Make Systems Your Jam in 2020
Happy New Year! As cliche as it sounds January brings feelings of forward progression and a fresh start. It is a time where we as educators begin to feel comfortable with our students, the content we are teaching and a willingness to try new ideas. On the flip side, teacher burnout, especially in special education, begins to creep up. Testing season begins to take over, students who have struggled need extra assistance, and the second round of paperwork season still is on the horizon. The question then becomes, "What do I do?"
My answer is very simple, make SYSTEMS YOU JAM in 2020. Often times we think of a "system" as the outdated educational network we all work for. Although we could chat for hours about the perks and downfalls of a large corporate type system for the context of what is to follow think of systems as defined by our wonderful friend Google:
"A set of principles or procedures according to which something is done; an organized scheme or method."
As special educators time is valuable. Not only are you writing paperwork, case managing, scheduling, and implementing IEPs but you are communicating with general education teachers, co-teaching, assisting administrators, and still trying to have a life you are excited to live. Let's not mention that many of us are in understaffed schools that have little knowledge of SPED processes. It is a lot and your feelings are burnout are valid!
Creating and incorporating systems in your daily practice will allow you to work smarter instead of harder. They will not only free time outside of school but create a level of efficiency in your school day that is refreshing and invigorating. Although there are school-wide needs that should be addressed to make your life easier first start with your own personal systems mid-year. This semester begin trying to incorporate small changes into your daily practice. This will allow you to return for the 20/21 school year with tools already created and ready to go. Here are a few tips that will help you get started!
1: Be HONEST with where you are at
Not everyone is a systems guru! Forget the teacher guilt for a minute and be very honest about what responsibilities you have had the hardest time with this year. Maybe you never complete an IEP meeting in a timely manner, accommodations are not consistently communicated with general education teachers when updated, or you forget to communicate with your caseload parents regularly. Whatever it is, name it and own it. We all have something we need to work on and have to give ourselves a little grace in not being perfect at doing "all of the things."
2: Choose something SMALL
After a break and a lot of rest and relaxation we feel highly motivated to start something new! The reality is systems take YEARS to build. Great teachers are not made overnight and neither are efficient systems. Creating something is one thing but actually implementing it as part of your daily practice is another. You are creating a new habit and it is important to begin small.
3: Systems are meant to be CHANGED
You are going to create something and then decide you need to change it. We do this all of the time in our classrooms. Just because it works for a little bit does not mean that it cannot be updated, added to, or thrown in the trash. Your craft is evolving and as you learn more you will need to grow your everyday practices accordingly.
4: Find something you can be COMMITTED to
My first few years of teaching there were a ton of balls in the air and I could barely see the forest through the trees. Find something you can be committed to and stick with it. For me that was my organizational system for my paperwork. Utilizing technology was new to me. I first tried to have a filing system on my computer but that was VERY short lived. Instead I decided that I would be committed to having a folder system. To this day my system for maintaining student files is very similar. It was manageable and something I could actually do without stressing about.
As you begin to MAKE SYSTEMS YOUR JAM in 2020 here are a few examples of small systems that I've created in the process. Here's to a new year and a new way of freeing time to do what we as SPEDucators love to do, inspire our kids!
- Accommodations Matrix: Get the accommodations for your classes organized. By creating a matrix for each class you can easily see common accommodations that need to be implemented as well as track those that students are utilizing frequently. This is a generic version that can be created in Excel or other platforms that suit your style best.
- Calendar Important Dates: Pick a day at the beginning of each month where you create your monthly calendar. Although technology has made it incredibly easy to do this, physically writing out dates activates our brain in a different way and allows us to remember. Wipe boards, desk calendars, or laminated posters all work very well to do this. Don't miss another IEP meeting.
- Case Management Tracker: Every 9 weeks I like to print a parent/ student contact tracker for my team. Each week, during our school's advisory time, we either contact parents or have individual check-ins with our students. This allows us to prioritize relationship building with our students and their families. Find a time that works best for you and set a goal for what contact looks like. Even when our parents do not answer they love hearing positive updates about their student.