The most common question we get asked by educators and leaders is “What are additional/new strategies that will help us to better meet the needs of students with disabilities”…the unspoken assumption or belief is that there are a mysterious set of magic strategies that work for diverse learners known only by those with an expertise in special education.
Alas, there is no such thing as the secret Starbucks menu of strategies that work for students with disabilities flawlessly, every single time, no matter what. Rather, the special sauce is actually that great special educators (and great teachers generally, for that matter) are experts in drilling down to what each student needs and curating a set of instructional strategies and supports to meet those needs, guided by the information from an IEP and other special education documents. Spoiler Alert:Many, if not most, of those strategies are likely ones that you’re using in your classroom on a regular basis. The key difference is data and intentionality.
Now Is The Time For Training
Leaders, all this to say that your educators likely have a bank of strategies to lean into and, with the right level of development and support, they can build their skill in identifying the just right ones for your diverse learners. What’s frequently missing is the opportunity for collaboration among educators, shared knowledge of how to navigate key documents to better understand student needs, opportunities for practicing how to plan more intentionally for diverse learners, and consistent feedback that really makes a process stick. This is where effective professional development comes in…andright now is the perfect time to train your staff.
You might think everyone is moving from spring break and testing into end-of-the-year mode and that there is no time for professional learning…but we propose that this is in fact the just right time.
Just as we use the strategy of pre-teaching certain concepts to our students to prepare their minds and give them a head start for deeper understanding, offering IEP teachers training during the spring term can do the same thing.
Why It Works
Think about it this way – teachers may have their minds set on wrapping up the school year and just making it to June so it may seem that the prospect of new learning is not ideal. However, offering introductions to new approaches or refreshing core practices (e.g., those strategies we get asked for) at a time when educators have space to simply take it in and process. Spring training opens educators up to engaging in the learning, without the worry of more immediate application work to pile on the to-do list. Similar to how we prime our students for learning, we can preview for educators what’s to come and prepare them for application when we return in the fall.
Then, in the fall (or maybe summer for those who have found ways to make summer professional development work), when the content is reinforced, it seems more like a review. In our experience, educators are frequently more receptive to incorporating practices because they’ve had time to reflect and think about how the strategies could play out in the classroom. Pairing learning with (1) resources to scaffold implementation and help teachers plan to use those strategies effectively and (2) consistent feedback and support from leaders creates a cycle of improvement that can make a big difference for all of your students – especially those with diverse learning needs. Why not get more bang for your buck by considering a pre-teach training session and setting yourself up for success next year?