Transitioning from a classroom setting into an online platform in the blink of an eye is a task that comes with more challenges than one could fathom, especially for our population of students with special needs. The intricacies of the school day are woven together to support the whole child and their development in a seamless ebb and flow. The disruption of a pandemic has set forth unprecedented circumstances school leaders, educators, parents, and students are navigating to keep the learning progression intact. Intentionality and having a deep toolbox of strategies is vital to special educators rising to the challenge of transitioning IEP goals to online learning.
‘Maslow’s before Bloom’s’ is a common saying in education circles. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs states that before students can learn, their basic physiological needs must be met: food, water, shelter, warmth, health, and rest. Next, students must feel safe. In situations where the most basic needs are not met, a person would not survive. However, what teachers deal with is insuring students’ safety because the lack thereof can lead to posttraumatic stress. Teachers who focus on building relationships with students know when a child is struggling to have their needs met and can provide support to offset the non-cognitive barriers that negatively impact learning.
So, when a child is not in your presence each day, what do you do? Teachers have diligently worked to make contact with students by phone, online platforms, communication tools (Class Dojo, Remind, etc.), and texting. In those contacts, determining a student’s social-emotional wellbeing is one of the main priorities. No different than the regular school day, educators have a duty to report any concerns to local authorities, and the lack of brick and mortar does not alleviate that responsibility. In addition, public schools are meeting needs through their Family Resource and Youth Service Centers, providing food, personal hygiene, and home furnishing needs, helping to insure students are being well cared for while they are out of our direct care. Additionally, state governments are supporting school districts through their food service programs.
On the Same Page
Communication is crucial during crisis. During times such as these, it is the responsibility of the special education teacher to keep a direct and open line of communication with the families of their students on their caseloads. A copy of the Individual Education Plan (IEP) should be provided so caregivers can refer to the document in ARC (Admissions and Release Committee) meetings and discussions regarding the student’s progress. If a school is in session, a student with special needs should still receive a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE), including modifications and accommodations to allow students equitable access to the curriculum.
The ARC should discuss and clearly outline a plan how the teacher will continue to provide services for students with disabilities in accordance to the IEP. Any adjustments that would need to be made to the IEP would have to be agreed upon by the ARC and documented in the IEP, a legal binding document. In any instance when the special education services could not be provided, the ARC would determine if the student would need compensatory education or an extended school year. Making sure that all members of the ARC are on the same page and the plan is clearly outlined and communicated is vital to meeting the legal responsibilities of the educator according the IDEA.
Modified Learning Plan to Meet IEP Goals
When considering the goals of the student, special education teachers should collaborate with parents to evaluate the goals of the IEP and then determine how the student will work towards meeting the goal through elearning. The craft of teaching allows the teacher to determine how to best meet the needs of their student using strategies in the virtual world. Teachers should not forget the significance of progress monitoring of the measurable annual goals. Whichever method is determined to meet the needs of the student and family, the teacher should make sure it is feasible for an extended period of time. Also consider service minutes when thinking about how long a student can interact with a teacher or tools in an online format.
Provide Strategies and Resources
Students with special needs thrive in a structured environment. Communicating with families about the strategies and resources that work in the education of their child will help the student to meet their goals and continue progressing through the transition. Resources may take shape in different forms: websites, texts, access to subscription services, packets, sensory bins, or anything that the student can use to allow them equitable access to learning. Special education teachers are strategy specialists. Imparting wisdom in how to educate a student with special needs can not only help the student, but also relieve some stress from parents who are, oftentimes, assuming dual roles as employee and educator.
Document! Document! Document!
The name of the game in special education is documentation. Maintaining communication, as stated before, is essential with families during this transitional time. Every correspondence should include a summary. ARC meetings legally have a conference summary that must be included in the paperwork. Using that document as a communication tool is a fail proof way of insuring parents are getting the information they need in regards to their child’s education. One way to send a message of continuity with parents/caregivers would be to establish next steps and when the next communication will occur. Transparency and parent education are essential to smooth transitions from a learning environment to online learning.
Through all of this, human awareness and compassion go a long way. Checking to make sure your caregivers are utilizing self-care, students have all of their needs met, communication happens often and clearly, and that you are sharing strategies and resources is what is best for students during a transition of IEP goals to online learning. Working together for the sake of learning creates the best opportunities for students, with or without special needs.