What makes a workable SENCo office? Whether you are a full or part-time time SENCo or a peripatetic SENCo supporting more than one setting, you will need a space within school in which to work. The SENCo role is a multifaceted job; teaching, advising, endless paperwork and meetings, supporting staff, families and pupils and providing strategic vision for inclusion to the school. A SENCo needs a private office, set up suitably for the job! I don’t feel a SENCo should share an office space. The role is attention-grabbing – although SENCos are usually excellent troubleshooters, listeners, and advocates, SENCos need to be able to shut their doors when they need privacy, focussed time, confidentiality, or headspace.
However, big, or small the space you call your office, it needs to meet your needs as SENCo. Over the years I fine-tuned my office space: I adapted it, curated it, decorated it, and made it work for my personality - let’s face it most of us are in it long enough! It may as well be a nice place to spend time.
These are my tips for setting up your space to work efficiently and to be somewhere that you enjoy working.
1. Furniture - in an ideal SENCo office there would be a large desk - possibly L-shaped so there is enough laying out space for documents, exercise books and/or files without compromising your screen space. A view out is good for anticipating problems in the playground. You also need a space to meet with staff or parents/carers/ pupils. I love a round table for this. Round tables work well for meetings because they are non-hierarchical, allow everyone to catch eye contact and seem less formal. They are usually easier to access and exit - so if someone needs to leave the meeting for whatever reason, they can do so without too much kafuffle. A couple of low comfy chairs are a bonus if you have space to sit more casually with a colleague or a pupil. How people feel when sitting is a big thing - make sure whichever chairs you have are all at the same height, so you are not looking down on anyone. A chair for an upset child is another useful corner - you could position bookshelves to create a more enclosed space.
2. Two screens are a must - so useful for doing those referral forms, data checking, emails alongside other paperwork etc. Once you have tried two screens, you will never go back.
3. Privacy - blinds, sugar paper, material - whatever you can find to make sure your window isn’t overlooked from the playground or corridor. If you are talking to an upset colleague or parent, kids or staff peering in isn’t conducive to conversation. If your colleagues are prone to popping in a lot - get a ‘Do not disturb’ sign for when you are in a meeting. If you are anxious that sound carries, check it out - if the walls are paper thin you may be able to dampen the sound by hanging up lengths of material. Make sure you insist on having your own phone extension.
4. Artwork/quotes; pupil made or bought. Photo of something personal to you such as favourite holiday spot. You can make even a dingy office look more welcoming by backing the boards with a roll of wallpaper or wrapping paper.
5. Organization is the key to success for SENCos! With such a variety of day to day task, it is all too easy to feel overwhelmed. Tools such as a SENCo year planner are hugely useful for seeing the big picture and planning your deadlines such as access arrangements, residentials, consultation evenings etc. Planning all Annual Reviews at the start of the year means that you can organise paperwork ahead of the date. Get and use a desk diary or online calendar. I tried loads of different versions of diary/planners and notebooks and in the end, I swear by an A4 day to a page diary which can include all appointments, lessons, and a running daily to-do list - all on the same page. Diary everything! Even break duty! I carry over my to-do list each day so I can always see what is needed by day. Allocating hours of the day to do particular tasks also helps focus. Have a hook or dish for your school keys! Display most used phone numbers on a board above your desk – e.g. CAMHS consultation line, MASH, LA SEN case officers, SENDIASS, EP
6. Having key props available for common eventualities is a great way to build relationships as SENCo. This is what I would recommend, but the list is not exhaustive!
-tissues for noses and tears
-basket of sensory toys
-colouring pencils/pens and plain paper for pupils, siblings and 1-1 work-therapeutic colouring books are perfect for upset children
-spare pens and pencils to lend
-tubs of modelling clay
-variety of reading books for different ages (and siblings of pupils)
-weighted cuddly toys or neck warmers - even the grumpiest teenager will appreciate these!
-cuddly toy or wooden animal to hide or to tell a story about (sock puppets also good)
-some sensory materials such as hand cream, smelly candle, smelly soap
7. Useful books - everyone will have their favourites and now we all have the internet at our fingertips its easy to just google anything, however, I like to have the paper copy of the Code of Practice in the office alongside a print out of JCQ guidelines. Add books by authors such as Jean Gross, Natalie Packer, Sue Cowley, Alex Quigley, David Didau and Tony Attwood. Nasen Connect magazine and Chartered College of Teaching magazines are great reference materials.
8. SENCo self-care is vital so make sure you have a drawer with emergency snacks, a bottle of water and a favourite mug. An extra warm coat is a must for duties and a fan and/or fan heater may be useful if you are in an old building. A mini-fridge would be the icing on the cake, but we can but dream!
For SENCOs the office is not only your command station, it is also the place where pupils come to see you for a chat, where parents or carers explain their worries and where members of staff seek advice and counsel. Never underestimate how that office feels - not just for you but for others. Make it a welcoming space, a kind space, a private and respectful space.