Friday, August 28, 2015

Planning for When You're NOT in the Room: Part II

I've already talked a little bit about this topic right here but it's important enough that I think I should go into a little more detail.

It can feel really scary for teachers to have students with a variety of needs in a classroom with just one teacher. How do teachers make sure that all students are able to access the curriculum? I understand this fear. As teachers we strive to meet the needs and challenge all students. Dear hard working teachers, here is my solution...

1. Plan Ahead and Plan Together

It is important for both teachers to be aware of the class objectives, lessons, and what students are doing. This is just as true when there is only one teacher present during the class period. The learning specialist needs to have a strong handle on what is happening in the classroom in order to ensure accommodations, modifications, and student strengths are being considered.

I've posted these before, but it bears repeating. This one pager from KU helps teachers keep track of the overall goals and concepts from week to week.

This co-teaching sheet can be used even if there is only one teacher. Skip over the "Type of Co-Teaching" section and fill everything else out.

2. Check-In

Co-planning is wonderful but the little truth that all teachers know is that even the best weekly plans don't go according to plan. Maybe an assignment is taking longer than expected or the opposite can happen and a week long project is completed in a day and a half. Maybe a student has missed several days of school and is now behind on class instruction. Or maybe the class is struggling with understanding a concept and the teacher decides that they would benefit from reteaching. Whatever the case, the classroom is a dynamic, changing place. The solution to this is constant check-ins.

This can be as casual as popping in during lunch time and asking how the science experiment went that day.

2. Differentiate at the Beginning

3. Look at Student Work Together

I recommend both teachers looking at the work of every student in the class. Both general education teachers and learning specialist should have an idea of what students who are performing below, at, and above grade level are learning, understanding, and producing. If one student is struggling with an assignment, this gives you very different information then if half or even a quarter of the class are struggling. Grading together or splitting the grading (or even having one teacher take a quarter of the grading) is a great option here. 

4. Provide modifications that allow MORE access to the curriculum 

5. Visit

This one isn't always possible. As a learning specialist, it's hard to provide supports for a class you've never seen. If you ever have a free moment, try to make a point of stopping by the classroom to actually see it in action. It can be easier to problem solve when you are able to observe first hand. 

6. Breath! 

Remember, providing a fully inclusive environment is a process and it doesn't change over night. Give yourself permission to make mistakes and take breaks. Just like anything the more you do it, the easier it gets.  

Have a great year!

Monday, August 17, 2015

Prepping for the School Year as a Special Education Co-Teacher

I have been obsessed with Ms. Houser's amazing blog post about the role of the instructional coach during the first few weeks of school. The school year is starting in two short weeks (HOORAY and also YIKES) and I've begun to think about my own start of the school year when I was a learning specialist (I'll be using Special Education teachers and Learning Specialists interchangeably here). When students with and without disabilities are separated, the professionals that teach all these students are also separated. They set up their classrooms and plan for the first days of school in isolation. This is not the case for co-teachers. Below is my break-down for how special education co-teachers can prepare for their year.

Set Up Your Space
The physical space for learning specialists differs from school to school or even teacher to teacher. Last year, we had teachers that shared a room with their co-teachers and other that had a separate office that they shared with other learning specialists. I've always had an outside office but I'm starting to prefer a set-up where co-teachers share a room. This allows for more opportunities to collaborate with one another and build relationships with students during transitions and down time. Wherever you end up, it's important to have space in each of the rooms you are co-teaching in. One of my friends who writes this lovely blog sets up bins in each room.

Read IEPs and share information
  • IEP at a glance (get my template specifically made for the inclusive classroom from TPT here)
  • Go through the IEP at a glance with your co-teachers and any other staff members connected to the IEP. I recommend reading through the document together. Your colleagues are busy and going through it aloud shows that it's a priority. 

Create an Organizational System for Data

I have talked about my struggles with executive functioning many times on this blog. I will always be that teacher who has piles of papers and a half eaten breakfast lying on my table by the end of the day. That being said, I take my data collection system pretty seriously. Figure out a system that works best for you. I've seen colleagues use manilla folders and locked file cabinets, color coded folders, and various other filing systems. I've always been most successful with binders. When I taught, I would create student portfolios similar to the ones they would make for themselves. Our district provides online access to IEPs and I rarely ever print them out for my own use. It's much easier for me to keep the IEP online. At the beginning of the year, my student portfolios typically include:

  • IEP at a glance
  • Student Data sheets
  • Any health, safety, or behavior plans
  • Any work or important information provided to me by the student's previous teachers

Get To Know Your Co-Teacher
Sure, I plan time to sit down with each co-teacher formally but it's just as important to spend time interacting with my co-teachers informally. I like to do this by asking each teacher if I can help with anything. I try to spend an hour with each helping staple fabric to a bulletin board, labeling folders, or organizing books. Right off the bat, you are showing your co-teachers that you are a partner in all aspects of the school process and it allows you to take some ownership of the classroom environment. Don't let this step fall to the way side. Go talk to your co-teacher! Go on, now! You'll have fun!

I'll do a separate blog post on what your first week can look like. In the meantime, here are three co-planning resources:

What do you do to prepare for the year? Good luck with the new year! 

Thursday, August 6, 2015

The 6 Best Inclusive Things at the Moment

Best Blog: Brenda's inclusion blog (entitled In-kloo-zhuhn) is my best find of the summer. I like it because she uses research to back up every claim and idea. Her blog post on how to provide access for all students is beyond fantastic.  She explains both why all students should be included in instruction and how. I didn't know there were other Inclusion Facilitators out there blogging and to make things even more fantastic, Brenda's from Canada which is where I'm originally from. The coolest!

Best Video: This cute, animated video about inclusion makes the giant, neon wheels inside my head spin around. It could be used with both educators and students. I could incorporate this into this year's Unique Week!

Runner-Up Best Video: This video shows actual footage on how to support all students in a fully inclusive pre-school classroom.

Best Blog for Coaches: Ms. Houser is an instructional coach and provides heaps of tools and advice for her fellow coaches. This blog isn't focused on inclusion or disability advocacy, but it's perfect for coaches that are interested in finding ideas and strategies on how to support teachers.

Best Graphic Organizer: Because Paula Kluth is fantastic and so is this graphic organizer. 'Nough said.

Best Surprise: You guys!!! Brookes Publishing has a blog filled with incredible ideas and infographics that will be printed out and posted all over my office. Get ready for it!