FIVE Common Mistakes from the Special Education Classroom!

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

As an admin, I visit several classrooms each week. I see great teaching, and I see not so great teaching. I’ve seen several running themes across my experiences. I’ve compiled the five most common mistakes I have seen in the special education classroom, in hopes to help you identify if
you’re making any and how you can fix it if you are! I promise it will make your life easier!

I think this one is HUGE in special ed. classrooms. Visuals should be included for schedules, embedded in classroom expectations, used in prompting, used within instruction and reinforcements, and to help calm students down. Visuals help promote independence and save time and energy of classroom staff.

My biggest pet peeve is staff presuming competence when a student is in crisis or even in instruction. In instruction, I’ve seen many teachers who ask students to read or even complete read aloud’s to students and presume that they know and understand all of the words without any visuals. It’s especially telling when students will complete work, and can’t answer any of the questions. Not always – but in many cases, we’ve broken it down to determining that the student didn’t have an understand what the actual meaning of the words were. Once we help shape that meaning, students have a better foundation to build comprehension on.

During meltdowns, we, as teachers, tend to revert to trying to talk kids out of their melt downs. Why on earth, when we use pictures during instruction for students, and give them visuals galore, do we STOP using them when they are in crisis mode!? We think we can talk them into stopping their melt downs. I’ll let you in on a secret to some- Visuals HELP! Even if we know that our kiddos can understand our words, visuals help to register the action, and many students are able to comprehend pictures before they can receptively understand and follow our words. I could go on and on honestly! But I’ll stop right here. J

I interview and help hire new teachers for our classes all the time. Another big mistake I see in interviewing teachers, and visiting classrooms, is teachers not implementing a classroom wide management system. When I ask this question in an interview, I typically get, “well I do different things.” When I press further, they can provide behavior interventions they would do for different students, but don’t seem to understand that even the students who don’t have behavioral issues can be a part of using the classroom wide management system plan.

Classroom wide management plans should be the foundation of your classroom. You can use clip charts, a token economy, behavior economy, any type of system where you are recognizing good behavior and providing a reinforcement for that good behavior across the classroom.

Here's an example of a token board:

Some easy websites that can get you started are…

& many of you are likely familiar with Class Dojo, but it’s worth repeating. 

I’m going to do some math for you here. Are you ready?

Down time + a room full of bored students = time for behavioral outbursts.

Do you see what I did there? ;)

But seriously, some teachers struggle to realize the importance of having their materials ready at the BEGINNING of the day, and NOT having students wait around while they prep parts of the next activity.

Just as important as being prepared it’s amply import to have a set schedule for students & Staff. It helps everyone know what to expect every day!

I’ve observed in plenty of classrooms where I struggle to not fall asleep, so I can only imagine the poor kids having trouble staying engaged as well. I’ve seen several teachers do the “stand and deliver” In special education- I can ALMOST guarantee you that your students are NOT auditory learners! So ADD some movement, some visuals, and let them get their hands on some manipulatives! Instead of letting students read about planets, having them watch videos, make a solar system model, sing songs, and research about the planets.

Do your students struggle with fine motor skills? There's no rule that says they have to do pencil paper activities everyday. Mix it up. Do some "Turn Its" or some dry erase marker fun. Just that change can make a task a bit more desirable for a student. That’s just one example, but think of how each activity you present can be presented in a different way to engage your students!

Let’s face it. As teachers, we are the decisive factors in our classroom. Haim Ginott said it best:


WHAT we say matters. HOW we say it matters. HOW we react the situations in the classroom matters. If a student only hears, “NO, STOP, DON’T” how do they know what they should be doing?  


That’s why we are in this profession. We want to be the difference makers in our student’s lives. We want all the work and interventions that we pour in to them to MATTER. So it makes sense that it starts with us.

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