2017- Looking forward

Having looked back on my hopes for 2016, the next logical step is to set some new hopes for 2017! 

So seeing as most people who read this post will have done so by clicking a link on Twitter, I’ll start with that. I love Twitter! So many interesting people on there. I met some of those for the first time this year like the lovely ladies Nancy and Lynn who I met at Primary Rocks in Manchester amongst others. A good chat with the Orrsome Rachel Orr was another highlight of a great day. I am looking forward to going again this year and maybe meeting some more folk and catching up with others again. I will also be attending Northern Rocks in Leeds again in June. It will be my 3rd time and it is always so interesting. This year I got to meet the very interesting and inspiring Jarlath. I have chatted with him a fair bit, and that day was no exception. I have his book still to read, I really should get on with that when I get time! I also finally got to meet the lovely Sue Cowley whom I first “met” many MANY years ago as a trainee teacher when she was researching one of her books! 

So, I plan on still using Twitter to keep up with what is going on in the world of education. Special Ed can be quite isolating so it’s great to keep in touch with othere in special as well as Primary and Secondary colleagues. Lots of debate happens, usually I’m watching but step in if I am passionate about something. 

Many people on there have been great friends and given great support such as all the lovely ladies I share my photos with and the lovely Mary, Claire and Betsy who have given me great wisdom. 

More of the same from me I think with regards to Twitter. 

My singing has taken to the front towards the end of this year as I mentioned in my review of last year. BackBeat A Cappella is my new performing outlet and I am super excited about where this is going. I have made some great friends and learn something each week. We did a small performance in our last rehearsal in December and it reminded me that there is nothing like performing! It’s fabulous me time too and has nothing to do with teacher me, mummy me or wife me. It is about me, Nichola! 

I am also going to enjoy my new instrument! Tomorrow I’m off to buy a baritone sax! I am super excited about this. I used to play one as a teenager but it wasn’t mine and I had to return it to Kirklees music service when I left the group. I can’t wait to see how my class respond to this new sound! I already use my clarinet in class so it will be an interesting contrast! 

I look forward to seeing how B gets on this year. He is growing so quickly. It doesn’t seem two minutes since we announced I was pregnant (7 years ago today we told folk outside family and close friends infact) yet here he is 1/3 of the way through Year 2. I am sure he will have plenty of learning challenges but I will be there to support him all the way. I am sure this year will also involve the losing of teeth and growing even taller! He continues to make slow and steady progress in his swimming lessons so we shall see how this year goes. 

I hope to continue to see my family. Joe and B during the week and going with them to see my parents and inlaws at the weekends and school holidays. I love the relationship B has with his grandparents and I want that to continue to grow as well as the 3 of us doing things together (when we have holidays at the same time!) August we have a trip down south booked and I am really looking forward to that, especially our own personal hot tub! 

Professionally I hope that this year is the year of change. I look out for the right job, be that a move sideways or slightly upwards. I want to stay in Special Ed but I am ready to move on. I will finish my middle leadership course and continue to work hard on my project for that.l which will continue long beyond my course. It might be the year Ofsted pops along to visit us. It will be the 4th time at that school and many more than that as a trainee and teacher! Interesting to see how the process changes year on year and how what they look for changes too! 
So to sum up? Progress and change and being brave I think sums things up. 

A Review of #Nurture1516

Wow, I kind of forgotten I had written this. I’ve been a bit rubbish with the posts in recent months. Work has felt especially busy this term so I haven’t written anything for months! Sorry!

Anyway, lets look back at what  I said this time last year. I split things in to 5 sections so lets see how many have positive things to say about them.

  1. Photo a Day. Well I have mostly managed this. I stopped uploading them in mid November (can you tell when work got really hectic?) but I have still taken them and may at some point get around to uploading them! I love how taking photos makes you look at life a little differently, and it gives you great memories to look back on. 2017 marks 10 years since I started first doing a photo a day project so it will be good to carry on with that next year!
  2. Performance. I said I wanted to get performing again this year, after the enjoyment of my dancing show. Well, it’s not dancing but I have found a new creative outlet! I am now a proud member of BackBeat A Cappella, a ladies chorus. I started alongside 2016-12-15-21-17-45lots of other ladies with this new group back in September. We have come such a long way in such a short space of time and I am excited to see where we go from here. I have already made some great friends as part of this which is lovely.
  3. Family. I think I’ve done ok here. My son and husband still know what I look like, though at times it’s been hard work making sure I get all my work done at times and still see them. We still visit my parents and my inlaws frequently and I love spending time with them. Me, Joe and B went to London for our 10th wedding anniversary and had an absolute blast! We walked for miles and miles (a marathon in 3 days!) and saw lots of the sights, B seeing them for the first time. More of the same next year I hope!
  4. Cooking and Baking! Well my love is still the sweet stuff, my baked lemon cheesecake went down well at the BackBeat Christmas get together and my pavlova has gone down well a few times this year. I have also been a bit more creative with savoury stuff as my husband has joined Slimming World and is doing really well. He’s lost over 2 stone since September and I am super proud of him. I even made Slimming World friendly Pavolvas in the run up to Christmas for him to take to a  taster session! I’m a good wife 😉
  5. Work. Well I said I wanted to move and I still feel like that, as I am still in the same place. A few interviews done, and no negative feedback means that the right job just hasn’t come up yet. I keep my eyes open for the next opportunity and continue to learn from those around me at work, on Twitter and I have self-funded a middle leadership course this year to develop my own knowledge. I still adore working in Special, especially working with those at the lowest levels of development.

So, in reflection, it’s been a pretty good year! Lots to work on for next year I think.

The Rochford Review-Final Report

Cherryl pretty much sums up my thoughts on things here.

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The long awaited Rochford Review chaired by Diane Rochford  has finally been published. For those who don’t know this is the expert review of statutory assessment for pupils working below the standard of the national curriculum tests.

In December 2015 there had been some interim recommendations from the expert group regarding children with special educational needs and those with the most severe and complex needs who have their outcomes reported using the P scales. For these children there was to be no change, P Scales  although aligned with the old national curriculum would continue and schools would do their best to adapt for 2015-16. Extra pre-key stage standards containing ‘pupil can’ statements were introduced for reporting for those children who had not yet completed the whole programme of study but had reached the chronological age that requires a statutory assessment outcome to be reported. The Interim Pre-Key Stage standards were…

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Teaching is not a one-person job. 

​My last blog about what I do all day got lots of comments and there were a few comments about working with others so I decided to go with this as my next post. I decided to do it now before I start back and things get hectic! 

One of the hardest things about being a teacher is the number of different adults you have to work with during any given day, week, term, year. In a special school this is a crucial part of my job and one of the things you learn very little, if anything about at university. 

On a day to day basis I work with usually 2,3 or sometimes 4 teaching assistants. They are my support mechanism and vital to the smooth running of my classroom. When I first started work in my current job, I was given an amazing team of 3 very experienced TAs who had decades of knowledge and experience and here was me, in my 4th year of teaching with no experience in a special school. To say it was daunting would be an understatement! For anyone new to teaching or to special, it is ok to feel like that! 

I knew I was the teacher and I knew where I wanted to go with most things but I knew I had to turn to them, to learn from them and let them guide me as we worked together to make a blooming good class team. All 3 had big personalities and they didn’t always agree with each other or me! Working through these challenges was tricky but something I knew I needed to perfect. I needed to find their strengths and use them wisely. Thankfully we had an Outstanding year and I went on to work with one of those TAs another twice in the next 4 years. I am thrilled to be working with her again this coming year too, in what I believe will be her final year before retirement. 

Anyway, this day to day stuff is sometimes tough. There are times when I have to do things that have made me feel uncomfortable. When things aren’t to my liking with their work or how they are approaching something or I may notice something dangerous e.g. not following correct moving and handling procedures. Building up a toolkit of ideas and strategies on how to deal with all these issues varies from situation to situation and person to person. For some an informal word or casually pointing something out is all you need. For others, a more structured and formal approach is needed. It’s a real balancing act. 

When in a PMLD class team you often have to deal with difficult medical situations on top of all the learning and physical work from seizures to aspiration or maybe a gastrostomy button coming out! Each child brings their own challenges and together as a class can bring changing combinations of problems. When these serious issues arise, then you really do look to your team to come together. I wont mention any specific situations here but lets just say there have often been staff working together in a crisis situation and then we have shared tears together afterwards. This is just crucial that you can come together in crisis but also come together to deal with the aftermath of it too. I am thankful to all those TAs (and other teachers in some cases) who have helped me and the children in my care in this type of senario.

Teaching assistants have so much to give. Their ideas, their passion, their ability to work in tough situations are all things I admire about so many of the people I have worked with. Thank you to all those who I have had the opportunity to work with and learn from.

On a less frequent basis I work with therapy staff. This includes physios, speech and language therapists (SALTs) and Occupational Therapists (OTs). Their funding has been cut so dramatically since I started working in special. We would see a physiotherapist nearly every day in a class like mine and an OT once a week at least, the same for SALT. Sadly this is not the case anymore and we in class have to take on more of the work that they would have done with us in years gone by. Now I see their role kind of like a consultancy! I can call on them for their superior knowledge and we can build sessions and programmes together based on the needs of the individuals and sometimes they provide training for me and the TAs and then we put their work in to practice. I have a good relationship with all those I work with and we use a mix of emails, face to face meetings and papers to keep in contact and make sure we are creating a whole curriculum appropriate for the children and giving them the best chance of being in a good state for learning with regards to their positioning, physical well-being and giving them the best chance of communicating with us. It is also about safety. I do a lot of work with our clinical lead SALT on the children’s dysphagia. Many of the children are unable to eat orally, and those that do have massive feeding difficulties. Getting things right with these issues is crucial for their health and well-being as well as allowing them chances for communication.

There is lots more to be said about the therapy aspect of my job. I do a lot but too much to go in to now. Another post methinks! 

I also work with staff from the sensory impairment team. Most usually for children with a Visual Impairment, but sometimes a HI. They will observe the children in class and work with them within class and also on a 1:1 basis. They will then provide suggestions and support for the pupils that we as a class team implement. 

As you can imagine I also see a  lot of our school nurse and less frequently the community nursing team and paediatricians. Liaising with these can be so important.

Alongside health I also deal with social workers. This might be children and families who struggling and need some extra help or it might be for children in care. Meetings with these people and a good relationship with them is important too! They see the bigger picture, often seeing the children in their home environment which may tell you something you didn’t know. 

What I haven’t mentioned yet are other teachers within school! Working with them on joint projects, sharing ideas, supporting them in difficult times or being a critical friend is just as important as everything above. They are my first port of call when I am stuck with where to go with a child’s learning, a problem with a TA or anything really. A professional who understands where you are is so valuable. Don’t forget to use your colleagues! 

Finally I am briefly going to mention parents. The reason for the brevity is that this is clearly something that deserves a blog post all of its own! I just want to say that you should never forget what a valuable resource they are. At times they find life difficult and have a lot to overcome. At times they are inspiring, at times they are difficult but ultimately working on that relationship between me and the parents of the children in my class is a key part of working with other adults on a day to day basis. 

“So what do you teach them?” 

​It is nearly the start of a new school year and thoughts turn back to work. 

So what do you do teach them?

This is question I am often asked when someone finds out that I teach in a school for children with severe and profound learning difficulties. This is especially so when talking about children with the most profound difficulties. “What do you do all day with them?” “Do you just care for them?” “Isn’t it just very sad?” These are questions I have heard more than once. 

I then spend time explaining just some of the things I do. This is nearly always then met with “oh wow”, “I had no idea”, “how interesting” and other such positives. 

People don’t know what they have never encountered before. Ignorance is usually just a lack of knowledge. I am happy to talk about my teaching of pupils with profound and multiple learning difficulties to anyone who will listen so I thought I’d blog a few examples. 

Communication is one if not the most important aspects of my job. Many of the children I teach have little or no awareness of other people or how to get their needs met by others. My job is to try to interpret unintentional communication and find ways for every child to communicate with the outside world. This involves so many things, too many to mention. Below are some of the things I do on a regular basis.

Look closely at what a child does when they are presented with some kind of sensory stimulus. It might be a sound, a smell, a texture to feel or a movement. The changes might be a startle response, a change in eye movements, a change in breathing, smiling, crying, moving away or towards the stimulus. Over time you can build up a picture and you try to look for a consistent response so every time I present X to a child they give one of the responses. 

Once a child has realised that other people can help them to meet their needs the challenge is on to find a way for them to communicate. Examples include eye pointing towards objects, photos or symbols, reaching towards objects, photos or symbols, signing or speech or a combination of all of the above. This really varies from child to child and often depends if they have a physical difficulty 

Physical Skills often play a huge part of my day. Many of the children I teach have some kind of physical disability, most commonly cerebral palsy. I work closely with physiotherapists and occupational therapists to make sure that the children I teach have a range of functional and comfortable working positions. Initially this is a good sitting position. Many children require specialist seating, often a wheelchair. There are so many on the market and all do slightly different things. For someone with high or variable tone it might have a kind of shock absorber to reduce the impact of their muscle spasms. For someone with low tone, it might have support at the trunk and provide a comfortable position for hands and arms to rest on. We also make sure that the children have other good working positions such as on their back, on their front or side and maybe the use of a standing frame. Postural care is of huge importance. How can my children learn anything if they are uncomfortable. You know how horrid it is to not be able to get up and move about (think of being stuck in a traffic jam or on a plane journey with the seatbelt sign on. Imagine not being able to get up or readjust yourself. Daily stretches and changes of positions are crucial for good learning and comfort. 

Once they have these good positions we can then work on skills such as independent sitting, rolling, reaching, developing head control. They can also work on skills such a learning how to press a switch, pick up a toy or explore a tray of messy sensory play. All these skills are crucial for being able to develop other skills such as understanding basic cause and effect and developing communication skills for example learning how to control their head or hands to be able to press a switch to activate a game on the computer or say hello to their peers during circle time. 

There are many more things I could write about and more detail on all of the above but that’s just a small introduction I guess. If people are interested I could write more. Just let me know in the comments! 

Northern Rockin’ in the Free World

A fab poem from Sue. How lovely to get a mention!

Freeing the Angel

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I’m driving up North on a hot Friday night
It takes me six hours, ‘cos there’s traffic to fight
The hotel is strange, but that just doesn’t matter
‘Cos Lisa and Sam and me have a good natter.

I meet Rachel Rossiter; Rachel Orr too
And yes, she has on the most ORRsome shoes
Tim Taylor arrives, with a duo of heads
But before too long, it is time for our beds.

On Saturday morning we head to the venue
Fantastic presenters are on today’s menu
Hold onto your hat and pull up your socks
For it’s time to get started with Northern Rocks!

We head to the gym and squeeze into our seats
For now is the first of this Saturday’s treats
The panel is ready, they will not be tardy
I give a big hug to Emma Ann Hardy.

I look to my left. A few seats down…

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Primary Rocks Live- A Review.

Yesterday morning I left at 8, collected by the lovely Carole in her car full of cupcakes! We headed down the A34 and made our way along the quiet streets of Manchester to Medlock Primary School.
Arms full of cake tins we made our way in and we were greeted by some smiling young faces of pupils and organisers. A few minutes later and the cakes were out, ready for people to take for a donation to charity.
I then found myself helping to give out the lanyards as people arrived. That was nice actually, it meant I said hello to names and faces I knew and plenty of new ones too!
The day started with a warm welcome from Mr Primary Rocks himself, Gaz Needle. A cheery man who handed over to one of Manchester’s MPs, Lucy Powell, shadow secretary of state for Education. She said a few things I agreed with. “Primary teachers, you are doing a great job” and talked how there was too much change without thought, but for me she lacked real umph and gumption. A missed opportunity as far as I was concerned. However, I would like to see how she gets on in the years to come. I felt she had more honesty than her predecessor.

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The inspiring Hywel Roberts was next to speak. His passion and enthusiasm was clear to see and I know he got the room thinking and reflecting on their practice.
Next there followed 3 workshop sessions. Mike Watson reminded me about how much fun learning outside can be. Being in special ed I often have to think outside of the box and be creative. Ideas that work for others always need adapting and I came away with some ideas.

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The fabulous shoe-tastic Rachel Orr sang for us and talked passionately about being digitally confident but it’s not all about everything all singing and dancing tech.
https://youtu.be/Es0srWSGi3Y I got the chance to chat with her afterwards too which was lovely. I also filmed her 2nd song which is on my You Tube page if you are interested.

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Dinnertime arrived and my free packed lunch plus ice cream were warmly received. This lovely long dinner gave the best chance to catch up with people. Some I had met before, Cherryl, Carolyn, and my long standing friend Ria. Others I have known on Twitter for a while such as the fabulous Nancy and Lynn. A brief hello to others familiar from their avatars too.

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The afternoon saw the final workshop, where Nancy spoke about TAs and how in some cases they can be exploited. I am a huge advocate of TAs but I also appreciate that they are just not paid enough for all they are asked to do at times and fully respect them. Always interesting to hear what people have to say.
Next up was the Primary Rocks panel. This made me laugh a lot (live tweets on the screen behind us were the source of most giggles) and also reminded me just how out of the loop I am when it comes to the finer points of mainstream education. I try and keep in touch with what is going on. However, ultimately we are all under immense pressure and we all have different opinions on how we would solve the problem. Sadly government appear not to want to listen to us so we shall just continue to do our best in the circumstances.

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Stephen Lockyer spoke towards the end of the day. Again he spoke with passion and an intensity that meant the room was enthralled. Having left a job in teaching that made me very unhappy I related to his experiences of that and how you can be reignited by a change. A great speech.
Rob Smith was the last to speak and reminded us that we should be more like Brewdog! His closing words were all in the spirit of Primary Rocks and left us all with a positive feel.

Thanks to everyone involved in the event. There was a great feel and I hope the event will be repeated again.