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Effective team building and reflective practice – transcript

[On the screen]

In this video Special Education Needs Coordinators (SENCOs)/Specialist Teachers talk about school systems that enhance effective team building engaging with families and reflective practice.

A range of strategies for developing collaborative goal setting and ongoing review are given. There is a particular focus on regular planning meetings and the central role of the class teacher for supporting the learning of all students in their classrooms.


"Teacher represent the largest and most knowledgeable resource in programming for the needs of students. The quality of their relationship with parents/carers and community agencies plays a large part in the overall outcome for students." -Review of the Literature on Individual Education Plans, Mitchell et al., 2010, page 36

Vanessa Hendry, Deputy Principal and Special Education Needs Coordinator, Windley School, Porirua:
Often in terms of setting the new goals, that’s around the feedback that’s been given because often at an IEP, there can be a bit of a revelation that’s made. You haven't realised, you know, the family will communicate some concerns that they’ve been noticing at home or that the child’s been experiencing and relating to children outside of school or challenges that they’re facing outside of school. So then it’s about collectively thinking, “OK, if this is a challenge for them, how can we help and support in addressing this at school?”

I mean, I think with an IEP it’s important that there’s honesty. That yes, the celebration is there, but we do need to acknowledge the challenges we have. And actually, at the IEPs we have it's okay to do that because the ground work’s gone on before about establishing those relationships.

And often what happens is that it’s the family that shares some of the challenges that they’re experiencing at home, and they’re feeling comfortable and being able to do that with us, which is great. But at other times, you know, if there are certain challenges that are happening at school, we can share that and it’s okay.

Again, it’s that collaborative thing, we can kind of problem solve, identify some key strategies we’re going to use, and that will come under a goal we have set under one of the key competencies.

Sometimes there’s too much to share at an IEP, and what we have done is set up other meetings to support families. Also, we tend to do IEPs during the day. That doesn’t always work for families, so what we have done here is we held for a family, a dinner party we called it, and we invited the Mum, Dad, and all the children, and we put on a bit of a spread. We held it in the classroom, and we were able to show quite extensive footage – we actually created a film.

Having mum and dad there, and the child, we actually also played a few games so that it showed … it was a nice way of sharing some activities that could be done at home to support the child’s learning. But is also gave Mum and Dad a clearer picture of some of the challenges that the child was facing when learning this. It just gave us another opportunity to share that, to recognise it, and then to say, “Okay, this is where we’re at, what are we going to do next?”

It’s important to, again, have it in a more informal atmosphere so that they were able to speak in their home language to each other, and that doesn’t happen in a more formalised meeting.

And also, having it on an evening when the children were there, and over dinner time, because they had young ones, younger children, it just meant they could both come, and I think it’s really important to have both parents there so they can see and hear the same message. You don’t want it to be an intimidating experience because they’re the wealth of knowledge, so we want them to be relaxed. And I mean, it’s all down to relationships, isn’t it? Establishing that key relationship so that they feel comfortable.

How did the family respond to having an evening tea?

They enjoyed it; they really enjoyed it, and it enabled them to ask lots of questions. I think that was the difference that I noticed was, that as the evening went on, it was very relaxed. It wasn’t a formalised meeting, and questions started being asked, which was really good. And getting that shared understanding, identifying what those new goals were.

And at the end of it they said, “We’ll have to do this again some time”, and we said, “Absolutely!”

Well, often barriers for teachers when they’re bringing a student with special needs into the class is they’re worried that they’re not going to actually do a good enough job or that they don’t have the skills. So I think initially it’s about sitting down from the meetings that you’ve had with Special Ed and with the family, and to actually then sit down and discuss the child, do a bit of research if you actually don’t know much about some of the conditions that they have, and then plan together the environment. Do we need to look at how we set things up?

Then just discussing programmes, some of the goals, having simple goals to begin, and remembering that we’re just going to constantly review those goals, and to begin with, it’s a learning time.

Trish Tennant, Special Education Needs Coordinator and Specialist Teacher, Paremata School, Porirua:
Part of our ways of fine tuning and setting next steps, and keeping the IEP process very much a living process, the most important part I think is the fortnightly visit, meetings with the teacher and teacher aide, and anybody else who would like to be or is asked to be involved.

And that keeps us reflecting on the process. It’s very much anecdotal –

we use narrative assessment, we’ve just started using that. And that is often where our “wow” moments come from, too.

Kay Lilley, Special Education Coordinator, Redwood School, Tawa:
We’ve put lots of processes in place for the classroom teacher, and one of the most important things are regular meetings amongst the teacher aide, the classroom teacher, and the specialist teacher – that happens every three weeks. And also, it enables discussions around what’s working well, what’s not working well. "We’ve actually achieved these certain goals, can we move on to something else?”, or “I’m really stuck on what to do about something”. So it just gives the classroom teacher a little bit more ownership of what they’re doing in the classroom.

I think the other important thing is that we do it during class time, not after school, so SENCO or principal or DP will release the classroom teacher so they can go to those meetings. I think that’s really important, and I think that whole collaborative teaching is quite a feature of New Zealand classrooms these days.

We’ve had some teachers who have felt that the previous year, they know this child is coming up and they’re looking around to see who’s going to be having a particular child next year. “Oh, I suppose it’s my turn”, and “I’m not really happy about doing this”.

So what we have tried to do is make sure that the support systems that we have in place and the processes around IEPs and all the work with the additional teachers, that we make them feel, the classroom teacher, feel valued. That “Okay, yes, it is going to be a difficult job; yes, it will change the dynamics in your classroom, but we think that you will get a lot out of it, and we think that the other children in your classroom will get a lot out of it if they had the opportunity to work with difference and to make a difference”.

By providing the opportunity for the teacher to lead the IEP, I think that was quite a turnaround point. And in the early days it was, “Oh no, I couldn’t possibly do that”. But, the way in which the IEPs are now constructed, they are less reading off a piece of paper or going through goals or having difficult conversations. Though, I think the teachers feel quite proud because they’re sort of, “Well, these are the things we can celebrate, these are the little steps we’ve made, these are the big steps that we’ve made”, and because we back it up with a lot of narrative assessment and video, photos, lots of PowerPoints, work samples, so that teachers can actually show what they’re doing. It’s definitely a continuous process.

It’s not like, “Oh, it’s IEP day today”. But that’s something that we have done, we have IEPs during the day.

We have a relieving teacher who goes around the classrooms to release the teachers to come up for IEPs. And I think that’s valuable as well because then I’m asking the teacher to lead the IEP. They’re given prep time to be up-skilled, they’ve had some thinking time which I think is really important.

We have also invested a lot of time and energy into developing our teacher aide skills, and I think that has been a real positive for us because we have teacher aides who are onboard with our thinking. They are innovative, they don’t feel afraid to come up with suggestions. They are flexible, so that they may work with one or more children across a school.

And I think that’s really another dimension to our team, that our teacher aides are part of the classroom, they are part of the school, they are part of the whole team. So that it’s not "so-and-so teacher aide" and "such-and-such a student" together. We’ve tried to split that apart, and now we have a classroom teacher with students, and a teacher aide assigned to that classroom.

I think videoing practice across the board is the most effective tool for a teacher, to enable a teacher to be reflective.

You know, we’re our greatest critics, but it’s also one way you can actually see what is working, and then you can honestly look and go, “Why did I say that? Oops, I said that and I’ve just put a big barrier up”. And that’s important learning because you know you’re not going to do it next time.

It also enables you to step back and just watch, not just what you’re doing, but what’s happening around you. So, how is that class culture going, how are your students supporting each other. And it’s fascinating sometimes to observe the leadership roles that some of the special needs children are actually taking in the class. That after all that role-modelling that’s happening, suddenly they’ve got the confidence that they’re going to take the lead, and they start taking the group in a direction as the leader, and that’s always really nice to see, too.

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