“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This may seem a couple of weeks out of date, but Happy New Year!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:
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.
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.
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!
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.
“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:
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
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:
What does this mean for a SENCO?
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 year
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 Mapwith 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:
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