06 March, 2024 | Posted by Michelle Hogan

'As a student myself, I feel totally empowered as a woman' - SNA Tutor Inspiring Inclusion through Continuing Education

‘As a student myself, I feel totally empowered as a woman’ – SNA Tutor Inspiring Inclusion through Continuing Education

The theme of International Women’s Day 2024 is #InspireInclusion.

International Women's Day is a global movement which aims to create a world that is diverse, equitable and inclusive.

Portobello Institute was founded by Delia Lyons in 1981, and today, her daughter Rebekah Lyons continues to make education accessible.

As a female-led further and higher education provider, we are looking inward this International Women's Day to celebrate the women who make Portobello Institute the wonderful, supportive, nurturing and inclusive learning environment it is.

Q&A with Fran Treny - SNA Tutor at Portobello Institute and MA Inclusive Education and SEN student

What is your role at Portobello Institute? 

I am a tutor for level 5 and level 6 Special Needs Assisting courses for Portobello Institute.

As a tutor, and an SNA myself for the past 18 years, I like to have a very personal relationship with my students. I like to give every student a ‘real’ insight into the role of an SNA in the classroom and what it is really like to work as an SNA

It is great to study the role and take a careful look at the legislation behind the position, but to get real stories, and actual insights into real-life experiences with neurodiverse children is invaluable

I am responsible for getting the best from my students, taking into consideration everyone's needs from a personal perspective. Everyone has a life outside of college and this can prevent us from giving 100% to our studies.

I understand that as a mother, daughter, wife, employee and student myself. Juggling many jobs at once while trying to maintain my own well-being is some feat, but I want to instill confidence in my students that they too can achieve success even with the busy lives we all lead

I like to build my students' self-esteem with the knowledge that I will be there every step of the way to fulfil that success. Throughout the course, I will not only fill my students with knowledge but also give them the tools to get the best grades.

How long have you worked at Portobello Institute and how would you describe your journey here?  

I have worked for Portobello for the last five years now, and love every minute of it, I get so much support as a tutor myself, and I have gained valuable friendships along the way. I am one email or phone call away from any support I need and knowing that I am fully supported gives me confidence as well.

I am so grateful that Portobello gave me the chance to fulfil my dreams, I love being able to pass on my knowledge and personal experiences to all the students I have had the pleasure to teach. If a student can take one thing from my classes that will benefit them in their journey, this makes it worthwhile. I feel that I am part of a fully inclusive environment while I work with Portobello Institute, and this ethos, I feel I bring to my classes also. 

The theme of International Women’s Day 2024 is ‘Inspiring Inclusion’, can you share some thoughts on what this means to you as part of your role at Portobello? 

I would like to think that I inspire inclusion every day, not only in my role as an SNA but also in my role as a tutor with Portobello. Each student is an individual to me, all of them aspiring to be their best self while working with children who need their skills but also their love and care.

Some of them are making career changes because of their love of children and some to fit in with family commitments. I like to get to know my students personally, and because Portobello has small classes, this is achievable for me as a tutor.  

I like to provide a very personal level of support continually for my students, from the time they enrol to the time they graduate, ensuring that they reach their personal best in education.

To be fully inclusive to me means that I can provide the knowledge to my students that they can achieve the same education as everyone else, to give them parity in the world of education. Reaching into each student and making sure they fulfil their full capabilities. Whatever they need to achieve through modifications and adaptions, I am there to make sure that this is achievable for them and that no obstacle is too difficult to overcome. 

Being a woman, working in education and working in a female-led environment – how has this supported you to retain your career and deal with life as it happens? 

As a tutor working in a female-led environment is a very fortunate opportunity that came my way, I feel I am equal and given so many opportunities to excel, some of which I did not seek myself. 

Portobello found in me things that I did not even know I possessed, for example, a drive to continue my own education,  I looked at doing the MA in Inclusive Education and Special Educational Needs (at Portobello Institute) as a dream way too big for me to achieve, but, that thought was quickly diminished when I was strongly encouraged to continue my own education, not for any other reason but for myself. 

I was encouraged by so many colleagues and friends to pursue my dream, and I thank them every day that I did. I do not feel I would have got that much encouragement anywhere else. 

Now that I am almost finished with my MA in Inclusive Education and SEN I cannot thank everyone enough for this push and encouragement. It has given me more knowledge in my tutoring role and my role as an SNA. I thank Portobello every day for believing in me and achieving my goals and dreams, which I want to pass on to every student who attends my courses and every child who comes into my care.

I am sure that because of the female-led environment that Portobello has, I feel supported and encouraged as a busy working woman, and I am not sure I would have got that encouragement elsewhere.  

Through your work at Portobello Institute, how do you inspire inclusion for others? 

As a tutor and a fellow student, I understand the barriers to fulfilling educational dreams and trying to juggle life. As a woman, we take on so much more in life than we should, as natural multi-taskers, we take on so much and put ourselves in some cases second best.

My role is to ensure that every person who attends my classes can use my help to get them to the finish line, which may come in the form of handing in extra drafts of assignments, or getting personal phone calls when things get tough. Answering emails as expeditiously as possible, and just ‘being there’ for them. I like to give them the push I am given as a student and feel that no question is a silly question. I like to make myself available to them to talk to not just as a tutor but as a friend, helping and pushing them to their goals.

I want everyone who comes to me to feel that with the knowledge and support they gain in the course that they can be the best SNA and give every child the care they truly deserve.

Do you have examples of times when you saw inclusion making a positive impact on students and/or colleagues? 

I have had students with Dyslexia, Dyscalculia and Autism attend my courses, I have also had the pleasure of having mothers of children with additional needs attend my courses who are not only attending to gain an insight into special needs in general but also as career changes. 

I have learned so much from my students also, with some remarkable experience that comes with adult education and more insights into the special needs that they have experienced in their own lives outside of Portobello.

There have been a few occasions on my course when students gained so much information regarding some additional needs, that they felt a need to assess their own lives, with some students embarking on assessments for themselves and discovering that they themselves have some additional needs. 

It has been enlightening for them and they have thanked me for giving them the knowledge to go on this journey. One student who discovered that they have ADHD told me that they had been struggling all their lives with the undiagnosed condition, and now that they know the additional need they have, this has given them so much relief, and armed with the knowledge to help get professional assistance.  

I always make sure that they feel fully included and supported in their goals, I tell all my students that they can achieve anything they want in life, and no matter what extra support that they need I am there to provide everything within my power to provide. I make sure to take everything into consideration when walking students through assignments. I will always ensure that the college supports them and wants to make them the best they can be no matter what challenges they are facing daily.

I want them to come away from their Portobello experience knowing their achievements came with the help and support that they encountered on their Portobello journey.  

Why is inclusion important in education? 

Inclusion is important for so many reasons, it promotes diversity, equality and positive outcomes for not only students but in society in general. Inclusion ensures that all students regardless of gender, disabilities, or background, have access to equal opportunities and quality education. Every student has a right to learn and participate in education.

Inclusive education reduces the stigma associated with gender, race, and differences in abilities. It helps break down barriers and promote a sense of belonging for everyone.

An inclusive education can have a positive effect on the academic achievements of students.  

In your experience, how can education play a role in empowering women? 

As a student myself, I feel totally empowered as a woman, I feel throughout my educational journey I have gained so much knowledge and this has helped me to look at things from different perspectives.

Through education, I am so happy to have gained the knowledge and confidence to speak up against unfairness and inequality. I have researched so much over the last few years, not only to help me in my practice as a tutor but also as an MA student. My eyes are fully open to the world of education. It has allowed me to look at different perspectives calmly and with confidence. 

Before I was involved in education, I would have gone into situations feet first, now I am going in headfirst with the confidence that I know what I am talking about and allowing other people to have their own perspectives and respecting that.

All I ever wanted in working environments was parity, I do not want to be better than anyone else, male or female, but I want to be equal and be given equal opportunities.

By continuing my education, I have gained the confidence needed to be myself and speak for what is right, just and fair, with this attitude, I will continue to encourage all my students to reach for the stars no matter what obstacle they face.

How can inclusion, flexibility, and accessibility to education support and empower women in their education journeys? 

Everything in this sentence spells out Portobello Institute for me, I have always been supported as a tutor, and as a student. Empowering women through education is a crucial step in promoting gender equality. The flexibility I show to students is the flexibility I get as a student. 

As a student, I have access to everything I need on an individual basis to empower me not only as a woman but as a person. I have gained so much knowledge, not only from the content of the material I have access to but also from the experience of the lecturers that I encountered throughout my education.

The quality of the lecturers that I have encountered has made me a better tutor to my students.  When you can be educated by some of the best lecturers, it allows me to adopt some of those qualities to my practice.

In my role as an SNA, what I am learning is making me more confident and empowered to speak up for every child I encounter daily. Having an inclusive classroom brings together students from diverse backgrounds, cultures and abilities, this diversity exposes us as educators and students to different perspectives.

By promoting equal access to education for women and fostering supportive environments we in Portobello can contribute to empowering women not only on International Women's Day but beyond. 

Giving Back

At Portobello Institute we understand the importance of giving back by having a small in-house charity we set up called 'Dochas Leanai'. 

College director, Denise Flood, travels to India and Belarus twice a year with a team of about 15 individuals, across staff and students. Devoted work includes training Montessori teachers and setting up Montessori schools in slum areas in Pune India.

The charity is also heavily involved in supporting training in a girl's rescue centre and a small school for profoundly hearing-impaired children. This involves self-defence training in a community project and sports and arts and crafts camps in a slum school in Pune.

Read more inspiring International Women's Day interviews here.


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