“I also wanted to be a positive light in the lives of kids”

I struggled a lot in school. I am diagnosed ADHD and self-diagnosed autistic, pursuing diagnosis.

Q1. Tell us a little bit about yourself?

I struggled a lot in school. I am diagnosed ADHD and self-diagnosed autistic, pursuing diagnosis. I had a really hard time in school, struggled making friends, felt lost all the time. I was painfully self conscious and incredibly awkward with new situations. My teachers didn’t understand my lack of impulse control or why social conflicts completely overtook my life, making study impossible. 

I wanted to be a teacher from a young age because I loved babysitting my brothers and their friends, loved hanging out with younger children and making them laugh. I also wanted to be a positive light in the lives of kids instead of someone terrifying like my teachers were.

Q2. Starting a new year can be a nervous time for kids and a busy time for teachers. From your perspective, what information should parents give to the teacher before their child starts in a new class?

I would love to know in advance of the first day which kids are anxious and likely to struggle. I don’t need to know entire life stories as I’m pretty good at piecing that together, but I do like to have a little information. If there are OT reports, speech reports etc, it is helpful, for sure. I would love a cheat sheet for each kid. Like, if this happens, do this… from therapists. Something we can look at to get a quick picture of what works and then the comprehensive reports to look back on if we don’t get them. Mostly, I just want to know what makes them tick, what they love and respond well to.

Q3. Some parents and carers don’t find out that their child requires additional support until they are in school and the expectations placed on that child outweigh their ability to meet them. How much training or information do you get from the department/school around identification of students with possible behavioural, neurological or sensory conditions?

Very little in university, some from our resident school psychologist, however I am one of the more knowledgeable teachers at my school and it’s simply because of my own personal professional learning/reading/development. I did a PL on Sensory processing early in my career and that has been probably the most valuable PL to date. I also did a 2 day autism masterclass with Dr Barry Prizant which has also been incredible in terms of understanding autistic behaviours and helping children regulate/valuing their behaviour as a need, rather than a problem to be solved. I wish all teachers did those two.

Q4. How can parents work with teachers to get the best result for their children?

Open communication, blameless dialogue. Educate the teachers, advocate for your child. It is hard because sometimes those parents can be viewed negatively by teachers, which is frustrating… But I think an open conversation at the start of the year and then from there, very much a partnership approach, staying well connected. It helps for teachers and parents to both notice the little things the other is doing, acknowledge and appreciate that. Then, the more difficult conversations that need to be had can be easier.

Q5. Many children with behavioural, neurological or sensory conditions have difficulty learning in traditional environments. What kinds of things have you implemented in your classrooms that you think have a positive impact?

I have a flexible learning environment, so for the most part kids can choose how and where they learn. I use Zones of Regulation language and strategies to help kids to manage their own environment and behaviour. We have chill-out zones and are pretty flexible with how students regulate themselves. We encourage lots of movement. 

We use the growth mindset. I personally model failure a lot, having been that kid I really do understand how it feels. I find being open about that has been very successful in helping those children feel safe, secure and supported. 

We provide lots of choice too, which can be overwhelming for some of these kids, but I try to support them one on one once everyone else has gotten started, or limiting their options to make it less overwhelming. 

Lots of sensory opportunities as well as limiting input where necessary. Another big thing is being really flexible about how kids show what they know. We document learning through Seesaw and lots of photos/child uploads so the kids can demonstrate their learning in a way that feels safe and comfortable to them.

Q6. Can you explain what is an IEP/ILP  (individual education/learning plan) and how it is used by parents and teachers?

All students with a diagnosis must be on a plan, as well as any kids who are significantly above or below standard. It is a modified plan to guide learning, engagement and goal-setting for kids who aren’t meeting the standard requirements. It can be across all areas or only one. 

In my opinion, parents aren’t generally given enough information about IEPs or the goals within, nor are they encouraged to have an opinion on the goals set. Teachers use them to set goals and identify strategies for working towards that goal. 

Q7. Teaching a class with more than twenty kids who have different needs and skill levels requires a lot of continuous hard work. What would you like parents to know about what happens in the background?

The amount of paperwork and department accountability, especially for kids on plans. The emails never end. Most of the time, we are trying our best. Some teachers really don’t get it and require further education, but that’s not their fault. Contact the school and ask for staff to have PL in the area of your child’s need. Offer to run a small PL yourself, if you feel confident and qualified to do so. 

There is a growing number of children with needs that require our attention, yet they have no funding. So, the kids with funded diagnoses who have an EA are often BETTER off. The number of kids who have anxiety, trauma, ADHD, behavioural challenges etc are growing and we get no funding. These kids haven’t had early intervention, they’re often undiagnosed, their level of need is very high and we get no extra support for them. It can be incredibly difficult to manage when certain cohorts contain 5 or more per class of these kids. 

Often, relationships are the most important thing to focus on, but pressure from above to reach curricular goals puts teachers in a very tough position. That’s why I say always try to acknowledge what they ARE doing right, because there will be something. Then work from there.

Q8. Thinking more broadly, what are your thoughts on how behaviour is managed at your school?

We use Positive Behaviour Schools which is a positive approach to behaviour management. We have consistent language throughout the school as to self-regulation and expected behaviours. Personally, I love it. It changes behavioural issues from child-focussed to behaviour-focussed, which is so important. It focuses on what kids should be doing while acknowledging that no child is perfect and all the zones are normal states to be in.

Q8. If you were all powerful, what changes would you make in schools? Feel free to be aspirational, we can all dream!

More play, less academia. 

Needs-based instruction, quality assessment that’s actually meaningful to teachers and the students. 

Project-based learning that ties the curriculum into what they love. Not boring everyone to death. 

More support for teachers’ wellbeing. 

Funding allocated based on a students’ level of need, not diagnosis. 

Special teams for explicit instruction and remedial classes for students with learning difficulties who need extra help. 

Sensory & therapy rooms which I’d call Regulation Stations. 

Speech therapists and OTs on-site. 

Outdoor classrooms. 

Flexible seating. 

Less pressure from admin, more celebration of quality practice, more time for teachers to collaborate and share ideas, less face to face teaching time (more play for the kids).

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