#Teaching&Learning, Early Career Framework, Preparing for Adulthood, Purpose, SEND

I am a teacher. I teach.

By Anita Devi

“I know all those words, but that sentence makes no sense to me.”
 Matt Groening

It is no secret that I am not a fan of the clichés “every teacher is a teacher of SEND” or “every leader is a leader of SEND”.  In this blog, I will share my thoughts on why and how these phrases do not align with my values or vision.  To clarify, SEND here represents children and young people with special educational needs and/ or a disability.  The alternative title, I pondered upon for this piece was ‘It’s an injustice!’ As a fourth year PhD student in Education and Social Justice, I have spent a fair amount of time unpacking the different facets of social justice.  I do not claim to be an expert in this area, but what I have learnt is social justice is complex.  It embraces the view that everyone deserves equal economic, political, and social rights and opportunities.  How this pans out in reality is another story and one that needs clarity on defining a state of social justice and the means to achieve it.

An ageless dialogue has been the debate between “I am, therefore, I think” and “I think, therefore I am”.  My own leaning based on my background in psychology, my experience and my beliefs is in the former:  I am, therefore, I think.  If we assume, thinking is the basis for being … then what happens when individuals have learning or cognitive difficulties?  Do they cease to exist?  Not at all.  So, what has this got to do with teaching?  Looking across sectors, the most successful people are those who are clear on their identity – who they are.  From a place who they are, emerges what and how they act.

In defining a culture for change, language matters …

Every teacher is a teacher of SEND

This is an assertion about the current state of play, positioned in the present tense.  So, it is not entirely accurate.  The reality is, not every teacher is.  The statement itself does qualify the quality of provision provided by teachers.  Does it meet needs?  Is provision fit-for-purpose?  More importantly, it implies students with SEND are a homogenous group.  They are not.  They are individuals, each with distinctive characteristics, unique journeys, and futures full of potential.   Does the phrase also imply that teachers are fully knowledgeable about SEND?

I have been involved in SEND and inclusion a long time and in a variety of roles.  I do not say ‘I’m a teacher of SEND’ … as there is always more to learn and know.  As practitioners, we should not be afraid to say, ‘I don’t know, but I will find out’.  Saying ‘I am a teacher of SEND’ implies I know it all.  I do not.  What I do say is ‘I am a teacher.  I teach.’ That’s the foundation and implied within those two sentences is an invitation to ask, ‘Who do you teach?’  Professionally, I then have a moral purpose to reflect on whether I truly teach all children and young people in my care or am I selective?  By singling out ‘SEND’ as the focus of my teaching, I would be ‘pretending’ to be inclusive by being ‘exclusive’. A perverse injustice, surely?  Equally, I am aware there are specialist SEND teachers out there, who have extensively trained and researched a specific area or need.  That is different.  In my professional journey, I was at one point a local authority Specialist SEND Advisory Teacher for Cognition and Learning. It was a specialist role.

Some would argue the statement is aspirational – a desired state.  Does it truly reflect inclusivity and how do we know when we get there? The statement does not make it clear what actions and behaviours I would see and maybe for some, it creates an illusion of ‘I am there’.  The amount of inaccurate information around SEND on the internet has grown immensely over the years.  Individuals read a book / report and position themselves with a view. Suddenly they are leaders in the field!

Maybe a better way of expressing it would be “our aspirational vision is for all teachers to be responsive and inclusive of diverse needs”.  Not as sexy as ‘every teacher is a teacher of SEND’, but certainly much more wholesome and rooted in the reality of what is and what could be.

Focussing on being responsive brings in a quality element that can be evaluated.  Those who lead on SEND (at school / college level) can evaluate how responsive teachers are to diverse needs.  This is not about evaluating teacher performance, but about contribution to organisational goals on increasing inclusion and reducing exclusion.  The two are separate and interrelated dynamics.  However, reducing exclusion does not necessarily lead to an increase in inclusion and vice versa. At #TeamADL we have developed some structures, systems and solutions around this.  Maybe that’s a blog for another day?

Every Leader is a Leader of SEND

This is often cited as a motivational phrase.  However, just saying it does not mean things change.  As a consultant, I am generally called in when things are not working.  This is not about blame and shame.  The leaders have a maturity of perspective to recognise they need external input to align systems and structures to ensure all children and young people receive the educational experience, they are entitled to.  I have lost count of the number of times, I’ve walked into a school and a leader has said to me, “Every teacher is a teacher of SEND” and “Every leader is a leader of SEND”.  When I ask them what that means or looks like … they have no answer!  The children and young people we teach and the families we serve, deserve better than a few well-rehearsed catch phrases.

Effective leaders build diverse teams and come from a place of modelling good practice in their specialist field.  It is therefore helpful for those who lead on SEND to have experience on delivering effective SEND practice.  Otherwise, a lot of what is delivered is just theoretical knowledge.  SENCOs are required to undergo a specialist qualification, as part of their induction.  The content of this training is debatable and certainly my own research shows the courses lack pragmatism. Regulation 50 in the SEND Regulations 2014 defines the role of a SENCO.  I have written more about it here in relation to workload and assessment.  By repeating the mantra ‘every leader is a …”  we are undermining the role and value SENCOs play and we are not giving full credence to Regulation 50.   Like the cliché about teachers of SEND, stating every leader is a leader of SEND is inaccurate and does nothing to move us towards an aspiration of effective SEND leadership.

Ultimately, our goal is to deliver an effective educational experience for all children that prepares them for their future and adulthood. Using these cliches – it is an injustice! … and I would politely ask those using these phrases to stop or refine them!

Postscript (February 2021)

I’m grateful for the feedback I have received from colleagues who have read this post. A significant number of those who contacted me, agreed. There were a few, who felt we should remain aspirational and use the cliches to advance a bigger agenda. If that were possible, the world would move forward through memes, perhaps?

Another type of justification for using these phrases was shared with me; namely legislation. The comment was made citing mainly points from Chapter 6 of the SEND Code of Practice 2015 and in particular 6.4 which relates to assessment and identification. I have written about assessment and differential diagnosis previously. Hearing the arguments put across in relation to my comments above, I gave it considered thought and I still stand by my comments above. Here are my three reasons why:

  1. There is a difference between a leader of SEND and a leader for SEND. Reading a few books, articles and journals on SEND, doesn’t make someone a leader. It comes through the attitude and experience of an individual to articulate a vision, based on a core set of values and then be positioned to drive diverse teams through a change process for improvement. A leader for SEND is an advocate, not an specialist or expert. We need to recognise and honour the difference.
  2. If non-specialist leaders are going to be FOR something that positions them in the equality and equity dialogue, then it needs rooted in the broader context of inclusion, embracing not only SEND, but also ethnic diversity, gender quality, etc.
  3. The principles in Section 19 of the Children and Families Act 2014 provide us a framework to evaluate whether a leader is FOR inclusion. So we do have a legislative basis to challenge wider leaders, not because they need to be experts. More importantly they need to be advocates operating from a core set of values.

To re-iterate the final paragraph of my original post:

Ultimately, our goal is to deliver an effective educational experience for all children that prepares them for their future and adulthood. Using these cliches – it is an injustice! … and I would politely ask those using these phrases to stop or refine them!

#TeamADL You know, we know SEND Leadership – subscribe to our blog and follow us on social media to keep up to date www.teamadl.uk

About Anita Devi

As a former SENCO, Senior Leader, School Improvement Advisor, local authority SEND Advisory Teacher and Healthwatch Trustee, Anita Devi carries a wealth of experience in developing Leaders of Learning.  Her own teaching career spans early years to post grad in the UK and overseas and Anita lives her why through her belief in the joy of learning and the power of purpose.  In 2017, Anita was awarded the prestigious international Influential Educational Leaders Award for her SEND Leadership Pipeline strategy developing professionals from initial teacher training to advanced and experienced SENCOs.  Currently a PT PhD student, Changemaker Education Consultant & Founding CEO of #TeamADL (a not-for-profit) In 2019, the team were selected as finalists for The Disability Awards alongside some top multinational companies. More recently, working with NASBTT, Anita has written the first SEND book for Early Career Teachers.  #TeamADL have also launched in 2020 SEND Leaders Connect Advanced and SEND Leaders’ Appreciation Day.

Early Career Framework, Leadership, SEND

SEND Leadership: a new way of working

By Anita Devi

Last week, #TeamADL jointly led a series of SEND Briefings with Tappter, because we believe this is a time for a new way of working.  In recent weeks, we have already started the conversation by talking about:

In addition, we are proposing a way of working that re-connects the sector.  For years, I have listened to people describe the SEND system as ‘fragmented’.  In truth, I have struggled with this level of negativity, not because I don’t’ believe there are things we need to address.  There are many issues we need to address.  My resistance to this comment was due to the dream I have in my heart and the joint up vision; I have in my head.

I envisage a system where there is a co-operative approach to the leadership of special educational needs, disability, and inclusion. Leadership is not just about those in post.  It is about teams and recognising the value each team member brings to the conversation. Parents and carers are very much part of the team, as are children, young people, specialists, teachers and community members.

I envisage a system where identification is both timely and accurate.  Identification has become a tick-box process, much to the detriment of the child and young person.

I envisage a system where resources are available to meet the needs of children and young people, not only in educational settings, but also in the community when they attend social groups or other community settings.  Reasonable adjustments need to become part of the norm.

So how can we connect the dots and make this a reality?

Co-operative Leadership involves mutual input from team members in working towards a common goal.  What is our common goal?  The best life chances for children and young people.  I believe many of us know this, but we possibly differ on how we get there.  It is for this reason, we teamed up with Tappter to create ‘SEND Leaders Connect’ and Advanced.  This is a safe platform for leaders, parents and carers to connect, talk and find solutions. 

A few years back, I started looking at the SEND Leadership Pipeline, in a more structured way.  I was humbled when in 2017, this work was recognised internationally at a conference in Cambridge.  The concept is simple – a thought through process of professional development from trainee teacher/educator to advanced SEND Leader.  Over the years, we’ve tested various points of effective CPD.  We have been working with different organisations such as NASBTT, Hays Education, Optimus Education and others to make this a reality.  Last Friday, a book I have been working on for two years was also published to support those in the early stages of their career.  My PhD focus enables those with experience and expertise to be retained in the profession, so we do not lose the tacit knowledge of practitioners.

Finally, as a not for profit organisation, I have had a dream for a long time about how we can fund resources differently.  I have some big and achievable ideas to make this happen.  However, we are going to start small. Settings that join our SEND leaders Connect (Advance) which includes access to Tappter networks and a termly online meet with bonus sessions will have the opportunity of receiving a resource worth up to £100.  My long-term vision is much bigger than this!  Many have questioned me over this … if we are to create a culture of abundance of resources to meet needs, it starts with generosity and the belief ‘there is enough in this world for all to receive’.

Over the years, I often been mocked for my out-of-the-box thinking around SEND, but just looking at how we have trailed blazed over the last 9 years (i.e. since the start of the SEND Reforms), we have a lot to be thankful for:

  • 2011 – to date Several local authority projects to challenge inefficiency, redesign simpler systems and establish a more conducive and integrated local culture of support
  • 2012 – to date High impact professional networks, including several during #lockdown
  • From 2012 The #TeamADL Provision Review model has been adopted by many as an agile approach to review SEND provision and ensure it is consistent, as well as cohort responsive.  The methodology also ensures everyone has a voice.  This, with other unique CPD packages became an accredited training course in 2020
  • 2012-3 We developed some insights around ‘outcomes-based accountability’ that shaped the SEND Code of Practice 2014/15 (Partners: Optimus Education)
  • 2014-5 Designed and developed the SEND CoP Postcard.  This is still used by many schools and part of teacher training programmes globally
  • 2014-7 Workshops on SEND Finance and reducing the paperwork load. The reducing paperwork and increasing impact is still part of our core work and many schools and leaders have benefited from this. Here is some feedback.
  • 2015 Launch of www.sendreviewportal.net that is all about choice and informed decision making around procurement and commissioning.  On that note, concrete strategies on effective commissioning were shared at The Academies Show in 2017 and have been used by many schools since.  Do look at our SEND Advocates page
  • 2016 We published Time Management book for SENCOs (Partners: Optimus Education) This subsequently evolved into the first SEND Leader Planner in 2018 and subsequent versions in 2019 and 2020
  • 2017 We were privileged to be involved in the SEND ITT Toolkit (Partners: NASBTT and other ITT Providers)
  • 2019 MK SEND Careers Events (Partners: Network Rail, RiX and Natwest).  In the same year, #TeamADL were shortlisted alongside Virgin Media and the BBC for a Disability-Smart Award
  • 2019-2021 Strategic leadership development for those leading in Post 16 (Partners: Derby College)
  • 2020 During lockdown, we provided FREE SEND leader coaching to many schools and settings in the UK and internationally
  • 2020 onward SEND Leaders Appreciation Day (Partners: Hays Education).  You can find many of the stories on Instagram @send-leaders

… and now SEND Leaders Connect (Advanced) with Tappter plus a NEW way of funding resources through a #GiveBack approach. We have connected with Tappter for 5 main reasons: privacy, security, simplicity, connectivity and distraction free. The project has been piloted and scored independently by reviewers. As part of the pilot, we presented our approach to SENCOs and headteachers.

“Our Trust chose to use the SEND Leaders Connect Advance package because it is a simple and effective way to bring together professionals from across our Trust. This includes our SENCOs, where some are very experienced and others newly appointed. The App enables them to ask questions and support each other with advice and resources. It also connects our leadership teams and eventually we will connect our governors, bringing SEND to the forefront. We also chose to use it because it allows us to liaise with other professionals and experts across the region, including experts like Anita. – LH, Director of Education

Are our ideas out of the box? For sure! But we know they make a sustainable difference.  And you know, we know SEND Leadership! Listed above, are only a small selection of the partners we have had the absolute privilege of working with over the years. You can find others on our website.

#TeamADL is committed to ensuring everyone thrives in education, employment, and life. We stand up for people who are different because we are different.

If you would like to find out more about our three-prong approach to reconnecting a fragmented SEND system or anything we are involved in … do please get in touch.  We are excited about the future and the possibilities that lay ahead of us for a better system.  Ultimately, our heart remains focused on ensuing nothing holds the next generation back.  What is your hope for the future?

We have put on an extra meeting on 21st September 2020.  Click here to register.

About Anita Devi

Anita has had an extensive career in education.  Her why is based around the ‘joy of learning’.  As such, she focuses on what enables learners and what hinders them and more importantly, what can she do to improve the system.  Amongst many other roles, Anita leads #TeamADL

To find out more visit www.teamadl.uk

#Teaching&Learning, Early Career Framework, Learning, Purpose

New, newness and learning

by Anita Devi

This month, instead a text-based blog, we’ve put together an 8 minute podcastThis is ‘new’ for us … we hope you enjoy!

Same old thinking.jpg

Break the cycle … and do something NEW today, this term, this year!

Comfort zone

About Anita Devi

Anita has had an extensive career in education.  Her why is based around the ‘joy of learning’.  As such, she focuses on what enables learners and what hinders them and more importantly, what can she do to improve the system.  Amongst many other roles, Anita leads #TeamADL

To find out more visit www.AnitaDevi.com

#Curriculum, #Teaching&Learning, Early Career Framework, Parenting, SEND

Meeting Jonathan!

By Anita Devi

Last month, I had the absolute privilege of meeting Jonathan Bryan !!! I’d been following Jonathan’s story for awhile on Twitter @eyecantalk and in the press.  I’d read his book, which I highly recommend, so I wanted to meet him and his mum, Chantal.  I had so many questions.

This blog is my attempt at summarising an incredible three hours spent with Jonathan, at his home.

Dual Multiple Exceptionality (DME)

My interest in children and young people, who had special educational needs and were more able started around 2007.  Working with different agencies including the National Association of Gifted Children (now Potential Plus), I was keen to find out how we identify and encourage the ‘ability’ in ‘disability.  I researched case studies from America (where DME is referred to as Twice Exceptional or 2E), I delivered a few presentations/ workshops and more importantly, I incorporated it into my practice as a SEN Advisory Teacher, undertaking statutory assessment. Around the same time, The National Strategies also launched their thinking around DME.  The discussion was beginning to develop momentum. We were starting to distinguish between identification and support strategies for those born with a disability, who had DME and those who had acquired a disability, after the more able aspect of their talent had been discovered e.g. Professor Stephen Hawking or Jean-Dominique Bauby (Diving Bell and the Butterfly).  Three years on and post-election, the signs in Whitehall had changed, as had the government agenda for education.  DME was put on the back burner.

Despite this setback, I continued to research the subject.  My interest homed in particularly on assessment, especially since ‘Life without Levels’ and the Engagement Profile / Scale research by Barry Carpenter and his team, was a great opportunity to further this discussion in special schools with head teachers.

Almost 10 years after I first started looking into DME, Pearson published a two-part blog by me on the subject.  The article was entitled, “What can’t my child excel and have a difficulty / disability at the same time?” Part 1 | Part 2.  Eighteen months later, nasen published their Current State of Play Report on DME.  Professor Stephen Hawking became a Patron of nasen, however as mentioned earlier, his was an acquired disability.  There is still much to discover about children born with a disability, who are cognitively able, but not always endowed with the ability to express it.

I do not want to give away too much about Jonathan’s story, as I really would encourage you to read his book.  Through ‘Eye Can Write‘, I met Chantal his mother, understood the circumstances leading up to his birth and the many difficulties they faced after he was born, including times when the hospital gave Jonathan hours to live.

Eyes Can Write

Jonathan is now 13 years old.  He has no voluntary control over his body or speech, and he is on an oxygen tank.  He has two younger sisters and a very busy schedule.  Jonathan was attending a school for children with Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulties (PMLD), when one of his teachers noticed active cognitive processing, behind his disability.  Long story short, Jonathan moved into mainstream, learnt to read, communicate in his own way and thrived.

Here is a reverse poem, he wrote recently for Poetry Day (21st March 2019).  Using the structure of an existing poem, Jonathan created his own, giving a voice to his thoughts and ideas.

Poem v2

So, what happened when I met Jonathan?

My first question was to Chantal.  Given all that has happened and the challenges, how is it you remain so calm?   Smilingly Chantal replied,

There are days, when the oxygen masks haven’t arrived or something else isn’t in place … and it can be overwhelming.  But I have a choice and I intentionally choose not to be angry.  It isn’t always easy, but the anger doesn’t solve anything.  If anything, it creates more problems.

Chantal, his home-teacher (Sarah) and I continued talking about many things … at which point Jonathan interrupted us.  Using his eyes, he spelt out the following message to me,

I just want an education system where we are all considered worthy to be taught and learn.  How can I make a difference, Anita?

Yes, he knew my name!  Part of my curiosity about Jonathan also stemmed from his phenomenal working memory.  Imagine using your eyes to point to a letter in a word, a word in a sentence, a sentence in a paragraph and a paragraph in a context/ chapter.  That’s what Jonathan had just done!

Reflecting on the discussion, I realised, we had been talking about provision in special schools and sensorial experiences.  Whilst these are necessary and helpful, Jonathan was trying to communicate to me … there is SO much more to us that just ‘experiencing’ a sensory stimulation or curriculum.

So, let me share some more golden nuggets, Jonathan spelt out to me, with his eyes:

I would love that if people see what is possible, maybe they will want to try and unlock others.

My story is not unique, and it should be shared.  I don’t have long here, so what should I spend my time doing?  I am a thirteen-year-old … and I’m always hungry!

I dream of every teacher finding ways to teach every child.

… and finally,

  • Trainee teachers need the why
  • Teachers need the how
  • Parents need the what
  • Leaders need to believe

What an incredible blueprint for teacher – leader development and the Early Career Framework.  I have no idea how the time passed … we covered so much.  But it was noon and Jonathan had to get ready for school.  As I drove away from their home … I was in awe.  This young thirteen-year-old had taught me SO much!  He had understood what we had discussed and responded in a way, that stretched our perceptions to a new level of thinking and believing.  What an absolute privilege! I was inspired and humbled.

JR Photo Medley v2

Jonathan and his family have set up a charity to focus exactly on what we spoke about, unlocking potential.  The charity is called ‘Teach us too’ and the remit is simply ‘to change the experiences of others in a similar position’.  There are some great plans for the charity to develop over the next year and #TeamADL very much look forward to walking alongside Jonathan and the charity in advocating the message “Teach us Too”.

Call to action:

Think about the children and young people you teach:

  • Are there any who have a special educational need and/or disability AND are more able?
  • What further research do you need to undertake about DME?
  • Does you setting have a policy and more importantly provision in place to ‘unlock’ and support DME?

 

About Anita Devi

Anita has had an extensive career in education.  Her why is based around the ‘joy of learning’.  As such, she focuses on what enables learners and what hinders them and more importantly, what can she do to improve the system.  Amongst many other roles, Anita leads #TeamADL

To find out more visit www.AnitaDevi.com