Monday, June 23, 2014

Primary School Inclusion: The Nuts and Bolts #4

#4 The Facilitator

Matt's most tangible form of support is that of Sheila, his facilitator. She is there to greet him first thing in the morning, stays with him through out the day until I arrive to fetch him.

I see her role as a marvellous balancing act....

between supporting Matt to engage in classroom activities and learning, whilst not doing anything for him...

between helping Matt socialise with the other children, whilst knowing when to take a step back so her presence doesn't become a stumbling block to Matt making friends...

between not limiting Matt's experience by allowing him a chance to try what the other children are doing, whilst not setting him up for failure and feeling like he can't keep up...

between coaching Matt how to connect with the children more appropriately, whilst allowing Matt to be himself and explaining his reactions to the other children so they too accept him for how he is...

It is also a bit of a balancing act for us parents. We are officially her employer as we contract and pay her, yet she spends all her work time in the school environment and needs to be accountable to school to a large degree. Decisions we make between us and her thus also need to be checked out with the school. The school also has to hold a balance between having the facilitators who are not official staff members, yet they work alongside the staff every day supporting the staff in what they do.

Our journey with Sheila started last year when the school recommended her to us as a potential facilitator. This being a learning curve for us, we weren't 100% sure what to look for a facilitator. It is a confusing journey for a parent, because there's no standardised qualification or process of finding a facilitator. Further you are not just finding an employee but someone who has to bond with your child. This adds an emotional aspect to an already tricky decision.

After deciding that we would hire Sheila she met with Matt at his previous school, chatted to his then teacher, and also came to spend some time with Matt during the school holidays. Sheila was thus a familiar person to Matt on his first day at his new school. It has reassuring to me to see how much Matt has connected with Sheila, and continues to do so. Every morning his face lights up when he sees her and he runs to hug her.

Sheila receives guidance and support from the Learning Support Co-ordinator, his educator and myself on how to engage with Matt. We are all trying to figure out how to support Matt in this school environment so there is much trial and error. We rely on Sheila giving feedback as to what seems to work and what doesn't so we can make changes. It is a good thing that her confidence is not undermined by this lack of certainty and the need for a high level of adaptability. To make this all work we rely heavily on good and regular communication - most days Sheila gives me verbal feedback on how Matt is coping, as well as completing a short, written description of what activities were completed that day.

Inclusion is not about somehow making Matt "ready for school", and able to complete some minimum tasks so that he can "fit" into the institution. Rather it is about understanding what support Matt needs so he can participate in school as he is. Sheila provides this vital support to Matt so he can successfully belong, participate, learn and be happy at his school, just as he is.


In South Africa there is no official qualification for a facilitator. It could be a retired teacher, or a student, or someone who has a real heart for children and is willing to learn. Sometimes schools help parents find a facilitator, other times it is up to the parents. We know of a psychologist who trains facilitators and has started a web-based "notice board" where parents can advertise for facilitators. Check out LeftNetwork to find a facilitator and to learn more about training of facilitators.

For examples of a Facilitator's employment contract and job duties please feel free to contact us.

Blog posts in this series:
Introduction - for more on why I am doing this series on how inclusion can work in real life
# 1 Leadership with Vision
# 2 A Flexible System with Creative Solutions
# 3 Learning Support Co-ordinator
# 5 The Classroom

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