The confusion here is what I should write to do justice to an issue close to my heart; the inclusion of pupils with SEN. Overthink inclusion, and it can become confusing, baffling and complex; so it suits me to keep it simple.
I trained to teach (mainstream humanities) back in 1989 when the philosophy which underpinned my experience was ‘child centred learning.’ Radically, us trainee teachers were not allowed to mark in red pen or sit the pupils in rows – it was green pen (the only other colour available) and sitting in ever varied groups. Being well indoctrinated, I have followed that system ever since (only now I have a selection of coloured pens and stampers to play with). Last week, at the NASEN conference, I sat through a talk about Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and felt I was right back where I began. Having taught in a school for pupils with SEN for over 20 years, I offer here three personal insights into ‘inclusion.’
- Begin with developing professional relationships with your pupils. All teachers and all pupils are different, so no two relationships will be the same, but therein lies the rich tapestry of life. Know your pupils and be sure that they trust you. I aim to build trust by never asking them to do anything which is too hard (or too easy) and giving them opportunities to be successful. They can then grow in confidence and self-esteem, and you can begin to nudge them further. Communication is paramount. I can recommend a programme I watched the other night which kept me wide awake after midnight which beautifully illustrates the importance of teacher – pupil relationships: BBC Don’t Exclude Me. Firm but fair might best describe my approach and having those high expectations of everyone (no exceptions).
- I love an enquiry approach to teaching and learning, and open ended questions provide opportunities for everyone to be included. Your pupils will surprise you, so embrace and celebrate those quirky answers which you never imagined or anticipated. I provide opportunities for learning through a spiral curriculum e.g. When questioning how important Wedgwood was to the local area, pupils visited local pottery museums; endured my DIY minibus tour of the city (complete with screechy megaphone commentary and onboard snacks); made pottery in class (a TA’s brother-in-law happened to be a master potter); experienced a 4D mine (some of the ‘least able’ pupils were the best miners); visited the local canal and even interviewed Wedgwood himself (me in yet another wig!), as well as the usual class-based learning activities. For me the phrase ‘take risks’ means taking risks with my street credibility (long since dead) and imagining how I can bring the learning alive. A dramatic enquiry into the First World War included the never to be repeated experience of filling the sports hall with compost and creating a mini-trench system on the floor which the pupils then ‘flew’ over in a cardboard reconnaissance bi-plane as original aerial footage was projected onto the wall. Outside, bully beef in a rainy life-size trench helped pupils to understand. It took hours to sweep up the soil and the sports hall smelled of an allotment for weeks to come!
- Inclusion is a mindset, an attitude, an approach to life. As budgets dwindle, access to ‘expert’ support is hard to find, pupils needs are wide and varied and Covid disrupts our schools, teachers are the powerful anchor in every pupil’s school experience. Assess what your pupils need and plan your next strategy: This might best be reflecting with a colleague or hapless relative over a coffee at the end of the day. Many a time I have talked myself into trialling a new approach in this way, when I thought I had exhausted all possibilities. Do what you have planned and then review how it went, and the cycle continues. You may not feel like it or think it, but you are the ‘expert’ in your class because you know the pupils best; because you are communicating with them and because you are building relationships with them. Your skillset of differentiation techniques and inclusion strategies will grow as you attend CPD, work collaboratively and seek to know more - but in the meantime, it’s all about your inclusive mindset and can-do attitude.
Jill Rawlinson, Personal Tutor.
Find out more about Jill’s background here: https://knste-shaw.org.uk/our-team/