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Creating effective relationships with external SEND experts

Discussion in 'Special educational needs' started by JulesDaulby, Aug 20, 2016.

  1. JulesDaulby

    JulesDaulby Occasional commenter

    What experts do you have visiting your school? How do you maximise the impact they can make in the short time they visit the school? Should you be led by them or do you need to take the lead? What happens if you disagree?

    I once had a trainee psychiatrist tell me that it would help the student she was supporting if we made his lessons more fun and chunked the questions. It was towards the end of the school year and I'm afraid I was a little irritated by this advice and did not take it well. I'm not proud of my reaction but, as a previous SEN advisory teacher for the Local Authority, it made me cross that, having had no prior interaction with the school, she thought this was acceptable advice to give. As an outside expert it is not only imperative that you have excellent subject knowledge but it is expected to have done homework on the school.

    This was one bad experience however compared to many excellent external experts who I've worked with in schools. Just before the end of last term, our NHS Speech and Language Therapy Service gave a full day's training to our TAs which was excellent and well received. We buy in a SENSS advisor for a day a week who works with students with poor literacy and supports an HLTA with teaching programmes to be delivered. She also monitors students' progress every sixth months which is excellent data for school.

    Here are my top tips for working with external agencies:
    • Treat with respect (I don't advise my short tempered response!)
    • If possible, give them a decent room which will be undisturbed
    • Allow them to make themselves tea and coffee without waiting to be asked
    • If you are busy, ensure someone is available should they have questions
    • Get your paperwork done - there is nothing more frustrating than having to cancel an appointment due to no signature etc
    • Be clear on what is expected - you may be happy for them to advise and schedule their time accordingly or you may prefer to be more in control - each school is different so it is important they understand how you like to work
    • Use their advice - this may seem obvious but I have seen many reports filed away without disseminating first
    • Say if you don't understand what they are telling you - if you don't then it is unlikely parents or mainstream teachers will

    I would like to hear from others on the best way to work with outside agencies.
    Jayasimpson likes this.
  2. ClearAutism

    ClearAutism New commenter

    I know this is an old post, but over 7k views and no responses *at all*?
    As an external SEN consultant, I found this comment intriguing. What exactly would you expect people from outside the school to know? How could they acquire this knowledge ("do homework")?

    From the other side, here are my suggestions:

    I agree you should be clear on expectations. It's also worth remembering that although the expert may have a lot of specific knowledge they do not have a magic wand. Make sure those expectations are realistic.

    They have been called in for a reason, and quite possibly at some expense. Whether or not you agree with their opinions or ideas, it is surely worth giving them a try before dismissing them out of hand.

    Remember the aim is to support a child who is struggling. Everyone should be working towards that goal, not trying to find fault with the other stakeholders whether those are parents, other professionals or the child themselves. You'd be surprised (or perhaps you wouldn't) how quickly an unproductive "blame game" can develop.
  3. Dodros

    Dodros Star commenter

    Yes, we all know how crucial teamwork is when planning and implementing special educational provision. What is paramount is effective collaboration among all stakeholders for the sake of the vulnerable child. The school where I spent my entire teaching career and the SEN department where I still provide voluntary administrative help in retirement have been very fortunate to be served by some excellent professionals from outside agencies, including educational psychologists, occupational therapists, speech and language therapists, audiologists and visual impairment experts. Every one of them has taken trouble to build good relationships with the school and its own SEN professionals, listening to what we have to say as well as offering advice and hard data to underpin the problem-solving and decison-making that determine the way forward.

    Each stakeholder brings an expertise and unique knowledge to the process, but it is the final consensus among all of them that ultimately matters if the child's interests are to be served. My secondary school's experienced EP has proved his worth again and again by sharing what he has found out from student interviews and complementing his conclusions with feedback from the SENCO, This EP worked in both primary and secondary school sectors (he was a former primary school teacher himself) and was fully aware of the different ethos each sector offered. Sadly, not all EPs are as good as he is and he once mentioned a new arrival to the EP service who was more interested in getting time off to earn a doctorate than visiting students in schools. Any chain is only as good as its weakest link!

    If I were to give any advice to outside agencies it would be:

    1. Please make your reports available in electronic format so it's easy to copy and paste key sections into emails to teaching staff.
    2. Please take time to share your thoughts about a child verbally and informally with the SENCO and, if possible, with the child's TA, who may have unique insights thart could shape or even change your conclusions.
    3. Please put yourself in the position of a busy classroom practitioner and offer constructive advice that is classroom-ready and non-judgemental. In my experience, children with learning difficulties want lessons to be more explanatory, not more entertaining.
    4. Teachers and TAs have day-to-day contact with the children you have come to assess. Listen to what they have to say and try and reach a consensus with them about the way forward.
    5. It is your job not only to assess the child but to interpret your findings to benefit the educators, the parents and the child. Never blind with science!

    As for the conduct of schools towards external agencies:

    1. Maximise the time available to you when the outside professional calls. Make time to see them in advance of the student interview and make time to meet them afterwards too.
    2. Be honest with them and don't expect their involvement to lead to miracles. Ask them to elaborate on their recommendations and tell them if the expect what seems impossible to deliver.
    3. Ensure Heads of Year have access to outside agencies too. They often only see the "bad behaviour" side of a child with SEN and they need to understand the causes of the misconduct, not just the results.
    4. Make sure the professional has quiet accommodation and strict rules of non-interruption are set in place. Valuable office space may be lost in the process, but the outcome will make up for the inconvenience.
    5. Try to maintain a "collegial" and if possible a friendly relationship with the outside agency. I've noticed that most outside professionals really put themselves out for school staff when they know same staff aren't calling "Wolf" but have genuine worries.

    There's my two cents' worth.
    Bumptious and ClearAutism like this.
  4. dzil

    dzil Occasional commenter

    This is a tricky one, I think mutual respect is the main requirement.
    Dodros makes some excellent points here. I would expect that the visiting professional should have at least some knowledge of the ethos of the school, it's time table and higherarchy.
    Points 3 and 4 are particularly important. We spend a lot of time with the student in a school environment. We see them daily. They may behave very differently in a one to one assessment with someone who has only met them a couple of times, or when there is an extra, new adult in the class observing them. Our insights can help.
    Especially, please remember that teachers are trained professionals. We may not have expertise in your field, but we are experts in education. Please don't talk down to us. Try to respect our knowledge as you would like us to respect yours. We do know what can and can't be realistically done in the classroom. Much as I would like to, I just can't spend 10 minutes a lesson working one to one with a student following your agenda, but I may be able to incorporate your agenda and targets into my teaching.
    If classes change according to timetable, be aware of the lesson changes and break times. Not just to avoid the corridor mayhem but also the problem of the pupil in a strange part of a large building with no friendly classmate to follow on the way to the next class. (you'd be surprised how many need to follow the correct heard even after being in school a long time).
    If the session goes over two lessons, or runs over make sure that the second teacher knows that the student will be missing legitimately. Also don't catch a student "on spec" on their way up the stairs to the next class. I've wasted hours and valuable support looking for a vulnerable missing pupil just to find that they have been with a professional all along.
    Most of this should have been sorted by the SENCo or admin staff in advance, but not always. Don't rely on a student friend to pass on a message. They may remember, we may believe them, but there is no guarantee. Let the admin people or the SENCo or whoever you report to in school know.
    The busy classroom teacher will find it hard to "just pop in (or out) for a chat" or have an external professional attempt to talk to them when they are teaching. I'm always amazed that I am regularly expected to do this. I am usually happy to give up my break or some of lunch time when needed, but please bear in mind I need that break, I need a lunch and I have a classroom to prepare and I have to be ready when the students arrive - two minutes later won't do. Sadly this is not always understood.
    Sorry this sounds all one sided or a bit like a teacher moaning. However, I'm only able to say what I need as a teacher, not having been the visiting professional for over 30 years I can not presume to understand what they may need.
    Visiting professionals are invaluable, those of us in schools have a long way to go to ensure teamwork works. It is really is the schools responsibility to facilitate that,not the visitors.
    Bumptious, mailmenownew and Dodros like this.
  5. mailmenownew

    mailmenownew New commenter

    Excellent article!
  6. thoward_a37

    thoward_a37 New commenter

    This thread has been of interest as I have just stepped out of the classroom to become a Resource Teacher for Learning and Behavior (RTLB). I started my teaching career in England, taught in Specialist Schools in Scotland and have spent the past 7 years teaching in New Zealand. The unique role of an RTLB involves working in partnership with teachers in schools, so effectively I have become an external agent.
    A referral is made to our service and we then go through a very specified practice sequence to support teachers and students or in some cases there may be a school wide concern. The main focus is upon inclusive practice and we are strengths based agency, where the overarching remit is to observe the instructional environment rather than solely focusing upon student deficits. This as you can imagine requires a great deal of diplomacy.
    As I have recently left the classroom I am very aware of the pressures upon teachers. I have spent the past 15 years in Special Education so have worked collaboratively with many external agencies. The vast majority of contact and support has been excellent and my teaching practice has grown with such support and advice. I have always viewed support as a growth opportunity, even if the outcome has not been successful - you acquire a sense of what will be good intervention.

    Many of the comments within this thread are valid. I have however noted that my first task when I start an assigned case, is to build a connection with the class teacher or teachers. The sense of defensiveness is quite high when you engage with some teachers. Reassurance, that you are not there to judge is paramount. As I am 'fresh from the classroom' so to speak, so I am very aware that someone coming in to observe and evaluate your instructional environment, your inclusive practice, your relationship and your engagement rate with a child or children can be very intimidating, especially if you are struggling with a behavioral issue.

    As an RTLB we look at the concern from a holistic view point and approach the situation with Teacher Agency in mind. We are looking to engage in reflective practice with teachers and SENCO's or whole school staff. We can assign funding for TA support, Teacher release or Teacher PD, so we need to have an in depth understanding of the teaching environment especially in relation to ensuring effective inclusive intervention for children and students. Our accountability is high, (as with all funding agencies) so we need great collaboration and sometimes this includes tactful difficult discussions related to instructional environments.
    Stepping out of the classroom and becoming an external agent has given me great insight in to the complexities of a agency role. You have to work very hard to build trust and gain an honest insight in to classroom practice. We all think we are doing the best we can, but sometimes the pressures of the classroom can cloud over perspective. I am in a privileged position, which allows me to step back and observe a working classroom environment and provide non judgmental feedback to feed teacher reflection.
    I think my main view is that effective collaboration is build on mutual respect for our individual roles, and honest discussions and reflection are paramount to successful outcomes.
    Difficult conversations have to become part of our PD and it sometimes takes someone from the outside to ignite true reflection!
    Bumptious likes this.
  7. minnie me

    minnie me Star commenter

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