Just the way we do things – creating an emotionally healthier way to learn

In this class, David is joined by Ruth McKay, Headteacher at Portobello High School in Edinburgh. Ruth discusses how trauma informed approaches and relational practice have been placed at the centre of the school’s core principles and culture – and, as a result, have helped create an emotionally healthier way to learn.

“Just the way we do things” (20:25)

  • “Always be calm, consistent and kind” – the need for clarity on a school’s core principles and values
  • When the adults change, everything changes – professional learning to better meet the needs of our young people
  • “The dignity of young people must be front and centre” – providing empowerment, support and accessible opportunities
  • Being brave – adopting bespoke approaches, engaging with partners and not being afraid to try things

Creating an emotionally healthier way to learn (22:29)

  • Trauma informed approaches and relational practice are fundamental to raising attainment
  • Creating an open and relaxed atmosphere across the school
  • Building quality relationships with students and families
  • The role of boundaries and expectations in providing structure for our young people
  • Just try things and see what happens – sometimes the things you think are going to be impossible to achieve, are the real game changers in behaviours

Opportunity for Reflection

Take a few moments to consider your thoughts on each of the questions below and jot down your ideas and responses.


How much of the practice in your school was reflected in these conversations with Ruth McKay?

Is there anything that you might do more of as a result of watching these conversations?

Is there anything that you might start doing?

(Remember: if you prefer to keep digital notes, use the ‘take notes’ tab at the bottom of the page to record your responses).

Can have a bit of text here or a quiz or whatever we think is needed…

Maybe include training or resources that can help schools adopt trauma informed approaches?

Ruth mentioned Place2Be and Paul Dix. Maybe add some of their resources here and link to their sites?


In the next class, David is in discussion with Wendy McInally, Depute Head Teacher at Clydebank High School. They explore how Clydebank has adapted the nurturing approach used in primary schools across West Dunbartonshire to suit the demands of a secondary setting.

Resources or weblinks can be added here too...