#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

A new journey begins …

By Jenny Bowers

Those of you familiar with the developments of SENCO wellbeing #senco5aday will recall how #TeamADL have distilled the 5 components of the Foresight (2008) study into three elements: People, Place & Purpose.  In exploring ‘people’ as part of the ‘Return to School’ post COVID19, we invited Jenny Bowers to share her thoughts on ‘packing your suitcase’. Enjoy!

March 8, 2021 heralds a new season in education and a new part of the COVID journey. We need to be ready and prepared as we can be for the return of all students to schools and settings. It may have been a while since you packed your SENCO suitcase, so what do you need to do?  In this blog, I use the ‘packing your suitcase’ metaphor to help SENCOs think about how they prepare and invest in their wellbeing at the same time.  It’s all about when, what and the how to pack.

When to pack?

I have always been a day before packer, (although I have a couple of reliable lists of ‘to pack’, one for a generic holiday and one for the more specialised festival camping bag).  A friend packs over a week in advance, popping things in as she thinks of them. Two different methods, same outcome; a packed suitcase prepared and ready to go before we leave.  What is your preferred time for packing?

As a last-minute packer, I’m often left thinking:

  • Is it the right type of suitcase?
  • Can I carry it?
  • Is it bursting at the seams or the zips straining under the pressure?
  • Is it reliable or will it break as it is thrown into the back of the car?
  • Are there things trailing out of it?
  • Can I get to the bits that I need first without difficulty? (A side pocket for my ID and ticket? A secure place for my phone and purse?)

This may sound a bit doom and gloom.  It is certainly not about being a worrier.  Just making time and space to think through the process, recognise our strengths, but also areas where we need support from our team.  I was chatting this through with Anita Devi, and here is what she said,

Returning on 8th March 2021 after lockdown 3 – this needs to be seen and presented to staff, students and parents alike as a key milestone, in the academic year journey. It is a milestone to reconnect, reset and start over. There will obviously be some residue issues from lockdown and some learners with clinically vulnerable needs may still need to be educated from home. However, we need to view this date as an opportunity to re-establish healthy boundaries of working. SENCOs are often too quick to take on additional tasks and/or create extra (and sometimes unnecessary) work. Here is my top tip: map out the trajectory for the next 6 months. What needs to be done and who from your wider SEND team (i.e., the whole school / institution) can do it? One final thought … education and leadership are both like a journey. The suitcase metaphor Jenny uses provides us with a good foundation to plan, pack and be prepared for the next stage of our travels. Onward!”

So back to my questions to think about.

What to pack?

How to pack?

Finally, have I got my itinerary? This is important! You need to make sure you do everything you want to do, but not cram it all in so you have no time to relax, or to reflect on what you have seen/done. Maybe some things are better left for next time?

Two tools that can help you prioritise the day-to-day stuff:

(1) Urgent / non-urgent matrix

When facing a list of to-dos, it helps to sift and sort using established criteria.  The matrix below looks at urgent and importance.  You may have your own criteria.

(2) The 1, 3, 5 list

This is great for organising what you will need to get through day one productively. You cannot do everything at once.  Using this model, you can build for day 2 or 3 and so on.

Thinking about the rest of the half term and the bigger strategic picture:  in the first half term have you scheduled in a meeting with your SEN governor and your line manager? This will help to check if everyone is on the same page and working towards the same goals. A coaching or supervision session booked in within the first 4-6 weeks, can also be supportive. I will be returning to these subjects in my next blog for #senco5aday, later this month.

A few final thoughts … as you start to pack:

  • Do not pack too soon, as you may end up taking something out to use and then forget to put it back in (yes, my friend did this).
  • Do not pack too last minute as you may well forget something important and end up having to deal with some stress (yes, that is how my list was born!)
  • If you are not sure what to pack, ask a colleague, connect, and collaborate with fellow SENCOs.

Most importantly, if the suitcase does burst open, do not panic, reach out and get support in putting it all back together again, maybe in a different case or a different way!

Do let us know, how your first day / week goes!

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

#senco5aday, Uncategorized

Time to celebrate🎉

By Anita Devi

It’s that busy time of the year when SENCOs / SEND Leaders are coordinating access arrangements in examinations, planning for next year, managing in, out and up transitions, as well as finalising their SEN Information Report 2019.  This is all on top of the day-to-day stuff, that carries on as usual.

Therefore, we decided to focus this month’s #senco5aday blog on making time to celebrate and celebrate how much each of you shine!

“Diamonds are nothing more than chunks of coal that stuck to their jobs.” ―Malcolm Forbes

Three good reasons!

Celebrating your accomplishments is critical to your own on-going success.  So here are three reasons why you need to celebrate:

#1 Celebrating changes your physiology and strengthens your psychology

Positively acknowledging progress releases chemicals of joy in your body, which makes you feel physically good, as well as psychologically in a good place.

I regularly receive motivational emails from Michael Hyatt. Contributing to Micheal’s blog, Erin Wildermuth writes the following:

“Endorphins are the chemical searing through your body when you finish a run. That giddy feeling of being on top of the world? That is endorphins in action. Dopamine is your own personal motivation machine. It is the secret to getting pumped and hitting goals. Serotonin regulates mood. Depression is linked to deficits in serotonin, and healthy levels keep you happy. Endorphins can be triggered by laughter, dopamine by reward, and serotonin by community.  Celebration is a medley of all three triggers.”

Isn’t it time you drank the cocktail of laughter, reward and community?


Consider the adverse: denying yourself the opportunity to celebrate is robbing yourself of joy!

#2 Celebrating empowers your team and grows your network

How you celebrate is a personal choice.  However, celebrating with others and sharing the fun factor accelerates growth and deepens a sense of belonging.

Many of you may have heard me speak on ‘The SEND Team’ – it is the largest team in any setting! So, when celebrating becomes everyone’s celebration, we renew the message of teamwork.


Consider the adverse: celebrating on your own isn’t fun & doesn’t help to build teams.

#3 Celebrating attracts further success

“Perception becomes reality. As you celebrate your wins, others look for ways to participate in what you have successfully built.” – Bill Carmody

Everyone thrives on being part of a successful team. It helps to build relationships and memories, both incredibly valuable when the tough times hit.  The reality is, our lives will be full of ups and downs, but we have a choice to celebrate the ups to get us through the down times.

Successful people

Consider the adverse: if a SEND Leader is always complaining, why would anyone want to support them?

In summary, collective celebration enhances team buy-in and loyalty to your vision.

Making ‘celebration’ part of your lifestyle choice!

It’s great to look back at the end of the year and celebrate all the things that have goneABC well, but how can we make ‘celebration moments’ part of the everyday?  Here are a couple of things I did/do as a SENCO / Leader:

#A Create a ‘Win’ Folder

One of the folders in my email Inbox is labelled ‘Win’.  Every time I receive a positive email or kind feedback, I file the email in that folder. This enables me to access celebration moments easily and share them in a timely way with others.

With my current team, #FeedbackFriday is how we share.

#B Drip feed the joy!

I am a great advocate of ‘Bitesize regular SEND CPD’.  As part of the strategic planning for this, I encourage SENCOs to include sessions, where team members share ‘impact stories’ i.e. I did – this was the impact.  This helps create and sustain a ‘can-do’ culture.

With my current team, I use technology to make sure we continue to share impact stories.

#C Notice

This is one of the #senco5aday pillars for welbeing.  As a SENCO, I would regularly leave a post-it-note with a glass gem for staff, thanking them for going that extra mile.  The day I left the school, a staff member told me, how they had kept all the notes and gems and whenever they were having rubbish day, they would use them to lift the mood.

Other variations I have seen in schools include ‘Staff celebration board’ – staff members post Gratitude Notes to thank colleagues for their support, encouragement and creativity.  Imagine the face and joy of a colleague reading a positive note about something they did, that made a difference.  #Priceless

With my current team, part of our weekly updates include team celebrations.

A few reflective questions for you to ponder:

  • Do you make time to celebrate?
  • Who can you share your achievements of 2018-19 with and how?
  • How can you make ‘celebration’ part of your everyday ABC?

Cheers everyone!



Enjoyed reading this blog?  Then DO something different …

To make choices about your time management, download the FREE SENCO Time Management Book entitled ‘Take control of your time’ #senco5aday

Also, out for pre-order, 2019-2020 SEND Leader Planner

About Anita

As a former SENCO, Senior Leader, School Improvement Adviser 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


#senco5aday, Uncategorized

Do you want to cluck or fly?

By Anita Devi

When I look at my engagement in all the SEND roles I have held over time (successes and failures), I see that it is my ‘purpose’ that drives me.  What drives you?  We started to unpack purpose in the previous #senco5aday blog.  In this one, I want to home in a little deeper by asking, do you want to cluck or fly?

Dr. Steven Marboli, is a Behavioural Scientist and he makes the following point,

“If you hang out with chickens, you’re going to cluck and if you hang out with eagles, you’re going to fly.”

The quote speaks of making choices and accepting the consequences of said decisions.


How good are we, as leaders, at making choices?  Do we follow the crowd, or do we go our own way, knowing we might stand out?  Choices aren’t always binary and sometimes involve choosing options from multiple permutations.  So, what factors define the complex choices we make.  For me, it has always been my values.

I was approached by a well-known publishing house once to work with them.  I requested a copy of their editorial values, before I would sign any contract.  The editor smiled at me and said, “Of course we have editorial values, but you are the first author to ask for them before signing a contract”.  Equally, I was asked by a training company some time ago to design a SEND Training course for them.  I declined the offer politely.  They pursued the discussion and many of my valued peers tried to encourage me to write for them.  Again, politely, I said no, because I did not sign up to the values they advocated.  Subsequently, some of my peers did write for them and later came to regret it, although lucratively it had been initially a good prospect for them.  You might say, as a SEND Adviser and Consultant, I have the autonomy to do this.  I would say, the same applied to my classroom practice.  I was teaching when 9:11 happened.  I did not wait for my senior leaders to ‘tell’ me to change my curriculum and invest time with the children.  I came into school and decided for this period of time, I needed to give the children space to express how they were feeling in relation to world events.  I invested time in redesigning my curriculum focus for a week to address community trust and cohesion.  It paid off, after three days of not following the ‘prescriptive’ curriculum, the fear and prejudices the children had picked up through the news and others surfaced and we were able to address them, constructively.   Another example, as a SENCO and senior leader, I made an intentional decision to engage with parents in my new school, when other staff members had given up on or misjudged them, due to previous incidents.  So, we all make choices and where our values influence our choices, we usually walk in the right direction.  It doesn’t mean, we won’t’ fail.  Values-based decisions just means we walk with a sense of direction and peace.

Values are a set of established beliefs that influence our choices and behaviours.

For #TeamADL a national multi-agency team that I currently lead, our values are the 5Cs.  This with our mission statement determine, not just what we do, but more importantly how.  We have also made time to consider how these values and mission align to the Children & Families Act 2014.

Our values and mission:

TeamADL Values 2018 v2


When you hit a crossroads in your life (professionally or personally), how do you weigh up the options before you?  Do you believe you have a choice and exercising that choice is key to empowerment?

Choices create boundaries not barriers. 

I was a teaching SENCO; however, I intentionally chose not to work on weekdays after 5pm.  I’m a morning person, so I wanted to optimise my efficiency ratio.  It’s not possible to burn the candle at both ends.  Equally, I have a ground rule for me and my team about not working over weekends, as part of a regular lifestyle habit.  Of course, I’ve have had to put in time over the odd weekend … but it’s the exception, not the norm!

Accepting consequences

If we survey our options and we choose to use our values to define our decisions, then finding out the consequences of different possible actions becomes a natural step in our thinking.  In the business world, this is referred to as ‘minimising risk’.  Of course, there is always an element of the unknown.  However, if we operate from a position of having considered the known, the unknown is easier to manage.  Wouldn’t it be great if we could support children and young people with SEND, from a position of maximising opportunity and minimising risk, rather than just reacting to fear, failure and disappointment?  The social worker on my team and others nationally are currently exploring this – turning dreams into reality!


Think of a recent decision you had to make; did you consider all the options?  How did you decide on a course of action?  What part did knowing some of the consequences make in taking that decision?

Is it that simple?

If I know my values and use them to make decisions and consider various options, in terms of possible outcomes, does everything fall into place?  Of course not.

The #TeamADL logo is a tree with branches and roots.  We believe strongly in ‘team’ and ADL means ‘justice’ in Arabic.  Our branches are our values, mission, choices (and our services) – the how and what of what we provide.  However, our roots are embedded in the why – our purpose.

My why, as I have shared previously, ‘I believe in the JOY of learning’. Hence, I am driven by ‘what enables people to learn’ and ‘what hinders them’?  Learning for me, regardless of the age of the learner, is empowering.  It’s transformational.  It’s about experiencing new-ness daily.  Therefore, whether an individual is intrinsically motivated (like me) or extrinsically – they experience joy! Expressed simply, my purpose is to maximise the learning-factor for all.  Why?  I’m a #Changemaker and a World Changer.  I choose to fly and enable others to fly too.  I choose to hang out with eagles … how about you?



Call to action … are you ready? Here are my questions for you:

  • What’s your why / purpose?
  • What get’s you out of bed in the morning, apart from earning money?
  • How do you share your why with others?
  • How do you live out your why through the work you do and the choices you make?

Permit me to conclude with a story by Dr. Aggrey (cited in The Nation, Nigeria 2014)

A certain man went into a forest, seeking any bird of interest he might find. He caught a young eagle and took it home; he put it among his fowls, ducks and turkeys and gave it chickens’ food, even though it was an eagle.

Five years later, a naturalist came to see the man, and after passing through his garden, the naturalist said: “That bird is an eagle, not a chicken.” “Yes,” the owner replied, adding: “I have trained it to be a chicken; it is no longer an eagle but a chicken even though it measures fifteen feet in height.

“No,” said the naturalist, “it is an eagle still; it has the heart of an eagle and I will make it soar high up to the heavens.” The owner said: “No, it is now a chicken and it will never fly.”

They agreed to test whether the eagle could fly or not. The naturalist held the eagle on his palm and said: “Eagle, thou art an eagle, thou dost not belong to the sky and not to this earth; stretch forth thy wings and fly.”

The eagle looked at him and turned the other way to see the chickens eating food. It jumped down from the naturalist palm.

Chuckling, the owner said: “I told you it is a chicken.” The naturalist disagreed. “It is an eagle,” he maintained, saying he would give it another chance the next day. He took it to the top of a house the next day and said: “Eagle, thou art an eagle; stretch forth thy wings and fly.” Again, the eagle saw chickens eating and jumped down to eat with them. The owner reminded the naturalist that the eagle was a chicken.

The next morning, the naturalist rose early and took the eagle outside the city to the top of a mountain. He picked up the eagle and said: “Eagle, thou art an eagle; thou dost belong to the sky and not to this earth; stretch forth thy wings and fly.”

The eagle looked around and trembled, but it did not fly. The naturalist then made it look straight at the sun. Suddenly, it stretched out its wings and flew away. It never returned. It was an eagle, though it had been kept and tamed as a chicken.

Enjoyed reading this blog?  Then DO something different …

To make choices about your time management, download the FREE SENCO Time Management Book entitled ‘Take control of your time’ #senco5aday

Also, out for pre-order, 2019-2020 SEND Leader Planner

About Anita

As a former SENCO, Senior Leader, School Improvement Adviser 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



#senco5aday, Uncategorized

SENCO: It’s all about People!

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:

  1. Listen

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.

  1. 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.

  1. Encourage

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.

  1. 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?

  1. Dream

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.

  1. 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.

  1. Follow-up

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.


Building Teams

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.

Self Leadership


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

About Anita

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

#senco5aday: https://www.anitadevi.com/senco5aday.php