Linda has taught English at grades 6-12 and holds graduate degrees in curriculum and teacher leadership.
Collaboration in Special Education
Collaboration among teachers, administrators, and school staff benefits all students, but special education students in particular are best served when a school has an effective collaborative culture. This includes having special education and general education teachers work together, as well as implementing cooperation among grade level teachers and between teachers and administrators. These levels of collaboration create a comprehensive special education program, one which strives to meet the needs of all students with special needs.
Collaborating for IEPs
One key collaborative effort you may engage in as either a special education or general education teacher is the creation of an Individualized Education Program (IEP), the document that describes a student's need for special education services and outlines the services the child will receive. In this process, once the student's areas of exceptionality are identified, the special education and general education teachers discuss goals for the student, as well as accommodations and modifications the student needs in order to be successful with those goals.
For example, Janet is a special education teacher who provides inclusion services for several middle school students. Janet's students share the same set of general education teachers. When updating each student's IEP, Janet consults with their classroom teachers in an IEP meeting, also attended by the student's parents, to discuss the student's existing goals and accommodations. The team examines the student's progress and together sets new goals for the year. They also discuss whether accommodations should remain or be changed or if new accommodations are needed.
Collaborating for Instruction
Another important collaboration involves designing and delivering instruction. In this instance, collaboration might be between grade level educators who teach the same subject area, along with the special education teacher. Collaborating for instruction might also be among members of a grade level team, with members planning interdisciplinary instructional units and including their special education colleagues so as to best serve students with special needs.
Janet collaborates with general education peers in both of these situations. Depending on the needs of her students, Janet meets with the grade level subject area teachers as they examine data from common formative assessments and plan upcoming instruction. As a group, the educators discuss various levels of proficiency and what information and practice students need to move forward. Janet is able to offer suggestions for her special education students, but also insights into other instructional strategies for students who are not on her inclusion caseload.
When her inclusion team plans their interdisciplinary units, in which students encounter information from various subject areas in one instructional unit, Janet again offers feedback on how her students can be most successful within the unit. The different subject area teachers can explain how the pieces of the unit fit together and what skills and knowledge students need in each class. Each teacher brings their knowledge of research-based instructional strategies to the planning process.
Collaborating for Other Needs
Successfully implementing a special education program involves collaboration among teachers and other staff to meet various needs of special education students.
Janet teaches a student diagnosed with a seizure disorder. This student takes various medications and must be removed from the building before each scheduled fire drill, as the strobe lights can trigger a seizure. As part of the IEP process, Janet works with the school nurse to plan for the student's access to medications. They also devise a plan to ensure the child is not exposed to the noise and flashing lights of the fire alarms. If the student's medications change throughout the year after various medical checkups, Janet and the nurse consult to update the student's school medication plan.
As an eighth grade teacher, Janet also collaborates with the system's transition coordinator, an administrative staff member who works with students, families, and teachers as students move from one level of education to another. She and the transition coordinator select days for the coordinator to visit Janet's support class for her inclusion students. With students, they discuss the move to high school and talk about various classes and graduation options. They prepare students to lead their own transition meeting, in which students discuss their future plans with their families and teachers and make decisions about which courses to take as they begin high school.
Finally, Janet's supervisor, the special education director, works with school-level administrators to plan placements for students and teachers each year. They decide if special education teachers should loop or continue to the next grade level with their students or if these teachers should remain in the existing grade level. They also examine numbers of students being served and decide where teachers should be placed for maximum benefit to students. This scheduling collaboration is crucial to a student's success.
Collaboration is important for a successful comprehensive special education program. Collaboration between special education and general education teachers may occur at the grade level or within subject areas. As a special education teacher, you should expect to collaborate with school staff and administrators as well.
Your most important collaborative efforts may involve working with other staff and teachers to create a student's Individualized Education Program (IEP). Each year, you'll meet with your student's parents and teachers to discuss their goals and accommodations. In this collaborative setting, you work as a team to make decisions about the student's needs for the new IEP.
Collaborating for instruction involves the special education teacher working with grade level or subject area teachers to plan research-based instruction, such as interdisciplinary units, to meet the particular needs of special education students. Like Janet, your role in this collaboration is to offer suggestions for accommodations or differentiation your students may need.
The final area of collaboration includes working with school staff and administrators. If you have a student with a medical condition, you'll work with the school nurse to create a medical plan for the student. Depending on the grade level you serve, you may work with the transition coordinator to help students move smoothly from one level of education to another. Finally, your administrators and special education directors will collaborate to schedule teachers so all students receive the appropriate level of service. As we can see from Janet's experiences, all areas of collaboration are crucial to a comprehensive special education program.
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