From A Distance

Renay was really wrapped up last week with last-minute meetings. Like many other public school campuses across the country, Renay’s campus is becoming a distance learning model for the time being. There are a few things that have happened in the last week that matter really while distance learning gets rolled out.

Big thoughts about Distance Learning

Realistically: you might have children or pets at home who do not understand the video camera is on. At least for the family, this would be a great time to talk about what we wear when we are home now and how to interrupt while a person is working on the computer. We’re sorry, your cat will walk across your keyboard, no matter what you do.

We’re sorry, your cat will walk across your keyboard, no matter what you do.


It would be great if you can have a workspace, but we know that most people might be doing distance learning videos in a family room or a dining room. Some thoughts here

  1. Avoid a window right behind you. The glare takes out what others can see of you. Your students need to see you. You can curtains if you need to.
  2. Do not move the laptop around the house. This would be really good to tell the students. Or if they need to move, tell the students to turn off the camera.
  3. Blanket statement: anyone needs to use the restroom, please mute and turn off your camera. Leave the laptop out of the bathroom.
  4. Work your schedule with your district. Be there, we know you are thinking of the thousands of other things, but be there with the students. No extras, phone or TV going unless you’re trying to keep your own children occupied while you’re working.
  5. For those of you with more than one video conference at the same time: close down unnecessary tabs. Working offline is a must for some folks who have large meeting calls.
  6. Work on getting distance learning norms for everyone.

For Students

Especially for students who are non-verbal or very dependent on routine. Their world is really upside down. Some suggestions:

  • Teachers can phone call the families and ask to speak to the student. Let them know you’re fine. Let them hear from the outside world.
  • Paraeducators, with permission first, can either send a postcard over or use district email to contact the student. Be careful to not talk about the future other than you are looking forward to seeing them.
  • Peers: email or call your classmates. They need to see you. Even if it is for 5 minutes a week. You might have to arrange something with their family especially if the student doesn’t have their own phone or device to access the internet, but call, let them know you’re thinking about them. This can be a lonely time for everyone, but especially peers with disabilities who often depend on school time to see and talk to other people. Ask what things they’ve done lately. Talk about your last game on Xbox. Or the movie you hadn’t seen until last week.

This can be a lonely time for everyone, but especially peers with disabilities who often depend on school time to see and talk to other people.


For Teachers

If you don’t know about the rabbit hole Renay went down last week, Renay, with three other people, helped to orchestrate a webpage for supporting folks with special education from a distance. This is not a final document, it will be revised as the days continue, but this is a good starting place for a lot of different things.

If you’re planning the curriculum: this would be a good time to remember the importance of checking in with all the students you can. Seeing them online is a great way to help support that. Look for an opportunity to share kindness with your students. Look for ways to connect with the students who do not have access. Maybe it will be a letter weekly or so.

Use the other members of your education team on campus to help make your day different. Share ideas, share things that make you laugh, share things that you feel comfortable sharing.

Plan downtime. Know when you will not be ‘working’. It is too easy to keep working, but you still have dinner to figure out and activities that need to be done to not feel like you’re trapped all the time in a world that has changed too much. Take your weekends too. Don’t ignore email during the week, but don’t ignore the family either. Plan TV on the couch night. Whether it is something from the family video collection (online or just put it in the appropriate player) or it is a show that comes directly at the time it is supposed to air, just take this moment to be together for an hour or two before bedtimes or needing to get back to work.

For Paraeducators

So all of those skills and days when you were watching a student for signs of epilepsy, behaviors, or perhaps working hand over hand with a student getting the range of motion going to write their name, those days are really not here right now. So what will you be doing?

For those of you in inclusive schools, (hopefully) you will be partnering with the general education teacher(s) you still work with. You will be doing all the things you normally do at a distance. You will be supporting more than your student, but that is all right. Be there, know the students’ names. Remind the students that though things are different, they are still the same.

For those of you who were working an SDC or medical placement: this is going to be really hard. Some of the students you are supporting are very susceptible to COVID-19 just by having pre-existing conditions. To be fair, the last thing the family is probably thinking about is working on math or reading. But here are some things your school could have you do:

  • Pre video reading books that the student might know. Pause in places where you think the student can read from a story. This will take some work to get right, but try it, the kids might like it. You can load the video to a password only YouTube account or other systems the district might use.
  • Set up home scavenger hunts for the student. You can have them look around their house for things they might have and count or trace these items.
  • Let the family know you are thinking about them and their student. It can be quite daunting right now, though technically, home relief supporters are considered essential work, some support workers cannot work because they too have children at home or would return to family members who would be considered high risk.
  • Demonstrate an activity through a video you might do with a specific student to work on counting or any other skill they are working on.

Of course, this also means that the district should have the technology available for all staff including paraeducators. But we know that is not as easy as it sounds.

No one said this was going to be easy to take an entire industry that relies solely on human interaction and make it 100% digital. There will be failure. There will be successes. Distance Learning is hard because it puts so much on students who might not know how to do things right away. It is also hard because the teachers are organizing a lot to get going.

No one said this was going to be easy to take an entire industry that relies solely on human interaction and make it 100% digital. There will be failure. There will be successes.


Take care of yourselves. Take care of each other.

One more note

ParaEducate will be off April 13 for Spring Break and will return April 27th.

Do you have any comments about this week’s blog? Do you have a question for us? Would you like to have an opportunity to pilot some materials at your campus? Find ParaEducate online herehereherehere, and on our website. ParaEducate is a company providing materials, information, and strategies for people working in special education inclusion settings for grades K-12. ParaEducate, the blog, is published during the academic school year on Mondays, unless a holiday or announced day off. ParaEducate shares their findings at conferences, through their books, and their academic adaptations.

About paraeducate

ParaEducate is a company run to help reach out to paraeducators or paraprofessionals in public K-12 schools, giving advice, talking about publications that ParaEducate produces, and other useful information regarding working in public school settings.
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