This story occurred when I was the SENDco in school. It seems very obvious now, but as always, we don't know what we don't know. This insight was a game changer in addressing some unfortunate misconceptions as well creating a school that had increased empathy and a desire to make more of a difference. When schools question why a child hasn't read at home or doesn't return their homework, it may be worth taking a moment to consider this.
If you can understand the home lives of the children that you teach, then you stand a pretty good chance of helping them to achieve.
It was a wet and bleak afternoon and I was running my usual phonics session. I had designed a full catch-up program that was designed to ensure that those who needed it, could receive some critical and intensive intervention. This was a particularly lovely session because for each child, I had asked their parents to attend, which they did without fail. The assumption would be that they would then be able to support them at home. We also had tea and biscuits served by the children at the interval
'Creating weekly sessions like this can be a great way of strengthening relationships and outcomes, but let's not be fooled, it's not easy. There's a lot more to be done beforehand to successfully gather the right turnout. Many parents would avoid this invitation for obvious reasons.'
As the children became more proficient, the group gradually whittled down so that I could focus on a smaller group. After a couple of terms, I was left with 3 children and their mothers. We'd spent quite a lot of time together, and for this reason know each other well.
'As we talked and worked together, the dynamics were changing. The parents were beginning to look forwards to this. This was becoming a highlight of their week. It's incredible to be able to offer this to the community because parents like nothing more than to spend time in school alongside their child.'
We had one particular session, where we made some learning resources together. I gave some simple instructions to enable the adults to successfully support.
And then I spotted it. I was beginning to learn much more about the big picture. And in the many years to come, this would be an issue that I became increasingly aware of in our school and our community.
In our great little afternoon sessions, It was not just the children that I had been teaching how to read.
The WIN / WIN
The history of our school was particularly troubled. When I had arrived, the windows were often smashed, many children and families had little regard and we were in special measures. Opportunities like this make a big difference to the perception of what goes on inside and who the teachers really are. Our school vision became rooted not only around life chances but how we could help every family become stronger.
In school you have to have an accurate understanding of the families that you serve. You have to know your context. It sounds simple, but if staff drive into school from elsewhere, teach and go home, that is not the same as knowing what goes on within the community. Schools have to be outwards facing, which is not always natural with an intrinsic standards driven agenda. The more we know, the more we can do.
The value that was placed on the school was changing in our community. As our families got to know us better, their regard and respect increased. The knock effect of this is that this becomes instilled in their children and the school begins to regain status. In any failing school, this is the number one job.