Interview with Gillian Beck – Up and coming Nasen NI president 2016/17
Sharon Kennedy interviews new nasen NI president Gillian Beck
Please tell us a little about yourself.
My name is Gillian Beck. I am married with three children: two girls aged 26, and 23 (both teachers) and a 16 year old son who is currently reacquainting me with the joys of GSCE studies! I am very actively involved in youth work in a disadvantaged area of Belfast, through my church commitments and, when I get free time in the summer, I like gardening; particularly the joys of ridding my lawn of daises. (Anyone see a touch of OCD there!)
What is your background in Education in NI?
In professional terms, I am currently a senior lecturer at Stranmillis University College. My main areas of academic interest are pretty much every area of Special Educational Needs and Literacy. Within these areas I teach B.Ed. students (Years1-4) alongside elements of PGCE, BA and Masters level courses. In some ways I have come full circle in my specialisms. I began as an Education/ English Literature major at Stranmillis in 1984, with a definite preference for the English Literature side. I then focused upon KS2 (or Upper Primary, as we more experienced teachers used to call it). There was little to nothing in the way of SEN training back then so I set off on my teaching career, learning along the way from experience and from advice given by wiser and more experienced colleagues. I grew more and more interested in the children who were ‘difficult to reach’. In 1991 I took an eight year career break to raise my children. When I came back I had not missed much as the curriculum appeared to have gone full circle to the point that I looked positively progressive. However, my post was working specifically with children with Special Educational Needs and, in this area, things were beginning to pick up pace.
The Code of Practice was brand new, as was the role of SENCO, and I realised quickly that teaching these children required an understanding of their strengths and difficulties which I had not been familiarised with in my B.Ed. studies. Answering the questions I had raised in my whole class practice became all the more urgent. I had begun teaching because I wanted to be that inspiring teacher who encouraged children to explore the wonders and variation of life experience available in the written word. Now I was working with children who could not recognise letters on a page or decode the mystery of symbols and sounds set before them. So, I embarked upon a Master’s degree in Education with a focus upon SEN, in order to understand how to help them overcome this difficulty. Term by term I dipped into new areas of SEN. The more I learned, the more I felt I needed to know if I was to be an effective teacher. I changed job and was greatly encouraged and supported by my new principal, Olwin Frost, not only to continue my studies but to use action research to investigate the benefits of altering my teaching and learning. Many of the practices I developed there were incorporated into whole school practice and lines of development resulting in my Teaching Award in 2007 and an Outstanding commendation by the ETI in 2011. After completing my final dissertation (2008), my research formed the basis of a new Stranmillis B.Ed. module on ASD and Sensory Processing Difficulties. I began teaching part-time on this alongside Dr. Sharon McMurray (SUC)and Jill Drysdale (Middleton Centre for Autism). From this I moved to a 3 year secondment as a B.Ed. Primary Education lecturer in Stranmillis University College and a role as Part-time tutor on the SEN CPD Literacy Project. Although I do miss teaching the children in school (although I have had them up to Teach the Teachers each year) I have thoroughly enjoyed working with the Project team, with our amazing students and with Dr. Noel Purdy, my SEN colleague and professional guide. As an SEN team, we have moved SEN modules forward. One of my greatest privileges has been working with the children and staff in the Special School Sector and using this experience and advice to enhance modules and additional training programmes. This time last year I changed post again. My challenge this year has been to maintain my work in the Education department while beginning the challenge of planning and teaching B.Ed. Literacy (F/KS1 and KS2). So as you can see, I have come full circle, educationally and geographically.
What made you want to join the nasen committee?
I was introduced to NASEN by Dr. Purdy. This small band of experienced dedicated and incredibly hardworking individuals has truly impressed me. They are tireless in their efforts to enhance teacher training opportunities and increase public awareness of SEN issues. I am honoured to have been elected to the post of Vice-President and hope that we can all work together, as always, to continue this important work in Northern Ireland and in partnership with NASEN UK.
What are you most looking forward to as new nasen NI president?
Our new National President has many interesting ideas regarding closer links with the national committee, enhanced benefits for our members and helping NASEN NI to have an even greater impact in the future. Our committee is very much a team so I hope I can represent their views and ideas as these changes are decided and implemented.
Do you have any insights for those thinking about coming to future nasen events?
At each conference we ask our members for ideas for future training. These are very varied but valued. Our up and coming conference on Pastoral Care for children and young with SEN will be led by internationally recognised specialists and nationally recognised practitioners. It should not be missed!
Previous successful conferences and study days have been supported by speakers from across the professions and with a wide range of expertise. I hope that we will continue to develop these partnerships to develop relevant and practical events for our members.