Don’t worry, special education isn’t broken; in fact, I’ve worked with amazing special education teachers and school communities around the world! Teachers around the world are doing amazing things to facilitate inclusive practices, differentiated instruction, and Universal Design for Learning. In addition, as times and students change, we can continue to shake up our instruction and invigorate our teaching and learning practices for students with exceptionalities.

So, what are the three big things that can help us shake up special education at this critical moment in education history? 1. Understanding and applying high leverage practices in special education. 2. A commitment that we will provide students with engaging learning opportunities during virtual/hybrid learning. 3. Social-emotional learning is a priority and we embed it in every class every day.

The biggest question I am often asked is, “What are key characteristics of highly effective special education teachers?” The good news is we don’t have to create any new wheels or compile a new list. The Council for Exceptional Children has done the research and created “The High-Leverage Practices (HLPs) in Special Education.” There are 22 HLPs across four intertwined components of teacher practice: collaboration, assessment, social/emotional/behavioral practices and instruction.

The 22 HLPs are intended to address the critical practices that every K-12 special education teacher should master. These areas of teacher instructional practice offer a roadmap for student engagement, learning, and success. CEC provides an entire website with resources and videos on many of the HLPs, such as explicit instruction, feedback, and student engagement. The website is

There are many myths around hybrid and virtual learning, such as, “It is impossible to meet the needs of a student with a disability using virtual formats.” It is not impossible, but yes, it is definitely more challenging.

To the person, who said, “Teaching virtually is easier than face to face,” try shadowing a teacher for just one day. You will quickly see it involves even more intentional planning and interactive learning opportunities to engage students. Teaching students with disabilities in virtual settings requires teachers to think about the learning objective and align the specially designed instruction to bridge any learning gaps.

This can include still include low tech and possibly substituting technology tools and resources. For example, perhaps a student is working on phonemic awareness. Students could use magnetic letters on a tray/fridge, or we could integrate tech tools like Google Jamboard, where students can still manipulate print and letter sounds. The University of Florida Virtual Teaching Hub is a great example of utilizing technology to support this learning goal. This site has hundreds of pre-created PowerPoint and Google slide decks that students can manipulate for great literacy instruction in grades K-5.

Other than Specially Designed Instruction, the most important instructional move a special education teacher can do to support student learning during this unprecedented time is carve time out for social-emotional learning and integrate SEL into academic instruction. Trauma can be defined as an adverse circumstance affecting a person’s ability to cope and COVID-19 = collective trauma. Some of our students are excited about virtual learning and some students are not.

Here are some key questions: How do we provide students opportunities to build community, relationships, and connectivity? Are we giving space for students check in share how they are feeling, what they like about class, and how they learn best on virtual forums?

We should look for opportunities to build empathy and encourage effective team, as they are also essential skills necessary for 21st century success.

Find dozens of instructional practices to increase student achievement by pre-ordering my book, “Shaking Up Special Education: Instructional Moves to Increase Achievement.”