“I became a teacher to change the world”

I work in a small school in Melbourne where I am Learning Diversity Leader, Wellbeing Leader and Family Engagement Leader.

Q1. Tell us a little bit about yourself?

I work in a small school in Melbourne where I am Learning Diversity Leader, Wellbeing Leader and Family Engagement Leader. I love working with families and helping them advocate for their children. Parents, teachers and kids need to work together and be a team.

I became a teacher to change the world. I’ve been teaching for 20 years. I have multiple chronic health issues, so I need to work part time now – this gives me personal insight into issues faced with physical disability. I have four children – three have ADHD. One also has Selective Mutism and Dyslexia. I have been a foster carer for over 15 years and had many children in my home with complex trauma and learning difficulties. I have been advocating for my kids and my foster kids for many years.

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 strongly believe this should start from a strengths based perspective. I always start all my meetings with a conversations about the child’s strengths. I try to get input from everyone! I encourage as much honesty as possible. It’s the only way forward. It’s always helpful if the parents will pass all reports etc to the school, so everyone can be on the same page.

Schools should have meetings in the first few weeks of the year to get the ball rolling. If they don’t have it – parents should book it in. Agendas should be a two way street – parents and teachers can contribute.

Q4. 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?

This is an ongoing process. At my school, our teachers are in constant conversation about students with challenges. We discuss students every few weeks and how we can make modifications and adjustments to best suit their needs. 

Formal training depends on particular needs within the class – Type 1 diabetes, ASD level 2 etc.  All classes have kids who have neurodivergent kids – that’s a given. I expect that we can meet  many of those needs daily. How do we keep improving on our skills? Read recommendations on  reports from specialists, listen to parent’s suggestions, trial and error, read up to date advice, attend appropriate training.

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

Keep in constant contact – depending on the needs of the child. May be daily, have clear SMART goals for the child, have formal and informal meetings. Don’t be afraid to be honest.

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?

Whole class approach using Berry Street Education Model – trauma informed approach. This is ideal for neurodivergent kids. Can be very individualised. Use of positive primers, sensory path, brain breaks, safety plans, ready to learn plans – for all students!

We also have Sensory Tool Boxes in each classroom – balance boards (for brain breaks or to be used as to wobble feet on), wobble chairs, wobble cushions, toggle mats for the floor, Zen Zones etc

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

These are personalised learning plans – they contain strengths and challenges of the particular student. They also contain personalised smart goals the child is working towards. These are usually agreed upon each term. They can vary according to the child’s needs. E.g.” For Johnny to be able to sit quietly on the mat for 5 minutes using a reward chart 9/10 times by the end of Week 5”. Or “For Lilly to be able to accurately read 10 CVC words with the teacher each day 90% of the time by the end of Term 3”.

Kids usually have a varied number of goals depending on how much support they need. It is usually only used by the class teachers – unless the goals are specific to specialist teachers. E.g. behaviour goals may need tracking across the whole day.

Specialist teachers are usually informed of kids learning needs and challenges. Ideas on what to include – is everyone eligible for one, does it become part of a handover from year to year, do all the other teachers (music, library, etc) have a copy.

7. 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?

It is constant. Minute to minute. The paperwork these days is incredible. We need to document everything. Please come to us if you have a worry. Don’t let it fester.

Working in a Catholic school in Victoria – we get our funding from NCCD. We track many kids who do not attract funding. This is good practice. We look for patterns in behaviour, issues, we are trying to be the best teachers for your kids.

One child will not get an aide to themselves – even if they have multiple disabilities and require 1:1 attention. The funding is always shared. We have to work out the best way to use the funding.

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

We have three expectations – we are safe, we are respectful and we are engaged in all learning. Students are given a few chances and reminders including non verbal cues. We use a formula to take emotion out of it. This works for most of the students. Some students need a more targeted approach to support their behaviour and emotional regulation. We also use our own version of restorative practice.

We have found there is no perfect solution for all students. We must constantly adapt to meet the needs of our students, new research etc. We also need to work with the parents so we can work together.

Q9. If you were all powerful, what changes would you make in schools? Feel free to be aspirational, we can all dream!

Create more hours in the day!

Funding program to have disability advocates provided to parents who are difficult to engage with who have extremely complex personal needs and are at loggerheads with the school. Someone who understands the system and can work as a mediator also to get great work done for the child!

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