Role of the institution
Cranleigh School is an ACT Government school providing education for children with developmental delays, autism, moderate to severe intellectual or multiple disabilities in the age range 3-12 years old. The school is equipped with a range of facilities including a hydrotherapy pool, gymnasium, multisensory room, sensory garden and outdoor play areas. The school’s motto is “Achieving potential together” so the school welcomes parents and community members to participate in daily school routines and special events. The school has a partnership with Therapy ACT who work together with the children, teachers and parents. The school also collaborates with therapists and parents to develop Individual Learning Plans (ILPs) for all students in the school. Communication, independence skills and Information and Communication Technologies are taught across the curriculum and assistive technologies help the students to develop in all areas of learning (Cranleigh School, 2012).
Reason for selection
As I completed my Community Engagement Program (CEP) at the conclusion of my second semester of 2012, I had had plenty of time to assess where I would like to conduct my CEP. I was looking for a place that would allow me to broaden my teaching experiences and provide me with new knowledge, skills and understandings. When discussing my placement with a variety of people, some suggested that I attend Cranleigh School because of it’s quality reputation and it’s clear link to my studies. During my involvement in EDAC225 Family Studies and Disability (Harkness, 2012), I had the opportunity to visit Cranleigh School for a day and experience how a special needs school operates. This was a very positive experience in which I gained appreciation for the school and the work that they do. After this visit I was sure I wanted to complete my CEP at Cranleigh and organised with the Assistant Principal to begin after my Professional Experience.
By completing my CEP at Cranleigh School I wished to gain experience working with a variety of children with additional needs as I had had very little prior experience. I felt this would equip me for future teaching and possibly generate a prospective career path. In doing so I also wanted to gain a better understanding of the school’s curriculum and how the school was different to a mainstream school. Additionally I knew it would be very beneficial to develop my knowledge of a variety of disabilities, conditions and learning difficulties and the different augmentative and alternative communication systems.
Description of activities
While undertaking my CEP I engaged in a wide range of activities in and outside of Cranleigh School with varying ages of children. I spent the majority of my time assisting teachers in their regular classroom routines and engaging with children. I had the opportunity to spend time in almost all of the classrooms with children ages 3-12. As part of the different class’ routines I participated in hydrotherapy, art and craft, music, ICT, massage therapy and sports.
During my CEP I was fortunate enough to attend four excursions with different groups of children. We went to Mt Rogers for singing with their year two classes. We went to Tidbinbilla for the day to see the information centre and have a picnic at the playground. We went to St Francis Xavier school to continue building the partnership the two schools have and give some of our older students a tour of their future high school. We also went bowling as an end of year treat, which the year 3-6 boys enjoyed thoroughly. I was also given a lunch duty at the Scullin Preschool, where I was able to experience the early intervention autism program for three and four year old children.
As the year was closing to an end, the Assistant Principal asked me to assist in the production of the children’s digital portfolios. This was a great opportunity as I had never seen digital portfolios, I was able to learn more about the children and the curriculum, and I was able contribute my computing skills to the teaching team.
As part of my CEP I participated in teaching responsibilities by doing recess and lunch duties. This was great to see how the whole school came together to play harmoniously in the vast and beautiful outside spaces. During these duties and other class times I had the pleasure of engaging in professional discussions with various members of the staff. These conversations underpinned my understanding and appreciation of the whole experience and allowed me to get as much as I could from the program. I am so grateful to all the staff for sharing with me their wisdom, guidance, knowledge, skills and love of teaching.
To conclude the year, the school was putting on a Christmas and Graduation concert. Throughout the preparation, production and clean-up of the event I assisted in; concert rehearsals, performance practices, preparing the morning tea, recording the concert and cleaning up after the event. This was wonderful to see the whole school collaborate and come together to celebrate the year and recognise the graduating students.
Reflection on learning:
Throughout my placement at Cranleigh School I encountered numerous and varying challenges. They ranged from adapting my own teaching techniques, to getting to know the school, expanding my understandings and gaining new knowledge and skills. Although these challenges were difficult to overcome, I learned the most from the challenges and I am a better teacher for it.
During my one day visit and the early days of my CEP I found my usually reliable and established teaching strategies near useful. I found that many of the teaching and learning experiences were so different from those I was used to that I found myself unsure of what to do and without my usual teaching intuition. As the days went on and I discussed the teaching practices with a few of the staff I began to understand the rationales of their seemingly mysterious and unfamiliar teaching strategies. After seeing teachers model their strategies I began to replicate them, with which I had positive feedback from both students and teachers. Once I understood the reasons behind their teaching techniques I felt much more confident and once again intuitive in my teaching abilities.
For example; one day as I was escorting a group of students from the bus bay to the classroom, one child held my hand as we walked together. The teacher accompanying us soon told me that teachers do not hold student’s hands unless it is for safety reasons. I found this quite confronting as it is a daily part of my teaching in an early learning centre. Later I asked the teacher why the rule had been put in place when the simple experience was the expression of a developing relationship and bonding between teacher and student. She explained to me that because a fundamental part of the curriculum is teaching student independence, this notion encourages students to more reliant on teachers. Additionally she pointed out that due to the age of the student, that regular social practices would not deem this a normal behaviour. After this discussion I understood the reason for this teaching strategy and felt more confident in my role modelling and teaching skills.
As always beginning at a new school can be daunting. Particularly when you know nobody, you won’t be staying long term and the curriculum is extraordinarily different to anything you have seen. Despite this I tried my best to be confident, professional, sociable and help wherever possible. Throughout my placement the whole teaching team was helpful, welcoming and approachable and the students were friendly and happy for me to join in their daily activities. This made my stay at Cranleigh school positive and entirely worthwhile.
During my CEP I aided the school on four excursions. This mainly consisted of helping students on and off the buses, supervision of students throughout the excursion, engagement with students and conducting student activities. The most memorable excursion was the day we took two classes to the bowling alley. I was asked to supervise one lane with four students, teach them the rules and guide their technique. At first this seemed to be an easy task, until I turned my head and a student started to walk off. Although this experience kept me constantly moving and thinking, the students and I all had a wonderful time. During this time I felt I was given a great chance to show my skills to the other teachers and really teach the students, as for some of them it was their first time bowling. Although I made a significant contribution on this excursion, this experience made a significant contribution to my time at Cranleigh School.
The way in which this experience has assisted you to develop new knowledge, skills and attitudes relevant to your professional learning;
As a primary rationale for my CEP at Cranleigh I wished to expand my teaching experiences by gaining new skills, knowledge, understandings and perspective. As a result of observing and participating in a variety of classroom activities I have developed new skills including the developing use and knowledge of ipads (for educational purposes), Interactive Whiteboards and communication boards. I now also have a much greater understanding of how the Cranleigh curriculum works and subsequently classroom routines and activities.
In regards to the knowledge I have gained during my CEP, this has come from experience, readings and professional discussions with a variety of teachers. The key areas in which my knowledge has expanded has been in regards to; knowledge of disabilities, conditions and learning difficulties; with a strong emphasis on Autism, Down Syndrome and Willi Prader Syndrome, and a range of teaching strategies applicable for both the mainstream and special needs classroom. This program has made my text-book knowledge come to life and has been a very active learning experience.
I feel the most important part of this whole experience has been the understandings and new perspectives I have gained. Before attending my CEP at Cranleigh School I was relatively unaware and uneducated and thus anxious about teaching children with additional needs. As a result of my experiences at Cranleigh I now understand the importance of routine, independence and life skills and I have a much greater appreciation for special needs education and teaching. Due to this program my teaching perspective has blossomed and I am now much more open to and confident in special needs teaching. In completing my CEP I feel I have accomplished my aim and I am much more confident and knowledgeable in my abilities to teach children with additional needs (Burgess, 2012).
Australian Human Rights Commission. (1992). Disability Discrimination Act 1992. Retrieved from http://humanrights.gov.au/disability_rights/index.html
Burgess, J. (2012). EDFD261 Creating Inclusive, Safe and Supportive Schools. Canberra: Australian Catholic University.
Cranleigh School. (2012). Our school [Fact sheet]. Retrieved from http://www.cranleighps.act.edu.au/
Harkness, C. (2012). EDAC225 Family Studies and Disability. Canberra: Australian Catholic University.
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United Nations Human Rights High Commission. (2006). United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Retrieved from http://www.un.org/disabilities/convention/conventionfull.shtml