5 tips for Distance Learning for Special Education

As teachers, we never expected to ever teach from home, especially students with disabilities that need us to be there supporting them.  This is not what we signed up for, but we have to keep everyone safe during this pandemic.  So let's do this together!

Here are 5 quick tips to help you get started with e-learning. 

1. Establish Communication and Set Expectations
Now more than ever, it is extremely important to establish great parent communication.  Find a way to connect with every parent.  Make sure you set expectations for them as well.  My entire district established “office hours” for each department that we are available to answer questions.  I am available every day from 8am-9am.  Some districts set office hours all day.  Try not to work outside of those office hours because you will become so burnt out.  Teaching from home is a lot more difficult than in the classroom, so make sure you have everything in order so you don't lose your mind. Also, don't forget to document all of your parent/student contacts.

Here are a few examples of how to stay connected with your parents.

2.  Set Realistic Expectations for yourself and your students
We are going through a worldwide pandemic, guys…  Give yourself (and everyone else) some grace.  We are trying to work full time from home and take care of the house and kids.  We are all struggling with not being able to see family and friends and we are ALL going a little stir crazy.  I have parents who have lost their jobs and have lots of young children at home and they are juggling so much that they don't have much time at the end of the day to teach their child with special needs.  And you know what?  That is okay.  Try not to overwhelm yourself or your parents.  We are all juggling so much.  You may even have some families that have it all together and want “all the things” and that is okay too.  Just offer your support and services.  Sometimes just even being there as an ear to listen to is enough.  Don't overwork yourself and make sure you take time to relax.

3. Set Up Your Teaching Platform
Most school districts will be using the same platform within the district, but it doesn't really matter which one you use as long as you set one up.  We were required to set up a Google classroom.  Most of my kids are not even accessing the classroom I put together.  Some parents want it all emailed to them because they don't understand the tech behind it.  Some parents want stuff dropped off at their house.  Some parents want no work at all. And this is still okay.  But still set up a place to house all of the work that you are assigning.  You can watch this tutorial on how to set up a Google Classroom if you still need to set something up. Having somewhere to house things is a great way to show not only administration but the state, that you are working from home.   It also lets you organize and schedule out all your lesson plans so that you can do this on your own schedule so that you can balance this crazy life.   I like to assign things in advance and schedule it to be posted at a later date so that I have the leisure to work on my own schedule.

Sample of  what a Google Classroom may look like (this is 8 different classrooms)

4. Stay Organized!
With not being in the classroom, I am feeling a little unorganized.  I have everything I need back in my classroom and we are NOT allowed to go back there at all.  This includes my calendar.  Make sure that you are doing the same thing that you would be doing in the classroom, and that includes writing down all of your important dates and making to-do lists!   I have missed a few Zoom calls because I don't even remember what the day was, so set up your calendar and get yourself organized.  Make sure that you are writing out a work log, parent contact log and getting all of the regular paperwork done!   I am still working on IEP's and exit summarize for all my seniors. 

If you still need a way to stay organized (the old fashioned way)  you can grab my teacher binder to help keep you organized here.  Here is a sample page from that resource that keeps me organized now!

5. Using Digital Resources
I am soooo used to using hands-on materials with all of my students.  So many of the activities that we would do on a day-to-day basis were hands-on like task boxes, file folder games or something else that was laminated.  But how do I reach my students now through distance learning?  Well, I have found some great activities on both TeacherpayTeachers and the Boom Learning website that I have been able to assign to my students.  Check out virtual field trips, interactive PDF's, or digital learning task cards like BOOM cards.  All of these types of things are very easily assigned in Google Classroom or any other platform that you can send a hyperlink to.   It's so easy.  Because my students are so used to task boxes, I have decided to use the BOOM cards as a replacement.  There are so many different ones on the website! 

This is a free BOOM card deck on my TpT store, go try it out!

I have been working on hard on trying to convert all of my Life Skills Task boxes into BOOM cards!    If you don't own my Life Skills Task Boxes, you can check them out here. But I have finally finished converting them.   All you have to do is insert the hyperlink to any platform, the student will then click on the link and it will take them directly to the BOOM learning website.  It's that easy!

Here are all 16 BOOM task cards all bundled up for you!


Wait… my students don't have access to the internet so they can't access these resources!

I have a solution for you.  If your student does not have internet access and you are sending materials home for them to complete.  There is a print option for all BOOM cards.  You will lose the audio and self-correction feature, but at least these students can now have access.  So to the kids who have it, send them a link, the kids that don't send them some printables!  It's that easy!

I am also able to collect data using a paid membership through BOOM.  It tracks all the student data for me so that I have something to progress monitor.  It is by no means perfect, but it is something. 

I want to emphasis to make sure that you are understanding and flexible as we all try to adjust to this new norm.  It is okay for you to feel like you have no idea what you are doing.  I think we all feel like this.   Remember that this is only a season in our life and this too shall pass.  I know it seems really hard right now, but if we do this together we will make it. 

No matter what stage of distance learning you are in, remember that we are all in this together.  Reach out for help if you need it and give yourself some grace.


Stay Healthy!!

I am a High School, self-contained Autism teacher from Central New York, who is passionate about individualizing student learning. I am a mommy of three, lover of all things Disney, married to my best friend and addicted to chocolate!! I hope that you find great ideas and inspiration here, so welcome!!

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