Meet Me

Hi all! I'm a self-contained special education teacher from sunny Arizona! I teach k-3rd grade students with Down Syndrome, Developmental Delays, Cerebral Palsy and everything in between. I have a passion for organization, lists, and creating hands on activities for my learners!

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Special Ed Blog Hop- Week 4 Working with Paras

Welcome to Week 4 of the Special Education Back to School Blog Hop! We have covered scheduling, how to set up your classroom, and back to school forms. This week we are talking about one of the most important and (maybe) difficult part of being a special educator- working with paraprofessionals.

Many new sped teachers can find it difficult to not only be in charge of a caseload, but also other adults. Directing other adults who may be older than you in a job that is new to you is tricky. I am very lucky to have paras in my classroom whom I genuinely get along with. I believe that a few key things have made our working relationship, well... work.
1. Training- I invite my paras to come by school before the first day. I say "invite" because I can't require them to be on campus before their contract starts. My paras are awesome and have come each time I asked. I think they appreciate the heads up for the year. During our training we go over the basics for the year- class schedule, their individual schedule, the classroom layout, and student goals/work. We also go over our Para handbook. I use this one from Mrs. H's Resource Room. It covers the basics like chain of command and being on time, but I love that it also covers how to model appropriate participation and appropriate responses to behavior. It's not too long and it has great information. Remember, most paras don't have degrees in special education, so it is up to us to train them.
2. Clear Expectations- My paras run centers and I lay out direction for what I want them to teach. I tell them what goals they should be working on and give them materials to hit those goals. That being said, I do give them a little flexibility if the plans aren't working. I trust my paras to adjust the lesson or change up the materials if the kids just aren't going for it.
3. Organization- Nobody wants to work in a confusing or messy environment. Not knowing what you should be doing or where to find the things you need is stressful. Make sure you set your paras up with all of the tools they need to complete the job you laid out for them.
4. Communication- I have quarterly meetings with my paras. Some times we throw in an extra meeting here or there if we have a new policy, behavior procedures, etc. I create an agenda for the meeting to make sure that I cover all of the details that we need to discuss and refresh. I try to make sure that my paras know that they can come to me with concerns, ideas, or if they are starting to feel burnt out.
5. Appreciation- My classroom could not function without my paras and sometimes their jobs are less than glamorous (toileting, anyone?). Make it a point to tell them that they are a valuable part of the classroom. Everybody needs to feel appreciated and are more likely to work hard when they do. A thank you will go a long way!

How do you set up your paras for success? Check out Breezy Special Ed for some more great tips on working with paraprofessionals.

Breezy Special Ed

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Back to School Blog Hop Week 3- Back to School Forms

Welcome to Week 3 of the Special Ed Back to School Blog Hop! This week we're talking all about Back to School Forms.

Back to School Forms can be many things: IEP organization, classroom forms, or forms used on Meet the Teacher Night. I'm going to tell you about my Meet the Teacher Night forms plus an awesome freebie!

I teach in a self-contained classroom and the majority of my students are kindergarteners. If you've ever been in a kindergarten classroom on Meet the Teacher Night, you know how crazy it can get. Parents are nervous. Kids are nervous. Teachers are nervous. Some of my kiddos have pretty extensive needs and parents feel like they need to tell me everything about their child right then. I TOTALLY get it. Some parents have never met me and I can only imagine how hard it is to trust a nonverbal 5 year old with someone you don't k now that well. To try to slow down the madness, I have created Meet the Teacher Stations. It helps keep everyone organized. I can make sure that I have all the forms filled out and that I have been able to talk to each parent with as little chaos as possible. I also have a few moments to sneak in hugs to former students or students I'll have again. And let's face it, that's the best part of the whole night.

I use 5 Simple Stations:
1. Sign In- I have everyone sign in. That way, I know who came, who picked up required forms, and I can get an email address for parents.
2. All About Me-I write a little 20 questions about myself to help students and parents get to know me better.
3. Transportation- This is the most important one in my opinion. Parents circle how students will be getting to and from school each day. Not knowing where a child is supposed to go at the end of the day is terrible. I don't wish that feeling on anyone. This little step can save you a big headache later, trust me.
4. Folders- Parents and students pick up their Take Home Folder at this station. Each one of my students has a take home folder for homework and daily communication logs. On Meet the Teacher Night, I include all school forms, my Class Info Packet (syllabus), and a student information sheet.
5. Classroom Tour- A the 5th station, I invite everyone to tour the classroom and find their desk. This is also a great time for parents to get some 1:1 question time with me and a cute picture of their student.

Now for the freebie! Grab my Meet the Teacher Station Signs and basic forms for free. Click here!

Head over to Breezy Special Ed for more Back to School Form ideas!
 Breezy Special Ed

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Sped Summer Blog Hop Week 2- Classroom Set-Up

Welcome to Week 2 of the Special Ed Summer Blog Hop! This week me and my fellow special educators will give you tips on how to set up your special ed classroom. Now that you have your schedule all worked out, you need to find places where all that magic can happen!

Here are my 5 tips to setting up a rocking self-contained classroom:
1. Schedule requirements- What in your schedule needs a specific place for it to happen?
     For my classroom, I need 9 student desks for whole group lessons and independent work, 3 kidney tables for small group work and centers, 1 rectangular table for workshop, and 2 cabinets for storage. I wish we had chairs at each station, but you can't have it all, right?!
2. Permanent items- What cannot be moved around?
    Your furniture placement is going to depend on the space you have available. My classroom has backpack hooks, a classroom suite door, a Smart Board, an angled wall, a teacher desk, and a section of tile with a cabinet and sink. Basically, my classroom is a giant square which makes organizing it really easy to set up furniture.
3. Roadways- Is there enough room to easily move around? Do any students use wheelchairs or walkers that need extra space? Is traffic flow clear and understandable?
    I have 4 students with wheelchairs and 1 with a walker. It is important to make sure that they can comfortably maneuver and that there is also room for additional staff to sit with them. We use center rotations for most of our academic work. Students rotate in a circular pattern, so, I do my best to make sure that there is a clear pathway to each center.

    The pathway from the blue to the red table is the most difficult because it isn't straight, but the students get used to it. In the beginning of the year, I put color coded duct tape on the carpet to remind students where they are going. I'd rather waaaay over do it with visual supports in the beginning of the year and scale them back then find out the hard way that they need more. Can you say rookie mistake?
4. Double duty storage- What materials do I need to access at each work space?
  I like my storage to pull double duty. The cabinet in between the green and blue tables holds materials I need for those centers and serves a divider between the tables. The division helps to clearly differentiate the centers from one another and limits distractions. The back of the red table cabinet is my staff command center (read more about this next week for my Working with Paras post). In short, this area is used my my paras, therapists, admin, and anyone who needs quick info about us!
5. VISUALS!- Say it with me... visuals! Visuals should be your best friend when setting up your self-contained classroom. Visuals let your students know where to find/put items, where they should be going, what you expect them to do, and give them opportunities to communicate. I am a visual addict. I'm going to assume that most special educators know about visuals and have their system of using them. That being said, I am going to list sometimes forgotten visuals that I use in my room:
                 -Footprints on the floor or some type of line-up visual
                 -Stop signs on doors to stop runners
                 -Cafeteria line sequence visuals
                 -Bathroom sequence in independent bathrooms
                 - Class Jobs description sequences

Remember, well defined spaces clarify student expectations. 

Breezy Special Ed
Check out Breezy Special Ed for more tips on setting up your special ed classroom!