May is A Time of Preparation and Transition: Keeping a Balance in All Aspects of Life
Preparation and transition are words that have such great depth and significance when we work with our neuro-diverse populations. As we enter May, we can quickly be overwhelmed by all the activities upon which we need to be working. The most important idea to keep in mind is maintaining a balance in our own lives. During this month, we are in a unique time of wrapping up this academic year, while transitioning into the next. Without keeping ourselves balanced, we can lose sight of what we hope to accomplish!
We begin by looking at the teachers and their roles throughout May. We come to the end of IEP time, which sees our teachers pulled out of classes for these meetings throughout the months of April and May. In the cases where this happens during the academic day, those teachers must make sure that their classrooms are properly supported, and that learning can continue. I tried to have the inclusion teachers present their information first in these meetings so that questions could be addressed, recommendations made, and then they could return to their classrooms. I always suggested that they have independent work sessions happening while they were out of the classroom (like silent or supported reading, working on papers or presentations, or other individual activities) so that full class instruction was not missed or presented by a substitute teacher. This takes some of the pressure off the teacher in lesson preparation when they are out of the classroom. Lesson preparation is not the only thing they are doing during this time as preparation for the IEP or 504 meeting also takes place. Another suggestion for the teachers is to keep good notes throughout the year and take a block of time, about a week out from the meeting, to put thoughts together. Why a week before? We do have unforeseen circumstances that arise in schools, and we do not want to put off putting our thoughts together until the last minute. Walking into that meeting with prepared notes from which to work and a simple plan for the classroom means that a teacher can be prepared and ready to move between meetings and classes.
As the meetings wrap up, there is always the need for reviewing the technological needs for the individuals in the next academic year. We recognize that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to technology, so we want to be aware of what we have and what we may need to get. Each district handles this in their own way. Some of the best practices I have encountered worked around the earlier preparation. The first step is to have an inventory of the technology within each classroom and building as well as what may be in a warehouse at the district level. This sounds like a major task, and it is when done the first time. However, it saves time, energy, and money in the long run when trying to make sure the individuals have what they need. Even on my current travels, I always ask to see what technology is in a building. It gives me an opportunity to share alternative uses of devices educators might not even know they have! So, the preparation piece here is to have a definitive list of working assistive technology by classroom and building first. Then look at what needs to be ordered. Be sure to work with groups you can trust as there are still some items which may be unavailable due to manufacturing issues. The last thing you want to do is order something that may be having issues and then not have it in time for the next academic year.
The other idea that some districts have implemented is to have someone come into the district on an end-of-the-year PD day and present both new and current assistive technologies. I have done some of these sessions and it is such a positive way for people to see what is out there as well as hear from their peers in attendance about how they might be using some of these devices with certain students. I was also recently asked to be part of an AT Playground where teachers, therapists, and AT Specialists from a state were invited to come in and speak on various topics in a round-table format created to engage others on how they might be using the technologies in the topic. I led the Low-Tech AT session where we spoke about manipulatives and sensory items, as well as switches and single message communicators. The information shared by the group was fantastic! Of course, everyone wanted some time in the Blackout Sensory Tent. Thinking of switches and single message communicators as low-tech was also mind opening for some. I was then asked to add depth to the discussions during the eye gaze/headtracking/alternative access session which also gave people an understanding of what is available. There were some who had never heard of devices like a Glassouse and saw how that could be a great choice for some students. This type of preparation offers an opportunity to think ahead and be ready to better support individuals.
Administrators, May always brings flowers along with thunderstorms! Some of those storms are those events or issues that seemingly arise out of nowhere. How can you maintain that professional balance? One best practice that I see in our districts with the master administrators is that of proper delegation. I wish I had known about that twenty years ago! We want to make sure everything goes well in support of our faculties and students. Therefore, we try to oversee everything and take some of the pressure off others. Think about what you can delegate. Your support can come through written or video guidance of the process and a quick 15-minute personal meeting from time to time to get a sense of how things are progressing. Work with your teams to find those who excel and are excited about taking on an additional activity. Empower them to make decisions on some of the smaller issues so you can focus on larger issues. Have a weekly planning meeting on Monday morning so that everyone knows what is happening on each other’s days that week. Ask who needs support and who might have time to be a support when other matters arise. Communicate and delegate. These are great opportunities to bring you a better sense of balance in this hectic time.
The most important idea regarding preparation and transition is to take care of oneself. Those of you who have heard me speak know that my focus is always on making sure that each of our lives is as balanced as possible. When we are living a balanced life – or as balanced as it can be at this time of the year– some of the toxic stress drains away and we are better able to support our individuals. The excuse which is too common and has been used for generations is, “You don’t understand how busy I am!” That never changes! We are all busy. We are wrapping up one academic year, getting ready for another, helping individuals transition into the next phase of their lives, plus attending or being the chauffeur for extracurricular activities which can include athletic contests and practices for our own children, going to or planning graduation parties, and being part of family events. Think of all those things and realize that they are all happening along with your regular duties this week alone! Take time for yourself each day! Remember the five-minute rule. Take five minutes and just be you. Sit or walk and don’t think of anything but how important you are to this world. Have some water, coffee, or tea with you and just relax. That five-minute recharge and centering can be done at any time of the day. I am seeing more teachers, therapists, and administrators taking that time during lunch and just going outside for a walk. You can also choose to find the time in the morning or the late evening when it is just you. By taking this time, it helps you to regain that sense of you which so many people are counting on. Just remember what my Big Mack tells you every time you press it: “You are Awesome!”