Every year in our school district (public schools), we're required to submit professional annual goals and our plan to achieve them. These professional development goals may be associated with a content area we were looking to improve in and apply to our current school setting or a long term goal aligned with a degree program. While these goals may vary from one educator to another, there are some common teaching career goals that many special educators strive to achieve.
If you're a new special education teacher looking for a bit of inspiration, here are seven ideas for professional goals.
- Improve IEP implementation. One goal that many special education teachers have is to improve the IEP (individualized education program) process. Short term objectives may include steps you'll take to involve more general education teachers, communicate next steps with families, and providing more support in the general education curriculum.
- Help students make progress. Another common goal is to help students make progress on their IEP goals. This may involve exploring different methods for differentiating instruction, using data-driven decision making (progress monitoring), and providing targeted interventions.
- Meet the challenges of the school year. All teachers face challenges during the school year, but special educators often have additional challenges due to the diverse needs of their students. Some common challenges include behavior problems, lack of resources, and time constraints. Special educators may set goals to address these challenges by seek ing out professional development opportunities or collaborating with other professionals in the field.
- Learn about new technologies and how to integrate them into the classroom to support students' needs. Technology has changed tremendously in the past few years, and it is important for teachers to be on top of new trends wther this is in the area of assistive technology or using technolgy as an engagement tool. If this is an area of interest already, this additional information would be helpful to overlap with your annual goals.
- Develop strategies for collaborating with families, community members, and other professionals. A long-term goal may be focused on positive relationship development with key stakeholders. What systems could you put into place to make sure everyone is informed throughout the school year? This goal could involve researching best practices and then gathering the implementation tools.
- Explore new ideas to promote student independence and self-advocacy. Whether you're teaching at the elementary school, middle school, or high school level, student independence is every special education program's top goal. This free webinar shares ideas for implementing a work system in the resource room to promote independence – Check it out here.
- Training and managing support staff to create a positive learning environment. New teachers (and veteran, too) often find themselves in situations with supporting other staff members with little to no preparation. This would be an ideal professional goal since it's an area that would benefit EVERYONE. Here's a fast way to achieve this goal – transform your classroom in a weekend with this mini-course: Positive Paraprofessional Partnerships.
How to Design a Plan to Achieve Professional Goals in Special Education
Now that you've selected a goal that supports your educational needs, what action steps will you take to achieve them?
Especially in already-packed school hours?
Here are some options I've used when constructing my own professional goals – feel free to borrow or mix and match any of these ideas!
- Attend workshops and professional conferences on special education topics. Ongoing participation was something that was already required as a certified special education teacher, so it was beneficial to overlap with my annual goal implementation plan. Don't forget to check out online options, too. There are many webinars and masterclasses available that will hopefully count towards credit. Click here to check out my free masterclass on IEP Data Tracking.
- Read professional books and articles. Is there a special education book you're already eyeing? If you're having a hard time fitting in more workshops, a book study spread out throughout the school year may be more feasible. Choose a book that closely aligns with your professional interests, i.e.: classroom management, developing effective lesson plans, and understanding severe disabilities. Many of these titles may already have a set of critical thinking questions available as a book companion.
- Observe other special education programs. This is my favorite way to learn! Is there another special education classroom setting in your school or district? If you're an inclusion specialist, you may benefit from observing self-contained classrooms or networking with a resource room teacher. Another idea is to look beyond the classroom and schedule a consultation with occupational therapists or social workers. These professional relationships can help develop the “bigger picture” as we look for the best ways to support our students.
- Continuing formal education. In your first years of your career, you may already be required to earn continuing education credits. It's already such a busy time, so I highly recommend checing our the syllabus and aligning your professional goals with something you'll already be focused on throughout the school year. This should already be thoughtffully planned study, so there's no need to add MORE to your plate.
While there are many goals you could set for your professional development this school year, these seven ideas are a great place to start. And the best part is that they don’t require a lot of time or energy to implement. My biggest piece of advice is to choose a topic you're either already focused on or aligned with your professional interests.
I can't wait to hear which goal you're choosing! Leave a comment below on which goal you’ll be focusing on this school year.