It is always important to create a good first impression – whether you are meeting a new employer at a job interview, making new friends in a job or meeting your pupils in a new classroom.
When those pupils have special educational needs, it is more important than ever to ensure that the first impression that you make with them is the right one. For a child with SEN, a negative impression can have far-reaching and lasting effects.
A positive first experience for all of you
It is important for the child to be able to relate to you. After all, you are a stranger. This is when body language and speech is key to a growing relationship.
If you are working with a child, do it at their level – this may mean kneeling down or sitting on the floor so that you have eye contact with them. It is much less intimidating.
Actively listening to them and showing empathy is incredibly important. Hide any frustrations – you must remember that they may find some tasks and actions incredibly difficult, so it is important to build trust by empathising and speaking calmly with them. It will also help you to have more open and honest discussions with them about what they like, dislike and any fears that they have – as the trust that builds will allow them to open up to you.
It is really important to use simple language and visual aids. This doesn't need to be difficult for either of you. For children with hearing difficulties, you can also use Makaton sign language as an aid.
Finally, follow up on the positives – be it an activity with a great result or perhaps some positive behaviour, ensure that you show enthusiasm about the outcome and don't forget to use rewards – even something as small as a sticker can feel like a real treat for a job well done.
Making the best of the space that you have
If you are classroom-based, then a great first impression should be a welcoming space.
Not all children need the bustle of a classroom, so make sure that there is somewhere for quiet time where a child can take themselves away from other classroom distractions.
If they have access to an outdoor space, even better. Many children with SEN respond well to practical lessons in the outdoors, either as a group or on a one-to-one basis.
Don't forget that joining any classroom can be a daunting experience, and some children will be worried about leaving their parent or carer, so don't forget that sometimes it is good to encourage them into the classroom rather than asking children to say goodbye in the cloakroom.
The child's impression is as important as OFSTED
All settings have OFSTED ratings, and you may have come to work in a school rated as outstanding. Don't forget, though, about how important the children are that come through the door.
Their first impressions of you and your classroom are so incredibly important that they can be the difference between a child enjoying school life and one who never wants to set foot inside a school again, so you must bear that in mind, and when these children also have special needs that must be understood, then these first impressions are of the utmost importance.