It's a new year once again. Most traditions say to begin anew. Put aside old ideas and behaviors that did not work.

In special education, it is important to build upon what has been taught successfully. Do not start with something entirely new, rather cycle back and refresh with students what they know and what they have learned.

Celebrate what is strong in memory and practice, while observing students for what needs to be taught again or differently. Then add new learning, but link it to what is known.

The special educator has the task of determining which best practice should be used for teaching the combination of students on his or her caseload. The caseload is often changing, as new students may qualify for special education at any time during the school year, and some may exit from special education.

The teacher must be flexible and change instruction to meet all the needs of the students as the combination of students with special education needs change. The teacher is required to examine the needs of the students and how to best instruct each individual, while at the same time instructing a small group or entire class. It is a balancing act that must result in effective learning.

When seeking new ways to teach a concept that a student is having difficulty learning, it is best to choose from one that is an evidence-based practice. These are practices that have been road-tested with rigorous research and proven to be effective for special education.

For an instructional method to be considered evidence-based, multiple high-quality research studies must support the findings that the method is effective in doing what it proposes to do. Evidence-based practices can be trusted by special educators who have to make the best use of time allotted to them. As teachers carefully match the practice to their students' needs, a trial period of the teacher testing the practice for effectiveness with her own students begins.

In a 2012 article by Torres, Farley and Cook, a 10-step implementation process is provided for executing an evidence-based process. These steps include the importance of using a cycle of implementation, checking instructional fidelity, monitoring student progress, making appropriate adaptions and making data-driven decisions. This cycle is ongoing as the teacher is constantly checking for student learning and program effectiveness.

One reliable source of evidence-based practices is the What Works Clearinghouse (WWC). The information on this site is reliable for making choices regarding beginning a new instructional practice.

As stated on their site: "The WWC does not certify, endorse or recommend any programs, policies or practices. The WWC rates a study based on an objective, critical review of the study's ability to make a claim about an intervention. The rating is separate from the findings. For example, a high-quality study may show that an intervention has negative effects."

As the new year begins, special educators will continue to do what they always do best: make decisions for their students that cause learning to occur, and evaluate their own decisions based on observations and data collection. Some instructional methods may need to be adjusted or changed, but the teacher must be sure to always choose best practice using evidence to prove its effectiveness.