Ten Top Tips for TIMs

Given that this is the season for ‘Goodwill to all TIMs’, I thought I would share some top tips for new and exhausted TIMs and SENCOs, for the common good.

Once you’ve digested the wisdom, sit back and reflect on the exceptional achievement of surviving the Autumn Term!     Bravo T.I.M!

1) Learn to prioritise and delegate.

Think about all the tasks that you need to do and decide which ones only you can do and which ones you could delegate to a capable colleague. Routine tasks like contacting parents and professionals; booking in translators; even completing the basic information on Annual Reviews and EHCP can be adequately done by someone else. If the task is simple or repeatable… Delegate it. Also, if you notice that admin tasks take up more than a day a week, you absolutely need some allocated administrative support. If you have teaching responsibilities on top of everything else… For you, SEN admin support needs to be a non-negotiable requirement.

2) Create strong systems and schedules.

Following fast on the heels of prioritising and delegating is the art of system and schedule creation. You will need systems to be a TIM. I particularly recommend:

  • structuring TIM timetable to give a stable rhythm, pattern and priority to your working week. Without it, you will end up crisis managing every stressed out parent, child and staff member and you it is almost impossible to get any operational, strategic or referral work done. By allocating set days or times for TIM’s major tasks, TIM timetable will communicate your priorities and will very calmly decline chaotic and unreasonable demands, on your behalf.
  • the INCLUSION/ SEN annual meetings schedule. Please do not start TIM year without one! Without this kind of basic organisational clarity, teachers, support staff and even SLT may fail to take Inclusion and SEN seriously. Not because they don’t care – but because there are too many educational initiatives and priorities vying for their attention! In the current climate it is all too easy for hastily organised, poorly communicated review or team meetings to be overlooked. Make sure your schedule is sent out on the first day back; give staff a few days to communicate any adjustments and get it finalised by the 5th day of the term. From that point on, there really is no excuse for being ill-prepared. The fact is, if TIMs don’t value their review meetings, monitoring and moderation enough to organise annual schedules, then why on earth should anyone else?

3) Grow your vision 

Tip #3 assumes that TIMs have already thought about their vision for inclusion. Without a vision, every plan and effort will eventually fail. If you are TIM and you don’t have vision yet please look out for the blog , ‘What’s the vision? What’s the point?’.

4) Develop your communication & advocacy skills

INCLUSION is a fascinating, impassioned area of education but it really doesn’t come naturally to everyone in your school. PLEASE do not be devastated by the fact that some colleagues are not remotely moved by your ethical drive and moral purpose!

Your Head may have a rudimentary interest or awareness of your actual role; SLT colleagues may imagine that you spend your days filling in a few minor forms; Teaching staff may feel that you really should be personally supporting their SEN/D child or emphatically creating the ‘additional’ resources that they require.

The diversity of perspectives on TIMs role are innumerable, so to help disabuse colleagues of their misconceptions, you will need to become an effective communicator and advocate for inclusion and your philosophy of TIM role. Cool tools for this kind of advocacy include:

  • Core ethos mottos, mantras and quotations
  • Simple data and financial analysis,
  • Clear time, task and agenda management records – eg. TIM Timetable, Priorities work plan.
  • A regular scheduled meeting with your Head – in challenging or larger settings, at very least on a fortnightly basis and may need to include your SBM.
  • Well placed reflective training and questioning: Q- ‘If the school is 70+% EAL and over 50% of all children have SLCN, what percentage of our quality first teaching, has to be at a standard to meet those needs?…. Will a 30 minute weekly intervention really suffice?’

So communicate, advocate and share the beauty and burden of Inclusion with everyone!

5) Visit other venues

It’s always good to step out and see what other TIMs and SENCOs are getting up to. Good ideas don’t just turn up in a vacuum… They need observational field trips and time to reflect and respond. Inclusion management is all about problem solving and each setting may come up with different solutions to the same problem… so make some links with the ‘out of the box’ breakers in your borough. You’ll be glad you did it!

6) Read, Read, Read!

This is an important aspect of TIMs continuing professional development… as it is for any leader. And by this we mean, reading in addition to the routine letters, advice, reports and plans for the children in your setting. TIMs need to find time to read about their own leadership style, the ethics, principles and changing practice of inclusion. Articles are great and will augment your training with research but reading that triggers more reflective practice is the holy grail. Check out TIMs booklist for suggestions.

7) Connect with non-Inclusion school leaders.

INCLUSION should be part of the ‘bread and butter’ aspect of planning and teaching for every day learning, rather ‘the niche’ slice of cake for special occasions. It should never be allowed become a silo specialist. So spread yourself and experience around… Make friends with Assessment, Teaching and learning colleagues, be nice to your SBM and poach ideas from your EYFS leaders. Work on joint projects to get inclusive approaches embedded. Don’t forget to broaden your horizons by networking outside of your setting too! Whatever you do, DO NOT allow Inclusion Management in your settingto ‘play the role’ of the powerless, put-upon Cinderella constantly cleaning up behind the less thoughtful initiatives of her mean step-sisters ‘Teaching’ & ‘Learning’…. That old pantomime is a real drag and a sure sign of weak leadership!

8) Get out of that office!

TIMs need to ensure that they escape the office to see the practice in their setting. It is too easy to be overcommitted with referral meetings, SEN review meetings, Team Around the Family (TAFs) and not forgetting the routine senior leadership meetings too! Whilst these meetings are always important and are a key part of maintaining accountability, they have to be counter-balanced by opportunities to develop an awareness of the quality and consistency of the provision. Being visible to children; dropping in to touch base with staff and observing the general dynamic of relationships and learning provides the insight that gives a TIM has presence, is present and can be precise.

9) Get some supervision!

It is a big job… and yes someone has to do it… but it is too big for TIMs ‘take it all home’ on their own or to share with their family. The frustrations, the failures, the incessant ‘gate-keeping’ survival tactics of the various agencies plus the plain bureaucracy of SEN – (a situation perhaps worsened by the new SENDA 2014) – all means that there is far too much emotional energy to be contained by one person; in one office. TIMs and SENCOs are consequently on the frontline for ‘SLT burnout’. Make no mistake – your Head and your Governors have a duty of care to you, your team and most importantly to the vulnerable learners in your school to ensure that you are well supported. An occasional ‘chat’ with the Head sets a poor precedent, for the emotional demands of the role.

10) Do something else! 

Make sure you retain other interests other than work. Remember that you are a person first – Not a job title. Your life outside of school should enrich and resource you… And if it doesn’t, you really do need to address that. All work and no play makes TIM a tiresome, bitter and exhausted bore.

Lessons learned & thoughts chewed.

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The very first  thing the rookie inclusion manager must learn is the perfectionism is a fast ticket to madness. Perfectionism is a habit common to many teachers:     As a teacher- you are running your own show and are responsible and mostly in control.

As a manager – you remain responsible, but it can seems that you have absolutely no control over what does/does not happen in the classroom/ intervention room. This is tricky enough to contend with – not least because your ego / high expectations of your practice are probably what have got you to where you are now!

However, if you don’t relegate the perfectionism, it will quickly relegate you to the dreaded ‘burnout’ – because the professional dissatisfaction will eventually become emotionally and physically overwhelming.

This is not to suggest that the best TIMs can afford to roll about in their own chaotic mess. Who can risk that when they are juggling the most vulnerable children in the building? No, no, no!… The secret to fewer grey hairs is to establish well-thought out, strong, robust systems. Calmly implemented and patiently monitored.

Inclusion is about excellence and experimentation, it is about reflection and realism built on the positive appreciation of what is already working well.

Perfectionism can’t cope with any of these features. Progress for children and for leaders is all about patience, perseverance, persistance – but not perfectionism.

So Lesson #1: Delete the perfectionism.