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! 

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