First Week of Special Education

I’m a crazy over planner. While everyone is just trying to get through to the end of a school year, I’m already planning for the first week of school activities in special education for next year. I know, it’s a bit over the top.

But here’s the thing. By the time a parent calls me for advocacy help, the situation is usually pretty dire. They spend months and even years thinking it will get better. Then, they spend weeks or months finding and finally calling an advocate.

boy doing work at school

And over 99% of the time, I see that the situation was entirely preventable. Mind you, I’m not shaming anyone or wagging my finger with “you should have done this!” But, I hate seeing kids in distress, and most of these situations are preventable.

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A child’s IEP struggles don’t begin and end with one incident. It’s a series of system failures. Each of which, by itself, is not really a big deal. But when compounded, they lead to things like school refusal.

I’ve kinda made it my mission to preemptively reach as many parents as possible, with prevention in mind.

desk at a school with apple and pencils

In that spirit, this post was created. These are things you can do today, at home and at school, to ensure a more positive experience for the IEP student. I’ll do a separate list for teachers and parents.

Special Education First Week of School- Parents

  1. Chill out for a week or two on the IEP related services. No, really. Schools do not begin providing PT, OT and speech on Day 1 of a new year. It’s an unrealistic expectation. Providers and teachers are still working together on schedules, pull outs and all that. 30 or 60 minutes of a provided service is not going to make or break your child’s progress. If you don’t hear anything after 2 weeks, then send an email.
  2. Do a Snapshot IEP or All About Me sheet. I have provided templates on this site. It’s the most important, high level stuff that a teacher needs to know on day 1. Yes, they are responsible for implementing the entire IEP. That will not happen on Day 1, so extend a bit of grace and be collaborative.
  3. Ask for a Meet and Greet. If your school doesn’t offer this as a group, email the new teacher(s) and ask if you can swing by for a quick meet and greet to alleviate your child’s fears and anxieties.
  4. Clarify Transportation. Many districts send out letters or postcards with transportation specifics. If you don’t have this a week or so before school starts, call or email so that you’re sure of what is going to happen.
  5. Reassure your child. It doesn’t have to be a sit down formal conversation. But at breakfast, dinner or in the car, just ask. Ask open ended questions about school and how they are feeling about it.
  6. Eat and Sleep. You know your child best. Many kids don’t do well with a whole week of down time. But I would avoid camps and overscheduling your family the week before school starts. Down time to rest and regroup is essential for everyone, but especially kids who have to exert more brain power just to get through a day. I would say the same for September too. Allow evenings and weekends to be down time to rest.

Special Education First Week of School- Teachers

Teachers, I get it. The first week of school is hectic. Kids are still being added and deleted from classes, the schedule changes, and there are hiccups. But what you do that first week will set the tone for the entire year.

  1. Deep breaths and acceptance for whatever an IEP parent brings you. A parent is not trying to tell you how to do your job. They are trying to help their child. They are trying to work through their own fears and anxieties and avoid reliving past disasters. They may bring you a one-sheet about your child or a snapshot IEP. Take it, thank them, and read it. That’s all we’re asking.
  2. You cannot over communicate to an IEP parent. You really can’t. Do you know how many headaches could be avoided, if you all would just send out something about related services? A simple 2-3 sentence email of when you expect to receive the schedule for related services and when they can expect to hear–that would create volumes of goodwill. When parents are left in the dark, the mind demons take over and they assume the worst. This isn’t because of anything you’ve done, but probably some of your predecessors. Even if you don’t know the answer, that’s ok. An email of “I don’t have the finalized schedule of pull out services yet but was told I should expect it by September 15” is fine, and all that IEP parents really need.
  3. Let kids be themselves and have fun. The first several days should be all about getting to know each other, the building, the classroom expectations and the daily activities. Keep it low key and relaxed to alleviate anxious kids. Over the years, what I’ve learned is this-the best thing a teacher can do for a child is to make them feel safe and supported. Our kids already feel different and marginalized much of the time, be the change.
  4. Assess, assess, assess. I don’t mean tests. I mean some skills. Can the child find the bathroom? Can they open their locker? Many kids who struggle with things will not say as much, and certainly not the first week of school. Keep notes of who is struggling with some day to day tasks and consider assigning them a buddy or helper. Or heck, assign everyone a buddy the first month so no one stands out.
  5. Let it go. I was a teacher. I know what’s up. I’ve had those conversations about students. Hear it, but don’t dwell on it. Allow a child a fresh start. Set them up for success. If it didn’t work out in another teacher’s classroom, think about what you know about that teacher and try different strategies. Maybe it just wasn’t a good fit.
  6. Give yourself grace. Teaching is hard. It is stressful and time consuming and all those things. You are doing a great job, you are making a difference in the life of a child. There are lots of armchair critics of public education. Very few of them have been a teacher. Remember that.

Have a great school year everyone!

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