September 4th is fast approaching and for most that means the start of the new the school year. If this is your first year teaching in a self-contained classroom, you might be feeling just a little bit anxious. Your students probably have a wide variety of needs, and may require support with communication, mobility, fine motor skills, be medically fragile or have challenging behaviors. (Just writing that makes me feel stressed!) So, I am here to give you an outline on how to make your first days go as smoothly as possible–strategies that can be used going forward in the weeks to come.
Hopefully your room is set up and ready to go, but if you are still working on it, refer to my recent blog post for some tips and a checklist.
The most important things to accomplish in the first few weeks of school are establishing positive relationships, developing structure and teaching expectations for behavior.
Prior to Arrival
1) Have a written list on how each student will be arriving at school (bus number etc.)
2) Assign your assistants to a student/group of students to bring from their drop off to where they need to go. (Many may start their first half hour in their general education classroom. If this is the case, then for the first few days, I suggest you have an assistant stay with the student and then walk him back to his classroom. Later this transition can potentially be done with a buddy system from the general education classroom.)
3) Schedule for the day (See details below)
4) Behavior supports in place
5) Technology supports (communication) ready to use
6) Table set up with an activity (just one) for when they arrive (puzzles, books, paper and crayons, playdough etc.)
7) Calendar/group activity planned
8) Boxes for the new schools supplies that students will be bringing in
1) Meet the students where they are dropped off and walk them either to their general education classroom or their self-contained room
2) As students come into their self-contained room (going forward, referred to as classroom), show them their name on the door, where they will put their backpack, snack, etc. and have them put their school supplies in the box. It’s preferable if they don’t go through all the supplies, which they will probably want to do. Encourage them to put everything in the box and tell them you are going to do it later. Make sure their supplies are labelled.
3) Encourage each student to use the bathroom, assist as needed.
4) Students should go to the table and work on the activity until everyone is settled. Allow the last student to arrive a few minutes with the activity before moving everyone to the group area. Give a warning before you transition (“In 2 minutes we are going to go to the carpet!”)
1) Meet and greet the students and teachers. Have assistive technology available for those who need it.
2) Go over the schedule for the day.
3) Introduce the class rules, including any group behavior plan you may be using (click here for free behavior tools)
4) Share something about your summer vacation. Have each student share something about theirs. Have leading questions you can ask to promote communication (summer school, a trip, swimming, visitors).
6) Refer back to schedule to transition to next activity
Tour the School
Prior to taking a tour of the school, review the rules for walking in the hall. Depending on how much time you want to allot and the mobility of your group, you can also tour the outside of the building.
When you return to the classroom have the students do familiar work tasks for approximately a half hour. Refer to their IEP’s for ideas.
This should be a structured activity. Again, be sure to have all supports in place (adapted materials, visuals, assistive technology). Maybe do something related to back to school .
Bathroom, Lunch and Recess
Review rules for lunch and recess. Be sure you know of any food allergies, difficulties eating/swallowing and a plan in place to get the students from recess back into the school building (really!).
Sorting School Supplies
Have all the students sit together in front of the (clearly labeled) boxes for the supplies. Take turns letting the students place items they brought from home into the correct box. Any items that are not appropriate can be sent back home. Note: This would be a good activity for the IA’s to direct, with you overseeing it. That way you would have time to write your notes home to parents, if you are planning to use them. (click here for free Notes Home forms)
The final activity of the day should be something low energy. I suggest reading a story, and providing a coloring page related to the book as a follow up. Other ideas might be singing familiar songs, working with manipulatives, or watching an educational video.
Bathroom, Pack, Dismissal
Each student should be encouraged to use the bathroom prior to leaving. Help students, if necessary to pack their bags. If you are sending a note home, show it to the student and ask them to give it to their parents.
Walk the students to their dismissal location. As they leave, tell them how much you enjoyed meeting them and that you look forward to seeing them tomorrow.
You survived! Now you just have to get through the rest of the week! Follow a similar routine, regularly reviewing the schedule and rules and adding in time for testing, instruction, specials and scheduling in movement breaks. Be prepared for many interruptions in the first few days as specialists come in to meet the students and work out their schedules for service. Keep a notebook where you can jot down ideas, problems, to do, questions, needed supplies etc.
Remember, the most important things to accomplish in the first few weeks of school are establishing positive relationships, developing structure and teaching expectations for behavior.
A side-note on behavior. I can’t stress enough how very important it is that you understand and have a plan in place for problem behaviors. If you don’t, I can almost guarantee that things will quickly unravel. Use the strategies outlined in IEP’s. Review the rules of the class regularly. Have positive reinforcements and set consequences in place. Make sure students (and IA’s and specialists) know what the consequences are for desirable and undesirable behavior. And most of all be consistent!
Finally, try to be flexible with your schedule. Whenever possible, have a Plan B in place. If students are restless, take a movement break (stretching, going to the water fountain etc.) BE prepared to shorten/lengthen activities
You can do this! Here’s wishing you all the best as you start your adventure in teaching the extraordinary students you will get to know and love in the self-contained classroom.