So what does it take to lead on Inclusion?: Reality checks in on TIM’s daily bread.

The Inclusion Manager (aka TIM) is a special breed of school leader.

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They can be highly passionate people who are working closely with very vulnerable children and families in complex situations. For a range of reasons, these families may be unable or adversely affected in their ability to engage with the rigorous advocacy of their own child’s needs. And so into the ring steps TIM.

Alternatively, TIM might be required to consider and articulately  challenge nonsensical interpretations of statute law, or opportunist ‘entitlement complexes’ that seek to capitalise and make a mockery of the intended purpose of equalities and inclusion principles.

The ability to switch from diplomat to counsellor; from political advocate to trainer; from school improvement consultant to HR manager has to be part of the core skill set of the job, without forgetting the range of children whose personal stories; emotional learning journeys and staffing management have to be contained and constantly ‘held in the mind’. TIMs diary is ever busy and bustling with things to consider, plan, respond to or ‘crack on’ with.

To be effective, the role has to be strategically empowered and accountable – and in contexts that describe themselves as ‘challenging’, TIMs really should  be senior leadership team appointments.

Long gone are the days of the insular ‘niche’ EMA coordinator or the shy and softly spoken SENCO.

TIMs of this modern era are part warrior, part life coach and essentially advocates who have to be able to:
– Set the principles, boundaries and methods of a team.
– Step up to the plate to hold SLT and teachers accountable.
– Negotiate and sometimes battle with the LA officials and an entourage of other professionals.
– Support the fears, grief and occasionally desperate behaviour of exhausted, isolated and vulnerable parents.

It’s definitely not a role for the faint hearted. Striking a consistent balance between these diverse identities can be tiring and TIMs should be encouraged (or directed) to engage with quality external supervision. (FYI School Business Manager… A ‘quick chat’ with Head really won’t cut through the chaos.)

The role constantly demands resilient emotional intelligence, critical thinking, communication and social skills that enable TIM to facilitate inclusion by overtly informing, influencing and instigating staff, parents and children – yet covertly and deliberately allowing space, time and dignity for intrinsic motivation, personal learning and reflection.

TIMs day might start with counselling parents through the slow death of deeply held dreams to acceptance and new optimism and aspiration for their children. It might end with supporting staff through the experiences of challenging behaviour, allegations or extended seasons of regression.

Whilst it can be exhilarating to note that ‘no two days are ever the same’… over extended periods the impact of such a diverse range of tactical roles and emotional ‘gear changing’ can and does take its toll.

It is an emotionally expensive role and TIMs should check to ensure that they have the personal and professional support required – before they ‘open for business’.

At times, when the situations are extremely emotionally draining or even toxic, TIMs need to be especially mindful of the impact on both themselves and their teams.
Sometimes this means having  to make the difficult decision to change or withdraw the support to protect against abuse, or give everyone involved some respite but even within these moments there has to be the genuine desire for better more positive relationship. The olive branch must always be there to be grasped.

For some TIMs, the strong and seemingly ‘natural’ desire to robustly ‘step in’, support, intervene and ‘put right’ has to be actively counter-balanced with effective personal – professional boundaries and an awareness that seeks to empower children, parents and staff to step up to the plate.
This ensures the support is person-centred yet critically biased towards the best interests of the child.

Patience is also a key ingredient because families must be able to own the decisions made, and this can take a very long time. It can be a frustrating and time consuming business – but priceless in its reward.
In situations where the child is not at risk, TIMs main role is to retain the synopsis of ‘the journey so far’, reflecting back to the family and other professionals the key discussions and thinking on the way towards a particular decision.

With the right vision, planning, systems and support it is an exhilarating, challenging and even rewarding role.
Without these, think carefully about accepting the post.
If you are particularly passionate, brave or confident… remember to punch and pirouette carefully.

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