It's hard to know what to do sometimes.
At Haeata Community Campus we had 850 kids start our new school on the same day. That was a challenge. We now have around 1000 students. At the end of week 7, Term 1, things have begun to settle down for most children. In my Hapari of Year 0 to 3 students I would say around 90% are feeling at home and are learning. The other 10% are still struggling to feel included.
I recently went to a ministry training day where we discussed ways of supporting all children to learn. We were of course thinking of our most challenging students. The ones that don't fit inside a box. The ones we don't always know how to teach. The ones who are our most vulnerable. I felt upset over a diagram that seemed to polarise student's learning with their wellbeing. They called it 'managing ready to learn behaviour'. Why did this term upset me? I think because we are asking children to learn academic stuff, without firstly meeting their real needs. I certainly don't like the word 'managing' this to me means we are not fixing a problem but accepting it and trying to ask children to learn what we think is important while ignoring the real cry for help.
If we are to be inclusive we want to include all children, 100%.
Do you want to include all children?
Most teachers will say yes.
Then the behaviour starts and the feeling of being overwhelmed begins. We try our best but nothing seems to work. We see small breakthroughs which we celebrate, then we return to the beginning. We wonder if we are making a difference. These kids stretch us beyond anything we have ever experienced. They test us and our system. Who will stay?
Inclusion requires perseverance for the long haul. Including these children is not easy. They don't always fit inside our idea of teaching and learning. This inclusion is not cheap. It is not tidy or clean. It does not happen inside four walls. It requires human resources. Inclusion requires time listening to whanau (families). Partnering with them. Time is expensive, not only in money terms but personally.
Beyond all the behaviour, swearing, running, fighting, sulking and failure, is a child. A child who would love to fit in, succeed, be loved, and learn. These ones, the hardest ones, want to be included. They want a friend. They want a teacher who likes them and shows them so. They want to play. They want to know new stuff. Sometimes, they want to be fed. They want to visit their parent. Sometimes, they want to be clean. They may want to hear or see properly. I'm sure they want to be calm.
Yet all we see are children out of control. Some who yell. Some who kick. Some who run and hide. Some who won't listen. Some who won't sit. Some who won't be a friend.
Their behaviour is the opposite to what they actually want. Imagine a child who has just been rescued from drowning in the sea. They sit in a boat with their rescuers. Then they pick up a hammer and begin to make a hole in the boat. While we offer help because this is what we see to do, the child may do the opposite.
Maybe we offer food. Clean clothes. Time to listen. Calm hands. An environment where they can focus on their passions. Often they are so tired, anxious, and so much in fight or flight they are exhausted and can not focus.
This is a diagram I drew up quickly last week. Basically, it talks about meeting the real needs of children. Not putting band aides on. We can manage children or we can met their actual needs. Inclusion should be about meeting the needs of a child even if they don't fit into what we consider to be school. For example, if a child doesn't have a stable home, how can we help the whanau find a home? If a child is anxious, how can we support them to learn to be less anxious.
I suggest we start at the bottom and work our way up. 'Academic learning' will come increasingly when other needs are met. For me inclusion is meeting the real needs of each child and whanau to enable deep learning.
As a teacher, I spend time noticing. Perhaps this is my sharpest tool. Noticing what my students like to do. I respond quickly by finding the stuff. The wood, the clay, the paper, the resources. Most of the children I teach (5 to 8 year olds) like to make, craft, paint, play. Some feel safe on computers. There are some who are too tired and hyper vigilent to even play. I notice that they get anxious when someone gets too close. Or they start to yell when someone has something they want. This gets them into fight or flight mode. Some arrive at school like this. Some stay and fight and some run.
What I have noticed and you may have as well, that often these children, get stood down. This often leads to being excluded from school. Then they go to another school and the same thing happens again.
It takes a village to raise a child. But at the moment our 'village' is broken. If school is the child's 'home'. Where are the villagers? Where I live, the villagers seem far away. At school we have the basics, we do have some resources. These are not enough for the deep needs of our 10% that need extra to be included. The villagers seem to hold the resources. These may include, diagnosis, access to operations, therapy, training, food, homes, counselling, social workers, occupational therapists, money to employ more teachers to lower the ratios, and skills. Sometimes the villagers argue over who should get what. This happens between the health, social and the education villagers. The arguing costs money. They sometimes wait until something really bad happens before opening the purse.
I am so proud to be at Haeata Community Campus. I am with an amazing team who are really trying to pull together a village to help a child and whanau. We certainly don't have all the answers, but we have will and passion. We want to partner with our village.
My point of view are that things are getting worse, not better. Children are in great pain. How can we improve our systems so that the children receive the help and support they truely need to be included fully in society?