As a SENDCO, you need to know what is going on in class. You need to make sure students are receiving quality-first teaching. You need to be able to diagnose where this isn’t happening so you can support teachers to develop their practice.
You also need to do this without creating a culture of fear. Staff need to feel supported and open to change, not in fear of high-stakes observations at every turn.
To have eyes and ears on teaching and learning, without adding to the observation cycle, try some of the following:
Offer to model a strategy. Rather than criticising poor practice around (i.e.) vocabulary teaching, offer to model how vocab can be taught. A teacher seeing how you teach vocab – in context, with a carefully selected image and with opportunities for practice – will help develop colleagues’ practice without you having to highlight and correct poor practice.
Support a child in class. If you can spare an hour, this can be a great way to learn more about a child’s needs and strengths. It also allows you to see the universal and targeted provision in class and can be the catalyst for a supportive follow-up conversation with a member of staff.
See the child, not the adult. Focus your learning walks on what the child is doing, rather than what the adult is doing. For this to be genuine, any follow-up/feedback will need to reinforce this message (‘I was pleased to see our year 7s with EHCPs all engaged in their learning and receiving help to give full sentence answers’, etc.)
Hold a staff surgery. This will allow adults to come to you with what they’re finding difficult, rather than finding they are being ‘caught out’.
Get in on formal processes. Rather than creating your own formal observations that add to the levels of scrutiny in a school, get involved in whatever processes already exist – performance management observations, targeted learning walks, etc. This will also ensure that any feedback you have is integral to these processes, rather than feeling like an add-on. This will be particularly valuable where a teacher has identified SEND practice as something they are keen to develop.
Focus on the positives. People don’t mind their practice being highlighted if the feedback is positive! Whenever you see something good, offer public shout-outs in briefings or bulletins, where appropriate. CC’ing in a line manager, where praise is being given, also helps to spread positive messages.
Take the long way back to your office. By walking down a corridor you get to less frequently, you may stumble across something that becomes an excellent source of information about a child’s engagement or an adult in need of support.
Ask for volunteers. Some staff may be very happy for you to drop in frequently, to provide some coaching or feedback.
Get regular feedback from your TAs. As people likely to spend most of their day in class, ask Teaching Assistants to guide you to the teachers you can support or the areas of training you can provide.
Listen to pupils. Whether done formally or informally, students can give you an excellent steer of what is going on in classrooms, for you to then follow up accordingly in one of the ways set out above.
By implementing some of the steps above, you can maintain an excellent understanding of what is going on in classrooms, without providing additional and unwanted scrutiny for colleagues.