An exploration of the Special Educational Needs Coordinator’s teacher identity in the New Zealand context

Year: 2019

Author: Lin, Hui

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

To create an inclusive educational setting in which all learners can achieve their best learning outcomes and fully engage in school activities, New Zealand, like many countries, has incorporated the role of Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENCo) into mainstream schools. Due to an increasing number of children with special educational needs all over the world, the complexity of the SENCo role has become broader and deeper. Given the critical role SENCos play in supporting students with special educational needs, it is interesting that there appear to be only three studies that have focused on SENCos in the New Zealand context, none of which focuses on their identities. Hence, the aim of the study presented in this proposal was to develop an in-depth understanding of how the role of SENCo influences New Zealand SENCo teachers’ identities. Using a case study research approach, multiple sources of data were collected through semi-structured interviews and work shadowing with five SENCo teachers from five primary schools in Auckland, New Zealand. Documents including school policies and job descriptions were also analysed. Using Gee’s approach to discourse analysis, the findings showed that the role of SENCo influenced participants’ identities in four major ways: a) a stronger sense of agency than experienced as classroom teachers, which resulted from time flexibility, autonomy, collaboration and accessibility to funding and resources; b) growth in teacher expertise, embracing professional knowledge and practice in special educational needs; c) emotional engagement including a high level of self-fulfilment, job satisfaction and commitment on the one hand, and frustration and stress on the other, and d) a perception that their expertise and value were not sufficiently recognised by teacher colleagues, the senior management team and the Ministry of Education. The findings contribute to a fuller understanding of how SENCos identify themselves as a specific type of teacher and how their teacher identities are influenced by being a SENCo. The study also suggests ways of supporting and strengthening SENCo identity, such as adapting the organisational structure of the SENCo role and establishing SENCo groups across schools. The findings also point to the need for further research, using different methods, to develop a fuller understanding of how the role of SENCo influences their teacher identities.