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.

 

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!

50 ways to improve emotional wellbeing

10- Photos

Part of creating a classroom where children feel safe and cared for and ready to learn is to create connections between staff and children and between class members. My digital camera is always by my side ready to photograph the class both on special occasions and as we work together day to day. The children love to see photos of themselves and their peers. We have a board where are current photos are stuck up weekly, I use photos as my screen saver on the laptop so the children can see them on the screen, I make photostories to share with parents and children and I create photo albums. Some are of special events and trips, some are where we store our weekly photos and each child has a little book with their own photos in. All year myself and the amazing team I work with stick photos into these and at the end of the year each child is allowed to take their own personal photo album home.

50 ways to improve emotional wellbeing

9-Time tables

Routine, routine, routine.

The most important thing to many of the children I teach is routine. Suprises are scary, change is a catastophy and what they really want is for today to be much the same as yesterday. They want to know what they’re doing, when they’re doing and who they’re doing it with.

Visual timetables are your friend here. The exact format depends entirely on the child. We have a daily class one with symbols, individual ones with symbols, objects and photographs and even a ‘smell’ timetable for a child who is deaf/blind. I also have a very simple weekly calendar which we review daily as well into which I slot any big changes/special events.

The times involved also depend on the child- from now/next to sessional to a full day to a week. Every child can benefit from a simple timetable to help them make sense of their world.

Simple colour sorting activity

IMAG6307

This is a super simple activity ideal for task and finish or TEACCH boxes- all you need is:

Buttons

Paint charts

 

Simply laminate your paint charts, select some nice big buttons and then ask the children to match the buttons to the colours. A simpler activity would be to just have one colour rather than a whole chart of different tones but we already had these charts laminated froom a different activity and Little B enjoyed sorting the buttons along the line. I’ve also done this with just two colours of buttons and two charts rather than a whole set.

50 ways to improve emotional wellbeing

7- puppets

Puppets can be a great way to encourage children to speak, share their worries or problem solve conflict. It’s a good idea to have a range of puppets both human and other as some children would rather act out their feeling using a monster than a person puppet as this can help keep all those difficult feelings just a little bit further away and easier to deal with.