By Brigid Rankowski, Autism Advocate & National Speaker
For many professionals in the educational fields, the countdown to summertime has been going on for months. As the students yearn to be outside the classrooms, so do the educators long for a respite. However, when the classrooms are all packed up sometimes that’s the best opportunity to get some more work done. During the school year, it is difficult if not impossible to keep up to date on the newest books or educational tools while still maintaining the day to day operations. The free time allowed during the summer months can offer valuable time to reflect on the past year, prepare for the upcoming school year, and work on improving their skills working with disability community.
Summertime is the perfect time to learn more about different aspects of the disability in order to be better prepared when the school year arrives in just a few short months. By learning new techniques and strategies in advance there is time to actively prepare for new situations in the upcoming school year. Perhaps there was a situation this past school year that was challenging for your or the students? Were there tools you think could have better helped address a difficulty a student faced? Some teachers at higher levels of education may want to become familiar with transition planning as well.
Although people may think beach reading choices should be light, there are many different book options about various aspects of disability you can read at a leisurely pace. There are many autobiographies of people with various disabilities available at most book stores or online. By learning about disabilities straight from the people who have lived these lives, it is supporting their messages and learning what supports work directly from those who have benefited from supports. There are also books written by educators for educator about universal design for learning or other teaching styles. The premised behind universal design for learning is to teach students in different ways depending on how they learn best. As an educator, you have probably seen the supports used to help students with disabilities also be effectively used by students without disabilities.
In this interconnected age, many people have turned to blogs to discuss their triumphs and tribulations. There are blogs run by parents, educators, professionals, and self advocates who all discuss similar issues with different perspectives. Some of these blog entries are hosted on websites to make navigating between topics or authors easy to do. Once you begin looking up blogs, often you will find similar ones endorsed by the writer and can lead you to discover this whole online disability community.
One of the greatest advancements we have had to the disability field in the past few years is the diversity and accessibility of applications (apps). Before, there were very few applications to serve the disability population and they were pricy or difficult to use. Now, there are apps for hundreds of different purposes and many able to be used right on a call phone. This allows teachers and students to have specific tools right at the tip of their fingers. With how many different apps there are on the different platforms, it can take time to find ones specifically addressing a need you may have in your classroom.
The slow pace of summer also allows you the chance to become a student again by taking opportunities to increase your knowledge in a classroom setting. There are many online programs, such as the Certified Autism Specialist, which can both teach you new skills and increase your professional appeal. Many large organizations offer free or low priced webinars on specific topics lead by professionals in the field. Most offer certificates of completion however some also offer Graduate Credits or CEUs which your teaching program may require you to obtain. Becoming a student again also allows educators the opportunity to explore new topics under the leadership of other professionals in the field. If you have ever been interested in some topics such as music therapy, summer months are perfect to explore these different avenues.
There are many national and local disability conferences which operate during the summer months as the target audience, educators and professionals, have the time off. These conferences range from one day to multi-day events with many different speakers. The amount of information you will obtain at these events is mind-blowing and everyone should bring a notebook to take notes as you’ll be processing all the information long after you leave the conference. Many conferences also have a vendor area where you can meet and explore different products or local companies which you may find beneficial in your practice. These events are also wonderful places to network and meet with other peers in your community who are doing similar work. There are so many useful strategies, techniques, and supports to be shared with each other at these events.
Summer is also the perfect time to begin establishing reusable worksheets or other material for your classroom settings. Visual schedules take time and energy to construct, especially if they are being made for multiple children. Support for children with disabilities can also be beneficial to those without disabilities. By creating material for all children to use to support themselves in the classroom, it doesn’t single any one student out and may help those children who have not yet received formal diagnosis. Doing some of these tasks ahead of time can prevent educators from being overwhelmed the week before school goes back in session as they rush to complete things.
Overall, there are many different ways educators can use the summer months to get a jump on the next school year. Exploring different supports, learning new skills through courses or conferences, and reading about different disabilities are just a few of the many ways. Everyone’s teaching style is different and as such, it’s important to find tools or teaching methods that compliment your techniques. Make sure you reach out to those people in your departments who may have suggestions on local resources or opportunities specific for you. Most importantly, don’t forget to relax and try to enjoy your summer months.
Links to Great Summer Resources: