Managing a special education classroom can be overwhelming and exhausting, to say the least. To make your job a little bit easier, here are some great classroom management hacks I have learned over the years in my special education classroom.
visual supports & tools
Using visual supports are a must for students and staff. When used with students, visual supports and tools can reduce prompting, increase independence and reduce behaviors in the classroom. The more independent your students are, the less you have to be right there to guide them and the more time you will have for all of the other things you need to do.
Some of the visuals and tools I use with my students are visual schedules, the pause button, timers, a wireless doorbell, etc. Visual supports and tools greatly improve classroom management and student growth. Grab the behavior visuals below HERE.
Another classroom management hack is to use visual supports and tools with staff. We need our staff to be independent just like our students! When we use visuals to make them more independent and less dependent on our direction, then we aren’t pulled for questions, spending time to reteach & train.
Visual supports and tools I use with staff include:
- Prompt hierarchy
- Class schedule
- My lesson plans
- Break and lunch schedule for staff
- Staff jobs
- To-do list
- Prompts for ways to say and ask questions or directives
physical set up as a classroom management hack
How you set up and design the physical layout of your room has a huge impact on classroom management. Take the time at the beginning of the year to set up your classroom in the best possible way for your students to be independent and successful.
Think about ways you can use your furniture to create boundaries and quiet learning spaces. Consider what each space will be used for and what furniture, materials, etc will be used in that area. Be sure to limit visual distractions as much as possible so your students can focus, self-regulate and learn.
Establish & teach classroom routines right away
Our students crave structure! They need it to feel less anxious and better self-regulate. For our sake and theirs, it is important to establish routines starting on the first day of school. This includes your daily schedule, arrival and dismissal routines, your behavior management system, transitioning to other areas of the school building, lunch and snack routines, lining up, etc. If we want our students to be successful and independent, we have to start working on the structure and routines from day one!
organization & system classroom management hacks
Take the time before the school year starts to get your classroom organized and to put systems in place. The better organized you are and the more systems you have set up, the easier your classroom will run. Make sure you have systems for each of these areas:
- Behavior system ( I use a token economy system in my room)
- Data collection
- Centers: who leads it, the order, if students earn after each center, etc.
- Task bins
- How materials will be prepped for lessons: when they will be prepped, where to put materials after they’re prepped, etc.
Write up your systems on the computer so you have it at your fingertips any time you get new paras or therapists. You can print them out and hang them up, hand them out to classroom staff and email everyone so your instructions are available for the staff to use as a reference.
If you take the time to implement systems and have your materials organized, it will allow your day to run smoothly, your students to be less distracted, there will be less downtime, and you won’t be left scrambling for materials when it’s time to do an activity. This greatly improves classroom management!
Plan as though you won’t be in the classroom
Your classroom cannot stop running every time you get called to a meeting, have to take a phone call, are absent, etc. It is imperative that you set things up in a way that learning can continue even when you aren’t available to teach. If you have systems in place, materials prepped ahead of time, and staff that’s well trained, this won’t be difficult at all. Make sure that staff and students know that you expect the day, schedule, rules, behavior systems, and learning to keep going even when you aren’t there! Read more about how to do this HERE.
This is the most common area admins and visitors comment on and praise when they pop in my classroom. It’s a sign that you have effective classroom management skills.
classroom management relies on good training
The only way that a special education classroom can run effectively is if all of the adults know, understand and follow the protocols and expectations that have been established. You have to take the time to train your staff! They need to know everything about the students, the program, the behavior system, prompting, protocols, your expectations for them and the students, etc. Your classroom simply cannot function and your students cannot learn and progress if all of the adults are not on the same page and don’t have all of the vital information they need to do their jobs.
Many teachers don’t have consistent paras or time to meet with paras away from students. If this is the case in your classroom, I would recommend creating a systems packet that outlines your classroom rules and systems. I also make student cheat sheets for paras and therapists. Include diagnosis, important info, relevant background, and a photo. This is very helpful for staff changes, the first month of school, and ESY.
movement improves classroom management
Research shows that students learn best when given plenty of opportunities to move! Put research into action:
- Look at classroom & studnet schedules. Students shouldn’t be sitting for more than an hour.
- Add movement into most activities
- Schedule short motor groups, recess, brain gym, brainbreaks, etc. throughout the day.
Movement doesn’t have to be running around to be effective. It could be activities as simple as:
- Doing exercises during morning meeting
- Count and write the room during some ELA and math times
- Students rotating through centers or stations instead of adults moving to students.
- Changing seating: lay prone on floor for independent reading, stand up and do writing on the board, sitting at a ball during task bins, etc.
Be sure to find time throughout the day to fit in movement, it will increase your students attending, decrease behaviors & improve classroom management.
reduce downtime to improve behaviors
Downtime does not work well for most of my students and it often leads to behaviors. I keep my classroom running on a pretty tight schedule to eliminate as much downtime as possible. My students all use a token economy system. They cash in when they hear my wireless doorbell go off, and they have 3-5 minutes of reinforcement, then we go right into our next activity. If there is any downtime, we have bins of activities for students who just cannot tolerate waiting. In order to keep your students ready to learn and to avoid behaviors, reduce the downtime in your classroom as much as possible.
Theme units help classroom management
Not only does using themes have tremendous benefits for your students, but it makes things so much easier on you as well. Lesson planning is a breeze when you have a good schedule in place and you use themes. In my classroom, we do each theme unit for a two-week block. When I am doing my lesson plans for that two-week block, I simply plug the new theme activities into my existing schedule. So, for example, on Mondays at 9:00, we do vocabulary on our whiteboard. All I have to do is pull out the new vocabulary cards from the theme unit bin and I’m good to go. Using theme units will save you so much time!
build Relationships with students and staff
Our students (and staff) have to trust us and feel safe in order to take risks in learning. One of the best things you can do for your students is to take the time to build connections with them. Start doing this on day one!
It is also important to pair yourself with the reinforcers a student most enjoys. They need to know that you are the gateway to getting what they want. If you build a positive relationship and pair yourself with the fun, enticing reinforcers that the student wants, you will quickly establish instructional control and improve classroom management.
These classroom management hacks can really get you off on the right foot to a great school year. They take some work and time in the beginning, but they will all decrease your stress and workload and will increase your students’ learning, independence and success.