Relationships are at the heart of our work as educators.
Being able to forge positive working relationships is key to how effectively (and happily) we can carry out our roles.
This is especially true for those of us working as special educational needs and disability coordinators (Sendcos).
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The position requires high and continual levels of collaboration across all areas of school life.
We also need to develop excellent ways of working with external partners, such as educational psychologists, speech and language therapists and medical professionals. Most importantly, we really need to get to know our pupils and their families, and build trust.
As the new term gets under way, it can be all too easy to find yourself buffeted by competing demands. For those new to the Sendco position, the scope of the role may feel daunting at first.
But keeping relationships at the forefront of your mind will make it much easier. Here’s how to get off on the right foot:
Start out slowly
You probably have lots of ideas about how and where to focus your attention, but it’s wise to spend the first half term (at least) observing and getting to know how the dynamics work in your setting.
Take time to get to know your colleagues and listen to where they feel inclusion is working well, while watching out for areas where challenges could arise. This will inform where, when and how you provide support and inform future practice.
Working positively with your pupils’ families is essential. Depending on the size of your cohort, however, it may not be realistic to meet with everyone right away. Send a welcoming introductory email to all the parents of the pupils on your list to create a warm first impression.
Explain the best ways in which parents can contact you or their child’s key worker. As the term evolves, allocate open mornings and meeting sessions.
Build and cascade expertise
Could every department in the school have an allocated inclusion representative? If you have the capacity, could members of your department be allocated to strategically support curriculum areas?
Think about what would be possible in terms of providing training to staff as the year evolves (while being realistic and not overcommitting yourself).
Could you be involved in the induction programme for new staff? Might there be capacity for new staff to have an allocated special educational needs and disability (SEND) mentor during their first year?
Another time-effective strategy to build inclusion expertise is to ensure that SEND courses are offered widely to all staff and not limited to those working with pupils who have additional needs.
Find out who your key external colleagues are and reach out to them. Your linked educational psychologist, for example, can help you to navigate the systems in your area and provide guidance on how to offer the best provision for your pupils.
If you are in your first Sendco role, connecting to local and online specialist forums can also be invaluable, as can finding a supportive and experienced mentor in a local school.
Care for yourself
The Sendco role, in all its joy and complexity, requires a huge amount of energy, time and care. You will be in the best position to be there for others if you prioritise your own wellbeing proactively.
Make sure you allocate time in your working week to meet with colleagues, be that at break or at staff social events. Networking and genuinely connecting with colleagues will facilitate effective and productive working relationships, as well as being positive for your mental health.
Dr Susanna Pinkus is head of learning skills and is Sendco at Harrow School, and an inclusion specialist and writer www.drsusannapinkus.com