Planning

There are a 3 main types of planning in my classroom:

1- continous provision
I’m lucky to have been given free reign to develop our early years/ early primary class, one of the first things I did was spend a chunk of cash setting up our CP room. We have 4/5 areas that we review and update each half term- exploration, sensory, maths, block play and small world. Each has a planning sheet stuck up with information on how to use the area with each student to help their learning and building towards their long and medium term goals.

2- topic webs
We have a topic per half term – each student has a topic web which includes medium term and long term goals and then lists the things they are doing in each area- communication and language, literacy, numeracy, knowledge and understanding of the world, creative, personal social and emotional, sensory and physical. This planning makes sure that students don’t repeat the same activities year after year and that students get both a vertical and horizontal curriculum.

3- session plans
Each student has a set of session plans. Even in group or paired sessions each student has their own targets. These plans include long term, medium term and short term targets and are filled in by LSA’s who then let me know as targets are reached.

Together the three sets of planning ensure that students make progress and get breadth of study in all areas of learning. It may seem like a lot but a small class and medium term targets that run 6 monthly help to keep workload managable

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Don’t say ‘bless’

not being able to speak quote

Bless them’

‘They try’

‘It must be so, um, rewarding’

These are the kind of things many teachers and parents of students with special needs will have heard, people often struggle to think of what to say about the children in my class, visitors gather at the door unsure of how to interact with them, they wonder at the sight of staff spraying a student with a water bottle or gently encouraging them to stand, at adults signing, speaking, singing, using ipads and VOCA devices and flashing every kind of symbol, photo and object to try and ensure students are able to understand where they are going and what they are doing, at the 5 different supported seats arrange in a circle each with an adult in front as we go through our daily sensory story or say hello to our friends, at the tubes and pumps, the walkers and gait trainers lined up outside the door and of course the twiddles, jackets, chewies and other objects that help the students stay calm, focused and ready to learn.

The subtext of these sorts of comments is that my students aren’t really capable of learning, that we’re not really teachers and that schools like ours are simply there to keep students happy and out of the way.

Of course they’re wrong. The students in my class learn, they make progress, they work together and apart. They overcome enormous hurdles and each and everyone is, most importantly, an individual. They have good days and bad days like every other child, they’ll do things at school and not at home just like every other child, the have likes and dislikes, a sense of humour and a mischievous streak. We work them hard each and every moment of they day and they go home exhausted just like every other child.

So get down to their level, speak or sign or sing or wave. Even if they look away, flap, run off or you realise they can’t see or hear you ask ‘how do you like to communicate?’ Speak to them and not to me, say hi, shake hands , ask what they’re learning, what they like to do, whatever they can handle,  because, at the heart of it they are just children are we are just a class and when you can look past all the chairs and equipment, past the devices and behaviours you’ll forget it all and just see the individual.

 

Review- the black book of colours

blackbookofcolours

I received this lovely book for my birthday last month. It’s a nicely sized book which explores colours from the perspective of a child who is visually impaired.

The simple text describes the taste, feel and smells associated with the colour with braille text running above. On the opposite page are raised illustrations of the various sensory experiences described. The book has no colour at all apart from the black background and white text.

index

I would highly recommend this book both for students who are visually impaired and are able to access braille or spoken text and for staff and non-visually impaired young people. It would be a great addition to any school library to help raise awareness of the experiences of colour from a different perspective.

I’m unlikely to use this book with my own class as they are unable to access such complex text and ideas but it has already proved popular with staff and we plan to buy a copy to use in training.

Building class team morale

Working with children with additional needs isn’t always easy, it can be physically, mentally and emotionally tiring. A good staff team can make the difference between feeling like you’re drowning in a sea of to-do’s, paperwork and unfinished jobs haunted by a nagging guilt that things aren’t quite perfect and a feeling that whilst your to-do list does resemble the labours of Hercules you actually look forward to coming into work.

A good team helps keep everyone buoyed up, everyone has less than great days and a team that works well together can support members when they need it and keep learning going even when times are tough. There are always issues in any workplace and every school has its niggles that can bring down staff morale, often these are out of the influence of the class teacher but rather than throw up your hands there are some small ways you can help your team feel valued, skilled and appreciated.

1- Bribery. Yep, bribery is one way I show my team how much I appreciate them. We have our emergency box basically a big plastic box filled with essentials (pain killers, tissues, deodorant, sanitary products, hair ties) and of course biscuits, chocolate and other food are always welcome! Our school doesn’t provide tea and coffee so I buy it for the team- and if I spot an interesting herbal tea or hot chocolate on offer I usually bung that in too!

2- Praise. Specific, timely and delivered in the way that person wants to hear it, and backed up with an email that they can keep in their performance management file! I’m also quick to share feedback that I get from parents and other professionals we often share this at the start of our weekly team meetings

3- Responsibility. Each member of the class team has a specific responsibility that fits their skills- ICT champion who uploads all the photos from the cameras and makes sure I-Pads are charged, an environment person who keeps our messy play area tidy and comes up with exciting ideas for displays and a couple more. Each member of staff is encouraged to push the whole team including me when it comes to their area. Giving staff responsibility helps me but it also gives the team ownership of the class.

4- Knowledge. What is a P-Level? How are targets set? Our team meetings often involve a 20 minute ‘training’ on  topics as diverse as block play, P-levels, early reading strategies, Piaget and Vygotsky and more. Staff that know the why as well as the what are staff that feel empowered and ready to stand up for what they believe is best for the students. This works in the other direction too- key workers are encouraged to share what they know about their students, to input into targets and planning and each week we take one student  and share what they have achieved, what we admire about them and our top tips for working with them.

5- Play together. From team tea out once a half term to birthday celebrations to a 10 minute debrief over a cuppa most nights the team that plays together stays together!

A day in the life

6.00- hit snooze
6.10- hit snooze again
6.11 panic its late, jump out of bed and stumble to the bathroom. Pull on work ‘uniform’ of jeans, boots, shirt and hoodie. Don’t bother with makeup but do add some funky studs!
6.30 switch on sons light to start waking him up (like me he’s not a morning person!)
6.45 breakfast, grab lunchbox and sling sons nursery bag in husbands car- he does the nursery run every day!
7.30 arrive at work, switch on laptop and make a brew whilst I wait for it to warm up
7.40 answer emails- one from a parent asking for some ideas to help their child in the holidays and one from our habilitation worker trying to sort out a slot to introduce cane training to a student
8.00 set up messy play area- fake snow today, throw away some manly cloths (I sweat they breed!) Wipe down a gait trainer that got splashed with gunk and rearrange respurces in the play room- theme of the half term is ‘ice and snow’
8.20 LSA’s start to arrive- quick chat about updating a session plan, check book that we don’t need to cover another class.
8.30 panic! Can’t find a students visual schedule and prox pad
8.50 panic over- helpful cleaner tidied them away last night!
8.45 students start to arrive and head off for breakfast and sensory integration. Lots of rolling, swinging, squeezing and brushing
9.10 timetable time- there are 6 students in the class and 6 different timetables- tactile with prox pad tags, Object with symbol, Object, photo, symbol and a video one!
9.30 hello time and self registration- students find their personal identifiers and explore the personal identifiers of the staff.
9.45 students head off for their individual programs- literacy, maths, trailing rebound and art. I observe a maths session, pop in on rebound and make notes and then deliver an attention session to 2 students
10.15- radio goes off, a student is having an incident in the corridor. I let other staff know and go to check on the staff, I swap in with one LSA as they’re looking a bit stressed. Student has epilepsy and behaviours often crop up before a major seizure. Usually we’d move out to the playground but it’s too slippy today!
10.30- break time, when a staff member comes I send the second LSA away, whilst distracted I get a nasty bite to the leg and arm. Should’ve grabbed the bite sleeves from the cupboard.
10.35 deputy head comes and sends me off- she’s remembered I have an assessment visit!
11.30 assesment went well, student who was distressed earlier has had a seizure but is fine now- didn’t need rescue meds which is good! Back to class for our sensory story!
12.00- help in the lunch room, a student spears some pasta with a fork independently for the first time! A huge breakthrough!
12.30 time for my lunch. Sit at my desk to reply to emails and do register whilst stuffing in sandwich!
12.50 radio goes off- a student is wheezing and needs their tracheotomy suctioning. Both LSA’s who are trained are on lunch so I pop down and do it.
1.00 sensory music time!
1.30 all get changed into messy clothes and explore a tarpaulin covered in fake snow and glitter!
2.00 very messy staff and students sliding about having a lot of fun! One student uses PECS to request mare glitter. Make photographs, videos and audio recordings are made to share with students and parents.
2.15 time to get out! Students and staff get changed and then myself and an LSA head to the sensory room with two students for some switch skills time.
2.40- massage in the classroom
3.00 home school books done and students head home.
3.10 LSA has put the kettle on! Team meeting tonight, discuss planning, community trips for next half term and a team night out! Lots of biscuits are eaten!
4.00- wonder why my leg hurts- recall the earlier incident and go to medical- a nice set of teeth marks!
4.15 answer more emails- two about an annual review the day after tomorrow, one about a behaviour meeting and one about updating my pool safety and rescue meds training
4.45- lock up classroom and go home! Decide to leave my laptop at school and write my assessment report tomorrow.
4.50- notice the laundry hasn’t gone, decide to take it home and do it as I’ll need clean jumpers, kneckerchiefs and swim kits for tomorrow.
5.30 home! Stick laundry on, relax and try not to think about school all night. End up browsing pintrest looking at ideas for our valentines theme week.
10.00 fall asleep shattered, slightly bruised and ready to it all again tomorrow!

Teacher 5 a day

My teacher 5 a day commitments have been a little patchy! I’ve managed to run twice a week but I’m struggling to get beyond that- cold nights, working late and the desire to spend a bit more time with the toddler have pushed exercise aside in the week!

One change I have made is to restrict the amount of time I’m willing to spend on work at the weekend . I’ve been setting a very strict 2 hours time limit and then that’s it, computer off! I’m n falling behind and I seem to get a lot done in a concentrate d amount of time! I think starting work at 7.30 helps too as I get at least an hour a day to get on with things!

It’s so easy to just do a little bit more but I’m pushing myself to stop when it’s done and not always aim for perfect!

Cherries and willows- dealing with a death of a student

One of the most difficult parts of being a teacher has been coping with the death of one of my students. This can happen to any teacher but as teachers of children with profound and complex needs it’s something we may face more often than others.

In my seven years of teaching two of my students have passed away, one was partly expected but still terrible, the other was an awful surprise. One the first occasions I was informed over the weekend and was able to process the news in privacy which allowed me to support the staff and students more effectively, on the second occasion I arrived in work after a holiday to be told that the student had passed away over the holidays and the decision had been made not to tell me in part in attempt not to ‘ruin’ my holiday and partly because I was struggling with a difficult pregnancy at the time. Personally I much preferred finding out before arriving at school and I feel I was a far more effective in supporting the students and staff.

Small things can make a huge difference when a student passes away- the school contacted the parents of the students to offer our condolences and to ask if they would like myself and LSA to contact them and school enabled us too leave school and visit them to offer our condolences in person- an incredibly hard but important thing to do. Secondly the school contacted the parents of other students and sought advice about the best way to tell the class what had happened. Finally the school arranged for people to be available to talk to for both staff and students not just the day we came back but over the next few weeks.

Telling the class was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done- how do you explain to children with complex needs that a classmate isn’t coming back? I’m not sure whether they understood but we told them simply, over the next week we packed away the students things and together we selected photos and work to create a memory book to share together and with parents. It felt important to us that the students things didn’t just disappear and that their friends had time to explore the space they had left in our class.

Finally the school allowed myself and their LSA to attend both funerals and we planted two beautiful trees in our garden one pink flowering cherry and one willow to commemorate two lives that ended too soon. We often sat beneath them sharing stories, activities and relaxing together. Whilst many of the staff and students have moved on the trees remain and I’m sure they are still giving shade and enjoyment to many.

Finally I learnt the importance of looking after myself- trying to support others can only work if you support yourself, having lost two students within a year and struggling with a difficult and uncertain pregnancy I ended up going on maternity leave early- at the time I felt eaten up with guilt but now I look back I see that I was simply unable to cope with everything and give the level of care and attention my students needed and deserved.

Teacher support network- support for teachers

Cruse

Nurture 14/15

This year has been one of highs and lows- the lowest was the news that my wonderful nurture classes developed over the last 3 years were to close and I was to ‘ve moved back to mainstream classes in September. The reason? Our new academy sponsors didn’t feel they ‘fitted the vision for the school’.

If I had to choose a word for 2014 it would be ‘struggle’ I struggled to fight for our nurture provision, struggled to hold peace in interminable meetings with academy ‘experts’ and struggled with the decision to leave the school, community and colleagues I loved for pastures new.

My next word would be ‘change’ from mainstream to special, from part to full time, from 13 in a class to 5, from balancing motherhood and teaching to going off balance as I’ve tried to establish my new class. Change is hard and its hit me hard this year!

My third would be growth- I’ve grown as a person, as a teacher and as a mother. I completed the 0-5k challenge and discovered a great way to destress, I gained (and turned down) a place on a doctorate course, I finished my senco qualification and I’ve gone from parenting a cute little one year old to my very own bouncing, shouting by bundle of two-year old joy. Tantrums ahoy!

My final word would be passion. Moving jobs has reignited my passion for what I do and I feel like a square peg in a square hole.

I’m hoping 2015 is going to be a year of settling- settling into our new house (just got to find it!) Settling into the new job and settling into full time working and parenting a child who knows what he wants and can finally communicate it (well sometimes!) I’m hoping to reach out more as well- attending some conferences, spending time with friends and Mr B and being more active here on on Twitter. I’m fiablky finding my feet and looking forward to a great new year!

Here’s to 2015 and a it has to offer!

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Working with LSA’s

Learning to work with a large LSA team has been one of the challenges of moving from mainstream to special school. In my last setting I worked with two or at most three LSA’s in a class of 12. Most of the time these staff were supporting individuals or taking small groups whilst I ‘led’ most of the learning.

In my currently class I have 6 students and 6 LSA’s and as each student has an individual timetable and program of study whilst I may plan all the session I can deliver or observe only a very small amount of these sessions. Learning to manage a team is something I am developing- I’m not  a  natural manager but fortunately my team has been supportive and keen and so my infant management skills haven’t been tested too far!

I thought I’d share my top five tips on working with and LSA team as gleaned from my first term!

1- Pitch in– my personal moto is: Never ask and LSA to do something I wouldn’t be prepared to do. Now this doesn’t mean that I do everything but it does mean that I make sure I don’t duck out from difficult or challenging tasks. I’ve worked with challenging students, finished my tracheotomy training (despite the fact it scared the heck out of me!) and cleaned the messy play area more than once!

2- Say thankyou- make sure you say it and say it often! I thank the staff in my class as often as I can and always make it specific, the LSA’s I work with are what make the progress of the students possible, they work very hard for not enough money and the very least I can do is say thanks!

3- Share what you do– I don’t just thank the staff in private I take it public too, I take every opportunity to praise the team to other teachers to SLT and to parents.

4- Be honest– Admit when you’re wrong, don’t promise what you can’t deliver and admit your mistakes. I’ve screwed up but being honest has meant that staff trust what I say and rather then judge they’ve always taken the opportunity to support me.

5- Show your passion- I’m passionate about what I do, I enjoy what I do and I want to share that with the staff. Yes there are challenges, yes there are not so great moments but I minimise my whining and instead focus on sharing what I love and why I love it. Staying positive can make the difference between a day being hectic but ultimately rewarding and just awful.

And never, ever forget to laugh- at yourself if nothing else!

Teacher 5 a day

I’ve seen a lot of Twitter talk about #teacher5aday and after a bit of “research” it looks like a fantastic idea to develop wellbeing, share ideas and look after ourselves and our colleagues and this can only have a positive impact on our students. Mustafa Kemal Attaturk said :

“A good teacher is like a candle it consumes to light the way for others”

I’ve only been teaching for 7 years and I’ve already seen too many colleagues burn themselves out for others.

Teacher5aday is focusing on 5 areas:
Connect, be active, keep learning, take notice and give and encouraging teachers to track their progress through blogs or in Twitter.

I’m going to try to work on an area at a time adding new bits as I go in attempt not to become overwhelmed. Starting with:
Be active:
My aim is to improve my running and make the time to go out at least three times each week to run off the stresses and strains of the day plus I always get the best ideas out running!