Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Virtual Tour of My Early Childhood Special Education Classroom

Welcome to Mrs. McDaniel's Pre-K Classroom!  

Honestly, I've been wanting to share this with you all for a long time.  It just took some time to build up the nerve to invite you over...but it's time!! 

With great pleasure and tremendous pride, it is my honor to share my classroom.

Wow! That was a really quick tour.  You are probably thinking how does that all play out for the students and staff.  Or how does all that happen in just three hours?  Well, I must admit three hours go by in a blink of an eye!!  
Here's what our schedule looks like: 
  • 8:00 to 8:10 - Arrival Jobs and Self Care
  • 8:10 to 8:30 - Free Play Center Choices
  • 8:30 to 8:50 -  Opening Large Group
  • 8:50 to 10:00 - Learning Rotations: Social Small Group, Art Small Group, Literacy Small Group, Direct Instruction, and  iPad/Independent Work  (The students rotate through these centers for 10 to 15 minutes per center depending on their level and ability to attend.
  • 10:00 to 10:20 - Outside Time
  • 10:20 to 10:30 - Thematic Large Group
  • 10:30 to 10:45 - Snack
  • 10:45 to 11:00-Closing Large Group
NOTE: Oops!! My stage fright got the best of me!  During the tour,  I mistakenly referred to "large group" as "small group".  The blue rug area by the smartboard is a space that is either used for large group or block free play, not small group as indicated on the video.    
Also, one area I forgot to share in the video is our Safe Place.  This year it is located right by the doorway were the kiddos come in.  Some years, when I have students who want to escape the classroom, the spot near the door is not ideal.  However, this year it is not an issue.  When a student needs a quiet calm space, he or she visits our Safe Place.  With three framed walls, it is an ideal location.
Our Safe Place:  Some days it would be nice if teachers could visit it too!
The icons and feeling buddies in that space are from Becky Bailey’s Conscious Discipline curriculum.  If you don’t know about Conscious Discipline and the Feeling Buddies, take a look at this link.  It has great potential for teaching self-regulation and calming techniques.
Extra Credit:  To see specific expectations for each area, refer to last week’s post.
Well, that's it for now. I hope you will  join me in the upcoming weeks as I share the specifics for each individual center and other areas in our classroom. As always, feel free to email me with any questions regarding this or any Considerate Classroom posts.

Thanks for stopping by!  Hope to see you back here again soon! :)


  1. Can I ask how many student and how many aides you have?

  2. That is a great question. It varies each year depending on the needs and number of the students we have but currently we have 15 students split between an afternoon and morning session with two paras and myself.

  3. Really a great blog with a best thoughts and ideas are shared thanks for sharing such an interesting article...

    Indoor Play Centre Melbourne

  4. I am going to be teaching an early childhood sped class next year and have been advised to "tone" down décor. Do you believe that children are easily distracted by the classroom theme?

    1. I personally like to tone down my decor for special needs children. I feel like the less I have out the more productive and less distracted students will be.

  5. Love your blog! Lots of awesome ideas! During your learning rotations, what are the paraprofessionals roles? Do they rotate between stations or do they both have a set area to be in? I am assuming you are in the direct instruction station at this time. Also, I saw your classroom schedule in large group but does each child have their own schedule somewhere else such as in the TEACCH method? How do the kids know which area to be in and rotate to during learning rotations? Thanks so much!

    1. Great questions. Our schedule and routines really depend on the needs of each student and the class as a whole each year. However that being said I think we had a really good thing going at the end of last school year! Each para was in charge of two centers. And yes you are correct I ran direct instruction. We all had each group for 20 to 30 minutes depending on student attention span and whether we were going to get a chance to go outside for the day. Each group consisted of 2,3 or even 1 student at a time depending on student abilities and needs. Staff had the flexibility to transition to the next center in their rotation when it was appropriate for their group. For example one group may stay 10 minutes at one center and 20 at the next while the next group might do 15 minutes at each. This helps keep everyone engaged and also makes us have to transition as a whole class less often. We transition whole class every two centers with a song about saying goodbye to our teacher and hello to the next teacher in our rotation. The staff work from the class schedule to keep us on time and the students work from individual schedules. They know to rotate when presented a check schedule icon or object. Each student is on a different schedule depending on need, understanding and interest. Some kids use objects, some use clipboard photograph or icon schedules and others use vis-à-vis mark off name tags or clipboards. We try to use the simplest forms of schedules for our students to follow and our staff to put back together at the end of the day. We rarely use the traditional wall schedules as then our kids have to transition twice. They have to transition to their schedule and then to the next center causing a lot of extra movement and sometimes roaming for our kiddos that have trouble attending. Also our centers rotate in a clock wise motion so the kids transition to the right each time and end up completing a circle around the classroom when centers are over. Hope this helps! Let me know if you have other questions. Best wishes, Lindy

  6. Lindy, Thank you so much for this blog. I have been looking for a teaching blog that I can relate to, and you are the most comprehensive I have found. Now, I finally know I'm not alone in the world of preschool special education, self-contained. Congrats on the new job. I can tell you will be a blessing to all you encounter!

    While I really appreciate this post, it is making me feel overwhelmed! Like maybe I've been doing it wrong all along. I have a couple questions to try and figure out how I can make my classroom more effective. I have not been able to have any manipulatives/materials out on (reachable) shelves without the children dumping them on the floor over and over again. Many of my students with severe Autism don't seem to like anything on a table or shelf. Do those covers really keep them out (out of sight, out of mind)? Also, are they just fabric that you have velcroed at the top?

    I find myself doing a lot of large group with my students. When I put my students in small groups, the paras may work with them for five minutes and then say they (kids) need a break, or they will sit with them in the center but do not engage with them (plus, they only work with one student while the other has free reign over the room). I've tried to show them how to work with them, but they see themselves more as babysitters than teachers (many don't like to more than the minimum). Then I feel like the only kids who benefit are the ones whom I work with. Also, I have a hard time getting them (students) to stay in one area. Honestly, most of the time it feels impossible to engage them all; I feel like someone is always losing out. In my dreams, there is one of me for every child. I go home most days feeling guilty for the child(ren) I wasn't able to give much of my attention to that day.

    I try hard to have a lot of structure. Each child has a schedule, I do my best to follow that schedule to a tee (potty-training usually gets in the way). I know I am doing a lot of things that my paras should be because they won't do them properly (ex. I take the ones potty-training to the bathroom every hour because the paras won't follow the steps to train them, they'll just make an excuse to bring them back to the room and change them instead of using our visuals and systems to encourage bathroom independence). And, then when I leave the room, chaos ensues because I am not there to keep everyone on task and a lot of precious time has been wasted. I know I need to take responsibility for the way I am leading. I've read leadership books, and tried different approaches to addressing problems, but no ones seems to care. My husband tells me I need to be firm and mean, but I have a personality that avoids conflict (people pleaser right here) , and even though I feel I am a kind firm, anytime I have addressed a problem I get a lot of passive aggressiveness.

    Gee, I'm sorry to just unload all that on you, but I don't really have anyone who can understand and give wise counsel.

    Thanks again for your awesome posts!


    1. Hi Shellbear,
      I totally get your frustration. Believe me I have been there more than once! Feeling frustrated, ineffective, defeated and all alone. I think it comes with the territory in special education, but it is also what makes our jobs so important. I like to think that as frustrated as I am my students, parents and staff are just as frustrated. By working together we all feel more effective and can make a bigger difference.

      So here are a few ideas, first off yes the covering of shelves really does work. We use dark solid colored towels with Velcro on the top. They work like magic.

      Secondly, find a good team fit is key. I really try to pair my paras up with things that interest them and are a strength for them. For instance I give the para who likes arts the art center and the para who likes technology the IPad center. With the thought that we all like to do things that we are good at and enjoy and then we are all more effective with the kids. I also try to have a schedule for my staff just as much as the kids. So each of them know their duties at each activity and can take ownership of what they are doing. You can learn more about the details of our day in some posts that will be coming out this week. I truly feel the more structure we have in place for the kids the more structure there is for the staff and we all have more to like about the work we are doing as we are accountable and effective!!!

      Lastly, my staff and I are all treated equally. I refer to my paras as teachers just like me so our students see them as such and respect and learn from them in the same manner. I also refer to our classroom as 'our classroom'. It eblongs to all of us without each persons efforts we wouldn't make the gains that we do!

      That being said we all take turns doing the not so fun jobs like toileting it just builds for a better team. We also take the time to laugh with one another and celebrate each little success as small as it may be. We know that every little baby step helps reach the bigger milestones down the road.

      With that I wish you many little baby steps and very successful year. If you ever feel alone and just need to brainstorm, I am around email me:) We can even do a phone conference if you would like.

      **You also might check some of my presentations in trainings on demand at kansasasd.com. I have a good one from November of 2012 on Early Childhood Modifications and Accommodations as well as one on leveling large group dated November 2013.

  7. I just got a teaching job in a special needs school in Ghana (where I spent the last year volunteering). I have a class of 8 students with Down syndrome (7 boys! All high energy!), and I am excited to have this blog as a resource. Your organization skills are out of control!! Thank you thank you!

    1. Thanks Hannah! Best wishes with your kiddos! Keep me posted. I would love to hear how it goes!!

  8. Lindy-
    Your blog is heaven-sent. I relate so much to Shellbear and your wise response. Thank you for your daily source of inspiration and ideas to make the job of ECSE a bit eaiser. When grouping your students, do put your most instensive students together. In our district we get 1:1 paras assigned to a particular student, but I'd like any para to work with the student, not the one assigned to the student. That way we can rotate the students between groups and the student get accustomed to a variety of personnel. But sometimes the para only wants to shadow the assigned child so using the para as a teacher in a learning group can be tough. And consequently a small group gets unmanned.