Thursday, September 10, 2015

Top 10 Tips for Special Ed Teachers

I am reposting this post, because it is so relevant for this time of year. Special ed friends, it is so important to know your kids and to be prepared for a new year!

Here are my top 10 tips for special education teachers:


1. Read those IEPs and psychological reports

Do you want to know who you kids are? Read their reports and IEP! These two very important documents give you (almost) all of the information you will need about your students. I say 'almost' because you can get so much great information from the paperwork, but some of the best information you will get on the students will come from the student's previous teachers and their parents! (More on this in a minute) As far as getting all of the pertinent information you will need the child's due process folder is the place to go. Oh, and don't just read...take notes! That's what 'good readers' do, right?! :) I suggest writing down the student's category of disability, due dates, minutes and location of services, related services, goals, and any information that is of extra special importance (behavior, programming, special transportation, etc).

2. Meet the Parents

Take the time to send a note, postcard, make a phone call, use a carrier pigeon ;) Just make contact with the parents. I have to admit that I used to be kind of nervous about calling parents, until I became one. I know that I want to know my children's teachers, so I figure other parents must feel the same way. Your students are going to know their child's classroom teacher, but are they going to know you? Make sure they do. Introduce yourself! You are taking care of their precious child's most unique needs. They deserve to know that someone qualified is watching out for and creating materials that will make their child be successful.

 3. Prepare Materials

After you have gathered information from paperwork and people, now is the time to prepare the materials you will need to make successful programming for your students. Some of your students may have sensory needs, need a visual schedule, or a behavior plan. Have something prepared for the first day, so the students know your expectations and are started off on the right foot. Remain flexible though, what you prepared may need some tweaking after you meet the child in person.

 This leads me to #4...

 4. Be Flexible

This should probably be numero uno! Special education teachers should take a class in flexibilty. Schedules, students, due dates, are constantly changing. You have to hang in there and roll with the punches. Find a way to get organized so when the times get tough, you are able to bend with change! I can not tell you how many times I changed my schedule last year to accomodate different needs, gaining students, losing students, etc. I have learned the best laid plans can come to an end quickly when someone starts having a meltdown at 8am or forgets to take their medication and you find out about it at lunchtime! Just keep a level head and go with the flow!

 5. Work WITH Your Co-Teachers 

One thing that is difficult for some teachers is to go into a classroom of another teacher. Some people welcome you with open arms and others feel like you are cramping their space. My advice is to feel the person out, find out their teaching strategy, study their classroom management and then figure out where your personality and strengths will fit in. I do not want to go in and take over another teacher's classroom, I want to feel like I belong there and feel wanted and needed. Saying that, you do have to be upfront with your co-teachers and ask what they are comfortable with. See if your coteacher wants you to have huge, medium, or small part in the classroom. Just remember to keep the kids in mind first of all.

 6. It's All About the Kids

Seriously! It is! Don't get caught up in the 'adult' junk! If what you are doing is not for the kids then is it worth doing. Do everything with the students in mind, not yourself!

 7. Is This Eternally Significant? 

Some "seasoned" teacher friends of mind always would say, "Is this (event, test, project) eternally signficant?" If it is isn't, then is in worth getting worked up over? Probably not. Keep things in perspective. Remember not to take things to personally, especially with "our" students. There will be days of meltdowns and tantrums, but so many times the meltdown isn't about you or even school at all. Keep a level head, take a deep breath, stay calm and deal with situation. This to shall pass.

 8. Get Organized 

Purchase a big desk calendar, and at the beginning of the year, write down all of your annual review due dates, re-evaluation due dates, and any other important dates. Make sure you look at this calendar daily and know what is coming up. Don't get behind, because there is no catching up!

 9. Get Organized #2

Find a monitoring system that works for you. Everyone is different and monitoring of IEP goals can be accomplished 5000 different ways. I like to use an excel document to plot my probe percentages that I gather from curriculum based measures, rubrics, and other assessments. Find your way! 

10. Document, document, document & Save 

In special ed, "they" say, "If it isn't written down, it didn't happen." Document everything! Parent phone calls, meeting notes, co-teacher conversations, work samples...everything! Save that documentation and also save work samples. You will need these at some point in your career. I like to keep my documentation in a binder that is tabbed for each student. I keep work samples in a file folder box with a lid. Each student has a labeled hanging file folder that stores weekly work samples for each IEP goal.

 *And a BONUS*

Become One with the Paperwork

Since I first mentioned becoming a special education teacher, people have groaned and told me that it is so much paperwork. They weren't kidding! There is a lot of paperwork. You have to find a way to stay on top of it (maybe that's why I have 2 tips for being organized)! I like to make one afternoon about logging in my monitoring probes and filing paperwork. If you don't do it, then you will be spending so much time at the end of the year filing and worrying. Don't do that to yourself. Get a system! :)

I hope you have a wonderful new school year!

Monday, August 10, 2015

Organizing the FILES (Sped Help)

The beginning of a new school year brings so much joy, anticipation, excitement and PAPERWORK!  Ahhhhh!!  A new school year is a great time to reorganize and decide what has worked for you in the past and what no longer works.  For years, I have a had a Special Education binder that included a copy of my students' IEPs, IEP at a glance, accommodation checklist, progress monitoring, and parent communication.  It was helpful that all of the documents were in the same place, but it could be some cumbersome to carry home when I needed to work on a student's IEP for a meeting.  This year I was inspired by my blogging friend Erin at You Aut A Know and how she organized some of her files.

The first thing I thought of was how awesomely beautiful the color coding looked!  After I got past the initial beauty and realized just how great this would work for me, I knew I had to get right on doing this for this school year.
Hanging files in my desk drawer
What's inside a hanging file

This file is ready to hang

Here's a little explanation of what you will find in each folder:
 Each of my students has one hanging file folder and inside that hanging file are three matching manilla folders.  Folder number one is a copy of the current IEP, folder number two hold monitoring sheets (completed and blank ones and copies of progress data), and folder three is copy of parent notes and other communications.  I like this organizational system so much better than my binder, because it allows me to grab just the one folder I need.  I can take this one folder to a meeting or home to work on it without lugging around a whole binder.

Of course, I couldn't totally do away with a binder, so I do still have one binder I use for progress monitoring.  This binder is 1 1/2 inches and only contains data sheets for current data I am tracking.  I also keep my accommodation checklist in this binder, a copy of my schedule and my para's schedule, and a copy of the IEP at a Glance.  I like to have this information on hand at a moment's notice to check if a certain student receives a certain accommodation ('s the beginning of the year and I don't have this all memorized...YET!)  This binder is much thinner and easy to carry with me from class to class while I am coteaching.

Good luck getting the beginning of the year paperwork filed and organized!

Sunday, July 26, 2015

SPED Summer Blog Hop: Week 5 The 1st Week of School

This is the fifth and final week of the SPED Summer Blog Hop!  Thanks so much to Kyle at Kinderspedventures for being such a wonderful host!

This week's topic is The 1st Week of School!

The first week of school is always such a blur!  It's a time to get to know your students, to make contact with your parents, and get your schedule figured out!

 I also like to bring my resource class kids to my room, so they can become familiar with it and so they know where to find me if they need me for something within the first few days of school.  To help my students get used to my room, I created a Back to School Scavenger Hunt.  The scavenger hunt has two parts.  The first part is about hunting for items in the room.  This allows they to explore the new space and find where all of the important stuff is located.  The second part is a get to know you activity where the students have to find a friend that fits the characteristics listed in the box.  You can download the scavenger hunt for FREE by clicking the picture below!

We only have 7 weekdays left until we are back to school!  Wow! This summer really flew by!
How much longer do you have left for your summer break?

I hope you have enjoyed the Sped Summer Blog Hop!  Don't forget to hop on over to Pam's Blog:
Mrs. P's Specialties

Monday, July 20, 2015

#weteachsped Back 2 School Ebook {Freebies and Giveaways Galore!}

I am so excited to bring this special treat to you!!  20+ of my best blogging buddies and myself have compiled a BTS ebook great for special education (and regular education) teachers!!  Each page is written by a different blogger and features a tip for back to school and FREEBIES!!  That's right!  Freebies on EVERY page!!!

To get your copy of this amazing e-book, click on the ebook cover image below!

And for some more fun...
My giveaway features a $20 TARGET gift card!!
Enter the giveaway below:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Sped Summer Blog Hop: Week 4 Working with Paraprofessionals

Welcome to Week 4 of the Sped Summer Blog Hop!  

If you have missed any of the past Sped Blog Hop posts, click below for the link you need!

This week, as you can see above is about working with paraprofessionals (classroom assistants, instructional assistants, etc).  You know what they don't teach in college coursework?  How to work with paraprofessionals!  That's've had several years of experience working with paraprofessionals and I feel pretty good about it now.  However, when I was straight out of college and many of the people I worked with were older than me and had been in special education longer than I had been, well, it was intimidating to say the least.  I have some tips for all of you to make working with paraprofessionals a little more comfortable.

1.  Respect!  Respect their opinions, their ideas, their perspective.  Some of my paras have been in special education or working with students for years and some have been brand new.  Everyone brings something special to the table, everyone has their own life experiences and it is so important to get to know the people that will be working with you day in day out.  Ask your paras what they expect, what they think the job they are doing is about, for suggestions, and listen to what they say.  You never know when someone is going to know or say something that is going to be useful for your students.

2.  Leave the adult "stuff" at home.  As mentioned in number 1, everyone is bringing something different to the table.  We all have our own "junk," but keep in mind that you and your paras are here for the kids, first and foremost.  If there is something going on, be sympathetic, be a good listener, but be professional and keep the student first and deal with the other stuff at a different time.  

3.  Communicate! If there are things going on at home or school, keep those lines of communication open.  My para and I shared a room and were able to talk daily, but there have been schools I've been in that I don't see my paras all day, everyday and at the end of the day everyone is ready to go home.  Schedule a time to meet with your staff.  This allows you time to address needs and gives your staff time to express needs.  This is something I would actually like to implement myself this year.  Sometimes, I have great intentions, but really need to be more intentional...this is my year for that! :)

3.  Training.  As a special educator, you have the experience and the schooling that qualifies you to teach students with special needs, but your para probably will have little to no training.  It is important to train your para about various types of disabilities (depending on your student needs), how to handle specific situations, and set clear expectations about what he/she should be doing with the students or in the classroom.

4.  Teach expectations!  We teach expectations to our students, but sometimes we leave this important piece out when training an adult.  Sometimes we assume that because the para is an adult working with children with special needs, that they should know or already have the same expectations as you.  That is not always the case.  I have and have had WONDERFUL paraprofessionals, but it can be confusing for that person if I have not told them what I expect of them.  At the beginning of the year it would be a good idea to have a meeting or conversation with your paras to outline your expectations.  
{You can find my paraprofessional handbook that lays out all of the expectations at my TPT store: The ABC Guide to Paraprofessionals' Roles and Responsibilities.  This is one of my best sellers and has great reviews!}
Special Education:The ABC Guide to Paraprofessionals' Role

Another great way to communicate your expectations is with your schedule.  I shared in Week 1 of this blog hop my para schedules.  Decide who/what/where you want your para to be with based on IEP needs and then schedule that para accordingly.  I like to include 4 columns on the paraprofessional's schedule:
Location (classroom, resource room, lunch room, playground...)
Students needing assistance
Task to complete

I have found this to be extremely helpful and important!
Example of Paraprofessional Schedule

5.  Paras sometimes get the dirty job...seriously!  From changing diapers to cleaning vomit...the life of a para can be less than glamorous.  Show your appreciation to your paraprofessional.  Switch places with them sometimes.  Don't ask your para to do anything you wouldn't do yourself and give them a break sometime and actually do those less desirable jobs yourself!

Paraprofessionals are so important in the special education classroom!  I am so happy for the amazing paras (that are in da buildin'-----Amy---that one's for you!) and I couldn't do my job without them!!


Hop along to Pam's blog!! 

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Special Ed Summer Blog Hop: Week 3 Back to School Forms

Welcome Back for another great week of tips and information from your favorite 
special ed. bloggers!

This week we will be bringing you Back to School Forms:

I love the beginning of a new school year!  It brings me so much excitement!  I love meeting my new students and parents or getting back in contact with my kids from the previous year.  I consider myself lucky to be able to have the same kids for 3 years in a row, since I work with grades 3-5.  I get to see so much progress across those three years and build some amazing relationships!  

To get ready for the beginning of a new school year, there are several forms I like to send home and prepare for myself so I can become familiar with my students from Day 1.  
1.  A letter home to parents to introduce myself 
2.  A parent survey to allow parents to tell me about their child (including strengths/needs and goals)

You can purchase my Parent Communication Pack (which includes the letter and survey) HERE

I also set up a special education binder with each of my students' information in one handy place.  My binder includes:
  • IEP at a Glance
  • Copy of the most recent IEP and Behavior Plan (if applicable)
  • Parent Contact Log
  • Accommodation Checklist
  • Copies of blank notes to send home  (I'm adding these blank notes this year as a reminder to myself to send home some positive notes everyone once in a while)

This is the cover for my caseload binder!  If you would like to have one of your own, click on the picture and download yours for free! :)  (Font by Hello Fonts and Graphics by Melonheadz)

My IEP at a Glance can be downloaded HERE or clicking on the picture below :)
Special Education: IEP AT A GLANCE

I hope you are enjoying your summer and this great blog hop!  
Head on over to Pam's blog:

Mrs. P's Specialties

Wednesday, July 8, 2015


Who loves a bargain?!  I know as a teacher and a mommy I am always looking for a good deal!  Well, I have one to share with you today (and today only)!

Several of my special education blogger friends and I are offering Dollar Deals at our TPT stores.

Here's what you need to know to find all of the great deals on TPT:

1. Head on over to TPT and type in #speddollardeals in the search engine
2.  Choose from some amazing products at a great deal.  Items are typically priced in the $2-4 range.
3.  What are you waiting for!?   

A couple of my best sellers will be available at my TPT for just ONE DOLLAR!!

Special Education:The ABC Guide to Paraprofessionals' Role

Special Education: Co-Teacher Collaboration (Forms for Eff

Happy Shopping!!!

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Special Ed. Summer Blog Hop: Week 2 Classroom Setup

Welcome back for Week 2 of our Special Ed. Summer Blog Hop!

 I hope you enjoyed Week 1 and you were able to learn something that you could take back to your classroom this upcoming school year.  This week's topic is...

As a special education teacher, there are some years that I spend more time in the resource room and other years I spend most of my day out in the general education classrooms doing coteaching with my partner teachers.  This year, much like last year, will be a healthy dose of both settings.  The setup of my resource classroom is based on student needs from year to year.  There are some years when I only really need a table to do small group intervention and then there are years (like last year)  that I had several grade and ability levels of students all in the resource room at one time and I had to design and then redesign my room to help manage my classroom effectively.  

Any way the needs of my students go, I feel like there are areas of my room that are important to incorporate.  The graphic above gives an outline to this post and what I consider when setting up my classroom from year to year.
 I think that my room needs to echo the design of a "regular" classroom as much as possible.  I believe that helps my students feel more comfortable and makes my room feel like all of the other classrooms in the building.

Here is a list of the areas that I like to incorporate into my classroom setup:
1.  Small Group Intervention 
2.  Individual Work Station (or 1:1 Teaching Area)
3.  Computer/Technology
4.  Library
5.  Cool Down Space
6.  Teacher Area
7.  Materials/Classroom Supplies

My classroom is currently in a state of disarray for summer cleaning, so I will post updated pictures of my room closer to the beginning of the school year.  Until then, I'll share with you an easy way I have found to "work" on my classroom without actually being there or moving the first piece of furniture.  By using PowerPoint, I can design my classroom at home :)  The gray pieces are furniture that can be moved around and the blue pieces are fixtures in my classroom that must stay where they are.

I do not overdecorate in my classroom for a couple of reasons.  First of all, I personally do not like a lot of "stuff" around.  If I do not really work on keeping my space organized then I can quickly let it get out of control.  So, if I start with only what is actually need then I am less likely to create a mess of all of the cutesy, teacher things laying around.  Second of all, the students that I work with typically have diagnoses of ADHD or ADD, anxiety, autism, learning disorders, etc. and limiting the visual clutter in my classroom helps them become less distracted.  I have been in rooms that even I can't concentrate in because of all of the posters on the wall or bright colors.  Now, I'm not hating if you are that type of teacher, it just doesn't work for me and typically doesn't work for my students.  Neat, labeled and organized helps my students and help teaches them to be that way by example.  

Lastly, classroom management is extremely important in the resource room.  Beyond setting up high expectations, clearly outlined rules, and a structured environment, a good behavior management and incentive program has always been helpful in my classroom.  I have students for a very short period of time during the day, but we have a LOT to get done in that amount of time.  It is important that each and every minute is used efficiently and effectively.  A visual behavior system has been useful to implement in my resource room over the years.  
In the past I have used a clip chart system with students earning a point if they stay on green for the class.  
I have also used a class store.  This worked well for me last year, because my reading program incorporated points and I used the reading points and behavior points as currency to shop from the store.  
This year, I have a few different ideas that I promise to share with you as the new school year gets closer!

To find out more about how others setup up their classrooms, hop on to the next blog:
Mrs. P's Specialties

Wednesday, July 1, 2015


It's July!  That's crazy!  Only 5 more weeks until school starts back THAT'S crazy!!  Today I'm joining up with Farley from Oh' Boy 4th Grade for her July Currently...

Listening:  My kids discovered the movie "The Emperor's New Groove" this morning.  They missed this movie the first time around and can't get enough of it this morning.  I think they have the right idea on this dreary, rainy day!  It's a great day for snuggles, blankets, snacks and movie watching!

Loving:  For the past 3 weeks I have been teaching at Camp TLC.  This is a 3 hour camp that goes on 3 days a week during the summer.  The camp is for students in my school district that have autism.  This is my first year to work the camp and I have to say that I have had a really great time.  We have time for morning work, social skills lessons, sensory, art/crafts, gross motor play, snack (that the kids help make), and a weekly field trip.  If you follow me on Instagram you can see some of the fun we have been having at camp!  And if you don't follow...well what are you waiting for?  Go to!  
Week 1: Camp Theme  
We went on a nature hike, ate smores trail mix and painted with marshmallows!

Week 2:  Beach Theme
Beach themed cupcakes and sand painting (the sand was actually made from colored salt that we made ourselves) rounded out this fun week!

Week 3:  Happy 4th of July Week
This week is all about being Star-Spangled!

Thinking:  I can't quit thinking about school.  I think working camp has kept me in the school mode this summer.  I have some really great ideas swirling around in my brain and have already created a few things for some of my students for next year that I can't wait to share with them and their parents. I also am excited about some new additions to our staff!  We will have an even more amazing special ed staff next year!!! 

Wanting:  Although, this rainy day is enjoyable, I'm ready for an all day hot, sunshin-y day!

Needing:  I need to clean the kitchen.  Meh!

All Star:  I am an all star collaborator!  :)  One of the best parts of my job is to be able to collaborate with others.  Parents, teachers, administration, and my blogging friends are all people that I get to collaborate with.  These people keep ideas flowing through my mind constantly! 

So, for now...I hope you are having a wonderful summer break!  Remember to come right back here every Sunday for the Special Ed Summer Blog Hop!!

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Special Ed. Summer Blog Hop: Week 1 Scheduling

I am honored to be a part of the Special Ed. Summer Blog Hop hosted by KinderSpedAdventures.  My blogging buddies and I will be sharing posts with all of you wonderful readers for the next five weeks.  You can find the schedule below:

This week's post is all about SCHEDULING!

 Ok...I've got to come out right here and tell you that scheduling is my nemesis...and it becomes even more difficult when you are a Type B kind of person!  I am Kim Hinton and I do not love making schedules!  Whew!  Now with that off my chest, I can get on with it! :)

No matter how hard it is for me to make a schedule, it must get accomplished.  So, to begin making my schedule and my paraprofessional's schedule, I gather together the essentials:
1.  School Master Schedule (You gotta know when specials, lunch, recess, and all of the academics are taught)
2.  Grade Level Schedules
3.  Student IEPs to ensure all minutes are met

First, I begin making my schedule by checking the IEP minutes for all of my students.  I write down the student's name, resource minutes and subject for resource, coteaching minutes and subject for coteaching.

Next, I ensure that I am able to get in the regular ed classroom for coteaching during (at least part of) reading and math.  *Note: I teach special education for 3 grade levels.  Thankfully, my colleagues have been good about staggering start times of math and reading so that I can get to each grade level. Be a team player, people, it will make your life easier!!*  In my school district, it is considered best practice that if a student has resource  (reading, for example) that they also receive coteaching minutes in the regular classroom.  Makes sense, right?  How can we expect a student that needs additional support (resource support) in an academic area to be able to "survive" in the classroom without supports?  Also, in my district, the students must have access to the general curriculum.  The students must attend general ed. reading/math/writing and resource has to be at a different time and "extra" instruction on top of the general instruction.

Then, I begin fitting my schedule around the master schedule and teacher's daily schedules.  This is the hardest part!  It's like a 1000 piece puzzle and at times I am trying to "bang" one piece of the puzzle into the next, but at the end it all just fits so perfectly.  (Well, until someone moves in and I have to redo the whole darn thing!)

Here is what my schedule looks like (with student names removed of course):

I like to have the time, place/teacher, and student's needs listed on my schedule. On my paraprofessional's schedule I like to include the same 3 columns in addition to a final column outlining the task I expect the to be completed during this time.  I keep this very general so that the schedule can be used throughout the year and not changed every week.

This is an example of my paraprofessional's schedule from last year:

Finally, everyone's schedules are complete and ready to put into use.  Flexibility is the key word, however, because there is always going to be something that needs to be tweaked a little or changed.

Next week, I will be back with this Summer Sped Blog Hop with all you need to know about Classroom Setup!

Hop on over to Ms. P's Specialties for some more advice about scheduling!

Mrs. P's Specialties