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). 


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;