When I started teaching almost 10 years ago, I would have never imagined something like this pandemic happening. But here we are, staring down this cataclysmic game-changer, trying to determine it’s next move and how it has and will continue to uproot our teaching ideologies.

I recently read an article that argued for the shutting down of schools for the school year. The article focused on the negatives of having to teach remotely. And to some of those points – as it relates to our most vulnerable learners – I agree. However, I would also argue that the learning MUST continue. I would also argue that going the way of huge paper work packets would be a detriment to those same students. Therefore, how do we use the tools and technologies available to us to teach remotely – albeit, temporarily – while also making sure all learners are accounted for? That’s the million dollar question…one that’s currently being debated across social platforms as I type.

I’m not an expert. I do, however, have extensive experience working with special education and English Language Learner (ELL) populations. The topic of equity and access is an important one that – even in my current position as a Technology TOSA – remains close to my heart. While being out of school is not ideal, it is our current reality. Here in Southern California, we are slated to be out until May 5th. Some states, like Virginia, have announced closures for the rest of the academic year. Whether we as educators like it or agree with it, this is teaching in 2020 in the midst of a global pandemic.

If I was back in my special day class – or SDC (a term used in CA to describe a self-inclusive classroom that educates students with mild to moderate or moderate to severe disabilities) – I would be wondering how I was going to reach my students with special needs during this school closure interim. Here are some things I would be implementing if I was back in my own classroom:

ACCESS TO WIFI/DEVICES: I know that not every household I teach may have WiFi. I would start by trying to get access by one of the providers currently offering free services to students who are homebound, like Spectrum. The next issue is that not all students have access to a tablet, laptop or desktop computer at home. But many parents have access to a smart phone. This is NOT ideal, but I would be mindful in choosing apps that students could access on a mobile device – including cell phones.

MULTI-USE PLATFORMS: If I were back in my own SPED classroom, I’d be using those tools that I could get the most bang for my buck. I would use tools that were (1) user-friendly for both user and parent, (2) are multi-faceted, and (3) accessible on all mobile devices. I would be using Google Classroom or ClassDojo to push out information to students, to manage student portfolios of learning, and to keep in contact with parents. I would be using Flipgrid to keep kids talking. Flipgrid is so much more than just a video-recording platform. I used it as a way to formatively assess speaking and listening skills for my students who had speech goals. I used it to address those same standards, as well as CCSS presentation standards. I would also use Padlet – another online discussion board where students can participate in discussions, provide feedback to other students, and post links, photos, files, and other documents (anonymously, if needed). And the great thing – ALL of these are available on ANY mobile device.

COMMUNICATION: This is going to be a huge component for parents as they have their students with special needs at home. They are going to need a direct line to you, as the educator. You will never be as needed as an educator as you are now. Parents – especially parents of students with special needs – will need you. I know because I am one. Your communication throughout this ordeal will reassure parents that they can do this homeschool thing, with your help. Use apps like ClassDojo or Remind to remain connected with your parents. Have Zoom meetings with them if they need a tutorial on how to navigate Google Classroom. Offer live “office hours” where they can chat with you. This may not be your “norm” – and you may not want to do this (or think you should have to do this), but you’re going to be needed. Your parents and your students WILL thank you later and be appreciative.

UTILIZE YOUR PLN: Social media has never been as important as it is now. Educators across the globe are reaching out and using their peers to guide their remote learning instruction. Teachers are sharing resources, information, and sentiments. They are leaning on their peers, both professionally and emotionally. If you aren’t on Twitter or Instagram, get on it TODAY.

You will not get through this quaran-teaching episode, if you are a silo.

I’ve been using Facebook more to connect, not only with other educators but also other parents who are having to homeschool their own children right now, like myself. Here are a few of my favorite Facebook groups right now:

#SpEdTribe – https://www.facebook.com/groups/SpEdTribe/
Technology Teacher Tribe – https://www.facebook.com/groups/techteachertribe/
Teachers Using Google Suite – https://www.facebook.com/groups/GSuiteTs/
Teachers Using Google Classroom –https://www.facebook.com/groups/teachersusinggoogleclassroom/
Coronavirus Homeschooling – https://www.facebook.com/groups/200361277897670/

Well, what about FAPE (free and appropriate education)? What about the IEP (individualized education plan)?

Educators, administrators, and parents are going to have to realize that this pandemic was completely unprecedented and that our education system was NOT built to accommodate for this type of wrench thrown in. Our special education system was even less prepared. These are unchartered waters, people, and we are going to have to navigate it like it’s our first voyage…because for all of us, it is. It will require you to do things differently…to try new things you haven’t done before. If this hasn’t pushed you out of your box, your comfort zone already, it will. Educators and service providers are going to have to get creative with how they service their students during this interim. It may not meet compliance, but know that this ENTIRE situation doesn’t meet compliancy. Again, it is our reality. The only thing we can do is help continue the learning at home in the best way we know how.

About Kristin Oropeza
Kristin is a full-time special education teacher, contract consultant, and educational content writer. She is a Google Certified Teacher (Level 1 and 2), Google Certified Trainer, and MIE Expert for 2020-2021.