A SEND teacher’s journey of transitioning to remote teaching for pupils with complex needs
Author: Amy Perkins, Class Teacher at Chailey Heritage School
If you had told me this time last year, or even this time a few months ago, that teaching as I knew it would have changed beyond recognition and that I would have to adapt to a completely alien way of working, I would not have believed you.
But here we are! Week seven of lockdown, and teaching and learning has become very different indeed!
Some would say teaching a class of children with complex physical and medical needs within the four walls of a classroom is a challenge in itself. But it is a very rewarding challenge to say the least! However, remote learning is a completely different kettle of fish!
To start with, I was like a fish out of water! How would I continue to support my children and their families from afar? So much of what we do at Chailey Heritage is hands-on, face-to-face and intensive in its nature. As a mainstream teacher by background, the prospect of remote teaching may not have thrown me quite so much, but adapting within the SEND world was no mean feat.
To begin with, I set about finding suitable resources for the various children in my class. I spent many hours searching the web, considering what would work at home and what wouldn’t.
Our curriculum at Chailey Heritage is a personal one. Each child has their own set of unique next steps (targets) designed for them. Within my cohort of six children, I have varying degrees of needs; from the most ‘Sensory Beings’ (Joanna Grace http://www.thesensoryprojects.co.uk/books) - who have reduced or little vision and complex physical and medical needs - to those who are learning to speak, read and move for the first time. Within the classroom with the specialised teaching assistants this disparity in needs isn’t really noticed. In fact, they often complement each other, in that the children develop deeper and different relationships with one another. Turn this on its head and take it out of the classroom, and it presents various challenges. Challenges I was determined to overcome!
There is a wealth of resources online, many of which are being offered for free during the current climate. Resources such as:
Soundabout - https://www.soundabout.org.uk/ - a charity offering music sessions for children and young people with severe and complex needs. They are now offering online sessions twice a week.
Singing Hands - https://singinghands.co.uk/ - a signing based duo. They are offering a variety of sessions throughout the week from Makaton signed stories to ‘Wine and Sign’ evenings for adults!
Story Massage - https://www.storymassage.co.uk/ - a way of combining story telling and positive touch. They are also offering online sessions twice a week.
Joanna Grace, founder of the Sensory Projects -http://www.thesensoryprojects.co.uk/covid19-resources has collated a lot of the resources to form a COVID-19 Educational Resources List and she adds to it regularly. In addition, there is a wealth of materials for reading, maths and other subject areas also available online.
Having selected relevant resources, what was I going to do with it all? How would I maintain contact with both the children and their families?
Communicating with children and their families
I was very keen to keep the relationships I had built with the children and their families going, and felt that contact with them was needed now more than ever as we all adjusted to a changing world.
Initally, I made some calls, used FaceTime and e-mail to make contact. I sent resource ideas through the post, by e-mail and started to do some online sessions with some of my children.
To begin with, it was hard to grasp this new concept and way of working, both for me and the children. For those who could, I ran online sessions involving reading, maths, communication and even physio sessions. The families and I had to be very inventive; from ‘milk crate’ box-sitting group, to adapting a space bar with cardboard and a switch to overcome the Windows to Mac issues. Over time it has become easier as I get into the swing of things with certain children.
However, this was not enough. I felt I was unable to support all my learners in this way and I felt I needed to do more to bring my class ‘back together’. This was where I needed a remote platform that I could adapt to meet not only my needs, but the needs of the children and their families.
When searching for a learning platform that worked for everyone, I quickly came to realise such a thing didn’t exist! Many of the remote platforms are not secure enough for us to use and so I was left having to adapt one. This was where Microsoft Teams came into play. I had never used Teams before, and by its very nature it is more designed for the business market rather than for schools. It has its own challenges; from using the interface itself to trying to add parents as guests. As always in the IT world, there is that one issue that crops up which you can never fully work out. After ironing out the creases, I set about creating my own class team.
Having set up Teams by inviting my children’s families, I was then able to use it to message all families at once (using the general post page) and individually (using the chat feature). I used the files section to upload resources that I thought would be helpful to parents, to which I continue to add . My most successful use of Teams to date is the video chat feature, which currently isn’t quite up to standard. Hopefully, Microsoft will solve this shortly when they introduce their 3x3 grid so I can see all of my class at once. Using video chat has enabled me to have one-on-one sessions with my children and their families, and I have experimented with whole-class sessions which have become a weekly fixture.
I may have a class with a wide variety of needs and some may get more out of it than others, but I think the benifits outweigh all of this. The children and families can hear and see me as well as one another, and we can continue to recreate some elements of the school day so the children don’t think they have been abandoned.
Hearing the children vocalise to each other, show toys, choose songs to sing and say hello is the highlight of my week. In addition, I am currently trialling using the class notebook as a sort of photo library for the children. I take screen shots during the sessions I run and add them to the notebook. Similarly, parents can also add photos of their time at home.
Now, more than ever, communication with families is crucial. As yet, I may not have it all right, but I am making the best of what I have for the good of the children. We can never replicate the experiences we offer in school, but we can try our very best to keep the fun of learning and connection going while we are all so far apart.
Lessons learnt in lockdown
1.Be creative and don’t be afraid to try things out - we are all learning this new way of life!
2. Find a way to communicate with children and their families that works for them.
3. Support each other and share ideas - what works for you may work for others too.
If we can’t bring them to the classroom, bring the classroom to them!