Preparing for School to School Transitions {Tips for SPED Teachers}

The end of the year is upon us. The kids are feeling it and I'm sure you are too! This is a busy time of year with testing and school activities and paperwork! Well, the paperwork is an all year round thing. In the middle of all the chaos, it's important to start thinking about your students who will be transitioning to a new school next year and the students that will be coming to you! Today, I'm sharing two quick tips for a smooth transition for both you and the student.

TIP 1: Go observe the student in their current setting.
I teach middle school, so I get 6th grade students coming from elementary and I send my students on to high school. And I know the end of the year is such a busy time of year but it's also a great time to set up observations for your incoming students. Observations are a great way to see students in action and get to know them before next year. At this point in the school year (April or May), classroom procedures and routines are memorized and you can get great insight on the student's level of independence and potential. We've all had those students who try to play it up and act like they can't do things at the beginning of the year. But if you have been out and observed them in action, you already know what they are capable of and can avoid playing into the learned helplessness. Here are some things I watch for during observations-
  • How long is the student on task and working continuously? You will want to make sure that you build breaks in at appropriate times, especially at the beginning of the year. Knowing how long the student is capable of remaining on task will help you determine appropriate break times and avoid student frustration.
  • What behavioral strategies are being used? Is there an individual behavior plan in place in addition to the classroom system? What behaviors are being targeted? It's always helpful to know ahead of time what to expect! But keep in mind that students can change a lot over the summer and when going up a grade level & school. Make sure that you don't let current behaviors define the student.
  • What are the students reinforcers? What people and things do they navigate towards in the classroom? How often is the student accessing reinforcement? 
  • What visuals does the student need? Is the student using a visual schedule or a token board? Are there visuals for transitions or following directions? These are all things that you will want in place from day 1 and will want to either ask the teacher to send to you or make your own.
  • What curriculum is the student using and what lessons are they on? 
  • What do transitions between activities look like? This is often an antecedent to problem behavior, so watch carefully to see how well the student transitions, especially from preferred to non-preferred activities.

TIP 2: Set up a transition meeting.
My district also holds formal transition meetings where the current IEP team meets with the incoming IEP team to discuss goals, progress and any other important information that needs to be shared.  Even if you don't meet with the parents, I highly recommend meeting with the student's current teacher. It's a great chance to ask questions and learn a few tips and tricks from his/her experience. We often spend a lot of years with a student and for a cohesive and consistent program that builds on itself from year to year, it's important to learn what's been done, what's being done and where the teacher recommends going next. We hold transition meetings at the school that the student will be transitioning to. During a transition meeting, we go over current IEP goals and progress. It also gives me an opportunity to talk to the parent about the student's strengths and weaknesses and the family's short and long term goals. I use this form to take notes for incoming students and I provide a filled out copy to new teachers for students exiting my classroom. Finally, I end the meeting with a school tour. I show the family my classroom and we do a quick walk around the school.

These two things help me end the year feeling more confident that I can handle what's coming at me next year! And it also helps your incoming students feel more confident in their upcoming transition. Transitions are scary, but you can make it way less scary just by taking a couple of hours at the end of the year!


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