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I thought my behaviour going down was so visible and that everyone knew I was using a lot. When no one said anything, I felt like no one cared...and if they didn't, then why should I?
Schools have many ways to identify when student attendance or achievement is slipping, and these are the perfect times to have a conversation about the challenges a student is facing that may be getting in the way of their education.
Many students expect these conversations, and if they don't happen, will take it to mean that either people don't care about them, or the issues are not big enough to warrant concern.
It is common for young people to experiment with alcohol and other drugs. How you approach this issue depends on their age, the amount they are using, and the type of drug. Not all drug use results in harm or leads to addiction. Take some time, think about what you want to say, be as calm as possible when you start the conversation. Sometimes talking to someone else before you begin can help you to plan the most important things to say.
These school staff are often the first to notice if a student's attendance and achievement is slipping, and are in a good position to start a conversation when nobody else has.
It may not always seem like students appreciate it, but these conversations help them to set their boundaries about what is appropriate and not appropriate. Many students who have become disengaged from education because of substance use later said they wished they'd had more supportive conversations with their Form Teachers, Deans, and/or Assistant/Deputy Principals.
Schools are busy places, and while you may have many things on your mind, if you appear distracted then students may think the conversation is not important.
Making uninterrupted time helps students to feel like this is a conversation they should take seriously, and can also help them share more honestly.
Starting a conversation about drugs, alcohol, and other barriers to a student's education is more important than the outcome.
A moralistic view of alcohol and other drugs can be a barrier to having a good conversation. Don't expect them to change their point of view or actions after just one conversation, people need time to consider and process new information.
The most important thing is that they know you care enough to ask them about it.
Try not to interrupt or have a strong reaction, or pass judgement. This may be the first time they have considered that their alcohol and drug use could be impacting on their education, especially if they only use substances outside of school on the weekends.
If you debate with a student, and they bring up more reasons not to change, they are more likely to believe they can't. Instead, acknowledge the reality of their challenges, and focus on how education can support them to get the life they want.
Being involved in school activities gives students many benefits. It introduces them to a different group of peers, with different social norms, and it gives them something positive to do with their time.
Getting involved in school activities has dramatically helped many young people who were starting to disengage with education because of substance use.
School counsellors and other services can help to explore alcohol and other drug use further with students. The Substances and Choices Scale was developed in New Zealand and is a screening tool that can help pastoral care staff work with a young person to identify how serious any concerns may be.