IN THE face of the ongoing pandemic and the psychological fallout, this week’s edition of TTUTA on Tuesday looks at what may be regarded of an often-out-of-focus issue about students’ mental well-being – the role of pastoral care at the secondary school level. Why at the secondary level? Well as one Canadian-based research study puts it, mattering in the lives of adolescents is particularly important at this stage of development.
Mattering may be defined as the “tendency to view oneself as being significant to others.” It emerges out of social processes such as social affiliation and attachments – processes that are seriously militated against in the current online environment of schooling. Indeed, the research further suggests that individuals who think they matter enjoy better psychological and mental well-being than those who believe they don’t matter. This is as important in the school context as much as it is in the home and community context.
TTUTA initiated the creation of the position of dean secondary at all secondary schools for two reasons: to create the additional layer of personnel needed to ensure the mental stability of students through direct intervention, and to create another promotional layer for teachers
This article is primarily concerned with the former reason.
Pastoral care within the secondary school setting can be described as a three-stage process in which stage one represents interventions from the form teacher, stage two from the dean and stage three from the guidance officer.
Within recent times, there appears to be a serious disconnect among the various layers of pastoral care. If the structure for pastoral care is to work and realise the benefit noted above, then the working of the interventions made on behalf of the student must be collaborative and cannot be separated.
The form teacher
The form teacher is the person who interacts with the student more frequently than at any other stage. Expectedly, the form teacher would have all the intimate information about students in their care documented so that at any time they can provide to the dean, the guidance officer, principal, vice principal or any other senior official information about any student. The form teacher is also required to exercise the same level of confidentiality as is required of the dean and the guidance officer. The information is used for official purposes only.
In the case of the dean, who is responsible for approximately 200 students, the intervention involves individuals who may have issues which have started to interfere with their performance at school, discipline, or mental well-being. These pastoral interventions are with the view to ensuring that students get the support they need to cope with the pressures of life, whether at school or at home.
The guidance officer
The guidance officer is intended to support the work of the dean and the form teacher in their efforts to help the student. The intervention of the guidance officer is two-fold:
a. To provide a safe space for students who may need that psychological support.
b. To work with the dean, form teacher and the school generally in helping the students develop coping mechanisms and life skills which will prepare them for the next stage of their lives.
Guidance officers assert that information provided by the student is confidential and rightly so. However, that student is the responsibility of the principal, the dean and the form teacher, who must also know of the issues that may be affecting the student. This interchange of information is not a breach of any confidentiality because these people are bound by the same confidentiality rules as the guidance officer. The principal, dean and form teacher must be aware of the issues that are impacting on the student so that there can be a clear understanding of how to help the student cope.
The guidance officer is a member of staff at the school and must be treated as such with proper accommodation and inclusion at all activities of the school. The planning process must be in collaboration with the guidance officer to facilitate the all- round development of the student.
It must be emphasised that without the intertwining of responsibilities of the form teacher, dean and guidance officer, then the development of the well-rounded student will never happen. These people cannot operate in silos and expect that the interventions will work. The principal and vice principal as the leaders of the school and the ones responsible for reporting on the development of each student must co-ordinate and facilitate that harmonious interaction for the benefit of the student.
Let’s work together to ensure students know they matter.