The Secret Teacher began in April, following a lengthy conversation with one teacher from a Scottish school. After 10 editions of the newsletter, a second teacher stepped in to give us their take on education in Scotland.

A further 10 editions on, we’re welcoming back our original Secret Teacher and hearing more about their experiences in the classroom.

Today, they explain the benefits of ‘The Nurture Principle’.

The Nurture Principle is the best thing going in Scottish education, day-to-day.

When you hear how successful it is in schools you wish it had been part of schools for generations. At its simplest, it’s the ideology of kindness, patience and not taking things personally as a teacher when a child kicks off.

It’s understanding what goes on in the brain when a child is emotionally deregulated and doesn’t come in with a pencil, or hasn’t got uniform. I live and breathe it.

The Herald:
I’ve not always been a poster boy for it. My previous school had a long way to go, because shouting at students was still quite normal at that place. Part of nurture is helping young people have a space to come down from their emotion and do whatever they need to do to get back into the classroom.

It means never shouting at kids, and understanding that if you do that they will either laugh, shout back, freeze, run away or cry.

Within all that, it’s helping young people access and understand boundaries. It doesn’t mean that you become Miss Honey from Matilda and you let the kids do anything they want. If a child is having a big, overwhelming moment where there’s a fight, or they’re shouting and swearing, you still need to be very firm and remove them from that environment for the benefit of others.

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What you don’t do is passively say ‘that’s okay, just find a way to express your anger’. It’s not a ‘hippy movement’, it’s a fine balance of firm, clear expectations but also kindness, empathy, listening and working with kids on a case-by-case basis.

The Nurture Principle’s origins are in psychology, because it’s fundamentally based on the biology of the brain, particularly the adolescent brain, and what happens when they’re responding to trauma. It’s about being ‘trauma informed’, and so many of these young people have experienced some form of trauma in their lifetime.

If you reflect on your education, the kids that we remember who were a riot, or the badly behaved ones, always getting sent out, trying to be the show-off or the ultra-masculine one, often the bullies, they are dealing with and processing trauma in some way.

Part of the Nurture Principle is seeking to understand that and instil a degree of empathy.

The Herald:
That’s not even half the battle. Being consistent with it is very challenging, and even though my school has got a very good reputation for it, I don’t think any school will ever be the finished article. Teachers are human, so we can lose our rag and get annoyed with kids in high pressure situations.

As a teacher, you have to leave your ego at the door. It’s about not taking that sort of behaviour personally, even if your name’s brought into it or you’re told to f*** off. It’s about understanding the wider context and the stuff that you don’t see, or that you might not have knowledge of. It’s about accepting that you don’t know what you don’t know with the kids.

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Even when it feels personal, or disrupts a lesson that you’ve taken so much time to plan, it is never personal. That kid is coming into the classroom with a trauma that is going to make them act out.

That doesn't mean that you make excuses or you are accepting of offensive language. It’s about space. Once the child has the space to calm down, have a reasonable conversation with them so they know that you don’t hate them and you’re not going to shout at them, because they get enough of that at home a lot of the time.

You want to have a more even conversation about why certain language is unacceptable. Not student to student but person to person.