Liverpool teacher shares her journey into teaching

Laura Gibney from Huyton talks about her teaching career and working with children and young people with Autism and a range of associated communication, interaction, social, imagination, sensory and learning differences.  

A specialist teacher from Abbot’s Lea School in Woolton has shared her journey into teaching in a bid to inspire others to go down this rewarding career path. 

After leaving Liverpool John Moores University as a newly qualified teacher in 2012, Laura worked in a restaurant whilst she started a family, as the job offered her flexibility with childcare.

It wasn’t until 2018 that Laura considered returning to teaching. After attending night school to complete a Level 3 and Level 4 AAT accountancy qualifications, and a brief five-month stint in accountancy, she realised that she actually disliked accounts and her heart was really in teaching. 

Laura said: “I lacked confidence but knew I wanted to get back in the classroom and do the job I loved! I applied to work for a recruitment company and it was here they offered me an interview at Abbot’s Lea School.  

“I interviewed to be a teaching assistant. I was offered the job and started working at ALS the following week. It turned out that Abbot’s Lea was the dream job that I had been waiting for.” 

Laura quickly settled into the school and adored all the staff and students, particularly those in the Mozambique class that she was deployed to support. When the teacher of this class decided to move abroad, Laura was ambitious to fill this position. 

She said: “I knew that I wanted to be the class teacher and that I could teach, as well as support the students in this class. I applied for the role and was successful. I taught in Mozambique and Fiji classrooms over the subsequent two years. My students really were, and still are, the most amazing young people.” 

In June 2021 the opportunity to apply for a leadership position came up and Laura was very keen to explore the possibility of leading Key Stage 2 as its next leader.  

Laura recalls: “I decided that, with my managerial experience, combined with my passion for Abbot’s Lea School, I had nothing to lose and wanted the opportunity to influence positive changes across our school. After a nerve-wrecking and really comprehensive selection process and an interview, I was appointed as the new Key Stage Two Leader this September.” 

For Laura, the thing she loves most about being a teacher is the sense of achievement. She explained: “Something that may seem small or insignificant to somebody else is often the greatest achievement for some of our students. Just this week, a student in my class who had been too anxious to speak with unfamiliar staff or visitors spoke with Mark Williams, our School Improvement Partner, who was conducting a Quality Assurance learning walk with our senior leaders. 

"I was beaming from ear to ear. My student explained what was meant by the five senses and demonstrated these to Mark. Afterwards, he was delighted and the sense of achievement for both of us was so great!” 

Abbot’s Lea School is an outstanding special school that provides the highest quality of education for nearly 300 students aged 3-19 living with Autism and a range of associated communication, interaction, social, imagination, sensory and learning differences. 

The school has ambitious plans to become an International Centre of Excellence in Autism Education, Research and Professional Development, where every student and member of staff can be the best that they can be. 

Laura said: “Abbot’s Lea School has a cohort of the most diverse group of students from across the north west. Every student is supported using our unique Philosophy of Education: The ASD Model, which focuses equally on our students’ academic progress, specialist therapeutic support and the development of life skills. 

“The model allows staff to personalise the learning to ensure the curriculum is accessible to all and ensures all students reach their full potential. I love that we are able to tailor learning experiences for all of our students.” 

During her time as a specialist teacher, Laura has become a firm believer in Positive Behaviour Support - an understanding of the behaviour of an individual as a form of communication. It is based on an assessment of the social and physical environment in which the behaviour happens, includes the views of the individual and everyone involved, and uses this understanding to develop positive, progressive coping strategies that improve the quality of life for the person and others around them. 

Laura said: “I have worked with some of the most complex students. I believe Positive Behaviour Support has had a positive impact on their school experience and, as a result, encourages them to self-regulate their emotions and control their responses and interactions throughout the day.

"A student once asked me: “Miss, if I was upset and angry and you told me I lost points or couldn’t go outside to play, that would just make me angrier. Is that what happens in other schools?” 

“This student couldn’t begin to understand how those techniques would work and benefit students. I have to agree; we must discuss the underlying reasons for a challenging behaviour and the function of that behaviour to ensure we can support students so that they spend most, if not all, of the time in the Green Zone – a place where one is alert and ready to learn.” 

She added: “Ensuring our students are familiar with the wide range of Positive Behaviour Support, Social Communication, Emotional Regulation, Transactional Support, Zones of Regulation and Restorative Practice is key, so that they attend school, engage in learning and operate within a school which is a safe place for them.” 

Teaching isn’t an easy profession and the pandemic shone a spotlight on this when parents had to support their children with at home learning. 

Laura concluded: “It has not been an easy journey to get here and managing a full-time job with three young children has had its challenges. I really do adore coming to work every day and hope that if I can have a small impact on even one student each day then I have 100% achieved something.” 

Mrs Ania Hildrey, the school’s headteacher added: “In my 25 years of career as a teacher, and the past 18 as a school leader, I have met hundreds of educationalists – some teachers, others support staff, many more volunteers. All those whom I remember had one thing in common: they loved working with children and young people and recognised their job as a public service with a moral duty: to always do the right thing, no matter how complex the circumstances.

"I salute all teachers and I thank my team at Abbot’s Lea School, who, just like Laura have that unique quality, that special something: the capacity to ‘give’ a bit of themselves to the students of our school. Thank you!”

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on March 31st, 2021

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