Working as an educator is a lot to manage. Teachers are supervisors of their paraprofessionals, case managers of their students, managers and partners of the related service team members, advocates for their school and students, and so much more! I often catch myself wondering if I am doing a good enough job for my students, and my team. Every school year I am learning new things and wishing I would have known them the year before for my previous class or my previous students. There is always new research coming out about interventions to include in the classroom. How to teach a learner with a low expressive language repertoire. There are professional development days that make me stressed and want to implement everything quickly. I am often overthinking and making sure that I am not doing too much that chaos ensues within my brain, my classroom, or my team. What often never changes, are me doing my best and following best practices and implementing some of the helpful hints that I will share within this post.
The learning environment is important for the individual learners, the classroom as a whole, as well as the educators and service providers that come through. My classroom is often changing the way it looks and rarely is set in stone. Each school year, my team and I move the furniture around and decide were the centers need to go in order to create a flow and distinct spaces. As the weeks and months go on, we learn more about our students and our students gain news skills. We also get new students throughout the school year. Any change that we have may cause us to change the environment in order to best fit our learners. Some helpful hints when it comes to the classroom and school environments that we are given:
- Children with and without disabilities have equal access to the physical space, materials, and equipment.
- There is a sense of belonging which is observed by student work hanging on the walls.
- The environment is set up to encourage and increase independence during structured as well as free play.
- The adults are observed to be engaging with the learners during structured activities and free play.
- There is evidence of equal opportunities for all learners within the classroom as well as individualized learning bins that are not labeled with a student’s name or identifying information.
- There are positive and inclusive strategies that are observable and visual around the classroom.
- Classroom materials well taken care of, organized, and labeled
Adult and Student Relationships
I have shared information in the past about how important it is to have a good relationship with our students. Our students need to trust us and know that they are safe and cared for within our classrooms before they will be able to engage and show us what they know. We as educators must show them that we care for them and let them and their families know that we will advocate for their needs in order to give them as many opportunities as we can. Educators will work together to encourage independence and success in all of our students. Here is a link to a previous post of mine that includes information on pairing. The following are some helpful hints on how to start and continue to pair and have trusting relationships with our learners.
- Socializing and social groups are embedded and encouraged throughout the day
- Adult interactions are happening throughout important moments (both positive and negative)
- Balance between adult support and encouraging independence during situations that may require problem solving
- Learners look to adults to seek enjoyment
- There are boundaries and clear rules and expectations noted by all within the classroom
- Positive relationships and the use of reinforcement is used throughout the entire day
NAEYC has shared the following tips (and many more) to help educators create a caring, engaged and equitable classroom community.
- Uphold the unique value and dignity of each child and family.
- Recognize each child’s unique strengths and support the full inclusion of all children.
- Develop trusting relationships with children and nurture relationships among them while building on their knowledge and skills.
- Consider the developmental, cultural, and linguistic appropriateness of the learning environment and your teaching practices for each child.
- Involve children, families, and the community in the design and implementation of learning activities.
- Recognize and be prepared to provide different levels of support to different children depending on what they need.
- Consider how your own biases (implicit and explicit) may be contributing to your interactions and the messages you are sending children.
- Use multi-tiered systems of support.
- Speak out against unfair policies or practices and challenge biased perspectives.
- Look for ways to work collectively with others who are committed to equity.
Differentiation and individualization is one of the most important practices in a classroom and learner success. It is a difficult job for an educational team to track and change the learning environment and implement all strategies and supports per learner. However, staying organized will help ease the changes. Using visual supports, behavioral supports, academic strategies, and including all communication opportunities and accommodations are vital. The following are helpful hints:
- Adults are responsive to children’s initiated communication.
- Adults actively facilitate social-communication with children using a variety of scaffolding strategies, including alternative means of communication systems.
- Adults intentionally use and model alternative means of communication systems in ways that enable children to communicate and participate in classroom activities with their peers.
- Large group
- Independent work
- Seating accommodations
- Small group
- Sensory diet
- Peer opportunities (peer buddies)
- Transitions: Adults share responsibilities and flexibly adjust their roles to prepare for daily activities and promote smooth transitions.
- Adults collaborate to plan activities and supports for the whole group to ensure smooth transitions.
- Specific, individualized strategies (such as visual supports) are used for children who experience greater difficulty making the transition between activities.
- Include families in the educational decisions and invite them into the classroom often
- Procedures are implemented daily for encouraging bidirectional communication with families about children’s individualized education programs and progress.
- Staff are encouraged to participate in meetings with families.
- Families have opportunities to contribute information on their priorities.
- Families are invited to provide feedback on the quality of the program.
Using these helpful hints and best practice strategies will help a classroom run smoothly and efficiently. These strategies will increase learner independence and success. Best practices should be shared amongst the team so that everyone is on the same page, including family members, caregivers, and the students themselves!