About 18 months ago my daughter began working with a whole team that would take her to the next stage of her journey. We refer in house to this group of amazing humans as the A Team, because it’s a mix of talent, infused with humanity, compassion, belief and a can do attitude. I probably don’t share enough about what they do, or how they do it, so this is a tip of the hat to those phenomenal individuals that lift Ella daily, and in doing so – our wider family, community and world. Thank you, for everything you do.
Last year we joined the phenomenal #BrewEdReading event organised by the equally amazing Jo Billington and Lizzie Jamieson. It was a day rooted in learning, listening and relationships. There were superb presentations from many people in the education and life space – sharing differing and diverse perspectives. What was wonderful, as per usual #BrewEd events that I’ve experienced, was the collaboration of educators, trainers, families and students. Everyone had a seat at the table.
We felt very honoured, as part of ongoing CPD for the team, to have the chance to uncover more about ‘Laura’. We have many ‘Lauras’ within our team, and the original Laura (that’s actually her name) joined me on the day, to discuss how she sees her role in Ella’s life and indeed how that is shaping her own journey to become who she is too. As background, for those who haven’t heard our story, Laura became a focal point for Ella during a difficult time when she was going through growth and development, heading early into her life as a young woman. Ella needed people to really step up, and get into the ring with her, and this became a critical part of who she spent time with. The time for sitting on the sides, advising and coaching was past – it meant having solid, fearless and human relationships, that could share vulnerability to be, and therefore create an equal space.
I’ve talked about vulnerability before briefly, because we seem to term people like Ella ‘vulnerable’ yet miss the fact that she – like so many others we can still deem less, different, other, are exactly who they are, every day – without apology. They dare to lead and if we can trust that and learn from them, we ourselves gain the confidence to also develop who we are, as humans.
Are you a Laura?
Laura: When I was asked if I would like the opportunity to present at BrewEd Reading, I was apprehensive and unsure of what I would say, or even if I could say anything at all. The theme of the day was ‘relationships in inclusive education’; I thought back to my time in education and there are not many relationships that I can recall – except for one.
I used to love school. In a three-tier education system, my First School days were filled with school plays, and my most poignant part was playing a Queen in one nativity! It was a great introduction to the world of education for me in that school, as a naive young girl, unaware of her speech defect. A select few of us from our year group were often taken out of lessons together and would read aloud in small groups. I never knew why we did this, however I enjoyed these sessions. No time pressure, no fear, surrounded by friends. But my Middle School days changed my life forever. Until the age of 24 anyway…
One day, while confidently reading aloud from a geography textbook, (which I had volunteered to do), stretching my arm up to try and win the teachers attention for reading aloud; I stumbled on a word. I couldn’t say the letter ‘b’ for a few seconds – I struggled to say this sound. After what felt like a lifetime, and the teacher trying to help me sound it out, the whole class erupted into laughter and I felt a sharp elbow dig into my side. Ever since that fateful day, aged 11, I never volunteered to read aloud again, and throughout the rest of my time in the education system battling with a stutter, only one teacher listened. Many refused to allow me to skip reading aloud. No referrals for speech therapy. No help. No interest. Just humiliation. But Mr A understood. He didn’t need me to have that dreaded conversation with him, the awkward admission. He gave me the smallest speaking part in Othello. He would support me, listen, make mistakes and apologise. He accepted I wasn’t trying to be defiant; I had a stutter and I needed my teacher’s help. Mr A helped me to rebuild my trust in education again.
Fast forward to the age of 24 and after attending a 4-day intensive speech course run by the McGuire Programme, I started to learn how to control my stammer. I could be the Laura that I had lost 13 years ago while in education.
For the three months after I agreed to present at the #BrewEdReading conference, I couldn’t decide what to say. Even gingerly walking to the front of the room to present on the day I was still unsure. Suddenly, a thought flashed through my mind. If Ella can trust in her educators, and flourish after Ella’s traumatic time in education; I should be able to trust in these educators in the room surely! Ella, is my inspiration. I strive to be a better version of myself everyday because of Ella. I decided to join The McGuire Programme to help gain control over my stammer because of Ella. I am only standing here because of Ella, and the relationship that we have. At that moment I wished Ella was next to me. I usually know what to say or do around Ella, why did this seem so much harder!?
After introducing myself and discussing my time in education and many of my wilted relationships with my educators; I moved onto the main focus of the presentation. My relationship with Ella and what ‘makes me a Laura’. After working with Ella for nearly two years now, I entered her world unbeknown to the impact she would have on my life. Ella has developed a concept for the type of people she wants in her life. After labelling everyone ‘Laura’, we tried to comprise a list of ‘what makes a Laura’.
It begins with being human.
Honest, authentic, integrity, reflective, empathic, intuitive, a friend. I don’t see Ella as my ‘job’, it’s like going to see my friend for the day. Similar to any other relationship, my relationship with her has many components and levels: sometimes I am a sister to Ella, talking about clothes and make-up, laughing together or dancing to our favourite songs, or a mother figure, there to comfort and reassure and encourage her to wear a coat – even if ‘that coat is soooo last year Laura’! Other times I need to be a teacher, or an intervenor to support E to access information, to learn, grow and develop further into the wonderful young lady she is. Overall, a friend. A ‘Laura’, is there to be a sister, aunty, uncle, brother, mum, dad, grandparent, cousin, teacher, teaching assistant, support worker, care assistant … FRIEND! An equal, not a dictator or a teller.
Before the talk, while meeting and introducing myself to SEND professionals, during the talk and afterwards, it was mind-blowing to perceive people’s reactions to a ‘support worker’ having such a close and trusting relationship with a parent, let alone a close, trusting relationship with a child! I was fortunate to meet and watch presentations by Simon Knight – Headteacher of FrankWise School, Claire Ryan – Cofounder of Chatterpack; and met and talked to many more including Gareth Morewood, Ginny Bootman -Primary teacher SENCO, Jo Billington, Dr Sara Ryan to name but a few.
What dumbfounded me the most, during my question time, was the audience were asked how much time they have to reflect on their students – generally not many people had anytime to reflect! Wow, how fortunate we are that we do have that time to reflect on every little miniscule movement or utterance that Ella may make. Alongside this, that the vast range of relationships in all education is often overlooked. I think back to Mr A from High School. He was a friend, honest, authentic, compassionate, reflective. He was a ‘Laura’. The only teacher I ever called ‘Sir’.
A ‘Laura’ is not unique, I hope there are hundreds [if not thousands] of these people out there, in your work, in your team, your shop, your garage, your school, your home.
I am the most fortunate Laura however, as I have my motivation by my side. I have an Ella to intrigue me, challenge me, inspire me and teach me how to progress, to become better. A better person. The best version of who I can be, a Laura. Ella may have lost her sight during her time in education, but she has given us the gift of her vision. I owe everything to her. It’s not about them and us, we’re all humans!
Thank you to everyone who attended #BrewEdReading on Saturday.
The theme of the day was how do we build, sustain &, where necessary, repair relationships in inclusive education?
Huge thanks to everyone who shared their ideas. This is just the beginning. Watch this space! pic.twitter.com/jD9cteCbx2
— Jo Billington (@MsJoBillington) November 18, 2019