Helping grow great teachers

Issue: Volume 99, Number 10

Posted: 29 June 2020
Reference #: 1HA8d4

Education Gazette catches up with three recipients of Ministry of Education Learning Support Study Awards.

Gina Swart

Gina completed the Postgraduate Diploma in Specialist Teaching with a complex educational needs endorsement and then went on to receive her master’s degree with distinction. Gina is currently on extended maternity leave.

Has the course helped shape your understanding of children with complex learning needs?

The course allowed me to spend time listening to the voices of students, parents, practitioners, professionals and researchers, and this deepened my understanding of how to support students with complex needs. 

I learned new strategies, read the research behind different evidence-based approaches, found and made new resources, and learned more about child rights, student agency, culturally responsive pedagogy, and so much more.

Do you feel like the course has helped you grow as a teacher?

Definitely. It has provided me with opportunities to be reflective on my teaching practice in a way that I haven’t given myself time for in the past. 

Having the time to dig into relevant research has also supported my teaching practice, and I can now articulate the evidence behind the decisions I make in more detail and with more confidence. 

What was the biggest ‘takeaway’ from the course for you?

My biggest takeaway has been my growth as a practitioner. This course has given me more courage and conviction, as I have had the time to reflect on who I am as a teacher and what I believe in. 

It helped me create a repository of resources that I have made, resources that I have found, resources suggested by others, and links to research that I will be able to refer back to and continue to add to for years. 

I also met incredible people, including practitioners throughout New Zealand, who share my passions. 

Would you recommend it to other specialist teachers?

This course offers specialist teachers an opportunity to pursue aspects of their own practice or other areas of interest. It sharpens your knowledge of up-to-date research and extends your understanding of yourself as a teacher. 

I would recommend this course to others because it challenged me and inspired me and took me in directions I couldn’t have anticipated.

Alisa Bowden

Alisa is senior teacher at Eastern Bays Learning Centre. Alisa completed the Postgraduate Diploma in Specialist Teaching with a complex educational needs endorsement.

How has the course helped shape your understanding of children with complex learning needs?

Absolutely. We all care deeply about the children we work with and want the best possible learning outcomes for them. But sometimes we get caught up in trying to address the needs and forget the child. 

Before this course, I would research everything I could about the label/diagnosis given to a child and suggested strategies for supporting them, but this was very time-consuming and ultimately not that useful. 

Now I see how our early childhood education (ECE) curriculum Te Whāriki and learning story assessment models are perfectly suited to working with diverse children, as they already focus on assessing and teaching children as individuals. 

Through this, I can trust in my knowledge of children, child development, and learning progressions to provide quality planning and teaching for children with identified needs. 

Do you feel like the course has helped you grow as a teacher?

Most certainly. The Education Act 1989 is clear that everyone, regardless of their specific learning needs, is entitled to receive state education and that schools are required to provide inclusive opportunities for all learners. 

It can feel overwhelming as a teacher when you do not feel confident or knowledgeable about how to provide this. Leading up to this course, working with children with identified needs made me feel unsure and often guilty about whether I was ‘doing the right thing’. 

This course has given me more confidence in supporting children with specific learning needs and their families, using the knowledge, skills, and experience I already have. 

I also realised our ‘notice, recognise, respond’ model of assessment is all about adjusting strategies to suit individual children, and it’s okay to ‘guess’ so long as you are reflective and responsive to a child’s strengths, needs, and interests. 

What was the biggest ‘takeaway’ from the course for you?

Relationships are key – it doesn’t matter how much you know about a particular condition or how many strategies you have under your belt if you don’t know the child. 

Ultimately, the quality and strength of the relationships we forge with tamariki create the best learning opportunities.  

Partnership with families is part of this, as they come with a wealth of knowledge about their child and can give you a head start on knowledge and support – more than any academic article, pedagogical theory, or diagnostic report. 

Would you recommend it to other specialist teachers?

I would recommend it to all teachers. I am not a specialist teacher, and it has helped my teaching immensely. 

All teachers will work with children who need individual support in the classroom or ECE centre, and so all teachers need to have skills, knowledge, and strategies for working with diverse children in their kete. 

One of the best things about this course is that your assignments create personal goals for your context. I was able to focus on specific children in my centre and adjust my planning and teaching to best support them. That made it feel less theoretical and more applicable as a form of professional development. 

The study award made a huge difference for me as well because it provided the time that I would not typically get in my working week to reflect, research, and record my progress.

Runnitty Tagaloasa-Peteru

Runnitty is a resource teacher of learning and behaviour at Mangere/Otahuhu Schools. Runnitty completed the Postgraduate Diploma in Specialist Teaching with an endorsement in learning and behaviour.

How has the course helped shape your understanding of children with complex learning needs?

In 2013 and 2014 I received a study award to complete my Postgraduate Diploma in Specialist Teaching through Massey University. The learning I gained from this two-year study period deepened my knowledge and understanding of children with diverse learning needs, and the professional growth provided a sound foundation for my role as an RTLB. 

Using local and international literature, studies and research in a range of fields, I gained strategies in supporting individual students, teachers and schools. 

During this time, I developed a keen interest in gifted education, and in 2017 I was granted an Area Schools Study Award to complete my Master of Specialist Teaching qualification with Massey University.

Do you feel like the course has helped you grow as a teacher?

Most definitely. These courses provided essential knowledge and skills in my role as an RTLB, and I also learned so much more about collaboration with other supporting agencies and the diverse roles and functions of others in education. 

I am a lifelong learner, and I am growing all the time as a teacher. When working with different students, their whānau, teachers and schools, I can contextualise, be open to understanding their identified needs, and work collaboratively to present successful outcomes.

What was the biggest ‘takeaway’ from the course for you?

My number one takeaway is about starting from a ‘strengths-based’ approach – what the student can do, their interests and what they enjoy. 

My number two takeaway is that the ‘whānau voice’ is essential when supporting any learner. At times, educational settings may not always provide opportunities to hear from parents, caregivers and whānau. 

Through this course, I learned to really value the access whānau have to historical information, and their unique knowledge of their children. 

Would you recommend it to other specialist teachers?

Every specialist teacher needs to be provided with this training as it will deepen their knowledge, skills set and understanding. It will also challenge and improve their practice as it most definitely did for me.

You did a short course with a focus on gifted learners. How has this aided your career?

In our RTLB cluster, I hold the ‘Area of Responsibility’ facilitator role for 2020, and the area of ‘giftedness’ with regard to the Learning Support Action Plan. Priority five of this plan is about meeting the learning needs of gifted children and young people, and this short course was especially essential for our team of seven to work through during the Covid-19 lockdown. 

We used Zoom for one-hour lectures delivered by Massey University. Then as a team in weekly two-hour sessions, we would engage with literature and reading materials, and share summaries of these readings. 

The collaboration, discussions and contributions that came out of this short course gave each member of our team a sound knowledge base for gifted education. Our team is now working on projects to support some schools in developing a gifted learner policy, relevant for their school community.

For more about the specialist teaching diploma, please see here(external link).

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BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 9:15 am, 29 June 2020

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