I believe that Ontario school boards should provide more support and attention in identifying each child’s level of development, learning abilities and specialized needs. This would help to ensure that educational programs are designed to accommodate their social, emotional and academic needs and also facilitate their growth and development.
The truth is that many students with special education needs are not getting the support and access to services that they require to succeed. The lack of support has had an even bigger impact on students who face additional systemic barriers. Students need access to educational assistants, behavioural counsellors, child and youth workers, psychologists, and speech and language pathologists to help them learn and thrive in today’s realities. The number of students being identified with special educational needs is increasing. Unfortunately, in most cases, the system doesn’t reflect that change and the necessary funding to adequately support all students is just not there.
Creating an inclusive classroom culture that fully supports the needs of all students is often met with many challenges and barriers in today’s classroom environment. In my guidance and coaching roles, I build teacher capacity to help address students’ social, emotional and academic needs, and co-construct teaching strategies that support students with a wide spectrum of special educational needs. One of the greatest challenges I often see has to do with class sizes. Many of the classrooms I support have an average of thirty students with diverse learning needs, and often with only one teacher in the classroom. In this current learning environment, access to resources, specialized and/or individual instruction and support staff are often limited and sometimes none-existing. We need to reconsider and address the inequities in class sizes, if we truly value each and every student and the well-being of staff and students.
When working with teachers, I focus on creating an inclusive classroom culture that includes knowing who the students are, building trusting relationships and ensuring each student feels a sense of belonging in the learning community. In partnership, we analyse data we collected to identify the learning gaps of each student. We co-construct lesson plans that are differentiated, embedded in the Universal Design of Learning model and are culturally relevant and responsive to the lived experiences of students. In spaces where there are a high number of students with specialized needs, I find it helpful and advantageous for me to know who my students are, to have a highly structured learning environment and to set clear expectations for a successful learning environment. Working in collaboration with the classroom support staff as well as families is also paramount to student success.
How do I support students with special educational needs?
- Get to know individual students’ strengths, needs and interests
- Consider the diverse needs of all students in the classroom when it comes to the learning environment, instructional practices, and assessments for, as and of learning
- Develop the class profile for all students that includes their identities, as well as their social, emotional and academic needs
- Using the principles of Culturally Relevant and Responsive Pedagogy (CRRP), Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and Differentiated Instruction (DI), backward-design your program with the big ideas in mind
- Consider how to best use Assistive Technology to support student learning in the classroom and at home
For additional resources, visit ETFO’s website on class sizes and special education and