Thursday 7 August 2014

Keys To Success

Over at Mrs D's Corner,
teachers are sharing what they consider to be the keys to a successful school year so I decided to write this post from the perspective of a special needs co-ordinator/teacher which I hope might be beneficial to others in this field or about to embark down this path.

Getting together with other staff to discuss the children and their progress is the most important key to success and by no means an easy task.  My "door" remains open through all break and lunchtimes for staff (and dinnerladies) to have catch ups about children if they so wish and this certainly isn't as arduous as it sounds - I probably get asked for a catch up once a week for 10 minutes duration by most teachers. However, time is available during our after school teacher meeting each week as well as Special Needs training/information dissemination is timetabled once a month during this slot to give me a chance to let teachers know about important issues.
I schedule weekly meetings within the school day for catch-ups with my support staff (teaching assistants & learning support assistants) who work with those children who have a statement to receive feedback on how teaching has gone that week (many of these staff members teach specialist lessons with their designated child being one of the group or 1:1 lessons) and then monthly meetings for other support staff who teach lessons and support in class for children who are on my SEN register at school action or school action plus.  These meetings are essential for me to know how the lessons and teaching are working for those children and if any tweaks are necessary as well as to give support and thanks to my staff who all work above and beyond.  They need to know their work is valued and their viewpoints listened to and unfortunately not every teacher can find time for this within their working day.  Once again my support staff know they can talk to me at any time about any issues whenever or wherever they crop up!

Spend time talking to those children on your SEN register.  One of the most amazing things I have discovered is how even from an early age children know what is working and not working for them.  Child voice is an important and powerful tool - especially in those meetings where other people (who do not work at the chalkface!) are trying to tell me how these children should be taught in order to save money! Allowing children the right to be truthful about what they think of the teaching they receive, the subjects they are taught and where teaching takes place gives great insight in to how to help them develop their learning and most importantly gives them ownership of their learning.  Remember you can be the best teacher in the world but if the child does not have the inclination to learn then they are not going to progress (horse to water and all that) and the effort the vast majority of my SEN students put in is second to none once they gain their voice and are listened to. 

This has not been an easy one for me (due in part to the reticent nature of most of my parents) but working to get parents behind their child's education and empowering them as their child's best advocate and influence helps move their child forward.  Ensuring that parents are kept informed about their child's achievements, reducing the fears and helplessness they may feel when told about their child's difficulties and supporting them (as many also have problems to overcome) is incredibly beneficial.  Do not think this will automatically mean they will help their child arrive at school on time or ensure they do their homework or read daily but they will help their child be positive about their future and they will begin to be less resistant about meeting you.  There will also be those parents who really do change it around and become amazing supporters of their children and these children will make massive leaps and actually catch up with their peers educationally or become much better in controlling their emotions/behaviours and actually come down or even off the register with all the support they receive at home and in school.

In Special Needs Education there are many professionals not just teachers and learning assistants who are involved with these children and I have found that getting on and collaborating with them is a really important key to success.  Many of them are also under pressure and being able to see that and understand their pressures helps when trying to make progress for children with SEN.  Being flexible in working relationships, giving support as well as asking for it, providing opportunities for people to talk freely and building relationships with others will bring many rewards.  I have succeeded in the impossible at times due to my willingness to meet others outside of the school day (even in school holidays) & accompany them on their scheduled visits (health/social) to parents' houses - this means I get insight in to their roles and problems and also gives us the ability to sing from the same song-sheet in order to solve difficulties.  When people know I want to work with them rather than against them things become much better :-)  It doesn't always work but 9 times out of 10 things move forward.  Word also gets around that you are a person others can work with and doors open or my calls get put through when others don't!!  Build teams around the child and get everyone thinking that way - it is amazing what can be accomplished!

Lastly, but by no means least:

PLAN TO SUCCEED! What needs to happen to make success occur?  How will X, Y & Z get done over the next half term?  Draw up timetables, sort out staff rotas, research new ideas, schedule meetings and plan lessons that meet the needs of the children you are responsible for as SENCO.  Remember things do not have to work as long as you can show why you have tried that way and what has happened and the possible reasons why?  Planning based on previous knowledge of what has happened before is essential. Plan in when assessments need to take place, for monitoring work, team meetings, important information to be disseminated and still be prepared for everything to go out the window.  Remember that in the world of Special Needs nothing runs smoothly but planning will at least help when everything seems to be turning upside down and give others a clue about what should be happening when it's all hands to the pump!

Hopefully, in sharing my keys to success this might help other teachers/parents/professionals out there understand the role of special needs educators and what it can entail as well as help other special needs teachers think about tackling some of the issues they will be facing during the up-coming school year.  I'm off now to read up on others' keys to success to hopefully help me do likewise.  Let me know what you think as it's always good to share :-)

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