COVID has created a need for educators to brainstorm creative and flexible strategies to reach all learners, but more so for students with specialized needs. Teaching in remote or hybrid environments has necessitated greater collaboration and communication between individuals or groups providing specialized supports to students. In addition, there is an increased need for highly trained specialists who not only have academic specialty training but also understand students’ social-emotional and behavioral (SEB) needs as well.
Now that learning has resumed, it is critical that special educators be able to recognize students who are struggling and know how to support their academic and emotional needs with appropriately designed accommodations, modifications, and familiar routines. Students, along with parents, will need consistent communication and follow through to help create a sense of safety and control in their environment.
Here are some helpful tips and steps to follow as the school year unfolds.
Keep The Lines of Communication Open With Families
The pandemic created great uncertainty and distress for many parents and guardians of students with special needs. Among their greatest worries: How their children would continue receiving support and services while schools transitioned to remote learning. Therefore, the need for collaboration between families and educators will be greater than ever to arrange access to IEP special education programming and 504 services.
The U.S. Department of Education has issued guidance to parents and schools on how to provide a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) to students with disabilities while protecting the health and safety of students, parents, educators, and all service providers. Make a plan for communicating these and other guidelines to families. Here are some additional things to consider including in your communications:
- Information specifically related to guidelines and procedures around IEP programming and 504 plans (e.g.: schools may not suspend IEP programming or 504 plans; if a student’s services cannot be delivered, compensatory servicing will be reviewed; etc.)
- Any curriculum changes or testing requirements you’re modifying to help support learning deficiencies
- What steps to take in regard to meetings and/or emergency situations
- Special funding or supports available to families to access materials needed to communicate and collaborate in homes, such as information about free or discounted plans offered by local phone and internet providers to facilitate remote or information about where to obtain devices, including assistive technology devices
- What options families have to continue learning if they do not have access to the internet, such as work packets and project-based learning opportunities
- Specific contacts within the district or school parents can reach out to if they have questions or concerns, or if they need support
Collect and Use Data To Support Your Students with IEPs
As you prepare to support your students with special needs in the coming school year, make sure you gather all the information about your students that you can, including the other specialists they work with and their parents’ or caregivers’ contact information.
It is also important to set clear goals to build a comprehensive program of student supports. Reach out to administration to make sure your goals are aligned and request appropriate supports if necessary. Interact and collaborate with all team members to build a cohesive plan that functions well. Set up a way to collect data consistently. This may be something that your administration has already done, but think about what you will need to communicate student progress in a meaningful way.
Plan for consistent, ongoing data analysis so that if you find a student is still struggling after receiving supports, you can revisit your planning and revise lessons as necessary. And, make sure you have tools available to achieve what you envision. Do not be afraid to request support in learning new platforms that you may not be familiar with, and know where to go to obtain support in a timely manner. Perhaps most importantly, try to stay flexible and creative. Use the information that you collect to revise and differentiate as needed and practice your lessons with other specialists ahead of time.
Lastly, assign a single point of contact to parents and specialists and communicate regularly and consistently to set the expectation that you’re all working together as a team.
Get More Strategies for Helping Students With Special Needs
For more actionable tips on how to address the needs of your students who are most at risk of not receiving the instruction needed during this school year, download our free playbook, “Close the COVID-19 Divide.”