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Understood’s Teaching Fellows on the Return to School

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Remote learning has created considerable challenges for all of us over the past eighteen months.

But teachers of kids with learning and thinking differences have been particularly challenged as they’ve grappled with more distractions, less time for one-on-one instruction, and overstretched support systems across the board.  A recent study conducted by Understood found that more than 50% of educators have relied on technology to do their jobs over the past year and have had to reimagine their typical classroom through innovation and creativity. 

As we head back to in-person learning, we wanted to hear what educators are taking away from remote learning—and what they’re ready to leave behind.  We asked  our teacher fellows how they’ve addressed the challenges of teaching neurodiverse kids over the past year and how they’re preparing for the transition back to the classroom. Read some of their responses below: 

“I think that remote learning was more difficult for students with learning and thinking differences because there were so many uncertainties and disruptions that occurred during the school year. It became challenging to ensure consistency with habits, routines, and relationships when so many things kept changing. This was difficult for all kids, but it was definitely tricky for kids who require extra supports to access learning and be successful.” — Lauren Jewett, Kipp Morial Primary School, New Orleans, LA 

“Students who learn and think differently need constant interaction and feedback to help learning stick, which is not as easily done remotely.” —Stephanie Doyle, Glen Cove Elementary, Roanoke, VA 

“This year was my first year teaching first grade. It was so challenging to have students learn to read through online texts not being able to hold books in their hands or have me sitting next to them to notice their nuanced ability to read.” —Ashlee Upp, Alan Frear Elementary School, Camden Wyoming, DE 

Virtual learning has also provided new opportunities for the fellows to think creatively when it comes to both the virtual and in-person classroom. As we return to in-person learning, many are rethinking the typical classroom and making it more inclusive for neurodiverse students.  

“I’m incorporating the technology pieces that ‘worked’ [remotely] with my students [in-person], and I’m teaching advocacy skills and technology skills sooner in the school year.” —Kate Garcia, Plymouth Whitemarsh High School, Plymouth Meeting, PA 

“My goal is to create a learning environment students feel extremely comfortable in … To assist my students who learn and think differently, I plan to create step-by-step plans beyond their Individualized Educational Plan goals for each based on discussions with parents.”  — Stephanie Doyle, Glen Cove Elementary, Roanoke, VA 

“I realize that even within my small classroom, there are more ways to give individual instruction (I did a lot of individual instruction over last year and it worked really well). I am putting an individual workspace in my room.” —Kareem Neal, Maryvale High School, Phoenix, AZ 

Transitioning back to in-person learning also poses new challenges for these teachers. After months of remote instruction, it’s going to be critical for educators to identify individual needs and work in tandem with families to provide the support and resources to help students. That’s where tools like Understood’s Take N.O.T.E. can help. Developed in partnership with the American Academy of Pediatrics, this resource helps parents and educators identify the signs and behaviors typical in children with learning and thinking differences and empowers them to use their knowledge to support their students.  

“The level of support and resources needed for this transition for many students will involve multiple partners (district, community, etc.). Parents and educators can use Take N.O.T.E. to streamline the process for identifying needs and seeking help. The tool provides a platform for collaboration that will help student achievement.”—Kate Garcia, Plymouth Whitemarsh High School, Plymouth Meeting, PA 

“We need resources that focus around immersing students back into the classroom. Resources structured around creating, building, and maintaining classroom community that is trauma-centered would be so helpful!”—Stephanie Doyle, Glen Cove Elementary, Roanoke, VA 

“With the uncertainty of next year, it is hard to know what exactly will be needed. But just as we did last year, educators will rise to the occasion and do what is necessary for the benefit of their students and families. Adaptability and flexibility will be needed. It will be imperative to be proactive to anticipate the needs but also responsive as we navigate the uncertain waters of emerging from deep pandemic education.”—Ashlee Upp, Alan Frear Elementary School, Camden Wyoming, DE 

The return to in-person learning is yet another challenge in an already challenging pandemic—but for educators, it’s also an opportunity to reimagine their classrooms to be more inclusive of kids with learning and thinking differences. With the support of parents, administrators, and Understood, educators can take the lessons learned from the past eighteen months of remote learning and turn them into tangible results that will make real differences for neurodiverse kids. 

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