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Supporting Exceptional Learners Online

Well, I have often said that inclusive practices in Catholic Schools is ideal because you do not have the federal law getting in the way of student support and success. Facing the necessity to move to online learning while we implement safe social distancing is another example of an opportunity to think outside the box. I am pretty good at designing innovative teaching design around UDL, but I found myself a bit stuck with how to initiate! Good ol’ executive function skills! Fortunately, there are lots of best practices in special education to support student success.

This week I feel like I am in a groove, and back to designing supportive activities for exceptional learners that work for each student individually. I acknowledged that my students are just as overwhelmed as I am, not knowing where to start or how to learn a new way of learning without the direct and explicit instruction in person. We are figuring this out as we go! This mindset alone is permission to move forward and not worry about being perfect.

Using Google email and hangouts, shared documents to provide guidance and editing, as well as Canvas for instruction is an ideal foundation to begin online learning. My students are accustomed to using Canvas and finding assignments online, Powerpoints for lecture notes, and researching content online as needed. What they are not accustomed to is completing several of these tasks in a self-directed fashion. Setting up an office location in the home, independently creating a schedule (and following it) including breaks and fresh air, and communicating with teachers on a regular basis are difficult tasks without the bell ringing every 47 minutes, walks from classroom to classroom, and structured teacher office hours. I started with these basics to get us all started.

I also reached out to the teachers. Our faculty team is working towards implementing UDL, however, we are in the infant stages. With time of the essence and feeling like a fish out of water, most teachers are doing what they know well and are reluctant to implement too much change or new concepts. I do not disagree! I have made myself available through phone calls, emails, and video conferencing to coach and facilitate accessibility for exceptional learners within the lesson plans. This is important, as teachers are doing so much already! Best of all, this coaching is timely and implemented right away; what better opportunity to learn a new skill and apply it! Check out this padlet for more resources and ideas!

The hardest part of distance learning is missing the students. I am happy to talk with them each day, if only online.

Wishing all of you new learning and opportunities to grow professionally and personally.