By Anita Devi
In the last #senco5aday Blog Abigail Hawkins and I shared a framework for considering SENCO wellbeing on a day-to-day basis. We chalked the evolving journey from the ‘5 a day’ approach to a pragmatic 3Ps: People, Place & Purpose. In this blog, I begin to unravel further the focus on people.
“Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things” – Peter F. Drucker
#TeamSEND in any setting is the largest team. It includes everyone from children, parents, staff, leadership, governance, external specialists and local area practitioners. Everyone has a role to play and a responsibility. Too often the SENCO is at the heart of co-ordinating different people on #TeamSEND, so that children, young people & their families can receive the support they need. This raises the question, what are the interpersonal skills SENCOs need to ensure effective people management?
Broadly speaking, interpersonal skills involve the set of abilities that enable a person to interact positively and work effectively with others. There are various ways of sub-grouping interpersonal skills (Klein et al., 2006). However, these distil into three main subsets; the ability to motivate, communicate and build teams. There is variance across England, as to whether SENCOs are positioned as middle management or in a senior leader role. Khan & Ahmad (2012) researched the three attributes of interpersonal skills in relation to different levels of leadership. Whilst their sample was relatively small, they conclude there isn’t a prevalence of any of the skills at different levels of leadership. They are required at all levels. However, they also state a need for top level managers and leaders to invest in building teams. For the purposes of this blog, I assume SENCOs need all three skills of motivating others, communicating and building teams in equal measure, placing though a greater emphasis on ‘team-building’, due to the proportionate size of the team. It is also helpful, I believe to see these three skills, as interdependent, not separate.
Ability to Motivate
From experience, if I was to define 7 steps to motivating others, they would be:
A few years back, a new senior leader arrived at an educational organisation I was working at. This leader made a choice to visit every faculty and deliver his vision speech. He then took questions. At one level, I appreciated his clarity and putting people at ease about his vision. However, when asked a question about communication, he brushed it aside saying, “Communication, we can always improve on communication”. I remember thinking, ‘What a missed opportunity?’ This was moment to listen. In that one response, he communicated his leadership approach, much more than he realised. It took a long time for colleagues to believe this leader was a listener.
- Ask open ended questions
I am naturally curious, so I ask a lot of questions. Over time, though I’ve come to realise not everyone likes being asked questions. That said, I have found asking open-ended questions does give the team freedom to express their views. I guess it is also about timing, context and perceived depth of relationship.
How much better would the world be, if we made time to encourage each other. I do not think encouragement is about ignoring issues we need to change but celebrating what’s working to sprinboard us further than we could imagine. Success breeds success.
- Ask what they first step will be
The first step of a new or unfamiliar task is often the hardest. Talking or walking people through this first step is great way to motivate them onto the next step and beyond. Think about how computer games are programmed. The first task is deliberately made easy to engage further participation. Why should working in teams be any different?
I’m a great advocate of Appreciative Inquiry, as a theory of change. Two reasons; firstly, the positive core supports step 3 above. My second reason is part of the process enables others to dream. Not just dream, but dream BIG (open questions) and then find ways to make it happen. Giving people space to dream is both empowering and enabling.
- Ask how you can help
We do this a lot in our family. We have found it is a great way of acknowledging each other and where we are at, without over stepping boundaries and making assumptions. It’s about more than respect or support. It’s about honouring and giving people space to grow in a collective environment made of opposites.
Over the years, I’ve met a few leaders who say the right things, but never follow through. In the words of J.F. Kennedy, “Once is an accident, twice is a co-incidence and three times is a habit”. When leaders don’t follow through, they lose respect and trust. Authencity matters, if we want the team to give their best.
The SENCO role involves a phenomenal amount of communication, verbal and written. I would argue the amount of information received from others far outweighs the amount of information they give out. If you think differently, do let me know. I’d love to hear your views.
Communication is fundamentally about the message. It is possible to communicate but miss the message. Five common barriers to effective communication:
- Judging the other person,
- Not paying attention to the person you are talking to,
- Using technical language,
- Giving solutions or unwanted advice, and
- Avoiding the concerns of others.
Focusing on learning conversations and ‘managing difficult conversations’ is vital. This NCTL resource on Fierce Conversations is a good starting point to consider how to carry out unpleasant tasks.
Training SENCOs at various points in their career development, I regularly talk to them about how they build teams and use leadership language that promotes greater team identity. Schools where this is emerging or embedded as an integral part of the school ethos, SENCOs are seeing a significant shift in the quality of teaching and provision in the classroom. SEND becomes a team responsibility.
A team needs clear values and a purpose. For me, Section 19 of the Children & Families Act 2014 defines the values and purpose of #TeamSEND. Self-aware leadership, good relationships and clear roles and responsibilities are the foundation of successful teams.
The role of the SENCO is often described as ‘isolated’, as within the setting they are the only one leading in this area. As such, it become imperative for SENCOs to think about self-leadership. In other words, how do you invest time in motivating yourself, communicating with yourself and intently seeking support from the wider team. I’d love to hear your thoughts on self-leadership.
… till next time! Stay focussed and keeping connecting. The SENCO role, it’s all about people.
Khan, A & Ahmad, W. (2012). Leader’s interpersonal skills and its effectiveness at different levels of management.
Klein C, DeRouin RE, Salas E. (2006). Uncovering workplace interpersonal skills: A review, framework, and research agenda. In Hodgkinson GP, Ford JK (Eds.), International Review of Industrial and Organizational Psychology (Vol. 21, pp. 80–126). New York, NY: Wiley & Sons, Ltd
As a former SENCO, Senior Leader, School Improvement Advisor and local authority SEND Advisory Teacher, 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. Anita served on local and national posts for the National Association of Special Needs (nasen) for 10 years (2004-2014). It is during this period, Anita started the dialogue around SENCO wellbeing at a nasen AGM. In 2016 wrote a SENCo Time Management Book and in Anita launched #senco5aday. The same year, Anita was awarded the prestigious international Influential Educational Leaders Award for her SEND Pipeline strategy developing professional from initial teacher training to advanced and experienced SENCOs. Currently a PT PhD student, Healthwatch Trustee and Changemaker Education Consultant #TeamADL Twitter: @Butterflycolour