Sora Kopfstein is headteacher at Kisharon School in north west London which this time next year will have moved to a new campus in Hendon with cutting-edge facilities, offering places for up to 72 children with learning disabilities including autism, doubling its current intake.
What was your path to doing what you do?
While working at Lubavitch Boys’ and Girls’ schools, I wanted to do more for children with special needs and so trained as a SENCO. Later, I became interested in children with more complex needs and worked at Side by Side Special School. I joined Kisharon 10 years ago.
Who helped you along the way?
Norwood Binoh was hugely helpful and signposted me towards the training I needed as a SENCO. At Kisharon, former Chief Executive Bev Jacobson saw potential in me and supported me on my personal journey to become an effective headteacher. I now have a BSc in Education, and a Post-Graduate Certificate in Speech and Language. I also have the NPQH head teacher’s qualification.
What have you learned along the way?
I’ve learned that there is always more to learn! I’ve found out too that there are no one-size-fits-all answers because every child is an individual. We care for individuals – not labels.
Tell us an anecdote
This isn’t really an anecdote but something I tell myself all the time. It is that every minute the children are with us at Kisharon is a learning opportunity. If you don’t use that minute it will never come again. We must seize the moment.
Name a book, film, boxset or play you found inspiring?
I normally go for easy fiction/tv because I like to switch off. I read lots of crime novels and my choice of films is all over the place.
The film that upset me the most was The Diary of Anne Frank which I saw when I was 17. I had no idea that antisemitism existed until then because although I attended non-Jewish primary and secondary schools I had never encountered it.
What are you most proud of, professionally?
I’m most proud of making Kisharon School the professional organisation it is now. I’m proud to have had the opportunity to make changes to the lives of the children and families I have worked with.
Do you have a plan or ambition for the future?
It’s to see the school move to the new building and to get us settled in. The next step for me is to move to New York to be near my children and grandchildren and to work in the special needs field there. Two of my grandchildren have autism and so nowadays it touches me personally as well as professionally.
How do you unwind?
Crime novels and TV but rarely documentaries. My husband mentioned a particularly highly-rated documentary about school budgets that’s on one evening, but I definitely won’t be watching it.
What hobby would you like to take up if you had the time?
I used to knit, but I don’t even know the kind of hobbies people take up nowadays. If I had more time, I would swim regularly.
If you ruled the world for a day, what would you change?
There are so many things I’d like to change in this rotten world. All prejudices, racism and homophobia – which maybe seen as radical for an orthodox Jew, but it is a form of prejudice. I want to see everyone as equals and that covers the field of disability as well.
What would you say to someone who has just found out their child has special needs?
I’d say as little as possible. As a professional you should never overload people with information. When you get a medical diagnosis from the doctor you don’t remember anything they have said, and the same applies here. I’d let them talk and give information at the pace they want it.
Who do you most admire and why?
It’s the New Zealand double amputee and athlete Liam Malone who won two gold and a silver medal in the 2016 Summer Paralympics. He had a comedy show at Edinburgh over the summer. He sees no limits to what he can achieve. He has an amazing outlook, and has never lets his severe disability affect his life. He holds no bitterness. This young man touched my heart.
Written by: Sora Kopfstein