Whilst it is an incredibly rewarding position to hold in school, being a SENCO, especially a new to role SENCO, is certainly not without its challenges. A 2017 survey of SENCOs in the Midlands found that 84% of the SENCOs asked reported that their role was at least moderately stressful.
A SENCO or other practitioner whose wellbeing is not supported will not be able to carry out their role to the best of their ability. So a focus on our own wellbeing is needed to ensure that we continue to feel motivated, engaged and resilient in order to achieve the best outcomes for the pupils we work with.
But with the uncertainty brought by Covid-19 look set to continue into 2021 a lot of us are finding that we are needing to dig even deeper than normal into our personal resources in order to juggle a multitude of different tasks and demands. So how do you ensure you are able to promote and prioritise your own and others’ wellbeing during a period of unprecedented challenges?
A lot of us will be aware that taking part in exercise and mindfulness activities contribute positively to our wellbeing. But in the life of a busy SENCO these can sometimes feel like another thing to put on our ‘to do’ list. So, whilst we should incorporate these in wherever possible here are some other ideas to nurture your resilience and promote wellbeing.
No practitioner is an island. Relationships are at the heart of the school environment and social support is one of the most effective ways to nurture resilience and well-being. Do not be tempted to put social relationships on the back burner in times of stress. Even if you can only spare 10 minutes at lunch, sit down with (or video call!) a trusted colleague or another SENCO, have a cup of tea and talk through something you are finding challenging. Sometimes just knowing someone else has shared a similar experience can be revitalising.
Nobody’s perfect. Despite the old adage, the desire to be, especially within a group of professionals as passionate as SENCOs, can be overwhelming. You will always want to achieve the very best outcomes for pupils and colleagues but be realistic in your expectations and avoid setting yourself unachievable goals.
Be reflective and learn from situations where outcomes have not been ideal but beyond taking ownership of your own action’s do not internalize the issue.
However, even the most resilient of us will have our wellbeing dented if we encounter too many stressors in rapid succession. And whilst not all SENCo stressors will be within our control we should try to identify and address those that are. Whilst by no means an exhaustive list here are a couple of ideas to consider this year:
● Don’t underestimate the impact your physical environment can have on wellbeing. It sounds like adding to that to-do list again but simple things like essential repairs, tidying and decluttering the physical environment around you can help to reduce stress.
● Ensure your own CPD needs are being met. In an ever-changing educational environment not having the opportunity to develop and learn can be an additional stressor. Whole School SEND and nasen provide a range of online CPD opportunities if time and budget are tight.
● This is a big one, but being a SENCO can feel all consuming, affecting our work/life balance and therefore our wellbeing. Are you and other practitioners able to share workload issues and influence systems within your setting? This could be workload issues relevant to all practitioners such as addressing expectations around immediate responses to emails or the timing of emails at the weekends/evenings. Or reviewing if there is consideration (and ideally consultation) around workload impact before a new initiative is introduced. For SENCOs specifically the SENCO workload survey highlights in particular the need for SENCOs to have protected time for their role and ideally additional administrative support.
Finally, it is also important that you and other practitioners know where to go and who to turn to when well-being is a concern. Having a staff wellbeing policy will pull together information about what is already available to support wellbeing, what is being developed to improve staff wellbeing and signpost practitioners to where they can go for additional support and guidance.
So, whether you are new to the SENCO role, new to the school or returning to a school life that looks very different from this time last year, remember:
● Be aware of and utilize the resources available to you, page 39 of the SENCO Induction Pack signposts to a variety of resources to support practitioner wellbeing.
● Remember you are not alone - talk to colleagues, form a local SENCO group.
● And above all kind to yourself! You can’t pour from an empty cup. You can only be an effective SENCO if your own wellbeing is prioritised.