In 3 days I’ll commence a new school year, in a new role as relieving principal for a special purpose school that caters for students with emotional and behavioural difficulties. I’m expecting to be there for a term, but it could be longer depending on how long it takes to fill the position permanently.
Working with these sorts of students is always challenging. While I’ve developed expertise working with similar cases in a mainstream setting, working in a school where EVERY child has significant behavioural or emotional needs will be a new experience.
However, this sort of work is rewarding. I usually find that once trust and rapport has been developed with a child, they make great progress. I love seeing them develop self awareness, emotional control, belief in themselves as learners and as valued members of a school community. So often their first experiences with formal education is negative, and they feel alienated. A lot of work needs to go into reversing that, building their self esteem and confidence. If we can help them with this during their early years at school, I believe we have a far greater chance of seeing positive outcomes for them in the future.
I’m looking forward to working for a cause that I am passionate about.
I went into the office last week and started transferring dates to my calendar. It is already bursting with deadlines, meetings and so forth. I have 8 meetings in Week 2 scheduled already, along with enrolling a new student. There are 8 the following week as well.
Of the 5 teachers (There are 5 teachers and 5 learning support officers at the school) only two were there last year. Two of the three new teachers coming in have done some casual relief work at the school and are highly regarded, but this will be their first experience running their own class. The third teacher has never worked at the school before.
All of these teachers are early career and on temporary contracts. The assistant principal, who seems very capable, dedicated and insightful is also a temp. There is one permanent teacher on the team at the moment.
I think at least two of the five learning support officers (formerly called teachers aides) are also new this year. So, of the 10 staff, 5 are new. And then of course there’s me – new as well. A priority will be to ensure that all the teachers are well supported, with the less experienced having access to good mentors.
With so much change I want to try to keep things as normal as possible for the students. Often children with diagnoses like ADHD, ODD and autism experience a lot of anxiety when there is change. Returning to school after the holidays, being put into new classes with different peers and a new teacher is anxiety inducing enough. Introducing several unfamiliar adults will likely add to this. There may well be some boundary testing, and greater chance of meltdowns in the first few weeks.