One of the nicest things, for me, of having my own blog and interacting with people over social media is that, for the first time in a long, long time I haven’t felt so alone. It’s partly to do with being the parent of a child with a disability, in my case, Down’s syndrome, and something to do with being a part-time, non-classroom-based teacher. Put the two together, and there you have it. An isolated creature indeed.
It’s something I never expected, when I started this blog, that I would find myself in a community. First of all there is the Down’s syndrome parenting community. There is something about knowing that there are other people who have shared your journey – and who continue to share it – that is tremendously affirming. We are a an eclectic bunch, and you can find details to some of the bloggers with whom I am in contact here.
Then there is the SEND parenting community in general. A passionate group of people who advocate powerfully for their children and whose expertise is often collected around the giant of SEND blogging that is Special Needs Jungle. I am immensely flattered to have been asked to blog for the website – and I appreciate the connection to the wider community. We all have so much experience to share and so much support to give each other, from our different perspectives. Together we truly are stronger.
And then, there is the online teaching community. One of the things I most missed when I went on my extended maternity leave was the company of my colleagues. I missed the particular way that they talk about things, the way they chat about the massed children we teach, and the individuals that stick in our minds (for a multitude of reasons, including eating paperclips and being sent to the local hospital for x-rays). I missed the sense of humour, the banter and the puns (no one else seems to pun like teachers, or tweet each other jokes about punctuation marks); the shared purpose and values.
And within that the teacher writers. People like Sue Cowley, and Hey Miss Smith, Sarah Ledger and others whose blogs I adore for the quality of their writing, the way they make me feel. The way that there are people out there who not only understand the joy of working with young people, but also of playing with words; how a story just seems to plop out onto the page, fully formed, almost as if the writer had nothing to do with it.
And, like the skin of an onion, once you get going, you can keep on peeling the layers back and finding more and more treasures. The Primary Rocks crew. The SEND leaders. Teachers and researchers, writers and tweeters who make me feel part of something really rather special, and really rather important. From my little sitting room, in front of the fire, I feel as if I am part of something; the disconnects I feel in my flesh-and-blood life are lessened. It’s like the first time I really talked to my friend K. We talked about creativity and art and it was like coming home.
The thing is, though, that it has become terribly easy for me to persuade myself that I am in less of a minority than I really am. I didn’t feel it particularly much when I went to Primary Rocks Live. The atmosphere at the Wellington Festival of Education was so thick with the shock of the EU Referendum result that none of us were capable of noticing anything else much. But I was intensely aware of it on Saturday morning at TLT16 in Southampton.
I forget, you see, that the things I know, about special educational needs, about the Code of Practice and about the perils of labelling, the social model of disability and how you actually remove barriers to learning in the classroom so that you can get on teach and they can get on and learn, aren’t actually as common knowledge as I would like them to be.
So I suppose I’ve got a job to do. I suppose I need to carry on making connections, telling stories and getting SEND out of the silo and into the mainstream. It’s really nice to have people around me who understand, and with whom I share a great deal, but for me, it’s in danger of becoming an echo chamber; and if that happens I will forget that, actually, carrying on banging on about the same old things still needs to be done.