Sunday, 10 March 2013

Time to eradicate the R-word, and others

Working in a number of educational settings over the years, I have witnessed various initiatives to try reduce what we teachers tend to call 'inappropriate language'. By this we usually mean typical words classed as 'swearing' and from there, this has also included words with racist and sexist connotations. Recently Ofsted have also focused on how schools address language with homophobic connotations, particularly habitually used words such as 'gay' as a way to describe something at fault, to be disapproved of etc.
As an SEN / SpLD teacher, one of my bugbears is hearing students casually using words such as 'retard', 'mong' and 'downie'. Students use these words for a variety of reasons, often in a jovial way to describe a friend who has made a silly mistake, made a funny slip of the tongue etc. However, they also use it as a 'put down' during more heated banter and outright conflict. When you talk one-to-one with the student using the word, and explain in blunt terms its history and what they are implying by using it, they are without fail remorseful and commit to avoiding it in future.
In addition, on occasion I have had conversations with parents over the past ten years who - usually without actually saying these words - have basically said they don't want their child undertaking specialist assessment and/or receiving extra support on the basis they might end up labelled in such a way. Again, there is a need to talk this through and challenge the stereotypes.

This trend isn't new and we are perhaps all guilty. I certainly remember in my own childhood words such as 'spaz' and 'flid' being used commonly on the primary school playground, with some children going further to imitate disabled people. Another stand out memory of mine was around the time when The Spastics Society changed their name to Scope and a student attempted to call a classmate 'scopey' as an insult, and then had to explain what it meant when other classmates looked on confused. What also stands out at that point was how the entire secondary classroom, on realising what he was saying, then responded to him with disgust for this 'witty innovation'.
So I do think perceptions of disability are gradually changing for the better. I think this is partly due to greater inclusion in schools, with more children with disability attending mainstream schools or attending an SEN school situated alongside a mainstream school. I have worked closely with a colleague at a BSF school set up in this way and she certainly feels the day-to-day presence of children, often with more severe disability, has helped create a much more caring, understanding culture in her school.  I also think the London Paralympics last summer went a long way in challenging stereotypes and I have witnessed a notable decline in students using such words since then.
The reason why I write this blog tonight is because I have just come across this well-written article, 'One Word Parents Never Want To Hear Again', via my Twitter feed which in turns points to the 'Spread the Word to End the Word' campaign (sponsored by the Special Olympics and taking place around New York, I think) which is looking to end the common use of 'retard'. It's a campaign that Ofsted and other educational bodies in the UK would do well to replicate here. It might seem a bit Orwellian to try proactively change language but I do think the opening gambit on the campaign website answers this:
"The R-word is the word 'retard(ed)'. Why does it hurt? The R-word hurts because it is exclusive. It's offensive. It's derogatory.
Our campaign asks people to pledge to stop saying the R-word as a starting point toward creating more accepting attitudes and communities for all people.

Language affects attitudes and attitudes affect actions. Pledge today to use respectful, people-first language."

If we are to change entrenched attitudes and practices, then words are a good starting point.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Going beyond the usual boxes, with an English footballer and American football coach

I haven't blogged much recently - this is purely down to other commitments taking over during my evenings and weekends, not least resource development.

However, there are a number of interesting articles and news items I have come across recently, bookmarking them for when I have a spare moment to share them with readers of this blog.

Firstly there is 'It shouldn't be one or the other: why wellbeing and academic success should be considered together', by Anne Trethewey. This article looks at initiatives undertaken by Greenwich Free School to develop both academic success and emotional well-being amongst their students, not as mutually exclusive areas of development but as areas integrally dependent on one another. I am currently working on a project within my own setting to help us to identify, target and track the development of aspects of learner self-esteem amongst our more vulnerable students and found this article to be encouraging.

Secondly there is 'Is it ADHD or anxiety? How adults are diagnosed', by Monica Robins. This fairly in-depth news item from US broadcaster WKYC-TV looks at ADHD amongst adults and raises the question of whether societal conditions are causing anxiety which is then mistook for ADHD. I think this has relevance to current trends and patterns within secondary schools - and relates again to the question of how we promote emotional well-being alongside academic success in our settings.

The final article I have found worthwhile to reflect upon is 'How Rodwell changed car, house and pillows to beat injury', from Eurosport. Although this does not relate directly to SEN or to education in general, I think this inspiring story highlights the importance of thinking holistically when looking at how we seek to develop our students - and with regard to students who encounter difficulty with their learning, again how we often need to seek to move beyond a linear problem-solution approach. I have recently been dipping in and out of a fantastic book called 'The Discipline Coach' by Jim Roberson which places, as the title suggests, great emphasis on establishing a larger concept of 'study as a self-discipline' within schools (and homes) rather than  focusing on narrower descriptive labels such as 'challenging behaviour' or 'learning difficulties'. 

In terms of the resources I'm working on, I'll share these in due course - I'm still very much at the develop and pilot stage.