Understanding, recognising and knowing

Learning support professional Ally Kemplen is in her twentieth year at Newton Central School in Auckland, known as an inclusive school, which attracts parents and their children with extra needs.

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Across the country, teachers report that there are more children with high learning needs and the resources and funding to help these children are over-stretched. Education professionals talk here about how they deliver the curriculum to children with learning needs. First up, Newton Central School in Auckland teacher aide Ally Kemplen describes how they use a consistent whole-school approach in helping children.

Kirsten Warner

Learning support professional Ally Kemplen is in her twentieth year at Newton Central School in Auckland, known as an inclusive school, which attracts parents and their children with extra needs.

Her passion and strength is working with children with high behavioural, social and emotional needs and children who have experienced trauma or neglect.  This may involve Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or attachment disorder, or the child might not have a diagnosis.

She says she has a simple method of approaching her work.

First base, is understanding these children’s brains are different because of their experiences, they will behave differently, and it is not in order to annoy people. This is how they respond to these situations.

Second base, is recognising that when a child is being unlovable that’s when they need the most love.

Third base, is knowing they can’t express their needs but they’re telling you something. All behaviour is communication.

“Bring it back down to that when you’re seeing raging and tantruming and throwing chairs across the classroom. ‘You’re not feeling okay, you haven’t even recognised that in your body before you’ve reacted and gone to the back of your brain to fight or flight, you might not even know what the trigger has been and this is the quick response, so I need to help you right now. Berating you right now isn’t going to help. In fact you can’t hear a word coming out my mouth at this point because this part of your brain has completely shut down, so we’re going to have to wait. Even when you look calm, you’ve settled down, you’ve stopped sweating and throwing things, we know we still have to wait quite a bit longer before we can have a conversation’.”

She believes all children should be celebrated and not be seen in a deficit mode. It is important to  reward and celebrate achievements, tiny as they may be. This comes from Kemplen’s own experience but she has completed the Positive Behaviour for Learning model.

The Incredible Years for parents and teachers now also have courses for teacher aides. http://incredibleyearsnz.co.nz/

“If a child can’t tie their shoelaces we teach them, if they can’t count up to 10 we teach them, but if they can’t manage their behaviour around other people we growl at them? It just doesn’t make sense. If they haven’t learned things, we’ll help them learn it. They’ve all had different ways of learning to behave. We need to decide within these walls this is how we are going to respect and love each other so we are going to teach you specifically.”

This is a whole-school approach.

“The adults are all different humans and we’re all bringing different skills and gifts and beliefs but we start considering our language and some kind of consistency across the school.  We’re seeing such a change for our students. They know if I do this this will be the response I get, no matter which adult is there it will be similar language.

Her work changes with needs within the school. This year, Kemplen is working across three middle school classes with the priority on learning – her work involving literacy support, one-on-one classroom support, observation.

She says she looks forward to schools post National Standards.

“I think as we come back into a New Zealand Curriculum world where teachers are given an element of trust, that children will continue to work together and will learn from each other more collaboratively which is something I think we do quite well at this school, I know people often comment on that.

“As we keep moving away from that one teacher aide with one student situation, that will just keep improving.”

She points to a wealth of knowledge, research and teaching resources around inclusive education found easily on the Ministry of Education’s Te Kete Ipurangi (TKI) website. (http://inclusive.tki.org.nz/)

Kemplen also refers to strong British research, The Deployment and Impact of Support Staff which provides a ‘red, amber, green’ self-assessment tool – for ‘not-so-good’ practice, ‘ah-getting-there’ practice, and best practice, which can be used to find ideas for your school. (http://maximisingtas.co.uk/resources/making-best-use-of-tas-eef-guidance.php)

Newton Central School, she says, uses “the beautiful thing that is the New Zealand Curriculum” and key competencies for every student, particularly students who have individual educational plans. “That’s been the turnaround – whereas we used to have a learning goal and a social goal and an academic goal, we are now looking specifically at the key competencies.

“For example, we’ll look at managing self – what are the strengths, what can this child do, what do they need support with, how are we going to do that and who’s going to do it?

“If we want children to be life-long learners, then the literacy and numeracy falls into the key competencies.”  

This approach can be understood by everyone who is involved with the child, including parents – for example, the child can get to the bathroom but they need some help with the door and they need some help with their trousers. Really specific things like that.

 “We want our kids to be able, especially the ones who have difficulty emotionally regulating, to eventually recognise when they are not okay and ask for help. So if we’re not doing that then we’re not being very good role models.

“If you have a fake relationship with colleagues or kids they know. If you you’ve been really genuine with each other, you’ve noticed when someone’s not okay, or you’ve given them a little thumbs up when you can see they’re trying hard, and those things happen all the time – then when something goes wrong you’ve got all of that beneath it to figure things out with.  It’s got to be really genuine, really strong, really loving relationships.”

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