Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Collaborating for Successful Transitions

For the past three years our school has started our back-to-school teacher work week with a meeting about the students who qualify for special education. Almost everyone attends this meeting - all of the special education teachers, the resource teachers, the music, art, PE, and librarian, instructional assistants, and all of the administrators. The meeting takes all afternoon, and each grade level cycles through so that each team can talk about setting all of our kids up for success.

As we sat in the meeting yesterday, I couldn't help but be in awe of the teachers I work with. Every child was spoken of with love. As we passed the children from one grade level to another, teachers were full of recommending strategies that work, sharing the children's strengths, and the children's favorite things. "He loves to write about dinosaurs! If he can't think of something to write, prompt him with dinosaurs" "It is important to build a strong relationship with him early on, so one thing you can do is ask about his little sister. He loves talking about her." The art, music, and PE teachers shared their perspectives on the children. The art teacher discovered that one child works best when she lets him stand up, and the music teachers shared favorite songs, or which children love to dance. We shared behavior plans from the year before, but also considered how it is a new year and some children may have matured, or may be ready for a different plan. Teachers were volunteering to be lunch buddies for some children, and check-in buddies were put in place for some kids for the first few days. Every discussion centered around how to set each and every child up for success. How are we going to make sure every one of our students has the skills to be a successful member of the classroom, and what are we going to do as a school to help the child get there?

When we considered doing something like this for the first time a few years ago we worried about the risk of tainting a teacher's perspective of a student before the teacher was able to form a relationship with the child. To counteract this, we start the meeting with each team by reminding all of us that we to be mindful of the language we use when we discuss our students. We ourselves are very careful in how we present the students. We want our children set up for success. If we know a child gets overwhelmed by loud noises, needs an extra warning before cleaning up, or does best when standing up to work, it helps to share those tips with this year's teachers. They may find that the child has matured and these tips no longer ring true, but they are able to be prepared day one. Teachers are prepared with tips on how to build positive relationships with these students the minute the walk into the classroom, which is essential for so many of our students. Because we are doing this in a formal meeting, instead of a second grade teacher just grabbing the third grade teacher in the hallway to pass on some tips, everything is kept professional, positive, and the tips are shared with everyone who may work with the child that year.

It is stunning to sit in a room full of educators who devote so much time the first week back to going over each and every child who needs something extra. Teacher work week is not a time teachers have extra time to drop everything for three hour long meetings, and yet so many people came willing to share strategies and volunteer time to create smooth transitions for our students.

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