Parents and teachers are feeling the burden of remote learning, but especially parents and teachers of students with disabilities. Special Education students require special services to support their needs in the educational setting; some of these services are quite challenging to provide remotely. While special education teachers are eager for their students to return to their classrooms, we are doing everything we can to meet our students' needs in the best way we can under these circumstances.
Students in special education have a team that meets together, not less than yearly, to review student progress and write a new individualized education plan. Parents and Special Education teachers are an integral part of this team, as well as principals, general education teachers, and others as needed. Teaching and learning during COVID-19 have brought new meaning to the collaboration and partnerships between parents and teachers.
Special Ed teachers are using a variety of high and low tech models to support student progress on their educational goals depending on the level of the student’s needs. When something they’ve tried does not work, they try something new. Parents and teachers are interdependent and the home-school communication has increased exponentially. Parents and teachers should be commended for their partnership in their student’s education now more than ever.
Several silver linings are coming out of this challenging time. Students, parents, and teachers are learning new skills together, rapidly advancing our special education teaching practices. Many are engaged in technologies that they might not otherwise have had the opportunity to experience. One special education parent said, “don’t count me out” when discussing virtual learning activities for her student with more severe disabilities.
In our weekly special education teacher huddles, one of our elementary teachers shared that her students are improving their phone and listening skills, something that would not typically be learned in the classroom. All of the unique learning experiences during this pandemic will likely improve the vocational and other life outcomes for students with disabilities. We prepare students with disabilities for an adult life that is as independent as possible. With high-tech and phone skills, students will be able to get hired for more complex jobs and participate in more community activities.
Remote special education instruction and services are sometimes more effective than in classroom instruction for some students. Students who experience social anxiety or have difficulty staying motivated to learn in a room with 30 other students seem to thrive with the digital model. We don’t know for sure yet, but the virtual class meetings may be helping some students and their teachers.
Secondary students in our counseling enriched classroom programs exhibit more engagement with their peers and academics right now. Seeing the students in their home environments also gives teachers, counselors, and other providers insights into students’ lives and illuminates areas needing support. Another example of this is how one of our preschool teachers uses Zoom to help parents with potty-training, which is a common goal for our more impacted students. Our responsiveness to student needs in the home is powerful.
Our community is no stranger to hardship. During my three years in Ukiah, I have been overwhelmed by the strength and compassion of our community and the sincerity and empathy of our school leaders. It is my honor to serve the special education students and families, teachers, and staff in the Ukiah Unified School District. We are all in this together!