Yes, I know, there's a lot to moan about in teaching at the moment. We've had so many changes, so many demands and so much pressure put on us over the past few years (actually forever) and the funding cuts and the threat of mass accademisation still hasn't gone away. The SEND reforms are in a mess and the media are against us...as everything wrong in society is the teacher's fault, naturally, and far too many good teachers are leaving.
However, with a new year starting I want to be more positive. I'm fed up of the doom and gloom dragging me down and making me feel more stressed than I probably need to be. And reading the tweets about the College of Teaching this week, some positive and some very negative, it made me sigh. I'd love it to be something that we could all feel positive about because I do believe that being positive makes us better teachers and a better profession.
But I fear it is doomed to fail if we don't see the need to be far more positive about our profession. The media is blaming us for all of societies' ills, the government change things every two minutes and some pupils and parents do not have the respect that they used to. If we can't come together and say who we are as a profession (that's SLT and classroom teachers) then we can't stand up together to show what a great profession we are.
It's interesting the respect given to the HTs and staff at the schools shown on Educating Yorkshire and Essex by some of my non-teaching friends. Each programme showed teachers being positive about children and about the reality but also love of their jobs. As I work with many different schools, the best ones are always where there is a positive atmosphere, where staff are working as a team and say lots of positive things about each other. They share the workload and support one another, yes, the moans are still there about some things, but they move on and get on with doing the best job that they can. I always know a pupil with autism will fare well in these schools.
It has to start with yourself and what you want to focus on this year, or in this part of your career. I'm going to pledge to be positive and communicate the positives. There are challenges and worries ahead, the funding cuts, accademisation and many other things affect us as independent specialist teachers. But in the end, our service has to be the best thing that meets pupils, teachers and school's needs. So can being more positive make us better teachers?
I think so. As well as continuing to follow the #teacher5aday hashtag (start with @MartynReah if you haven't heard of this yet) I am going to ask myself 5 questions this year...
1. What do schools need from a specialist autism teacher? If schools are going to buy in our service then we need to be worth it. Being value for money is important to headteachers and SENCOs as their budget's are decreasing. However, they still have a statutory duty to meet the needs of their SEND pupils - those with EHCPs and those yet to be identified. Teacher's and SENCOs can't know everything and having an autism specialist teacher can help them work out how to support their ASC pupils in a way that will make school successful for them. Often there are a few children with an ASD diagnosis in one school - and each of those children will be different, have different needs and may respond to different strategies. Having a regular visit from a specialist helps teachers, teaching assistants and SENCOs feel supported too. Schools need us to write good and comprehensive reports for pre-diagnosis and EHCP applications. I vow to be positive about every school's ability to meet an autistic child's needs and help them do so. Where they are not able, to work with everyone to find the right place for the pupil and get through the process of transition with as little stress as possible. What do you think? What do schools need from a specialist teacher?
2. What are the training needs of teachers about autism? Understanding autism is good. It makes a difference, and the best training can be when the whole school staff learn about it together. Our "Let's Talk Autism" INSET sessions continue to be the most popular training that we do. Primary, Secondary and Special schools have had the training. Now we need to work on following up the training and offering schools a way to evaluate the effectiveness of the course in the classroom and with individual pupils. Our courses can be adapted to the needs and situation of the school and the staff have opportunity to learn about the specific children they are teaching. Knowing a few months or a year later that it made a positive difference would be very useful. We have developed more next steps courses that concentrate on particular issues or strategies in more depth. This year we've added "How to implement sensory diets in the classroom" ; "Lego Therapy" , "Music teaching and autism" and "Supporting the mental health of pupils with autism". What autism related training would you like as a teacher?
Twitter and SEND networks help us keep up-to-date with teacher's training needs. We'd love to get into ITT and share some of our courses! We can help them become more positive teachers too!
3. How can we make sure the pupil's voice is heard? Last year I trialed some Pupil Voice software and didn't find it worked for us. It was too complicated and time consuming for the time we had with pupils and so this year we are using the same principles and building up a bank of questionnaires and communication resources so that children can make their views known and contribute to their Action Plans. We will also invite parents to contribute and then we will have a plan to give to schools that has consulted and included the pupil. We aim to give each pupil a copy of their targets and strategies in a format that they can access. We pledge to write in plain English so everyone can understand and to make every negative into a positive. We will be positive by saying what we do want, not what we don't. Have you any good examples of pupil voice that has been successful in your school?
4. What can we learn from autistic people? There are may blogs, websites and twitter people who are autistic. Some of them are our friends. We follow many and have learned so much. All of them want people to be more positive about having autism and we want to share this with the pupils we support. I have a dream that I could set up a 'Children's Conference' and invite the children we work with to come and hear from older autistic people and be encouraged and helped by them. I don't know if I can do it, but the idea will not go away, so I will be exploring it. If you want to help or have any ideas - do get in touch! (Remember we are in Central Lancs area).
5. What should we be learning about? Emma and I are fortunate in that we can choose our own CPD. All teachers do better when they have time to learn and reflect, but CPD has to let you do that. It's horrible the amount of courses I have been on in my career where I haven't been able to implement anything I have learned back at school. No-one wants to pay money for useless CPD, bit good CPD can be invaluable. But for our CPD, now we are paying for our own courses, it certainly focusses the mind. There are lots of autism conferences and courses. We have to be sure that they are not telling us something we already know (and we do know quite a lot) but are courses that will increase our knowledge and make us better practitioners. We both feel the need to continue with our Mental Health and Autism CPD. We've realised there is a need for support between a need being identified and the illusive first CAMHS appointment, with waiting time after a referral being 14-18 weeks in our area. Already we have had some success with this and worked with some pupils who then went on to have CAMHS support. The CAMHS teams have praised what we had done and found it a good basis on which to build the work they did with the pupil. So the more we know and understand about mental health and autism, the better. So what CPD would you like to do this year that would have a positive impact on your practice?
What things would you like to be more positive about this year? Will it make you a better teacher?
And finally ...
If you are a teacher who will have a pupil with autism in your class this year you could find help in these posts 1. Help! I've got a child with autism in my class.
4. And if you can wait until January - my two books "How to support pupils with ASC in primary school" and "How to support students with ASC in secondary school" will be published by LDA. Put it on your Christmas list!