I have been a qualified Primary School teacher in South East London for more than ten years, and a Level 3 Forest School Leader since 2013. In my current role as a Reception SEN Hub and Key Stage 1 class teacher I work with children presenting with a wide range of special educational needs, including those with Autistic Spectrum Conditions, Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorders, Social Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties, Global Developmental Delay as well as speech, language and communication difficulties including Selective Mutism.
Skills & Experience
How I can help: I believe passionately in a child-led, hands-on approach to teaching that nurtures happy, confident and resilient learners. Currently I work three days a week as a Key Stage 1 mainstream class teacher, teaching the range of subjects and skills necessary for a child’s life-long learning journey. Whilst teaching in Early Years and Key Stage 1 settings I have been privileged to work with children from a variety of backgrounds, presenting with a great diversity of emotional, learning and developmental needs. I also have a range of skills and experience gained whilst working in a specialist SEN hub for children who are struggling to thrive in a mainstream school environment.
My specialist experience working with students with SEN to develop trusting and meaningful relationships: At the start of each academic year in the mainstream classroom and the specialist SEN hub at the Primary School where I work we are used to welcoming new families to our school community. Many of the children we meet are experiencing a formal learning environment for the first time, and where they may struggle to process so much that is new and different, as a practitioner I understand that the most important inputs that I can provide are time and space. The time to allow the child to explore their new surroundings, connect with the adults and the other children who share them, and the space to experiment and discover new experiences at their own pace and direction.
I have observed how formal and meaningful learning only really begins once a student is comfortable, safe and “feeling at home”. For many children, and particular those with special educational needs this is hard to achieve and it requires patience. I always start with a range of open-ended activities, opportunities to investigate, sensory or visual delights to capture the attention and then the imagination. Once a child is absorbed in something, they quickly relax into it, and it is at this point that we can see beyond the nervous child to what that student’s learning needs really are.
In my role as Forest School Leader within the school, I have been working with a group of Year 3/4 children in our specialist SEND Hub. Each child presents with a different set of needs, but they all share the desire to be listened to, to be understood and for them to recognise in themselves their abilities. Many of them lack the confidence to try new things, take part in group learning or interact in a meaningful and positive way with their peers. The Forest School sessions that I run are designed to be flexible and just supportive enough to allow these children to explore and experiment at their own pace, as well as to choose their own direction of enquiry and learning. At the same time as a Forest School practitioner I situate myself as a co-learner in any of the experiences they are having, demonstrating my own curiosity and desire to find things out.
Because of this shared learning experience we see a great improvement in these children’s capacity for co-operative play and problem-solving, as well as a development of their own interest and curiosity. Their accustomed reticence transforms into a realisation that they can achieve at a task and they celebrate that achievement with pride, and with others. It is a realisation that they are also delighted to share with me as a practitioner and so a strong teacher / learner relationship is gradually developed upon which future learning progress can be built.
My experience teaching autistic young people: I have been working with a group of children in our specialist SEN early years setting with a range of learning needs relating to autism. At first these children were really struggling to settle, let alone make progress with their learning. Where in a mainstream setting their frustrations might have been viewed as just bad behaviour, we understand that once they feel someone is prepared to take time with them and meet their needs for care and attention then what begins as a nurturing relationship can eventually transform into a learning one. Building up simple “Now and Next” lists, routines and patterns help these children navigate through the day, particularly when supporting changes and transitions. It is clear to me that often it is time that is the most precious element in the support I can give.
I have also been working in the specialist SEN Hub serving the top end of the primary school age range. Here I have had the opportunity to build relationships with a group of children in Years 4, 5 and 6 who because of the difficulties they experience as a result of their autism, undertake the majority of their learning away from the mainstream classroom. Although spending some time supporting them in class, my main focus working with them has been in the school garden. Over several weeks the garden became a place of refuge as much as a place for developing their social skills and their understanding of how to self-regulate. For children struggling to process their responses to situations where they feel overwhelmed, the garden provides a range of opportunities to engage in physical activity and free exploration that give space and time to manage their emotions so that when they feel ready, they can return to their learning in a better frame of mind.
My experience teaching young people with anxiety: We currently have a child in our Year 3/4 SEN Hub who is highly capable and engaged in his learning but is frequently held back by a lack of confidence and fear of doing the wrong thing. He might come and ask for help, but even when he has the courage to do that it is often begun with an apology for disturbing or for making a fuss. The anxiety he demonstrates can be completely disabling for him at times, so that he has to retreat to a special place (a den) that has been created for him in the classroom. Here he can take refuge whist he reduces his stimming behaviour and is able to regulate himself.
Over time we have learnt what the triggers are for him (frequently these relate to the unpredictability of some of his peers’ behaviours) but with gentle reassurance and much pre-empting and warning of what is coming up, he is able to prepare himself for dealing with what is before him. We also make sure that there are plenty of familiar toys and routines in place throughout the day, and as he has become more and more familiar with the setting he has established his lines of retreat when he recognises in himself when it is time to step back as things become too overwhelming for him.
It is so great to see how he is gradually learning the strategies that will help him thrive as he continues to grow into the adult world.
My experience teaching young people with PDA: Amongst the children I have worked with in our specialist hubs at my school there are a couple of children who, although they have been diagnosed as having autistic traits, do not necessarily respond as well to the routines and timetables that many of their peers find so helpful for managing their anxieties. One in particular would always do the opposite of what she thought she was supposed to be doing, or what she had been asked. These behaviours were part of a set of very complex needs that she presented with, and would frequently lead to her being dysregulated.
It took time to get to know her and to earn her trust, and this involved allowing her freedom to make choices, but making sure that the choices she had were within certain boundaries; typically where they were not hurting or making life unpleasant for those around her. It was only possible to have a reasoned discussion about what those boundaries were whilst she was calm and receptive, and it was really important not to become impatient and insistent.
Whenever we met up, I made sure that our first conversation started with a question so that she could tell me what was on her mind, or what she was finding important at that moment, rather than going in straight away with what I was wanting her to do. This way I could listen carefully and gauge her mood, and we could gradually ease into a discussion on the task for that day. And if this meant going “the long way round”, the opportunity that gave for cementing trust, and perhaps picking up some other learning along the way meant that it was time well spent.
Throughout the year our relationship progressed so that she was much more willing to engage with me, to listen and respond.
My experience working with children with speech and language difficulties: I often speak to parents and carers of children with speech and language difficulties who are desperate for their child to interact and ‘fit in’, but who frequently choose to remain isolated rather than face awkward situations in playgrounds or playgroups; sometimes it is only when they are old enough to attend school that parents and carers discover that there are good reasons why their child is having difficulties communicating. I have found that when the right learning environment is found and those learning needs are better understood, then real progress in their social, emotional and learning development begins to happen.
Working in Reception and Year 1 since the Covid 19 lockdowns has highlighted just how crucial it is to nurture the skills and confidence to communicate for effective learning to happen. Over the last eighteen months I have seen many children starting school who have had little peer to peer contact or exposure to language outside their homes, and who consequently are struggling to settle and play alongside other children because of the difficulties they have communicating. My approach is, over time, to find alternative ways to communicate involving picture cues, simple signs, routines and co-created task lists (frequently based on Gina Davies’ Attention Autism techniques) that prove effective in building up the confidence to share understanding.
My specialist experience working with children with sensory needs: At present I am working with several children who have a range of sensory needs. We are mindful that too much stimulation in a setting can be particularly distressing for some, and so the environment is carefully prepared to include only the materials and displays necessary to support the activity being undertaken. Managing the sensory input for children with autistic spectrum conditions frequently requires the use of specialist equipment such as a variety of fiddle toys, ear defenders and weighted blankets to provide comfort and help maintain focus and engagement.
It is important that children are able to use their senses to explore and to learn about the world around them. I regularly take children from the specialist hub to our Forest School site, and we have found that the outdoor setting provides many opportunities for exploration in a less intense way than perhaps would be experienced in the constraint of an indoor classroom setting. We find that for some, the sensory overload pressure that can happen in a closed space is less likely to occur whilst they have the freedom to get their hands dirty, climb in the bushes and splash in the muddy puddles.
My experience working with children with social, emotional and wellbeing difficulties: In my role working with children in our school’s specialist SEN Hubs I have found the Positive Behaviour training I undertook with Team Teach incredibly useful as it provides a robust framework to support a child if they are struggling to regulate and manage their emotions. A dysregulated child feeling frustrated or unsettled by a situation (frequently when in transition between activities or at key points in the daily routine) needs time and space and an outlet for that nervous energy to be expended.
Behaviour is language, and often the trigger or root of crisis for a child is born from the frustration of not being able to articulate feelings, wants or needs. A child banging violently against a window or door may simply be expressing the desire to go outside. For one child that I work with regularly, a knowledge and understanding of the triggers and the likely path of their response to a crisis is required in order support them throughout an episode. Once I have established that he is somewhere where he can be away from others and unable to harm himself, my role as practitioner is to remain calm and patient and to supervise at enough of a distance (perhaps suggest and join in with a shared activity) in order to allow him to find his own way to feeling calm and safe once more, and crucially to be prepared to provide reassurance and comfort the moment he is ready to come back.
My experience working with children with selective mutism: Rather than a speech and language need, selective mutism is frequently more closely aligned with anxiety that might stem from any number of other learning and developmental needs. Like so many difficulties, time is often the most important element a practitioner can provide when supporting a child who is presenting with mutism. Throughout my career I have worked with several children who find it hard to communicate in certain situations. Whereas in their own home they are used to chatting with family, school can often be a trigger for ‘closing up’, with consequences for their ability to flourish in their learning. The first step is always to maintain a safe and unthreatening environment, never asking direct questions, but always maintaining a one-sided dialogue that models good speaking and language, but never puts pressure on the child to respond. Even though it may take time, the important thing is to be ready to communicate when they are ready to offer an interaction and never to make a big deal of the act of speaking.
My experience working with children with ADHD: There is a child that I have known since he was in Reception and with whom I have been working throughout his time in Year 2 who has always struggled to settle and focus in a mainstream classroom setting. Where possible we have been supporting him in small group sessions, but he benefits most when working one-to-one with a teacher, and it is on this basis that I have found he makes the best progress in his learning.
Whilst being extremely capable and quick to learn, his attention span is very short and his thought processes flit from subject to subject, making it very difficult for him to focus on any particular learning intention. However, over time I have discovered that he learns best when I am able to keep up with his creative thought processes, and alter the direction of a lesson to suit his interest and his energy at the time; I either support him as he explores his own angle, or gradually use his energy and enthusiasm to steer him back around to the intended learning by framing it within his chosen subject.
For example, although his Maths and reading skills are excellent, this child struggles with his writing, and so although a particular learning intention might have been to write an account of a lived experience like a school trip, he will be far more interested in telling me about a made-up story that he develops rapidly on the spot from his rich and lively imagination.
Rather than attempting to channel his writing energy into the original exercise, I have learnt that he writes much more freely and with more expression and confidence if he is allowed to tell his own story in his own way. The resulting piece of his writing will be nowhere near what was intended for him and his classmates to complete, but it will have demonstrated his capabilities and held his attention sufficiently in order for him to celebrate and progress in his learning.
My specialist experience teaching reading and writing English: When I am teaching English to older children, I try to pass on my enthusiasm for telling and creating stories. Often when we start on a new English topic we begin with a core fact or fiction text. My favourite approach is to start with a “book talk” lesson, where we discuss what we liked/disliked and sometimes respond to the story through drama, acting out what we think might happen or what we found in the narrative. I find that this is a brilliant way to immerse children in a story, whilst holding their attention and helping them discover a confidence to speak in a group.
Over the week or so that we might be focusing on a book our English topics always lead to a writing exercise, providing a further way for children to engage with the text, and giving them the framework to demonstrate their own creativity and writing skills.
For the practical skills of reading I am a specialist practitioner in teaching systematic synthetic phonics (based on the “Letters and Sounds” progression) in preparation for the Year 1 Phonics Screening. Whilst this lends itself to learners who like things broken down into small chunks, not all children learn to read in the same way. For some learners, building up lists of words known by sight can complement and even replace a wholly phonics-led approach. I support fluency development by drawing on a range of paired reading strategies to help build the student’s confidence, understanding and love of reading.
For reading and writing, recognising and blending sounds together is necessary but not sufficient for progress to be made. An understanding of language and a store of vocabulary to draw upon is vital for the development of literacy, and this can be the most difficult step for some children particularly where a child may lack the confidence or the lived experiences to articulate thoughts and describe the world around them. I have found that for children at this stage in their learning journey it is important to spend time allowing the learner to explore and communicate in the way most comfortable to them, and to provide situations and ways to stimulate their interest and capture their imagination.
Like reading, writing requires a combination of several skills that need to come together for the successful and confident writer. As well as recognising letters and matching them to sounds, I will help your child develop the range of fine and gross motor skills necessary for them to progress from meaningful mark-making to forming identifiable letters. From my experience in Early Years (and as a parent!) I have found that children love to get messy with anything from paint or foam to wet spaghetti. All these can be used to encourage letter formation and fine motor strength.
My specialist experience teaching Maths: Children develop the cognitive skills to understand Maths in many different ways and at differing rates. Whether in a mainstream class or working with children who need the support from our specialist hub, an understanding of mathematical language is often most effectively achieved through a three-step process. When introducing a new concept I start by encouraging learners to manipulate blocks, counters and objects in order to build a concrete sense of number and pattern before moving on to pictorial representations and then to the abstract operation itself. I make sure that each step is broken down into achievable steps, and that the student is allowed to work at their own pace so that they can recognise the progress they are making and consequently build their confidence. It is such a joy to see a child achieving that “Aha” moment when something finally makes sense to them!
My experience teaching study skills/executive functioning skills: Many of the children in our Specialist SEND hubs and in our mainstream classrooms struggle with a range and variety of what are often called ‘executive functioning skills’. For example this can often present in a child being unable to keep focused on a task or retain and process information. Many of these skills will develop over time as a part of natural brain development, but children of all ages benefit from the opportunity to apply them in appropriate and supported learning situations. Both as part of my classroom and outdoor Forest School teaching I work with children who’s learning is frequently being held back where these skills have yet to be developed.
For both indoor and outdoor settings this means breaking up larger tasks into much smaller chunks, each one providing an opportunity for celebration and pride when it is achieved. I have found that a lack of confidence might be a reason a child is struggling to remain focused on something, and so when a task is completed and acknowledged as such, this can provide the impetus for taking the next step.
Where writing ‘to do’ lists might be difficult and therefore not an appropriate way of organising a thought process, recording a set of spoken instructions and playing them back piece by piece gives the learner control over the information flow, and thus removes the potential for panic that might have otherwise occurred.
One child I work with finds any sort of classroom focus difficult, and yet in the Forest School he loves taking the initiative and constructing complex structures. With gentle support he solves each problem step by step, firstly arranging long poles to make a wig-wam, and then enlisting his peers to work together to find the best way to secure a tarpaulin and complete a shelter. His evident pride in the achievement is great to see!
My experience working with young people to boost their confidence and self-esteem: Many of the difficulties experienced by the children I work with in our specialist SEND Hubs relate to (or sometimes are directly a result of) feeling unable to achieve. They may have struggled with mainstream class work and expectations, and consequently they have switched off from learning altogether. This produces its own vicious cycle which becomes harder and harder to break.
In every case I have found that these children need careful nurturing and listening to, firstly to build up a trusting relationship with me, and then gradually to begin to recognise through the conversations that we have what they are actually capable of doing. Of course it is not enough just to talk, real confidence (and indeed learning) come about through action and experience, and so one of the lessons I have learnt as a Forest School practitioner is to follow the interest, and then identify small and achievable tasks that a child can pick up bit by bit.
A nice example of this is with a simple task like whittling a stick. The job itself requires concentration, control and an attention to safety, but what ever the ability of the person, it does not take long to produce a very satisfying result, and potentially a beautiful and useful object. They can come back to the activity anytime, and its familiarity provides comfort as well as satisfaction as their skill gradually grows and they produce something that they are visibly proud of.
The confidence they experience in this one instance is then something that can be referred to by practitioners and themselves on other occasions as examples of what they are capable of achieving. This provides a helpful way in to trying new things and believing in their abilities in other situations they come across.
My specialist experience providing engaging sessions to inspire a love of learning: As a teacher I know the importance of catching attention and maintaining interest at the start of a learning exercise. For example, a technique we often use in our Early Years SEN hub nicely illustrates how to create a fun, learning experience. “Bucket Time” begins with a large, covered container (typically a bucket) containing a selection of curious, interesting and unexpected objects. We invite students to anticipate what we might find inside by singing a song thereby turning the enquiry into a party. Our students’ imaginations are sparked and questions are generated. “Random” objects are drawn from the bucket and presented to the student to play with or explore with great excitement.
“Bucket Time” for a SEN practitioner is a formally planned process for younger learners underpinned by a robust pedagogy. For the children who enjoy it so much, what looks like a game at a children’s party is a vital way-in to inspire and excite our learners, and it becomes the launch-pad from which so many other learning opportunities can be grown. With older children the principles are the same, and when working with a child on a one-to-one basis, the first steps are about getting to know them and their interests and experiences, and then using that as the starting point for a conversation or a game that becomes the touchpaper for the learning.
Every session I teach is planned and prepared, but I will change what we do the instant I find it isn’t working. My teaching approach is enhanced by drawing on more than ten years’ experience as an early years practitioner, Forest School Leader and musician, adapting whatever is to hand in order to re-engage a child’s interest and not to miss a vital learning opportunity.
Learning should be fun, but fun alone is not enough. Any student needs to recognise for themselves that they have progressed. There is no substitute for experiencing that feeling of joy and satisfaction as they realise that they have achieved, found or learnt something new.
My skills and experience supporting students to develop their independence: One of the most important skills a child can acquire is the ability to learn on their own. The reality is that children develop this skill naturally. From the moment they are born they are exploring the world with all the senses available to them. This is a natural process that is there to be nurtured rather than taught. My philosophy for teaching centres on the notion that although there are clearly things that can be “taught”, meaningful learning comes from within, through experience and experimentation. In all my teaching practice I support my students’ confidence and desire to explore on their own, to assess their own learning progress and I encourage them to look back with pride on what they have achieved. Celebrating success is vital as it provides the seal on any new learning, and each success is a step closer to that independent learner.
My experience as Forest School Leader has taught me how to find open-ended activities (ones that have no obvious finish point), where a series of well-defined, small and achievable tasks combine towards an ever-expanding learning journey. For example, learning to tie simple knots and join two sticks together can lead to an outcome only limited by the amount of string and the size and number of sticks!
Whenever I am working with a student on something new and challenging I make sure that I have made the time to understand what level of support they will need so that they feel secure as they explore a new concept (and that they understand that it is OK to get things wrong). I then make sure that I know when gradually to withdraw that support in a way that allows their own confidence to take over so that they “can do” for themselves.
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Qualifications and Training
- PGCE Early Years
- Qualified Teacher Status (QTS)
- BA Hons (Music)
- Forest School Leader (Level 3 Training)
- School-based SEN Training
- School-based Curriculum Training (Including Talk for Writing, White Rose Maths)
- Team Teach Positive Behaviour Training
- Paediatric First Aid Training
- Child Protection and Safeguarding Training (Level 1 and 2)
- ASC (autism)
- ADHD & ADD
- PDA (Pathological Demand Avoidance)
- SEMH (Social & Emotional & Mental Health needs)
- Speech and Language Needs (including non-verbal)
- Global Developmental Delay & Learning Difficulties
- Early Years
- Primary (Maths & English Literacy)
- Social Communication & Language Skills
- Confidence and Self-Esteem
- Functional Skills (English & Maths)
- Homework Support
My Teaching Philosophy
We all learn in different ways, but the starting point for any of us to learn in a meaningful way is to feel comfortable and safe. We also need our attention grabbed, our curiosity stimulated and maybe too, be made to laugh.
A student will learn most effectively when they have their own emotional and physical needs met. I believe that time spent at the beginning of the relationship is invaluable for building trust and confidence in each other and for establishing a safe channel through which to communicate. This might happen in one introductory meeting, over a number of sessions or as the initial part of every lesson we have together. Only once a relationship is secured and the student is relaxed and comfortable then I know that we are ready to start working together.
Every session I teach is planned, but I will change what we do the instant I find it isn’t working. My teaching approach is enhanced by drawing on more than ten years’ experience as an early years practitioner, Forest School Leader and musician, adapting whatever is to hand in order to re-engage a child’s interest and not to miss a learning opportunity.
Learning should be fun, but fun alone is not enough. A child needs to recognise for themselves that they have progressed. There is no substitute for experiencing that feeling of joy and satisfaction as they realise that they have achieved and found something new.
Choose me if…
You are looking for an experienced and professional teacher who understands the importance of spending time and finding the right space to build a trusting relationship to identify and meet the emotional and learning needs of your child.
You are looking for a calm and reassuring tutor who will draw on a wide range of practical and creative skills to engage and stimulate your child’s innate curiosity and desire to explore.
You are willing to work with me to support your child as they build the confidence to navigate the next stage of their own learning journey.
Something Sensational About Me
I’ve enjoyed singing all my life. I perform regularly in a London choir, and get to sing in some amazing musical events from full orchestral and choral performances like Verdi’s Requiem, to smaller more intimate gigs in churches and museums. For any Floyd fans out there we once performed with David Gilmore re-creating a live performance of their seminal album, Atom Heart Mother (the one with the cow on the front!).
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