While cities around the world have reopened as fears of the novel coronavirus have waned, many parents continue to choose to keep their little ones at home. Children with disabilities, especially, are remaining safe and separated from the general population — and they might remain so until their parents decide that schools have once again become safe spaces for learning and personal growth.
Many special education teachers are expected to manage the children in their classrooms, but increasingly, they must also engage the students who remain at home. Here are a few tips and tricks for continuing to connect with remote students
Work With Parents to Create Practical Home Learning Spaces
Special education classrooms tend to be filled with tools that allow teachers and aides to support the various needs of their students with disabilities. While the home environments of these students might be similarly equipped with tools intended to improve accessibility and enjoyability, home learning setups tend to be lacking in the devices and equipment students need for academic achievement.
Early in a student’s remote learning journey, teachers should connect with parents over the phone, video call or even in person to better visualize and improve each student’s home learning space. As teachers come to understand the resources available to each student — and understand each student’s individual needs — they should encourage parents to modify the environment and procure certain tools that will be valuable in remote special education. Additionally, teachers should consider how generic home objects might be used as substitutes for typical classroom tools, like pennies for math manipulatives. Not every classroom resource can and should be available at home, but teachers should focus on ensuring that each student’s home environment is suitable to their education needs.
Select Achievable Goals for Home-based Students
Teachers with master’s degrees in special education understand the importance of setting individual objectives for each student, as every student in special education has their own needs, wants and capabilities. Teachers need to be especially careful in their goal-setting for remote students, who might be limited by their new environment and available resources.
During the pandemic, the Federal Government relaxed its requirements regarding IEP objectives, giving special education classes more flexibility in when and how they achieve benchmarks. Education regulators as well as teachers and parents should not expect that the special education classroom can be perfectly replicated in the digital learning environment. Nevertheless, it is important that students feel challenged and motivated by their goals, so teachers should work with students and their parents to select objectives that are manageable within the scope of home-based learning.
Create Structure and Routine for Every Student
Students with disabilities tend to be highly sensitive, which means they are more likely to thrive under strict structure and routine. When students can predict the rhythm of their days, they are more likely to settle and feel comfortable, which in turn allows them to dedicate more energy to learning.
Every week, teachers should provide remote students with a schedule of daily activities, broken into small chunks of time with plenty of breaks; as possible, this schedule should mirror the order of activities students would practice in the classroom. Teachers should make it clear when they will be available to students for instruction and clarification of academic work. The schedule combined with consistent communication from teaching staff should reduce student stress and keep interruptions to a minimum.
Check in Regularly With Parents and Students
Remote special education is not common, and despite practicing remote education in some form for nearly two years, many teachers, parents and students still struggle to manage this form of learning. Thus, it is imperative that teachers make time to check in with remote students and their parents on a regular basis. Open and honest communication about the process of remote education is key to ensuring students with disabilities are having their needs met. Teachers should speak one-on-one with parents to provide guidance on how they can better support their children during remote education as well as reassurance that parents are making the right decisions for their children. It is equally important for teachers to pay attention to the feedback they receive from students and parents, who might have ideas for improving the remote learning experience.
Special education teachers are faced with near-constant challenges, and the rise of remote education is a change that many teachers need to accept. The sooner special education teachers become comfortable in the remote environment, the sooner all students with disabilities can achieve the care and academic success they deserve.