For ten days we have visitors to the university in Northampton from India. A group that includes students from our MA programme in Bangalore are with us for a series of workshops, seminars, school visits, and of course some social activities. For some this is their first time away from their homeland, whilst for others travel has become a regular part of their lives.
As hosts there is a natural anxiety that the arrangements made are comfortable to our guests whilst they visit a country which is in so many ways different from their own. Whilst matters of climate and costs are something over which we have no control, we have endeavoured to ensure that those associated with diet and social expectations are accommodated. We are aware that as visitors our Indian colleagues will be as keen not to transgress in matters of etiquette as we are as their hosts. The secret of success is to make them feel welcome and easy in our somewhat staid English company.
Yesterday as part of the programme arranged for our visitors we had a fairly informal meeting with a group of teachers, each of them a manager of special needs provision within a Northamptonshire mainstream school. These dedicated professionals carry a weight of responsibility for matters of assessment, planning and co-ordination of the learning of children with a diverse range of needs and abilities. In addition they provide advice to their teacher colleagues, many of whom may not have either the experience or in some instances commitment to children who may be perceived as “difficult” to teach. These English colleagues had given up their afternoon to join in a dialogue with teachers from India who have a similar focus on the needs of children, though working in a very different cultural and educational system.
My good colleague Mary managed the discussion with her usual professionalism and flair and before long these teachers were exchanging ideas and experiences. Mary’s dextrous identification of issues of common interest meant that the conversation flowed and before long everyone had the confidence to express their ideas and opinions. Teachers everywhere enjoy talking about their own experiences of working with children. Often they focus upon the challenges they face, but before long this invariably leads to an exchange of possible solutions through a comparison of approaches and strategies. In next to no time the common ground between colleagues was established and from the periphery of the discourse, I could observe much nodding and the occasional smile of approval.
The two groups of teachers, coming from different backgrounds and experiences soon realised that they had much in common. In their classrooms they experience similar attitudes, understanding and challenges. Furthermore they have at times come to similar conclusions about how these may best be addressed. Certainly there are significant differences between the contexts in which they work – I suspect that none of our English colleagues have managed classes of sixty or more pupils, as some of our Indian friends certainly have, and similarly Indian teachers were surprised by the level of expectation with regards to the monitoring and financial accountability for provision for children with special educational needs expected of their English counterparts. But far more than these differences was the common ground that these professionals shared.
A showing of materials and sharing of ideas provided food for thought and I am quite sure will have some influence on the future actions taken by these colleagues. This was a valuable experience for all. Time well spent and an opportunity for professional reflection that was clearly appreciated by the participants. In the hands of professionals such as these the security of the education for pupils who have often been overlooked or marginalised is most certainly assured. It was a pleasure for me to be able to learn from both English and Indian teachers at this event.