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Learning Activity 3: Video Guidance Interaction Guidance

EiTTT Learning Activity at Karel de Grote University College, Antwerp, Belgium, October 2nd – 6th 2017

KdG LogoErasmus logo

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For this Learning Activity week, project partner Leen Stoffels and colleagues facilitated an invaluable range of learning experiences for our cross-sectoral team of teachers and teacher educators. With a view to providing appropriately for the education of all students, including those experiencing difficulties arising from social / emotional factors, the team focused on the concept of pedagogical sensitivity as fundamental to learning in school. The teacher education strategy of Video Interaction Guidance (VIG) and the manner in which it is employed at KdG to provide for and enhance the development of sensitive, caring, empathetic teachers, was central to our study there. During the course of the week we engaged in a variety of workshops facilitated by a range of expert practitioners. Our learning from these activities was complemented by observation of a range of inclusive and special education practices during study visits to primary, secondary and special schools in Antwerp.

Karel de Grote Hogeschool/University College

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KdG is a higher education institution located in Belgium’s second city, Antwerp. As the largest university college in the region, it comprises nine campuses, with a combined enrolment of more than 12,000 students. Named after Charles the Great, the college was founded in 1995 by the merger of 13 Catholic colleges. It offers courses and programmes leading to bachelor and master degrees in six fields of study:

  • Education
  • Social Work
  • Healthcare
  • Commercial Sciences and Commercial Studies
  • Industrial Sciences and Technology
  • Visual Arts

In view of societal developments internationally, the fields of Education, Social Work and Healthcare, all located on KdG’s south campus, are closely aligned, with ongoing development of linked programmes to support families and communities holistically.

Teacher Education at KdG

The faculty of Education at Karel de Grote University College has a long history and extensive experience in the provision of Teacher Education programmes. More than 2,500 students are currently enrolled in various teacher education bachelor and master degree programmes there. KdG offers two ‘bachelor after bachelor’ degree programmes in Special Educational Needs, with an enrolment of approximately 200 students per programme. Each of these is a one-year, 60 ECTS programme which may be undertaken by students who already hold a bachelor degree. One such programme is the degree in ‘Care and Remedial Teaching’ which was originally designed for those teaching / planning to teach in mainstream school settings. The other – the ‘Special Education Teacher’ degree - focuses on teacher preparation for work in special schools. In light of the recent institution of the ‘M’ (Maatwerk) Decree in Flanders, and hence the promotion of mainstream education for all, there is growing interest in the possibility of amalgamating these programmes.

With Inclusive Education now a policy priority of the Flemish Ministry of Education, KdG is committed to the preparation of pre- and in-service teachers for inclusive practice in primary- and second-level schools. The Advanced Bachelor's Degree in Special Education (Special Educational Needs Teacher Training - SEN TT) programme has been developed for this purpose. The programme is designed to enable teachers to become more competent and confident in terms of attitudes, knowledge and skills in incorporating diversity in schools. Its ultimate aim is to empower teachers to work effectively in an ever changing world and to become change agents in education. The five competences to be developed by [student] teachers in the programme centre on: (1) Planning and coordinating supports for the individual child with special educational needs and his/her environment. (2) Differentiating approaches and providing these in accordance with the needs of each child in class. (3) Working as a partner with all involved in the school and classroom environment. (4) Serving as a coach to colleagues and as a coordinator of change in the school. (5) Being reflective and learning from one's own and other's experiences in the practice of education.

Overall, the programme aims to provide for the further development of professionals 'who are passionate about their profession as a special needs teacher or coordinator' and who stand out because of their skilful coaching and innovative pedagogic approach. They have a positive attitude, always act from a deep respect for the child, parents and other stakeholders, and they are committed to a social engagement as change agents. They dedicate themselves to updating their knowledge and repertoire through lifelong learning. Therefore they have a great responsibility in achieving real inclusive education opportunities for ALL children and young people'.

Focusing on Home Background: Video Interaction Guidance (VIG)

In line with the interrelationship between Education, Social Work and Healthcare courses at KdG, the field of Education incorporates in its programmes for prospective and practising teachers, a focus on contextual / home background factors with respect to the children with whom they [will] work. In this regard, a key teacher education strategy employed is Video Interaction Guidance (VIG). This approach, which was originally employed by social work services in the Netherlands and subsequently in Flanders, as a means of supporting the welfare of vulnerable families via the use of video for home coaching and training, is now finding its way into the education system in Flanders. In 2013-2014, staff in the faculty of Education at KdG were among the first teacher educators in Belgium to be introduced to this method. Several of these teacher educators shared their expertise and ideas with the project team.

Sensitivity, Care, Empathy, Responsiveness: Key qualities in teaching

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Bert Murawski, a former teacher who is currently employed as a teacher educator at KdG, facilitated an in-depth consideration by the team, of the key qualities of effective teachers. With reference to his own career spent in school classrooms and administration, where he engaged with children exhibiting a variety of behavioural challenges, Bert described how he had developed an interest in the social / emotional factors underlying these behaviours. He shared his observations on how and why children respond differently to different teachers:

  • Children come to school from very diverse home backgrounds and with quite varied experiences of parent / child relationships. This reality may be easily overlooked in our quest for more effective pedagogical strategies.
  • Just as strong emotional ‘bonding’ between parent and child is crucial in child development, so sensitivity, care, empathy and responsiveness on the part of the teacher can provide for similar bonding with the pupil and hence can more effectively enable the pupil to fulfil his or her educational potential.
  • Good social / emotional development facilitates intellectual development.
  • The quality of the teacher / pupil relationship is fundamental to effective pedagogical endeavours in school.
  • ‘Attachment theory’ as first outlined by researchers such as Bowlby and Ainsworth in the 1906s and 1970s, may be employed to explain the centrality of the teacher/pupil relationship in education.

Attachment Theory

Attachment Theory’ is a psychological model that attempts to describe the dynamics of long-term and short-term interpersonal relationships between humans. It focuses on the relationships and bonds between people, such as between a parent and a child.

In the 1960s and ‘70s John Bowlby demonstrated that nurturance and responsiveness were the primary determinants of attachment. The central theme of this theory is that the Primary Caregivers who are available and responsive to an infant’s needs allow the child to develop a sense of security. The infant knows that the caregiver is dependable, which creates a secure base for the child to then explore the world. The provision of a ‘safe’ environment in which children can develop, calls for sensitivity, care, empathy, and responsiveness in the home and school.

Mary Ainsworth expanded greatly on Bowlby’s original work, conducting research that revealed the profound effects of attachment on behaviour. A number of studies since then have supported Ainsworth’s theory, and have indicated that attachment styles also have an impact on behaviours later in life.

For the project team, the focus of this presentation and our ensuing discussion on the ‘person’ of the teacher, raised questions about the processes of selection and initial preparation of candidates for teaching and about how teachers are professionally supported on an ongoing basis.

Video Interaction Guidance in Teacher Education

In two subsequent workshops facilitated by teacher educators An Leroy (KdG) and Luc Degrand (University College, Leuven-Limburg) we considered the matter of how teacher educators might practically support the development of appropriate personal dispositions in prospective and practising teachers. The use of technology and specifically Video, was considered to offer a valuable means of enabling [student] teachers to reflect on their classroom practices and on their engagements with their students. The challenges [student] teachers often experience with the requirement to ‘reflect’ on their professional engagements with a view to learning from such reflections are well documented. The team considered how technological advances that have provided ease of access to, and facility with the use of video might facilitate these reflective and learning processes.

Following this discussion, team members undertook an insightful practical exercise that simulated [student] teachers’ likely response to the experience when introduced to this technique. Using iPads, we set about video recording one another’s responses to a series of questions, and documenting our feelings about this exercise. In the word cloud that subsequently emerged, ‘Uncomfortable’ was the most common sentiment expressed! We could readily recognise the importance of carefully supporting [student] teachers’ introduction to such a teacher education strategy, in terms of both their technological competence with the requirements of the strategy and their personal and professional self-confidence.

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Theory and VIG

In a further workshop we studied a mix of valid theories underpinning the strategy of VIG:

  • Communication Theory: The value of basic, non-verbal communication.
  • Attachment Theory: The need for sensitivity in engagements between educator and child.
  • Learning Theory: Much human behaviour is learned / can be learned.
  • System Theory: Context is complex. The importance of multi-dimensionality. Professional distance (rather than immediate judgement) is important.
  • Empowerment Theory: The need for self-awareness of own competencies; focusing on actions that work, repeating these; positive learning experiences.

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From such theoretical perspectives, video recording presented as a valuable alternative to [student] teachers’ written accounts of their professional reflections. We learnt that provided these students feel enabled and secure about the process involved and the manner in which such recordings might subsequently be employed, the removal of the requirement to structure their reflections in written format, has been found to significantly enhance student teachers’ professional reflections and learning.

VIG in Practice in KdG

The team explored the variety of VIG strategies that have been employed with KdG student teachers during their placements in schools over the past four years. In that time, almost all of the schools involved in hosting KdG student teachers for school practice have granted permission for video recording by student teachers in classrooms. The processes employed are as follows:

  • Student teachers work in groups (maximum 5 students per group).
  • They film three moments of their practice in the classroom (beginning, middle and end periods of the day) – either a self-recording or one taken by e.g. a host teacher or fellow student teacher.
  • They may use any preferred video recorder – (phone, camera, Ipad, tablet)
  • One video fragment should represent an activity (ies) of which they are proud, while the other should serve to raise questions they have about their practice / engagements with school students.
  • In groups, the student teachers then share and discuss some of these – (looking repeatedly at the video fragments and sharing multiple interpretations of them).
  • They are then required to summarise what they have learnt.

At KdG, the VIG strategy is considered to be “really working”, with student teachers much more aware of their competences and dispositions and hence the nature of their engagements with their students. We concluded that the strategy obviously offers student and practising teachers much potential to explore the quality of these engagements in terms of the Pedagogical Sensitivity required to support the learning needs of all their school students and not least those experiencing difficulties arising from social / emotional factors.

Basisschool Melgesdreef

The project team was privileged to visit Melgesdreef primary school and the adjoining secondary school (Atheneum MXM) located in the Antwerp suburb of Merksem. These mainstream schools have a combined enrolment of more than 1,000 students. In the course of presentations and discussions with the school principal and staff and during visits to classrooms, we explored the policy and practice of inclusive education at the heart of this impressive campus. We learnt that:

  • The kindergarten/primary school, caters for 600 children aged from 2.5 to 12 years, drawn from 33 different national backgrounds.
  • 75% of this school population comes from home contexts deemed to be socio-economically disadvantaged.
  • The pupil / teacher ratio in each class is determined in the school on a class by class basis in accordance with the SES (socio-economic status) and learning profiles of the pupils in the class.
  • In Antwerp, a school enrolment system is in place to prevent the concentration in any particular school of pupils from backgrounds designated ‘disadvantaged’, and thus to provide for socio-economic diversity and inclusion in the pupil population of all schools.   When deciding where to enrol their child, parents may select up to five possible schools. Having registered this decision with the School Government in Antwerp, their child is subsequently allocated a place in one of the selected schools.

Personalising the Curriculum

  • In accordance with the four levels of the care system in all Belgian mainstream schools (Basic; More Intensive; Extension of Care / External Support; Highest Level), Melgesdreef school provides a structure of support for children to facilitate their inclusion in mainstream education. Nonetheless, it was emphasised that while the learning objectives designed for the children respect this structure, they are also personalised to take account of individual needs.

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  • Alongside educational provision in mainstream classes, additional educational and care support for pupils is provided if required, by ‘fly teams’ of support teachers. As far as possible these teams provide this support within the classroom setting. Working in consultation with the school’s care coordinator and the principal, they also support class teachers by meeting every teacher four times yearly to discuss class progress and the particular progress of every child within the class.

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Atheneum MXM

Atheneum MXM, the adjoining second-level school has a current enrolment of more than 400 students. In this school as in all second-level schools in Antwerp, the student population is expected to increase by 30% - 40% in the coming years.  As in Melgesdreef primary school, the backgrounds of students in Atheneum MXM are very diverse. The school’s learning programmes are based on the principles of Universal Design forLearning (UDL).

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Alongside the UDL strategy, tailor-made programmes are drawn up for individual students. These programmes are designed on an ongoing basis by a school team of 6 – 7 special education teachers. In classroom contexts of very considerable diversity, (i.e. in a situation where many different teaching strategies may be required), this team draws up programmes for groups as well as individuals in the class.

Tongelsbos Special School

For the final school visit of this learning week, the project team spent a day at Tongelsbos Special School, courtesy of EiTTT project partners Ilse Van de Vreugde, School Principal, and Kevin Paesmans, School Coordinator. Tongelsbos is a primary and second-level special school located 30km from Antwerp. 160 students are currently enrolled in the primary section of the school, with 220 students in the secondary section. The staff comprises 35 primary teachers, 65 second-level teachers and 25 other staff (paramedical and support personnel). 

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Students at Tongelsbos are assigned to classes and particular programmes that accord in the first instance, with their Care Needs.

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The school’s care team comprises a psychologist, a psychologist / pedagogue, a social worker, a speech therapist, a physiotherapist and a ‘time out’ worker (to support students’ needs for time out of class / school arising from behavioural difficulties). The variety of ‘time out’ options offered and the colour-coded card system involved (in accordance with the level of support required) was of much interest to the project team.  These supports also included provision for time away from the school in another school facility or with external school partners.  Several teachers also serve on a ‘Student Guidance’ Support Team’ and an ‘Autism Spectrum Disorder Support Team’.  Universal Design for Learning underpins all activities in the school.

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The focus of educational provision at Tongelsbos is on Vocational Training, with students offered choices from a wide range of course options within their individual capacities.

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The project team was privileged with opportunities to observe teaching and learning in classrooms, and to explore the school’s extensive gardening and animal care facilities, which are features of the school’s programme for all students.

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Other School Supports at Tongelsbos Include:

  • Variety of Playgrounds (some very ‘quiet’, some ‘busier’ in accordance with students’ needs)
  • Adapted Internships (teacher accompanies child for some of the internship)
  • Newsletter for Parents (sharing experiences, challenges)
  • Regional Support to Mainstream Schools: The institution of the ‘M Decree’ in Flanders and hence the policy of including students in mainstream schooling if at all possible, has presented various challenges to the provision of appropriate mainstream education. The most pressing of these challenges is the importance of ensuring that mainstream teachers are satisfactorily prepared to support the learning needs of all students including those with special educational needs. To that end, in September 2017, a regional support network was introduced. This sees teachers from special schools providing support in the form of information, advice and guidance on teaching strategies, to teachers in local mainstream schools. We learnt that teachers from Tongelsbos together with teachers from other nearby special schools form such a team of 18 that provides support to 200+ teachers in mainstream schools in the region.
  • Co-teaching: This strategy was introduced at Tongelsbos School following the EiTTT team’s in-depth study of the approach during our visit to Lukkari School, Finland in February 2017. Further co-teaching is planned at Tongelsbos, particularly in classes where students have emotional / behavioural difficulties. Co-teaching is also practised by the team of teachers from Tongelsbos during collaboration with, and provision of support to mainstream teachers in nearby schools.
  • Discussions are under way with local schools to develop ‘Inclusive’ TongelsbosDepartments in these schools. Where appropriate, students from Tongelsbos would attend these schools for one or more days at a time, with a view to their eventual full inclusion in mainstream schooling.

 In Summary:

  • The team focused on the concept of Pedagogical Sensitivity as fundamental to learning in school. We acknowledged that just as strong emotional ‘bonding’ between parent and child is crucial in child development, so high levels of sensitivity, care, empathy and responsiveness on the part of the teacher can provide for similar bonding with the pupil, and hence can more effectively enable the pupil to fulfil his or her educational potential.  
  • We recognised that the need for such appropriate personal dispositions in teachers is now more critical than ever, given the diverse population of students in contemporary mainstream classrooms. In this regard we learnt that in accordance with the trajectory of contemporary societal developments, and hence a strategic interrelationship between Education, Social Work and Healthcare courses at KdG, the Faculty of Education incorporates in its programmes for prospective and practising teachers, an emphasison the impact of contextual / home background factors on school students’ educational development.
  • We concluded that the ability and willingness to review and reflect deeply on the quality of their engagements with their students and the possible factors, including home background factors, impacting on these, is key to the development of appropriate sensitivity and responsiveness in teachers.
  • The challenges [student] teachers often experience with the requirement to ‘reflect’ on their professional engagements with a view to learning from such reflections are well documented. The team considered how technological advances that have provided ease of access to, and facility with the use of video might facilitate these reflective and learning processes.
  • The teacher education strategy of Video Interaction Guidance (VIG) and the manner in which it is employed at KdG to provide for, and enhance the development of sensitive, caring, empathetic teachers, was central to our study.
  • We concluded that the VIG strategy offers student and practising teachers much potential to explore the quality of these engagements in terms of the Pedagogical Sensitivity required to support the learning needs of all their school students and not least those experiencing difficulties arising from social / emotional factors.
  • We realised the need to carefully support [student] teachers’ introduction to a teacher education strategy such as VIG, in terms of both their technological competence with the requirements of the strategy and their personal and professional self-confidence.
  • Our in-depth theoretical and practical learning during the week was complemented by observation of a range of exemplary inclusive and special education practices in primary, secondary and special schools in Antwerp.