Stella Franzese, Psychologist
In a funding based educational system, it can be challenging for teachers to adequately support students who they have identified as having significant educational needs, however were not eligible for funding under their education system.
Without dedicated funding and limited resources to support the particular student, teachers often report feeling somewhat helpless. In these cases, teachers tend to feel that the demands of the curriculum are forever exceeding the level of the student’s abilities and that the child is not receiving a satisfactory amount of support in accordance with their educational needs.
In addition, the students themselves begin to feel discouraged at school, as their academic successes are inconsistent and subpar compared to their peers. This can lead to feelings of stress, poor self-efficacy and poor self-esteem.
While acknowledging that each student and their circumstances are unique, there are some simple steps that school staff alongside parents can take to facilitate discussion about the student’s needs and begin planning for appropriate interventions within the resources available.
1: Be self-forgiving. In most cases, it is a reality that the level of adjustments required to extensively support this child may be beyond what you as one person (with 20+ students to simultaneously support) can achieve in a classroom setting. Be prepared to accept that your absolute best efforts as a teacher may only account for a portion of the adjustments that the child requires.
2: Assessment. The first step to providing individualised support to a student with educational needs is to understand what their unique learning needs are.
The type of assessments that will be completed/sought will depend on the presenting concerns (medical, language, cognitive, sensory etc.). For example, children who experience difficulties with comprehension/with their expressive vocabulary may benefit from a language assessment.
It is more than likely that if a child has been identified as having significant educational needs that standardised assessment would have already been completed to identify the specific strengths and targets for intervention of the child.
Usually children with identified difficulties in school systems are referred for a cognitive (or psychoeducational)/language assessment (depending on the presenting concerns) which is usually completed by the Psychologists/Speech Pathologists in the Student Support Services team.
This service is of no cost to the family/school, however waiting periods may vary. Once school staff and parents are aware of the child’s level of functioning in the relevant areas, individualised support planning can commence.
3: Plan. A collaborative support system (containing teachers, parents and external service providers if any) for these children is essential in supporting the student’s unique needs. It is important that this support system discuss each area of development and who/what will be responsible for this aspect of intervention.
For example, if it was identified that the child has complex sensory needs, then a classroom sensory diet can be developed in conjunction with an external Occupational Therapist and implemented by the classroom teacher daily. In addition, a Psychologist may suggest appropriate social-emotional strategies that can be implemented in a classroom setting.
To facilitate discussion about the unique needs of your student, I have summarised just a couple of general examples of recommendations that may be suggested in a planning meeting. However, it is important that the support team maintain their unique goals to one or two important objectives at a time and do not overwhelm the student with too many interventions at any one time.
Social-Emotional / Behavioural
4: Review and Revise
Pay attention to how the student is responding to the planned interventions and seek to implement these consistently for a minimum of four weeks. Review the student’s progress with the support team and make revisions to the approach/interventions as required. It is also important that progress is reflected on and the interventions evaluated by the child themselves. Overall, it is vital that the support team work hard to ensure that the student feels supported and successful in order for them to thrive from appropriate intervention.