Support your pupils’ wellbeing, by all means – but don’t neglect your own or that of your colleagues, advises Susanna Pinkus...
To work in the field of special education is a privilege. Knowing that a child’s life and that of their family has been transformed through the specialist care of you and your team is simply unbeatable.
Yet in the drive to meet the needs of the children, it can be easy to overlook the wellbeing of the SEND team itself. Whilst intensely rewarding, the SENCo role is also demanding and finding time to care for your team may be not be at the top of your list of priorities. However, without conscious attention, you may find that burnout and exhaustion can easily set in.
Your school may already have a staff wellbeing policy, but if not, you can still develop supportive ways of working in the SEND department. With some forethought and a small investment of time, there’s a lot you can do to incorporate team wellbeing into your schedule. Here are some starting points for developing a team that feels genuinely supported, valued and happy in their roles.
Caring for others starts with being mindful of your own wellbeing. The importance of caring for your emotional health when times are good, as well as when you’re under pressure, can’t be understated. Days fly past quickly in school, so allocate times for a taking a walk or lunch with colleagues. If these appointments are diarised in advance you’re more likely to keep them.
Consider starting your day by using a meditation app such as Headspace. Find a quiet spot and use it while wearing headphones to block out any residual noise. Encourage your colleagues to do the same.
Rotate times for meeting with your team, both individually and together. Regular meetings where successes and concerns can be shared are essential. Encourage solution-based thinking, keeping a formal list of concerns along with proposed solutions, which can be very helpful in addressing and de-personalising difficulties.
Also, by itemising ‘Successes’ as a standing item on your weekly agenda, you can collectively measure the team’s progress, be it with an individual student, classroom strategy or engaging with a family. When forging forward, it can be easy to forget how far you’ve come.
Wherever possible, you’ll want to support the work-life balance of your team by being flexible in how they manage their home and work commitments. You’ll want people in your team who go the extra mile for the students, but these same people will most likely want to be available for their own children and families. If colleagues want to accompany a family member to a hospital appointment or attend their children’s assemblies, enable that to happen. Providing systems are in place for giving sufficient notice, there are always ways of supporting staff in this way.
Take the time to notice efforts and say thank you – in writing, if you can.
Appreciation counts for a lot. Consciously identify what colleagues are doing well and the difference they’ve made. Consider collecting feedback via questionnaires from students, parents and staff so that the team can hear directly from stakeholders how their efforts have had an impact, and provide team members with a record of their own positive feedback.
Displaying anonymised comments on a noticeboard can also be a powerful way of reinforcing the team’s good work and demonstrating to the rest of the school community the difference they’re making.
Dr Susanna Pinkus is the head of SEN at Harrow School, an educational consultant and the author of How to Create A Parent-Friendly School