Everyone is in a literal different place with education right at this very moment. Some states have schools in session, others do not. Some schools are partially in session and some are hybrid and virtual.
So the number one question: When do we get back to the way things were?
Here’s the part that I think adults have a challenge with: We should never actually go back to the way things were. It always feels easier to accept the challenges you know about than the challenges that are going to be asked of an adult and then to ask that challenge to a child with a disability. But this is what separates the leaders, followers, and bystanders.
School before Virtual Learning became a dominant force was not working for students with disabilities either. And that is hard to believe really truly. Some students were in isolation then and some students were truly anxious about being at school. Other students did not have all the supports they needed, and finally, some students really did not know how to rise and become better students let alone approach the work that they were being asked to do. And these problems were not only faced by students with disabilities.
The question that needs to be pondered is how do we make Virtual and Hybrid School inclusive? Especially when the school might not be accessible, to begin with for that student?
Let’s start with what we have in terms of resources:
We know some amazing educators and we’ve watched Amy Hanreddy of Cal State University Northridge present and gather resources to share nationwide.
Check out Twitter with Mr. B., a 2014 Oregon Teacher of the Year, Mr. B. has been cultivating not only a conversation about virtual learning but a worldwide virtual learning collective.
We also know that Maryland Coalition of Inclusive Education (MCIE) is also addressing virtual education.
We, special educators, know how to share with other educators probably better than other educators. Sharing is what we do best. Let’s take advantage of and build up our network. Need response PECS? Check with your SLP. Need targets for home use? Check with the OT. No one should be doing this alone. We have the world at our fingertips.
Some Thoughts From Experiences So Far
Classes probably should be shorter than the way that schools want them to be. This is for administrators. Why? Because truly while we know some students may play ultra-marathons of video games both handheld and large screen formats, the static image of your classroom in the background or a variety of slides might not be quite right for your age group. And consider the interaction and importance of group work. Certainly, there are a lot of things that need to be addressed with gaps of information by students in classes they could possibly not be ready for. But there is also the importance of a growth mindset. If we ask: the students in the middle and top will rise up so we can help the students who really need the most support.
Be clear about what you expect students to try and how you expect students to fly.
While this seems more muddled than it needs to be, the camera is not able to convey all the things you, as an adult, are saying to the student.
Resources at Hybrid are still being cobbled together– the downside of building a plane and flying it at the same time. The pluses of the hybrid model are seeing the students. The downside is the multitude of unknowns that follow the students in hybrid: were they sick yesterday and that is why they missed out today? Which students have accessed the material? Which students have lost how to find material? How many students have been able to participate?
And most importantly: where are the students with disabilities? How are they getting support? When are they getting support? When are their services?
Why offer both?
There are many families who have circumstances that cannot be accounted for without having a virtual option until the medical community is satisfied that the right solutions are available to all the people who will be highly impacted.
There is a lot to consider at the hybrid level though.
- How to support students with technology as they are in the physical room.
- How to support the students at a distance.
- How to mitigate students who may have come to school ill.
- How to support staff who might get sick, not just COVID and how much more important it is to communicate that they are ‘normal’ sick to the students now or they will be off on a break.
Those First Baby Steps….
For a campus that might be opening to that first step of having vulnerable populations come back. Every district talks about vulnerable populations and some define those individuals. Ultimately, it will be up to the family and the student to make that decision. However, the real social issue: is once ‘vulnerable’ is open, technically public schools should provide ‘inclusive opportunities’. Technically this means that perhaps a student with significant disabilities could be coming back. And there are students who undoubtedly will benefit. Especially from families who cannot get support for their students during the ‘school day’.
This is a scary step. And there are a few thoughts I have.
- If the goal is to get the kids in ‘cohorts’ of a specific number of students, realize that everything specific to disease mitigation needs to be in place. This is no longer ‘school’. Recess will likely be kids walking in a giant circle six feet apart from each other and not touching, laughing, running, developing freedom that they so desperately need. Bathroom visits are no longer spontaneous for students—this will be a challenge for young children. They might not even see their friends, even in this configuration
- Something in the schedule needs to address the students being in a cohort, even if they are only in individual online classes. Kids will ultimately be kids, they’re going to throw pieces of an eraser at each other, get each other off task, or otherwise be students in a classroom. And when I say ‘address’, I don’t mean just discipline. There is legitimately checking in with the cohort. There will be something highly unique about being in a space with other people expressly for this specific purpose at this time in the history of humans on planet Earth. And that needs to be scheduled in. And that needs to be honored. And yes, the teaching staff that returns needs to have specific support for themselves as well.
- How would the school honor the IEP in a cohort? Can they? [Notice the question isn’t ‘should they’. We know they should, we know teachers would try…]
Right now, these are unfiltered thoughts. And some schools are managing this all right. I won’t say this is ‘solved’, but every district will have to address these changes in their own time and methods.
This is not something individuals have planned for truly. It has been an unusual seven months in the United States. I truly wish that no one I know or have met has to deal with this disease. I hope to return to the classroom eventually.