What is emotional literacy?
Emotional literacy is a developed awareness and understanding of our own and others' emotions. This guides our thinking and is expressed in our communication and behaviour. Emotional self-awareness is the ability to know ourselves and understand our own feelings.
Why is emotional literacy important?
Teaching emotional literacy is important for developing self-confidence, for boosting self-esteem, for social and emotional development and for encouraging emotional self-management over impulse reactions. Developing emotional literacy aids a child's mental health as well as physical health as both are inextricably linked. There will always be children in school facing life challenges that affect their ability to engage with learning and some will require greater support than others to increase their emotional literacy.
What is emotional literacy support?
Emotional literacy support is an intervention programme, designed to support the emotional needs of pupils in school. It recognises that children learn better and are happier in school if their emotional needs are also addressed.
What is an ELSA and what is their role?
An Emotional Literacy Support Assistant (ELSA) is a specialist teaching assistant who has attended a full ELSA training course delivered by one or more fully qualified educational psychologists. We are trained to plan and deliver programmes of support to pupils in our school who are experiencing temporary or longer term additional emotional needs, for example: anxiety, low self-esteem, reduced social or friendship skills, anger management, loss or bereavement. The majority of our ELSA work is expected to be delivered on an individual basis but sometimes small group work will be appropriate, especially in the areas of social and friendship skills. Sessions are fun and we use a range of activities such as games, role-play with puppets or therapeutic activities such as mindfulness or arts and craft.
How does ELSA work?
Children are usually referred for ELSA support by their class teacher or sometimes a request for support is made by a parent. The referral forms, completed by the class teacher, enables us to identify and prioritise which children require a weekly programme for the next 6-8 weeks. With the programme aims in mind, we then plan support sessions to facilitate the pupil in developing new skills and coping strategies that allow them to manage social and emotional demands more effectively.
Supporting - not fixing
As ELSAs, we are not there to fix children's problems but what we can do is provide emotional support. We aim to establish a warm, respectful relationship with a pupil and to provide a reflective space where they are able to share honestly, their thoughts and feelings. It needs to be appreciated that change cannot necessarily be achieved rapidly and is dependent upon the context and complexity of the presenting issues. For children with complex or long-term needs, it is unrealistic to expect ELSA intervention to resolve all their difficulties, however support will be designed to target specific aspects of a child's need.
Training and development of ELSAs is an ongoing process and wisdom is required to recognise when issues are beyond the level of our expertise. In these cases, our school Head Teacher or SENCo will support parents with referrals for specialist services, for example, play therapy or to CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services). The Educational Psychologist that works with our school has regular supervision sessions with us and is able to offer advice on the suitability or nature of ELSA involvement in complex cases.