Developing Initial Teacher Trainees as ‘SEND champions’
by Tracy Edwards
Throughout a full career (spanning many different roles, across several different schools) a teacher will inevitability encounter numerous situations which they could not have possibly predicted. Very many pupils will present with unique learning differences, requiring highly personalised approaches. Other pupils may present with a rare diagnosis that is beyond the previous experience of any professionals within the school. There will also be individuals presenting with a multiplicity of conditions or “labels”, adding to the degree of “unknowns” in relation to effective strategies for working with them.
Our ‘SEND Champions’ programme therefore, prepares the initial teacher trainees we work with, to navigate the unexpected. It avoids merely teaching explicit techniques to address barriers to learning associated with particular SEND, and emphasises a philosophy of personalising learning. Rather than have new teachers entering the profession with an abstract notion of what to “do” if a child has autism or Downs Syndrome, our SEND Champions programme nurtures trainees to be able to respond to the more complex realities they will find within those 21st Century classrooms which Professor Barry Carpenter describes so well:
‘A new generation of children with complex learning needs, who do not fit neatly into an understandable category.’
Through our ‘SEND Champion’ programme, we aim to ensure that teachers are entering the profession with a recognition that SEND is the responsibility of all teachers, rather than an “issue” that sits with the SENDCO. It also promotes an understanding of how inclusive pedagogy is beneficial for all pupils, including pupils without SEND as well as pupils who might be high attaining academically (and indeed in an A-Level class or grammar school!). Typically the SEND Champion programme is delivered through a series of five one-day sessions, which span across the duration of an initial teacher training course. This gives, initial teacher trainees opportunities to work with a number of Specialist Leaders in Education, both Special and mainstream schools.
In a recent ‘SEND Champions’ session with trainees from the London School of Jewish Studies, the metaphors of ‘SEND Spectacles’ and ‘Personalised Learning Toolkit’ were used to explore the idea that effective teaching and learning starts with “seeing” pupils in a holistic way, alongside having a range of generic tools for supporting a range of learning differences.
What do we see when wearing ‘SEND Spectacles’?
By wearing ‘SEND Spectacles’ a trainee may start to rethink their “reading” of particular pupil behaviours. Being upset when losing a game for example, may reflect the developmental level of a pupil , rather than be an act of defiance. A tendency to disrupt when the teacher is talking, may be because the pupil is genuinely unable to manage the demands of sitting and listening for long periods of time.
Looking through ‘SEND Spectacles’ offers teachers new perspectives on all children and young people in a classroom and not only those with Special Educational Needs and/or Disabilities. They enable us to “see” the whole child for example, and recognise the wider issues impacting on learning.
What do we keep in our ‘Toolkit for Personalised Learning’?
Professional training that emphasises philosophy and outlook, may seem very “slow” to anxious trainees, eager to quickly make transformations to their practice. Rather than hear about “personalised learning”, being presented with “top tips for managing pupils with autism” may initially feel more appealing.
The idea of tailoring learning to individuals can also seem very daunting to those first embarking on a teaching career. For Secondary teachers, it may carry suggestions of needing to plan 30 separate simultaneous lessons for 30 different pupils, five times a day!!!!
A ‘Toolkit for Personalising Learning’ therefore can be helpful, by offering practical and manageable strategies, alongside a promotion of sustainable values, attitudes and disposition for inclusion teaching. The toolkit which we use within our SEND Champion programme can be adapted for different contexts and situations, and interpreted in different ways, for maximum impact.
The below ‘Toolkit for Personalising Learning’ emphasises that “personalisation” and “differentiation” are two different things. Personalising Learning is not about adapting a task, but about establishing a positive climate for the benefit of everyone:
1/A move away from most/some: This tool in our “toolkit” lends from research by Florian and Black-Hawkins into Inclusive Pedagogy. Rather than set an activity that “most” of the class complete, alongside an alternative one for “some” pupils, inclusive pedagogy starts with recognising learners as individuals rather than as part of a homogenous categories of pupils.
2/Adjustments and Adaptations to Resources and/or Environment: Visual timetables, sequencing the stages of a lesson, may minimise anxiety in pupils with autism and also support all pupils by providing clarity
3/Building a Classroom Culture that Embraces Difference: Initial Teacher Trainees may, at first hand, think that they need to treat all learners the same, otherwise they will meet accusations of favouritism or being unfair. Our experience across the schools within Swiss Cottage TSA however, is that young people are capable of appreciating difference between people, and that different pupils need different things. This can be supported through displays, mottos, and reflection opportunities
4/Giving Choices: Offering a range of alternate task, or open-ended tasks for which learners can draw upon personal interest can be extremely motivational. Choice can be a Powerful thing.
5/Metacognition: Creating spaces for pupils to consider how they learn also supports personalisation. It feeds into the continual development of teacher planning, and empowers pupils to devise their own personalised strategies for themselves
6/Assessment-for-Learning: In order to personalise learning effectively, a teacher needs to themselves be a “learner” of the processes being undertaken in the classroom, by their pupils. They need to gain deeper insights into misunderstandings which may be held about a concept being taught, know what individuals have “got” and “not got” and what might need to happen next for them to “get” something. Continual and formative assessment therefore is key. This could be through a range of methods, including “traffic lights”, smiley faces, or the use of the Engagement Profile Scale for pupils with Complex Learning Difficulties and Disabilities, as recommended within the recent Rochford Review (DfE, 2017)
Throughout a full career (spanning many different roles, across several different schools) a teacher who enters the profession as a ‘SEND Champion’ will hopefully have much more to add to their own ‘Personalising Learning Toolkit’. With this in mind, our belief at Swiss Cottage TSA, is that our ‘SEND Champion’ programme is more sustainable than a series of sessions on specific methods for meeting particular diagnoses and difficulties. An outstanding practitioner will always have the inner resources to respond to unique situations as they come up, process new insights from research which arise, and interpret evidence-based approaches alongside their overall professional wisdom.
ITT providers can make enquiries to us about designing a ‘SEND Champions’ programme around the needs of their trainees.
For more information email firstname.lastname@example.org.