One of the things Gina said in her guest blog about Mac’s transition to school was:
“First term was very much about … settling in and literally giving the teachers and aides time to ‘learn how to drive Mac’.”
This is a very significant point when we are thinking about our child’s transition either to school or to high school. As Seefeldt and Wasik (2002) explain, teachers need to get to know the unique strengths and difficulties of their students to make adaptations so they can be included effectively in the classroom. And your child needs to adjust to the new adult or adults that will be a big part of their weekdays for the next phase of their life.
This will take time.
We also need to recognise that the process may take longer and be a little more difficult if your child is transitioning to an inclusive or mainstream classroom rather than a specialist one.
A note for teachers of inclusive classrooms
Including a child with different needs into your classroom can be a challenging task. But here are some things to think about that may help with the process.
1- Collaboration and teamwork
As teachers we are often used to working alone, having full control over what happens in our classrooms. However, when we include a child with a disability we need to be ready to listen, learn and adapt. We can learn a lot from parents about a child’s likes, dislikes, abilities and communication strategies. This is essential information to help us engage the child in the classroom.
We need to be open and willing to learn from specialist staff such as support teachers and speech therapists. For example, you may have a support teacher for integration who will be helping the child make the transition to school or high school. They may have some strategies and ideas for you to incorporate into your lessons. Working with them will play a significant part in helping the inclusion process successful.
Some children will have a teacher’s aide for a certain number of hours per week. Just remember that a teacher’s aide is not a trained teacher. You still have the primary responsibility for curriculum planning and assessment for the child, in collaboration with a learning support team. A teacher’s aide is there to assist you in the day to day implementation of the program and supervision of the child.
For both teachers and parents, Who's Going to Teach My Child is a useful document to help you become familiar with different types of services. It is a document written by the NSW Department of Education.
Attitudes play a very big part in the success of inclusion because there will be challenges and the road may be a bit bumpy at first. As teachers we need to retain the following:
- a recognition that it is the right of every parent and child to choose to be educated in an inclusive environment. This is called equal opportunity. You can read more about this in part 4 (p17) of the Disability Standards for Education 2005.
- a realistic, but optimistic view of our abilities. Know what support you can get, but also know that your skills as a teacher can be used for children of all abilities so long as we have a basic understanding of the child’s unique characteristics. This might involve reading about or going to an in-service course to learn about the disability the child has been diagnosed with.
- openness to and respect for ideas and information from parents and other support staff.
- a willingness to creatively and collaboratively problem-solve. This often means prioritising – dealing with one set of difficulties at a time, taking small steps to ensure you and the child are not overwhelmed.
- a sense of humour LoL
Helping teachers get to know a new student
Butt and Cosser (2004) discuss a program established by the Derby City Special Educational Needs Support Service for children transitioning to school. One of the strategies they used to help teachers get to know students with special needs who were transitioning into their classroom was a personal passport.
They stated that these passports could be in the form of a simple notebook, or a small pocket photo album. The smaller, the better as this could mean that a teacher can carry it around and show it to all other teachers and staff who will need to interact with the child on the playground, in the library, on assembly, at the canteen and so on.
The elements of this passport included:
Child’s name and title page – a photo can ensure easy recognition by school staff as they work on the playground etc.
Important things about me – This information is important to ensure health and safety issues are addressed, or staff are aware of things that could help calm a child if they are upset.
Family and friends – again, photos might be helpful. Identifying siblings or peers attending the school who know the child is important in helping the child settle in and feel safe in their new environment.
Things that make me happy and how I show you
Things that may upset or frighten me and how I show you
What I need to help me understand what you are saying
Systems of communication – These four elements are about understanding the triggers and functions of the child’s behaviour. For many children this is essential information to assist in preventing explosive behaviour or melt-downs. It can be a key tool in ensuring a peaceful, smooth-running day. Being able to effectively communicate with a child is essential, so we need to understand if they have different ways of communicating.
Things I am learning to do by myself
Things that are rewards for me - knowing the student’s abilities and strengths give the teacher a starting point for working with the child. It ensures that they have realistic but high expectations for the child. It also means that they will use rewards that the child will respond to, the only really effective reward.
A profile of the child is often developed by a learning support team and presented in different formats. However, we need to ensure that the information in the profile is presented to all the people who need to know, is positive and not labelling or demeaning the child, and is easy to read.
That is perhaps why a personal passport has become so widely used in some countries/counties. It has all these characteristics. It can also be adapted for any age group (below is an example from http://www.allenshea.com/AllStatesPassport.pdf). And it is something that a teacher could do with a whole class if they wanted to do a get-to-know-you exercise to promote empathy and inclusive behaviour.
Helping a student get to know their teacher
As with the familiarisation with the physical setting, photos are one of the most effective tools to help children identify and get to know their new teachers (Butt and Cosser, 2004).
As soon as you chose a school, start developing a photo book of the important adults your child will need to get used to and trust. You might not know who your child’s teacher may be – sometimes the school doesn’t know until the final sorting of enrolments just before school starts. So start with people like the principal. Then, as soon as you find out who they are, add the child’s teacher and teacher’s aide.
If your child is going to a mainstream high school, they will need to get to know a range of teachers. One way of helping your child recognise their teachers, when they will be interacting with them etc is by using photos, folders and colour-coding.
For example, Mr Sims is your child’s Maths teacher. You have a red folder for Maths. On the child’s timetable, Maths is coloured in red. Just inside the front cover of the Maths folder, stick a small photo of Mr Sims. If your child has good literacy skills and has met the teacher before, then a photo may not be important. It may just be a matter of writing the teacher’s name inside the folder with the times and rooms where Maths occurs.
Meeting the teacher
Try to set up meetings between your child and their teacher before the school year starts. Most schools have orientation visits – but one visit may not be enough. And in many cases the Kindergarten teacher will change from year to year. So orientation visits to the classroom will help the child experience the environment, but won’t necessarily help them get to know their teacher.
So, if your child is transitioning to school, along with the photo book you should try to set up meetings between your child and their teacher before they attend school. You might ask to visit the playground when they are on playground duty. You might ask to visit their classroom, even if they are not teaching Kindergarten that year. And, hopefully, the teacher should be invited to any meetings you have with the school to discuss your child’s transition so that you can get to know them as well.
The transition to high school is a bit different due to the range of staff that might be working with your child. So it is best to find a staff member who can be a mentor for your child. For example, the year advisor. This staff member is responsible for the pastoral care of a particular grade. If, on meeting this staff member, you can see that your child is going to respond well to them, then they may be a great mentor for your child.
A teacher-mentor can be someone to whom your child can go whenever they are feeling uncomfortable. So it would be important to:
- Set up a few informal meetings between your child and the staff member before the school year starts. That staff member may be the one who helps to show the child around the school.
- If possible, supply your child with that staff member’s timetable or a way your child can find them whenever needed once school starts. For example, it may be agreed that your child goes to the front office when they need help, and the administration staff contact or help the child find the teacher-mentor. This procedure would need to be discussed and perhaps clarified in a note supplied to the staff working in the administration office.
So, in conclusion, helping children get to know their teachers and visa versa is again about starting as soon as you can, using photos, sharing information and recognising that there will be a period of time that will be a bit “bumpy” as everyone gets used to each other.
Butt, A., and Cosser, C. (2004). Supporting transition: Preschool setting into first placement. In M. Blamires and J. Moore (Eds), Support Services and Mainstream Schools, p 68-77. David Fulton Publishers: London.
Seefeldt, C. and Wasik, B.A. (2002). Kindergarten: Fours and Fives go to School. Merrill Prentice Hall: Ohio