As parents stand in for the individualized support special education students need, the reports of frustration during the COVID-19 pandemic continue to rise. Less face time with resource specialists and a growing disconnect with peers finds students in this group overwhelmed by even the simplest learning tasks. Hope is not all lost, however, as teachers and educational leaders look to new ways to bridge the learning gap.
Here are some promising strategies:
- Modify goals to fit the situation.
Since each student has a unique home learning atmosphere, teachers must assess the available resources, then adjust the expected outcomes. Settings in which children are learning remotely range from two working parents with no experience in education to a stay-at-home parent who has an extensive teaching background. Each child's home life, like their learning needs, will vary wildly and expectations must be reasonable, based on what is possible rather than what is ideal.
- Proactively engage parents and students.
Even though parents may talk of email burnout during remote learning, they expect and anticipate status updates on how their child will learn throughout the pandemic. To avoid a constant barrage of "what if" calls and emails, be a proactive guide, counselor and advocate by contacting families on a regular basis. Some teachers choose weekly email check-ins that come at the same time every week (even to the hour), while others welcome open office hours for phone chats. Don't forget about your families whose primary language is not English; have an interpreter ready to support and clarify all communications.
- Help create structure.
If anything has been proven to help keep special education students on track, it is structure. Under more normal circumstances, a routine and consistent bedtime, waking up consistently, and even wearing street clothes are activities that most families have in place. The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown work schedules and caregiving roles into chaos, however, and even the simplest parenting duties may seem out of reach. Help families with suggested schedules that include not only homework tips but also give additional resources for preparing quick and easy meals and limiting video games and screen time. Some parents need a simple reminder to put these best practices into place.
- Prioritize movement needs.
With learning restricted to computer desks and outdoor activities shuttered in many states, students have been spending most of their time awake sitting and listening. As a result, one significant concern is that kids do not have or do not take the opportunity to exercise enough. Many special education students need regular movement breaks to stay engaged and on task during direct instruction and academic work time. It is critical that we anticipate and create space for physical activity, time to practice mindfulness, and some general "silly" time for getting out the wiggles. A few minutes invested during even the most important learning sessions will pay off in student attitude and success.
Are you intrigued by the continually changing landscape of special education learning, particularly during the pandemic? Professional development and continuing education are wise investments not just for your career, but for the future of the exceptional learners whose lives you will touch throughout your career.
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