Welcoming special-needs students to your school requires a few basic steps.
Tips for School & District Administrators

How to Make Sure Your Classroom Helps Special-Needs Students Succeed

By Brian Gatens

One of the most positive and heartening trends in American schools has been the inclusion of special-needs students into typical classrooms.

Welcoming special-needs students to your school requires a few basic steps.Of course, this does not happen easily. It requires significant teamwork by the school, accommodations by the classroom teacher and a lot of trial and error to determine the best program. Classroom teachers need to take these steps to help the process go as smoothly as possible:

Understand the IEP

The student’s individualized education plan (IEP) is the most important document in the process of including the child in the classroom. Depending on the child’s needs, the classroom setting and experience will have to be modified in certain ways. The IEP spells out just what that looks like.

Review the IEP as soon as it is ready, and start thinking about how you’ll meet its requirements. Be prepared to modify some of your classroom practices to meet the expectations of the IEP.

Establish a dialogue with your supervisor

After reviewing the IEP, make an appointment to meet with your supervisor and/or a member of your school’s child study team (the group responsible for designing the IEP) to review any areas that need clarification or that you don’t understand. Seek specific advice on exactly what you must do to comply with the IEP.

The IEP is a legal document mutually agreed upon by the school and family. Failing to fulfill the IEP’s details is a serious matter, so you have to pay close attention to its requirements.

Coordinate with support staff

A special-needs child may require the assistance of other staff members, including a one-to-one aide, an occupational/physical therapist and a school counselor.

The IEP will most likely spell out the weekly time requirements for these sessions. This may conflict with certain regularly scheduled class activities, so everybody needs to be flexible. Forward copies of your planned (and hoped-for) schedule to other staff, and give ample to time to change as needed. Schools operate with so many moving parts that everybody has to coordinate their efforts to stay in compliance with the IEP.

Offer timely and accurate feedback

Plan for some trial and error while the student integrates into your classroom. To keep the trail-and-error time as short as possible, the child study team may require you to observe, record and report written feedback.

Be punctual in returning this feedback; otherwise, delays will stall the entire process. As the classroom teacher, you’re closest to the situation and your feedback is essential to giving the student as inclusive an experience as possible.

Practice compassion

I know first-hand that parenting a special-needs child brings out a wide range of emotions and experiences. Every family finds its own ways to come to terms with their child’s challenges. Some take it in stride and get right to work addressing what needs to be done. Other families are in denial about the challenges ahead, and some express resentment and anger over the situation.

Regardless of how the family reacts to their child’s needs, you need to do your best to take a kind and compassionate approach. This doesn’t mean that you say yes to every request or ignore your other students for the child, but that you work hard to see the parents’ point of view, and do your best to be as kind and understanding as possible.

Remember your vital role

You are in the unique position to not only educate a child, but to use your professionalism, kindness and hard work to ease the challenges felt by the family. To be included in the life of the school, to know what it is like to have a typical school experience and to be surrounded by their peers — these are all tremendous gifts you can give to your special-needs students.

Want to learn effective teaching strategies for an inclusive education environment? Read more about our Master of Education Curriculum & Instruction program option for the Inclusive Classroom concentration.

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