Back-to-School Basics

I’m here to talk about special education back-to-school basics! Are you getting ready to start the school year?  Or did it just begin for you?  I am in my second month of teaching this school year.  My school year would not have started so successfully had I not had these basics in my classroom and I’m here to share those with you!  This post contains materials and ideas to make sure you have a successful back-to-school season!  Keep reading to find out what my five essential back-to-school basics are:



This is a photo of my centers to school the back-to-school basics.  This is my task box center.
I like to have one or two students do an easy matching weekly workbook while a staff member works with one to two students at my language arts center.
This is a photo of a Chromebook on a desk with a digital easy matching workbook on the screen.
This photo shows my book center, an easy setup independent center. In the photo, you see a small couch with two iPads, a shelf with some books on it, and a yellow child's chair.

Centers are a must for back-to-school in my classroom.  They break up my students’ day into structure, routine, academics, and fun.  Additionally, centers allow me to give direct instruction to my students in a small group format – which is vital in special education.  If you need help with your centers, read this post from Sasha about how to get your classroom centers started.

So far, I have 13 students, 3 paraprofessionals, and 6 different centers in my classroom.


Next, a must-have back-to-school procedure is reinforcement.  I like to spend the beginning of the school year getting to know my students and building relationships.  This also includes understanding how they are reinforced.  Reinforcement is crucial because it helps increase behaviors that help my students learn and grow.  By reinforcing school-appropriate behaviors immediately, I am ensuring my students are more likely to continue those behaviors in the future.  

If you need more information on reinforcement and why I consider it a back-to-school necessity, read this post from Sasha.

Teacher Bag

It’s no secret that special education teachers are managing back-to-school behaviors and meltdowns by the minute.  I tackle this by having a teacher bag with me everywhere I go.  My paraprofessionals also each carry their own version of this bag with them when we are in and outside of the classroom.  Back-to-school time is typically more behavioral therefore, I make sure to NEVER leave my classroom without this bag on hand.  Things I make sure to always have in my bag are:

  • Mini whiteboard, whiteboard markers, and pens
  • Walkie talkie to talk with my team and radio that goes to admin/the office
  • Reinforcements and fidgets
  • Visual Necklace
  • Hand sanitizer, lip balm, and band-aids


This is an example of a color coded mobile schedule
This is a photo of my mobile schedules and how I color code my centers. Students know which color center to go to because the center block is colored to match the center.
This is a photo of a color coded binder schedule

Back-to-school means change and change is hard for our students. That being said, schedules are a non-negotiable part of our day.  I make sure these are ready on day one of school.  I prefer to use color-coded schedules as my students understand these better but there are many types of schedules that can be used in a special education classroom.  Schedules should be differentiated for students based on what their individual needs are.  I love this blog post from Sasha that explains different types of schedules and why you should use each one. 

*My schedules are a combination of TAH color-coded schedules, Mini Schedules from Amy Groesbeck, Especially Education, and Simply Special Ed.

Staff Expectations and Training

Probably one of the most challenging parts of my job is managing the adults.  This is one topic that my college courses did not prepare me for!  As the teacher, I am the classroom leader and I must lead by example.  Right away, I like to have a meeting to set expectations and get to know my paraprofessionals. This is also a good time to buy them coffee, treats, or lunch to acknowledge their hard work as well as show appreciation.  I was once a para and I remember how far little gestures of appreciation went. 

Back-to-school is a great time to work together to build a team philosophy and foundation that works for everyone.  To do this, one staple in my classroom is the Paraprofessional Training Manual.  The manual helps me continuously train my paraprofessionals to make sure we are all on the same page in the classroom.  Additionally, I like to use the training videos from the Professional Development Membership.  My administrator paid for both of these because they are an essential part of the job!

What are your back-to-school basics when starting a new school year?  Do you have any questions for me?  Leave them below and I will get back to you!  Thanks for reading!


Michelle Lindenmuth, M.Ed.
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