#Curriculum, #Teaching&Learning, Leadership, Learning, Preparing for Adulthood

Rebuilding Communities in Education – Part 2

By Anita Devi

I am grateful for the feedback, I had to Part 1 of this reflection piece. Leaders valued the list of questions and broader thinking.  Many could see how, for the benefit of our learners and within a culture of high accountability, we can still capitalise on greater autonomous leadership, at local level. Key actions and announcements by national leaders have also helped me realise, we have different perspectives on the construct ‘rebuild’.  In Part 2, I continue my thinking around the learners, the operational and the strategic.  However, I begin, by defining ‘rebuild’.

Rebuild is NOT about going back to what was, but defining the new; something better that meets the needs of where we are, not where we were.  I think we can all agree the experience of the pandemic (2020-21) crossing two academic years has changed us!  In September 2020, speaking on a radio programme about ‘Returning to School’, I talked about the ‘spectrum of experience’.  Lockdown and COVID19 may be part of the global vocabulary, but what they mean to each of us differs.  At one end of the experience spectrum is a positive experience – we have learnt new things, had quality time with family, perhaps and embarked on new online adventures of connecting, to name a few.  At the other end of the spectrum is bereavement, living in cramped conditions, no connection to people, no online access and so on.  We’ve all experienced grief and loss, as I shared in Part 1.  For most of us, our lockdown experience lies in the middle of the two extremes – we are weighing up multiple experiences and emotions, simultaneously. That’s taxing.  I recall Easter 2020 vividly. That weekend, usually a joyous festival for my family and community – I was informed of a few teaching colleagues who had passed due to COVID19 and the death of a friend’s sister-in-law.  Three months prior, this lady, a mother of two – she and I had been dancing at our friend’s 50th birthday party.  Equally on Easter weekend, I had a lot of online laughs and helped another friend surprise his wife on date night, as she is a medical key worker.  As Sunday night came to end, I was a bundle of emotions.  That was just one weekend of the many over the last year. It’s been a real mix.  I remember listening to a young man in America – during lockdown 1, he had lost 7 members of his family.  We cannot discount the personalised experience individuals have had.  The DfE guidance document on Mental Health and Behaviour in Schools (2018) would define the pandemic as an adverse childhood experience (ACE).  As such, our response to the rebuild, has to bear all of this in mind.

Learners

I have already considered aspects of mental health in Part 1.  In this section, I want us to focus on speaking and listening skills.  These are the root for learning – developmentally and socially. Learning does not happen in isolation.  In England, speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) has been a long-standing problem.

Source The Communication Trust

If you are interested in reading more on this, look up the reports A generation adrift (2013) and Talking about a generation (2017).  Even the most conversant families have shared that communication during lockdown has been challenged because there is little or nothing new to talk about at the dinner table.

As educators, I do believe we have a responsibility to restore and develop skills of oral communication.  This is a two-step process:

Step 1:  Consider different strategies to integrate institution-wide approaches to metacognition.  This is about giving learners a ‘language for learning’, so they can think and then talk about their learning.  The Education Endowment Foundation website clearly demonstrates that this is a low-cost intervention, with a potential 7-month gain.  The school year in England equates to 195 days.  That equates to 39 weeks and just under 8 months.  If metacognition recognises a 7-month gain, then surely an important part of the rebuild should include an intentional approach to metacognition.  Questions I raise in Part 1 of this blog are a starting point.

Step 2: Investing time in speaking and listening and not placing an over emphasis on writing.  Please do not mis-interpret what I am saying here.  Writing is an important skill.  However, individuals who think and speak with clarity often make the most effective writers. As a method of differentiation (high-quality teaching) the use of alternative method of recording has been considered a powerful tool for learners to demonstrate progress and achievement.

In 2010, The Communication Trust launched No Pens Day, now know as No Pens Wednesday.  No Pens Day Wednesday encourages learners to put down their pens and pick up their language skills by spending one day focusing on learning through speaking and listening.  You can find out more here and here. I’m certainly not advocating this as an everyday approach, but as a focus for returning to education in March 2021 or just after the Easter holidays, it would make for a way to get everyone talking and connecting. It’s a lot of fun too! Speaking gives a voice to the views, feelings and wishes of learners. Section 19 of the Children and Families Act 2014, makes this a statutory duty for us as educators.

Operational

It is the first day back – 8th March 2021:  How are you going to greet your learners?  Is it business as usual?  Or is there a need to listen?  I have been thinking about the power of stories and personal narratives.  Each one of us is part of the COVID19 story.  Each one of us played our part.  In the classroom, how can we utilise these historical lived-out narratives (possibly intertwined with the curriculum) to create a broader picture of the community experience, at large.

I have trained several new teachers and those new to leadership, throughout the pandemic, as well as those more experienced. Whilst it is a challenging time to be in education, it is also an exciting time to be part of the rebuild. As educators, how much of our own story will we share?

In 2014, I was asked to sum up the SEND Reforms in one word.  My word was: relationships.  Research has shown time and time again, the heart of good teaching, that has impact, is ‘relationships’.  The educator knowing not just their subject and effective pedagogy ,but knowing the learner too. It is the dynamic of these two that make the learning environment come to life.  Therefore, as you start planning face-to-face lessons consider using a one-page profile person-centred tool.  You can find out more here.  Also think about the different ways to differentiate and personalise.  Again, you can find out more here.

On a practical level, do look at the Public Health England (online course) on Psychological First Aid (PFA).  This is a straightforward way of delivering psychosocial care in the immediate aftermath of emergencies, including infectious disease outbreaks. 

Strategic

In my own mind, I am clear on the strategic leadership and embedding an institution-wide ‘new’ culture.  I led a roundtable with executive and senior leaders in education on this last week.  I do not claim to have all the answers, but certainly the framework of thinking I shared resonated with leaders in the field.   For this blog, however, I decided to revisit what the DfE has to say.  I was delighted to note … remarkably like my thinking.  In Mental Health and Behaviour in Schools (2018), it says (DfE, p9)

  1. Define the vision.  As leaders, what is your vision going forward?  What elements of pre-COVID19 will you keep?  What elements of the pandemic experience will you sustain?  How will these mesh together?  To give an example, I know some schools are considering an onsite blended learning curriculum from September 2021.  Recognition that online learning benefited some learners, due thought and consideration is being given to how this is fitted into the timetable.  Other schools have taken onboard how at the start of Lockdown 1, they did not know if the parents of their children were key workers.  These school leaders are looking into stronger home-school links.  This is such an opportunity for us to learn from the past and build anew.
  2. Emphasis on positive mental wellbeing for all (DfE p9).  Are there aspects of the organisation that lead to excessive stress for learners and staff?  What can be changed or undertaken differently?  How will high-quality teaching embrace a focus on positive mental wellbeing, not as an add-on, but a central theme for progress?
  3. Action 3 (DfE, p9) is a whole school approach to behaviour policy.  Yet in the current political thinking, this has been placed as a priority.  Can I be bold to say, what was before isn’t the same as is now!  I agree, we need a behaviour policy, but equally we need to recognise the experience we have had.  Behaviour (individual and collective) is born out of beliefs.  Have the beliefs of our community and world changed, because of the pandemic? What impact will this have on our behaviours?  I do advocate clarity on boundaries.  However, COVID19 has blurred the distinction on boundaries and barriers.  So collectively, we need to redefine (using a constructive theory of change) what we do and how.  Prior to COVID19, the focus on behaviour was (or certainly appeared to be) from a place of coercion and bringing institutions into line.  We are no longer in that space.

As learners return on 8th March 2021, reminding them and staff of the expected behaviours and boundaries is going to be vital.  The question is how it is done, to have impact, whilst still being sensitive of individuals coming through, what for many has been a traumatic experience.  Relationships of trust will need to be re-established. Plotting the academic calendar against the government’s four steps for coming out of lockdown is helpful for defining key time markers.

I started Part 1 with a quote from Nelson Mandela.  I’ve been thinking a lot about Nelson Mandela recently. Just over 30 years ago, he was released from a 27-year prison sentence, based on racial prejudice. On his release, in his first public speech, he cited a poem by Marianne Williamson called, “Our Deepest Fear”. This poem is from her book ‘Return to Love’ (Reflections & Principles of a Course in Miracles, 1976).

Born & brought up in London, I faced a fair amount of racial discrimination (overt & covert), during my childhood days. The ‘Our Deepest Fear’ poem had a significant impact on me, as a young adult at the time. It is something, I still revisit, as a reminder of what was, what is & what could be.  As we emerge out of the prison sentence of the pandemic, what will we share with world? What will be our Return to Love moment?

(For any readers who are not sure on what love has to do with leadership, I suggest you look up recent research (published in academic journals) on ‘Loving Leadership’ or even watch my presentation at the recent #GettingItRight Conference 2021).

It’s time for change!

#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.

#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.

#Curriculum, #Teaching&Learning, Disability

Scaffolding support in primary PE curriculum for SEND pupils into adulthood

Interview with Jonathan Bhowmick (JB)

With a renewed focus on curriculum this year, Anita Devi (AD) caught up with Actions Mats to ask more about how we support pupils with special educational needs and disability (SEND) in Physical Education (PE), as part of the inclusion agenda and active lifestyles.

AD: Hi Jonathan, thank you for your time today.  Tell us a little about yourself.

JB: Hi Anita Well, I am the designer and founder of Action Mats. My background is playground design and working with a school, I was asked by the headteacher to design a solution for engaging pupils for whom English is an additional language (EAL).  Hence Action Mats were born.  The mats are a unique PE and active-learning resource created for children between 4 and 11 years old.  The thinking behind Action Mats is to create fitness stations.  These can used in multiple configurations.  They enable ALL pupils to engage in the PE curriculum as well as participate in team building challenges and competitive games. What we have also discovered since from user feedback is Action Mats work well for pupils with a special educational need and disability.  In effect, we have fulfilled our AIM in creating Action Inclusive Mats.

AD: How long have you been operating?

JB: Action Mats was launched in October 2017 and we are now in over one hundred schools in four countries. They were originally created for EAL pupils.  Our vision is for them engage in the lessons and so feel part of the school community.  The unique feature of Action Mats is the simple, yet fun, instructional graphics and symbols printed on each mat. Children of all ages, from any country, can understand these graphics without the need for explanation or translation. This empowers children, giving them the ability to work independently or collaboratively, without the need for teacher/ adult input.  Action Mats are active members of Youth Sports Trust, the Association for Physical Education and UK Active.

Action Mats 1

AD: Did you test the mats with the children?

JB: We tested the Action Mats quite extensively.  In late September 2019, we ran a new trial session at a primary school in Hertfordshire to test our active-learning mats, which incorporate the literacy and numeracy packs.  Thirty-two children in year 4 (8-year olds) tested our level 2 challenge jigsaw race mats.  Each challenge includes sixteen activities.  The activity was delivered as a race.  So, the pupils carry random pieces jigsaw pieces over a course of fitness stations to reach the ‘build zone’. In the Build-Zone, pupils must connect the piece they carry to existing pieces already there. The class was a mixed ability group.

AD: Sounds like quite a high-pace activity?

JB:  It is.  However, from a designer’s point of view, the successful completion of the jigsaw is rather secondary. The objective is for pupils to engage fully in the exercises on each mat. We want our children to be active and see sport, as an important lifestyle choice. A secondary objective is for the whole team to coalesce in the jigsaw build zone to assemble the pieces as a team, collectively. The game fosters teamwork on two levels, during the race section and working together to achieve a common goal.  Ideally before the other team.

AD:  What did you learn from this new trial?

JB:  I was really pleased with how successful the game was. The rationale behind the idea worked perfectly and, as the photos testify, the children were completely engrossed in the challenge.  In particular, the children shared they preferred the numeracy tasks linked to Action Mats and found it helped their concentration.  School leadership commented, “We found the sense of purpose linked to PE activities helpful or children’s learning and we believe teachers could use this accessible resource in many different ways, to engage the children”. As a follow-up, Action Mats was invited to run an active session at a PE Conference in Worcestershire at which we invited twenty PE Teachers to participate in the same game.  There was some initial reluctance, but once the teachers got into it, they found it more challenging than they had originally thought.  Their competitive side also surfaced.  We found their feedback useful.

Winning is important to me, but what brings me real joy is the experience of being fully engaged in whatever I’m doing – Phil Jackson

Action Mats 2

AD: The jigsaw appears to also help the slow down rest period, after an intense period of activity.  Is that how they were designed?  What is the recommended warm up to the fitness stations?

JB: In this scenario, the objective was to race the other team.  However, it is possible to use the jigsaw for downtime.  The Action Mat stations are used for the warm-up through a circuit-based activity.

AD: Can you give us an example where the mats have benefited children with special educational needs and disability (SEND)?

JB: Action Mats are be used by some special schools and we have anecdotal feedback about impact for SEND in mainstream schools. This is an are we are currently developing.

Sports England 2018

(Source: Sport England, 2018)

AD: London 2012, enabled us as a nation to take sport to a new level. Our pledge was to “Inspire a generation”. Yet, in 2018 Sport England reported just over 40% of children in England do an average of more than 60 minutes of physical activity a day. Our Active Lives Children and Young People Survey (2018), which was the first of its kind carried out by Ipsos MORI, showed that around 3 million children (43.3%) lead active lives.  However, of that group, only 1.2 million (17.5%) are meeting the Chief Medical Officer’s guidelines of more than 60 minutes of activity a day, every day of the week.  So, there is clearly a need to do more. The report also concluded an insignificant difference in the amount of sport and physical activity that takes place inside school, compared to activity levels outside of school.  Both have a critical role to play. With 22% of children active for at least 30 minutes per day outside of school, while 28% of children do so in school.  How do you think Action Mats can contribute to the national agenda for children of ‘being active and staying healthy’?

Life need not have limits – Richard Whitehead, a British athlete and Paralympian

JB: Action Mats can be delivered through structured teacher-led pedagogy.  The mats come with easy-to-follow activity cards.  Action Mats can also have high impact through learner-led activities.  So, the mats cover both differentiation and personalisation.  In some schools, Action Mats have promoted Family Fitness Sessions, where parents/carers join their children for stay healthy exercise sessions.  This helps promote good family relationships and positive role models, as well active lifestyles outside school.  Action Mats are portal and on suitable external surfaces can be used outside, in the fresh air.

Sports England 2017

(Source: Sports England, 2017)

AD: At #TeamADL, our vision is ‘Everyone thriving in education, employment and life’.  We were therefore concerned when we read in the 2015/16 survey 51% of adults with three or more impairments are inactive compared with 21% of those without a disability. So, my final question to you, what can we do differently to increase activity for those with impairments?

JB: Take the principles of Action Mats and apply them widely.  In other words, simplicity, accessibility and inclusivity.  Richard Whitehead, a British athlete and Paralympian once said, “Life need not have limits”.  This is so true of the philosophy of Action Mats.  The mats are enablers for children to stretch themselves that little bit further, with the hope it becomes a lifestyle choice for their adulthood.  Do check out our video and hear what teachers and PE specialists have said.

AD: Thank you Jonathan once again for your time.  We wish you the very best going forward.  Keep us posted of any updates!

To find out more about Action Mats visit: https://www.actionmats.co.uk/

Chrispina Wilson from #TeamADL is also actively involved in supporting healthy lifestyles and reducing obesity for all children and young people. Contact us to find out more.

#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