How to Best Support Your Special Education Teachers

Sandra Burns
Sandra Burns
Elementary school principal; M.Ed. in Educational Leadership
A group of professionals sit around a table in a meeting, laughing.

Anyone that is involved in education will easily tell you that the last two years have brought along a whole new set of concerns and challenges when it comes to getting services for all our students. In particular, special education staff face new challenges as some of the support their students require is still through virtual platforms. While these platforms can sometimes be tricky to master, furthering your education can equip you with the skills needed. Expand your knowledge and expertise to better support students and teachers alike by pursuing an advanced degree in special education. But first, let’s look at some strategies for supporting your special education teachers right now.

What Challenges Do Special Education Teachers Face?

While putting ourselves in our students’ shoes, think of how difficult it is to sit and focus when completing online training out of the comfort of a home or office. When students are put in front of a device and required to complete a speech and occupational therapy session or any other type of service that they should receive, there are more hurdles for students with disabilities.

A special education teacher is asked not only to support our students academically but also behaviorally, as well through a variety of special education resources. Frequently, regular education teachers will consume much of the special education teacher’s time to collaborate and develop a plan to help the students while they are in the regular education environment. Some teachers may feel as if they are being pulled in several directions as their students need several supports, and collaborating with team members is an expectation and needed. As important as this is, it takes a great deal of time, and the special education staff only consist of a small number within the building.

These staff members are often required to manage caseloads with various disabilities and needs that must legally be met. With placements changing frequently during this time, as well as several students needing their special education paperwork updated to the most current platform being used, this tends to lead to a significant amount of paperwork.

As an administrator, it is important not to have the special education team feel as if they are on an island of their own with these challenges.

How to Provide Support with Resources

There is no question that every one of our students is unique in their way. Just as we try to individualize the supports that we provide to our students and their school plan, we must not overlook that our teachers are also unique. Not all teachers may reach out for support; knowing who needs help and what specific supports are needed will benefit everyone.

Providing professional development in specific areas is one way of providing resources. This does not mean that staff must sit through a webinar or listen to a speaker for an hour to receive professional development. Sometimes the answer can be right across the hall from them. Being a leader is truly knowing the strengths of your building, and pairing staff up to observe one another or hold a discussion about challenges they are facing and ways to work through this is another resource. Providing professional development does not always mean leaving the building.

As a school administrator, it is important to help a staff member work this into the schedule. Although coverage is tough right now as there appears to be a teacher shortage everywhere, it is important to find the time and be creative with a schedule that will allow teachers to lean on one another and receive professional development throughout the school day if it is needed.

How to Provide Support as an Administrator

Special education staff members are in a unique situation when it comes to administration. Teachers report to the special education director as well as their building principal. One thing that should be expected is that the special education staff are supported by both the principal and the director.

Now more than ever, our teachers need to know that administrators can be a great resource as well as a support system. Supporting teachers goes much further than attending a meeting with them or making a phone call to a parent. Sometimes, just being a sounding board requires teachers to know that they are heading in the right direction, support, and can boost staff morale.

Several behavior support programs that students are expected to follow throughout the school day have student incentives built in. This is extremely important for students, so why wouldn’t this be beneficial for adults as well? Sometimes covering a recess duty, letting staff leave ten minutes before schedule, or giving teachers an unexpected break during the day is just what they need to keep themselves going. Their own well-being is paramount, and an extra pat on the back can go a long way. Stressing that we are all in this together and supporting everyone equally is also essential. The more support that the administrators can provide, it is less likely for there to be a big turnover within the school and helps avoid burnout for the staff.

Being creative and finding ways to free up some of their time during their day will greatly be appreciated as special education teachers have a tremendous amount of paperwork to complete. While it is important to be fair and follow the teacher’s contract, allowing for the allotted time during school activities or special events, or covering a duty for the special education staff occasionally will provide them with extra time that they were not expecting. To some, this may be extremely valuable in being sure that they are not feeling overwhelmed.

If special education teachers feel appreciated and know that their administration supports them, they will continue to do their very best and look forward to coming to work each day. Teachers are nothing short of being superheroes, and letting them know just how much their administration supports them can be exactly what helps them get through any obstacle or hurdle that comes their way. Supporting our teachers and providing them precisely what they need to be successful will guarantee success in the classroom.

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