Building Bridges the First Week of School
The Importance of Communication and Organization in Itinerant Teaching
by Kelly Kodadek O’Connell, M.E.D
During the first week of school, many children eagerly anticipate meeting new teachers, seeing friends and having a fresh start. Teachers also share these feelings of excitement, as it is one of the most important weeks of the school year. As an itinerant teacher of children who are deaf and hard of hearing, this is when I figure out my routine, dive into Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) and set dates for school workshops. Most importantly, it is during this week that I begin developing relationships with the family, student and school team. I set the foundation for the entire school year through the development of these relationships.
Before school starts:
- I call the families I will be working with to introduce myself, ask about their summer and see if they have any questions.
- I ask if their child has any concerns about the upcoming school year. This opens the lines of communication, which I find to be essential for the child’s success at school. I write down their requests on a form and always make sure to get the necessary answers for them.
- I ask how the family would like to stay in contact with me. Some families prefer a communication notebook and others would rather correspond through e-mails, phone calls and/or texting. I like to show the family that, within reason, I am flexible and can work around their schedules and needs for communication. I want them to know that I am available and willing to listen. This develops trust, a critical ingredient needed for the exchange of thoughts, concerns and ideas.
- I follow up this initial phone call with a letter that details my schedule with their child and with my contact information. If the student receives support services from a professional outside of school, such as a personal audiologist or speech-language pathologist, I will get written permission from parents to contact these providers as well. Again, this encourages a team approach and opens the lines for communication, ultimately providing better services for the student. For example, if I have a student who uses a cochlear implant(s) and has their cochlear implant(s) programmed by a private provider, I believe it is important to know their MAPping audiologist. I will then be able to pass along information to the audiologist that might be helpful in the MAPping process.
Building a relationship during the first week of school is critical to developing a positive rapport with the student. I usually spend the first few sessions playing language games, gathering information about their learning styles and introducing them to my teaching style. To get my students to talk about themselves, I might create a fun PowerPoint with photos from my summer or bring in a yearbook to show them my interests when I was in school. During this time, I will also evaluate their self-advocacy abilities related to their hearing loss – an area where some of my first lessons will focus. As these sessions progress, I will explain my role, develop boundaries and establish a routine. For my older students, I give them a warm-up notebook as well as a journal for essay planning and writing. I also make a point to get to know my students’ classmates to set everyone at ease. This often creates a much more relaxed school environment for the student with hearing loss. Therefore, when I walk into class or am in the hallway, all the students feel comfortable saying “hello” to me. If there are multiple students with hearing loss in the school, I might also organize a monthly breakfast for us all to get together and chat. This not only shows my students that I value them and their relationships with other students with hearing loss, but also provides them with a network of peers they can go to if they have a problem or issue.
As an itinerant teacher, my first interaction with the staff at my students’ school is essential to establishing a positive relationship. Relationship building develops trust, which ultimately leads to honesty and more effective communication when creating the best possible program for the student. Since I only spend a fraction of my day, or even week, with the student, it is extremely important that the team be knowledgeable about working with a child with hearing loss. I start by arranging an introductory workshop for each student’s teachers before school begins. The workshop is one of the key elements in establishing a team approach between the school and the itinerant teacher. It allows the itinerant teacher to ease anxiety that may come when working with new technology, such as the FM or soundfield system, and gives the education team a chance to ask questions. By properly educating the staff about the equipment before school starts, the potential for embarrassing moments between the child and classroom teacher is reduced. This ensures a smoother first week in the classroom not only for the classroom teacher, but for the student as well.
During the workshop, I give a personalized presentation covering a number of areas including student background information, audiological equipment, and modifications/accommodations necessary for providing the child with appropriate auditory and linguistic access to the curriculum. With older students, I might have them give their own presentations to develop self-confidence and demonstrate that they are ultimately responsible for their own learning. I like to establish where audiological equipment will be kept during the school year and who will be responsible for daily listening checks. Setting up an equipment routine early in the year will lessen “off air time” and help solve audiological problems efficiently. Depending on the amount of time allotted for the presentation, I will include a listening demonstration, such as an activity to simulate hearing loss in the classroom. The idea is that the classroom teacher will develop a greater understanding of hearing loss and be more aware of what might be a difficult learning situation for the child. Often times the child’s greatest struggle is communicating with their team of teachers. The more the itinerant teacher can educate the team about what it is like to have a hearing loss, the better the relationship between the student and team will be.
A few days into the start of school, I conduct classroom observations to check on appropriate use of the amplification. The information given at the initial workshop may have been a lot for teachers to digest along with all of the other curricular and school policies that they have to absorb. Giving the team feedback on how they are using the equipment makes a lot more sense once the student has spent time in their classroom.
During the first week of school, I also introduce myself to the other key players in the school building, such as the principal, case manager and classroom teacher(s). However, I also like reach out to the secretaries, nurse, librarian and janitor. These individuals can be very helpful in times of need! Secretaries can pass along phone messages from me to the teacher or assist with arranging meetings. The librarian can be an excellent resource for helping to find books for thematic topics or extra textbooks for pre-teaching. Another good person to know is the janitor, especially if equipment has been lost. A missing FM receiver can look like a piece of plastic trash; however, if the janitor knows what to look for, the school can save hundreds of dollars. It is always a plus to know the nurse, especially when working with younger students whom I see weekly or monthly. Since I do not see all of my students every day, the nurse can be a lifesaver in assisting with listening checks and troubleshooting broken equipment.
Relationship building with the family, student and school team are most successful through direct communication and thorough organization. By investing time early in the school year and showing your willingness to open dialogue with all parties, you help to eliminate the possibility of issues developing later in the school year. These positive relationships help fulfill the most important goal: helping to create a strong and supportive learning environment for the student with hearing loss.