Today as I online and supervised a special education teacher via a Zoom chat, we talked about her ideas and mine for teachers supporting special needs students and their families from behind our computer screens right now.
Note that she is doing a LOT. Families are doing a lot. And many teachers have families too and we’re all a bit swamped. Most of us are trying to practice grace- both giving it and operating from a place of grace ourselves, being easy on ourselves when we don’t finish everything… but it’s still hard. So here are 3 easy ideas that might make a difference. If you’ve done them, GREAT. Just move on. 😊 If you haven’t, it can’t hurt. If you have young children at home you can ask your kid’s teacher for a little guidance on the first 2 and they’ll probably be happy to help you out.
- Arrange the environment to help students understand what’s going on. Number 1 is to give parents guidance on “arranging the environment”. Something teachers do before school starts is to arrange the classroom. Ever notice that when you walk in your student’s room, that there are usually separate little areas? There’s an area for work, and it’s where your child learns to sit down and do learning activities. Maybe there’s a little table and chair there, and some baskets for papers or materials. Then there’s an area for breaks, which you can usually notice by its comfortable chair or bean bag or rug, and perhaps some books or games that are just for fun times. If you’re a teacher working with kids at home, ask families if there is a designated area for work, and one for play. Give families some suggestions that are easy and similar to what you do in your classroom. It’s easy but it can go a long way toward normalcy, helping students get ready to do their work, and helping caregivers and parents help their kids get in to the new routine.
- Send home important visuals, or give a really quick tutorial on how to create one. I’ve been surprised by how sometimes therapists and teachers forget that they always have a certain thing on the table that reminds students how to sit, listen, or be a part of the classroom. Maybe you feel it’s not that important at home, or that it’s just more work. But students really thrive when you help their learning behaviors to “generalize”… by putting things in the environment at HOME that they are used to seeing at school. If your school has a simple visual schedule or job aid that reminds students what to do with their eyes, hands, body and mouth while it’s “time to work”, send it home. Parents can even draw one with markers or crayons if they don’t have a printer. Now’s not the time to get too fancy or require too much. In behavior analysis we might call this “programming common stimuli”, when we use a helpful reminder across environments. But it’s just a super simple tool you have that you can give parents during your check-in or start-up session.
- Do a check-in with parents/caregivers every time you see the family. Some teachers are having groups with students, which is amazing. You may also be doing quick individual check-ins. A few days ago I wrote about how child abuse and neglect are escalating right now, as families are facing increasing pressures and hardships from all sides, and the typical “reporters” are not seeing the kids in person to make social services calls. (It’s a great time to learn more about what your school can do to help teachers develop a process for this). One simple idea is to have a quick script you go through every time you make contact with a caregiver, especially one of a family you know is always at risk. Put THREE THINGS by your computer: First, put the script by your computer. Second, put a simple datasheet there beside it. (A simple datasheet might include the list of families you contact, dates you ran through the script, and star any families you need to follow up on based on the outcomes of the script. Then when a family answers a question that needs follow up, you can share referrals or make a call to connect them to a resource). Third, put a list of resources and phone numbers related to the script questions. These might need individualization based on your area, but here are some ideas.
Example of using the check-in idea:
Margot is a teacher of special needs kids in elementary school. She writes a script with questions like this: “How are you doing? … What is most concerning to you right now? … Do you have at least one way that you can get a break when you need it? … Are you worried about where you might get food? … Are you feeling ok emotionally or do you need someone to talk to? … Is there anything your child is doing that you think needs a follow up phone call? …. Is everyone in your family safe right now?”
Then Margot shared the script with her team and each teacher and paraeducator was assigned one family per day to check in on. The team brainstormed and wrote a list of important phone numbers and websites in the event that a family indicates they need basic assistance like food; they are feeling extra stressed and need a mental health support check-in with a teletherapist; or someone in the household is hurting them and they need to make a phone call to a domestic abuse hotline.
Finally, the team distributed a quick reference sheet with the script on top, a log in the middle, and resources (phone numbers and websites) on the bottom. Each team member recorded the results of their check-ins in case follow up was necessary to help a family they checked on.
That’s it. You can see an example Check-In and Follow Up Log sheet below. Let me know your own ideas and thank you for all your hard work! And just email me if you’d like to obtain an editable version of the sheet.