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Building school capability – transcript

Special Education Needs Coordinators (SENCOs)/Specialist Teachers talk about the importance of building school capability through establishing effective relationships, clear communication systems, and agreed roles and responsibilities.

They identify supportive leadership and collaborative teaming as critical factors in the development of the IEP process.

[On the screen]

Like all curriculum design in New Zealand, the IEP process ... is a "continuous cyclic process". (NZ Curriculum, page 37)

It brings together a team of people closely involved with the student to collaboratively plan a programme to meet the students' needs.

Vanessa Hendry, Deputy Principal and Special Education Needs Coordinator, Windley School, Porirua:
We talk about a team approach, everything is about a team. And yes, there’s the school team, with the classroom teacher, the additional teacher, the teacher aide, the SENCO.

But actually it’s bigger than that because the biggest component is this child and the family, and then we have the Special Education that are coming and supporting us as well. So it has to be that collaborative approach, and then obviously, the main people who are there daily tends to be the family and the teaching staff. And the teacher needs to be the coordinator of that because for every child that comes to school, that teacher is responsible for them. And it’s no different to a special needs child, that teacher still takes that responsibility.

For some teachers that can be really challenging, and usually it’s challenging because they’re unsure that they have the skills to be able to do it. So it’s about building them up to realise that, yes, they do, and providing that sort of professional development, keeping that ongoing dialogue, giving feedback, and keeping the communication lines open. And establishing those relationships within the team.

And you know, I find that if the additional teacher and the classroom teacher have a really effective relationship and communicate well together, then the whole thing gels. And the teacher aide is brought in and is feeling part of that team. And the student’s feeling really empowered in the classroom, and that’s when it’s going really well.

Kay Lilley, Special Education Needs Coordinator, Redwood School, Tawa:
The important thing for us is the communication between all the stakeholders and developing that collective responsibility. I think if out of the IEP process, if that’s what we actually end up with is that people being able to talk to each other, people being open about what’s going on, people being able to see immediately through narrative assessment. If the parent comes in and says, “Well I don’t think my child’s been working on maths, can you show me?”

I think when it comes to things like transitioning students to other schools, I think our IEP process actually shows who that child is and what they can do. It doesn’t just say they can count to ten or they don’t know their colours or they have difficulty maintaining relationships with other students. We can show what they can do. I think if you build on that, that’s much better than going down the negative.

Trish Tennant, Special Education Needs Coordinator and Specialist Teacher, Paremata School, Porirua:
I think having it driven or supported from the very top is the most important thing. The principal can bring on board the Board of Trustees, or there are always people willing to take it on, and so it is top-driven. And so while the expectation is that you’re going to become and inclusive school, the support must be there.

So when we hear that a student is going to be coming to our school, we like to gather as much information as we can, so that we're as well-prepared as we can be.

So Special Ed come along and have initial meetings with myself and with the classroom teacher. And then we invite the families to come along so that we can start to establish that relationship because obviously they’re the key people with a lot of the information to share with us.

And then with the teachers, with the class teacher that’s going to be getting them, it gives them the opportunity to ask questions and to begin to get an idea of how they need to prepare and set up their classroom to best meet the needs of the child.

Or, when the student transitions to a new teacher, it’s got to the end of the year and they’re transitioning to a new classroom, so that you use the relationship that you’ve already established so the current classroom teacher is there. And then they’re supporting the student and the family with the introduction of the new teacher. So we alw

ays bring in the new teacher that’s going to be coming to the IEP as well, so that whole transition process is started … it starts again.
So the new relationship’s been established, there’s the consistency through the SENCO, and hopefully with the additional teacher so that the student and the parent are feeling some sense of security.

But I think you need to think and plan the transitions, and you need to put time and effort in to ensure smooth transitions from classroom to classroom.

It’s really important for a teacher aide and a teacher and the additional teacher, to be in constant discussions with each other. So, sometimes it comes down to weekly meetings where they will meet on a Friday and plan and reflect on the week that’s been and then plan for the next week.

We have found having that regular meeting very effective. I think it’s particularly supportive for the teacher aides because often they’re feeling a little unsure, and so being able to discuss, and everybody’s agreed on “these are the strategies that we’re going to use", questions can be asked, clarification given, and then we all agree that these are the set strategies.

I think it’s really important for the teacher to have – to be at the centre, and understanding and feeling that ownership of the programme and understanding their role within that. Because often you have the additional teacher comes in, and quite often the additional teacher’s quite an experienced teacher working with special needs. And so it’s important that they don’t come in and dominate – that the classroom teacher’s the one that has the child for the majority of the time, so clear communication and feedback around that is really important.

I think we’ve got our IEPs to a point where if I wasn’t there, somebody could come in and say, “Right, oh yes, this is how this system works” and pick it up and run with it.

It’s just not driven by one person, it’s driven by a team. And because everybody understands, and I think because everybody has felt the success of the process, that I think it’s much easier for people to then put in some extra time if you ask them. Or when a child’s been difficult, I think that doesn’t become such a big thing.

Special Education – we access really when we have tried all other avenues within our team at school, and then we send an urgent email and say “Help”. And generally we get a good response because they know that we’ve tried everything first, so I think in our development of the IEP process, Special Ed have been very supportive in saying to us, “Well actually, that was a really good IEP”, or “Wow, that was a really good discussion with parents today; we’ve got round some of the nitty-gritty things”, or “We’ve managed to solve some problems or issues”.

We start the process after my home visit by getting the teacher to … I will release the teacher to go and see the child, either at home or at a preschool or at another school. And then we look at the classroom the child is going to go into.

We set up pre-visits for the child and the parents. We ask the parents to troubleshoot, and then we set up any changes. It might be where the child is actually going to sit, even down to the coloured chair that the child may need. And we set up social stories, social information booklets. We set up visuals, and anything at all that a child may need, in conjunction with the professionals who may be been working with the child before.

We have fortnightly meetings where the teacher is released from the classroom, and for three quarters of an hour; the teacher aide is also available. We have a teacher who comes in every week who actually releases the teacher, and they meet together in a quiet place, in the staffroom, and we look at the current IEP and the goals that we’re working on. We look at the next learning step, whether the child is actually achieving the goal and how, and I’m there as support.

The teachers and teacher aides love it, and we find that the collaborative approach, with as many people in the team as possible talking about it. It actually lightens the teacher’s load as well, as far as planning goes because he or she can do all their planning at that time.

Part of our role is to make sure that, One, that child feels safe and secure in their environment, and for them to understand that this is their class, they have ownership of this, they’re part of a class. And then it’s working with the class to help establish those relationships, and we’re all there to support each other’s learning.

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