9 Ideas To Support Stress Management In The SENCO Role.
Recently I have been supporting a lot of new SENCOs with training and wellbeing and what comes up time and time again is the size of the role versus the amount of time there is to complete it. There is rarely a happy medium. If you couple this with post-pandemic increased need and decreased resources, it really is a difficult balancing act.
Being a SENCO is a privilege and a joy for so many reasons and my favourite role within a school to date. However, it can also be an emotional rollercoaster. As the only SENCO in a school, sometimes it feels like you are the only one in the school on the ride.
I’ve put together some top tips and further signposting for managing workload and stress levels within this complex role and how to combat the issues at a wider level.
Consider what school can do, with your support to reduce workload; making it a better place to work and learn for everyone.
- Get High-quality teaching sorted: My view is that the first and most impactful way to reduce your workload is to get the classrooms sorted and the teachers trained in high-quality teaching methods. Also, make it very clear what the teacher’s remit is in comparison to yours. Of course, there is overlap but use the code of practice to remind them on a regular basis what is their problem, your problem and our problem. Embedding high quality inclusion takes time and needs the support of your head but when it is done well, it prevents issues before they happen. You will no longer have to spend time sitting outside a toilet that Isobel is refusing to leave as there are already systems in place (although, there might be the odd exception even with fantastic inclusion!). Also, have a system that means that staff don’t come to you unless they have already tried the usual classroom inclusion strategies such as brain breaks and safe spaces. Find a concern form sample to support this
- Get senior leaders on board: It’s never fun when you are working somewhere that doesn’t quite understand inclusion. First of all ensure you have a seat at the senior leader table as your role is an SLT one. Tread carefully. Some heads don’t know what they don’t know and are not keen to admit it or have rather outdating thinking! If you can get leaders on board with the wonders of modern inclusion and you can work together towards an inclusive school SENCOing becomes much more fulfilling and joyful. Ensure that you also get support when staff don’t meet paperwork deadlines as well. Strategies for extracting paperwork from colleagues could be a whole other article in itself!
- Ensure wellbeing is at the heart of your school: A happy school = happy staff = happy children = good progress and less SEMH concerns. It’s a no-brainer to me. If your school is not on the wellbeing wagon, alongside colleagues start to nudge it in the right direction. Here’s the government wellbeing charter to get the conversations going.
There’s clearly a lot of national concern at the moment regarding the longevity of new teachers and new SENCOs are no exception.
- Advocate for fellow SENCOs: Take every opportunity to remind everyone what your role entails, the challenges and the positives. Many friends in other professions cannot believe what we put up with in terms of expectations and working conditions. Let’s keep the conversation going on social media, even write to your MP about issues locally. Or to flip that 180 degrees, if you are working in a school that is getting the balance right, share that excellent practice with the world!
- Find opportunities to network and speak out: I’m not sure what the collective noun for SENCOs is, perhaps a coven as we are magical…? Whatever the term is, it is great when we can get together. Make the most of networking opportunities such as online forums (see below) to get your voice heard and keep the discussion going about work-life balance and well as reducing your stress levels by getting some solidarity from people who understand the role.
- Keep up to date with ways of reducing workload: Keep reading blogs and articles, listening to books and podcasts and follow key national SENCO representatives on social media. Look at the Bath Spa research on SENCOs and present key areas to your leaders. It is so easy in this role to only see what is right in front of us on the work treadmill and not be outward-facing. To incite positive change, we need to be interacting with current information to ensure our SENCO profiles and the current issues within SEND education are at the forefront of everyone’s minds.
As a teacher, I used to suffer from the obligatory teacher guilt but this was nothing compared with the perpetual SENCO guilt. It is overwhelming to consider that the educational futures of these children rely partly on what you can achieve with your time. Especially, when it comes to Educational Healthcare Plan applications, securing educational psychologists etc. I haven’t even gone into the pressures that parents add! Many colleagues also have limited local authority support as well. The key for me was trying not to think too deeply about it and living the mantra:
You can only do what you can do.
This involves letting go of what is totally outside your control. Ultimately you are one person working under extremely difficult circumstances. You are making a positive difference to children within your school, even though sometimes those steps are very small due to a variety of circumstances. Not enough people tell you how amazing you are and thank you for how hard you are working and that is a shame as the odd pat on the back is sometimes all that is needed after a stressful day.
The SENsible SENCO Facebook group is the perfect place to come to have the odd rant, network, share successes and ask for support in a role that is underappreciated and misunderstood. Come and say hello if you haven’t already and meet likeminded people with shared experiences.
Thank you for reading and remember you are making a difference.
Every. Single. Day.
Please reach out for support if you need it, as in this community, you are never alone.
Positive Young Minds
Editor of @TeacherToolkit, Educational Consultant (The Wellbeing Lady & SEND support), SENCo, Educational well-being blogger (Positive Young Minds), Teacher Coach, Reiki Practitioner, MA NPQH NASENCO, Believer in people.