Special Education

Parents as Teachers: The New “Norm” in a Time of Crisis

We are all painfully aware of the health crisis currently facing our country and the world.  Many things we considered typical in the beginning of 2020 have undergone huge changes in response to fighting COVID-19.

One of the most drastic changes is how schools have responded by closing to stop the spread of the virus.  To safeguard the health of our children and school staff, online learning has become the new normal for the instruction of all learners.  The extensive closing of schools and universities has forced an online mandate for instructional delivery.  This  approach has not been utilized to such an extreme extent, until now.  At best, teachers, professors, related support providers and the like have developed scheduled direct instruction lessons with students through participation in online learning sessions between the teacher and student(s). At worst, schools are struggling and may have only provided passive learning activities for students that parents, older siblings, private tutors, etc. use to deliver instruction directly (face to face) to students.  Even in the best of circumstances, parents and others have had to assume instructional roles out of necessity.

For more typical learners, this new learning arrangement may be challenging.  For students with disabilities who have IEPs that require direct instructional strategies, specially trained teachers, related services support staff (speech therapists, occupational therapists, paraprofessionals, etc.), or individualized instruction, the change has been fraught with huge challenges.  HUGE.

While this arrangement would not be the choice for most (if not any) students with disabilities, it is in fact, today’s reality and likely to continue at least until the end of this current school year. 

Parents have become essential partners with schools in order to implement and reinforce online instructional approaches now used by school systems nationwide. Like many teachers, parents and others at home have been thrust into an unfamiliar role that requires a significant number of daily hours assisting children with online instruction. The key difference is that some teachers may have received training or guidance for this new instructional role, but parents have likely received little to none.

Understandably, the nature of online instruction varies greatly between systems and states. This great variability impacts the amount and type of support parents can or are expected to provide.

Parents can feel frustrated and concerned about their child’s online education, especially as it relates to  the child’s IEP. 

How are other students, parents and others at home coping with this new reality of modern schooling in the wake of the health crisis? How are students’ IEPs being delivered? How are special education teachers able to provide specially designed instruction? How are supports like speech therapy, occupational therapy, and physical therapy fitting into online learning? What happens to the paraprofessional who regularly supports a student in one or more classes? How is access to the general curriculum achieved? 

In an effort to assist parents, Responsive Instruction, LLC will provide several online communication and learning events designed specifically for parents of students with disabilities. Our goal is to support parents and others who are shouldering the responsibility of teaching, supporting, and/or reinforcing the educational learning of students with disabilities.  Our hope is to provide an avenue to share, ask questions and take away ideas and suggestions that, when followed, may be helpful to you and your child(ren).  Also included in the forums will be the Responsive Instruction’s Tracking Log for Online Instruction© that can be used during Covid-19. This log will be provided free of charge to all registered participants. The use and discussion of this log will be one focus of our outreach. It was designed specifically for parents to track services and supports and will hopefully assist in future planning for your child.

Join us each Tuesday, beginning on April 28, 2020, from 7:30 to 8:30 pm EST for Virtual Coffee and Collaboration with Sharon and Angie.  Simply register for this free Zoom series of informal “coffee” chats mixed with follow-up ideas from Sharon, Angie and possible guest hosts as well. We look forward to seeing you Tuesday night!

Registration link for Virtual Coffee and Collaboration with Sharon and Angie


By | April 22nd, 2020|COVID|0 Comments

Love Means ‘Never having to say you’re sorry’ For Standing Up For Your Child’s Special Learning Needs

Those of you old enough to remember (or young enough to know movie trivia lines) will recall the movie Love Story with Ryan O’Neal and Ali Mc Graw as two college students who fall in love and marry. Then Jenny (Ali McGraw) contracts a fatal disease and dies at age twenty-five.  In their last moments together, McGraw says that famous line to O’Neal: “Love means never having to say you’re sorry”.  Well, there are a lot of things and times I can think of when that line has not been quite true, but there is one case I can think of that always follows this rule.  Parents should never feel sorry about loving their child and standing up for their child’s special learning needs, even if they need help with their child’s behavior, IEP, special education supports, or educational challenges.

An event today beautifully illustrates this point. Earlier, I met with a lovely family of 4 children, mom and dad.  All four of the children had some kind of very special learning need(s) and educational challenges.  Mom was homeschooling two of the four children because of the schools’ failure to develop IEP’s to meet the children’s specific learning needs. Through behaviors, these two children had, at various points, begun communicating that school was a frustrating, anxiety producing place of academic failure.

Now, Mom felt she knew better. With the youngest child, she was more confident. When he began experiencing similar learning problems and exhibited some concerning behaviors, she met with the school, requested evaluations, and questioned all kinds of issues that did not appear to add up for her young son’s special education and general education learning needs.  Yet, the parents knew things were still not as they should be because their child’s progress continued to be minimal to non-existent. At home, the child was showing evidence of higher and higher levels of anxiety  and inappropriate behaviors related to school and homework.  The added school supports, such as educational evaluations and even a referral to special education, had to be spear headed by the parents.  The parents felt that they were experiencing déjà vu reliving the trials and tribulations that had previously occurred with their older two home schooled children.

Mom reached out to me, an educational consultant, for assistance.  I reviewed her child’s records, IEP’s and school history. Then, the parents and I met in person to fill in missing information and to clarify their goals for their child.  Before our first meeting, I could tell this mom was well informed.  She had communicated regularly with others about the needs of her children and kept a copy of all the documents. To address her children’s learning needs, she had sought private tutoring, private evaluations, behavior support and more.  I had expected that her need for my help would be minimal.  I was wrong.

While these parents were caring, involved, dedicated and informed parents, they were at their wits end.  After I reassured the parents about the wonderful job they had done initiating help for their child, reviewed the current records with them and provided suggestions for how they could move forward based on their identified goals, the parents began to apologize to me.  They said how sorry they were that they had to reach out to me because they felt overwhelmed and uncertain as to their next steps for their youngest child to support his educational challenges.  I could see the pain in their eyes as they shared briefly the heart shattering stories of their other children’s educational challenges, especially the two children mom was now doing her best to home school.

I have words of advice to these parents and to all parents out there struggling to make sense of the failure, frustration and anxiety your child faces regularly at school due to educational challenges.  Never say you are sorry, ever, for standing up for your child to find answers and appropriate help at school.  The school can help.  Navigating this support can be a challenging and confusing experience.  If you need it, reach out to others to assist you with your child’s behavior, IEP or special education supports.  But never, ever, be sorry for standing up for your child’s special learning needs.

By | February 12th, 2019|Behavior, Special Education|0 Comments

It’s Not Too Late! Seven Tips Special Education Teachers Can (Still) Do for a Great Start to the School Year

The start of a new school year always seems to bring the promise of a new beginning, a chance to have a clean slate, and a chance at not returning to old habits.  We all want success in school: teachers, students, parents, administrators.  We all also want a smooth beginning with no bumps in the road.  A key to a smooth start to the school year is advanced preparation.  But if you could not get to these things over the summer, START NOW or put these in your tickler file for next year. Begin thinking now about what needs to be done differently. Then make your plan and IMPLEMENT!

As a special education teacher who teaches in a pull-out resource model, a more self-contained model, a co-teaching model or some other combination, consider these seven tips to promote a positive and successful start to the new school year even if it’s a few weeks after school has begun.  It’s still early to get a great start and make it a GREAT YEAR!!

Seven Tips to Success

  1.  Know your core content!  Continually review the standards of Common Core or your standardized curriculum in each subject area that you will teach your students this year.  Be very familiar with the content to be taught and your understanding of it. This gives you deeper understanding of grade level expectations and additional credibility with general education teachers.
  2. It is certainly not too late to prepare a Student Profile Sheet © or similar document for each student with disabilities on your caseload.  You will find this to be a quick summary of the IEP and key psychological learning components.  This profile sheet can be used by any teacher who teaches the student with disabilities as a quick reference for instructional planning.  Keeping your copy nearby can also be your resource to underscore needed accommodations to others, reevaluation due dates, and more.  Use the summary as a key guide for paraeducators or paraprofessionals who support certain students.
  3. Refine your teaching focus.  The year has begun and you have an idea of co-teaching and/or general education pacing of content, areas of emphasis for assessment and learning, your strength in a core content area, accommodating for students’ strengths and weaknesses, learning strategies to teach, test taking strategies to encorporate, etc.  Few teachers are all things to all learners.  Be sure to give students the very best of your specialty focus area and know where that fits in the curriculum.
  4. Continue gathering possible materials for use during the year based on your knowledge of student needs, the core academic area(s), and your specialty focus area.  Make multiple copies of things regularly used and keep a file box ready to go. Your box may include frequently used reference materials, student data sheets or even extra office supplies that always seem to disappear.
  5. Whether you are co-teaching or in a classroom by yourself or with a paraprofessional, by now you may of experimented with several teaching arrangements that you are comfortable with, grouping arrangements in your classroom, and/or key classroom procedures you are confident encourage success. While more than two options should be used, get comfortable with a couple of arrangements, and then expand.
  6. Refine the methods of communication you devised the first week or two for communication with other teachers and the parents of your students.  Using regular and informative two way communication can avert problems, help with solving challenges, encourage partnerships and so much more.  Colleagues and parents who trust that you are willing to share information on a regular basis see your collaborative nature and, many times, are encouraged to follow suit.
  7. This last tip is a two parter. If you have not sent a “Welcome Letter” to your parents and students, consider sending a letter now. Reinforce your continued excitement and provide updates on changes, revised schedules, etc. Depending on their age and maturity levels, continue using language easy for your students to understand.  Reassure parents and students that you are their partner in learning and the journey this year will be yours together as a team.  Use words that reinforce your just right message.  You will be amazed how much this follow up will mean to your students and their parents, especially as a reinforcement of your original message if you sent one. Multiple messages help the disorganized student and the disorganized home.

Part 2 of this last tip involves taking a picture of your classroom, student schedule, some details of a typical day and sending this home to reinforce your routines and schedules.  For students who have a hard time learning new routines and transitions, these follow-up communications send the message that you are flexible.  For students and families, your letter, pictures of the classroom, routine reminders, etc. at home can do wonders to help your students get off to a great start, along with their soon to be favorite teacher: YOU!

More than A-B-C Data : Multifactored Functional Behavioral Assessment

As a teacher, are you responsible for conducting the FBA, Functional Behavioral Assessment, in your grade level or school? As a parent, have you been asked to provide your consent for an FBA? An FBA is required under IDEA federal law to help identify and support behavioral needs of students. And while there is a required manner in which to conduct an FBA, many schools use narrow versions of behavioral observation, looking at the specific behavior and what happened right before and immediately after the behavior occurred. This is certainly one important aspect of examining the target behavior. However, a more comprehensive assessment is essential to try and determine not only root causes of why students exhibit behavior but also how to provide supports and replacement responses. This approach encompasses looking closely at the learning environment, task demands, other classroom variables, as well as other needs of the student. Putting together this comprehensive picture helps provide the student, parent and teacher with various components to address the whole child. It also takes the stress from one main observer to gather information/assessment to provide to the team. Behavior is complex. The assessment for the FBA should be complex as well, examining all aspects related to the need.