Therapeutic Classroom is an approach that I believe fits all mainstream primary schools and should be the new blueprint for the standard classroom offer. For that reason, I will be spotlighting schools with a variety of needs to reflect on how it can work in all schools. I will be working with inner city schools with minimal funding, small and large schools, schools with bigger budgets, schools with low levels of childhood trauma and those with high levels. Each school will share their own experience of the makeover process, and we will share before and after photos of their spaces. I hope from sharing their journeys, it inspires more schools to be brave enough to move away from the old mainstream standard and embrace a new vision for the future.

Summer Shenanigans

Just like last year, I aim to share the highs and lows of this process as I move in further into this part of my career. As I write this, I have no idea where this will go and how much impact we will have. similarly, I don’t know whether all projects will be as successful as our first one. I hope with all my heart they are but I promise to share with you the little details of the journey as well as the overall outcomes. I am taking you along on the ride with me! And on that note…let me tell you about my summer.

This summer holidays we had eight classroom makeovers across five schools booked in. Unfortunately, we had two schools that had to delay their makeovers for different reasons. That left us with five classrooms to do over the summer. My plan was to organise for these to take place at the end of the holidays, so I could have some time with my children and get a break, and so could the heads!

But, it didn’t quiet go to plan!

The idea was that we would order the furniture for all classrooms before the summer began. This would mean schools would need to build their furniture before we arrived on makeover day in the final few weeks of the holiday, but we could all rest knowing the items were received. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way and we had to order furniture during the holidays. Yep. That meant deliveries would come when schools were closed. Honestly, it was so stressful. I am usually very good under pressure, but 30 missing chairs, broken tables and missing parts just about sent me under.

Many items were ordered but then were unsuccessful at delivery- as couriers assumed schools were closed and sent them back to the suppliers. I must have had three calls a day from different couriers in the first two weeks of summer asking where to leave the parcels and whether anyone was in. Five classroom makeovers means something like 150 chairs and numerous tables and suddenly we had no idea which deliveries had been received and which hadn’t. The caretakers at every school were fantastic and communicated with us as best they could about what they had received, they also spent all summer putting up the flat packs! However, no matter how much I tried to make sense of the deliveries it felt like my tables and chairs were floating around in an unknown void in space. In the end, I bundled the kids in the car and we went on a two-day road trip, visiting caretakers in our schools across the North West to check what they had received. Seven days before our first makeover and we were missing 30 chairs and 4 tables and we had to return some broken items.

My husband (who is also my business partner) Duwayne and I sat up until late into a summer evening, re-ordering items and contacting suppliers, desperately trying to get as many items as we could delivered before the makeover dates. To avoid deliveries bouncing, we decided to order them to our house. Now, it is important to note here that we live in a small semi-detached house with one living area downstairs. We have very little space, and we are in the process of moving.

Suddenly we found ourselves surrounded by five wooden dining tables in our living room along with multiple boxes of chairs that were piled up, wherever there was space, including the hallway! We were pulling out all the stops to make things work, we didn’t want to let our schools down or for standards to slip in any way. We worked around the clock! It was a very interesting ride, to say the least, but we knew it would be worth it when we see the faces of the children on reveal day and have five beautiful therapeutic classrooms to share with the world!

The last two weeks of summer were full of amazing makeovers, filming and lots of laughter and the madness of getting to that point melted away. My next article will spotlight our first makeover and then I will be sharing each school makeover with you, along with lots of others in editions to come.

Shahana Knight Whitefield

I can’t wait to get started on this journey, I wonder where we will be in 12 months!

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