Taking time to get to know and support your kids.
When starting to set up your own classroom there are so my things that you need to consider and it can be very overwhelming at times, especially if you, like myself, was or are learning on the job. The most important thing you can do in your class, just as, if not even more important than getting to know parents and building relationships as I discussed in my previous post, is building relationships with your children, getting to know their individual likes, dislikes, habits, behaviours, needs, wants, interests, mannerisms, etc.
Reading books and articles about ASD, traits and characteristics of children with ASD are all great but are no substitute for actually getting to know your children who are just that, children first and foremost, above all else. They are each a child, an individual and they are not, and should never be defined by a diagnosis and a textbook definition. They are just like every other child you will meet, an individual, an inspiration and an amazing little human with more resilience and courage than you thought imaginable.
The only and best way to build this relationship is by spending time with them and I mean genuinely spending time with them, being fully present and interested in what they have to say or communicate. Get down to their level, play with them, follow their lead and remember children communicate in a variety of ways. Not all children can verbalize their likes and dislikes so literally follow their interests, watch them, see what area of the classroom they are drawn to, what resources of toys they naturally engage with and as I’ve gone through before use what the parents have told you about their child to engage with them.
TIP: take the time to fill in a transition booklet with them (if they are able for this) and use it as a common interest activity. Fill your own out with them to model it and let them get to know you too, don’t be a closed book!
Some children won’t like you invading their space if playing or interacting with an object so respect that and find a way in, whether it be having a similar object of interest in your hand to encourage them to approach you or simply noting their interest and creating activities based around this. I cannot stress the importance of child led activities that children are engaged and interested in (not what you think they will interested in but what they actually are interested in, regardless of what this is!) Put your teacher and academic/curriculum head away for a while and focus on building a meaningful relationship that, over time, you can build on.
Don’t get me wrong academics are hugely important and have their place but if you have not taken the time to build a rapport and meaningful relationship with your kids before embarking on teaching discrete and explicit lessons you will forever be playing a catch up game as children will be disinterested and lacking the motivation to work with you and to be fair would you blame them? Would you want to work with someone who showed little interest in getting to know you?
Follow their interests, tailor activities around your children’s interests and use them as a means through which you can teach them and support them in their learning, encouraging them to, in time, become autonomous learners. Help them to develop their personalities, to embrace their unique qualities and develop the life skills they will need to succeed in their own lives as you would any child in your care.
For the first week of school I make a point of relaxing my time table (the first fortnight when I first started as I wasn’t as familiar with my children and if it needs more time for you to do this don’t feel bad about that, every class is different, every child is different, every teacher and setting is different! As the saying goes “you do you”!) When I say keep it relaxed I by no means mean wing it! Have a purposeful and well thought out plan that will invite and encourage children whilst simultaneously allowing you to build relationships, assess and plan ahead. Please don’t for a second think that you can waltz into a classroom with the opinion of it’ll be grand. Without structure and routine you’re class will be chaotic, children will be anxious and stressed and you and your team will feel out of their depth. Start as you mean to go on, have systems in place to support your children and your team.
For the first day (and week) in class I always have a relaxed timetable set out so that all adults know what they are doing. This can be seen in my first day of school bundle where I go into routines in detail, things to consider before you start your first day and give planning examples and activities and resources in detail.
This bundle has set of resources that can be used throughout the year for morning circle times or discussion groups and a range of levelled activities that can be chosen from like a pick and mix throughout your first week or fortnight (remember that repetition is ok and the key to building skills, just make it a purposeful skill) to create your own first set of plans. It is flexible enough that you can build relationships and structured enough that the children will have a sense of security and build familiarity.
Always have a backup plan and have this discussed with your SNAs. I try to have a 10 minute morning meeting with the girls I work with (this took a lot longer at the start but we’ve whittled it down to this now!). They are amazing SNAs and educators in their own right and I genuinely appreciate how hard a job it must be as they have a wealth of experience but yet have to follow your lead as you are the one that the responsibility lies and ends with. This is important to note as everybody will have their own idea of what is best but you have to trust your own knowledge and gut as the responsibility for your class lies with you! Have your plans, ideas and backup plans discussed ahead of time (and give them their own set of plan or schedule so they know exactly what they are meant to be doing, so they are informed of what to do in certain situations) and keep communication as open as you can throughout the day. Remember it is a learning process for everyone in your class and although you may have the day planned to a ‘T’ in your own head it really is a learning curve learning how to share this info with other staff members (and something I continue to learn and am hopefully getting better at!)
Things that I would always have set up from day 1 are the visual schedules, token boards, morning schedule organisation visuals and reinforcer boards
TIP: print off the reinforcer visuals and allow chm to fill their boards with the things they are drawn to or like it make sure you have access to them first! Dont offer what you don’t have!)
All of these and lots more can be found in my ASD class Starter Bundle and may help you in setting up your own classroom.
These kinds of visual and organisation systems will all help your classroom to run more smoothly, develop independence skills and lessen anxiety and feelings of stress in your kids.
So they’re my main points really; build a genuine rapport with your kids, follow their interests, take the academic teacher hat off for a while, allow yourself, your team and your kids a settling in period, have structured visual systems in place from day 1, plan and be prepared even if it is in a less structured way and don’t be too hard on yourself. Get organised, relax and enjoy your first few weeks. Try not to stress as kids will pick up on this. Have the basics covered and allow yourself time to find your feet. And as always reach out if you need more support. Comment here or msg me on Instagram of you Have any concerns, worries or doubts, don’t feel alone on it. That’s my main purpose for setting up my Instagram account and this blog so use it for its intended purpose.
Next blog will continue on this ‘setting up an ASD class’ theme and discuss schedules and routines.
So until then feel free to leave a comment or get in touch,