Monday, 25 August 2014

Gone Fishing...

The new academic year is nearly upon us, which will be my 13th year of teaching. Hopefully not an unlucky one!

Last year was highly enjoyable, as much as it was challenging. Through my work at the Pendlebury Centre over the past year I feel my eyes have been opened to an aspect of additional needs in schools that had previous existed on the fringes of my awareness and understanding - specifically, mental health difficulties such as anxiety, depression and eating disorders alongside social issues such as child sexual exploitation, childhood bereavement and traumatic family breakdown. I have also gained a greater insight into the potentially disastrous ramifications for young people with autism who do not receive identification and recognition until their final years of schooling.

Of course, all these issues exist outside of a specialist educational environment - as we have seen with Robin Williams, these conditions occur across human life (see the quote below for one of the best responses to his tragic passing). However, a year on at the Pendlebury Centre, I have deepened my understanding greatly of how to spot such  issues and how to try help the young person begin to unpick them in conjunction with families and external agencies (whilst continuing to recognise the limits of my role as an educational professional rather than therapist or psychiatrist). 

Source: https://twitter.com/JasonManford/status/498978178619408384/photo/1

As my second year at the Pendlebury Centre beckons, I will see my teaching timetable change quite radically all over again - gone will be subjects like Forest Schools and Food Tech, coming my way are GCSE English and KS3 Humanities. As much as I enjoyed delivering these practical subjects, seeing students learn in a different way and in a different context, I welcome a return to teaching subjects which are my strongest.

I will continue as Assistant Deputy Headteacher, relinquishing control of the PPR project (an early intervention initiative that will move to a neighbouring PRU), but being able to focus more in-depth on SEN and assessing / tracking progress (being the 'data bod' within the centre). 

As a centre, we are also gradually expanding our outreach programme, delivering CPD sessions to colleagues from a variety of settings. This, I feel, is vitally important if we are to help our partners in mainstream schools identify and act on issues that might in turn prevent students having the upheaval etc. of being transferred to a Pupil Referral Unit. The Pendlebury Centre has a new website and we plan to put some of our CPD resources on there.

On top of that I have also bought a house this past year and now have the added pleasure (sometimes pain!) of bringing it up to scratch. This is in addition to an increasing role in a local church community - mainly as a Christian Aid coordinator.

So, as I have switched off this summer and had some extended time to reflect, one of the questions I have asked myself is where does this leave this website? I will continue to upload resources and let followers know via my Twitter feed when I do so, but I also think it's time to declare an indefinite hiatus in my blog posts - or perhaps more accurately, openly accept that for all my best intentions it's just not hitting the priority list and hasn't been for a while.


I had intended to finish blogging with a reflection on working in a Pupil Referral Unit but it turns out there's already a good article on this out there - an interview with Tony Meehan, headteacher at the Latimer Alternative Provision Academy - which says more or less the kind of things I was planning to say.

All that's left is to say thank you again to all those readers who took the time and effort to get in touch. I will still be contactable - just a little less talkative!

Friday, 15 August 2014

A Few Quotes about Depression

Following the news of Robin Williams ending his own life, I've been heartened during this sad time that we have at least had people from all walks of life come out to affirm that depression is a natural, common and should be met with compassionate responses.

I always recall hearing a documentary on the late Kenneth Williams which noted his sheer brilliance as a performer on Radio 4's 'Just a Minute', a show which requires a particular kind of improvised, exuberant wit of which he was a leading light - yet his diaries, published posthumously, revealed he was perpetually tortured with doubt, frustration, resentfulness, loneliness and despair. It struck me that for all Kenneth Williams's eccentricity, his experience of depression behind closed doors seemed fairly typical.

Below are a few of the 'highlights' (for want of a much better term) I have come across this past week.

To the person experiencing depression:


“Depression is not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign that you have been strong for too long." - Anon

"A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." - Lao Tzu

"If you’re going through Hell, keep going." - Winston Churchill

"Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies." - Mother Teresa 

“In moments of discouragement, defeat, or even despair, there are always certain things to cling to. Little things usually: remembered laughter, the face of a sleeping child, a tree in the wind … In fact, any reminder of something deeply felt or dearly loved. No man is so poor as not to have many of these small candles. When they are lighted, darkness goes away - and a touch of wonder remains.” - Said to have been found on a gravestone in  Britain

To the person who knows someone with depression:

"If you are the lucky one that doesn’t have depression, the three odd out of four that might not understand it and you meet somebody with depression, the worst thing you can do is say “Come on pull yourself together.” Just imagine that inside of their head they are just as ill as somebody maybe who broke their leg or who has diabetes. You wouldn’t say “Don’t take the insulin.” I mean you really have to believe that this is the real thing. When you hear their negativity or they might be abusive, or whatever you are getting from them, that is their disease talking, it is not them. Because they are still a human being and they will get better probably if they take care, or you help them take care. Now this isn’t catching or you know they can’t work or whatever because part of you is still healthy. But please respect the sick part and treat it like somebody who has really got something. Because it does exist. This isn’t your imagination. As a matter of fact your imagination is really ill. So think of it that way." - Ruby Wax

“If you know someone who’s depressed, please resolve never to ask them why. Depression isn't a straightforward response to a bad situation; depression just is, like the weather. 

Try to understand the blackness, lethargy, hopelessness, and loneliness they’re going through. Be there for them when they come through the other side. It’s hard to be a friend to someone who’s depressed, but it is one of the kindest, noblest, and best things you will ever do.” - Stephen Fry

To the person inclined to judge someone negatively for attempting suicide:

"Have you ever seen news footage of a burning building?

Fire ravages all floors of the building, the fire brigade are trying, trying so hard to rescue those trapped within. But the fire is moving too quickly. People trapped within the building have no escape. I’m sure all of you have seen news footage of someone jumping from a building in this situation. I’m just as sure that the image of it is burned into your head. For most people, something that traumatic is hard to forget. We all know that the people didn’t want to jump. But jumping in that situation was better than facing the fire. They had no choice. 

When you are suicidal, taking that jump is suicide, and the burning building is your whole world. You don’t want to do it. But the world is burning and you’re standing in the window and you look down and you know jumping will stop the pain and you know it’ll hurt people, but damn it! The whole world behind you is burning and jumping is the only way, the plan Z, the thing you swore you’d never do. Yet now, the pain is unbearable, the agony tears through you and there is no escape, no escape, no escape but the window. The fire burning behind is not your fault. It isn’t something within your control. You know it will hurt the people left behind. But jumping is better than facing the fire. You have no choice.

When, and only when, we acknowledge that suicide is not a selfish act will suicide rates fault.

When, and only when, we offer help without judgement will we stop losing loved ones." - Abbey, Life with Bipolar Blog

These are only words, and it hopefully goes without saying that for those suffering from depression, they need much more - however, as the late and great Robin Williams once said;


Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Podding on...

I often seem to start posts for this website with 'Sorry for the quiet period, I've been busy...' This is likely to continue as I juggle the challenges of moving into a new house (including tackling a waterlogged, overgrown garden!) with day-to-day life as a classroom teacher and assistant headteacher. 

Since my last few entries, I have continued to develop schemes of learning for groups of KS3 students who attend shorter 12-week placements within our PRU network. I have taken the time to upload to TES a variety of resources for the excellent 'Private Peaceful' and resources for the equally excellent 'There's Only One Jimmy Grimble' - designed mainly for students working between Level 3 to Level 5 who need to be coached in reading and thinking skills.

Other bits and pieces uploaded include a short presentation on thinking through SEN training in schools. A preview of this is shown below, and for those wanting the accompanying notes, I have uploaded the PowerPoint (as a read-only file) to TES.


Recently I have also had the pleasure of taking a bunch of students to present at the final of the 'School We'd Like' competition, run by The Guardian and Zurich Municipal. The bad news is we didn't succeed in winning the £5000 prize to create a unique counselling and mentoring room called 'The Pod' which would have also include a multi-media diary-keeping feature. However, the good news - which far outshines the result - came in the form of seeing our students take to the stage. We have also since had some very kind offers from individuals and groups we already work with to help us complete the project. 

We are now one day into the summer term, in Stockport at least, and the next big focus will be on preparing our Year 11 students for the final hurdle in their GCSEs. For students who struggle to stay organised and/or struggle to maintain a healthy work-life balance during the next few weeks, I do have some revision and course work planners which might be of use.

I do think, having worked more intensively with Year 11 students this year, that there is a question of how we maintain the confidence and motivation of those who are not set to gain C or above GCSE grades. There is so much importance placed on C or above from government downwards that, for some of those students who struggle academically or simply haven't coped with the emotional and social-institutional demands of school, their opinion that education isn't for them is confirmed by  what they perceive as 'pointless' grades. 

Finally, I thought I might share these inspiring photos of a new display in our centre, designed by the students and a teaching assistant - made all the more powerful by the fact the quote is from a poem written by one of our students.



Onwards!

Monday, 31 March 2014

Ahem...2 years today...


This is just a quick post to note today marks the 2nd birthday of HumansNotRobots.co.uk. The resources section recently hit over 400,000 downloads which is kind of hard to believe - especially so given less than a decade ago teachers were sharing resources online by posting requests on the TES message boards, getting each other's addresses and then popping off to the Post Office to send worksheets etc. to one another!

I wonder what things will look like by 2024? Or even by 2016?

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Farewell Bev, and thank you


It was so sad to read today that Bev Evans, the ever enthusiastic and super supportive SEN editor of TES Resources, has passed away. This post is just my small way of saying a public thank you to her - the world of teaching has lost a gem.

My thoughts are with her loved ones - as Quakers say, we hold them in the light.

TES has published a blog here where people can leave a tribute.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Towards lighter, brighter days

I tend to find this time of the school year to be increasingly enjoyable, what with us being more or less halfway through the academic year alongside the mornings & evenings starting to get a bit brighter. As an SEN Coordinator, and to an extent in my current role as an assistant headteacher, I have often found this time of year to be a point where the workload feels just that little bit lighter - allowing you to really focus in on strategic projects rather than rushing from one operational duty to another.

Over the past month or so, aside from my day-to-day SLT duties (which continue to include some SENCo tasks) and my teaching commitment, I've had the pleasure of working with a group of students on a bid for £5000 via the 'School We'd Like' competition - a joint venture from The Guardian and Zurich Municipal. Our bid is based around creating a flexible, small-scale resource base for students with complex social-emotional needs, called 'The Pod'. Having made it to the regional final and presented our idea in Newcastle a few weeks ago, I'd assumed we had not got any further - partly due to the strength of the presentations by rival bidders - and was planning to share our proposal online, hoping another school might partner up with us on it. However, this week I received the good news we are through to the national final in London next month and so, for now, I will have to keep it under wraps. Whether we win or not, the competition has proved to be a hugely positive experience - firstly for the students directly involved who have excelled themselves in getting up on a stage and speaking publicly (not to mention the gruelling journey to Newcastle and back in one school day!) and for our wider school in terms of us being aspirational.

My role also includes overseeing our data collection and monitoring systems. Coming from an arts background, I readily admit I am not a natural statistician. However, I don't think this necessarily puts me in a bad position as I feel (or at least hope!) it leads to me keeping such things simple and accessible - although having said that, much of what I've learnt to do in this field has been garnered from colleagues who are natural statisticians! In terms of tools to track progress, I have recently uploaded a few examples of SEN spreadsheet templates, using a basic model of 'traffic lighting' to provide at-a-glance indications on performance.

In addition to the above, I have recently spent two days at the University of Manchester delivering sessions to PGCE students on 'Teaching the Bottom Sets', focusing on classroom strategies to aid lower-attaining students. Next month, I will also be delivering a session on how to organise CPD in schools at a jam-packed SEN conference from Optimus Education.

Finally, in terms of my teaching commitment, I am currently developing a 'Private Peaceful' scheme of learning for Level 3 to 5 learners in English, focusing on higher-order reading & thinking skills. I am, as ever, indebted to those fellow teachers who share their resources freely online. I must also give a special mention to Rob Smith's Literacy Shed website - the 'War and Peace Shed' has many moving, highly-engaging resources and teaching ideas. I had a magic moment just this morning with some students listening intently to an interview with the late Harry Patch as we considered the emotional impact of first-person narrators on their audience compared to third-person narrators (I used a documentary clip, presented by Dan Snow, to aid the comparison). If readers want copies of the resources developed so far, please contact me directly as I have yet to share them online. I have also just finished using some resources, including homemade reading materials, to accompany the film 'There's Only One Jimmy Grimble' which teachers of lower-attaining English / literacy groups may find useful - again, contact me directly and I will happily provide copies.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Happy New Year!


This is just a quick post to send my best wishes to all users of the site for 2014 - particularly those who have got in touch over the past 12 months to express their support & encouragement, to seek advice, to offer tips & suggestions etc.

I haven't written a blog post for some time as I've been too busy with the day job and moving house - however, I have continued to upload a variety resources during spare moments. These include:
  • Vocab Rally Game - This vocabulary development activity, for use as a starter or filler task, was not entirely my idea but one I've adapted from an older resource a colleague kindly gave me.
  • School Stress Survey - This short assessment and mentoring activity was developed as part of some work I am undertaking to develop an early intervention programme for disengaged KS3 students. I think it could prove particularly useful for school refusers with 'autistic traits'.
  • Weekly SEAL Reflections - I continue to upload reflections I use with my form group on a week-to-week basis, with admittedly varied impact!
  • Forest Schools Scrapbook - This template, using PowerPoint, has proved very successful with the students I've been working with on a Forest Schools project. There are a couple of anonymised examples also included which students will benefit from seeing in terms of grasping the 'end product' they are working towards.
  • 'Cooking at Home' - As part of my current teaching commitment I am teaching cookery skills. The eventual aim is to link this in with an alternative vocational qualification. As ever, suggestions from those in the know are most welcome!
A major part of my role for this year is to review and, where necessary, improve use of data within my setting. Below is a presentation I created to 'set out my stall' in September 2013 - and have since reviewed and developed further one academic term into the job.



This is available for download from the TES and the Guardian Teacher Network

I also continue to keep my Twitter feed updated with interesting articles on education as and when I find them. 

Enjoy the year ahead!