Virtual School Top Tips

This section is aimed at schools, but may be of interest to other professionals.

Condensed top tips for schools and establishments, suitable for distributing to and discussing with School staff.

  • When a flower doesn’t bloom, you fix the environment in which it grows, not the flower” (Karen Trieisman, 2020)

Understand the meaning behind the behaviour

We can become ‘caught up’ in the presentation of a behaviour, but this is driven by emotion. Work to understand the meaning behind the behaviour. It is about metalizing and trying to understand what the young person sees/understands. This can build a special kind of trust called epistemic trust, which allows learning to develop. Do not assume that they know/understand themselves well yet.

  • If there is a stressor – reduce it
  • If there is an unmet need – meet it
  • If there is a skill deficit – teach it

See a child differently and you see a different child” Dr Stuart Shanker

Remember that for the young person to understand they need to be understood by you first.

Relational and, “Felt safety”

Many children who have experienced early developmental trauma or loss often feel on alert and do not feel safe. This is about ‘felt safety’ (Porges, 2013). It is not a cognitive act but felt in the body. You will know if the Young Person feels safe because of how they act.

  • Provide an environment, which increases sense of safety. The most powerful aspect of this is relational safety. Provide a key adult who understands and knows the young person and can play a part in translating the world for them. Develop their coping skills. Develop relational understanding in all staff.
  • Provide a safe space. Be careful about giving mixed messages e.g. the isolation room is also the safe space. Language is important.

Whole school approach to developing attachment aware trauma responsive practice

  • Use a whole school approach. Remember that building positive attachments and reducing the impact of adverse childhood experiences is everybody’s business. The Head Teacher and Senior Leadership Team must lead this development. This is a journey not a destination and needs to be embedded across the school through policy and practice over time.
  • If you are an eligible school, there is free training and action research from the Virtual School to support you to develop further your practice in this area. This is all about emotional wellbeing and developing environments, which enable young people to thrive. Governors and Foster Parents are welcome to come to all training. Please contact
  • Ensure the Designated Teacher is a member of, or can influence, the Senior Leadership Team to positively impact on the experience of children in care within the school. The Designated Teacher will need to make sure that they understand the needs of young people who may have experienced Adverse Childhood Experiences or Early Developmental Trauma and attend Virtual School training.
  • Make the Virtual School Head aware if there are any concerns around a child's education - before the situation reaches crisis point.
  • Have a named governor for looked after children who champions them and holds the school to account.

Intentionally promote positive relationships & belonging

Connectedness if key. Your history of connectedness is a better predictor of your health than your history of adversity” (Bruce Perry, More than My Trauma Conference 2020). Therefore it is important that you make sure that the Young Person has positive connections.

Keep the young person ‘in mind’. This translates to the Young Person, as you matter, you are important and you belong.

  • Be available at the beginning of the school day, to help the child shift from home to school. Remember that transitions can be difficult.
  • Provide examples of times when you have thought of the pupil outside of school hours, e.g. I was watching … and it reminded me of when you….
  • Perform random acts of kindness during the school day.
  • Small acts can make a big difference e.g. smiling/greeting a young person.

You tend to act in accordance with how you see yourself (Steve de Shazer). There is a very good reason why it is important to promote positive self-perception. Include the Foster Carers or Adoptive parents when planning your approach. It is always easier and more effective to work as a team.

Differentiate your approach

Look at your behaviour policy and work towards producing a more relational behaviour policy over time. Differentiate your approach for those young people who need it, just as you would for a learning need and work towards empowerment.

  • Relationships come first
  • Connect before correct
  • Engage don’t enrage

Regulate, relate then reason (Bruce Perry, 2020). This potentially allows a repair to take place which is important and can allow reflection which is an important skill that we need to develop. It is also important that the adult comes at this from Protect (Margot Sunderland, 2019). Protect is about the adult approaching the interaction from their Social Engagement System or upstairs brain and not their defence system (downstairs brain). Adult - pause before you react.

The Attachment/Trauma training will cover Emotion Coaching an evidence based high guidance high empathy approach to developing emotional regulation skills. This fits very well with other approaches such as Restorative Practice.

It can take time so do not expect instant returns. It can take time to internalise positives and begin to trust that feedback and trust you. It can take time for the young person to give you their trust.


  • When planning the curriculum make sure you are being sensitive to parts of the curriculum related to families such as family trees.

Many young people who have adverse childhood experiences lack confidence in themselves as learners and may have developed a Fixed Mind-set e.g., “I am stupid”. Approaches, which use a Growth Mind-set where mistakes are important and openly talked about, and what learning is and is not will be useful.

Remember that there may be gaps in learning because of prior experience so you may underestimate what might be possible. Where there do appear to be skill gaps – teach the skill explicitly. Your school EP will be able to offer further advice.

Some young people may have deficits in Executive Functioning skills. Broadly speaking these divide into three main areas:

  • Working memory – the ability to hold information in mind
  • Emotional/affective management – regulation of emotions e.g. influencing attention, concentration, persistence, pause before acting etc.
  • Cognitive flexibility – Planning, problem solving, adjusting to demands etc.

See information from Harvard University regarding Enhancing and Practicing Executive Function Skills with Children from Infancy to Adolescence here.

Listen to the Voice of the Child or young person

Listen to the young person’s story/their voice. When we listen, we make it possible to connect.

Through the process of connection via co-regulation in relationship, we have the potential to become resilient”. (Deb Dana, 2018).

This can also guard against the young person moving away from connection and into patterns of defence and survival that then take them away from connection, when it is connection, which they need in order to heal.

Support the young person to focus on what they want to improve/dreams. This is what Solution Focused Psychologist Steve de Shazer calls, “Future Pull.” By articulating this future in enough detail, you can be drawn towards it, especially if it is also part of a plan and is broken into small steps.