With the start of the new term, good teachers everywhere are carefully setting the tone for a successful, achievement-focused school year. General education and special educators alike will focus on providing a productive learning community, a place where high standards, challenging lessons, and positive energy create an optimum learning environment. In our special education program for children with emotional disabilities, teachers will be busy establishing themselves and their classrooms as predictably supportive, fair, and trust-worthy. My years of experience in an ED classroom bear out this important point: without a strong feeling of trust in the teacher, students’ academic and social- emotional goals will likely go unmet.
The negative school and life experiences faced by our students often squelch a “natural” love of learning; the risk-taking necessary for learning is often met with fear and its partner, anger. Building trust becomes all the more difficult when children spend so much of their time and effort in crisis. Many children with emotional disabilities need absolute consistency and structure, often precluding them from finding comfort and predictability in an even reasonably flexible general education setting. So we teachers are focusing much of our early efforts preparing and practicing the art of being predictable, caring, trust-inspiring.
Much of the new research about effective teaching includes the development of classroom routines and rules meant to ease transitions and allow for the best use of academic time. These efforts are doubly important in the ED setting where every direction and suggestion can be met with strong student opposition. When routines and expectations become normalized, opposition tends to decrease; compliance and cooperation can “sneak in”; learning becomes a more likely outcome.
With these issues in mind,I completed some research this spring on the kinds of skills/characteristics that effective ED teachers possess. Of course,this list could describe effective general education teachers as well. See what you think….
1. I build positive (trusting) relationships with students due to my consistency and attention to their needs.
2.I deal directly with student emotions; I don’t shy away from taking issues on.
3. I maintain a consistent behavior management system, including making individualized arrangements for special behavior needs within my classroom.
4. I create a learning environment that supports active, easily distracted students; I plan for reduced disruptions via my classroom arrangement, planned schedule, and active lesson delivery .
5. I differentiate instruction to meet individual needs, including teaching in small groups assigned according to academic or social skills .
6. I enjoy interacting with students. My students sense my enjoyment.
7. I “change up” my lessons “on the fly” as needed.
8. I support student’s positive self image by using positive, instructive praise, and creating successful/appropriately challenging learning experiences.
9. I engage in professional development, seek out classes/ workshops in areas of interest or weakness.
10. I know the subject matter in depth; I prepare in advance so I am ready with detailed, comprehensive plans that present material in the modality most advantageous to that particular lesson.
11. I am flexible and open to new ways to meet immediate needs.
12. I am consistent, predictable, and honest (trust-inspiring).
13. My rules and expectations are fair (trust-inspiring again).