Saturday, February 16, 2013

IEPs and engagement

Students cannot sit and do nothing in my classes.  It's a fundamental of my classes, something introduced to me by an EA when I first started in the school.  She has now gone on to be a teacher, and I'm sure a fine one.  It was an interesting lesson to me at the start of my career.  Listen to those experienced around me and that a good EA is worth gold for what they are paid.

That's not to say all EAs are great.  Some are decidedly ordinary - the issue being how to identify when an EA is being effective or ineffective...  We need to be fair - is it the fault of the EA giving a student individual assistance, the fault of the teacher giving a poor instruction, not adequately meeting the needs of the student or are the expectations of the student/teacher/EA unachievable given a certain circumstance (medical, emotional, developmental, prior learning, attitudinal).

Given a circumstance when a student is not learning - and as HoD I am responsible for learning (where the care team are ultimately responsible for monitoring and improving behaviour/attendance through IBPs), I face a difficult task as often the circumstance of a particular student is "confidential" and the lines of communication are muddied by "who needs to know".  With "at risk" students it is common to assign an EA to assist the student remain in class and learn.  I'm not a believer in withdrawal for extended periods (students in life will rarely have personal tutors), and teachers are overpaid to be babysitters and not have students learning.

What I really need to know as HoD are the strategies that are expected to work (developed in conjunction with the care team), that the teacher involved knows what is necessary to enact the strategy, that they are equipped to do it, they have the required resources (such as an EA) and that the student is on the same page - then I need to monitor that it is in effect and check it's effectiveness. To my mind the performance contract is the IEP.  I don't need to know the condition of the student, just the main effects of it, the strategies in place to ensure learning is happening and whether it is working.

The model I describe is teacher centric and unapologetically so.  If the teacher has responsibility for learning in the classroom, then they are responsible for ensuring learning is adequately occurring - ensuring there is an effective learning programme.  If a student is refusing to work, then it is the responsibility of the EA to make the teacher aware and then the teacher to enact change.  If the assessment is that the EA is not enacting the strategy as designed - then and only then, can the EA be assessed as ineffective.

The EA/teacher role needs to be in synergy, realising that we don't live in a perfect world (things won't always work with difficult students) and with some amount of lookahead as materials will need to be modified by the EA to ensure that they are suitable for the student.  The IEP has it's place here too as it documents the role of the EA and the tasks they need to do in preparing a lesson.

The bottom line is, it costs a lot to assign an EA to a student.  If the cost/benefit analysis is not there - we need to recognise that it is an expensive intervention and that it needs to be given priority to design a new solution.  After all, in a high or mid performing class, with a skilled EA, that person could be helping ten students rather than effectively helping none.

Thursday, February 14, 2013


Coming from a world of litigation prior to teaching, I understand the reticence some have in writing down what you have said.  For many, not writing something down leads to deniability and the ability to change position without having evidence of doing so.

I have never thought of written evidence that way.  I was once told, don't write something down that you wouldn't want to appear in a court of law.  Secondly I was told never to write an email in anger.  I think these are both wise but are only part of the story.  

Only today I was told that communications I sent last year were likely to come back and bite me, but they are opinions at best, that people can take or leave - I'm not precious about my opinions, nor do I have a monopoly on being right.  I aim to help, and hopefully that is what I do most of the time.

The problem with not writing things down is that memory is fallible, and a lack of documentation (or inadequate documentation) means that definite positions are lost to the mists of time or worse still, history is re-written by those that have no evidence at all because no evidence to the contrary is available.

At our school I am seen as a supporter of IPS, but those reading this blog will realise that I criticised it before our implementation and that I continue to be wary of it.  My support for it was based in the people that needed it to staff the school, not in what I thought it would achieve in other areas.    

I have criticised OBE widely, but have supported ideas within OBE, and question its implementation more than the underlying concept.  I've seen it work, and have seen the consequences of diabolical assessment policies, hoping that we have learned from the issues and won't repeat them with Australian Curriculum.  The fact that we lack clear guidance for assessment and that an ambitious implementation plan set to political timeframes is occurring, means that we have some difficult years ahead.

I have watched the effects of delaying year 7 transition to high school and the effect of the half cohort on small schools.  Schools continue to struggle with planning over the next few years,  and the effort ensuring the ATAR courses in some guise will be practical under national curriculum requirements will be considerable.  2015 will be a watershed year for public school education.

By writing things down I can see how my opinions have formed and changed based on circumstance and perspective, I can reflect on my decisions (good and bad) and attempt to make better informed decisions in future.  Though this may be a brave position, I think documentation of this sort is important for future planning and that a fear of documentation where honesty and positive intent is present is ill founded.