Euphemism cannot hide the desperate plight of some children

Is this an acceptable face of collateral damage?

Is this an acceptable face of collateral damage?

I receive regular email updates from an organisation named Team Around the Child (TAC). These often provide useful information about new publications or events related to children with special educational needs, or those living in difficult circumstances. The TAC newsletter and other resources are managed by a man named Peter Limbrick. I have never met Peter, but certainly feel some affinity to his ideas and the commitment that he has given to keeping the needs of children and families in focus for all who care to listen to what he has to say.

Peter Limbrick is often referred to as an activist, working on behalf of children with disabilities and their families, and inevitably at times this places him in opposition, and even conflict with those authorities and policy makers who he perceives to be falling short of delivering effective support and services. Such campaigners are, in my opinion, essential if we are to avoid complacency with regards to the rights of children.

I usually find something of interest in the TAC newsletter, and when one arrived in my inbox yesterday I was not disappointed by its contents. I have made a note to seek out the details of a new DVD about the use of intensive interaction from Dave Hewett, which may well provide a useful teaching resource, and I forwarded details of a forthcoming conference on autism spectrum disorders to be held in New Orleans to some of my colleagues. As a source of such information, this newsletter is always welcome and I have on several occasions accessed useful teaching materials from this much appreciated newsletter.

Whilst the information contained in this latest edition was welcome, it was an item titled Collateral Damage – A Sorry Little Phrase, that grabbed my attention. Rather than announcing a new publication or resource, or highlighting a course or conference opportunity, this link took me to a personal reflection from Peter Limbrick which could well provide a useful source for debate. Limbrick opens this brief piece by stating that:

“The term ‘collateral damage’ is trotted out to make the death or damage of innocent people in conflict zones seem like an unfortunate inevitability. We are invited to think it is much the same as infirmity with old age and disturbed nights with a new baby. We don’t like it but we are persuaded it has to happen”.

He continues the article by suggesting that whenever there is armed conflict it is invariably the most vulnerable and innocent members of society who suffer most. He provides a harrowing example of a five year old child killed in a bombing raid, despite the fact that she and her family had no direct part to play in the conflict that brought about her early death, other than that of being yet another victim.

Limbrick suggests that by using the term collateral damage we are in fact accepting that such tragedies are an acceptable and inevitable part of life for families in war zones. The ways in which we define this term are almost always euphemistic, but Peter Limbrick offers an alternative view in which he suggests that we could well understand collateral damage as meaning

  • Parents who had children and now do not
  • Children who had parents but are now orphaned
  • Youngsters who had all four limbs and now have to manage without some of them
  • Babies, children, teenagers, adults and elderly people who had a complete brain and now have some of it missing
  • People whose skin used to be soft and smooth and is now burned all over and painful
  • Families broken apart, traumatised and displaced
  • Girls and boys who could see, hear, play, talk and sing – but now cannot

This is a chilling list, but sadly it is one that seems wholly appropriate at a time when I am sure children and families in many parts of the world are living in fear as their homes and communities find themselves in the front line of conflict. The debate about military action in Syria held in the UK Parliament last week was certainly to the forefront of my mind as I read Peter Limbrick’s words.

Peter Limbrick’s item in the TAC newsletter is brief and stark. I am sure that it could provide a useful stimulus for further debate, I am equally sure that it will ruffle more than a few feathers. Being located amongst other articles that provide a positive perspective on how greater support can be afforded to  children and families experiencing difficulties, I am struck by the juxtaposition of hope and despair on a page. Let us hope that the former overcomes the latter.

 

 

Caution lethal cane users on the loose!

 

Mobility aid or lethal weapon?

Mobility aid or lethal weapon?

When I first read a story in yesterday’s newspapers about a visually impaired girl being banned from using her white cane in school I thought that it must be some kind of spoof article. Blind and visually impaired people have been using white canes as an aid to their mobility since 1921, when a photographer named James Biggs from Bristol lost his sight following an accident. Biggs became alarmedwhen dealing with traffic around the city, and therefore painted his walking stick white to be more easily visible. Gradually this approach was adopted by more individuals and organisations, and has now become a common feature that is easily recognised as an indication that the user has limited vision. Users of the white cane, (sometimes referred to as a long cane), receive training from mobility officers and find that this simple device enables them to maintain a degree of independence.

Over many years I have encountered numerous users of white canes and cannot say that I have ever been fearful for my safety or anxious that I was about to be injured by the individuals involved. I was therefore taken aback to hear that seven year old Lily-Grace Hooper has been banned from using her essential mobility aid, by the head teacher of a primary school which she attends, located ironically in the city of Bristol!

Having read a little around this topic, I have found that indeed there have been occasional accidents involving individuals tripping over the white cane used by a visually impaired person. However, it would appear that in relation to the number of individuals using this particular aid to mobility, accidents are few and far between. Indeed, it seems that in schools where children have been using these devices, students soon become aware of the user and get used to the idea that more space may be required by their classmate. Reports of accidents in schools caused by users of the white cane may be out there somewhere, but they have as yet evaded me.

I once had the experience of being run into by a teacher who was a wheelchair user in a school in London. No serious damage was done to either myself or the wheelchair. As is usually the case in polite English society I apologised profusely for having impeded the wheelchair user’s pathway, whilst she similarly begged forgiveness for having crashed into the back of my legs. I am quite sure that such collisions between able bodied teachers, colleagues and students happen every day. I certainly was not inclined to call for a ban upon wheelchairs in schools, recognising that minor events such as that which I had experienced are bound to happen from time to time.

It is to be hoped that Lily-Grace Hooper’s situation can be quickly resolved. I understand that the anticipated accidents that might have been caused by this pupil have not yet occurred, and that as yet there is not a queue of ambulances lined up at the school gates. Common sense would suggest that having a child who is a white cane user in school provides opportunities for the whole school community to learn about the needs of Lily-Grace, and that she will be able to experience what it means to be welcomed and included in school. However, I sometimes find that common sense is not quite as common a commodity as we might expect.

I would like to ask the head teacher of this Bristol primary school why not try to do something original to assist children with this unique learning opportunity? Perhaps they could take it in turns to be blindfolded and with the aid of a cane – white or otherwise, find their way about the classroom in order to make suggestions of how the environment could be made more Lily-Grace friendly. Or maybe this suggestion is simply symptomatic of a “touchy-feely” teacher who believes that we should look for learning opportunities rather than seeing problems – (yes I confess I am such a one!).

I am sure that the head teacher and governors of the school attended by Lily-Grace Hooper will have learned much from the publicity and debate that has surrounded their bizarre decision. I hope that the confidence of Lily-Grace and her family has not been too impaired by this outmoded attitude to a child with a disability. Let’s hope that the school’s managers are now in a position to reflect upon what it takes to be inclusive and to enable all pupils to feel at home in school.

 

In the vanguard of research developments

Getting to grips with the challenges of sampling. Three keen researchers in discussion with Dr David Preece

Getting to grips with the challenges of sampling. Three keen researchers in discussion with Dr David Preece

Throughout this week three students who recently studied for the MA in Special and Inclusive Education which is managed by the University of Northampton in Bangalore have been here in England. Having proven to be outstanding students on the MA programme they have now advanced to enrol as research students working at PhD level. This is a moment of considerable pride for them, for their families and also for the university.

A common concern expressed by students studying on the Bangalore based programme, is that there is a limited corpus of research literature related to special and inclusive education in an Indian context. Students inevitably find themselves referring to journal articles, books and research reports from outside of India which presents the added challenge of having to critique this work in relation to an Indian education system. It should be obvious that some of the approaches to teaching and learning adopted, for example in the more affluent areas of Europe or the USA, will not be easily applied in rural Indian schools. Issues of resourcing, training, expectations, attitude and understanding all need to be interrogated before any confidence can be gained in the application of ideas from socio-economically advantages countries. It is therefore critical that the research capacity in this area in India is increased, and that more Indian researchers make a contribution to the research literature. Data in relation to inclusion and exclusion is at a premium at present, and it is essential that local researchers address this shortfall in order that teachers, parents and children can move towards a more just education system with confidence.

The three colleagues who have joined the PhD programme here in Northampton this week have already begun to address some of the limitations in research in special and inclusive education in their country. Two have recently published papers in peer reviewed journals based upon their MA dissertations, and all are developing proposals to address critical areas related to the teaching of previously marginalised children in their communities. Their research will of necessity require them to engage with teachers, parents, children and policy makers in India, thereby broadening understanding of the complex issues that they are proposing to address.

As all teachers in India are confronted with the challenges of meeting the requirements of the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act introduced in 2009, they are increasingly seeking the support of colleagues who have begun to consider how first generation learners, or those from scheduled tribes or scheduled castes, along with others with disabilities and special educational needs can be included in Indian classrooms. I am sure that in this regard our students in Bangalore will make a significant contribution to the support of their colleagues, and these new and enthusiastic researchers will provide data with which they can inform change.

Meeting with these three new research students this morning they described the journey upon which they are embarking as “exciting”, “scary”, “daunting”, and “challenging”. I am quite sure that all of these words are apt, but also convinced that in the near future they will be making a significant contribution to a growing body of research literature in India. We are fortunate in having these students here with us for a few weeks in Northampton and I am sure we are going to enjoy working alongside them in India over the coming years as they progress towards their doctorates. I look forward to reporting their progress over the years ahead.

Sharing learning with a wider world

We are always delighted when our students return to share their experience with current cohorts. When they share their learning with a wider audience we are thrilled!

We are always delighted when our students return to share their experience with current cohorts. When they share their learning with a wider audience we are thrilled!

Devising research questions is not as easy a task as it may sound. Yesterday on the MA programme here in Bangalore a group of enthusiastic students set about the task of identifying topics and research questions that will inform their dissertations. The dissertation is a major piece of work on the course, and for most it represents the largest volume of writing they have ever had to complete. You may then understand why there is always a little apprehension at this stage of the course.

Such mild anxieties, whilst understandable, will soon be overcome by this group of students who have remained focused and worked hard throughout the course, and have shown themselves more than equal to every task they have approached. I am confident that by the end of this week they will all have identified a clear set of questions that will inform their small-scale projects and lead to some interesting research.

One of the major challenges for students working on this course is the limited range of research literature available to them that has been conducted within an Indian context. Often they find themselves referring to European, Australasian or American literature and having to consider its appropriateness in terms of the socio-economic and cultural conditions that are found here in India. This is a challenge that they approach thoughtfully as reflected in much of their writing.

From the beginning, when we started the course with our first cohort we emphasised to our students that they had an opportunity to contribute significantly to the Indian literature in the field of special and inclusive education. I think at first they believed that papers in academic journals and chapters in books were written only by those working in universities with many years of experience. We have encouraged them to understand that there is in fact a huge gap in the literature related to the application of teaching and learning approaches for children from marginalised groups, including those with special educational needs and disabilities in India.

We recognise that not all of our students in Bangalore will want to embark upon a path of writing papers, submitting these to the rigour of the journal peer review process, with the inevitable possibility of rejection, and finding the time necessary for amendments and rewriting. But we have been greatly heartened by the response to our suggestion that they can indeed make an important contribution to the literature.

Over the next month, several of our students from our first cohort and one from the third will see their work in print in two different peer reviewed journals – Support for Learning, and Good Autism Practice. We are, or course, immensely proud of their achievements and this concrete evidence of their expertise and hard work. I am confident that many of our students will play a leading role in the promotion of inclusive practice here in India, and optimistic that we will see more of their research and writing in print in the near future.

Whilst the MA course here in Bangalore does not set out with an expectation that all students will become published researchers and authors in the field, it is good to think that others embarking on this journey will be able to refer to the literature generated by those who went before them. It may seem to many that their contribution to research and the literature is small, but every journey begins with a single step and these excellent students have in fact taken a giant stride.

Sharing with sisters – probably beyond the call of duty!

I can assure you sisters, that my intentions are entirely honourable!

I can assure you sisters, that my intentions are entirely honourable!

Whilst in a school yesterday I met a teacher who was also visiting to see how a child with special educational needs had settled into class. This teacher works at a local nursery school and had worked with the boy in question since he was just two years old. He had recently transferred into the school and the purpose of the nursery teacher’s visit was to meet with his class teacher to discuss how he was progressing, and to offer any necessary insights into his needs on the basis of her experience of teaching him.

It was good to hear her reporting how well the boy had adjusted to life in a “big class” and that he had made friends, and appeared to be very happy. His new teacher is delighted with his progress, both social and academic and he apparently gets up each morning keen to finish his breakfast and get to school. As we were talking, the teacher informed me that she was pleased to see that at various times during the week, her former pupil has lessons from a male teacher. Pursuing this theme she expressed the view that there are far too few men working in schools with primary aged pupils, and even fewer working with nursery classes. Male role models, she sugeested, are very important in the lives of little children.

Listening to her views I found myself largely in agreement with her comments, and reflected on my own personal professional experiences of working with nursery aged children. For a few years early in my career I taught a class of nursery children, all of whom had some difficulties with learning, in a school in Somerset in the South West of England. This was a particularly formative period of my career, as I worked for a quirky, though dynamic head teacher; his paperwork was a mess, his office resembled Tracey Emin’s unmade bed, but his leadership qualities and commitment to staff, children and parents unquestionable. It was to a large extent through the critical, but supportive demands made by this head teacher that I learned much about child development, the importance of observing children, and of the need to critcially evaluate  everything I did in the classroom.

Whilst comparing experiences of working with nursery aged children with the visiting teacher today, and finding that we have much in common in respect of our belief in the importance of these formative years, I recalled an incident that reinforces the view that perhaps we need more men working in nursery schools.

My afore mentioned head teacher approached me one day bearing details of a two day residential course for nursery teachers, to be organised by the then King Alfred’s College, which has since become the University of Winchester. The course was largely focused upon early language acquisition in nursery aged children, and knowing this to be an area in which I was particularly interested, he said that the school would pay for me to attend.

Eager to learn, I happily sent off the application form and fee and was pleased to be accepted on the course. On the appointed date I duly arrived in the ancient city of Winchester and located the course venue.

On arrival at the reception desk my initial enthusiasm was slightly impaired by a rather frosty lady, a realistic doppelganger for the late Hattie Jacques, who with very little evidence of what could have been described as  a welcoming smile, in a rather loud baritone voice, demanded to know  exactly who I was and what I was doing standing before her. With some trepidation I exclaimed, rather meekly, that I was there for the course. Raising her eyebrows and fixing me with a stare that could have melted steel, she declared that there must be some error.

“What”, she demanded, with the grace of a matador scenting a kill, “is your name?”

“Richard Rose”, I replied, making every effort to hide my knocking knees, and feeling somewhat like a naughty schoolboy (a feeling which had been a familiar feature of my school days!).

With a triumphant air, having scrutinised her list of expected delegates she pinned me to the wall with an iron gaze and declared,

“As I suspected, you are not on my list!”

Beginning to believe that I might indeed be an imposter, I fumbled in my pocket to recover the letter accepting me as a delegate on the course. Handing this over to her I pleaded my case, but with little hope of mitigation.

Scanning her list of attendees once more, her mood suddenly changed, her face now wreathed in a smile that was far more becoming for an individual charged with the responsibility for welcoming visitors.

“Now I see the cause of the confusion”, she declared. “You are indeed here on the list, but you have been recorded as Rose Richards! Clearly whoever compiled the register had not expected attendance from a man. It is, of course, a perfectly understandable mistake.”

I wanted to express the view that I could see the mistake, a simple name reversal,  but wasn’t quite sure that I agreed that it was understandable. However,firmly believing that discretion is almost always the better part of valour, and having raised a smile, I did not wish to reverse this much more comfortable situation. I therefore maintained a decidely subservient approach.

“Ah well”, I replied, “an easy mistake to make, at least the problem is solved.”

“Not quite”, came the reply that seemed to challenge my complacency. “You see young man, (I particularly remember the somewhat derogatory tone attached to that ‘young man,’ with it’s emphasis firmly on the “man.”, all delegates are sharing twin rooms at this conference, so we do indeed have a problem!”

Returning once more to her official documents, her smile once again broadened as she discovered that Rose Richards was booked to share a room with the head of a Roman Catholic nursery school who just happened to be a nun! I had to agree with her, we did now have a problem!

Now I am sure that many sisters from the Catholic church are very broad minded, but the final, and undoubtedly wise decision, made by the conference gatekeeper resulted in myself and this local head teacher being the only delegates given single room accommodation. A sensible solution, and when I eventually found my room I was delighted to find that as a mere man, I might be in solitary confinement, but the cell was comfortably appointed.

I am delighted to see that today there are far more men working in nursery and early years education, though still probably less than is desirable. I am sure that like me they will recognise the tremendous opportunities for learning about child development, which come with these teaching posts. I do hope that today’s men in early years teaching no longer face the kind of interrogation about their place in such schools that was common in the 1970s. However, if they do, I hope that in years to come they too will be able to laugh at the predicaments in which they find themselves.

Incidentally, I never did discover whether the sister heard about this confusion. I like to think that if she did, she too would have raised a smile.

Observe to learn

There is so much to be learned when watching a teacher at work

There is so much to be learned when watching a teacher at work

I believe it to be a great privilege to spend time in a classroom watching a good teacher at work. When in this situation I often find myself thinking about the approaches that the particular teacher being observed is using, sometimes commenting to myself that “I wouldn’t have done it like that,” or “I wish I had thought about doing things that way.” I suspect that as teachers we all tend to be critical of the performances of our peers, but hopefully our critical reflections are for the most part positive and as much focused upon ourselves as on those we observe.

So it was that today I spent time in two separate classes observing a couple of student teachers working with primary school aged students, all of whom had been assessed as having a range of special educational needs. In such situations I always feel that it is important to put the student at ease, a friendly smile and cheery hello can only go so far towards relieving the inevitable tensions felt, but not to give either would be churlish.

After watching each lesson it was a pleasure to discuss what had been observed and to listen to these excellent young colleagues as they talked with great enthusiasm about what they had learned during their brief placement in the school. Both articulated their experiences in a thoughtful manner, describing their many successes with the students, and asking questions about the few difficulties they have experienced along the way. Getting to grips with new forms of assessment, the use of augmentative systems of communication and school approaches to behaviour management had clearly presented a challenge. But these two tyros were clearly equal to the task and saw each new experience as an opportunity to learn.

Teachers in English schools have become accustomed to being observed as they work. Sometimes this is characterised by the creation of a supportive environment in which peers with a genuine commitment to their own professional development share ideas and reflect in a positive manner upon the performance of a colleague. At other times the experience lacks the supportive conditions that we as teachers claim to value so much in education; as for example when a school inspection is in place and teachers are scored rather like performing skaters on an icy rink.

I was once told by an inspector colleague, a good man and experienced educator, that teachers can learn much by being observed. I remember my repost was along the lines that it is equally important that we as observers, are prepared to learn from what we see. Furthermore, I suggested, the real value of the observation is only to be achieved when we engage in a professional dialogue with the observed teacher, and make the effort to understand the reasoning behind their actions, and the context in which we operate. Observations that are simplistically used to make judgements and do not form the basis of professional dialogue have little real value in education.

Each observation this morning lasted about forty minutes and was certainly an informative and enjoyable experience. The real learning, both from my perspective as the observer, and hopefully for the young student teachers, took place in the half hour discussions that we shared when the lessons were over.

As ever, my morning visit to school was an uplifting experience. Seeing children enjoying activities under the guidance of committed professionals in an atmosphere conducive to encouraging learning, ensured that my working day got off to a good start. So thank you to the two young teachers for the privilege of seeing you at work, and to the school which afforded hospitality to myself and continues to inspire both new teachers and students.

 

P.S. To my literary friends, I wish you a belated happy Bloomsday! If it seemed like a long day, reflect upon Joyce’s interpretation of the working week:-

“All Moanday, Tearsday, Wailsday, Thumpsday, Frightday and Shatterday” (Finnegan’s Wake)

If yours was really that bad, I suggest you go into your local school and (after gaining consent) watch a teacher at work – hopefully this will brighten your day!

End of an era, but a bright future ahead

ollege of Education. Not the prettiest of buildings, but for many years the centre of many achievements in inclusive education in Ireland.

Church of Ireland College of Education. Not the prettiest of buildings, but for many years the centre of considerable achievements in inclusive education in Ireland.

“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end”
                                                                                                              Seneca

My Professional association with the Republic of Ireland goes back over a lengthy period and has embraced teaching, research, examining and consultancy work. In Michael Shevlin, a good friend and colleague at Trinity College Dublin I have one of my closest collaborators with whom I have researched and written for more than the past ten years. During that time we have succeeded in securing funding for both small scale studies and the largest educational research project awarded in the country, and we look forward to continuing this professional partnership well into the future.

I am in Dublin today, in part to work with Michael, but also to perform a duty which, I know I will find interesting, but also tinged with a little sadness. Since 2003 I have had a fruitful and highly enjoyable relationship with colleagues at the Church of Ireland College of Education in Rathmines. My association with this long established teacher training institute began when I was appointed as an examiner of special education courses, and then developed in interesting directions as opportunities to conduct research with my colleague Ãine emerged, and later when I supervised the PhD of another tutor David. These and other colleagues at Church of Ireland College have made a significant contribution to the field of special and inclusive education in Ireland. In addition they have provided support to teachers and children in Africa through regular working visits and supply of resources.

Today the college will close, and a proud chapter of Irish educational history will reach its finale. Tutors from the college will move to another institution across the city where they will continue their good work alongside new colleagues and in a significantly different environment. A change of location will certainly not lessen their commitment and may even bring new opportunities and enthusiasm for the challenges ahead.

This evening I will deliver the final lecture at the old college. I am sure that this will be an emotional occasion, particularly for those who have been associated with Church of Ireland College of Education for most of their lives. I have no intention of giving a presentation of any profound significance, but will rather ensure that what I provide will be a celebration of all that is good within special and inclusive education in Ireland, and the tremendous contribution that college tutors have made to this.

I will leave the college tonight with many happy memories of working with excellent colleagues and students. I will recall the many visits made to schools with tutors to visit students putting into practice those skills that had been invested in them during their training. I will similarly remember the meetings to discuss student portfolios of work and to debate curriculum content with Mary, Eamonn, Ruby and other members of the team over coffee and biscuits in the staff common room. The friendly debriefing meetings with Sydney Blain, a true gentleman whose hand carefully manoeuvred the tiller of the college for many years, were always an education and a pleasure. Memories of developing research instruments and shared writing and conference presentations with Ãine, along with sitting in difficult meetings to feed back findings to reluctant policy makers and administrators, will undoubtedly re-emerge. Lengthy supervision meetings with David to debate his research approaches and discuss the findings from his excellent PhD study of the management of social, emotional and behavioural difficulties in Irish schools, added greatly to my understanding of these issues within both an Irish and international context.

There will inevitably be a valedictory air surrounding this evening’s events, but I hope that this will be tempered by a true atmosphere of celebration, and an opportunity for colleagues and students of an establishment held in great affection well beyond Dublin, to reflect on the many achievements of the past. I will also urge colleagues to look to the future and to seek new ways to ensure that their many talents and enthusiasms can continue to benefit the wider educational community.

This may seem like the end of an era, but it also signals the start of new and exciting opportunities.

Tempestuous teaching!

This may be exaggerating Johnson's teaching experience yesterday (with apologies to the actor Greg Hicks) but at times he certainly having to fight the elements.

This may be exaggerating Johnson’s teaching experience yesterday (with apologies to the actor Greg Hicks) but at times he was certainly having to fight the elements.

Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!

You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout till you have drench’d our steeples, drown’d the cocks!

                        (Shakespeare – King  Lear)

I had the better part of the day for teaching here in Bangalore yesterday. Spending the morning engaged in lively debate over various models of interpreting behaviour with an enthusiastic and reflective group of students. Biological, psychological and social models were discussed, with the various merits of each interpretation being related to children known to the group. Arguments about the applicability of teaching approaches were high on the agenda, and a profound discussion of attachment led to some high level critical thinking. Our students participated willingly in all of the activities we had prepared, questioned their own beliefs and those of others and postulated theories and ideas in relation to their various classroom situations. This was quite literally the calm before the storm.

After another delectable lunch, Johnson took the reins and began the afternoon session by showing a video-recording of a classroom in Kerala, in a Malayalam media school. His session was well prepared with a series of questions and tasks and he had been looking forward to a vibrant lesson. He could not possibly have anticipated exactly how exciting it would become. No sooner had he begun this process than the heavens opened and rains lashed against the windows of the classroom. I should perhaps explain that we teach on the fourth floor of a building with windows on all four sides of the room. It can be noisy on a quiet day – but this was not a quiet day!

Heavy rain is not unusual in Bangalore, but what then followed was unprecedented in our experience of teaching here. Within minutes sizeable hail stones were cracking against the glass, the wind had picked up to gale force, and the eucalyptus trees behind the screen being used by Johnson, were threatening to smash their way through the windows. Johnson continued manfully, with the determination of Captain Oates going forth into the teeth of the blizzard, he raised the volume of both the video and his voice in a determined effort not to be defeated. In response to Johnson’s strategy the tempest grew fiercer building into a crescendo of rage as if to spite his every effort.

As Johnson continued, we noticed water seeping through windows, and before long two willing ladies appeared up the stairs with cloths, mops and buckets and with great gusto began to address the deluge that was fast building around Johnson’s feet. As a small lake developed in the classroom, Johnson waded forth, set on his mission and not to be distracted. I must confess to seeing an element of the old silent movie comedies in the session as with the determination that befits a seasoned professional Johnson ploughed on with increased resolve.

Fortunately the video had been concluded when the power cut arrived, and as I would have expected, ignoring this adversity Johnson fought his way stoically to his conclusion. Bravo man, what a sterling effort! The students I am sure were as full of admiration for this intrepid performance as myself. Furthermore they maintained their high level of performance and continued to complete the tasks set with gusto.

One of the saddest features of yesterday’s furious storm was the number of mature trees we encountered felled across the roads of the city in the evening. Today’s Hindu newspaper reports that more than 90 trees came down. Travel became an arduous process, and what should have taken fifteen minutes involved a journey of more than an hour. I would like to think that these wonderful giants of the city would be replaced with new planting, but I suspect that this may not be the case, as too many motorists, – these are now the dominant species in Bangalore, – see trees as taking the valuable space that could be given over to tarmac and new potholes.

We are hoping for quieter weather today as students begin to consider the assessed elements of the module. However, just in case things deteriorate further we will be armed with buckets and sponges and plenty more of Johnson’s fortitude!

Celebration follows all the hard work

Activity and debate. Active learning is alive and well in Bangalore.

Activity and debate. Active learning is alive and well in Bangalore.

Some of our students here in Bangalore are still high on the celebrations of their graduation last week. I have met several of them since and it is obvious that the occasion meant a great deal to them, as it did to their tutors, and they continue to savour the moment when they were awarded their degrees. This is just as it should be and I hope they continue to wear the aura of success for some time.

In conversation with one of our recent graduates this week, she told me:-

“When we first started on the course, for a few days I thought, why do we keep debating and analysing everything? Why don’t the tutors simply tell us what to do? It took us a while to adjust to a new way of learning, but now we realise how much more effective this approach has been. I now find myself questioning everything I do as a teacher in order to improve my practice. I also find myself reading more and wanting to know more about children and teaching.”

Such conversations are always reassuring, because whenever we embark upon teaching a new group of students we have our own apprehensions about how they might react to our approach. We spend the first few sessions closely observing our students for any positive signs in the hope that they are coming together as a group, and that they are prepared to challenge their own practices as teachers. So far, whilst teaching in Bangalore it has taken no more than a couple of days for our groups to become cohesive and to feel comfortable in debate and willing to engage in critical discussion about classrooms.

Watching from the side-lines yesterday as John and Johnson worked on a practical task with our third cohort of students, I was particularly interested to see how they moved around the room, sharing ideas with others and discussing aspects of behaviour management with children. Something that we have observed in all three of our cohorts to date, is that they do not form cliques or have a tendency to sit in the same place during sessions. Their movement is much more fluid than this and they seem content to work with any colleague during the activities that we present. This contrasts greatly with our experience of teaching in England, where students appear to seek the security of familiar working partners and are sometime loathe to explore ideas with someone less well known.

Today we will welcome visitors to the course. Individuals who think they may wish to join our new intake of students but wish to see just what we are like. I know that they will receive a warm welcome from our students and will soon detect the friendly atmosphere that they have created. We do not let these visitors sit on the periphery of the group, but rather engage them fully in the day’s debates and activities. Hopefully by doing this alongside friendly well established colleagues they will soon feel at ease and get a flavour of the ways in which we work.

We have been fortunate that those students who have chosen to join this course since it began in 2012 have without exception been full of enthusiasm, eager to learn and willing to become a part of a group committed to debate and practical learning. I am sure that amongst our visitors today there will be others who can also make a significant contribution to the promotion of more inclusive teaching and learning here in South India. I look forward to sharing in their celebrations as they graduate in the not too distant future.

Why is it that sometimes I behave badly?

John challenges students about their behaviour

John challenges students about their behaviour

Whenever we hear of behaviour being discussed in schools, it is almost always in the context of “difficult children”. Asking teachers about those pupils who they have most difficulty managing and they will inevitably name someone, usually a boy, who they describe as a behaviour problem. There is therefore always the potential when delivering a course with the words “social emotional and behavioural difficulties in the title, that some colleagues will attend in expectation of solutions and a quick fix for their behaviour management issues.

This week, students attending the MA is Special and Inclusive Education here in Bangalore, are considering aspects of the social and emotional needs of children, which inevitably means that there will be some debate around behaviour. But being a masters level course, this week is not about “tips for teachers,” though we hope that along the journey they will reflect on what they discuss and have ideas and strategies to apply in their classrooms.

My colleague John Visser began yesterday’s session by challenging our students to reflect upon their own behaviours. When and why do they behave badly? What are the consequences of this poor behaviour? And who is affected by the outcomes? More importantly, how de we feel and react when children behave like this in our classrooms?

Throughout the week we hope that students will consider not only the nature of what is seen as unacceptable behaviour, but will also look at causal effects, helping children to understand their own emotions and social interactions. This will be managed through a series of activities through which our students will examine theoretical perspectives in practical terms.

Whist yesterday’s session started quietly, as participants came to terms that their own behaviours were being placed under the microscope, they soon warmed up an began to express their own feelings and experiences. Every bit as important as as the input from tutors is the jousting between students and the built in time for reflection.

It is already obvious that this is going to be a lively and enjoyable week. I have no doubt that there will be conflicting views expressed and strong opinions upheld. But this is all part of the cut and thrust of studying on the MA in Special and Inclusive Education.

Tomorrow (Wednesday) we have an open day for visitors interested in the course. Why not come along and meet us?