As a special education teacher, we try to plan for everything. But how do you plan for unplanned for events, like fire drills, lock downs, and evacuating the classroom due to severe behaviors? With an emergency backpack.
Welcome to the SPED Connection, a collection of tips and tricks from other special educators all over the world. Because we’re all in this together!
Today’s tip comes from Allison M. You can find her on Instagram here.
She is a K-5 self contained special education teacher, and also works extensively within the community coaching baseball, wheelchair soccer, and volunteering.
She says her favorite thing about being a special education teacher is seeing her students have a voice through AAC, extensive expressive vocabulary instruction, and getting behaviors under control. Allison loves teaching academics, but loves seeing their little bodies calm and communicative.
Allison found her backpack at Target for $7 and repurposed an idea she saw from her regular ed peers. Ultimately, the idea for an emergency backpack started with a need. A need to occupy students during serious scenarios (in practice and potential real life) where students need to be quiet for safety reasons… yet entertained to stay quiet.
So what’s inside the backpack is what makes it so special.
The purpose and goal of each item in the emergency backpack is to entertain your students to keep them safe and to keep them comfortable (physically, mentally/emotionally)… and for potential longer periods of time.
Start with things that are catered to your students, things that they like… preferred reinforcers. This can include specific toys for each student (toys without noise) and edibles (like pretzels or fish crackers).
Sensory items are fantastic items to include, many of which make no sound but are great for occupying student sensory needs during stressful or uncommon situations.
You don’t want to forget about the other essentials either:
- Wipes and diapers / pull ups
- Changes of clothes (this will depend on the students in your class, and you may find that some students have their own individual emergency backpacks.)
- Core boards
- Visuals for lock downs, fire drills, field trips, classroom evacuation due to severe behaviors, etc.
- Headphones / Noise Cancelling Headphones
- Anything else that is student specific to your classroom
Where do you keep the Emergency Backpack and how do the adults utilize this in the event of an emergency?
Keep the Emergency Backpack right by your classroom door with your Emergency roster or folder (in my classroom, it is a red folder with a roster, map, and protocols inside – all provided by admin).
Use this sign, identical to the one Allison uses, to label the backpack so it’s not mistaken or forgotten.
Let your TAs or paraprofessionals know the purpose of the Emergency Backpack, and if you’re just beginning the implementation, have them help you build it. Explain that this backpack is used for certain situations, and it may be helpful to go through the backpack contents with them.