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4 Tips: Distance Learning for Special Education Teachers

We’re in the thick of it! Distance learning is not going anyway for at least the next 8 weeks, maybe more. All teachers are feeling the pressure to gather supplies with little notice, find meaningful material, and engage with students using new technology. Special education teachers are still expected to deliver IEP services, track progress for goals and objectives, and support parents. While this may seem like a daunting task, special ed teachers are in a unique position to flourish in this environment!

SpEd teachers are constantly up against challenges and obstacles. We encourage learning in the toughest environments and work with frustrated students that can be resistant to trying new things. This set of circumstances makes us uniquely qualified for this season of our careers. So, let’s get creative, supportive of one another, and let’s rock this distance learning thing!

I’ve put together a few tips and tricks to support you in your journey.

1. Utilize your team

As a special education teacher, you are responsible for managing a team of paraprofessionals that support your students. Not all districts will be keeping paras working during this time, but if you are lucky enough to have this support, use it! Inventory your para’s strengths and divvy up lesson prep, scheduling, and servicing students. For me, this means delegating phonological awareness slides, and drafting larger docs that need to be individualized for students. That is all work that paras can do digitally to support our students and free up time for you to prepare engaging lessons and practice with new technology.

Paraprofessionals are also going to be helping me support students online during this transition. I will be carving out designated times for them to interact with students via google hangouts and through comments in google classroom. These are all wonderful tools to maintain the connection our team has worked so hard to build this year.

2. Keep your schedule

There is no use reinventing the wheel! Keep your schedule the same, or as close-to as possible. Don’t overthink it, just use the framework you undoubtedly spent hours working on in September (and possibly again in January?). Set up a mock-schedule for your students based on what their day looked like while school was in session. Keeping the schedule the same provides a sense of normalcy for students and lets them know what’s coming. Families may choose to use this schedule, or not, but providing it will give them a starting point to go from.

3. Set up systems

Every classroom, business, and team work best with clear systems and expectations in place. This time is no different. Create a system that works for you to track all of the important, and legal, Information you need to keep. Draft a service log to track all services, and attempts, provided during this time. Create one for each student, and provide access to all service providers so all data is in one distinct place. Nothing fancy, just practical! The document I am using looks like this:

4. Take care of you

Allow yourself some grace during this time. We are all doing our best. You can rally around your co-workers, and feel the generosity of our collective group around the country of teachers, but you also need to make space for you. We haven’t been here before. This is new territory and I, personally, did not intend on being a work-from-home teacher at this point in my career. Yet, here we are. Make sure you set up a clear workspace you can go to when you need to work, but also that you can walk away from when the day is done. For me, this means our kitchen table; small, but easily utilized!

It is also important to take care of your mind, body, and soul during this time. I have always had a journaling practice, but during the last week I realized this might look a little different. It was also made clear that I needed to schedule everything and take into account the plethora of meetings I am now a part of (yes, even more than the PPTs of days passed!). To get myself back on track, I created a daily journaling schedule I do every morning to set myself up for the day. This resource is free in my TPT store, so please grab it, if you’re like me and need a little grounding right now!

Now that I’ve given you 4 tips for staying grounded and getting organized, I’m going to give you some real talk. It may not work everyday. You may schedule all the things, use your team effectively, reflect, and prepare, but you will still have uh-oh moments. The technology will fail us for a moment here, a moment there, the students may not show up for a virtual lesson, and you may be stuck in your house itching to get out. All of this will happen. But it is happening to all of us. I always tell my kids, “you can do hard things.” Guess what tribe? So can we! This is a challenge of creativity, endurance, and perspective. Us teachers need to be flexible and get the job done...which we will. Have grace for yourself, team, your students, and their families while leaning in to this exciting opportunity to service our students in new ways. We got this!

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