6 Tips for Transitioning from Elementary to High School Special Ed

As a special education teacher, you know that each year brings new challenges and opportunities. One of the most challenging for teachers is transitioning from elementary to high school special ed.

Transitioning to High School Special Ed from Elementary

It’s a big jump and while it might be exciting, it can also be intimidating. This blog post will give you six strategies for transitioning successfully from one grade level to another.

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6 Tips for Making the Jump from Elementary to High School Special Ed

While each situation is different, these six tips and tricks can help make the transition to high school special ed a lot easier.

1 – Have Clear Expectations About Teaching Special Ed High School

One of the most important things you can do to transition from elementary to high school successfully is set clear expectations for yourself. It’s not always easy, but it’s necessary if you want your students and parents to understand what they should expect as well. You could start by asking yourself questions like:

  • What are my goals for the year?
  • What are the most important things I need to do this year to be successful with these students?
  • How does my classroom layout differ from last year’s class?

The answers will help you know what kind of strategies might work best and which ones may not apply.

2 – Rethink Your Classroom Decorations

Another significant change between elementary and high school is the decor in your classroom. Start by taking a look at what you currently have available. If you’ve been teaching for a while, it might be time to update your wall displays so that they reflect current technologies or national mandates. You may want to update your standards wall displays or gift the outdated or elementary-age posters.

If you are starting from scratch and don’t have any decorations, try making a list of things that would represent this new high school age group on your walls. For example, social media images like selfies or popular memes, modern-day quotes about bullying and cyberbullying, or popular high-school movies would be better suited to your new high school students than a circus or rodeo-themed decor.

Side note: You can even ask your students to help you in decorating the classroom!

Making the classroom feel welcoming is essential for you and your students. It’s not that different from elementary school, but it is important to take the time to figure out what would work best before starting the school year.

3 – Rethink Your Behavior Management Strategies

Another challenge is going from an elementary classroom to a high school special education classroom. While the strategies are similar, some significant differences can make it challenging to maintain your previous success with behavior management. High school students often have more advanced needs and may need different levels of support. They may be at different levels of emotional development than their peers in the gen ed classrooms, which may also be a big difference from your former elementary students.

You may need to be more creative with your boundaries and consequences. You may also have to make adjustments related to the way you present instructions, set up transitions, or monitor student behavior in class.

One strategy for behavior management success in the high school classroom is progressive discipline. When implemented consistently, it is a powerful behavior management strategy that can be used for any age and is something that is probably in your bag of teaching tricks already.

Remember, there are no one-size-fits-all approaches to behavior management, so it’s important to experiment and think creatively, especially with a new grade level.

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4 – Communicate with Parents Early and Often

One of the most important ways you can make this transition successfully is to communicate with parents early and often… which is the same advice for any grade level. Families are your partners in educating their children, so it’s imperative that they know what will happen before school starts.

You could start by asking them what their goals are for their children. This helps you understand what they need and gives you some very helpful information about their children. Try to get parents involved from day one.

5 – Ask for Help When You Need It

Transitioning from elementary special ed to high school special ed is filled with challenges. Don’t hesitate to reach out to your new high school colleagues for support, ideas, and encouragement.

6 – Expect Things Not to Be Perfect

You will have times when you feel like your students in high school are more challenging and other times where they seem to be making progress. Remember that this is part of the normal process – some days will be better than others… just like any classroom.

If you go into the school year expecting everything to be perfect, you will be discouraged and disappointed right from the start. Do your best. Expect the best. And be okay when things don’t go to plan.

Transitioning from elementary to high school special ed is filled with challenges, but the six tips above can make it easier for both you and your students. You can do this!

If you’ve ever made the transition from teaching elementary to teaching high school, what advice do you have? Share your experiences and knowledge in the comments below!




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