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Surviving and Thriving at the End of the School Year

It's hard enough to survive the end of the year, much less thrive in a special ed. classroom. This time of the year is tough for everyone, but for our students with autism, it's just that much tougher. If you are trying to see the light at the end of the tunnel, here' 5 ways to help you make it work!

It's hard enough to survive the end of the year, much less thrive in a special ed. classroom. This time of the year is tough for everyone, but for our students with autism, it's just that much tougher. If you are trying to see the light at the end of the tunnel, here' 5 ways to help you make it work!

There are just certain times of year that we know are going to be really tough in any class, much less in a special ed. class.  Usually they are right before holidays and the end of the year. These times of year can challenge the most experienced staff because every year they bring something a little different.  It’s hard enough to survive the end of the year, much less thrive. But it can be done!

These are times where the schedule and routine can go completely off the rails with programs and field days and …well you know.  All we want to do is make it to the break or the end of the year. And sometimes to do that, we have to go back to the basics.

Here are my 5 strategies to get you to the end of the year (or get to that holiday break)!

One key to surviving the end of the school year in a special ed. classroom is to make sure you are putting more supports like visuals in place. Using mini schedules or daily schedules (even if you had moved your students successfully away from them) can help to manage the chaos that goes on with end of the year parties etc. It's ok to take a step back and keep students calm and engaged. Find out 4 other tips for preventing the chaos of the end of the year in your classroom.

1. Add more visuals 

I know, it seems like you couldn’t possibly use MORE visuals. But you can!  When the schedule goes haywire, our students need more support not less.

  • Pair visuals with your words with a visual key ring.
  • Break your schedules into mini-schedules.  Break the steps of less familiar tasks down.
  • Create visual schedules for special activities
  • Use contingency maps to help students understand the consequences of behaviors.

One key to surviving the end of the school year in a special ed. classroom is to make sure you are putting more supports like visuals in place. Using mini schedules or daily schedules (even if you had moved your students successfully away from them) can help to manage the chaos that goes on with end of the year parties etc. It's ok to take a step back and keep students calm and engaged. Find out 4 other tips for preventing the chaos of the end of the year in your classroom.

2. Redirect without words

More words are not your friend.  Use the visuals from #1 and just use them to redirect the student.  Show the visual and give the direction one time. Then just show the visual.  If you want more ideas on how to do this or to share with staff, check out the video below.

3. Increase reinforcement or decrease difficulty

One of the best ways to increase compliance and on-task behavior is to use reinforcement.  In order to compete with the exciting reinforcers like end of the year parties, you’ll need to increase how much reinforcement or what kinds you use to be successful.

Alternatively you may have to lessen the difficulty of what you want the students to do.  Adding more visuals from #1 does that to some degree. However, in work, you may need to do more maintenance tasks and fewer new tasks to keep students engaged.  Don’t worry that you are taking a step back. Instead, you are just making adjustments in what the student needs at this time.

Sometimes teaching special education feels like constantly managing chaos, especially at the end of the year. But, you can survive the end of the year and even end it well with these tips.

Think about yourself.  When we are at the end of the year and things are crazy, I’m more likely to go home on time or not stay late.  I’m more satisfied with things not being perfect…a fact of life I live with better when everything is crazy. Because I”m tired and I just don’t have the capacity to push harder.  I take a step back and cut myself some slack. We need to do the same sometimes with our students.

4. Keep to the schedule whenever possible

I know that this time of year is cray cray…no doubt!  But the more you can try to keep the daily schedule on track, the easier your days will be.  So, try to avoid the fatalistic approach of thinking “Oh, it’s the end of the year, so we’ll just keep having a party after the school assembly.”  Instead, think about how you could get the class back on track after the program. It’s harder for you at the moment….but at the end of the day it’s a whole lot easier to be in the routine than to make it up as you go along.

5. Create social stories for new activities.

Whether you teach students with autism or you teach any other type of students, social stories can be a great way to introduce information about changes.  None of our students, whether in special ed or not, do well with chaos. The more that we can help them understand and expect the changes and expectations, the better they will manage them.  You may even need social stories to remind them of expectations of common routines like these.

I hope these ideas will help you maintain until the end of the year.  So, hang in there, keep calm and manage the chaos as best you can

Until next time,

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