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Smooth transitions for students with special education needs

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Students with special education needs experience positive transitions at the Mt Roskill campus thanks to the collaboration and close relationships between teachers, support staff, therapists, and parents.

"I think for James, the smooth transition has helped his learning because he's managed to hit the ground running."

Rachel Hutchison, parent

Promoting professional conversations

These questions and suggested actions encourage you to reflect on your own school context.

  • All staff at Mt Roskill Campus are involved in learning conversations within and across the Campus. How can learning conversations be strengthened between ALL staff at your school so that student learning becomes a shared focus?
  • Part of the strategy at Mt Roskill is regular meetings that give teachers and therapists the time to provide a coherent response to the needs of students. How could you make this work for your school?
  • What strategies does your school have for transitioning students into new environments?
  • Can you see ways to build and strengthen learning conversations with your neighbouring schools to support student transitions?

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Mike O’Reilly
On the campus, each of our schools has a special education unit that were originally set up as physically disabled units in the 1970s.  They came with therapists and specialist teachers.  On our campus we have about one hundred ORS funded students across the three schools.  The three unit managers started meeting regularly and we started setting up PLCs (Professional Learning Communities) once again across the campus, so we now have teachers working together about their practice.  We also have support staff, teacher aides, learning support assistants, all those sorts of people, also doing learning together, and visiting each other’s schools.

As part of the MERGE project, the unit directors meet regularly and plan across the campus, PD experiences for teachers, learning support assistants, and for therapists.  We’ve found that by doing this, and talking about the things that are important for our kids as they transition through our campus that it makes us stronger, and it means that our transitions are – well, we consider them pretty seamless.

The OTs meet fortnightly, from all three schools on campus, and we use that as a professional learning opportunity to review articles that have come out and how we can implement better practice in what we’re doing.  We review assessment, so that we find the best assessments for things, and we try and use similar assessments as the students move from school to school.  We also use that opportunity to share ideas, like problem solve – a student that’s having difficulty using a piece of equipment. “What have you done for this?” “Where did you get this from?”  So we’re sharing our ideas and expertise so that the students actually have seven OT brains working on their problems.

One of the other benefits of being on campus and having therapy support through all of the campus schools is that we have what we call MERGE campus meetings for therapists each term.  So we get together, and that particular meeting is for physiotherapists, occupational therapists, and speech language therapists.  We can share our professional learning together we often have professional development where speakers come in also. So that’s a good time when we look at things that are actually are valuable to all of us, and we gain the knowledge of someone else to come in and speak to that with us. As speech language therapists, well each profession actually, meet together at different time periods across the year and across the term, to share professional learning, to share case studies, quite often actually. We talk about specific students that we might be wanting to get some other perspectives on, and improve our practice in working with, and so that’s a really strong thing that we have here, that we can call on each other.  You’re not isolated as a professional but you actually have that support.

So my experience as a parent of my son James transitioning from Mt Roskill primary school, in the special needs unit here, to Mt Roskill Intermediate, to the special needs unit there was one that was actually relatively easy.  Well, actually very easy for me.  James was, I guess, transitioned by the staff here at the unit, his hand was held every step of the way, and so when it came to him starting school, at the intermediate, he was really excited.  He was looking forward to it; he talked about himself as being a “big boy now”.  He was looking forward to the new uniform, he was looking forward to starting, and every day since then, he’s been really keen.  He’s a boy who can be reluctant for change, he doesn’t necessarily cope with change well, so if you walk him through the steps he’s better, and I think that’s what the team here have done really well, that he’d been down, he’d experienced the unit, he’d been there a few times and visited, he knew what he was going to.

I think the most important thing about the work that we’ve done here, through the MERGE project and across the campus, is that we have built incredibly strong relationships.  Between each other, between students and staff, between students and other students, between staff and families and whānau.  Effectively, it means that as soon as a student comes into our environments, we can get started, and get working with those kids immediately.

I think for James the smooth transition has helped his learning, because he’s managed to hit the ground running.  It felt as a parent really comforting that they knew exactly where James was at, they felt really comfortable with his learning styles, because all of that got communicated.  So that when he started Mt Roskill Intermediate, I think they had a fair idea of how he learnt.

Particularly in our area of work, you don’t see progress in huge jumps.  So it’s really important to know them particularly well, so that we notice when they are actually doing some really, really great stuff.

Published on: 22 Aug 2014