Schools are busy places, so finding the time for genuine reflection on your teaching can be difficult. It can also be hard to know where to start: are we as truly self-critical as we perhaps should be?
So, when I was offered the chance to pilot the SEND Reflection Framework, created by the Whole School SEND consortium (see bit.ly/SENDreflection), I jumped at it. It was a chance not just to review my teaching, but to do so with specific attention to SEND. And having been through the process, I am certain that this structured self-reflection on the teaching of children with SEND should be a key part of every teacher’s calendar.
The framework is intended as a tool for sustained professional dialogue over a period of time between classroom teachers and school leaders, in a non-confrontational, non-judgemental way. It offers a long list of affirmative statements focused on seven aspects of classroom life, statements that resonate directly with my own experiences working with vulnerable learners.
I sat down with a more-experienced school leader, someone who I trusted, and together we looked at one of the seven sections in the SEND Reflection Framework. We chose “Working with other professionals and the wider community”, and used the affirmative statements as a starting point. I described my recent experiences, and what I felt were my strengths. We went off on a lot of tangents, but the framework brought us back onto topic. It was an opportunity for my coach to reassure and celebrate my successes with me, and to explore aspects of my practice in which I am vulnerable.
As a self-confessed live-in-the-moment teacher, I was surprised at how therapeutic the process was. My coach listened carefully, asked probing question, and led me to reflect in much greater depth than I would have done by myself. He helped me to explore aspects of my practice that I had never thought about before, my blind spots. He was also able to provide the context for aspects of professional practice that I had not encountered, but that he had. This was also useful.
Do you need the Reflection Framework to do that? Not necessarily, but you do need something like it. It structures both the time for, and the nature of, the conversations and ensures you stick at it.
Clearly, the approach in general relies on two key factors: the quality of the coaching conversations and the pace of the process. Coaching needs to leave teachers feeling confident and secure; they need to understand how to improve, and be fully invested in the process. The biggest obstacle to this is the natural inclination to try to “fix” problems for the teacher, which coaches need to suppress ruthlessly.
Controlling the pace of this process is also important. It would be easy for participants to tear ahead, reflect superficially, and achieve quick wins. This would be such a missed opportunity. Teachers need the time to realise a deeper understanding of themselves, how they feel and behave in certain situations, and to let these new thoughts drive their actions. This cannot be rushed. Conversely, having clear start and finish dates will prevent us from wasting time by navel-gazing.
Yes, schools are busy places and, yes, there are many competing demands on a teacher’s time. But having these conversations is integral to what we do, and central to how we support our pupils. If we want to get SEND right, this has to be part of the equation.
Matt McArthur is assistant headteacher at the Frank Wise School in Banbury