Nurturing job satisfaction among SEND teachers: A vital step towards wellbeing and retention

In the interwoven world of education, special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) teachers serve as vital pillars for children with diverse needs. By offering tailored support and guidance, patience, compassion, and recognising the privilege of making a positive difference to the lives of our SEND pupils, those in SEND roles play a huge part in embedding inclusivity and ensuring achievement across the school.

Yet, despite their invaluable contributions, there are alarming rates of attrition in the field. One issue which lies at the heart of this is the concept of job satisfaction – a crucial element not only for the wellbeing of teachers but also for ensuring that pupils receive consistent and high-quality support. When teachers thrive, pupils thrive too. 

SEND teachers navigate a labyrinth of challenges inherent to their role. From crafting individualised education plans (IEPs) to managing a spectrum of behavioural dynamics, their work demands unwavering patience, adaptability, and a profound understanding of each pupil’s unique journey. However, among the rewards of witnessing children and young people make progress, these educators confront an array of stressors that can erode job satisfaction and overall wellbeing, ultimately leading to many leaving the profession. 

Stressors stemming from the unique challenges of huge caseloads, especially now in post-covid times, along with the emotional demands placed upon staff every day, demonstrate the necessity of highly tuned levels of emotional intelligence. Both factors result in physical and mental exhaustion. Standing out above most stressors is the administrative burden. The plethora of paperwork, documentation requirements and compliance regulations are time-consuming and often overwhelming. These challenges contribute to fatigue, burnout and disillusionment among SEND teachers. 

Job satisfaction emerges as a critical factor in retaining talented educators within the SEND sector. When teachers feel valued, supported and fulfilled in their roles, they are more likely to remain committed to their profession, fostering stability and continuity for our pupils and schools. High job satisfaction levels result in increased productivity, creativity, and overall job performance – factors that directly influence the quality of education being offered to our pupils and the overall wellbeing of staff. 

So, what exactly cultivates job satisfaction among SEND teachers? 

Autonomy is paramount. Being offered the freedom to tailor instructional methods, adapt curriculum, and manage classroom dynamics according to the needs of the students is essential for job satisfaction. Being trusted by leaders to know what will work for their pupils, accepting that it is never a ‘one size fits all’, and being given the prerogative to use their expertise to meet the needs of the pupils and support their colleagues will undoubtedly promote their psychological safety in the workplace. Staff who feel psychologically safe at work are less stressed, which, in turn has a positive effect on their wellbeing, reducing absenteeism and increasing overall job satisfaction. 

A supportive work environment is another foundation for job satisfaction. This includes collaborative positive relationships with colleagues, supportive and visible leadership, and access to like-minded individuals for open and honest conversations around their challenges, as well as a platform for sharing good practice. When teachers feel supported by their colleagues and leaders, they navigate challenges with resilience and confidence. They feel part of a community in which their opinions are valued, and they feel heard – an essential element of wellbeing. 

Recognising the extensive depths of the SEND discipline means it is imperative to offer opportunities for growth and advancement to our SEND teachers. Continuous professional learning, specialised training, and mentoring opportunities provide avenues for personal and professional growth, keeping teachers abreast of best practice, engaged and motivated. In addition, pathways to support career advancement enable SEND teachers opportunities to cultivate expertise and leadership skills, fostering a culture of excellence within the profession and attempts to close the gap between theory and practice for new SEND teachers in the school. 

Addressing attrition among SEND teachers needs a collaborative effort. School leaders must prioritise initiatives that promote a culture of wellbeing with supportive positive relationships, autonomy, recognition, and opportunities for growth. By investing in the success and wellbeing of SEND teachers, not only are we ensuring the happiness and retention of our staff, but we ensure that every pupil receives the support and guidance they need to thrive. 

In short, nurturing job satisfaction among SEND teachers is paramount to the wellbeing and the attrition of specialised staff. By doing so, we strive towards a more equitable society in which every educator feels valued, empowered and inspired to make a difference. 

At Still Human, we can support schools to grow a wellbeing culture where staff can thrive. Our CPD-accredited workshops and courses use evidence-based theory as well as practical strategies to help staff maintain good physical and mental health. DfE funding grants can be used to train a senior mental health lead on our accredited Wellbeing Champion Course, find out more about the funding here. The deadline to reserve your grant is 31st December 2024.


Article by Still Human Wellbeing Facilitator, Tracy White.