Since the beginning of 2019, Beckenham Te Kura o Pūroto (a name gifted by Ngāi Tahu to Beckenham School) has been developing a pilot project in partnership with the Resource Teachers: Learning and Behaviour (RTLB) to enhance inclusive practice. They wanted to ensure that schoolwide practices and classroom programmes respond to students’ different needs, skills, interests and cultures.
Beckenham Te Kura o Pūroto has a history of being inclusive, with two satellite classes of Ferndale School on site. The seeds of the inclusion project were sown when teachers and management noticed an increase in the number and variety of diverse learners. The school needed access to expert support to help teachers analyse behaviour and identify learner needs and patterns across the school to support appropriate PLD (professional learning development), says Principal Sandy Hastings.
“We had a number of referrals to the RTLB service and recognised that we were struggling to meet the needs of children who think differently and behave differently. We recognised a long time ago that it’s not the kids who need fixing, it’s the way we are teaching that needs to change – that’s fundamental.
“We recognise that a lot of these children are quite able and they are disengaging; struggling or overwhelmed by the way school operates and learning happens. It’s not working for them, so we thought – how can we do it differently so that we’re not putting in referral after referral to RTLB? We said: ‘Wouldn’t it be amazing if we had an RTLB here? We could just pick their brains in the moment to help’,” says Sandy.
Engaging every student
Beckenham Te Kura o Pūroto set out to support teachers and increase their knowledge and skills. The first step was to submit an individual school referral to the RTLB for an RTLB (Lynne Hazeldine) to be at the school for half a day a week. Then a diverse learners’ team with representatives from senior leadership and each teaching team was set up.
Jo Smith is the leader of the diverse learners’ team and says the application was made to the RTLB service to help the school become more responsive and proactive.
“Traditionally when you use the service, you put in a referral for a child or group of children and go through that whole process. The project means we have the benefit of an RTLB at school for half a day a week which best meets the needs of Beckenham staff and tamariki,” she says.
“We have now shown that you can make a difference for a child through a half hour observation followed by a facilitated conversation. Lynne would talk through her observations and suggest strategies with teachers in the team. They would implement something the next day and find things working. What was working for one often had a spin-off effect for other children as well,” Jo adds.
RTLB supports and mentors staff
RTLB Lynne now spends half a day a week observing children, mentoring and coaching teachers and facilitating workshops and PLD for teachers and teacher assistants.
“We kept putting our heads together and saying: ‘what are we missing?’,” says Sandy. “Because we know things aren’t right, but it’s really difficult for a teacher when you have 25 kids in front of you and one isn’t engaging. Whereas someone sitting on the side can observe or do a running record with a child and say something like: ‘what I noticed was that they are listening but not looking at you’.
“Lynne brings a toolkit of ideas which she has seen tried and successful in many places. Often our teachers know 50 per cent of them already but they forget because they aren’t using them regularly enough. Sometimes it’s just about jogging people’s memories and having those conversations,” Sandy says.
Seeking best outcomes for students
While the referral rate has decreased, Lynne says it is the outcomes that give the best indication of the project’s success. She credits the senior leadership team’s commitment and belief in inclusive practice and its outcomes for diverse learners.
“If you increase outcomes for students, you are going to decrease things like referrals, stand-downs and attendance will improve. If a child is succeeding and feeling happy at school, they want to be here!” Lynne says.
Lynne first became involved at Beckenham in 2017 with a cohort of boys with diverse needs and says she is seeing a huge change for that group of students.
“It’s just a matter of checking in. A teacher might say: ‘I tried something and it was great, or that didn’t work so well and then it’s a matter of saying ‘OK what can we do? Can we change it a little bit? Do we need to give it a bit more time?’ We’re all problem solving – I’m not telling them what to do,” says Lynne.
Following a redesign and rebuild of the school, teachers now work in collaborative hubs with between two and five classes in each. This means that all teachers in the hub share responsibility for students with diverse needs and can share their collective wisdom and expertise, as well as having team meetings with Lynne on a regular basis.
Jo says the collaborative approach results in increased awareness and many strategies and solutions. “In one group there was a lot of sensory stuff going on, so it was introducing things like using a weighted blanket to calm the child; using headphones to eliminate background noise; finding a space within the setting they felt comfortable being in; removing objects that might flitter and float around the classroom – so, identifying triggers. There was lots of learning around sensory needs,” she says.
All of the management team and staff at Beckenham Te Kura o Pūroto are committed to building flexibility and responsiveness to the needs of all students, which has resulted in them improving their practice on a daily basis.
Deputy Principal Sue Leadbetter is also the school’s SENCO and says there are no ‘naughty children’ at Beckenham.
“They are trying to communicate something by their behaviour and it’s our job to find out what they are communicating and why, and what we can put in place to help.”
Jo says growing inclusive practice means supporting students to identify what they need and how they can access it.
“Such as, for a student to be able to co-construct their timetable with the teacher, including set times during the day where they can work independently on a passion or special interest project.”
Sandy adds that they have seen a cohort of kids who were previously prone to “meltdowns” become calmer over time.
“We have kids who are calmer and more engaged because we get there together. It’s not us telling them how they have to fit in because the teacher has got 25 kids and so has to organise it in a ‘way that works for me’. It’s about ‘what do you need and how can we meet somewhere collaboratively so you engage in the task that I would really like you to engage with and be able to do it in a way that works for you?’” says Sandy.
Support for teachers
The collaborative approach to inclusive practice means that trends can be identified and acted on, with staff meetings, workshops and ‘in the moment’ mentoring and PLD. A resource bank is being compiled which contains strategies already identified and implemented, which every teacher can access for children who show similar behaviours.
“There’s the specific PLD – our staff-run sessions – and I think it’s about ongoing development. Our staff feel safe to chat with Lynne over a coffee – or she might offer a resource or suggest a video clip. You’re not attending a course in isolation and bringing back what you learnt, but learning from the day-to-day moments,” Jo says.
Empowering teaching assistants
Beckenham Te Kura o Pūroto has also invested in the school’s teaching assistants who support students with challenges to overcome.
“We had a teacher-only day recently and Lynne and an RTLB colleague, Cath Barrie, ran a workshop for our teaching assistants, based on commonalities that Lynne had observed, to equip them with strategies,” says Jo.
“Teaching assistants are now more confident in how to approach a situation or the learning and feel empowered and upskilled. Relationships are now much stronger because they aren’t going into battle and are working alongside the child,” adds Sandy.
Without adequate preparation, some diverse learners can be thrown into a spin by a relieving teacher.
“For some children, their reaction to a relief teacher might be: ‘I wasn’t expecting this and you don’t know me and my experience of new people is they don’t get me’. Within three seconds of seeing the reliever, the whole day has turned to custard for some of these kids. We do a lot of front loading – if a teacher knows they are going to be away they will set all the kids up – it’s keeping things as predictable as possible,” Sandy explains.
The school also has folders for relievers which include information about specific children. “It’s all strengths-based, for example, a strategy that might help one child is having a desk to work at (not every child has a desk) but we have learned that works for him. With this information, everyone’s day will go much better,” Sandy explains.
Challenges and successes
The team at Beckenham agree they are already seeing benefits from growing inclusive practices.
“Our big challenge is to ensure the sustainability of this and how do we keep this wonderful practice going, flourishing and embedded? With new people coming on, what does induction look like in relation to that?” Sue says.
“It’s really been about building on that philosophy of inclusion and making sure that every child who comes in our door, whether they come with additional needs, challenging behaviour, a smile on their face or not, is made to feel equally welcome.”
Beckenham Te Kura o Pūroto was aware there were students who were not fully engaging in activities such as school trips because there were too many ‘unknowns’, so they developed ‘social stories’. Prior to a trip, teachers will compile a slideshow of photographs and text – an information story which shows what to expect.
“The slideshow shows ‘this is what it’s going to look like, sound like and feel like’. We are giving them some reassurance about what to expect and it’s amazing,” says Deputy Principal Sue Leadbetter. “The teachers noticed there was one boy not going on trips and if he did, he wasn’t participating at all. After the team had used the social story about the trip, he was fully engaged with the group, which had never happened before and he was asking questions and really getting involved.
“Once these strategies are embedded in your practice, it becomes automatic. With the social stories, we can reuse some of the stories and just tweak them a bit,” Sue says.
Embedding inclusive practices
Beckenham Te Kura o Pūroto wants to embed their inclusive practices, make them sustainable and ensure information is widely shared and passed on. They are taking a number of steps:
- Developed more depth to their inclusion and support register, which now contains all the information about students’ learning support needs.
- Used New Zealand Council of Educational Research’s (NZCER) Inclusive Practices Toolkit and Wellbeing Survey to get a snapshot of student voice. The two sets of data were cross-checked, providing a powerful picture that identified trends and informed the initiatives that are being implemented.
- Used the Inclusive Practices Toolkit. This focuses on practices, systems and structures, rather than disabilities, and has enabled Beckenham Te Kura o Pūroto to promote the idea that inclusion applies to all students and that diversity is a resource for learning.
- Engaged NZCER to unpack the Wellbeing Survey results and advise them on how to use the Toolkit to help identify trends.
- School-provided staff release to plan schoolwide actions and respond to the data analysis.
- Use of social stories across the school to ensure all children and whānau are well-informed and able to be included.