How to Best Support Students with Special Needs During School Closures
With the right communication tools and best practices, we can still serve all of our students.
& Bridges Charter School,
where I teach, 100 percent of our student population has been diagnosed with
either dyslexia or a specific learning disability related to reading
or math. When the pandemic hit, we were in a rush to adopt remote
learning for our specific student population, and we needed a
reliable system to maintain ongoing family communication. We also had
to make sure our students continued to get the proper support, both
academically and emotionally.
a teacher and technology director, I have certainly missed the
face-to-face connection with all of my students. I had contact with
all of our students in the building every day. Not being able to
assist each student with their individual struggles or explain a
concept in a hands-on way has been quite frustrating. However,
everyone has worked very hard to make our transition as easy as
how our school handled the need for rapid communication and remote
learning, along with some tips to help your district meet the needs
of all learners, even the most vulnerable ones.
and Continuous Communication
the pandemic hit, we had to move right into distance learning, and we
had to notify families immediately. Rather than using multiple ways
to communicate and get the message out, we chose to use Bloomz
only for communication to ensure we could reach parents right away.
Although we've used various communication apps in the past, Bloomz
has become our only choice even for making urgent announcements.
school closed, our principal posts a daily greeting and a community
challenge for our students. Parents use Bloomz to send pictures of
student work back to teachers. We use our class feeds to share weekly
overviews and newsletters, and to share our group Zoom invites in a
secure location. Teachers have one place to post updates and parents
know where to check for them.
the most part, the students have had a tough time learning virtually,
since they heavily rely on face-to-face interaction with their
teachers. They have had to go from a small group, individualized
instruction to 1-to-1 device-driven virtual meetings and PDFs to
complete their work — which has been a challenge. However, everyone
has worked hard to make this time as painless as possible. I
called all my students often and sent them cards and small things via
snail mail. We also established a virtual hang-out time twice a week
where we could see each other and talk about whatever came to mind,
not school. Coming
together, troubleshooting, and planning for the future has made a
Care of Yourself During this Trying Time
I mentioned above, I miss seeing my students every day. Trying to
reach them and help them learn or review information virtually is
much harder than classroom teaching. In our regular setting, we can
detach and walk away at the end of the day. Detachment
has become more difficult, since my classroom is now on my living
room couch or dining room table. Once
the time changed and it stayed light outside, I spent many afternoons
working in the yard. I planted and tended a new garden. I find yard
work very cathartic.
the beginning of the closures, I was working 60+ hours, seven days a
week. Then I hit the proverbial brick wall at about the fourth week
and had to make some changes. I try not to work after 6 PM Monday
through Friday and not at all on Saturdays. Since the fourth week,
been stopping and moving the leftover things from that day's to-do
list to the next day. Sometimes I started earlier in the day and
could get things caught up before the rest of the school "woke
up," but I’m a morning person so this wasn't a chore.
Practices for Staying Connected
these obstacles, here are some tips I've learned when it comes to
supporting special needs students during school closures.
with each student daily.
You can do this by phone, chat, or video if possible to get a read
on how your students are feeling.
as many support options as possible.
These can include online platforms to support their individual
needs, text-to-speech, speech-to-text, and video.
available to parents for questions and suggestions.
face-to-face interactions when you can.
We all need human contact.
out “snail mail” for encouragement.
Showing your students that you took the time to write to them goes a
Be clear and consistent with your availability and leave yourself
time to unplug.
the pandemic continue to keep students out of school, we’ll come up
with different plans to ensure our most vulnerable students receive
the services they need, both at home and at school. Creating and
implementing a detailed remote learning strategy for the future is
essential to serving all students, no matter what learning challenges