At the start of the winter quarter, Leah Wood, an associate professor in Cal Poly’s School of Education and co-coordinator of the Special Education/Education Specialist (Special Education) Mild/Moderate Disabilities Credential Program, wanted to do something to uplift her students.
The past year had been challenging for students and faculty in the School of Education, and the students studying to become special education teachers were seeing many difficulties particular to their area of focus.
“In special education, teachers are in the business of individual and personalized instruction,” Wood said. “So much of the work calls for removing barriers that your students with disabilities are facing, and the pandemic and virtual instruction has put up many more barriers that hadn’t been there before.
“Even if you are able to teach in person, students often have a hard time with the many COVID-based safety standards and regulations we need to follow,” Wood continued. “You have to spend much of your time reminding students how to wear masks and stay properly distanced, in addition to your curriculum.”
In an effort to help her students, Wood reached out to alumni, textbook authors and researchers in special education from across the country. She asked them to send brief uplifting, empowering videos of advice and support. People stepped up and answered her call.
Alumna Emily McNamara, a 2016 Liberal Studies graduate who also earned a Master's in Education and Mild/Moderate Education Specialist Credential in 2018, saw Wood’s post on the SPED alumni Facebook page and understood the struggles students were facing.
“Teaching in the pandemic is a challenge no matter how are you doing it,” said McNamara, who has been teaching in special education programs since earning her credential. “When you’re teaching virtually, it can be hard to see the impact you’re making on your students, and when you’re teaching in person, the added regulations to keep everyone safe can be hard to explain to your students and ask them to follow.
“I’d just tell anyone in the program to do your best, be empathetic, help your students feel safe, and create good conversations with them,” she continued. “You can’t be perfect every day, but you can do your best for your students.”
Wood collected all the messages through the video application Flipgrid and showed them to her students at the start of class.
“It was a nice way to start the class each day, and the students really responded well,” Wood said. “It really helps our students to see how the field has responded and I think it has given them all some added confidence in themselves.” “If they can get through this past year, I think they can get through anything as educators.”
Editor's Note: Photo of Leah Wood teaching class was taken November 2019.