Are you preparing for your back-to-school data collection for your special education classroom or students with autism or other disabilities? Are data collection forms and baseline data and assessment and IEPs and behavior plans keeping you up at night yet? If not, it's coming soon! Here are a few things that I have done to get ready, not only for back to school preparation, but preparing for a new student, a new ABA client, or new paraprofessional or behavior technician. Just some ideas for ya!
1. Communicate with your families
Having sat on all sides of the table (parent, special education teacher, outside consultant), I can tell you that starting the year right often begins before the student sets foot in the door. When I send my child off, I want to know that my teacher already knows and loves him and will take good care of him. And when I receive your child into my classroom, I want to know that I have some great information about what she likes and doesn't like, what his strengths and challenges are, and what she responds to when anxious. I know that it will make those first days and weeks easier for everyone!
What I love to do is send home a “My Student” form where the family can tell me all about their child. I also like to send home questions about the child's skill sets. Not a formal assessment, per say, but questions I have put together over the years that hit on all the little areas I know are going to be important as I write goals, prepare materials, think about where we want to go this year.
I send these forms out to my families a couple weeks before the year starts and then follow up and try to get them back from everyone before day one. Believe me! It makes a difference! Even if I don't get to meet the child before the first day, having this little bit of information that he loves chocolate cookies or she hates the sound of the toilet flushing helps tremendously!
2. Prepare your staff
When possible, I like to meet with my staff before the year begins and do formal or informal training with them. What are my expectations of them? What are their hopes for the year? Do they understand what their day is going to look like? Do they know what to do when a student is in crisis or gone for the day so they have extra time?
I like to have their draft schedule ready before the first day so they can be familiar with it, but I always tell them that it WILL change (not may, WILL). So many things happen the first few weeks of the year! If they are new, I like to make sure they know that the first weeks are often difficult as we establish routines and students learn the expectations and not to worry!
I like to make sure they know their “line of command.” For example, who do they talk to if they have a question about a student, or who do they talk to if they have a challenge with another staff member. Setting up these lines before the year begins helps keep the chitter-chatter a little at bay. I always teach them that negatives flow up but positives flow all around, meaning if they have something negative to talk about, talk to someone who can help resolve it, and keep the environment a positive place to be. Built rapport!
3. Make quick lists and references
I have written and shared many an IEP and behavior plan with staff and teachers wondering if they'll even be read let alone followed. A document is only as useful as it is implemented. Over the years, I have found my plans are most useful when I can simplify them to a quick reference for the staff, know that if they want MORE information or need further training, we can go to the original and work from there. But generating a quick reference makes ALL the difference in helping a teacher with 20+ other students or a para who is “in the trenches” with a challenging student know what the plan is for that student.
To do this, I generally put together an IEP-at-a-Glance one-page sheet to hand to staff involved and also keep on the student's personal data clipboard that follows them with the para. If they have an official behavior plan, there is a second sheet that quickly summarizes that, too. These clipboards are GOLD. They have these quick references, daily data sheets, schedules, anything needed so that everyone has all the information needed for that student that day.
4. Prepare to gather baseline data
Especially at the beginning of a school year, gathering concrete and accurate baseline data of skill sets is so helpful! It's amazing how much a student can change after a couple of months! I may have written an IEP with accurate goals just a few months before, and then they arrive, and BAM! New goals are needed!
There are two kinds of baseline data I want to gather: 1) an assessment of a broad range of skills, across the spectrum: academic, social, behavioral, life skills. Anything that student might need to navigate the world that year. Then 2) baseline data on the specific goals we have chosen to concentrate our time on.
5. Prepare for on-going data collection
Once I have some good baseline data, I'm now ready to prepare for the daily grind! This means preparing a method of data collection for me and my staff. I want to keep it easy to collect so that it GETS collected regularly (I like daily data collection, but weekly at least). But I also want it collected in such a way that I can actually analyze it, so concrete, clear, and measurable.
I'll go into some various forms of data collection I have used over the years in a later blog, but for now, just having a system already in place with the goals you know are going to be targeted, and then teaching your staff and other teachers involved what your expectation is about collecting that data is just what the doctor ordered. Also, so important to trouble-shoot and make sure the staff know to come to you with questions or concerns: if the data is too hard to gather, they won't, if it's not collecting the information you want, it won't be useful to you. You have to find that balance between simple and complex, practical AND beneficial.
Tip! Create a system that can be collected IN THE MOMENT and not as a “look back” if you want accurate data! Trying to remember what a student did or said after the moment has passed is fraught with opportunities for inaccuracies.