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All images and posts written by and copyright to Amanda Clements (nee Gray) 2009-2012 unless otherwise indicated.

Monday, January 18, 2010

It's time to get out of holiday mode

Some of you may have already gone back to school, but here in NSW we are in the last throws of our holidays. Just one more week... and it's time to start thinking about preparing for the new year.

The challenges of returning to school

Whilst there is probably some feeling of excitement, going back to school can be challenging for everyone. I know as a teacher that I feel that little churning in the stomach as I think about the "settling-in" weeks. The weeks where everyone is getting to know each other and I learn about and adjust my teaching to the living, ever-changing beings in my classroom.

Whether you are a pre-school, primary, high school or university teacher, the challenges are the similar: How to facilitate a smooth transition into another school year; How to establish a happy, respectful, collaborative and organised classroom; How to learn all those new names!

The challenge can be even greater if you are teaching a child with a disability for the first time. Or if a child with a disability will be in your class and you have not had the opportunity to meet them, find out about their needs or complete a full transition plan. Even if you have had the oppurtunity to put these things in place, the first term can still be challenging.

Here are some little tips I have found useful in a range of inclusive education settings (pre-school to university) to help smooth over those first bumpy weeks:

  1. Be prepared - if you have a well-planned set of lessons, with more than enough resources at your fingertips that cater to all the different learning styles (eg. auditory, visual, kinesthetic), then you will be able to concentrate on developing relationships and managing behaviour with minimal effect on children's learning. This is especially important for children with Autism, Down Syndrome and other developmental delays as they need structure and predictability - and will need your support as they adjust to a new school year.
  2. Set clear boundaries - talk with your students about rules, consequences, how they want their classroom to look and feel. This will help them get involved in articulating and establishing boundaries, which will increase their sense of ownership of these rules and prevent any issues that may arise out of power-struggles. This is especially important if you have children with social or behavioural difficulties such as ADHD or ODD in your classroom. Difficulties with authority can be decreased when their input is respected whilst still recognising clear boundaries and expectations in the classroom. See this process as an essential part of your first week, not as something that is "extra-curricular."
  3. Walk in with a smile and a sense of humour - and hold on to that sense of humour tightly. It can be the greatest tool in developing a rapport with your students.
  4. Know who you can call on if things go pear-shaped. Be prepared to ask for help if necessary.
  5. Have a relaxation and/or celebratory plan in place for completion of the week. Something to look forward to can help get you through any rough patches.
Do you have any other tips?



Sue January 19, 2010 at 8:59 AM  

Hi Amanda,
How did your first birthday party go?
In terms of 'tips' the ones that I give to all mainstream teachers starting to work with students with ASD are about preparing the environment.
Make sure that to begin with the room is set up based on 'function' rather than 'decoration'. I tend to keep the walls fairly free from all but essential visual distractions in the first few weeks and never hang anything from the ceiling all year. Too much visual input can be very distracting for kids with an ASD. Even too many visual aids can be counterproductive.
Make sure that the work spaces in your classroom are well defined and that there are clear pathways for moving between spaces. Put labels on draws and cupboards so that students know where to locate essential items and remove any old, no longer relevant labels which may still be stuck to storage units.
Also, make sure that your room has a space where a student on the spectrum can retreat to when they need some quiet time and perhaps even a desk where they can work quietly on their own when partner or group work is proving difficult that day. Don't isolate the child though, make it an alternative place to work presented as a choice not as a means to 'discipline' the child. I try to be as inclusive as possible to begin with, by keeping table work groups as small as possible, to reduce the chance of the student with ASD becoming overwhelmed or distracted and follow the students lead as to whether a work alone table is best for any or all activities.
Think ahead about all the visual aides that you will need to work with a student such as process and activity strips, schedules, check lists and social stories and have them ready from day one. Read any profile documents and ensure that you have access to activities, books, games, videos and other objects that may help to calm a child if they become upset and provide for a legitimate way for the student to ask for help or request a sensory, rest or movement break from class activities .
Be aware of how you student is coping at recess and remember that it is the most challenging time of day for them. Socialising is hard work. If there was an alternative ‘safe’ place for the student to go during lunch times and recess last year, make sure that it is available from day one this year. If there wasn’t one create one and ensure that your student knows how to access it.
Be super vigilant during transition times to ensure that the student is confident about what will happen next. Explicitly teach or remind students where and how to line up and how to ask for help from a teacher on yard duty.
If you have a teacher aide working with you remember that they are your aide not the child’s and that they are there to help you facilitate positive learning experiences for all the children. Don’t limit the student’s ability to learn to work independently, feel pride in task mastery, communicate and make friends by allowing well meaning support staff to hover over the child unnecessarily or do their work for them.

Have a great start to the 2010 school year.

Amanda January 19, 2010 at 10:22 AM  

Great tips, Sue... thanks!

Our little party went quite well. Met some avid fans - especially one little boy with Autism who endearingly called me "Dave is Brave" all day whilst clutching the book to his chest and requesting repeated readings. Definitely a fan there :)

But also met new people who we invited to join as they passed by. The children enjoyed the activities - one little boy asking if we would be there next week :). Some parents, a number of whom were teachers or child care workers, were keen to take information about the book back to their schools and services.

I am exhausted but satisfied... and want to do it again :)

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