SelfDesign recognizes that life can throw challenges at our learners and their families. Events and situations can each make learners feel unsafe and uncertain and can affect their ability to learn and families’ ability to support that learning.

SelfDesign Family Services provides resources and supports to help learners and families when events or situations interfere with learning. Within Family Services, members of the Contact Assistance Team – referred to as CAT – are experienced in working with learners in kindergarten to grade 12, including learners who receive Support Education services.

“It could be there are extenuating circumstances going on in a family and the learner can’t participate as usual, or something might just interfere with the learner’s ability to focus or commit to the program,” Family Services team lead Clarissa Tufts says. “Whatever the reason, we’re here to work with the learning consultant and family to help learners  get back on track and to put supports in place for them.”

In order to learn, learners need to feel safe – physically, emotionally and socially – and they need to feel that the people they care about are safe, adds Clarissa.

In addition to creating supports based in SelfDesign® methodology, the Family Services team draws on research in the fields of psychology and stress, and seeks opportunities to connect with other leaders in the field of holistic education to share knowledge about how to best support learners and families in difficult times.

Indigenous author and speaker Monique Gray Smith is one of these leaders. Earlier this year, she shared her unique perspective and experience on how best to support Indigenous youth, recognize how stress or trauma might be interfering with learning, and approach reconciliation with love and openness with SelfDesign educators.

“When we’re working with somebody who is showing signs of trauma or high stress, we have to pause and deal with what’s going on at the biochemical level in that person before we can move on to any other educational ways of being or learning,” she says. Monique has intimate knowledge of Canada’s residential schools and their impacts, and although she speaks directly to the experiences that many Indigenous youth may encounter, her wisdom regarding the effects of stress and trauma on learning applies broadly.

Research into the brain shows that high anxiety, acute stress or trauma triggers immediate biochemical reactions in the brain and body. These reactions interfere with a person’s ability to focus, process and recall information, form new memories, among many other effects – all of which are essential for learning to be successful.

“We have to pause and pay attention to the relationship and make sure the students we’re working with feel safe, they’re emotionally present and grounded, before we can get to the cognitive learning,” Monique says.

At SelfDesign, learning is based on relationship. Every learner and family enrolled in SelfDesign Learning Community works with a learning consultant (BC certified teacher who is a mentor to the learner) throughout the year to plan and guide the learning process. Through regular, consistent contact with their learners and families – and the trust that comes from that – our educators are well placed to identify when a learner or family is struggling to stay engaged with their learning program. They can advise and arrange for additional support, based on the family’s specific circumstances and needs. Members of the CAT collaborate with the educators to find and provide those supports.

“The CAT is there to support everyone involved in that learning team,” Clarissa says.

Supports may include, for example, meeting with Family Services’ registered clinical counsellor. The counsellor consults with families and learners to assess next steps, makes referrals to specialists within the family’s community and following up as appropriate. She also consults with educators and support providers when a team approach would benefit a learner and family.

Family Services also provides a broad range of online resources in SelfDesign’s online Family Resource Centre. The digital Brochure Rack comprises helpful resources on dealing with a variety of issues and potential concerns, including safety, relationships, health, mental health, stress management, crisis and trauma, and gender and identity. Learners and families can access and explore the resources provided to help in their lives and in how they experience their education.

Whatever happens, with the relationship of trust between educator and learner and family and the learning supports that Family Services helps put in place, SelfDesign works to help learners to feel safe and comfortable – and ready to learn.

To learn more about the Family Services team at SelfDesign and how they support our learners, we encourage you to read the following posts on our blog: