Blog

#senco5aday, People, Purpose

Utilising research – when we know what we don’t know

Research is what I’m doing when I don’t know what I’m doing.

Wernher von Braun

To be an effective SENCO we are often led to believe that we need to know everything about, well pretty much everything. The truth is, we can’t, and we don’t. However, it is vital to know three things:

  1. Where can I find out?  Where are the sources that I know are reliable and that I can trust?
  2. What is it I need to find out? What question am I trying to find the answer to and why am I asking that question?
  3. How much time and energy can I give to finding things out? Am I being efficient in my approach to research.

Our time and our energy are our precious commodities, and we need to be disciplined about how we use them. So, let’s address these questions in reverse order.

Time and wellbeing

Learning new things is one of the #5aDay wellbeing strands, and clearly benefits not only us, but our colleagues and the community we serve. So research has to be part of the role. I wrote it into the job description of the SENCO for my school when I became head, which also meant that they needed to be given time to do it. When planning out your workload think about dedicated research time on your diary.  Regular shortish slots often feels more manageable and will be more productive. For example, 30 minutes dedicated slot a week turn research into a pro-active leadership activity, as opposed to a reactive management task.

Top tip: If you are not sure what it is you need to be researching, then the regular slots are the best time to pick up that article you meant to read last month, or explore a handout given out at a conference from an expert speaker.

Case study:  I know Anita Devi has a research question book, Trello list of ideas and a long reading list.  So, she is actively using weekly slots to update her knowledge and skills, whilst ensuing she does not work into the night or on weekends.

Focus your research

Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose.

Zora Neal Hurston (an American Anthropologist)

I love this quote, it really gets me thinking:

  • Where is my curiosity currently taking me?
  • What do I want to find out about and why?

We talk regularly about purpose and taking a strand of inquiry to research in order to solve a problem or have a positive impact on a child, a group of children or a community strikes at the heart of what we are as SENCOs. Therefore, this will not only have a positive impact on our wellbeing but also on our development as a SENCO (and a leader).

Make sure you know specifically what it is your curious about and frame it as a question. For example, I examined would regular group play therapy have a positive impact for children identified as having a social emotional mental health (SEMH) need?  When embarking on a research journey consider what you know already, and what has already been done in this field, is there research out there already that gives a strong basis for investigating this in your setting, or negates the necessity to do the research in your school?  This is where the regular 30 minutes a week time slot comes in handy.

Case study: Have researched the literature, I also needed to then to collect on-going data pertinent to our setting. I considered attendance data, progress data, answers to questions about social and emotional feelings and behaviour from the children and their teachers.   As a school we also considered how we would compare the evidence with children who are not accessing play therapy, but who were similar in attendance, age, attainment).  Our next step was to consider data interval collection points (half termly, termly and a complete school year).

Not all research needs primary data from your setting, or a direct line of inquiry using your classes. It may be that you want to research the best assisted technology or the best resource for a particular need. Here you would be looking to your secondary sources and use those that you trust. These might include other SENCOs in your network, information you have picked up in training, forums or conferences, as well as online articles. Make sure you are comfortable with your sources and that you can identify their values and purpose Do these align with you?  Triangulate the information you are reading with other sources.

Develop yourself and your ideas through research

In my current work I started from the premise supervision for SENCOs and leaders is vital, so my question was:

What benefits would supervision bring for SENCOs and leaders and how do I know?’

I then went to look at the research, (which is very limited for education), and so I have had to look beyond education into social care and health and translate that into what it might mean for school staff. I also had to explore the use of supervision beyond the UK. This meant I had to ensure what they say supervision is, is what I know it as.  The limited education specific research has led me to build my own evidence-base, as well as continue conversations with others working in the field to see what the common threads are. My research is very much in the exploring and building evidence phase.

So, knowing what we don’t know (or suspecting something but not being sure) and then going to find out more is good for our wellbeing, and good for the community we serve. The caveat being of course that we need to have boundaries of time, energy and purpose. It has to have value.

Let me know what you are currently researching, what you now know, and I will return to the strand of research and learning in later blogs!

Till next time,

Jenny

#senco5aday, People, Place

Find your tribe? I didn’t know I’d need one!

Love and work are crucial for human happiness because, when done well, they draw us out of ourselves and into connection with people and projects beyond ourselves. Happiness comes from getting these connections right.

Jonathan Haidt

I remember the first time I heard ‘Have you found your tribe?’ It was my first NAHT event. Initially, I didn’t really understand, I was in a room of deputy heads. ‘Are they not my people?’, I thought. Truthfully, they weren’t, not all of them. Some made my blood boil! There were a couple that I really enjoyed the company of, and a few that I sought out at other events or shared my email and resources with.

I thought, I didn’t think I needed a tribe, I had good friends, good family and I was working in a school with good staff. Yes, I collaborated, attended events and training, discussed local and national issues, but I wasn’t thinking about ‘belonging’ or ‘networking’, I was getting on with my job and my life.

But then as things became tougher, more work, feeling more stressed, wondering where I could get ‘good advice’ I started to realise that I needed to work out who I sought out and when, who I would ‘find time for’ and who I had to politely reduce contact with for my own work life balance and wellbeing. I wasn’t thinking about being in one tribe, but I was thinking about being selective over who I shared my time with, and how my school and the children and family I serve would benefit from me spending my time with them. Does it sound selfish? Maybe, but I don’t necessarily see being selfish as a bad thing; knowing who, when and why made me a more present person in the spaces I then inhabited.  I was more authentic and happier, so surely a better SENCO, deputy and all-round human being?

Why was it at LA meetings I sought out particular people to sit with? When there were pleas for working parties, why did I take a particular interest in seeing who else was going to be on them? Not that the make-up of the group necessarily stopped me, but sometimes it gave me pause. I have never wanted to be in an echo chamber and having challenge over the way to do things has always invigorated me (when done in a positive way!) For me the key was knowing the people in the room, or the people round the table had the same values and purpose as me. We were there for the same reasons, bringing different experiences and knowledge. There was the power in that type of collective. The ability to get things done in the group, have reassurance, validation and gain knowledge, as well as laughter and camaraderie. Do not ever underestimate that!

I joined twitter in 2012, and generally loved it, I have connections that I made in 2012 that I still seek out for suggestions, to celebrate and to generally communicate with, but I did learn how to manage my time and made strategic decision on who to follow, who to engage with and who to block in order to get what I needed and wanted from the platform. Do I get it right all the time, no, but I am happy with how I manage it, and quite often as happy about the conversations I do not engage with, as the ones that I do.

Then as COVID19 hit, Zoom opened up more opportunities to find places where I felt I belonged, where I could share thoughts and ideas, and be challenged, and professionally there were more spaces that felt comfortable and safe, full of people driven by their purpose and their values.  I was also beginning to feel torn. Did I have enough time? Could I give what I should within all these spaces? They were all noble, they all held good people, but were they all spaces that I should be occupying? I had come back to where I was 10 years ago, I cannot be all things to all people, and neither can you, no matter how much you want to.

This is a great thought to ponder on!

I have chosen my spaces to be fully committed to. I have chosen the spaces I will amplify and support when I can, and I have chosen the spaces that I say thanks but no thanks to, (although I may still recommend and mention these to others that might get what they need from there) and I am once more at peace with the decisions I have made.

So why am I sharing this personal blog with you this month? There are two reasons,

It felt like the right time, as the world seems to be opening up once more, to ask you to pause and think about what spaces you occupy and why? Are you getting what you want and need from the space and the people in them?

If you are being told you should, or you think you should, be in a particular space or network ask yourself why? What is the agenda and purpose, and whose agenda is it? There are times when, for our role, there are spaces we need to occupy, and so when in those spaces you can still choose how much time you live in it, who you sit with, and together you can influence that space to make it one where you all belong and find happiness.

Till next month, enjoy your space! Jenny

People, Place, Purpose

Zooming out (No not That Zoom!)

By Jenny Bowers

On the Leader5ADay blog site by TeamADL, Cole Andrew has written a great 2 part article on the Perspective is Power. He really helped me explore further what I thought about perspectives and how powerful they can be. Today I am going to talk to you about how shifting the lens that you look through can help your personally and professionally in the SENCO role.
You may be reading this as you head into half term, or you may be in half term right now. Any short break is time when you are able to lift your head up and look outwards to the horizon, but do you remember to look left and right as well? When work is feeling relentless and the demands are coming in from all directions we tend to narrow the lens we look through and focus on what we think are the priorities. Doing this is essential at times, to get done what we need to get done, for ourselves and for the community we serve. However, it is dangerous to constantly look through a narrow lens. Lets use a photo to explore this. Right now, all I am going to allow you to see is this:

What do you think is going on?

Nearly all your focus is going to be about this lady, checking in on her. Maybe wondering is she warm enough? Is she talking to herself? Is she OK? Why is she there? But before we start getting ahead of ourselves with presumptions and starting an action plan for her, I’m going to shift our lens and go a bit wider.
We now have this:

How has this extra piece of information shifted your thinking?

We should now have different questions or thoughts. Some of our anxiety may be lessened, she clearly isn’t alone, that look on her face is more likely to be focus or enjoyment. However, that double bass player has her back to her, is he not engaging with her, is there a reason for that? Where should we look now? Should we be zooming in on him, back on her, or take a moment to look at the whole picture?
I vote for the whole picture; (with thanks to Leopold Biget who has placed this photo on Pexels)

The whole picture

Do you have different questions now? Are some of earlier questions already answered? Do you want to focus on something else? Does this need any more of your time and energy, can you enjoy the moment and then move on?

When I see this, I also realise that the perspective of the photographer is as someone in the audience, I would quite like to see through the eyes of the musicians, including the woman (is she a musician/singer or someone who has come across this three piece street band and is enjoying the music?) but this is the view the photographer chose (I wonder why?)
Choosing to look at things from a different perspective, or through a wider lens does bring more questions, but can also generate discussion and give greater understanding. We can discover things we need to celebrate by bringing the focus back out again and capturing the ‘whole’, or by focusing in on something good or positive that happened. We can also turn the lens back on the road travelled already and reflect on what we have achieved. Sometimes we need to take the lens off work altogether and focus it on ourselves, our family and our friends.
We often talk about capturing the pupil voice, or the parent voice in SEND, and it is vital. This is not though about turning your lens onto them, but by giving them the lens, asking them to focus it, and then looking through the lens how they have placed it. By doing that, you can also invite them to look through your lens and through doing all of that, greater understanding can be achieved and co-production is in your grasp. Asking staff where their lens is pointed and encouraging them to either focus more narrowly, or to widen their lens out can also be a powerful way to support identification, individual outcomes and wider school development.
The power of perspectives for SENCOs is in knowing your own, recognising others will be looking the same way but through a different lens, or at something completely different! Taking time to look through a different lens, to acknowledge other perspectives and accommodate those perspectives whilst explaining your own, will support your well-being, and you job satisfaction.
One final note, reflective supervision is an incredibly powerful tool to safely explore and question your perspective, or a place to shift your lens and think about what you are seeing without judgement.
Let me know how you manage to change perspectives, or what lens you are going to be looking through in this next part of the year.

Further thought for reflection: (from Anita Devi) When colleagues in your setting see your role, are they just looking at you or the whole picture? What behaviours would help them see the whole picture (i.e. SEND is everyone’s responsibility)?

#senco5aday, People

SENCO well being MOT – have you had yours?

Welcome to January 2022! The previous year has drawn to a draw to a close and I am reminded of the assembly I would do every year about the Roman mythological god Janus, known for doors, gates and transitions. He also allegedly has two faces; one for looking forward and one looking back! I have gone back and re-read my first blogs for #TeamADL, from March and April 2021. I’ve reflected on what we have all achieved and faced in this last 12-18 months. This reflection has taken me back to the map and the suitcase discussed then and now I am thinking about the mode of transport; how we get to those points in the map, what we use to carry our suitcase, and how well we look after this transport. This got me thinking about resilience!

Photo by Leah Kelley on Pexels.com

Resilience (according to the charity Mind: is not just your ability to bounce back, but also your capacity to adapt in the face of challenging circumstances, whilst maintaining a stable mental well being. Resilience isn’t a personality trait – it’s something that we can all take steps to achieve. The Mental Health Foundation/The Faculty for Public Health (2016) says Resilience refers to our ability to cope with the normal stress of life as well as being able to bounce back from crises. And the Oxford English Dictionary says the ability of people or things to recover quickly after something unpleasant, such as shock, injury, etc.

However, in my conversations with people and what I have seen on social media, it seems that we all just need to be more resilient and everything will be ok. Will it? That to have resilience is to carry on regardless, ignoring the indicators and the warning lights in our transport as we just need to get on and get it done! Really???

Of course, this is not what resilience is! We need to reclaim resilience and use it to support our emotional, physical and mental well being. We cannot just carry on, with dents and scratches, broken cogs or flat tires in our transport. We cannot just follow the map and ditch the tools we carefully placed in the suitcase! If resilience is to be our mode of transport, then we need to look after it, service it regularly and have those annual (termly) MOTs! This is a good time to start.

As we step into a new year, let’s think about what a SENCO well being MOT would look like and then let’s make sure that there is a garage on our map that we visit regularly:

First and foremost, fuel. We cannot let the tank run dry. We cannot go from completely full to completely empty! Let’s make sure that we have good quality fuel entering our systems, and yes, the occasional treat too!

Secondly, any bits that appear to be a bit bent or broken, spend time on getting them fixed. This might be with professional help such as a supervisor or counsellor, or through collaboration with peers.

Park it and rest! Quality sleep and quality down time, put work away for a decent length of time.

A thorough MOT at the start of the new year will set you up well, and if a lot of work needs to be done, you definitely need to think about those regular trips to the garage, as part of your on-going lifestyle choices:

> Daily fuel top ups! Ensure they are healthy! This way you will never hit empty. This is in the physical sense (make sure you eat your lunch), but also in the emotional and mental sense (daily affirmations, laughter, pauses).

> Spotting potential worn out parts, fixing the crack before it becomes a smashed windscreen, buffing out the dents and the scratches. This may be regular trips to the gym, swimming pool, dance class, or it could be that regular chat with friends and family or doing that hobby you love.

> Parking it daily, turning off the engine and resting. In other words, a decent amount of sleep and quiet time to yourself with a good book, a podcast, TV show, or a chat with a mate and having a really good laugh.

What’s key is you are intentional and insert these into your diary! Yes, we all need resilience, and yes it can really help us, but we all need to look after it too, develop it, nurture it and appreciate it and then it will get us to where we need to go!

I wish you all productive and enjoyable January, and look forward to talking to you again in February 2022.

Jenny

Additional resources:

FREE SENCO Time management plus going home checklist and supervision poster

Mind website and Education Support who have some good resources, and have recently published the 2021 Teacher Well being Index (which they have now run for 5 years, and it encompasses all education staff).

#senco5aday, People

75 words for your wellbeing

Hello SENCOs, I’m the #TeamADL Elf, and I have taken over the blog writing as Jenny goes to decorate the tree.

Photo by Marta Wave on Pexels.com

I would like to remind you all (on behalf of #TeamADL)

This holiday is a time to relax, reflect, recharge, reconnect and rejoice!

This holiday, put work away, spend quality time with family and friends, be playful, be kind, have fun, laugh and SLEEP!!

Jenny will return in January, with a blog on resilience!

#senco5aday, People, Purpose

Five questions we need to ask about collaboration

This month, I want to look at collaboration. Within the education sector, this is perceived as a desirable engagement activity. So, here’s my first question, what does it actually mean?

According to Wikipedia ‘collaboration is the process of two or more people, entities or organizations working together to complete a task or achieve a goal’. The Collins dictionary defines it is ‘the act of working together to produce a piece of work, especially a book or some research’. The dictionary further lists its synonyms as teamwork, partnership, cooperation, association.

Question 1: What does collaboration mean to you in your role? When picture in your mind does it conjure up?

When I hear the word collaboration, I think of this image:

My metaphor image for collaboration (royalty free image)

When collaboration goes well it is harmonious, validating and truly is good for our wellbeing. So yes, it is a desirable activity to engage in. However, my research has led me to appreciate there are some pitfalls when it comes to collaboration.  Let me explain through four more questions … so that you can avoid them!

Question 2: Are you with the best collaborators? Sometimes we engage with collaborators out of convenience. Maybe they are the professionals that your school is contracted to work with, or SENCOs in a local networking group. Whilst these relationships can be very beneficial, if you are collaborating make sure you are all clear on the why and the how. Maybe it is helpful to ask some sub-questions:

Why are you collaborating currently?

How will you interact with each other and what will you be responsible for?

Are you playing to your strengths and enabling them to play to theirs?

Question 3: Who gets what? Sometimes collaboration is a barter system, I can share X, if you can share Y, or I can deliver X training to your staff/team, if you deliver Y to my team/staff. This is powerful collaboration if people are properly credited for their work, and the ‘swap’ is considered ‘equal’. The other collaboration is when something is jointly produced, maybe a model policy for all to use, or a training module, or resource creation, and personally this is the collaboration that I loved! Sharing skills, thoughts and experiences and ending with a final item/thing for all to then use feels so very productive and will nearly always be better than what you can create in isolation. But be clear through the process who and how it is shared with, and that those involved get credit. For example, if you produce a model policy, will it be for just the schools ‘in the room’ or for the whole LA, all trusts with representatives in the room, or shared nationally/internationally?

Question 4: Are there time management considerations? There may be pressure to meet regularly, and this can be helpful. However, make sure that there is an agenda and that you are only agreeing to do what you know is possible from your end, especially for any work that you need to do on your own between meetings. Not all collaboration occurs when the collaborators are in the same room. This is part of the negotiation process.  It is OK for an agenda item to be ‘catch up, but make sure that this is not the whole meeting!

Question 5: Is it good for you? This is the crux of collaboration, ultimately there needs to a benefit, whether it is you personally as it is fulfilling your #Senco5ADay well being, or because your school/community/children will have improved/enhanced outcomes from it, or you are widening your experiences and networks. As you build your networks you will realise who are great collaborators, who are good collaborators and which personalities/styles you enjoy working with. Yes, joy is an important factor in positive collaborations!

It is also important to remember that collaboration is different from co-production, although you cannot have effective co-production without collaboration! A subject I will look at for this blog in 2022.

In the spirit of collaboration, Anita Devi and I are underway on the writing of our SENCo well being book for 2022, and we would love to hear from you! If you have any top tips, strategies & anecdotes please send your contributions to sencocoaching@gmail.com We will naturally attribute your contribution. Also if there are any subjects you would like me to investigate in this blog, please let me know!

Till next month,

Jenny

#senco5aday, People

Voices from the field: changing my mind set about stress

‘Stress should be a powerful driving force, not an obstacle’ Bill Phillips 

This month, I am delighted to hand over the reins of the Wellbeing blog to a guest, Arlene Kyle, as I ask you to think about stress and your relationship to it, prior to the International Stress Awareness Week 1-5th November 2021.

Arlene is based in Scotland and comes from a social care background (and has qualifications in coaching and supervision). She is now the director of Roots and Wings Social Care, working as a personal transformational coach. We connected over our similar experiences, then realised we shared a desire to make the work-lives of those in the public sector more self-care friendly and brainstormed how to raise awareness of what can be done to reduce stress, burnout and improve work/life balance.

As you read her story, please think about what stresses you are living with and how you respond to them.

I was addicted to stress, but it was my enemy, and it was costing me my career and my health.  The shocking discovery I made was that I was creating and adding stress to my own life!  I would procrastinate with deadlines, set unrealistic expectations, strive for perfection, adding stress to already challenging situations.   I was mentally and physically exhausted and forced to walk away from my job at the pinnacle of my career – I hit burnt out. 

Now well-being and self-care are the ultimate goals for everyone. Stress is considered as toxic and to be eliminated from life.  My burnout experience was evidence to support this theory and so I began a quest to live a ‘stress free life’.  This lasted three hours!  Partly because of my ‘habits’ in making life more stressful than it needed to be and because it’s impossible to eradicate stressful life events. 

Stress is inevitable! Life circumstances and milestone events including births, deaths, marriages, separations, changes to job and home, are things that we all experience.   There are even rating scales to determine how stressful we can expect these life events to be. This sets expectations as to when stress should be present and how much it should impact us. 

This got me really thinking about stress, I can’t avoid it or prevent it, in fact I should expect it! I then realised that I need to put my energy and focus on the things that I can change and not on the things I can’t, so I decided to change my relationship with stress.

What if stress could motivate, drive, or even energise us?  What if we could change how we view, react, and respond to stress to have a healthier relationship with it?

Harvard University researched the power of our mindset and belief systems around stress and discovered that if we change our mind about stress, we can change our bodies response to stress.  

Typically, when we are experiencing stress our heart rate increases and our breathing becomes faster – many of us are conditioned to experience this as negative.  However, participants in a 2012 study conditioned themselves to view stress signs as helpful.  Their increased heart rate was preparing them for action and increased breathing was transporting more oxygen to the brain to help them think with clarity.  The participants who learned to view the stress response as helpful to their performance were less ‘stressed out’ and became more confident.  This wasn’t all in their mindset and attitude, their physical stress responses changed too – their blood vessels stayed healthier and more relaxed.  Over a lifetime of stressful experiences this one simple biological change has the potential to make a significant impact to life expectancy and overall health.

How we think about stress matters.  If we view stress as our body helping us rise to the challenge, the body believes this and so responds accordingly, and so the stress response becomes healthier.  This changed my relationship with stress, I’m no longer addicted, or view it as toxic, or waste time and energy trying to prevent or avoid it.  I experience it in a different way now and have a healthier relationship with stress.

A huge thank you to Arlene for allowing #TeamADL to publish her first written blog, and we both hope it has got you thinking about how you think about stress. Don’t forget to engage with ISMA and please promote International Stress Awareness Week where you can. (1-5th November).

#senco5aday, People

It’s a new year … let the light in!

“Hope sees the invisible, feels the intangible, and achieves the impossible.” – Helen Keller

This may seem a couple of weeks out of date, but Happy New Year! I hope you are relaxed, rejuvenated and raring to go!

Flashback:  Typical ‘non-contact’ time half day as a SENCO

/ Sitting in the office with to-do list open at 1215 …

/ Lunch getting ignored beside me …

/ LSA appears as there’s a child shouting at adults and threatening to escape …

/ They don’t want to bother the class teacher as they know he is ‘one of mine’ …

/ Speech and language phone to discuss a concern following an initial assessment conducted that morning …

/ Email comes through to say more information is needed following a request for support for educational psychology …

/ Parent calls as they are anxious about the review to be held next week and they are struggling to get time off work to attend …

/ Teacher on PPA comes to seek advice regarding a dyslexic child and the English planned for next week

/ Then it is 4pm and nothing on the to-do list is done, I feel emotionally drained, all hope lost?

Let’s look at three key strategies we can ensure that we hold on to and nurture hope:

  1. Manage our to-do lists effectively

This may be a strange place to start, when talking about something as nebulous as hope. However, stay with me here! Everyone has some system or function around to-do lists/tasks to complete, and for many at the end of the day/week/month it appears that not all that should be done are done, and so we enter the realm of frustration, anxiety and our little light of hope dwindles. BUT, is the crossed/not crossed off list at the end of the day a true reflection of what you have done? I’ll bet a small wager that it isn’t! We are all aware that there are fire-fighting elements in this role, as well as the unexpected phone call, unplanned event or surprise meeting we get called into-are these on the list? Are the actions that arise from them on the list? At the end of every day put on and then cross off (maybe in a different colour if that helps you) all the things that you weren’t planning to do but you did, and make sure that any actions arisen from the unexpected are also added on, even if they are not completed (yet).

Suddenly, the to-do list more accurately shows the ‘done’ list and you are aware of all that you have achieved! The light of hope is fed, and there is potentially more evidence for your discussion with a line manager about what your workload is (as opposed to what you/they think it is!)

Also remember those things that you may not think of as a ‘task’ but have eaten into your time should be on this to do/I have done list (I’m thinking here of all those things listed in the (true) scenario at the start).

Do look at the TeamADL site, we have a number of tools to support SENCOs manage their time and to-do lists

  • Capture the positives

Keep growing that file, pages in a journal, desk drawer or whatever you use to ensure that you do have a good reminder of everything that you and the team are doing well. Big, small, from the child, the parent, the staff member, or your note to self. There is also something so hopeful about sharing a positive with a member of staff, parent, or child.  I love using postcards with lovely photos on.  They don’t have to be wordy, they don’t have to be huge accomplishments, but share the positivity and reap the reward from both giving it and receiving it!

  • Collaborate and connect on the big stuff

Hope grows when it is magnified and shared. When thinking about some of the tough things on the horizon, the big questions we will all have to grapple with, it is easier to do it as a group, be that within your school, MAT, locality, LA or through organisations like #TeamADL. We all want you to be successful, we all want children to achieve, we all have hope for the future, so let’s work together and nurture intangible hope as we build a tangible successful system.  

Here’s to 2021/22 and the future!

#senco5aday, People

Filling your well-being jar with appreciation

We love to get it, we try and remember to give it, we often forget is soon after it is given to us, and sometimes there’s a niggling voice in the back of our head that says, do we really deserve it?! That voice always needs drowning out!

As we round off this very challenging and unique academic year #TeamADL once again dedicated 1st July to #SLAD, a growing annual event that gives anyone the opportunity to nominate a SEND Leader/Practitioner for a certificate of appreciation and a mention on the wall of appreciation. In fact, I was so excited to see it all I ‘jumped the gun’ and announced it half a day early! (whoops!) I also got goose bumps from reading all of the wonderful messages about staff who are valued for doing their job so well.

I know there are many staff, parents and children who appreciate the hard work that dedicated and committed SEND Leaders and support staff are doing all round the world to support our children and young people with SEND. Many of you, may not yet have heard of SLAD, and are giving words and notes of thanks (get #SLAD2022 in the diaries!). But I wonder how many of these hard working SEND staff really stop to notice the appreciation given and how many store it away in their well-being pot to help sustain them through the tricky patches? Am I talking to you here?

So, my challenge to you for the end of term and summer is not only to relax, but to hear, notice, claim and retain the appreciation sent your way. If you have a journal, have a few pages dedicated to the thanks and appreciation you receive, jot them down along with the person and the date. If you get cards and notes, store them away in a special folder, when something particularly lovely is said about you in a report, in a meeting or in your performance management or appraisal meeting, get it copied and physically store it too. When you are having a tricky day, open them up and read them, remember them, feel the emotion and appreciation in them and allow it to replenish you.

When appreciation or thanks is given, please accept it with grace and confidence, it is given because you deserve it, because someone wishes you to know it and so allowing yourself to accept it in the manner it is given also nourishes you, and the person giving it!

Finally appreciate yourself, allow your inner voice to give thanks and gratitude to yourself, notice when you have done something well, when someone is able to respond positively, when a plan comes together. Self-care is not selfish, it is necessary. Keep a page or two in that book of appreciation or your journal for you to remind yourself of how good you are, of what you have done well and what you have done to look after yourself. Use these in your self-affirmations and to drown out that little niggling self-defeating voice that tries to rob you of the appreciation in your well-being pot.

A grateful heart is a beginning of greatness. It is an expression of humility. It is a foundation for the development of such virtues as prayer, faith, courage, contentment, happiness, love, and well-being – James E. Faust

I would love to know what is going into your well-being pot on the theme of appreciation, please share with us all in the comments.

#senco5aday, People

A time of transition

In the #Leader5ADay blog earlier this month, Cole shared his thoughts on change My focus today is on transitions. For SENCOs there always seems a lot to do and demands placed upon us, whether it is because there will be farewells, new children, young people and families, new staff, new classrooms, new routines or even a new school to plan for.

The official dictionary definition of transition is:

A change from one form or type to another, or the process by which this happens.

What we know is, change can be difficult, but change is necessary for growth. A key focus is how can we support our learners and staff so that transition goes smoothly, without us spending hours on paperwork or in meetings?

Working with staff and families, I came up with a process called ‘scoping the essentials’.  It is about sharing what do the people who will encounter this learner need to know.

This method really comes into effect when transitioning between primary and secondary, when there will be lots of teachers, form tutors and support workers having to get to know a multitude of new learners and cannot hold every single piece of evidence in their head or have it instantly to hand. It also works well between year groups.

To scope the essentials, focus on

  • 3 must knows
  • 5 should knows
  • 5 would be good to knows

These 13 nuggets of information gleaned from talking with the child and family, can be recorded on a single sheet of paper, possibly with a photo.  What this provides is a powerful and effective overview document for all staff. In the long term this can also reduce your admin and paperwork, as you can do a check and update every year. The one sheet of paper is vital.  Many schools use 4 to 5-page passports.  This is hard for staff to retain.  Any information, we have about learners needs to be used “at the point of planning and the point of delivery”, as Anita Devi often says!

Every learner is unique, so focussing on triggers, hooks, behaviours, routines, preferred communication, interests, required equipment and friendships.  This will enable teachers to adapt their high-quality teaching, make reasonable adjustments, whilst still maintaining their classroom management. It’s similar to a one-page profile, but with a different focus.

Flip the process

Scoping the essentials can be flipped on its head, so families also receive the must knows, should knows and the good to knows for them about the school / setting. This could be stylised as a FAQ sheet.

Now let’s focus on you:

  • Are you moving into another role or is your role evolving?
  • What should you leave behind?
  • What should you take into the next year?
  • What should you ask for?
  • What would you like to do differently next year?

Make time to truly reflect and celebrate all that you have achieved, by yourself and with colleagues, learners and their families. If moving on, ensure the person sitting in the chair next has a good map and all the tools required. (A must knows/should knows/ good to know crib sheet would be gratefully received I am sure). If you are going into a new setting, you absolutely can ask for a ‘knows’ sheet, and try to have some time this term to shadow/explore the next role/setting with the incumbent.

If you are staying in the same role, but want to do things differently / better next year – would a must know/ should know/ good to know document help others understand your role and the pressures you face?

Finally, to all of you, remember to plan an effective wellbeing transition into the summer holidays. That does not mean falling exhausted and ill into your bed and not resurfacing for a week! Yes, holidays are for resting, reflecting, recharging, but most importantly they are for reconnecting and for enjoying! Make time to plan these last few weeks carefully so that you can have a fantastic summer and plan those holidays and that you are not endlessly picking up bits of work or switching on the laptop to check emails!

Till next month,

Jenny

#senco5aday, People

Empathy, does it matter?

By Anita Devi with guest blogger Ginny Bootman

Empathy is a desirable value, attribute, and skill.  Yes, it is all three, but what does empathy really mean? In this blog, writing alongside Ginny, we unravel the essence of empathy – what it is, why we need it, how to embrace our empathetic nature and what can block us being empathetic.

Ginny’s strapline is “Follow the Empathy Road”.  She advocates, empathy is a choice.  I agree, but permit me to take it a step further:

Imagine you are standing at a point in the road, where the path divides.  One road is called ‘With Others Highway’ and the alternative is named ‘On My Own Road’.  Which do you choose?  I know my choice.  As the African proverbs says, “if you want to go fast, go alone but if you want to go far, go together’. So, are you a sprinter or marathon runner? The point of these metaphors is to conjure up a picture in your mind – empathy is fundamentally about choosing “togetherness”.  That is the root of it, as well as it’s sustenance.  Togetherness in the good times and the tough and rough.  Empathy is not just about feeling another’s pain.  It is also about sharing their joy!  Can you celebrate the successes of others?  For me, that is the beauty of empathy – it is all about ‘doing life together’.

So, does empathy matter?  This is what Ginny says,

“Empathy matters more than ever in our lives right now. We are living in a world of disconnection brought about by many factors including a pandemic that has physically and emotionally separated us, for over a year. The age of technology can be used for good, but it is also driving us to seeing each other masked on screens or communicating solely via devices and apps. This can even be with individuals who live in the same household! A friend of mine often communicates with her children via Alexa from one room to another. If we are in the same room, faces are often obscured by screens and emotions are lost through the back of a phone.”

Why have empathy in our lives?

In relation to empathy, Ginny talks about the cycle of ECTA.  For me, this is the cycle of being who you are meant to be and doing what you were destined to do.  Empathy liberates the potential.


Cycle of ECTA (G. Bootman, 2021)

“One barrier” Ginny continues, “to showing empathy is that individuals can see it as having to open themselves up and show vulnerability.  This vulnerability is actually a sign of strength.” I agree, it is in our weakness, togetherness becomes a strength.

 ‘Individuals who empathize with others also help themselves: attracting friends more easily, experiencing greater happiness and suffering less depression than their less empathetic peers.’ – Jamil Jakil ‘The War of Kindness’ (2019)

How to embrace our empathetic nature?

There are three core intentional processes of empathy:


Three intentional processes of empathy (A. Devi, 2021)

The very first company I started (post university), we had a motto “To know, to care, to grow”.  If we knew our client and partners, the quality of our service would be rooted in ‘care’.  In effect our actions would lead to growth for us and our clients.  It is hardly surprising that all our projects were community-based and led to community cohesion in a specific geographical area. 

Using our senses to see, hear and feel is vital.  The day-to-day noise of life can cloud this out.  What if we took a moment to ‘Pause for a cause’?  During the recent national week of mourning, we made an intentional decision at #TeamADL to go radio silent on social media.  We had several projects pending, but we also knew this was moment for the nation to grieve and heal.  We would play our part.  Throughout the week, we watched, we listened, and we did life from a different perspective.  It was empowering, to say the least.  Head engagement is about wisdom.  It’s pulling together information from our senses and forming an understanding based on ‘what is’ not ‘what we think is’.  I would add at this point, knowing and accepting does not always mean agreement.  I can see what drug dealers or human traffickers do; I can hear their rationale.  I can know their background and accept their choices, but it does not mean I agree. Admittedly these are extreme examples. However, in the day to day, I can empathise without agreeing.  It goes back to Ginny’s ECTA cycle.  In hearing the voice of others, I have to remain authentic to myself too!

There are many more questions we could ask here.  For example:

  • Is empathy an inborn trait or learnt skill?
  • Can empathy be taught or learnt?
  • What makes some people better at ‘expressing’ empathy than others?

You may have questions of your own.  Leaning on the work of Jakil (2019), Ginny talks about modelling and mirroring.  The mirror neurons in our brain have the capacity to mimic emotions we see around us.

A personal story from Ginny:  on one occasion, I came into class feeling under the weather. One pupil read my body language and said to my teaching assistant. ‘I really think we need to get Mrs Bootman a cup of tea, she seems a bit down.’ This comment of heightened awareness from a child who two years prior showed no personal empathy to anyone was a light-bulb moment. I like to think the empathy he received from me; the consistent modelling, he internalised and was able to mirror it back to me. It was a real defining moment for me and showed how modelling and mirroring is critical to widening the empathy circle. That is how the connection in ECTA starts.  This connection is discovered through personal connection of commonality.

I agree with Ginny.  But I would also assert ‘commonality of connection’ is not always about liking the same thing.  Sometimes it is.  Other times, it is about the process of finding a bigger purpose during a time of conflict or crisis. I have taught children, who have not always got on with me to start with.  Miss Devi is quirky!  We accept the difference and over time we unite over something that is bigger than the issues that divide us. If empathy was just about common likes to form connection, then we would end up being fulltime people pleasers, with affiliation bias and completely disoriented by social media!  A more concrete example:  the red and blue street gangs in New York.  There are ample case studies in research to show how conflicting gangs came together through a common cause.  As South Africa emerged out of the chains of apartheid, it was a rugby game that brought connection.  Winning mattered to all, regardless of colour.  So, empathy is not about agreeing, but accepting togetherness, in difference.  I believe, each one of us was created uniquely for a purpose. This framework gives me a basis to accept who I am, who others are and the diversity between us is then empowering for a greater good.

Both Ginny and I agree, this works equally well with colleagues and in teams.   How can we expect staff to empathise with learners, if they are not on the receiving end of empathy from leaders? Team empathy is the cornerstone of effective leadership.  Maybe that’s a blog for another time !?!

Before we bring this dialogue to a close, we wanted to take a few minutes to explore the barriers to empathy:

Ginny: Interestingly Jakil (2019) also states ‘We have more reasons to avoid empathy than ever.’ We can bring this back to our need to survive and protect our family. Individuals may revert to this idea of protecting themselves before protecting others. In the current world we live in this is perhaps more pertinent than ever.  He also states that ‘when people feel like someone else’s pain will overwhelm them, the steer clear.’ I have seen this happen. It is as if to say, if I help someone I will be saddled with their problems. 

Anita:  Empathy is an on-going choice. Back to my dividing paths at the beginning of this blog.  There is an initial choice: on my own vs togetherness.  But here is the thing about togetherness – you have to keep choosing it!  Difficult times or moments of joy – they are SO much better, when we do it together.  However, for some – difficult times, they go into tortoise mode.  Back into a shell believing we can only show ourselves when we are perfect or strong.  Moments of joy for another, takes a big heart and choosing not to compare or feel jealous.  For me, empathy is daily choice when I walk up in the morning and a reflection at night – how well did I do and what can I learn from my mistakes today?  Sleep, for me is a pitstop on the ‘With Others Highway’.

In closing, both Ginny and I extend a hand of friendship and togetherness to you all.  We are here in the tough times and in moments of joy!  Speaking of joy, do look at the #TeamADL SEND Leaders’ Appreciation Day 2021 and celebrate someone you know!  Nominations close on 1st June 2021.

About Ginny Bootman

Ginny is a SENCO of 2 Primary Schools in Northamptonshire. She has been teaching longer than she hasn’t and has been class teacher as well as a Head Teacher during this time.  She loves to talk about ways to promote empathy in the school community. You can find her on Twitter @sencogirl and at www.ginnybootman.com

About Anita Devi

As a former SENCO, Senior Leader, School Improvement Advisor, local authority SEND Advisory Teacher and Healthwatch Trustee, Anita Devi carries a wealth of experience in developing Leaders of Learning.  Her own teaching career spans early years to post grad in the UK and overseas and Anita lives her why through her belief in the joy of learning and the power of purpose.  In 2017, Anita was awarded the prestigious international Influential Educational Leaders Award for her SEND Leadership Pipeline strategy developing professionals from initial teacher training to advanced and experienced SENCOs.  Currently a PT PhD student, ChangeMaker Education Consultant & Founding CEO of #TeamADL (a not-for-profit) In 2019, the team were selected as finalists for The Disability Awards alongside some top multinational companies. More recently, working with NASBTT, Anita has written the first SEND book for Early Career Teachers.  #TeamADL have also launched in 2020 SEND Leaders Connect Advanced and SEND Leaders’ Appreciation Day. 

#TeamADL You know, we know SEND Leadership – subscribe to our blog and follow us on social media to keep up to date www.teamadl.uk

#senco5aday, People, Place, Purpose

Three questions for SENCOs to navigate the term ahead

By Jenny Bowers

Last month, the focus was on packing your suitcase.  That is great if you know where you are going.  This blog is all about direction of travel for the summer term in terms of balancing SENCO workload and wellbeing.  Having a map (or planning out of your term) is vital. However, over the last 12 months it feels like we have been given only parts of a map, or a map that has been in production as we have had to follow it. This has been draining and frustrating at times.

In the summer term ahead, it is important that we have / start to design a map we can follow.  A map that we, our learners, families, and staff get to the destination safely and that we are confident that we went the best way we could. To do this let us just have three key questions:

  • Does your map have a key that you understand?
  • Are there mountains and rivers you need to go over or through?
  • Can you imagine or foresee any interesting places to visit on the journey?

I have spent some time thinking about these questions.  I considered the implications for SENCOs, how this can be applied, and I have linked it to the #Senco5ADay framework.  The Foresight Mental Capital and Wellbeing Project (2008) study highlight 5 core components needed to support wellbeing.  A decade later, Anita Devi regrouped these to define the #Senco5ADay framework (2018), based on the principles of purpose, place and people. This restructuring was and is part of a bigger project called the SEND Leadership Pipeline, which is all about equipping colleagues from initial teacher training to advanced SENCO.  The wider project has been acknowledged internationally and today I want to use the three constructs alongside my map metaphor.  Here’s the key the charted journey of my thinking:

#Senco5ADay Framework (Devi, A 2018)
Metaphor QuestionsWhat does this mean for a SENCO?ApplicationSenco5ADay
Does your map have a key that you understand?Do you have clarity and understanding of what you have to do and how you are going to do it? Is there agreement from leaders and governors that this is the way to go? Which segments may be redrawn for this term- which elements can wait for next year?Be clear about what reviews, reports, assessments and provision needs to be completed/in place over the next term and what can wait or be sketched out now to be fulfilled later. Make sure that there is understanding and agreement from all involved and a clarity around the work to be done by the school collectively and by key individuals and what deadlines there are. Don’t forget the ‘big’ transition from key stages, as well as the annual transition from year to yearPurpose
Are there mountains and rivers you need to go over or through?Have a look at the diary or your plan, are there weeks where lots of things need doing at the same time? Do you have deadlines that clash, or where your SEND role overlaps significantly with deadlines from other roles? Are there deadlines and SEN work heavy periods that have implications for teachers and support staff?You need to find a way to even out deadlines and workload heavy periods; look at prioritising, maneuvering, delegating, and rescheduling. Work with other leaders in school where there is overlap and pre-warn staff if it is unavoidable. This is about finding a bridge, some Sherpa’s or a cable car!  
NB: You (and the staff around you) will need stamina, and crossing mountains and rivers take a lot out of a person, make sure that if they must be crossed, they are followed, wherever possible, by a nice easy grassy path afterwards – metaphorically speaking, of course!
Place and people
Can you imagine or foresee any interesting places to visit on the journey?As well as the reviews, the reports, the plans for next year and all the transition activities, make sure there is something in this term for YOU! Something that you love to do.This event (or two or three) could be CPD or a day of celebration with children/families/your staff.Make sure you have these things planned and that you are fully present for them. Staff, learners and families will remember you being there, as will you and that matters.Purpose, people and place
Use the metaphor questions and application to design your map.

Replenishment for the journey … a top tip from Anita Devi

“As SENCOs we can often focus on what still needs doing, rather than capturing moments of celebration.  A secondary SENCO shared with me recently, how she has a ‘Box of niceness’.  Every time she receives positive feedback or a thank you.  It goes in her box.  On days, when she is trudging through the mud zone in her map, out comes the box and it nourishes her.  Others, including myself, keep a folder in our Inbox.  What positive well being snacks will you have on the journey?”

Using the Map with a kind nod to E H Shephard and AA Milne

Winnie the Pooh said: ‘Always watch where you are going. Otherwise, you may step on a piece of the Forest that was left out by mistake’.

A few final thoughts … as you plot out your best routes:

  • Don’t forget your suitcase (see the March blog!)!
  • Make sure there are places to rest and rejuvenate along the way. (This also means make the most of your time outside of work) The summer term must be a marathon and not a sprint! Maintaining stamina is important, we do not want you stumbling and falling into the destination (the summer holidays!)
  • If your journey takes you to another location, or to another role, remember what you have achieved on this section of your journey, and please leave the map and a list of good suitcase items for the person that takes up the mantle.

Have a fabulous summer term, and please let us know what the best bits of the journey are, and what stumbling blocks there are so that we can help with them in the future!

To steer effective supervision and other aspects of leadership, you can find a few FREE tools here.

Also SEND Leaders’ Appreciation Day 2021 #SLAD2021 is happening on 1st July 2021.  Be sure to share this link with others … we want to celebrate the good work you are doing!

About Jenny Bowers:

Jenny is passionate about empowering educators to excel. She believes that a culture built on ensuring excellent wellbeing, where coaching and supervision is an entitlement for staff, enabling them to work to the very best of their abilities. This means they will have a good work life balance and good mental and physical health. Jenny is very focussed on her purpose and from the tender age of 3, she knew she wanted to work in education. After, pursuing a degree that had a year at university in the USA and a gap year to experience work in other sectors, this became a reality, with Jenny training as a 3–11-year-old specialist. Jenny has taught in different areas in England and in addition to teaching has been DSL, SENCO, deputy head and headteacher. In all these roles, staff wellbeing as been at the heart of Jenny’s approach. She continues to serve in this area through coaching and supervision. You can engage with jenny via Twitter @jennypurplemoon (ask her about the moon image … it is quite a story!)

#TeamADL is a non-for-profit multi-agency team of specialists, committed to developing people, growing organisations and strengthening localities. Find out more at www.teamadl.uk