I have always found that lengthy school holidays are great times to review every aspect of your class, from classroom management, reviewing individual goals, organising your timetables and classroom and taking the time to find new resources and fresh ideas. Here’s how to make the most of this perfect time.
The first thing to consider on your holidays that will greatly benefit every aspect of your pupils teaching is you. Teaching is a tough gig, special class teaching is so much more difficult and demanding. In addition I have always found that getting through the run up to Christmas is probably the hardest part of the school year. Take time to yourself, avoid the regular teaching blogs that you read, ignore the ASD newsletters that pop up in your mail box, take off your teacher cap! Burnout and exhaustion are extremely common in special class teaching and it is up to you to avoid it. Burnout doesn’t necessarily present itself as some kind of break down where you have to take time away from school, it can be as subtle as being too tired to put your best effort into the job. Believe me, avoiding burnout is an important job of the teacher and will benefit all your pupils. Turn off 100% from the job now that you have the opportunity and relax with the knowledge that you have enough time to tune back in and get prepped for the term ahead. Walk, sleep, read, chat with friends, spend time with your family, binge watch Netflix, whatever your bag dive in right now.
When you have gotten a good rest and a real chance to detach from the job make use of the extra time you have, the distance you have from the class to review how things are running currently. On a daily basis you can be just threading water, using all your energy to keep the show on the road as it were. Now you can review as you have some space to breathe. Let’s make reviewing easier than it sounds. Let’s take three areas to look at; timetabling, classroom organisation and reviewing goals. Starting with these will cover the main points.
Timetabling will involve looking at how to make the best use of time for the children in your class. This may mean juggling integration, availability of assistants, work with various therapists, time for sensory play and social skill activities, not an easy job. What you would like to do with your class is always governed by what you can manage when you take into consideration all those factors. Now is time to try and streamline and make the most of your time. Look first at areas that you think are not getting enough attention; exercise and active time are always ones that don’t get enough attention in my class. Adding a ten minute brain break/movement break where I was able to get the children to run through OT exercises directly after reading our class novel was a great success. As it was right after an activity where all the children were gathered together anyway it was very easy to organise and we didn’t lose a lot of time getting the children to come together or waiting for children who were lagging behind. Also look at times where there is not enough learning happening; just before home times, getting settled after breaks, the lost few minutes between ending OT or SLT work or integration and getting started into work again. Find language games, number activities, practise waiting, conversation tasks, iPad games, songs to sing, social stories to read during these slack times. Another aspect to consider is pairing the children in your class to achieve more. Put the child who reads well but is challenged socially with the child who cannot read and is a little chatterbox. Set up social skills groups, language activities where two children with similar needs can work together. Look at those slack times again and see if you can fit in some great pair work.
Reviewing goals is an integral part of teaching that needs particular attention in special classes. Clear, workable and relevant goals should be in place for each child. Taking these out and reviewing them now is very timely for the children. See where improvements have been made and move them on and more importantly take this time to find new ways to achieve the goals if current methods are not working. New games, new approaches, now is the time to research. Returning to school with all the goals fresh in your mind, with new approaches and renewed energy will get you off to a flying start.
Returning to school and finding a couple of changes to the layout of the class is a lot less traumatic after a break than it would be otherwise. So, move the table that blocks the group work space and move the shelf you thought would be really helpful at the beginning of the year but it turns out is just a nuisance. Look at the big issues, can I add markers to help with children lining up, can I move or separate the children who rub each other the wrong way, can I organise the table so he can have a clearer finished work area and can I put this easily distracted child somewhere else that will be less busy? Draw a picture of your class if you need to. Classroom organisation plays a huge part in classroom management so make the most of it.
As a special class teacher you need to take all the help you can get, research new blogs, new resources to use, new methods and new approaches. I recommend taking a particular problem and go and find an answer rather than just looking at everything available to you, otherwise you might spend a lot of time and not resolve anything for you.
Take this annual opportunity to do a deep review and get the year off to the best start and hopefully cut your work in half for the New Year ahead! Happy 2016!