katherine zagotsis
Highly Accomplished Teacher. AAC Communication Partner & Advocate. Mum of one. Accidental Leader. Reflectionist, Mentor and life-long learner.

Engaging Now! 7.4

Demonstrating 4.5

5 Highlights of 2018

December 15, 2018 | Focus Areas: | | | | | | | | | 0 COMMENTS

Can I just say that I actually really love this time of year? I like that the end of the teaching year forces me to stop, consider, reflect. Taken from this post, the following, in no particular order is my five highlights of 2018:

One: Successfully teaching a class of students with much higher needs than I’m used to.

At one point last week I was spoon-feeding one child while helping another to support their bottle so they could drink while telling another to sit at the table to eat. (February 2018)

Kelly Chair

At the beginning, with all of the conversations regarding health, the additional paperwork, the extra staff….I was overwhelmed.  Unfamiliar with the medical procedures carried out by the Health Support Officers (HSO’s), I initially asked a lot of questions, observed and requested additional training for the staff on my team due to some concerns.  I had been informed that I still had duty of care if something went wrong, so always made sure to be present in the same room or to call for leadership if I needed to be on Yard Duty.  Now, I’m able to support the HSO if they need me to, have a general idea of the routine and know how to solve some of the main issues, which came in useful when there was a relief HSO as I was able to tell her what she needed to do. Working with another adult in the room for part of the day was something else I needed to quickly learn, clarifying my own expectations and at times, asking for help.  My SSO was also interested in this process as it was unfamiliar to her as well. She also needed to ask how she could best support our student in her role.

The physical needs this year have also been a lot higher, with two students requiring physical assistance to make transitions and at times, have had to be carried by a staff member or pushed in a stroller due to being lethargic.  At the end of this year, one of these students is a lot stronger and able to walk/run back to class with encouragement.  I was also introduced to more specialised equipment, including a Kelly chair that supports one student remain upright while they’re eating and a standing frame for the toilet.  I had more students who required an Oral Eating and Drinking Care Plan and close supervision while eating. This meant that the time it took to eat was much longer and was one of the busiest times of the day as I would sit at one table supporting one group of students, my SSO at the other doing the same.  I didn’t meet my target of attending a ‘Mealtime Management’ course as the date didn’t work, so this is something I’d like to look into next year.

Two: Mentoring a Pre-Service Teacher for the first time

Target: Provide timely, relevant and constructive verbal feedback aligned to the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers to Giulia at a predetermined time e.g. at the end of each day. (March 2018)

I was nervous, excited and determined to not stuff up my role as Mentor teacher, reading up on strategies and asking for advice before I started this year.  My biggest concern was that I’d be lacking in being able to provide constructive verbal feedback, but I feel that I quickly overcame that.  To my surprise, I found that I was kind of good at this mentoring thing: supporting, challenging, holding back, pushing forward in an empathetic way.  So when leadership asked who was interested in having a Preservice Teacher in 2019, I didn’t hesitate in putting my hand up. I’m looking forward to having another 4th year placement student in the class.


Three: Attending an interstate work trip

Eastern Ranges School

Although the intended outcome of this trip wasn’t fulfilled (to learn more about Highly Structured Teaching), I still found it a positive learning experience.  To be honest, I was flattered to be asked in the first place, given that the other attendees were all in a leadership role of some sort or other. It was interesting to make comparisons between an Autism-specific school and my own, which caters mainly for Autism, but also for a number of other disabilities.

On the second day, I also found myself in a position where I was presenting my Unit Plans and my Negotiated Education Plans with a member of the leadership team of the school we were visiting. I also asked some questions of my own, something that I can’t see myself doing a year ago.


Four: Being involved in the STEM 500 Project (Technology group)

Not for the obvious reasons, like attending PD where the learning involved being allowed to play with robots (although that was cool too), but for the opportunity to advocate for the needs of my learners.* I’ve been involved in various conversations since the start of this year, speaking about relevance and whether the learning can be adapted. I feel like one of my strengths is adapting content, but in this case, it just seems too out of reach. Probably the most powerful conversation was the last PD day of this year, where I was sitting with my onsite colleague and two other Special Education teachers. One of the facilitators came to check in with us:

….is any of this relevant? (F)

…it’s interesting. It’s just kind of frustrating because how do you teach collaboration when your students don’t have an awareness of their peers? (me)

…don’t have any concept of where their bodies are in space, are using eye gaze to communicate? (Kilparrin)

Oh. That’s a really good question and you guys are really good at meeting this *points to a box on the TfEL document about student needs*. So what are you going to do with your time instead? (F)

We ended up as a group beginning to share how we planned. I’ve just started looking at the pre-foundation levels of the Victorian Curriculum and one of the others was using the Irish Curriculum of all things to get ideas for his group of learners. About midway through, to my surprise, another facilitator, P. came to show us some work he’d done on the Digital Technologies Hub website. He’d added an Inclusive Education section and wanted some specific feedback from us Special Education Teachers:

This is great! (D)

I really like how you’ve included ABLES. Most people don’t know what that is. (Kilparrin)

The information about different disabilities is really good. (Kilparrin)

I like where you’re going with your lesson ideas, but there’s a big jump between level one and level two. If you change…this and this, then it’ll work. (me)

P. then asked if we could email him with any suggestions or feedback.

* Shortly after this PD day, my principal told me that a Special Education group had been formed for the following year.

Five: Improving my use of ProloQuo2go

This was probably one of my main focuses of this year and there were lots of ways that I learned more about this Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) app:

  • Modelling to students in the class with high-tech and in the yard with low-tech
  • Modelling and having conversations with my student teacher and SSO e.g. “Where’s that button?”
  • Modelling to HSO’s
  • From my own students! “Where on earth did you find respectful?!
  • Experimenting with turning off functions, adding words and folders etc.
  • Visits from the ladies from Adelaide West communication team who gave me great, practical suggestions
  • Being a part of my site’s communication team
  • Listening to positive stories from colleagues about their use of ProloQuo2go
  • Exploring the AssistiveWare site

This year has been messy, surprising, challenging, health and ICT-focused, with, if I’m honest, a good deal of personal growth thrown into the mix.

Goals going into 2019:

  • Attend PD about Mealtime Management
  • Ask Preservice Teacher how I can best support them e.g. What do they need from me the most?
  • Be more open to the opportunity if asked to present
  • Email to join the STEM 500 Special Education group
  • Ask leadership if I can play a bigger role in helping implement ProloQuo2go across the site next year. I want to get into classrooms to try make this happen and I have a good relationship with most of my colleagues, which I think will help.


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