Preparing Students for the Transition Back to In-Person School
There is finally a light at the end of the tunnel. Vaccines are rolling out and schools are beginning to open. For educators and students, this is great news! With returning to "normal" students and teachers will fluctuate between excitement and worry. Educators wonder what the transition back will look like. Some students have not stepped into a classroom for over a year. What skills will students need in order to transition back successfully?
Learning that students will be returning to school after being virtual for so long is exactly what parents have been waiting for. Things can finally start returning to typical home life. Even with the joy of normalcy, questions arise as parents begin to think about the challenges they will face preparing their children for school. For many, there have been no true routines for a year. It is the middle of winter and wearing clothes other than t-shirts and shorts was an avoided battle. Bedtime has been nonexistent. The thought of getting students up and out the door to school seems impossible.
While it might appear overwhelming, here’s the great news: everyone gets to write the book on transitioning back to school. You can, and should, tailor this transition back specifically to your student to ensure his or her success. The entire team should work together to create an individualized transition plan back to school.
START WITH A TRANSITION PLAN
The entire IEP/ISP team should meet to determine what skills should be prioritized. Work together to determine a list of skills needed to return to school. Prioritize that list and begin working on skills one at a time.
As a parent, what can you do now?
Start the process by making small changes without overwhelming your child. Transition slowly to school-appropriate clothes (ex: pajama bottoms to sweatpants or leggings). Move bedtime earlier by small increments of time. Start consistently completing a bedtime routine (ex: shower, pajamas, book, bed). Increase asynchronous work time each day. Work with your IEP team to create schedules and visuals to help with those routines.
As the school IEP team, what can you do now?
Start the process by thinking about the skills needed to transition back to school, including ways to help families. During synchronous sessions, use visuals to show students when they will be returning to school. Think about how routines and spaces will be different once the student returns. Start thinking about the new check-in procedures, cleaning, as well as mask and social distancing protocols once the student returns to school. Students will expect things to have remained the same, which makes it crucial to ensure changes are explicitly taught and communicated.
CREATE VISUALS AND SOCIAL NARRATIVES
Now that transition needs have been determined, visuals and social narratives should be created to help students understand and prepare for the transition back to school. It is important for those visuals to be utilized in both the home and during synchronous instruction.
Visuals and narratives will help students understand when they will return to school, what will look the same and different, and what new routines/schedules they will follow. Think about all the changes that are happening. Teachers and therapists will look different because they will be in masks. Classroom setups may be different. The lunchroom may look different or have different rules. Before Covid, maybe students could always work to go to the sensory room, but now they can only go during assigned times throughout the day. Favorite places may be limited due to assigned cohorts. Students need help answering their new questions, such as “Why is my Teacher wearing a mask?”, “Why do I get my temperature taken at school?”, and “What is Social Distancing?” There is a lot to think about, but it is important to think through the entire day and determine what may be different and address those things before the return to school.
Utilizing Vizzle Excel's Authoring Tool
Utilizing Vizzle Excel makes all of this simple to do. Narratives can be created easily using the build a book template. Real pictures can be inserted on the pages so students can see their actual teachers and spaces within the classroom. Teaching new routines can be accomplished through the sequencing tool. Students can practice putting the new routines in order. To ensure the students understand the changes, create games, sorting, and matching activities to test skills.
ONCE AT SCHOOL
Once the students transition back to school, continue to use the social narratives and accompanying activities as needed. Vizzle Excel can be used on iPads, computers, and Smart Boards to continue teaching skills. It is also easy to print out visuals as needed to carry throughout the school.
Make sure to increase movement and regulation breaks throughout the day. With social distancing measures in place, it is likely that your students will not have a chance to get up and move as much throughout the day. Mental and physical stamina will need to be rebuilt. It is important to integrate activities throughout the day to stay regulated.
Educators, do you remember all those fun and creative activities you did to keep your students engaged during remote learning? It’s not quite time to put that bag of tricks to rest yet. Throughout the pandemic, everyone became creative in ways they never thought possible. Students were reached utilizing new technologies and programs. Don’t stop now! Students may still need specialized materials and activities while adjusting to going back to school full time.
One of the most fascinating parts of virtual instruction is that it afforded families and schools a unique glimpse into each other's lives. Parents and educators worked together as a team and went above and beyond to reach students. One of the positive results of this that I hope remains, is the relationships formed with families. This relationship truly benefits the students with both instruction and generalization. Keep that relationship thriving.
No matter what, it is important to maintain flexibility and give everyone grace. It has certainly been a trying time, but together, educators and families can forge a path forward to ensure a bright future for ALL students.
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ABOUT OUR GUEST WRITER
Heidi Pitlor is an Intervention Specialist and Coordinator for Distance Learning at Monarch Center for Autism in Shaker Heights, Ohio. A graduate of The Ohio State University, she has worked in Special Education for over 20 years and is in her 12th year at Monarch. Heidi has taught students from grades Kindergarten through Twelve. Heidi believes in the importance of working together as a team to provide the best possible outcome for students. She works tirelessly to create and implement meaningful programming to help each child reach their full potential. In her new role as Coordinator for Distance Learning, Heidi quickly brought families and staff together utilizing an online format. Within weeks, staff and families were embracing and thriving in their new environment. Heidi believes in the importance of collaboration with all disciplinary team members to ensure student success. Heidi has been a presenter at Milestones National Autism Conference, hosted a webinar on EdWeb, and is a true believer that every child can learn and achieve.