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Creative Strategies That Special Education Classroom Teachers Know Will Leverage Their Teaching

Inside: Strategies for Special Education Teachers, working with paraprofessionals and reducing clutter.
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self contained classroom strategies

Self-contained classrooms are in place for a number of special needs students who need a highly individualized education. They allow the teacher and paraprofessionals to tailor the lesson content and utilize various teaching methods to best suit each student. If you have been wondering how to maximize your school with special education instruction and support that is above the norm, here are four creative strategies and tips to help you start!

Put a High Value on Consistency

One of the most important things a student with multiple disabilities needs is consistency. A routine helps students reduce anxiety and increase independence because there are few surprises.  Students know what is happening and what they should be doing. A consistent structure eases their stress and gives them more of an opportunity to focus on learning the content. Of course, not every student is the same, so it's vital to develop programming based on each individual. However, having straightforward, classroom procedures is essential for every self-contained special education classroom. For example, having morning meetings or personal care activities that are the same each day, creates a structure that your students will follow and eventually learn to become more independent at doing. This may ultimately allow you greater flexibility in other teaching areas once other things become routine.

Call on the Strengths of Paraprofessionals

Paraprofessional support is the glue that helps to keep the classroom together. In some cases, especially if a teacher is new, the paraprofessionals know the students and the school better than the teacher. They are a wealth of knowledge about school related issues. They also might have established rapport with students if they have taught the student before or if they have communicated with them around the school in the past. Acknowledge and build on these strengths. Additionally, good teachers know to find out the hobbies and talents of the paraprofessionals in their classroom and allow them to let those talents shine.  For some people this may look like running art class.  For others, it may mean singing in morning meeting or collecting data.  Whatever the strength, empowering your team members to use it will create a classroom environment based on mutual respect.

Reduce Overcrowded Spaces

Overcrowded spaces cause visual chaos and can leave some people feeling slightly claustrophobic. Everything should have a place in your classroom. Reduce any clutter or stimuli so your students can focus on learning the content instead of possibly feeling a sensory overload. When you utilize binders and cubbies to stay organized, your students will also learn where everything goes and this can increase their independence as well. They won't have to guess where things are or ask a teacher of paraprofessional for help finding something. And, it just feels good to show up to an organized space.

Use Sections of the Room to Your Advantage

It would help if you split your self-contained classroom into various sections, each with its designated activity and expectations. Use shelves and bookcases to divide the room up and create various zones. Teach your students to understand each area's requirements. They should know what behaviors and actions are expected of them when sitting in a specific area. This not only helps instill a routine and organization, but also helps redirect behavior. For example, most students know that their behavior on the playground is different than their behavior in an assembly. Using sections of the room is incredibly beneficial to learning. This is because you can place instructional materials and visual supports that are specific to that lesson in that area. The students may become more independent since they know exactly where to go and what they should be doing in that area.

Consistency, non-crowded spaces, and sectioning out the room are essential for any classroom but are especially critical for teachers looking to leverage their instruction in self-contained classes. Students with multiple disabilities, cognitive disabilities, emotional disabilities and behavioral needs thrive best in environments that reduce clutter, impose structure, and create opportunities for independence. Keep these tips in mind when you are setting up your own special education classroom!

More on this topic:

3 Benefits of Learning in a Self-Contained Classroom

Top Tips for Self-Contained Classroom Teachers Interviewing in Special Needs Schools

Working with Consistency

Although this post is geared toward middle school, its tips on consistency are golden. 

It is one thing to say be consistent, but this webpage gives specific ways to be consistent.

Links to Tips on Building Routine

Making a routine for students is a key factor in leveraging your teaching.

Information on teaching routines can be found here

 

Books for Paraprofessionals

The 1:1 Assistant's Guidebook: Practical Ideas for Learning Support Aides Working with Students with Autism

ParaProfessional Study Guide: ParaPro Assessment Exam Prep with Practice Test Questions

ParaProfessional Study Guide: ParaPro Assessment Study Book & Practice Test Questions

Paraprofessionals and Teachers Working Together 3rd Edition

Behavior Support Strategies for Education Paraprofessionals

leverage teaching

 

Books and Workbooks Resources from Autism Classroom

The Morning Work Workbook: For K, 1st & 2nd Grade Students Learning Life Skills  

Alphabet Trace and Reinforce Workbook

Sight Words Identify, Mark, Trace, Cut & Paste Workbook: 52 Reproducible Kindergarten Word List Activity Pages

The 1:1 Assistant's Guidebook: Practical Ideas for Learning Support Aides Working with Students with Autism

Encourage. Support. Respect. Care. Repeat.: A Notebook for Special Education Teachers, Paraprofessionals, SLPs, OTs, Administrators, Friends and Families 

 

 

Freebie: Coming Soon

How to Prepare for a Virtual Interview

Inside: Video conferencing interview preparation and tips for special educators navigating the virtual hiring process.
This page includes affiliate links. Learn more here.



  

Hiring for a job looks a little different these days since most interviews have gone virtual. While video interviewing is a bit unfamiliar to many of us, there are a few tricks that make the experience less stressful and more successful. As a starting point, consider treating your video interview as you would a real interview. By grounding the video interview in something more familiar, the entire experience will seem more approachable, allowing you to feel confident in your ability to virtually interview. Read on to learn how to prepare for your interview and what to do during and after your interview to try to gain that special education teaching position. There are plenty of things you can do before your virtual interview starts to set yourself up for success.

Before the Interview Checklist:

             Charge your computer or phone fully and plan to keep a charger nearby

             Find a quiet, clean space to sit while interviewing

             Test your webcam, speakers, headphones, etc.

             Pick out a professional outfit

             Make sure your resume is available

Avoid distractions

First, have your electronics fully charged so that a declining battery sign does not distract you. Next, during your interview, you will want peace and quiet so that you can remain focused and avoid distractions while showing yourself in the best possible light. Before interviewing, find a place in your home where you can interview without being interrupted. Better yet, let your family or roommates know that you will be interviewing so that they know not to interrupt you and can help limit other distractions like pets or rogue people walking through your background. Or, if you live in a place with a busy background, set up a space where the camera is facing a blank wall so that the wall is behind you.

Test Your Equipment

Be sure to download the app or software needed to join the virtual call.  Find out a few days before if they are using Zoom, Webex, Google Meets or some other platform. Make sure that your equipment is up and running so that the first time you are testing your webcam and speakers is not when you are logging on for your interview. Locate the link to log in 30 minute before the interview and copy the link somewhere on your desktop, laptop, tablet or phone so that you can find it quickly if something goes wrong with the connection. Also, sometimes the camera may not be situated in the place you want it, so you may need to place a box or book under the computer or tablet to have it exactly where you want it. These tips will make the start of your interview much more seamless, which will help you avoid the stress of being late due to equipment problems.

Dress Well to Interview Well and Get Some Rest

Remember, even though your interviewer will only be able to see you from the waist up, it is still important to look your best and show that you have put effort into dressing professionally. Doing so will signal to your interview that you revere the interview process and can be professional in both a virtual and in-person setting. Get a good night’s sleep and eat a good meal before your interview. Going into your interview feeling well-fed and well-rested goes a long way and will help you feel focused and comfortable throughout even longer interviews.

Resume

Remember, it is ok if your resume does not have direct experience in a self-contained classroom. You can tell the person interviewing you about the experiences you had that can translate into a self-contained special education classroom. You can also tell them any background you have working with individuals with special needs. Additionally. make sure your resume has been sent to the appropriate people.Have a printed copy for you to reference.  Also, be ready to screen share a copy if needed, or email a copy to anyone conducting the interview, who may not have a copy. Having it already saved in a Google Doc or PDF with the date of the interview will make this easier.

 

During the Interview Checklist

             Be sure your name is spelled correctly

             Show your portfolio

             Have a notepad

             Practice answering interview questions

             Do your best

Make Sure Your Identifying Details Are Correct

When you are interviewed by a video conferencing platform like Zoom for instance, the platform will show your video feed and name. You can help yourself make a great impression by making sure that your video feed shows you clearly and that your name and any other identifying information are accurate and spelled correctly. You may have to practice with a friend or family member first and ask them what name shows up when you log on. Check on this a day before the interview.

Screen Share Your Portfolio

As a prospective special educator, your portfolio will be a large part of your application and a likely discussion of your interview. In some platforms, you will be able to show a digital portfolio. You can utilize Zoom conferencing features like screenshare to highlight your portfolio and share it directly with your interviewers, allowing them to see just how great of an applicant you are. Make sure the digital portfolio is not excessively long, but does highlight your best work. If you are presenting it, be sure to have a list of the key points you want to talk about somewhere near to reference (but don’t read off of the list).  On some platforms you can still be seen even when you are screen-sharing.

Practice Answering Difficult Questions

Have a notepad or paper nearby to jot down any questions that you have for the school team or use it to write down any answers they give you related to the questions that you ask. (ex. Do you recommend any areas to look for housing? What are the hours for the school? What type of professional development do you provide for teachers?) It is ok to say to them “excuse me while I write that down so that I get it right.” They will know you are serious about getting things correct. Additionally, if you go into the interview ready to answer a few important online teacher interview questions, you can help make it easier if you prepare in advance.

Here is a list of special education teacher interview questions if you are looking for sample questions.

Do Your Best and Get Ready to Shine

Do your best! Have fun with it if you can! Remember that an interview is simply an opportunity for an employer to understand what makes you so special, so it is perfectly fine to love yourself extra hard and celebrate your victories while interviewing. This is not the time to withhold accomplishments. Each accomplishment or service act gives them a glimpse of what you could do for their school community. So let it shine.

 

After the Interview Checklist

             Send a thank you email

             Reflect

             Clarify next steps

Follow Up

Congratulations! You made it to the end of your interview! The hard part is over, and now all you have left to do is wait and thank your interviewer or interviewers. Within 24 hours of the digital interview, be sure to send a thank you email to your interviewer, the person who helped facilitate the interview, your mentor, and anyone else who helped you. Let them know that you appreciate their time and guidance. When writing to a prospective employer, consider including a few specific details from your interview in the email (ex. “It was great to hear that your school will be starting a community garden.  That is a project that is near and dear to my heart. I would be excited to take part in something like that.”) to make it more personal and to show that you did listen to them in the interview.

Stay Calm and Be Reflective

While waiting to hear if you were hired, try your best to stay calm. Remember that you have done everything you were supposed to do and that no matter what happens, you will be alright. Finally, after your interview, take some time to reflect. Create a list of what you did well and what you could improve on the next time. If your interviewer asked any questions that stuck out to you, take note of that as well.

Clarify What You Need to Do Next

If you are offered the teaching position be sure to thank them for the opportunity and write down the name, email address and office phone number of a contact person that you can ask questions to throughout the on-boarding process. With that information, then ask the question, “Is there anything that I need to do on my end?” or “What is the next step for me?”  This way you keep the process moving forward and you will be on your way to teaching students in no time.

 

Books with Information on Virtual Job Interview Tips:

The Essential Digital Interview Handbook: Lights, Camera, Interview: Tips for Skype, Google Hangout, GotoMeeting, and More (The Essential Handbook)

How to Win Friends and Influence People in the Digital Age

Ace Your Teacher Interview: 149 Fantastic Answers to Tough Interview Questions Revised

 

Links to Webpages About How to Prepare For a Virtual Interview:

Looking for success with your interview may be just a click away as this site offers ways to show up for the call. 

Sometimes teachers need a hand from the corporate world.  Here is an example of how special education teacher candidates can do that. Check this out for corporate tips. 

This page offers the 5 Best Practices for Virtual Interviews. 

Tips for Virtual Interviews are here

 

Autism Classroom Pages for Special Education Teachers:

3 Benefits of Learning in a Self-Contained Classroom

Creative Strategies That Special Education Classroom Teachers Know Will Leverage Their Teaching

 

 

The first part of this blog post focused on the idea of what might make up a classroom program for students with autism. This post will examine what it could look like to put together the lesson management for something like this.

To organize the lessons, think about using a binder with tabs to divide the topics for students.


Consider making tabs and dividers for social skills, play skills, language skills, fine motor skills, phonics, behavior, individual IEP skills, or whatever centers you want to run. I would suggest starting with social skills, language skills and IEP goals. Here is a link to the free binder cover page shown in the this binder. 

 

Plan quick activities and lessons. You can take a look at these Social Skills activities for an example and the Social Skills Centers Targets for an example of activities that are planned for the year. Or, choose the deficit areas your students need to work on the most. 

 

These next images show the first week activity suggestions from the Social Skills Bundle. Students and teachers can dive into the classroom rules and expectations.

 

 

For teachers of older students, you might like to add executive functioning skills as a center.

Next, make data sheets or general tracking sheets to go with these tabs/dividers as well. IEP goals and objectives may need a more formal and detailed data sheet since you are tracking progress on specific goals. While the classroom program centers may need a more generalize type of checklist that can be used with all students in the centers.

If a binder is not feasible, use a folder for each student. Options for folders:

·        Color-code the folders by topic. For example, the purple folder is for social skills, the orange folder is for play skills, the yellow folder is for language skills.

·        Have a folder for each student with the assignments for the week.

·        Have the entire packet on the right of the folder (using a butterfly clip), and put the assignments for the week on the left.

·        Have assignments in a packet separated by a divider that says Week 1, Week 2, Week 3, etc. (Here is a free electronic download of dividers Week 1- Week 34.)

 

If using the folder route, it may help to use a 3-prong folder with pockets. Which would mean you will want to use paper that is already 3-hole punched or invest in a really good 3-hole punch device.

 For distance learning, an organized binder separated by each week (ex. week 1, week 2, week 3, etc.) or separated by each activity area (social skills, play skills, language skills, etc.) is probably going to work best for families.

Complete a similar set up for each of the following weeks.

 

Many people are in search of some ways to increase and encourage social interaction with their students with autism. Some educators turn to social skills videos, social skills emotions lessons, or work to teach social skills with autism specific curriculum.  Many of these strategies to teach social skills could work and here are a few more you might want to try if you are looking for social skills activities for students with autism.

 



Focus on self-management to help students recognize their own behaviors.  Use visual supports to show them the expected behaviors and to ask them to point or check off whether or not they have lived up to the expected behaviors. 

 

Teach students to identify emotions in themselves and in others.  Pictures cards and photos of emotions as well as teaching labels to emotions can support this task.

 



Promote self-awareness so that students understand how they interact with the world around them. Help students to pay attention to their classmates, teachers and therapists.  Teach them to use a choice board to express their wants and needs so that they can see that they have an impact on their world.

 


Encourage communication through pictures, gestures, writing or words.  Use the student's skill set to help with this.  If they can write, encourage them to write out what they are feeling. If they uses pictures to communicate, be sure to have a variety of pictures that they can choose from to express what they may like to say. 

 

 

Give students multiple times to practice a new skill. Think "riding a bike"... it takes multiple times to practice with support before you are ready to try it out on your own. This is true as well for social skills, so give students many opportunities to practice by making teaching social skills in the classroom a routine part of the day. Supports like Social Skills Printables, social skills videos and role playing scripts for social skills could be helpful in adding practice on this skill. 

 

Try these strategies to help your students be the best that they can be!

 


Can most classrooms really say they have a program for their students with autism? We know they definitely have lessons and activities. But, to be implementing a program suggests that an organized set of plans, systems or activities specific to the deficits faced by individuals with autism have been purposeful chosen and implemented to help move students toward a particular long-term goal. And, someone else can follow and repeat the same formula to keep it running. How many can say that?

I certainly like to encourage the use of centers to help in creating a classroom program for students with autism and similar special needs. Centers and rotations (where students rotation from one center to the other in a systematic way) is key. Although for many, this year, it may be through breakout rooms during virtual learning.)

Why a program in a classroom for students with autism?  First of all, some schools there is no curriculum. AND…if there is a curriculum, it needs to be modified so much that it feels like there isn't one.

We know that students with autism have unique deficits in social skills, language and communication skills, and interpersonal behavior. Addressing these specific skills deliberately and daily will lead to improvement.

So what might that look like? Smaller time segments will work for most. Even at home or with distance learning this could work. The program can be run in 35-minute or 45-minute blocks (10 minutes-10 minutes-10 minutes or 15 minutes-15 minutes-15 minutes).  If needed, a two-minute or five-minute break can be given in between.

What centers would make up the program? Since we know that social skills, language skills and interpersonal behavior skills are the major areas most affected by autism, it may work well to start with those. Or, start with social skills, language skills, and individual objectives/goals from the student’s IEP program. Another suggestion would be to add a second set of 10-minute rotations to focus on structured play skills, fine motor skills, and phonics skills. The rest of the day, could be focused on content in subject areas.

Check out part 2 of this blog Series here.