As a former special education teacher and instructional coach, I still get the first week of school butterflies. August (or for my NYC friends, September) marks the start of our "new year"; New Year's Day has nothing on that famed first day of school. Whether you are a brand new teacher just embarking on your career or a twenty year veteran tweaking first week of school plans, read on for our universal tips for starting strong with the new crew of students in your special education class.
1) Discover what each student loves
Relationships are EVERYTHING in special education - scratch that, in education in general. Spend time discovering what each student in your class likes. What games, toys, and activities make them excited? How do they like to interact with you? Their peers? Finding out what motivates each and every student is an investment in your short and long term relationship and will help you design lessons and motivation systems that allow every student to thrive.
2) Structure student schedules
Most of us, regardless of age, ability, or disability, need some form of a daily schedule. I would be lost without my paperback planner and to-do list. Our students are no different! Setting up schedules that allow students to visually see what they are doing, have already done, and will do next helps alleviate stress and anxiety about the day. Schedules can and should be customized to meet the student's strengths and needs. Some students love to create their own written schedule at the beginning of each day while others thrive with a visual or object schedule for each scheduled activity (and sometimes, activities within activities). Having highly structured schedules also reduces idle time for students, which is a great proactive strategy for minimizing challenging behaviors.
3) View each day as a learning experience (and give lots of grace)
The best plans sometimes fall flat, especially before we have truly gotten to know our new students. View each day as an opportunity to debrief with your team and revise the next day's plan. Did activities run a little long, creating opportunities for off task behavior? Consider shortening your next day's plans or creating "OYO" activity options for students. Did students struggle to follow your routines and procedures? Try adding in dedicated times to review and practice those daily routines. More than anything, give yourself, your team, and your students space for grace. Being a teacher is one of the most rewarding, beautiful, and exhausting jobs. Thank yourself and each other for showing up each and every day for your students!
Wishing all of our special education teachers, students, and families a happy, healthy, and safe first week! Let us know your expert tips for starting the year off strong.