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Switch off SENCOs! How to put the job in hold for Christmas

Do you take a stuffed school bag home with you for the holidays and have thoughts of jobs to do hanging over you? A SENCo’s job is never done. Literally!

But we need to park it over Christmas so that we have a proper break. We need to recharge, spend time with our families and to leave the worry and guilt on our desks for a fortnight. Read on to find out why we do this and how to manage the last day of term, so you have a chance of a restful break.

In a normal week, a SENCo usually takes the job backwards and forwards from school in their thoughts and often in their bags! We all do what we can in ensuring every child who needs support, gets it. This one thing is so hard to achieve in the current climate. Naturally, most SENCOs will hold the children in mind. We worry about them and their families, we worry about letting them down, we worry about how they are going to cope in their next class or school. We know worrying doesn’t achieve anything, but the truth is, the SEN system is stretched and there is unfairness woven into the very fabric of it. We can see the system but can’t always influence it.

SENCos are the cogs in the heart of the system. We are in a unique position. We fight for the support we know the kids need, we support and challenge teachers to use our advice and guidance, we battle Local Authority SEN panels, we coax heads to staff SEN properly and, as leaders we understand the complexities of budgets, accountability structures, and the toll on staff of working in under resourced schools. We take all this on our shoulders, and we stay optimistic and compassionate, or at least we aim to.

After a long winter term, we need to switch off and recharge. Easier said than done when there are referrals to write, policies to update, provision maps to change. However, guess what – it is all still going to be there in the new year and a knackered SENCo in January is no good for anyone.

As a SENCo of many years, I learned the hard way that working all holiday, or worrying all holiday is not an effective strategy. My key mantra has become, ‘Will this make a positive difference to a child?‘ If not - if the job is to tick a box for SLT or governors, or to make yourself feel in your control or to satisfy a stickler of an SEN officer - it can wait or be challenged later. The end of term can feel like its rushing towards us. Other staff wind down, whereas we wind up!

However, I have had many last days of term and have learned that its pointless trying to get everything done, because the job is never done. We need to park the job and pick it up after the break. Only you will know what you haven’t got done. Be kind to yourself, take a deep breath and leave it till later.

Here is my routine at the end of term. Everyone needs to work out what is best for them, but I have tried many ways over the years including going into school in the holidays (not advised), and this works for me.

Remember- the job is never finished so get into that mindset- you can not achieve the perfect paperwork or plan - done or on a list to be done is good enough.

In the last week of term – slacken off some of the things you do to make way for other jobs. If you teach – set no marking work, get the kids to do the organization in the class, plan topics you know well and can plan quickly. Delegate anything you can - what can other staff do to help?

Make a to do list- short and medium term. Work some later days to get things ticked off your to do list. being in work mode is more efficient than picking it up in the holidays. Think carefully about the task list. Be honest. Are some tasks there because you like things ordered and thorough? Could you do some of the tasks more simply?? Can you cut some corners? Will anyone else even notice if the paperwork isn’t as thorough as usual? Be honest with yourself. Are all these tasks absolutely essential and will they make a difference to the pupils?

End of term gifts and cards are a lovely gesture. If you have had time to write personal cards that is fabulous. However, if you haven’t, don’t worry. Buy a present for the department or team from your local shop on your way home. New mugs for coffee time, big box of chocolates for the new year, plant for the staff room - all will be appreciated. Take time in the last week to have a quiet word will all your team. This will be greatly appreciated. They know how hard you work.

On the last day of term, think of it as a full working day. Your aim is to leave when you feel you have done everything you can to put your jobs and your desk to bed for Christmas. It is so tempting to leave early but time spent now, will mean relaxation later!

Here is my last day list.

-Delegate someone to take down Christmas decorations at end of the day – it seems humbuggy, but the worst thing ever is to come back in January having this job to do.

-Make a clear list of things that you need to do to clear your mind for the break. Number the list. Block time in the day when you need to get on and tick some off.

-Check emails first thing and add any urgent replies to your list. Be ruthless and don’t get sucked into replying to emails that are not urgent. Flag them unread - they can wait till January. They can!

- Look at your diary for the first week back. Set up any meetings and delegate reports that you need for the meetings. Mark in appointments and allocate time blocks to do SENCo work.

-If you teach, roughly plan out lessons for first week back. Order or plan resources and run through any ppts. Put lesson stuff into a box or folder on your desk. Having lessons sorted is the single most important thing you can do, because whatever other work you have, lessons are always urgent and not having to think about them the Sunday before term will be a huge relief.

-Tidy your desk. Clean your keyboard and reorder your pin board to make sure everything still on it is needed for next term. Get someone to help you file. Clean any cups. Fill a bin bag with rubbish.

- Strategic planning - make a list in your diary of key activities you need to focus on in January. If you have a DDP – use this as a reference. Annual Reviews, learning walks, pupil voice etc. If you are leading January inset day - plan it now. Once these activities are on your list, you don’t need to think about them till after the holiday.

-If there are any niggling issues with staff or pupils you know you will worry about - make time to see them today for a quick chat to resolve and put your mind at rest.

-Even if other staff leave early on the last day - don’t be tempted by thinking you will come back to do the rest next week, (if you have to collect children and can’t stay then either try to do all this the day before or focus on which parts would make you feel most content and try to do these things before 3.) The idea is to leave without a stuffed bag and not come back! Once you are home for the holidays you won’t want to return and if you take work home, it will sit untouched until the new year and you will just not want to look at it! Let’s face it, Christmas is not the most restful of holidays; other things will take priority and what you don’t want is to feel unfinished tasks hanging over you like the ghost of Christmas past.

-When you finish, leave your desk set up for the inset day - post it note lists as reminders, inset materials ready, rubbish bin empty. Shut the door and feel satisfied that another term is under your belt and that you have made a difference.

In the holidays - don’t feel guilty for relaxing. Check emails every couple of days if you need to but don’t have them on your phone. Book in some treats for yourself and take some alone time to think and refresh. Avoid social media and watch cheesy Christmas films instead! If you enjoy professional development, set aside one day to read some strategic education books or watch some online CPD and take time to reflect and reboot your ideas. Think strategic rather than operational. If things pop into your head and you start to worry - add to them to a list and put them aside. They will be there when you are back at work and you can deal with them then. Or even better - if you can, don’t think about school at all. Switch off and focus on the other things in your life.

When Christmas is over, if you need to, take some time on the Friday before term to check your diary and work on anything that is going to make a difference to your smooth return to school. Leave the weekend and bank holiday free for yourself.

It is your job to stay optimistic and supportive for everyone else in school - pupils, families, and staff. You can only do this if you look after yourself. SENCo is the best job in school because it combines teaching, research and interesting 'people work' into a role that is hugely strategic, but also satisfyingly operational. SENCo energy - both physical and emotional - is key. Be strategic about how you look after yourself. Switching off is good for creativity and who knows what will pop into your head when you are rested and relaxed.

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