BI: Do you have any tips for parents who are teaching kids with learning disabilities at home?
SJ: I hear so many parents saying, “We can’t get this done. My child is crying over schoolwork.” I would tell parents to take a step back. This is a time when the typical expectations about students completing assignments really need to be set aside. Instead, they can focus on encouraging their child’s curiosity, taking the time to look around their homes and neighborhoods for connections to what they are learning. I’ve seen so many neat things where students are creating obstacle courses in their backyard or creating patterns with sidewalk chalk. And, of course, kids are going to want screen time. Parents can turn on captions on their TVs to promote literacy.
BI: What are some of the biggest obstacles for special education teachers when it comes to remote learning?
SJ: They have the responsibility for instruction just as general education teachers do, with the added responsibility to fulfill procedural compliance requirements. That’s really daunting right now. They are tasked with finding out if students are engaging in learning, and if students are receiving the supports and services they need. Teachers must also document what’s happening, and they have to do all this remotely.
The heart of special-education teaching is to figure out what’s needed for each student, one by one. For students with visual impairments, this is a big flip of the switch to make sure they can continue to get access to all the materials that are being provided. Some districts provide print packets, but a student with a visual impairment might need the materials enlarged or in Braille. There’s a lot to think about, but all of this can be figured out and added to the school’s remote teaching plan going forward.
BI: Do you have any sense of how special education teams are handling the challenge?
SJ: I have learned that the biggest bright spot is the collaboration between special education teachers and general education teachers. Some teachers have thought that they didn’t have time for collaboration during a regular school year. That thinking has gone out the window. They are figuring out how to work together in innovative ways. The effort has sparked some professional collaboration and co-teaching that we weren’t doing before.
BI: What kinds of innovation have you seen?
SJ: Two teachers delivering a morning meeting remotely is a challenge. I’ve seen teachers who are really adept with the technology pass the teaching back and forth seamlessly, finding a rhythm and keeping the flow of the classroom going.
Special education and general education teachers have also been creative about figuring out how to use platforms like Zoom or Google classroom to share best practices, along with the metrics on how often students access learning and what supports they are getting.
BI: What about schools and districts? How are they supporting special education students in innovative ways?
SJ: A lot of districts are doing teletherapy for related services like speech, OT [occupational therapy], and PT [physical therapy] and are reporting great things. When I was a district director, I was hearing a lot about teletherapy, especially for speech, because speech pathologists are in such high demand and in short supply. But I wasn’t sure about it back then. Now we’re finding out it’s the best thing since sliced bread. It provides the opportunity for students to continue therapy, and it even allows schools to expand services in some areas that are pinched for related service providers.