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A bit of advice, please.

4 replies

DaisiesAreOurSilver · 16/06/2019 11:43

I'm on the committee of a community hall which hosts a range of activities for all age groups.

We have a young woman (recent graduate) who runs a drama/dance/physical theatre/improv club for 11 - 16s. It's very clear on the information given that it is a group that involves a lot of physical activity and every week there is a dance element. The parents of a child who uses a wheelchair asked if she could join and it was pointed out to her that her DD would be very welcome but there were some activities she would not be able to do. The DM said she was OK with this.

Yesterday we got an email of complaint that the class wasn't being "inclusive" and that her DD should be able to fully participate in all activities or they shouldn't happen. The teacher is really upset, obviously, but isn't prepared to change the format. We agree that she shouldn't have to. But how to word a reply?

Or are we wrong and she should stop all the physical activities? If we do I imagine the class will be closed.

OP posts:
maxelly · 16/06/2019 18:46

Hi, I'm by no means an expert but saw you'd had no replies and thought I'd bump this up a bit for you. I can see both sides here as I know many wheelchair users and also am involved in some community groups. I really have sympathy for the group leader here as it is really hard work running these groups and trying to meet everyone's needs when you aren't an expert in all the different needs people have. But equally it's so difficult being a wheelchair user in a world made for able bodied people (or parent/carer of same!) and feeling like you always have to fight to be included. It's particularly disappointing also if you have found something you think will meet your needs only to find something unexpected spoils it. Not many wheelchair users begrudge able bodied people doing things they can't or want to 'shut down' things they can't join in with, so something must have happened for the girl's mum to feel so strongly she's saying the whole class ought to be stopped - I wonder if there's been some crossed wires somewhere, does the Mum sit in with the class or is she hearing about things third hand through her DD?

Without wanting to teach you to suck eggs (and perhaps there is more to the story you haven't posted which is understandable), some solid communication between all parties would probably be a good starting point. Can the teacher (with support from you or someone else who can act as more of a 'neutral party' perhaps) sit down with the girl's mum (and the child herself if appropriate, depends on her age I guess) and work out what's happened here. Clearly they thought the class was going to be suitable for her despite the dance/physical elements so what's changed? What expectation did they have that isn't being met? What particular activities are the problem?

What does the girl actually do during the dance/physical elements of the class? Does she join in to the best of her ability or does she just sit and watch? If the latter is she being encouraged to join in or is the teacher telling her to sit out? Wheelchair users definitely can dance (search on youtube if you haven't seen some of the incredible wheelchair dancers out there!) but obviously some styles and types of dance are going to be harder to adapt than others - e.g. more improvisational and physical expression types of dance are easier than ballet or tap!

With some forethought I don't see why the teacher can't adapt the whole of the class to this child's needs. However of course the child is going to have to understand that if dancing alongside able bodied people she is going to look a bit different and her 'moves' might be different (e.g. she might be spinning herself around in her chair rather than doing turns, or doing arm movements rather than kicks?). As she gets more confident this probably won't be an issue but lots and lots of 11-16 year olds just really want to fit in and would be shy about asking their teacher how they should do something/drawing attention to how they stand out, so it's understandable if she's not yet up to really pushing herself in this way yet and may have been 'suffering in silence'? She may need lots of encouragement and extra help to join in this part of the class - but if the teacher wants to make a go of the group surely helping teenagers who aren't comfortable/very able to express themselves physically is really good experience for her?

Perhaps with more of an insight into the DD, the teacher can give some thought to how the dance sections of the class can be adapted and how she can be encouraged. Of course it will be harder than if everyone was able bodied and a brilliant, confident dancer but hey, challenge is the name of the game in children's/amateur groups right? Call it a good creative exercise? Wink

Hope this helps? Let us know how you get on?

DaisiesAreOurSilver · 16/06/2019 21:57

Thank you so much for taking the time to reply. I really appreciate you're taking the time.

Physical theatre and dance are a major part of the classes and the teacher feels that they should remain that way. She explained clearly to the girl and her mum that this is what the classes were like.

She feels she shouldn't have to arrange her class around one child. It wouldn't be fair on the others to stop the dance element altogether. The girl can participate in two thirds of the activities but not the dance part where they are taught specific steps and styles. This was made very clear. I know because I was there when she enrolled. The freestyle dance stuff that they do can easily accommodate the wheelchair. She can also participate to a limited extent with the other physical elements.

The girl has been really happy but we think she's told her mum that she can't take part in everything and her mum has taken the hump.

It's a real shame that a young enthusiastic person is thinking of closing the class rather than deal with this mother. I think we are going to have to support her and tell the mother she knew what the classes were about and she's being unreasonable insisting that he DD should be able to participate in everything.

I can't understand why she thinks she can dictate like this. Would she expect the Royal Ballet School to stop all activities that can't be done in a wheelchair?

Thanks again for your reply it has helped me see it more clearly.

OP posts:
maxelly · 17/06/2019 12:57

With the greatest of respect though, it's a community group for local children, not the Royal Ballet Company! The class is for everyone to join in with rather than talented dancers only? Your aim presumably must be to engage with young people of all abilities, get them having fun and improving their skills rather than purely looking to produce the highest quality artistic output? So I do think this case might give you pause for thought about whether the way in which the class is taught currently is meeting that aim or is there a better way?

I am 100% NOT saying you should stop the dance or physical elements, but I don't think the girl can be as completely happy as you think she is for her mum to have gotten quite so wound up, although she probably is being a bit over sensitive and may have taken a chance remark out of context (Mums of disabled children are so used to having to fight for their DC they can get a bit gung ho).

I do really think you'd be better off approaching the conversation from the point of view of "the aim of the class is to teach ABC specific theatre styles and this incorporates XYZ elements to the class, how can we enable your DD to participate to the best of her ability" rather than "Well we teach XYZ and we're not going to change that"... do you see the nuance? As you say it would be a real shame if this one issue overshadowed the enthusiasm of the teacher and the class and I would be hopeful a good conversation would solve the problem. Maybe just make a real effort to listen to the mum and her concerns and be prepared to make some concessions (without fundamentally changing the purpose of the group) though?

DaisiesAreOurSilver · 17/06/2019 17:41

Well we teach XYZ and we're not going to change that"... do you see the nuance?

I do see the nuance but that's basically what needs to be said. I'm not sure it can be sugar coated. The rest of the class have worked really hard on the structured dance element and I can understand the teacher not wanting to drop it for one parent/pupil. They are due to perform at the church fete in July.

It may be worth pointing out that 4 of the others have ASD and a couple more have ADHD so we were pretty inclusive before S joined. One of the parents stays to keep an eye on her son who has his moments. She would be very upset if we stopped the dancing because her DS practises the dances constantly at home. His needs come before S's because he was there first, is how the teacher sees it. And it would be cruel to drop something enjoyed by all except one.

The teacher was a bit worried that it might become a group for DCs with disabilities by default as we seem to be the only place that takes them. It is hard to manage a class with so many with extra needs but she does it well, with support from us.

I think it's the mother who needs to do some listening. It had been explained to her clearly and she said that was OK. Perhaps we should have just said no.

You say With the greatest of respect though, it's a community group for local children, not the Royal Ballet Company! to the class members it's every bit as important as the RBC. They work really hard at all the elements and the class teacher has created an excellent experience for them. They are looking forward to performing every bit as much as a ballet dancer would be.

S can join in with almost everything. There is one lad who doesn't like the freestyle dance and he sits with his ipad quite happily until that bit is over.

The mother's attitude has created a bad atmosphere and the teacher is very upset. I think we need to support her.

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