Tips and strategies for supporting special education students
While the field of education is no stranger to a shortage of qualified special educators, the pandemic has fueled teacher burnout and turnover in a way that we didn’t see coming.
The big question is – how can we continue to support students despite the growing number of teachers leaving the classroom?
In this blog, we’ll provide tips for administrators, special education teams and teachers to prepare for and navigate teacher and staff turnover.
Administrators provide a critical leadership role during difficult times and can help bridge the gap between teacher needs and student success. Consider the following tips to show your teachers that their needs matter:
Ensure you are accessible to new and veteran special education teachers alike. Consider hosting a monthly check in to see what topics are top of mind, and how you can offer support.
Extend an open door policy to encourage your teachers and staff to check in with you when needed. When lines of communication are open, your educators will be more comfortable bringing different feedback to your attention.
Create a mentor program for veteran teachers to share their knowledge with novice teachers. In doing so, you will help to create a positive school culture that promotes student and teacher success, helps foster leadership and promotes collaboration.
Provide advanced deadlines and templates for teachers to plug in important information/upcoming IEP dates. Structure is just as beneficial for teachers as it is for students.
Familiarize yourself with students on your teachers’ caseloads to offer support when needed in case of absences. Letting teachers know there is support can help relieve some of the pressure that may lead to burnout.
Develop a school-wide emergency plan for teachers to implement during absences. Putting a plan in place so that everyone is on the same page can go a long way in supporting students.
Special education teams
Special education teams play a key role in ensuring students’ IEP goals are met. Consider the suggestions below to help uphold student development and progress:
Establish a weekly team meeting for special educators to collaborate with one another to create plans to support classrooms. This collaborative planning process ensures continuity between students and classes.
Pair teachers with other teachers working in similar lines of classrooms. For example, coordinating time for two teachers who both work in resource rooms to connect can foster sharing of ideas and strategies.
Have a shared working document of IEP due dates and schedules for classroom teachers. Consistently updating this document supports transparency throughout teams.
Teachers serve as the boots on the ground in the classroom. Reflect on the suggestions below to help maintain consistency in the classroom:
Create routines and expectations for students to follow in the classroom. This structure allows students to keep their routine regardless of who is leading instruction.
Have a written classroom plan in place to utilize if one staff member is out. For example, separate schedules and highlight how students would be grouped in this particular scenario so that there is no confusion.
Train paraprofessionals to deliver instruction for students in case of unforeseen absences. This is also helpful for everyday classroom procedures and continuity.
Foster student independence and implement independent work activities to organize effective instruction during staff absences. Student independence is helpful not only in case of absences, but is a critical life skill.
Build a relationship with parents and guardians. Inviting them to volunteer in the classroom to support weekly and monthly projects is a great place to start.
Maintain regular parent and guardian communication by informing contacts of any changes in the classroom. Not only is this transparency key to continuity, but it is also helpful for rapport building.
Whether you are a special education administrator, teacher, or part of a team, it never hurts to over prepare in this ever-changing landscape. Through strategic planning and strong communication, you will be able to maintain consistency in the classroom despite teacher or staff turnover.