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Special Education and Co-Teaching: How to Work Well With Therapists in Your Classroom

written by: Anne Vize • edited by: Elizabeth Wistrom • updated: 7/13/2012

Most teachers are fairly used to running a classroom on their own. How do you make things work well when suddenly there are therapists and support people working alongside you, watching everything you do? This article gives you some tips for successfully co-teaching in special education classrooms.

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    Types of Therapists

    You may come across many different types of therapy, support services and co-teaching in special education. The names and descriptions may vary from state to state and country to country, but the basics are similar wherever you go. Here we will explore some of the other specialists you may encounter, as well as tips for forging a good working relationship in the classroom setting.

    Here are several types of therapists you will likely encounter:

    Occupational Therapist - this person assists with functioning and skills that can help a student get the most out of many of your planned classroom activities. They are often experts at areas such as hand functioning, meal time assistance and positioning of students in chairs, at tables, on the floor and out in the community. They are well-known for having little 'tricks of the trade' to make the life of your student (and you) much easier.

    Physiotherapist - this person is concerned with the physical abilities of your students, particularly in areas such as muscle strength, tone, endurance, positioning, and the performance of muscles and joints. They are able to treat musculoskeletal problems, and may work alongside a doctor or medical specialist (such as an orthopedic surgeon) to plan a course of treatment and management.

    Speech Therapist - this person is focused on the speech and language skills of your students. They use a range of strategies to help students develop effective communication skills that allow them to communicate well in the everyday world. They may use computer programs, key word signing, computer generated pictures and images, real objects, switches and voice output devices (such as Dynovox) to help students communicate their messages with others.

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    Tips for Working with Therapists

    Working closely or teaching with various therapists can take some getting used to. At first, it may feel as if your class is being taken over by others who have different agendas from your own. You may be concerned that the focus of your class has become the provision of therapy rather than true teaching. If you have these worries, it is important to think them through and then share your thoughts with others in the school team. But remember:

    • Your school should be a place where there is an integrated approach to learning and support, with the benefit of students as the highest priority
    • The job of therapists is to support students, and enable them to learn and function in the best way possible
    • Communication is the key to a good, well operating team
    • Most conflict can be resolved by clearly expressing your thoughts and ideas, and being prepared to find a common ground
    • Use school based documents for student planning (such as learning plan documents) to guide your practice
    • Establish common goals for yourself and your therapy team so you have a shared focus to work toward
    • Use your behavior and communication to establish yourself as the leader and facilitator in your room, with the therapists there as highly skilled specialists to support students to access the program in the most appropriate way for their needs and learning styles
    • Show respect for the skills of therapists by asking thoughtful questions, listening and learning to their suggestions - by doing this, you are also subtly suggesting that they should pay you the same courtesy

    Remember, co-teaching in special education can be designed to provide support to the regular ed teacher as well as to the special education student. A close working relationship between all of the parties is the key to success!