CfESEND blog: leadership reflections with Derby College Group

Blog by Sarah Le-Good, Director of Inclusion and CfESEND Project Lead at Derby College Group (DCG), for the Centres for Excellence in SEND programme.

As we draw to the close of year 2 as a Centre for Excellence in SEND, the team and I have taken some time and reflected on the great people and organisations we have engaged with over the last year. From huge multi-campus college groups to small independent training providers, we have engaged and shared with over 1000 colleagues from the post-16 sector. Some organisations have accessed many sessions, spent time with our CEO Mandie Stravino, reviewed and revised strategy, and stretched and challenged us to innovate and think differently while some have attended a single session and then taken away information to reflect on. Others have engaged in our monthly Community of Practice sessions and shared their triumphs and progress with us, whether that’s the changing of language and team names or monitoring visit feedback from OFSTED.

If you’re reading this from one of the organisations we have worked with, thank you.

  • Thank you for your patience while we have perfected our use of MS Teams
  • Thank you for your growth mindset and focus on personalised accessible curriculum building, sequencing, and pedagogical delivery
  • Thank you for sharing your professional world with us, and some amazing resources too.

Further reflections are specific to the Covid-19 lessons we are all still learning.

Female taking a selfie in front of cards with rainbows on themSo, my biggest Covid-19 keeps are:

  • It’s ok just to be getting on with things – whether you’re ok or not
  • Working from a place of gratitude and realism helps my resilience
  • The power of inclusion has grown – Covid-19 has forced a space for discussion around disparity that mere mortals have never had the power to!
  • Celebrating impact across our sector lends grist to the mill of passion, and motivation for change to be adopted as the norm. The last year has shown us that change is our key constant!
  • Our inclusion pledge asking for bravery in all #inclusionists is spot on.

Personally, one of the biggest reflections has been the development of what I affectionately title “compassionate agitation”. I’ve found it much easier to ask probing and occasionally uncomfortable questions about perceptions and why we do things if I have set up the lens for those questions via my identity as a “compassionate agitator”. As a post-16 sector, many of us take part in Adverse Childhood Experiences training (ACEs) around the impact of trauma and how we need to respond and change provision to “enable” learners. Some of the reading I have done as part of my development has been around shame and its potential impact when discussing developing an inclusionist mindset. Kaufman writes, “to feel shame is to feel seen in a painfully diminished sense.” (1985, p.8).

Is this the key to unlocking perceptions, bias, or challenges, ensuring that we are intentionally managing the conversation and enabling us all to reflect and make sure we support people with compassion and acceptance? We must ensure we don’t damage ourselves or others as we acknowledge our starting points and that we all need to change: “Shame is the gap between who we want to be and who we appear (or think we appear) to be.” (Fussi, 2015).

As I wrote in a previous blog, I have found strength in my accidental vulnerability throughout Covid-19. So, the summative reflections from me in year 2 of the project are:

  • Compassion in all we do (self and others)
  • Change is our friend and a constant opportunity for us to enable ourselves and our students
  • We would love you to join us in year 3 and we would welcome suggestions for areas we can work on together.

If we are brave and compassionate in our work and lives, imagine how powerful that will be for our learners, our families and our friends … It’s ok, to be a ‘compassionate agitator’!

If you would like to get in touch with us, then please email

Thank you for reading, stay safe.

Fussi, D. (2015). Aristotle on shame. Ancient Philosophy, 35, 113–135.
Kaufman, G. (1985). Shame: The power of caring. Rochester, VT: Schenkman Books.
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