More Than Teaching
Essentials of adult management in special education
As a special educator you are a case manager, instructional guru, and to the surprise of many a built in leader! In order to implement student plans effectively the job requires a high level of engagement with all stakeholders to maximize a student's educational experience. From communicating with general education teachers about the implementation of IEPs to working with administrators to adequately support a Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP), you have to navigate working with a wide variety of adults. Often times, teacher preparation does not prepare special educators for this reality.
By this point in the school year you have survived the December 1 Federal deadline for paperwork, your systems are running efficiently and your students have settled into their classes. Many triumphs and obstacles begin to arise at this point in the year around adult interactions.
Managing conversations with adults, particularly when you are either a co-worker or subordinate of them, can be difficult or uncomfortable. Remember that building these skills takes time and commitment, however it is possible! Mastering this skill will allow you to holistically meet the needs of your students.
Here are 10 tips for consulting with adult stakeholders:
10: Build Rapport
When consulting with adults it is essential to understand and know them. Everyone likes to communicate and receive feedback differently. As a special educator it is imperative you have these conversations with those you are working with in order to be the most effective for your students. Remember to build these relationships and draw conclusions from your own first-hand interactions with an individual. Do not get get caught in making assumptions or listening to hear-say from others around you. Building genuine working relationships takes a committed effort. Rapport takes time, trust the process and realize that no matter where you are in your school year it is always the perfect time to start.
9: Walk the Walk
In order to meet the needs of your students you have to rely on a large number of people to implement their plans. In learning to work with adults the number one person you should ensure is performing to the highest level is yourself. Special education in general has not historically had the best reputation in schools. The only way to repair this perception is to model what you are asking others to do. If you want others to communicate regularly about student needs, you first must do the same. Adults will match the effort you give forth. They will learn first how to work with you by the respect you show your position, your students, and others.
Adults will match the effort you give forth. They will learn first how to work with you by the respect you show your position, your students, and others.
8: Assume the Best and Seek Solutions
Across the board those in education want to do what is best for their students. Assume this is true first before being disheartened. Often times in assuming the best of others you are able to keep a potentially tense situation focused on solutions and growth. Every interaction you have with another adult concerning a student should be to seek a solution. I have attended multiple meetings where both parties have not thought through the problem and potential solutions. This often leads to a breakdown in communication and each person leaves the meeting feeling frustrated. Keep in mind your students are the ones who feel the impact this the most.
7: Multiple Touch Points
Email, meetings, text messages, letters, and the list goes on. There are multiple ways to engage with others you are working with. If your community utilizes Google Chrome, using Google Docs to share information and collaborate is a great way to work together. Find what works and use multiple avenues for collaboration. This increases efficiency and meets the various communication styles of multiple adults.
6: Offer Support
Often times when another adult is not meeting a student's plan it is because the genuinely do not know how to. For example, if a student has speech to text as an accommodation many educators are unfamiliar with how to meet this in their classroom, particularly if they are new. You are an expert in meeting the access needs for your students, offer support to build the capacity of stakeholders. One way I have been able to do this as an educator has been to hold office hours once a month for the educators. This allowed them to have a consistent time to ask their questions and seek solutions together. If that does not work for you, find a way to offer support (e.g., cheat sheet, videos) to those in your community.
5: Never have a conversation when frustrated
It is inevitable that you will feel frustration toward a situation at some point in your career. When feeling frustrated, do not have a conversation. Take time to step away from the situation. If you need to vent to a trusted co-worker, do so (venting is not gossiping if you do something to solve the problem). If you need to take a night to go for a run and clear your mind, do so. This is not to avoid dealing with the concern but to take the necessary time to collect your thoughts and separate your emotions. I always find that giving the problem space allows me to focus on keeping the concern student-centered and solution oriented.
4: Be mindful of time
People are busy. The pressures of our educational system in recent years has put stress on all positions. Educators are in a constant state of meeting accountability requirements and planning for them. Working with adults requires you to be efficient and effective with time. Newer teachers should first start with running timely meetings. Having agendas for a meeting are a great place to start. Also keep in mind that not every conversation about
a student on your caseload involves a meeting or your input. Special educators are a part of a student's educational experience, not the whole thing. Find ways to maximize time. Other stakeholders will respect this about you and will realize that when you do need to have a meeting with them it will be the highest leverage for all parties involved.
3: Have clear expectations
Who are you? What do you stand for? How do you expect for a student's needs to be met? Be clear about who you are as a special educator and what you expect of others. This does not mean to hold unobtainable standards but allow others to know what you are about. I find transparency is key in this stage. Be open about your philosophy and the expectations you hold for yourself and with those around you. If you do not write this, it will be written for you.
2: Be willing to take criticism
Working with adults is a two-way street. Many special educators have not been an administrator, speech pathologist, counselor, etc.. These jobs require different skills that you may not have training on. Be mindful of their diverse experiences and listen to their needs. Empathy in situations requires us to take criticism that could build rapport with others. Be committed to evolving your practice, listen to the needs of others and be willing to change.
Be committed to evolving your practice, listen to the needs of others and be willing to change.
1: ALWAYS Keep it Student-Centered
The most important thing you should ALWAYS be mindful of is the common goal of being the best for your students. In the midst of everything, keeping a student-centered approach
for communication and management is best practice. Even when a concern may be surrounded with tension and frustration you will find that the number one thing everyone can agree on is the goal. If your goal is always to support the best interest of your students you will excel in creating change in terms of adult management in your building long-term.