1 First things first

1.1 Introduction

This book is for everyone who’s recently moved abroad to take up a role as Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENCO), or is wondering whether that would be the next step. When you move into the international field, you could find yourself:

  • without a strong local network
  • without government guidance
  • away from your own support networks

Yet the job of working internationally is incredibly rewarding and international students deserve your support as much as any other. On the outside they may appear to live a more privileged life, but that doesn’t mean they don’t face their own unique challenges where you can make a difference.

Many excellent books have been written on the subject of “becoming a SENCO.” Rather than repeating what others have said, this book will focus on what this looks like in an international school’s context. On my website ISENG I run a free International SEN Group with a member area for discussion with fellow SENCOs and related professionals. All forms referenced in this book are available there.

1.2 How to read this book

This book tries to emulate a field guide, something you can easily pick up, read it a bit, and put away again. This also means that you can read the chapters in any order you wish. Where certain chapters require previous reading, I’ll make sure it’s mentioned.

1.3 The “Now You!” Journalling Exercises

I’m a big fan of journal writing, whether it’s creative or more reflective. Each chapter therefore includes a range of journalling prompts, questions to consider and things to do. These exercises are optional, but I would recommend completing them to get the most out of this book.

Use a format you feel comfortable with: a paper notebook, a selection of text files on your phone, anything goes.

Now You!

Whenever the “Now You” block appears, that’s where you’ll find your journal activities.

1.4 This book is not about Special Educational Needs (SEN)… or is it?

There are many excellent books on specific learning needs, learning difficulties or disorders. And whilst there are books out there on how to be a SENCO, I haven’t come across much work on how to be an effective International SENCO. And the role is different - once the support of a national system falls away, it becomes more solitary. This book explores the following questions:

  • What makes the international context different for the SENCO role?
  • What different skills are required to be impactful in your role?
  • What nuances apply to your role?

These - and more - are the questions we’ll be exploring in this book.

1.5 Who’s this book for?

Regardless of whether you work in Primary or Secondary education, and no matter your curriculum, the core part of our jobs is the same: we are the safety net for those international students who need additional support to thrive and succeed.

International schools come in all shapes and sizes. Some are (very) well-funded, staffed and resourced. Some are more of an adventure in out-of-the-way places. This makes it impossible to pitch this book to your specific setting, but we’ll look at each area of the job in a universal way.

I am assuming you are a qualified teacher moving into the exciting field of SEN. This book will not focus on “how to teach” since that could cover a whole book in itself. This book is aimed at people working (or aspiring to work) in the field of SEN.

1.6 Terminology

I have never been a SENCO.

I have, over the course of twenty years, been an Intern Begeleider (IB), a Support Coordinator (SUPCO) and am currently a Deputy Head leading Inclusion Coordinators (INCOs) whom, after rebranding, became Additional Support Needs Coordinators (ASNCOs).

I have kept an SEN Register. I’ve kept an Inclusion Register, a Support Register & an Additional Support Needs Register.

Why these statement? To make it clear that, like everything else in education, terminology changes, between cultures, languages and decades. No matter what your role is called, if you’re in a post of responsibility supporting students internationally, this book will apply to you.

In this book I will speak of SEN. Simply because internationally, this is the most commonly used term. I am partial to Additional Support Needs (ASN) as introduced by the Scottish government, since it removes a lot of the stigma around words such as “special.”

The word “neurodiversity” is another positive example. Too often we approach difference as something that is “wrong” with someone, making this judgement from a place of “normality.” We then seek to fix it, cure it or mask it. This is done (in most cases) with good intent, since growing up with a specific need is more challenging than growing up without. However, there are valuable experiences and lessons learned. That’s why it’s always important to look for advocacy and agency with every student we work with.

All this to say that, please, I attach no value to the acronym SEN other than: “I need a common word with which to define the topic I’m writing about.”

You’ll find little reference to another well-known term, inclusion. That’s intentional: how inclusive your school community is can vary wildly between schools and systems. This book is written for all International SENCOs, those working in selective schools and those in inclusive school communities. If I focus too much on the topic of inclusion, it might appear that I exclude those who work in more selective schools, which is not the case. We are all here to support our students who need additional support, regardless of the type of environment we work in.

1.7 Your profile

Being a SENCO is one of the most rewarding and versatile jobs you can have in an international school. In defining what this book will focus on, I’ve worked on a description of twelve different roles you play as an International SENCO.

The iSENCO Profile

Figure 1.1: The iSENCO Profile

  • Teacher
  • School Development (Organising staff training)
  • Continuous Learner
  • Administrator
  • Organiser
  • Policy Implementer (and/or writer)
  • Communicator (across cultures)
  • Team player
  • Wellbeing Expert
  • Analyst (Assessments)
  • Curriculum Designer
  • Person at the gate (Admissions)

Over the course of this book, we’ll dive deeper into each of these roles.

Now You!

Activity: Reflect on the twelve roles of the International SENCO.

Over on ISENG, I’ve put together a few additional activities that will help you to reflect on your personal profile. Head on over to that blog post for a bonus activity on this.

1.8 A note on imposter syndrome

Repeat the following mantra with me:

“I’m an enthusiast. Not an expert.”

In my mind, I frame an expert as an (almost) unattainable level that we should all aspire to reach. This mantra is there to free ourselves from expectations (in most cases, the expectations we put on ourselves). Say it to yourself now. How does that feel? You don’t need to say this to others, but saying it to yourself can be liberating.

There’s nothing wrong with not knowing the answer to something. Taking on the role of SENCO is exciting, but it can be scary. Will people come to you for knowledge and guidance? Yes. Do you need to have every single answer ready to fire back? No. So let go of these sky-high expectations and dive in. I hope you’re as enthusiastic about that thought as I am!

Now You!

In your journal, reflect on the following:

How comfortable are you with your (future) role as International SENCO? How will you respond if a teacher or a parent asks you a difficult question to which you don’t have the answer? Must you know the answer to all questions? How important is this to you?

1.9 Let’s have fun!

Something I haven’t mentioned yet, but living the international lifestyle is exciting. International schools in general tend to have more creative freedom than nationally regulated schools. This creates a unique opportunity to develop yourself. Embrace these exciting opportunities and have fun doing it!