CfESEND blog: New beginnings: together we are better!

Sarah Triggle-Wells, Learning Support Manager at Weston College, for the Centres for Excellence in SEND programme.

As we begin a new academic year, we reflect on our learning from the previous year. The pandemic continued to give us new challenges to negotiate, ensuring SEND and vulnerable learners accessed high quality programmes through a mixed delivery learning model, with learners accessing simultaneous face to face and virtual sessions.

The mental health and well-being of learners and staff has been our top priority, reducing feelings of isolation and maintaining a community that feels connected, valued and supported. The college has recognised the impact of the pandemic and has placed authentic emotional differentiation at the centre of its strategy.

This incorporates staff training, learner toolkits and empowerment for the emotional experiences of staff and learners to be recognised within our college and curriculums. We are more aware than ever before of the impact of digital working on mental health and wellbeing and have encouraged staff and learners to explore the different methods of maintaining emotionally healthy communication via digital means.

Alongside this, it has been a year when the communities of practice have really become a stronghold in the calendars of colleges who wish to engage with their national peers, sharing effective practice at a time when we have been adapting to change at such speed. Luckily with our newfound confidence using digital platforms, the sector recognised the value of joining together regularly and embraced the ease of meeting online to explore emerging issues, adapting and supporting one another. The supportive relationships we have built within our communities of practice now has the momentum and grounding for a new beginning and positive year ahead.

Communities of Practice: Bringing colleges and their learners together

“The beginning is the most important part of the work.” – Plato

Through the linking of college staff through the communities of practice, we have been able to further advance our reach with learners to bring amazing opportunities for them to collaborate virtually. The lack of work experience opportunities during lockdown led to our learners taking part in supported internships, so they could continue to develop their communication skills with new people from different backgrounds.

We were also able to link with another college through our discussions at one of the Hot Topic Webinars, enabling joint virtual learning opportunities to be established. The first initial session involved each learner being tasked with giving a short presentation on their learner journey to date. This generated invaluable discussions and steered appropriate conversations in a professional manner.

The learners from the two colleges continue to meet on a regular basis, utilising the breakout rooms to take part in employability groups, role play and social enterprise activities. This significantly impacted learners’ confidence, boosting morale and connectivity. This pilot has now been embedded within this year’s supported internship programme, linking with new colleges and creating an additional community of practice that is led by learners.

“I was so lucky to meet Sarah who also wanted to work in a cinema as no one else on my course wanted to do the same job. We were able share our top tips and support each when we returned to our placement as we were both really nervous about catching Covid.”

“I was extremely proud of the professionalism the Into Work learners demonstrated in the joint delivery sessions and this really helped to give a more varied learner experience and practice their skills during lockdown. The members of staff also spent time sharing resources and creative ideas to ensure learners continued to make progress.”

There is an invaluable benefit to collaborating, learning and working together to help alleviate shared demands within the sector. The virtual platforms have made this much more accessible and efficient to colleges and there is now national representation within the communities and a fantastic baseline of college support from which to grow.

Please get in touch if you would like to find out more about the work of our CfE in SEND (People). We’re keen to hear from anyone who would like to work collaboratively with the CfE, so please do get in touch with your suggestions and ideas: CfESEND@weston.ac.uk.

For further details of the ETF Centres for Excellence in SEND, webinar recordings, resources and toolkits please visit the SEND Excellence Gateway.

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