'Unforgettable': Teacher in training Hannah Burnley shares her QTVI placement experience with the Royal Blind blog

Posted: 23/03/2017 | Education,

At the start of the year, teacher Hannah Burnley embarked on a placement at the Royal Blind School. 

The training was part of her QTVI qualification - Qualified Teacher of Vision Impaired Children and Young People. 

Now, Hannah has penned a blog about her experience of teaching at the Royal Blind School.

My QTVI placement at the Royal Blind School 

by Hannah Burnley 

Things to do: Leave behind my comfort zone!

Having qualified and taught in a mainstream primary school for over 8 years, I hold a passion for Early Years Education.  I have always held firm Teacher and pupil in dark room illuminated by computer screento a strong belief that children learn best through engaging and exciting learning experiences where adults foster independence, creativity and fun. This is something I have always believed to be so important within the field of Education.  When you think outside of the box, magic happens!    

Two years ago I became a peripatetic teacher of the visually impaired and continued my learning journey benefiting from the skills and experiences of my colleagues and the many children whom I have been privileged to meet along the way.  Alongside my role, I began studying for my QTVI qualification at the University of Birmingham. As part of my course programme I knew I would have the opportunity to go on a 3-week teaching placement during my second year.  

As my placement approached I felt a little apprehensive - almost like I was at the start of my career again. I wondered what ‘going back on a teaching practice’ would be like. I knew right from the onset that this would be one of those one-off experiences that don’t come around every day and therefore I would need to savour every moment and take in everything I possibly could.  I decided to go somewhere that would push me fully out of my personal comfort zone.   So with all this in mind and the reality of my  ‘things to do list’ kicking in, three and a half weeks ago l left my family, friends, lovely work colleagues and comfort zone behind and went on an amazing inspirational experience which I will never forget.

The Royal Blind School, Edinburgh.

First Impressions

As soon as I walked into the school I just knew that this would be a special experience. At the Royal Blind School, everything is about facilitation of learning, tailored to suit the needs of individuals in an engaging, safe and secure environment. The school principles underpin all that I firmly believe to be fundamental to education.

At the Royal Blind School, the child is truly at the centre of the learning process. I soon began to realise the importance of stepping back and allowing time to watch how this principle produces amazing results!

Everyone in the school works holistically, creating powerful learning experiences. Each child has their own unique individualised timetable which is centred around their own personal needs. Familiar staff and routines are key in really truly getting to know the children. I was overwhelmed by the independence of children who were taught skills which they could embed into future life. They simply didn’t need an adult with them at all times because they had the confidence to do so much for themselves.

The Power of On Body Signing

 ‘Don’t put words in my mouth, wait till I tell you what I want’

I quickly began to feel inspired by things that were built into the daily life and routine at the school.  I was fortunate enough to be able to watch, experience and learn from so many others.

On body signing is seen as part of a whole-school communication approach to learning and something that I perceived to be a powerful tool.  All the staff receive regular training and use On body signing with the children. During weekly staff morning briefing, a sign of the week is used to reinforce this to all.

I observed with amazement the children’s receptive communication when this technique was being used and how it had become embedded into their lives. Again, this was another moment where stepping back and waiting for a response would prove powerful and I would absolutely love to use the principles of on body signing in the future.

The School Environment

Being part of the amazing class team I was based in at the RBS, I was able to see first-hand and get involved in this touch communication at many various aspects of the day from familiar circle time routines and transitions to various learning experiences. I could see from the children’s responses how well it worked. Everyone used these principles so integrally and wow… what a great level of success!!

A ‘one voice’ approach to learning was also used by staff which ensured minimal distraction for the learner. The class base was rooted in an extremely secure knowledge of the child’s visual conditions as well as that of the children’s own unique personalities. The class environment was clutter free, creating minimal distractions alongside minimal clutter.  Each child had their own unique box of personal items that supported their own educational needs. An active learning space was set up to incorporate the needs of each child. This really worked and made me realise that ‘less really is more!’

The individual timetables of the learners meant that time was also spent in other environments around school for sessions such as Music therapy, Habilitation, Intensive interaction, Hydrotherapy, Rebound, Soft Play, Sensory Lights Rooms, The Hall and subject-specific classrooms around the school. It was great for me to experience such a wide variety of experiences on offer!

The whole school environment is set up to cater for this. Specific colour coded zones which include trail rails, objects of reference signifiers and specific specialist equipment maximising ease of transition from area to area. Lifts are accessible for wheelchair users having movable switches, also using the key language of ‘going up’ and ‘going down’ for independent mobility and orientation skills.

Skills for life are taught so integrally through many experiences at RBS. Every day I had the pleasure of eating with students and hearing about their love for the school. They would tell me about their morning and how they might choose to visit the shops during their habilitation session on their own and how independent it had made them! I was also included in the celebration of the ‘Burns Lunch’. A real ‘whole school’ event with everyone involved….  a lovely chance to see Scottish traditions! A personal highlight was the school ceilidh dancing afterwards and presentations by classes. I felt overwhelmed by such amazing talent.


The Coffee Shop

On my last week in school I was asked to help run the coffee shop alongside the children. This is just another powerful example of how the school is so brilliant I fostering lifelong independence of students. Staff members are served by pupils, facilitated by a tactile and symbol ordering system. It was truly a wonderful experience to be a part of!

Interdisciplinary Learning

Therapy sessions at school are a whole school process, everyone is involved. I quickly learned skills in occupational therapy, physiotherapy and speech and language which I could use and interweave into my own practice. Team members taught skills alongside members in class bases in school. I realised how important it is to embed these into practice daily. Weekly ‘sitting’ groups are led by therapists with staff members present. These build in a one voice approach to learning where only the person leading the session is the one voice at the time, allowing for the processing time so vitally needed for children with a visual impairment.

A whole school Interdisciplinary Learning afternoon is also held weekly. Children rotate from mindfulness, independent living skills, visiting the allotment and outdoor learning.

For some pupils with multiple disabilities and visual impairment, an additional afternoon is held through music, sensory story, physiotherapists, occupational therapy, mindfulness and drama.  This was so inspiring to watch and be a part of and so powerful in its structure. The story of ‘The Story of ‘Winter’ was taught over a 6-8 week block allowing time for the children to really embed it and its structure into their routine. The session used props such as musical instruments, switches, large parachutes, songs, ice, branches of trees, wind machines, creams for massages and scarves. When I first watched and could see this all taking place, all I could write down was ‘WOW!’ How lucky I was to have been able to watch this amazing experience and the positive impact on the pupils.

I was able to also watch some daily mindfulness sessions which took place 3-4 times weekly for some children and really discover the influence of this activity on their daily learning

The end of a wonderful experience

I haven’t blogged everything I did on placement at RBS because simply I feel I learned beyond anything I imagined I would. I met such wonderful practitioners and children and really felt a part of the team. My base class ‘Perth’ will always hold a special place in my heart. Each child and individual we encounter are unique and their journeys should be treated as such in a fun, engaging way.

I learned the importance of time, time and more time, the power of stepping back and how working alongside others in a holistic way powerful experiences can occur.

‘What we learn with pleasure, we never forget’ – Alfred Mercer.