Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.
Understanding Life Transitions
Kimberly is a special education teacher in a self-contained middle school setting, one where her students learn and grow separately from typically-developing peers. Though Kimberly thinks a lot about her students' cognitive growth, her curriculum, and instruction, lately she has been noticing some specific emotional issues that tend to arise in her classroom.
Many of these emotions have to do with the life transitions, or major changes that can occur over the course of a student's life. This might include family changes like separations and death, or school changes like a change in educational program, graduation from one school, or an increase in expectations. Life transitions can also include personal growth and development; puberty, for instance, can profoundly impact a student's life.
Kimberly knows that transitions are complicated for all people, and students with special needs in particular tend to thrive on routine and struggle with change. She starts to think more about what she can do as a special educator to make sure students' needs are met through transitions.
Promoting Care for Self and Others
First, Kimberly realizes that it is important to explicitly teach self-care strategies to her students. In other words, she needs to teach them what they can do to take care of themselves emotionally in the face of a transition. Kimberly knows that many students with special needs benefit from explicit, direct instruction as well as modeling and exploration. She tells her students directly that when they are in transitional times, they need to find ways to care for themselves. Some strategies she recommends and teaches include:
- yoga, attention to breathing, and basic guided meditation
- talking to friends or family members about emotions
- participating in recreational activities that bring them joy
Kimberly also explains to her students that they should care for others during transitional times. This includes:
- spending time with friends and peers who might be in need
- practicing active listening skills in times of stress
- getting help from an adult if a peer's needs are more than they can handle
- showing basic kindness and consideration to others throughout transitions
Considering Physical Health and Fitness
Kimberly also thinks about the importance of her students' physical health and fitness during transition times. She gives her students direct lessons about proper nutrition and the importance of getting a good night's sleep. Many students with special needs are picky eaters or have trouble sleeping, so Kimberly emphasizes the significance of eating a balanced diet and maintaining routines around sleep.
Kimberly also plays sports with her students to show them how they can get exercise in spite of any physical limitations they might have. She helps them make meal plans, grocery lists, and exercise schedules that they can use with increasing independence as they grow older and more responsible for their own well-being. She also, of course, involves families in thinking about the importance of their children's physical health and fitness.
Handling Safety, Mobility, and Routines
Kimberly knows that transition times can involve major changes in routines for her students and this makes it really important to think about safety. Mobility and transportation are a big part of this.
For instance, when one of Kimberly's students moves to a new house, she knows he will need to take a new bus route to school. Kimberly teaches her students to identify when their mobility patterns are changing and talk with supportive adults about how to handle this most effectively.
Kimberly also teaches her students to make plans before they embark on a new routine. This might mean:
- writing and practicing a script for talking to people they interact with on a daily basis
- advocating for their mobility needs in a new environment
- using digital technologies to map out safe routes from one place to another
Transition times in life can be very complicated for all people, and children in special education settings in particular might require extra support. As a teacher, you can do many things to help your students with special needs navigate the transitions they will face throughout life.
It is important to teach your students about self-care and care for others during transitional times. Focusing on health and fitness, particularly food, exercise, and sleep routines, can also make a big difference. Finally, think about what you can do to help your students manage changes in routine so that they can stay safe over the course of their transitions.
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