Learning to blog…

I’m not sure whether I had a ‘to blog or not to blog’ moment in 2013 but clearly, I went for ‘not to blog’.  Whether that was a conscious decision or a consequence of other choices I will never know.  However, I am back on the keyboard for several reasons, the main one being that one when starts to write it’s almost impossible to stop.  Now that the ink is dry on the book, I’m back online.

I sincerely hope that anyone who buys ‘Effective Differentiation for Teachers’ finds it reassuring and readable.  I have tried to distil what I have learned about teaching children with learning difficulties into a manageable number of words and activities, at best, it’s a framework in which to think about your own classroom, your own subject and your own lessons. It’s not about how I’d do it, it’s about how you’d do it knowing what I know.

Whilst I may know something about teaching (the jury’s out on that one), the last 5 years has provided me with ample opportunity to understand just how little I know about anything else.  With no teacher and only my instinct as a guide, I’d like to think that I have learned a lot since starting Senworks in 2013.  I have come to know more about myself and of course about starting a business, none of which was in the booklet from the bank.

If this blog is going to be about helping to overcome barriers to learning in the classroom I thought an honest place to start would be in sharing some of the high-lights (and low-lights) of my own learning journey and how recent experiences have changed the way I work and the way I think. So here goes…

Firstly, less is more. Trite but true. A mistake I have oft repeated has been setting myself too big or too many different tasks and then feeling demoralised when struggling to cope. It takes courage to focus.  Putting all your eggs in one basket feels inherently risky and doesn’t come naturally to me but I’ve  realised that being busy, juggling and hedging my bets is a way to put off doing something truly important. It’s embarrassing that, as an English teacher, I am surprised that procrastination comes in the form of furious activity.

Secondly, I find I dislike working alone. I’m a collaborator.  I always want to talk through my thinking to clarify it. I like dealing with feedback and I miss the hubbub and back and forth of my old office. I miss being part of a team more than I can say.

I am bad at establishing and sticking to a routine (note I didn’t write ‘Thirdly’ at the beginning of this sentence). My mind doesn’t have a particular rhythm and it doesn’t seem to want one. School timetables masked the truth, that I am not a creature of habit, I am a creature of  ”Hmmm Wednesday. What’s the weather doing?”

I miss my fantastic school cleaning and maintenance team. It is not good when your “office” is in the living room. Dirty cups and general detritus does not get the day off to a productive start. I need a space and a clean desk before I can do anything else. Ahhh Café Nero.  Thank you.

Accountants and I do not speak a common language.  I have been attempting to teach myself. Having said that, if accounts were a foreign country I am now able to order a beer but would struggle to negotiate a change of rooms. It’s been 5 years.

Disappointment is a tough one to manage. I am better at conflict, pain, parking and almost everything else. In business you must be good at waiting. It’s like swimming under water. People sometimes don’t call you back after what you think was a great meeting, having said that, quite often they wait until after you have stopped being disappointed and then suddenly hire as though no time at all had elapsed.

This is hard to write (and I think it is my only self-pitying lesson learned) but employed friends often don’t support you and don’t recognise the enormity of the change taking place. It’s vital to find some self-employed friends in any industry to share your thoughts with (or in my case get your husband to start a business too).

Change is HARD.  Changing what you do for a living and what you do with your day can feel like changing who you are.  Thankfully that’s a mirage, keep centered, everything you are can be expressed in what you do at some point. That’s what going it alone is about.

Travelling is brilliant for thinking creatively, I have had most of my good ideas while in transit.

Cry when you need to and move on. Think over your mistakes without shame. Use them to progress.

Patience is essential. Making a rollicking success of a company may take MUCH more time than you expected.

Commodification of time feels weird and mercenary. Getting a pay check does not feel the same as writing an invoice. I had not expected this. Sending bills is almost as painful as paying them.

Yoga can save your life, straighten your back, reboot you on a bad day and otherwise appease the voices of self-doubt that plague anyone trying to do something new or do something different; practice doesn’t make perfect, it just makes sense of the fact that everything we do is a practice.  I think Yoda was wrong.  I try; therefore, I do. Check out Yoga with Adriene on Youtube. Life changer.

Back to teaching next week, promise. 



Training, training, training…

So training has to be the start.  Have a look at my new training page, perhaps there is a session that your school could use.  All teachers, not just SENDCOs and Inclusion Managers, need to understand something about learning difficulties and learning differences.  My sessions are designed to assist teachers and SENDCOs to cope with the diversity and demands of the current classroom.   However at the heart of a good, school based, SEND provision there has to be a developed sense of professional curiosity; an acknowledgement that our understanding of specific learning difficulties like dyslexia, dyspraxia and dyscalculia is currently growing and changing.  Every school needs to empower and enable their lead professional in this area to expand their knowledge and their contact with the current discourse.  There are many ways to do this (let’s talk tactics) but the first step is to realise that it is indeed necessary to go beyond the politics of inclusion and the administration of the system.

Post NASEN impression

I can’t help leaving NASEN Live in Bolton with very mixed feelings. The sessions led by the Department about the draft code left me frustrated and I was clearly not alone in my frustration. The system is changing, we hear that loud and clear but instead of “…and this is how it will work…” which is what everyone wants to know, there seemed to be a half-hearted attempt at consultation (more like goading) looking at positives and negatives of the existing stages. It felt like a way to contain discussion rather than to enable it.
NASEN was a perfect example of how many fantastic individuals, tools and services exist and how much relevant research is available on how to enhance learning for those who experience difficulties. The trouble is that SENCOs get precious little time to consider it, let alone digest and utilise it. The new code, any code in fact, relies upon the notion that the need for specialist in-put in our schools is exceptional and can be found easily and bought in cost effectively. I know that is not the case. Only joined up thinking and joined up services make the difference between administering SEND and making SEND provision effective for students and their families. I don’t care what they call the stages of the prioritisation process as long as its core aim is to bring much needed resources and expertise into our schools so teachers can get on the job of changing lives.

Hello world!

This is my first Senworks blog. Big moment for me, very exciting. We launched at the beginning of this month and I am so thrilled to find that our services are already in demand. It is fantastic to know that schools are so motivated to enhance and improve their offer to children with learning needs. We have much to do, especially in the current climate of change and uncertainty.

My current obsession is how mainstream secondary schools are using data to target set for children on the SEND register. How are the targets created? Are they useful? Do the children use them as a motivator? These and many other questions will be answered by – well by you and me I hope. Please do join in with the blog. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.