More often than not, the people who know a child with disabilities the best are their parents or caregivers. Scott said to reach out to them, even before school starts. Learn everything you can about the child’s history, level of functioning, and other relevant information to make the environment accommodating.
“Parents know so much more than I could know in a month,” Scott said.
Much like meeting the student’s parents, talking to their past teachers provides valuable insight into the student and their needs.
One question Scott asks is “What are behaviors I can avoid that I might not recognize as an obstacle?” An example of an obstacle would be tone of voice. If a student reacts poorly to a strong tone of voice, Scott can begin to be more cognizant of how he speaks and avoid a situation that may be disruptive for the student.
Scott recommends starting off the year by allowing the student with a disability to focus first on skills at which they excel when contributing to class projects. This success will build their confidence and empower them to branch out into subjects they may not feel strong in. This approach can also be educational for students without disabilities as they get to know their classmate.
Scott also recommends modifying assignments in a way that challenges the student, but also makes he or she feel successful. For example, if the student is working on a group project with their classmates, perhaps make their part of the assignment more focused and specific so that their specific responsibilities are clear.
In the classroom, Scott ensures that everything is very straightforward and clear. There are schedules and clear instructions, which provide a sense of safety and routine.
Scott also facilitates class meetings to talk about what everyone’s working on inside and outside of the classroom. These meetings provide an opportunity for every student to contribute to the conversation and feel included.
Trust in and build a positive working relationship with the second teacher in the room. “It’s another person to check in, who has your back,” Scott said.
Remember, for the students with disabilities, it’s important to understand that working with their peers has outcomes that are truly valuable.
“It’s really exciting when you see the growth every student can make. Instead of going to work by themselves or with one peer, they’re here with peers who have known them for a lot of their lives,” Scott said. He added, “[The students] know each other so well. It’s incredible. It can knock your socks off the way these kids look out for each other.”
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