Looking to the Future While Staying Present

April is such a unique month when it comes to our work with students. It’s a time when we are making sure that they are staying on top of their learning, especially upon returning from spring break. At the same time, we are making sure that they are prepared for the end of this academic year.  We cannot forget that we are also finalizing IEPs and making sure that we are ready to transition our students into the following academic year. I know it often feels like we are straddling academic years like the Colossus of Rhodes standing over both sides of the port. As we look at our own mental health and anxiety levels, what are some activities we can be doing to make this month and the rest of this year go as smoothly as possible?

Let’s start with planning for next year as the IEP process has us thinking that way already. Do you know who your students will be next year? In some cases, you may be continuing with a group or at least a few students.  Those are the ones that you can use to set a foundation for next year. Take their IEP information and as you continue to work with them this year, set aside worksheets, a list of activities, and a list of devices that you will need for them. As you create your lists, when possible, bring some of those devices into your classroom. Set them in a container that you can set in a cabinet for the summer. If your returning students still need them, verify with your AT Specialist or Special Education Director that you can store them over the summer to make it an easier transition for you in the fall.  

As you look toward the end of this year and the summer, you also want to start supporting the students with life skills that can be utilized throughout their lives. We spend time working on that end-of-year transition and do a wonderful job with that. We also want to start promoting behaviors for our students that make sense for the summer. Begin talking about nutrition and hydration, especially when it comes to the summer months. If your students are not participating in your summer program where these things can be monitored and supported, introduce lessons that create some of those behaviors now. Have some hydration breaks and talk about lunch and proper snacking. Some of you will have your students with you during the summer months and can reinforce these lessons. Know that either way, you are giving your students the skills they need to create some independence in the future. Another thing to consider when working with your students for the summer months is properly preparing themselves for being outdoors. See if you can work with local dollar stores to make sure that your students have proper eyewear when out in the sun. Speak a little about sunscreen as well. We recognize that the feeling of sunscreen might trigger some adverse reactions in some students, but we still want to provide information. For those students who do not like the feel of a spray or cream on their arms, legs, and face, work with them on understanding how to use shade, wearing hats if possible, and taking precautions by having some awareness of time in the sun.

In preparing for next year with devices or products you do not currently have, remember that ESSER III funding is open until September 30 when all monies must be encumbered. Many of your districts have a page on their website which shares how much ESSER money has been spent and how much is left. One of the suggestions I have been making to districts is to utilize these funds by projecting what devices might be needed over the next two to three years. Looking at products like the Scanmarker Pro for its use in ELL settings or the Big Mack in all areas of the building because they can serve multiple purposes may give you some guidance in buying. I have explained to districts that using their ESSER funds for things bought annually from your regular or IDEA funding, like classroom supplies, workbooks, or online subscriptions should continue to be aligned with those budgets. The ESSER III funds, based on how they are written, are perfect for stocking up on those devices which are regularly used, but may rely on grants in future years. Take some time, speak with those with whom you trust, and come up with a plan that has you better prepared for future students and budgets. Know that I am always there to support you with questions around this and can be reached at rheipp@schoolhealth.com.  

I am seeing districts right now using their funds on Ablenet products since they meet all government guidelines a couple of years ahead of the guidelines being formally put into place. I have seen the increase in systems like Simply Works to create accessible classrooms and workspaces. Some districts are supporting those with visual impairments by bringing in products like the OrCam Read3 which has AI that can support students in so many more ways than just reading documents out loud. Take some time (I know that is a precious commodity!) and think about how you can make your classroom environment even more inclusive and sensory friendly, like adding in a Sensory Blackout Tent. Looking ahead now can save you time and budget space in future years.

Finally, I want to share the most important activity for you at this time of the year. That activity is taking time for yourself! I know I sound like a broken record as I am continually reminding you about this.  Even five minutes a day of silence, self-reflection, meditation, breathing, or some other activity that lets you relax and focus on you. I have been speaking with colleagues throughout the country who are overly concerned about both the teacher and substitute teacher shortages. Many of these colleagues have shared with me that the greatest reason for teachers leaving is not retirement, but wanting to get away from the stress and feelings of overwhelm that are prevalent in so many aspects of education today. I am not saying that by taking five minutes a day that you will stay in education. What I am saying is that by taking those five minutes a day, you will be more centered and able to make the best decisions for yourself, your family, and your students. Know you are valued and appreciated!