Diversity, Inclusion, Leadership, SEND

Opinion Diversity

by Anita Devi

School’s out, so why are we still publishing this blog?  At #TeamADL the Editorial Board took a decision to publish all three blogs in July and then have a break in August.  So today, I wanted to address the issue of ‘opinion diversity’.

Our overriding theme for this month has been gratitude and appreciation.  On July 1, we celebrated SEND Leaders’ Appreciation Day.  Some might argue, why not call it “Inclusion Leaders’ Appreciation Day”?  For me, there is exists a reality-gap of what is (a high focus on SEND, labels and diagnosis) to what could be (authentic inclusion).  Currently, the former is enshrined in law and often operates to downplay the inclusion discourse. The latter is a vision that still needs defining and refining, collectively – hence our #ADL_Tadmin blog.  Back to gratitude, earlier in the month, we had a leadership and SENCO wellbeing blog exploring the application of appreciation in different roles.  Today, I want to explore the link between inclusion and gratitude.

As stated in last month’s blog, inclusion embraces being, becoming and belonging.  The premise is founded on a plinth of acceptance, within boundaries.  It is the ‘within boundaries’ that has fuelled the behaviour debate in education.  Who defines the boundaries?  What is acceptable?  What is not?  Violence and putting others at risk is clearly not.  Being rude is clearly not.  Yes, there are some conditions that make rudeness an involuntary act (e.g., Tourette’s), but that is the exception … and dare I say it, not the norm!  Before you ask, “who defines the norm?” Please note I have used the word ‘boundaries’ not barriers!  There is a difference in purpose and application.  A boundary defines a safe space within which we have freedom to make choices, interact and operate.  Boundaries are necessary for growth and safety.  In contrast a barrier is an in or out scenario.  So, here’s my question for us all (myself included), if you are pro-inclusion, how accepting of difference and diversity are you?  How about opinion-diversity?  Do you actively engage with individuals who have different opinions to yourself, or do you gravitate to people who are like you / share the same opinion? Is your network, an echo chamber?

In setting up #TeamADL, I intentionally chose individuals who were different and, in many ways, better than me.  I wanted them to contribute freely, I wanted to learn from them, and I wanted them to challenge me.  There are two fundamental ground rules or boundaries for our team: an active engagement in our own well-being (preservation of harm to self) and no negative cyclical engagement on social media.  The team are encouraged to engage in public debate and share their opinion, but to ensure it is kept focused on the issues/ principles, not individuals or from a moaning culture or perspective.  As a leader, I have sought to model this.  In the main, I am intentional about this – reflecting both on and in my actions / professionalism.  Occasionally, I slip up … but these moments do not go unanalysed for future growth and learning.  Our values and mission guide our actions and decisions.  Being involved in special educational needs, disability, and inclusion for as long as I have, and in a variety of roles, one thing I have noticed – opinion diversity is not the norm.  There is a subtle behaviour of ‘othering’, especially if someone else asks questions, suggests a different view, or disagrees.  Othering is a phenomenon in which some individuals or groups are defined and labelled as not fitting in within the norms of a social group.  Let me exemplify through an example:

A few years back, colleagues in the special educational needs and disability area were leading on a centrally funded project. I heard about the project from school leaders, but there were a few threads that didn’t make sense.  It was a time of significant national change and since it was publicly funded, I wanted to find out more.  My role at the time involved me leading in local areas, so the project had a direct consequence on my work. I started by asked those leading on the project for more information. Bam!  The barriers went up and they refused to speak to me.  Non-engagement … Left to my own devices, I started to find out more to fill the gaps, whilst simultaneously continuing to try and arrange a conversation for open exchange and discussion of different opinions.  Refusal, after refusal even when I offered to host.  This went on for two years and finally my MP had to intervene for a meeting; by which time whilst I was still open to listening … and had even more questions, the individuals involved in leading (fellow practitioners) still refused to engage.  The meeting was ultimately attended by a civil servant, who had no background in education and really couldn’t answer any of the questions. So not very constructive really.

All the way through this experience I kept thinking two things,

  1. I’m being othered.  This was not the first time … but on this occasion it was for my opinion.  My opinion was ‘perceived’ as a threat, as opposed to a fellow practitioner with good intent, but just a different view.  Previously, (within the same arena) I had been ‘othered’ for my ethnicity and my face not fitting.  For a world that claims to promote inclusion … maybe the SEND world is selective to including those who agree with us, without question?
  2. The second thought was surely, if we all want what’s best for children, young people, and their families ( shared intent) then coming together and exploring all options to discover the most effective solution forward is for the greater good. Not everyone, I discovered is focused on the greater good.

The incident I mention above was about 7 years ago.  In truth, I had forgotten about it and moved on.  I am clear on what I stand for, I’m open to listening / discussion, but if individuals promoting inclusion refuse to engage in healthy debate … not my problem. Recently the DfE asked me to meet a colleague (who was not involved at the time), and he brought it up in a meeting from a perspective of fear!  The incident was being used to justify that we shouldn’t discuss difference of opinions … true story.  It also highlights the problem with ‘othering’.  People who ‘other’ individuals then go on to tell others, so it spreads and goes viral, until everyone thinks it is the norm.  I have previously shared my thoughts on ‘Bugs, viruses and ransomware in the SEND system’.

Why is this subtle behaviour of ‘othering’ significant? 

For me, there are some foundational elements of the Children and Families Act 2014. One of them is Section 19, the principles we all are required to adhere to.  These place children, young people, and their families at the heart of the discourse of needs and provision.  But this has been misunderstood and the meaning of these principles has shifted from ‘this should be at the heart of our collective decisions’ to this is how we decide whose voices carries more weight.  What are these principles?  There are three, and yes, I could articulate them here … or in true teacher style, I could encourage you to look them up on page 19 of the 0-25 years SEND Code of Practice 2015.

To be fair to the civil servant who was commissioned to meet me in the story above, he did listen to what I believe to be the 5 pinnacle aspects of the SEND Code Practice 2015; however, he struggled to embrace the conceptual framework of how/why these need to align for implementation.  Section 19 is just one of the key 5 catalyst aspects for effective school-based practice.

How would this work in practice?

Imagine sitting in a multi-agency meeting to discuss the provision needed for a child.  The room is filled with members of the local community (click this link to read why I do not use the term stakeholders). Let’s assume everyone is operating from the principles of Section 19 (Children & Families Act, 2014), yet everyone has a different opinion. How is that possible?  Each person has a different lens and therefore holds a different piece of the jigsaw.  How do we proceed?

  • Option 1:  One is piece is seen as right and another as wrong.  This is where the rights agenda can turn into barriers and as O’Brien (2020) shares ‘Inclusion becomes a barrier for inclusion’.  This could be seen as the doctrine of duality.
  • Option 2: Everyone is right – pluralism or the doctrine of multiplicity.  However, some are more right than others.  This is different to right and wrong.  It’s about the weighting given to different views.  This is when the discussion turns into who can express their opinions the loudest. Shouting and repetition becomes the dominate communication style, as opposed to listening and evolving collaboratively.
  • Option 3: Everyone has a view, and everyone disagrees because everyone has a different / partial lens.  There is an expectation of difference! However, what is considered over the different views is patterns, connections, and solutions.  The doctrine of unity.  For years, I thought ‘lack of trust’ was the issue in the system and I extensively researched different models of trust and how to bring about cultural change.  I was wrong!  I’ve now come to realise ‘trust’ is a by-product of unity and not the other way round.  Unity is an intentional act, and therefore Section 19 matters!  I have written previously how this could pan out, especially when it comes to assessment and identification.

I am an advocate of ‘I am, therefore, I think’.  Who I am precedes what I think (do), and my thinking doesn’t not determine my identity, it shapes my behaviour or lived-out perspective.  Others may argue ‘I think, therefore I am’. I struggle with this because, for me my thinking isn’t constant; it fluctuates.  Therefore, implying identity also fluctuates.  I agree with many researchers, who argue ‘identity’ shifts over time, however, for me identity is rooted in character and at the heart of my character are my values, which hopefully bring some consistency to the discussion.

So back to gratitude and acceptance, both values in themselves.  I strongly believe, if I am grateful for others, I will value and accept who they are, what they think and how they feel.  Some might argue acceptance of others comes before gratitude.  Either way, there is an interdependence.  So here are my questions for reflection:

  • When someone asks questions or has a different opinion – do we embrace the opportunity for a conversation to mutually learn, or do we avoid them?
  • Is acceptance and gratitude, a core part of our modus operandi?
  • What’s the link between inclusion and gratitude?  I would be interested to know, especially if your view differs to mine.

Till next time … thank you for who you are and what you bring to the table.  It is appreciated and valued. Have a good summer everyone!

Leadership, Purpose, Wellbeing

Back to basics: Inclusion

by Anita Devi

June 2021 saw #TeamADL realign its editorial board; with Cole Andrew focussing on Leadership (#Leader5aday) and Jenny Bowers driving the dialogue on SENCO well-being (#senco5aday).  This left us thinking about our current #TeamADL blog.  Our vision is to focus this on inclusion.

In Arabic ADL means justice and tadmin refers to inclusion. Therefore, this blog will be known as #ADL_tadmin After much research, I chose ‘tadmin’ because the word in Arabic has a much deeper connotation than just inclusion. The word ‘tadmin’ embraces the active verb of being inclusive, through modulation (which includes intentional variation) and by considering the implications and thoroughness of being inclusive. In other words, it is the tangible and visible formation of the concept inclusion by all, and for all.  The construct of ‘implications’ matters here, as it relates to our lived-out vision and experience of equity of resources. You might be asking; how does this connect with the Leadership and SENCO wellbeing blogs?

Both the leadership and senco well-being blog emerge from a transformative synthesis of Foresight (2008).  They both focus on three elements of people, purpose, and place. The table below connects these concepts to #ADL_tadmin

#Leader5aday / #senco5aday#ADL_tadmin
PeopleBeing
PurposeBecoming
PlaceBelonging
Connectivity of Foresight (2008) principles with inclusion

In essence, inclusion is about being, becoming and belonging.  We started the dialogue around Leadership for Inclusion, back in January 2021, by discussing the importance of language in driving cultural change. Prof Tim O’Brien in his article on inclusion (2020) asks whether overtime, by adding layer upon layer, we have complicated the concept of inclusion?  I think we have.  In focusing on the details, have we lost sight of the bigger picture, the foundational principles and the importance of application and alignment.

Therefore, I want to bring inclusion back to basics and consider the implications for humanity and immediate communication, as well as leadership:

#ADL_tadminHumanity / CommunityLeadership
BeingAm I being true to myself? Who am I?Do I accept people for who they are? How do I embrace diversity?
BecomingWhat do we want out of life? What does success look like?How do enable people to achieve their dreams and goals? How, what and why do I give?
BelongingDo I/we feel / experience a sense of belonging?How do I make people feel welcome? How do I empower my team?
Reflective questions around inclusion experience and leadership

Each month, under this framework, we will unpick a different theme; we will hear voices from the field and together we will explore and discover new and different expressions of inclusion.  John Maxwell eloquently argues, “A leader is only a leader if s/he has followers.  Otherwise, it is someone just taking a walk”.  Leadership is not just about position – it is about influence. So, I think it is important we consider the synergy between humanity / community and leadership for inclusion.  I could have labelled humanity / community as ‘stakeholders’ – a common term we use in the field.  I use it quite a lot myself.  However, in this context inclusion is much than just about individuals who have a stake in something. There is an ethical and moral dimension that may emerge from altruistic engagement. Volunteers give of their time, not necessarily because they will gain ‘something’.  The joy of giving is reward enough.

This is a complex area and at times, we will probably hold different views.  That’s OK!  I am comfortable with difference, discussion and disagreement … as long as we keep talking.  None of us hold the absolute truth on anything and we have everything to gain from listening to each other.

Let me conclude by sharing a quote from Bristol (2015), who writes on ‘Leading-for-inclusion: transforming action through teacher talk’, in the Journal of Inclusive Education

“Leading-for-inclusion first moves the field of inclusion beyond the boundaries of disability to incorporate the recognition of social diversity amongst the learners, staff and community that composes the educational site and second, recognises and locates the ownership and responsibility for social justice in the domain of leading practices.”

So together, how are we going to take ownership and responsibility for social justice in the domain of leading practices?

3 Reflective questions, till next time:

  • Do you think inclusion can be defined by being, becoming and belonging?
  • What in this blog resonates with your own thinking?
  • Was there anything that you disagree with and if so, what and why?

[Do share your thoughts in the comments below.  As I said, I am comfortable with difference, discussion and disagreement.]

Leadership, SEND, Support staff

Voices from the field: Support staff #RDDR – recruitment, deployment, direction and retention+

By Anita Devi with Lindsey Kelly

It is that time of year, where we start thinking about staffing for next year. Over the last few weeks, conversations with colleagues have focused heavily on support staff. Broadly speaking, the conversations fall into four categories primarily: recruitment, deployment, direction and retention+. In this blog, Lindsey and I share a few thoughts on the subject.

Recruitment

Recruiting staff is not easy. It’s about a two-way match. It requires a lot of time input and sometimes the yield is not fruitful. Recruitment experts tell me time and time again, investing time in a clear Job Description (JD) and Person Specification (PS) saves hours of shortlisting and re-advertising when the pool isn’t wide.

Top tip 1:

I use to always ask someone external to the organisation to read my adverts.

  • Does the advert, JD and PS make sense to a stranger?
  • Does the advert evoke the right interest or is it too broad?

We know our organisations too well and sometimes in communicating who we are and what we do, we miss the obvious.

Top tip 2:

With the pressure of fulfilling statutory duties of support under Education Health Care Plans (EHCPs) the temptation is to appoint because we need someone in place. However, many experienced Special Educational Needs Coordinators (SENCOs) will share, it is better to wait and recruit the most suitable person, than just fill the role. The latter can be costly in the long-run.

The same is true of appointing SENCOs (and their equivalent job titles, including multi-academy trust wide SEND Leads). Sometimes, practitioners are great in the classroom – this doesn’t necessarily equate to being effective in leading on special educational needs and disability (SEND). At the interview stage for SENCOs, it is important to consider legislation, SEND knowledge and broader questions around leadership.

Top tip 3:

The Provision Review methodology developed by TeamADL provides governors and school/ college leaders with absolute clarity on bespoke high quality teaching, in their setting. The two page outcome document is powerful to include in any recruitment pack, as it stipulates minimum expectations succinctly. When recruiting support staff, further information is included on what success in supporting a learner looks like in the organisation.

Deployment and direction

Lindsey Kelly and I have been discussing recently the correlation between intentional deployment of support staff by leaders and effective directions by class/subject teachers in the classroom. Lindsey is currently undertaking a Masters degree at UCL, London examining how learners, identified as SEN Support also receive the support they need. As an Inner London Primary SENCO, this is Lindsey’s story of leading in the field: SEN Support – rethinking teaching assistant (TA) deployment:

SENCOs are highly knowledgeable about the children in their settings who have an Education Health and Care plan (EHCP), due to their invested involvement in both the pupils and the paperwork. Not to mention their sighs of relief and whoops of joy when a child’s EHCP is finally secured. Yet, in my experience, SENCOs, parents and teachers alike are often fixated on Section F of an EHCP and the number of 1:1 Teaching Assistant (TA) hours they are entitled to. This is completely understandable; parents want their children to have the best possible education and school experience, as do their teachers, and yet there is a misguided notion that 1:1 TA support enhances their attainment. Although understandable, this view may be questionable since the most qualified person in the room is often not working with these children directly. Additionally, and of equal importance, children with EHCPs are not the only children with SEN in our classrooms. What is happening for the children identified as requiring “SEN Support”? I am particularly interested in re-thinking school provision for these children, since they don’t have a dedicated TA to manage their timetable, tell them what work they need to do today, schedule their interventions and organise their lunchtimes for them.

We know through extensive research from the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) on the effective deployment of support staff, that pupils receiving high levels of TA support make less progress than their peers. In fact, there is evidence of a negative impact on progress for pupils with more significant SEN, who usually receive the most TA support. In my experience, 1:1 involvement can often bring about learned helplessness. In a world where financing a TA is a luxury, schools and SENCOs need to re-think the allocation of resources in order to best support the needs of all their children with SEN. This is by no means easy, and a good working relationship with your headteacher is essential. With the National Statistics Office reporting 265,167 full-time equivalent teaching assistants in 2019-2020, an increase of over 1,000 on 2018, and the annual spend on these staff being in the region of £4.3 million, an average net spend of over £5,000 per pupil, now more than ever we need to show creativity and initiative when it comes to TA deployment.

In my two-form entry primary school setting, we did just that. Faced with an increasing number of pupils with EHCPs, as well as those identified as requiring SEN support, we realised that an ongoing increase in staff employment was not sustainable. Instead, when the next academic year was approaching, we asked our support staff who was interested in remaining as a regular class TA and who would like to be an SEN/Inclusion TA. This was insightful as we learnt that those who volunteered for this new SEN/Inclusion TA role felt that they had some agency and co-production alongside the class teachers, and were far more committed to the role. This led to a beneficial outcome for teachers, support staff and the students. As individuals we often thrive when we feel that our voice is heard or that our job has a positive impact, and in my opinion, the benefits of a considered approach to staff redeployment feeds into its success.

So what was this new role? The SEN/Inclusion TAs were class-based in the morning, when English and Maths lessons were usually taught, enabling an “all hands-on deck” approach. They were either allocated to a year group (across two classes), or to a specific class depending on the needs of the children in that phase. Instead of working 1:1 with the children with EHCPs, the Inclusion TA was able to move around the room and support any child with concerns around SEN. A lot of focus was placed on building up students independent learning skills. This included strategies when they became stuck, such as asking for help, asking their peers and moving on to the next question etc. On some mornings, the Inclusion TAs were fortunate enough to also work alongside a class TA as well as the teacher, but the expectation was that the Inclusion TAs would not be used for “regular” TA jobs, such as photocopying or checking reading books. Their primary function was to support the needs of children with SEN. The teacher allocated the Inclusion TA’s time accordingly, and as the SENCO, I was able to recommend short and effective interventions that could be done by the Inclusion TA in small groups. An additional advantage for myself and the students, was being able to share individual outcomes or targets for certain pupils which could be worked on with consideration by both the teacher and Inclusion TA. These were usually professional recommendations or taken from children’s SEN support plans, which reinforced better learning outcomes. In the afternoons the Inclusion TAs ran specific interventions across a phase group, such as Speech and Language or Zones of Regulation, or alternatively provided additional class support in lessons where needed.

Although this model may require further review and reflection, and its success depends on staff’s positive, aspirational attitudes towards pupils with SEN and good working relationships between teachers and support staff, it highlights one example of creative TA deployment. I urge other SENCOs and Headteachers to consider alternative ways of engaging TAs. After all, it is all staff’s responsibility to build a culture of best inclusive practice in the classroom.

Activity:

As a school / college complete the following statements:

  • As leaders, our rationale for support staff deployment is …
  • Our expectation of classroom direction by teachers is …

As I have shared earlier, I’ve spent a lot of time recently talking through compliant models of EHCP support with schools, meeting the needs of SEN Support and also effective TA timetable monitoring. Simple tweaks have yielded significant returns. Even in a large secondary, with a two week timetable, there are simple ways of doing this to reduce workload and adapt for any absences. I’m a great believer in planning … so now it the time to start! Do get in touch, if we can help.

SEND Leader Planning Tools

One final thought … retention. It’s important to keep good staff, helping them to grow professionally and deepening their sense of contribution/belonging. How does the culture, ethos and vision of your school/college enable retention, at all levels? We have found, if there is clarity during recruitment, transparency in deployment and effectiveness in classroom direction, retention takes care of itself. Support staff not only stay, but extend their discretionary efforts; ultimately for the benefit of learners and the wider school/college community. That is why we call it Retention+

About the authors:

Lindsey Kelly graduated with a BSc in Psychology at the University of Leeds. She then went on to become a teacher in both mainstream primary and independent specialist sectors before establishing herself as a Primary SENCO in inner London. Lindsey was involved in obtaining IQM Centre of Excellence status for her setting and is currently undertaking her Master’s degree at UCL Institute of Education. Lindsey is passionate about reshaping policy and practice and believes that every child has the right to the highest standard of educational opportunities.

Anita Devi has held a wide range of SEND roles including SENCO, Senior Leader, School Improvement Advisor, local authority SEND Advisory Teacher and Healthwatch Trustee, Anita 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.

#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

Governance, Leadership, SEND

Bugs, viruses and ransomware in the SEND system

By Anita Devi

SEND = special educational needs and disability

It all started back in 2014.  For three long years prior, we had dreamed, shared, debated and imagined a better way of supporting SEND learners into adulthood.  The Bill finally became an Act in Parliament, then the summer recess was looming, and the SEND Code of Practice 2014 was rushed through both Houses.  We knew there were bugs in the Code.  Some of us even highlighted it, the moment the final Code was published.  Too late!  If only they had checked for meaning, accuracy and shared understanding.  With the Code full of bugs … people and organisations already started saying it needed ‘fixing’.  Some, including myself were focused on enabling – change was happening fast.  Multiple cycles, on multiple timelines.  The truth is the system needed debugging.  The 2015 revision did not address any of the bugs; just added a few extensions.  Maybe I should have been more vociferous about the bugs back then.  The thing with bugs is all it takes is a character, a word or a letter out of place, and we are in the bug zone!  So many parts of the SEND Code would change if a word, letter or character was omitted, or even added.

Then came the viruses!  Implementing the SEND Code requires tacit knowledge, lived out experience, and an approach that does not solely rely on school-to-school support.  Without these and the addition of social media, poor understanding of implementation and bad information has gone viral. I started to notice this first in 2014.  The same errors of interpretation appearing in schools geographically apart and not connected.  The errors were extremely specific.  I followed the trail and tracked down the source.  As a teacher, I’m skilled at looking out for common errors.  Be that via copying or generic misconceptions.  It took the best part of two years.  A group of well-meaning professionals (with no background in SEND) all sharing the same incorrect information.  We tackled some of this by sharing knowledge and different ways of working.  In a system predicted on choice, we were offering ‘choice’.  Not everyone liked this.  Centrally funded projects were given precedence, though there was no robust quality assurance in place.  The myth of being ‘free’ was the marketing strategy.  It was not free – there was a cost.  Resources distracted from the front line and pollution.  These projects, in some cases accelerated the viruses.  Overtime, the viruses mutated and in 2021, we are seeing a new kind of virus emerge in settings and feeding those new to the profession.  Too much of our energy is spent on undoing the issues, rather than building new and different for generational impact.

Ransomware is when ‘access is denied’ unless a price is paid.  This became the norm, on so many levels. Local government, law firms and practitioners.  It was the learners who missed out. They missed out on the opportunities, the possibilities, and innovative solutions for supporting increasing independence.  Not all, but most. Ransomware is not just about funding; it also feeds off control and insecurities. It’s a subtle beast, so what ‘appears’ helpful may actually be doing harm and what appears odd, may be what’s needed.  The beast has no conscience and as such can attack individuals and organisations alike, with little thought to the consequences of actions.  Therefore, tacit knowledge and lived-out experience of SEND is necessary. Parents and carers bring their tacit knowledge and lived-out experience to the table, but it saddens me to say, not all practitioners or colleagues do.  Of the few that do, few discern consequential behaviours.  It is easier to play ‘here’s the problem’ on repeat, than find solutions of a win: win for all.  Having led a few local authorities change projects – some well, some not so well … I know how hard this is. However, when parents/ careers bring their subjective tacit knowledge to the table and practitioners bring their objective tacit knowledge, that is when there is really innovative thinking.  Each voice valued.  Each voice adding to our understanding.  No single perspective can determine or support special educational needs and disability.  We know that.

Review after review, we are stuck in a reboot time loop.  Things keep changing, so by the time a SEND review is complete … the system has morphed into the next hybrid, fueled by the bugs and mutated viruses, and transported to another dimension by ransomware. The complexity of stakeholder involvement, funding and the system has made it into a beast. And it all started with a few bugs.

Everyone talks about the SEND system, as if it is out there … here is the reality:  everyone of us is part of the system.  That is why blame and shame do not work. Each one of us is part of the problem and the solution. When we point fingers, we’re including ourselves and this debilitates our creative thinking for new solutions and the wider good.

There is hope …

Whilst it may seem overwhelming, there is a way forward, but it requires 5 things:

  1. A humble acceptance that each one of us is part of the system.
  2. A circuit breaker to unlock the SEND Review time loop. We need to try something different and fast.
  3. Leadership that is born out of experience, not position or power.
  4. A move away from fixating on the literal meaning of implementation to going deeper and finding new flexible solutions that support a wide range of needs and embrace the diversity of stakeholders.
  5. Trust.

The last one is the hardest, and the most important. It was the driver for the SEND Reforms in the first place.  However, if you examine The Lamb Enquiry 2009 it does imply, once learners and families received the support, they needed (not necessarily wanted), they were highly satisfied.  So, there are some seeds of trust in the system, which we need to build on and germinate.

In October 2020, my main PC system crashed. There was a lot going on and we were supporting (new and experienced) SENCOs and SEND Leaders deal with COVID19 arrangements of returning to a routine. There was no time to focus on what was not working, just doing what needed doing.  I started working off my laptop. This was fine, at first.  However, the smaller single screen and flat keyboard eventually led to other challenges.  Many IT specialists spent hours trying to reboot and recover my PC through remote access.  Nada!  Just before Easter, (6 months on from the initial crash), I decided to approach the problem from a different angle.  I isolated my laptop system and elements of my PC and then rebuilt different parts piece by piece.  It took 10 hours and required me to dig deep and use my O’ Level knowledge on coding – but it worked.  I broke the reboot loop and then rebuilt a new system.

We can do the same in SEND.  We need to isolate elements, focus on these to rebuild a new system.  We cannot rebuild the whole thing in one go.

I am no coding or computer expert.  But I do know SEND.  I have spent some time recently thinking about what we can isolate, rebuild, and add to shift the system much quicker than any review would.  For many the word ‘isolate’ will kick against their passion for inclusion.  I am not talking about isolating learners but isolating the bugs and viruses and shutting down access to ransomware viruses. It will require us to work together and differently. 

Are you up for the challenge of reboot, rebuild and reconnect, so this generation and the next have access to the support they need and deserve?  It is a choice we all have to make.

#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. Here is the link to SEND Leaders Appreciation Day 2021 #SLAD2021 – start nominating!

Leadership, Wellbeing

Invictus Leadership

By Cole Andrew

Education Leaders:  Here’s thought-challenge for you – what 10 words or images would describe yourself, your emotions, and your leadership in this moment? 

The words of the Invictus poem by Willian Ernest Henely (1875) are said to have been recited by Nelson Mandella frequently throughout his 27 years in prison (1963 – 1990).  I cannot begin to claim I my life’s challenges are as impacting as living under apartheid, in a world where people are starving, homeless or still living under oppressive regimes.  Yet that for me is precisely the point, it shifts my mindset from my seemingly overwhelming circumstances to a healthier perspective.   In this blog, it is my intent to share my thoughts on mind-shifts in leadership.

Invictus

Out of the night that covers me,

Black as the pit from pole to pole,

I thank whatever gods may be

For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance

I have not winced nor cried aloud.

Under the bludgeoning’s of chance

My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears

Looms but the Horror of the shade,

And yet the menace of the years

Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,

How charged with punishments the scroll,

I am the master of my fate,

I am the captain of my soul.

By William Ernest Henley

My life and work challenges remain staring me in the face. So, this weekend as I prepare for schools shifting their roles for the umpteenth in 12 months, I wonder if I am feeling bludgeoned, beaten into the shade, truly master of my fate, or perhaps somewhere in between.  How about you?

Take my weekend challenge: pause for a moment, go for walk, shut yourself in a room, ride a bike …. Do whatever it takes to buy yourself a moment to think, press the pause button and whilst doing so, answer these questions: 

  • Which parts of the poem describe my inner self right now and how is that affecting my leadership in school?  
  • I wonder what each member of your leadership team may be feeling and perhaps the other staff. 
  • How about your loved ones? 

The wellbeing and mental health of our nation is undoubtedly a concern in this season, and I am concerned that the very words wellbeing and work life balance are becoming words that are used but losing their intent.  Is it even a sign of weakness for leaders to be talking about their wellbeing and emotional state?  If an inspirational leader such as Nelson Mandella can identify the need to consider his mental health and find strategies to command captaincy of his soul, then perhaps we can allow ourselves permission to consider what might help us do the same.

Three things this poem helped me to take practical steps in leadership during the last 12 months:

[1] I identified true measures of success and means of measuring them.  The top measure of success I concluded was the health of my relationships; personal and professional.  We all know that building relationship is the key to motivating staff to follow your lead.   Most schools will be thinking about some form of ‘catch up’ curriculum for the pupils, starting no doubt with supporting pupils’ emotional wellbeing and building their confidence to re-engage with full and busier classroom environments.  What strategy are you putting in place to help yourself and your leaders to do the same?  Pause and discuss … listen to different views.

[2] I identified the things in this world that hijack my mind, therefore, my sense of control over my fate and inner self (soul).  Feeling overwhelmed invariably affects the way the people I lead respond, despite my best efforts to bury those things deep and carry on regardless.   In my Headship roles, I reflect on the foolishness of times I have made this mistake.   Ask your staff, if you dare, and they will tell you that they can always sense the atmosphere the Head teacher and leaders create.  Similarly, the children will always sense the tension a teacher creates if they are not captaining their souls.  This unspoken atmosphere affects the pressure children feel, even if the teacher is convinced, they are burying the pressure.  The things of this world (targets, OFSTED, lesson observations, deadlines….) they can hijack how we feel about ourselves and our sense of control.  How about taking each of those things and regaining our mind’s response to them. In my case, I learn:

  • better admin and time management strategies
  • to take each thought captive as I feel it rising up within me and reframe my response to it.  E.g., what if OFSTED ask me about quality PE curriculum during lockdown?   My reframed thought might be, we have kept children safe, checked in with them every week, built better connections with their parents online, sent them video clips to try physical activity at home and now we are planning to get them active outdoors 3 times a week to help them recover.  No need to panic, my conscience is clear that we did what was reasonably possible in a world where hundreds of people were dying on a daily basis.  I will be sure I evidence the impact of what we did achieve during ever-changing guidance from the DfE.
  • To review the workload I have facing me and my colleagues. I thought about the things I can STOP doing, KEEP doing (because they are fruitful and helpful), CHANGE streamline.  If it’s not a fruitful task for the students and staff, why are we still doing it? In my personal diary, I use the Eisenhower approach to helping achieve this priority setting each week.

[3] I had to get a grip on perspective. Like me, many will be mourning a sense of loss, either due to bereavement or simply a loss of ‘normal physical relationships.’  We are not in prison, starving or need be at a loss with our vision of the future. A leader’s most powerful tool in life is communicating and breathing hope into the world around us; even, as Mandella did, in a seemingly hopeless season of his life.  What is your vision for the short, medium, and long term for your staff and pupils?  Revisit it, recite it and find 1001 ways of communicating and breathing it into the relationships you reconnect from Monday onwards.   In your ‘moments’ of panic, remember and celebrate all you have achieved in the last 12 months, tough as it has been, you have navigated the most challenging season of school life the modern world has known since WW2.

I hope this has given you pause for thought and you make time of the weekend to invest in you.

About Cole Andrew

Cole is a leadership consultant that supports leaders in education and health to thrive, to bear fruit, to live in honour (vigeo). Having led two specialist provisions as headteacher in two different areas in the country, Cole now invests in Next Gen Leaders. He is an associate inspector and a great advocate for wellbeing. Cole has been part of #TeamADL since its inception.

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