Wednesday, September 25, 2013

10 Tips for Teamwork in Special Education

This week has shown me just how crucial it is to have solid teamwork in special education. It's essential that every specialist is in clear communication with the core special education teachers who work with the students.

This week Lauren (my co-teacher) and I have been in constant communication about our plans for specific students and the interventions we want to implement to help each of our students success. We even write our emails together over the phone at night just to make sure we're on the same page before communicating information to a parent who has sent us a late evening email.

We've also been working with an Education Specialist and an OT to help one of our students with writing and fine motor work. We've discussed the baseline (starting point) information as we as our desired outcome. We've talked about who is going to provide the key services, and how the others will help supplement them and encourage the student to generalize the behaviors into our regular classroom day.

The OT is so important in our classroom with such young students. Unfortunately, I didn't have one to consult with at my last school. I feel like I've been learning sooo much from our OT lately! She gives me tons of totally easy strategies to  implement into the classroom to help with specific skills. She has a very full schedule, but she's been wonderful about checking in weekly with us and asking what OT concerns we've had for the week. She's instantly given us quick tips to try while she waits for her schedule to open up for more one-on-one work. This way our kids aren't waiting for help and instantly get some assistance they may need such as fidgets, motor planning work, etc.

Speech is also a crucial part of a 1st-2nd grade SPED class like ours. We have kids with various needs and the SLP is eager to meet and discuss these things with us. She also just started 2 new pragmatics (social skills) groups for our student who have been DESPERATELY needing them. I've been supplementing tons of social skills books into our text-connections writing unit! Once again those Julia Cook books have been a focal point in our class! I LOVE them!'s so great to have the SLP to talk with and discuss the social, language and articulation concerns we see in the classroom each week.

All of this communication has been very successful, but it's important to think of why it works so well for us!

  1. Be clear about student strengths and concerns. Explain what is working well and what needs to be improved.
  2. Work together to determine a desired goal or outcome. What do you want to get out of this support system for the student? What do you want the student to be able to achieve?
  3. Create a plan together to meet the goal. This should be done together, not one person deciding. In order to have an effective team, you must have buy-in from every member. This cannot happen if one person dictates how everything should be done. If you create a plan together it is more likely to be executed in a consistent and effective way. 
  4. Determine each person's role. What is each person supposed to do in this plan? Which tasks, interventions, or supports is each person expected to do in order to achieve the goal?
  5. Plan ahead to discuss progress. While creating the plan, schedule a meeting to check in with each other to determine if the interventions are working. It's easy to say, "we'll check in with each other later" and then promptly forget about it. By scheduling it ahead of time, it's more likely the meeting will occur within a reasonable amount of time.
  6. Constructively discuss the progress. During your meeting to discuss progress, identify exactly how the interventions have been implemented, what is working, and what is not working as planned. It's important there is no blame during the discussion, just a plan to improve. We like to do this meeting within a month (usually 2 weeks) of starting a new intervention. 
  7. Determine if changes need to be made. Sometimes the best laid plans do not go as expected with a child in special education. You may need to tweak the plan as a team. It's crucial to brainstorm together to decide what works best for the specific child you are helping. 
  8. Keep it positive! It's so easy to get frustrated when people are coming from different perspectives and have different ideas. Keep discussions focused on the student at hand and what really works for them.
  9. Ask for help! The best thing about working as a team is that there are other people there with you! Tell the team member the things you've tried, and what the result was so that they may give you alternatives.
  10. Celebrate your achievements! Celebrate even the small wins! Often goals in special education are long term goals. Celebrate the little milestones along the way to keep the positive momentum of the team!

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