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.

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.