Getting back into the swing of things after winter break can be a challenge for any classroom, but it can be especially difficult in special education classrooms. With students who have unique learning needs, it’s important to ensure that they are not overwhelmed by the transition back into school.

Here are eight tips for making sure that your special education classroom is ready for the new year!

Refresh Routines – One of the most important things you can do when transitioning back to school after winter break is reestablish routines. For special education classrooms where each student has individualized needs, having a set routine will help them feel comfortable and secure in their environment while also helping them stay focused on their work.

Morning Meeting – Set aside extra share time for students on the first day of school after an extended break. This could look like a slide show walking through the school schedule or a read aloud book that features a character education theme. The purpose of this opening activity is to reaffirm the classroom community and remind students that they are an important member of the classroom community.

Re-connect with each student (after the morning meeting) – Ask about how their break went and what they're looking forward to learning in the new year. Another idea is to set aside a few minutes here and there during the first week back from winter break to do a quick baseline assessment. An informal performance task combined with a positive feedback is great time to check in with individual students.

Check in with any families that may need assistance – Consider sending home a classroom newsletter or email filled with different ways parents and guardians can get back into school mode during this new school year. This additional information could be an infographic that you keep on hand to reuse after any extended absence.

Revisit previous objectives – This tip was one I learned the hard way! After a holiday break, I was always full of fresh, creative learning ideas I couldn't wait to implement in the elementary school classroom. However, first things first. Instead of diving into new lesson plans, look for ways to provide quick wins for our students by reinforcing previously learned material. Students will experience school success that will build confidence as they get reacclimated to the classroom routines. There will be plenty of time to tackle these fun activities much later.

Review IEP goals – Take some time at the start of the semester to review goals both short-term and long-term with your students so everyone knows what objectives need to be accomplished during this period of instruction (i.e.: January, Quarter One, or second semester). Of course, how much information you're sharing whether you're working with very young students or older students in middle and high school.

Ask for input from coworkers—What will be happening in the general education classroom setting? What does related services look like for our students during this first week back to school? This is such valuable information to have when making plans! If you learn that there will be little time (or much time) devoted to review classroom rules and routines, then you can adjust accordingly. For example, if you find out that the second grade team is doing more holiday season activities in the general education curriculum, then you'll probably want to make sure students are receiving services for basic needs in the resource room setting. For special education teachers, it's always a balancing act!

Host a classroom celebration – Please see the above tip before considering this! After checking in with the general education teachers, I often noticed that we were able to add a few New Year's themed activities into our rotation. This looked like themed read alouds (check out this post here) and Resolution Writing activities. If there's no time to spare, these activities could be combined with the morning metting on the first day back from winter break. The purpose of this celebration is to get everyone excited about learning together again.

These are eight things to keep in mind while planning what the first week back to school will look like after an extended break. Perhaps the most important focus – for both your students and YOU is this “bonus” tip:

Focus on social emotional well-being – Above all else, remind your students to take care of themselves, and ensure they are safe, respected, heard, supported, included, encouraged, celebrated, and inspired!

I hope that these tips help make your transition back from winter break a smooth one. I know that it can be tough to get everyone back on track after such a long break, but with a little bit of planning and preparation, you can do it!

If you have any other suggestions for making the transition back to school easier, please share them in the comments. I would love to hear what works for you!

Hi there.

I'm Jennifer!

I’m Jennifer and I was a special educator in the elementary school setting over the past decade. I entered the classroom every day dedicated to making learning inclusive AND engaging.

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