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’ onĀ  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 studentĀ  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!

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