Special education teachers, families stress working together to ensure student success

Posted at 7:09 PM, Mar 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-02 09:20:49-05

COLORADO SPRINGS — As schools work to rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic, teacher burnout remains a top concern, especially for those in special education. Prompting educators to publish new research that offers tips and strategies that hinge on sharing responsibilities between administrators, colleagues, and families.

For parents of special needs children, the pandemic has brought many changes, but educators are adapting to help meet the need of their students.

"Henry has an IEP, and it's pretty intense. He has a lot of educational and physical needs and we've been pleased with the school district because we've had communication with his teacher prior to school starting," said Jennifer Kent, Academy School District 20 parent. "Henry has a visual impairment and we find that he'll sometimes zone out. So they've been great about tailoring his classes so that he's not spending so long in front of a screen."

Kent has three boys with her oldest Henry on an IEP in Academy School District 20. Despite the challenges brought on by the pandemic, she says he has made huge academic gains this school year.

"They were willing to scaffold. Starting with two or three sessions then adding a fourth when he was ready for it. We've seen some great educational gains for Henry, " said Kent.

She says the relationship that they've built with his teacher, para, and therapist has played a key factor in his academic success.

"We know that the relationship is needed for him to want to interact with somebody. His teachers, the paras he works with, the therapists, we even do therapy through the computer. They've all been great in building that relationship with him, using what we told them and what Henry responds to," said Kent.

New research published in SAGE Journals shows that it's important for special education teachers to create strong relationships with every stakeholder on their team, from administrators, general education teachers, paraprofessionals, and the families of children with emotional and behavioral disabilities. When all stakeholders have a voice in the student’s education and are united by a common vision, services will be more meaningfully selected – and educators can start collaborative conversations about sharing the workload.

"We really have to leverage these relationships and what we know about the kids to support those teachers," said Dr. Kathy Randolph (BCBA-D) , Assistant Professor of Teaching and Learning at UCCS.

Within the research, she stresses the importance of parent involvement and collaboration.

"Really leveraging those relationships with the parents, knowing what the kids need. Getting into contact, especially for the younger kids, parents may need to sit with them for the time being," said Randolph.

She says when there is involvement from all sides, it helps to lessen stress and anxiety. It's also important to create a balance between work and home life.

"Take your dog for a walk, during your lunchtime step away from the screen," said Randolph.

By working together, she says it can increase academic success for students and create a more optimal learning environment.

"It requires a lot of work to teach Henry. A lot of repetition, but they've built the relationship, put in the repetition, and we see those gains and I want to say thank you," said Kent.