Math in a Special Ed Classroom

Special Ed and General Ed Collaboration Stories

November 14, 2019 24 min read

This episode is a special one in that my guest, Sarah Magallano, shares some excellent special ed and general ed collaboration stories showing how teachers can work together to help students succeed in their least restrictive environments. Plus, this is my first episode where my guest is a general ed teacher! Great things can happen when all parties team up to help students. Don’t be afraid to be proactive in collaborating with teachers and other stakeholders at your school! Here are a few of the topics we discussed while sharing special ed and general ed collaboration stories:

  • Creative incentives for behavior rewards
  • Solve teasing problems by developing leaders
  • Eliminating hunger can improve behavior
  • How one student’s kindness has gotten worldwide attention
  • Teaching mindfulness
  • Tips for special ed teachers/instructional aides in gen ed classes
  • At the end, I also added some tips and stories of my own from when I taught in the classroom.

This episode is releasing right after World Kindness Day, which works well since several stories are great examples of kindness! I hope one of the stories inspires you to go out and do something similar!

Episode #18 Show Notes

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Guest: Sarah Magallano

Picture of Sarah Magallano

Sarah Magallano’s pronouns are she/her. She is currently a K-5 Art & Engineering, Reading, and Intervention teacher at a LEAD (Leadership, Engineering, Art & Design) magnet school. She has been teaching for 15 years. Sarah has been married for 14 years. She has a son, still in grade school, and two adorable orange tabby cats. When Sarah isn’t teaching, she enjoys playing her ukulele, singing, painting, laughing, swimming, hiking, reading the latest news, and writing. She is the owner of the TpT store, Sarahs Steamers. (Apostrophes are not allowed for store names on TpT.)

Links and Resources

Sarah's STEAMers logo

Host: Lisa Goodell

Lisa Goodell, helping to assemble robot kits for Texas students.

Lisa Goodell, M.A., launched the “Help for Special Educators” Podcast on April 1, 2019. She has taught for over 24 years, including third grade, resource/inclusion (RSP), and mild/moderate self-contained (SDC). Currently, she is an itinerant orthopedic impairment (OI) specialist/teacher for students birth to 21 years old in all general ed and special ed settings.

Lisa has a master’s degree in special education and six special ed and general ed teaching credentials. She has been honored as “Teacher of the Year” at both the elementary (2014) and secondary level (1994). She lives in rural Central California with her family and a bunch of cats. Connect with Lisa here. You can also get more information by listening to the beginning of Episode 1.

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NOTE: An artificial intelligence (AI) transcription service converted the audio file of this podcast episode into the written words below. The file is mostly accurate, however, be aware that spoken words and conversations are not the same as a conversation in a novel. This means that there will be some inaccuracies or accidental errors (i.e. missing punctuation and words, misspellings, etc.). Thank you for understanding.

Episode 18: Special Ed and General Ed Collaboration Stories

Lisa (00:00):

Episode 18 Special Education and General Education Collaboration Stories. This is a really special episode today that I’m happy to bring to you. And this is with my guest, Sarah Magallano of Sarah’s STEAMers. We talk about so many great things. What I love about this episode is that we talk about how important it is for general ed and special ed to collaborate. I just feel that great things can happen when all parties team up to help students and to help students be able to succeed in their least restrictive environment. And Sarah shares some amazing stories about how this can work. Here’s just a sample. Sarah shares how to solve some teasing problems by developing leaders, how eliminating hunger can also eliminate some behavior issues, creating customized incentives for behavior rewards and all of this works because various team members at the school work together. General ed works with special ed, works with the specials teachers, works with counselors, and everyone at the school has a part in helping each student. Sarah also teaches mindfulness at her school and she also gives some great tips to special ed teachers when they are coming into general ed classrooms, such as having a one-on-one aide.

Lisa (01:21):

Also, I need to say that I originally intended to release this at the end of August, but I ended up having to wait because I got on jury duty and I was on a case that lasted just about a month. And so it has taken me quite a while to get through that and then also make up for the time that I was gone. Now it’s starting to settle down maybe a tiny bit. So I wanted to get this episode out. I’ve also had some health problems and we are planning my daughter’s wedding. So I think I can only commit right now to maybe once or twice a month coming out with a new episode. So, uh, life is wonderful and I thank you for your patience. And also this is coming out right after World Kindness Day. So even though this was recorded back in the summertime, I still think it is appropriate now and anytime during the school year. So let’s get on to our great episode.

Lisa (02:22):

Do you ever find yourself barely able to hold your head above water waves of IEP data collection assessments, parent conferences, not to mention lesson plans and seasonal activities are all crashing around you? You need help, but not just from anybody. Grab the lifeline that is the “Help for Special Educators” podcast. We will equip you with creative solutions and teacher-tested strategies so you can navigate the rewarding, but difficult job as a special ed teacher. This is Lisa Goodell, your host.

Welcome to this episode of the help for special educators podcast. I am so thankful that you’re here and I’m really excited to have my first general education teacher guest on the podcast with me today is Sarah [inaudible] from the TEACHERS PAY TEACHERS store. Sarah’s steamers. So welcome to the show, Sarah.

Sarah (03:24):

Hi, thank you for having me.

Lisa (03:25):

Why don’t you just briefly tell our listeners what type of general education teaching you do?

Sarah (03:31):

So I teach K through five are in engineering at a magnet school for lead that’s leadership, engineering, art design, and all the students throughout the school, K through five, come through my classroom. So I’m fortunate enough to be able to see all different types of students academically and my sped students as well. It’s pretty amazing. I kind of like the fun aunt that everyone gets to send their kid to, and then I send them right back to their mom’s afterwards.

Lisa (03:59):

Oh, that’s great. That sounds like a really fun job to have.

Sarah (04:03):

It is so much fun.

Lisa (04:05):

Did you teach like a specific grade earlier in your career or have you done this, your whole career?

Sarah (04:11):

So originally I taught at a Waldorf school for first grade and moved up with them to second grade. I was the second teacher in the room and I got my credential during that time. And I was fortunate enough to be hired as a substitute at the school that I currently work at. They hired me to be in the traditional classroom in my school originally, it was a charter school and now we are a magnet school and I taught first grade for five years. And then I taught fifth grade for one year. So I transferred schools to a magnet school that was a magnet for science and math and technology. While I was there, I taught first grade, I taught a one, two combo, and then I taught second grade all the while. My second to the last year there, I taught second grade and was the magnet coordinator. And then my last year there, I was magnet coordinator and intervention teachers. So I feel like I’ve worn a lot of hats throughout my career, but they definitely helped me to do what I’m currently doing. Oh, absolutely. Just art and engineering at my original school. Yeah. I went back and it’s a lot of fun.

Lisa (05:21):

Sounds like a lot of fun. Okay. So I love your unique perspective for our topic today. So why don’t you share a story of how maybe you’ve interacted with a student with special needs or you’ve seen general ed students interact with them as a part of either students coming to your classes at any point in your career or maybe something that’s happened.

Sarah (05:43):

Okay, great. So over the years I’ve had many sped students through my classroom. I love that we now have the least restrictive environment for students because I don’t feel like students should have that feeling, that they don’t belong by having students in the classroom with their regular classroom. Kids is pretty amazing. One student in particular that we had two years ago. I don’t know if this is a correct diagnosis, but she had emotional disturbances and she would throw tantrums as if she was three. And she was in third grade. I could just feel for her homeroom teacher feeling like she had done everything and she’s consistent with the parameters that she sets in her classroom. And when I would get that student, I had no idea what this teacher was talking about at first, because I did not see those behaviors in my classroom. What we had come to find out is this student really enjoyed art.

Special Ed and General Ed Collaboration Stories

Sarah (06:39):

And when she behaved, well, we came up with a plan with a student that she got to pick what she wanted to do as her reward. And most of the time she wanted to come into my room and check in with me where she got to tell me about her day and then she could do art. And I gave her some supplies. If she asked me for paint, I show her where it, that if she wanted to draw or wanting to create it using technology, because I do incorporate a lot of technology into my classes. She did that and I felt really good knowing that she felt comfortable enough to come in and get right to work and do what she wanted to do as a reward.

Sarah (07:18):

What I did find that I felt like an even bigger accomplishment was a different student who this year that we just had, Oh my gosh, sweetest kid, sweetest, sweetest kid, but he was teased a lot. And he would go to our sped resource teacher for reading and for math. And I never saw him sad ever. And I had one student who is very much a leader, but not necessarily always in a good way would tease this student. And he would get other students to tease him as well. And these were fifth graders by the way. So they’re the top of our food chain at our school. And in speaking with the homeroom teacher, we came up with an idea, how can we support this student? So that he’s a leader in a positive way and support the student who needs a friend. We got the student who is doing the teasing to rally behind this kid in a way I have never seen it was almost like an overnight switch. Wow. And it came to the point where they would ask to sit next to that student.

Sarah (08:25):

They helped him. All he knew was that people were nice to him, that he was able to come to school feeling safe. And then the best thing was when they took their trip to a middle school to see what it’s like to be in middle school. All the students that were the other student’s friend came up to the teacher and said, Hey, we just want to let you know that we’ve got his back in middle school. And that to me, I know, and our magnet is for leadership. Part of it’s real leadership. And so they were using all those tools that we’re teaching them to actually come forth and do good. It’s just amazing. These two very different students, very different needs, but by helping come up with a plan, because I really think that communication between the homeroom teacher, any specialists, the student might come to, as well as their sped resource teachers, it has to be a team effort. Otherwise it’s just going to go flat.

Lisa (09:23):

Oh, Those are both great stories. So I guess in thinking about how a listener would respond, my next question would be okay, how did you do that? I mean, one, there was great collaboration and I thank you for that example, just to let all the special ed teachers know that, Hey, everyone wants the best for the kids. And so be sure to work together as a team, don’t feel like you have to have it together all the time. Just like that teacher that had the girl in her class, that’s having tantrums as a teacher, you might feel horrible that this is going on, but you can get support from the other general ed teachers around you. And then also for this boy, I’m just curious to know how you worked with the other students to help have his back to where they really own that. And we’re telling the middle school teachers that, did you do some explicit teaching or in general ed, did they do that? I’m just curious.

Sarah (10:14):

It started with the general ed teacher, because all those students are with her all day. Well, not all day, they come to me. Right. But what I mean is that she knows them best because I get them for 50 minutes, two to three times a week for all year, for several years. So I do get to know them as they age, our school has morning meetings where we explicitly teach about certain topics, such as bullying collaboration, the four CS, a lot of character traits. And so being the leaders of the school fifth grade, you have to show everyone else what it’s like to be a leader. We are a title one school. So for those of you who don’t know what that is, we have almost completely free and reduced lunch. Our school did get a grant from the state of California this year to provide free lunch for all students at our school and snack as well.

Sarah (11:09):

So one thing we’ve done is we’ve eliminated the factor that there’s hunger going on in our school. In fact, the student that everyone has seen in people magazine and everything, that’s one of our students, not from my school, but that’s from our district. And I know that family. So the boy’s name is Ryan Coyote and he paid for his third grade class’s lunch debt. And it was, I think, like $76. And his mom really is an advocate for students. Shouldn’t have debt. It’s gone worldwide. Bernie Sanders has talked about him last week. He met Kamela Harris. It’s just been this huge positive change so that people are aware that hunger is an issue in schools and students. They shouldn’t be responsible for their parents’ debt. Right. That’s great. So coming back to us, we had this grant and I think it carries over into this year.

Sarah (12:03):

I’m not really sure, but to eliminate hunger in the school has eliminated a lot of bad behaviors. I did have one student with special needs. I think he’s diagnosed with ADHD. He came to me first thing in the morning this year, and he’s not on medication. But once I found out that the reason why every so often he’d act a little different with me is I didn’t ask him if he had breakfast. So the teacher talked with me and said, when he doesn’t have breakfast, this is how he asks, send them to me. Cause they always have extra breakfast in the classroom in case kids are late. And once we zeroed in on that, that was a huge difference. So I know going back to your original question of how we do this, it’s not a one fix. You have to know your student. First of all, you have to see what makes that student tick. For example, one that I told you about first art was really what made her tick. And so when she got to do those things, it definitely helped calm her down. We also at our school do mindfulness. We practice mindfulness. So often in our school that the students were going home. And some of the parents that I would see on campus that I’ve gotten to know over the years said, “Oh my gosh, my student just taught me Namaste.” I taught them that! We do yoga in here.

Sarah (13:21):

And they really were really trying to get every opportunity to reach every single student. It’s really amazing what you can do when you work as a team. So I don’t think it’s the one thing what we’ve done. I think it was started as a conversation moving into how can we be proactive and what can you as a student do to help this other student and how are other people going to see you when you do those things? Are they going to lift you up, make you feel good because you’re doing something good or are they going to lift you up because you’re doing something with other people and ultimately possibly hurt yourself in the long run. Yeah, it’s a lot. But I think that when you care about each student, as they are, you can really accomplish a lot.

Lisa (14:04):

Oh yeah. I mean, that’s gone from just a couple of students to a classroom to changing the whole school culture. And now of course it’s gone worldwide, and that can happen in any of our classrooms.

Sarah (14:15):


Lisa (14:16):

You know, it really can, you can change a whole generation. That’s part of the reason why we teach because we want to help students learn and we can help all of us learn. So that’s wonderful. Thank you so much for those stories.

Sarah (14:28):

Thank you.

Lisa (14:28):

So another question that I have would be, do you have any advice that you would want to give special ed teachers who will be going into gen ed classes or sending their students into general ed classes? For example, sometimes students go into a gen ed class and they are doing some of the academic work with that class, like math or reading or writing, but then sometimes there’s that come into the class, maybe just for socialization purposes because the academics might be a little bit too hard. So I don’t know what your experience has been or if you’ve even done any co-teaching where you and a special ed teacher are teaching the class together.

Sarah (15:06):

Absolutely. What I think that sped educators can do coming into a general ed classroom. First of all, definitely talk with the teacher that you’re coming in to see and ask them what their style is. Do they want you to quietly sit with that one? If it’s, let’s say it’s a one-on-one, I’ve had a lot of experiences with one-on-one aides. So I’m just taking that for an example, check in with the teacher maybe before school or sometime when they’re not with kids, because we don’t want to have those kinds of conversations in front of kids and ask them, am I allowed to, if I see XYZ happening, talk to those students around my one-on-one or do I allow that student to interact as they would, and just pull them aside? How do you want me to handle it? Because the reason I say that is I’ve had students with one-on-one aides and their aide has not talked to me about it.

Sarah (16:00):

And they will micromanage the group that the student is in. And it’s caused many distractions for the student, for the students in the group. And even for myself as I’m teaching it, wasn’t something I think that this person was doing intentionally. I think it was just, this is in their mind. They need to fix whatever issue is going on in the group where I personally, I’m always aware of what’s going on in my classroom. I walk around my classroom. I make sure people are on task and have questions answered. So if I hear something that I don’t think is worth the time of me, you know, you got to pick your battles. They say, if it’s something that I know the students can figure out on their own, I’ll let it be. But I don’t know if that one-on-one has that judgment to do those things. I’ve also had, I’ve had one-on-one aides sit with their student and then not say anything to me the entire time, not say anything to anybody they’ve whispered in their one-on-ones ear. And then it’s my interaction with the students. And if I do talk with the aide, they’re very quiet. I think the personality of the aide probably comes into play. I definitely think checking in with the teachers, probably is the number one thing you need to do first.

Lisa (17:15):

Okay. And would you prefer for those aides to come talk to you? Or would you prefer, well, I’m assuming that these one-on-one aides report to maybe a special ed teacher or, or maybe they don’t.

Sarah (17:27):

They do at our school, at least. I’m not sure how it is at other schools. There’s a resource room and they’re in there for that particular student that I’m thinking of where they were very quiet. I see them a lot and they’re actually amazing. They take care of that student. If I walk by and I joke something to them like, Hey, did your team win night in the game? They’ll respond like, this is my coworker too. I don’t work for them. They don’t work for me. We are there for the student. So I always try and make sure people feel comfortable. And that’s just me. I do that with everyone who walks in my room, including the person taking out my garbage, I will make sure it’s there for them, but I know not everyone does that. Everyone’s different. And it’s really hard to say, it’s one thing. Yeah, you just do what you know is best. And if you can, I mean, one thing they don’t teach you when you’re a gen ed teacher, they don’t teach you how to manage adults because that’s not why you went to school. You’re not a business major most of the time. So when you have those kinds of not conflicts, but passive conflicts meeting, it can be tricky.

Lisa (18:36):

Oh yeah, sure. It can. A lot of special ed teachers would say the same thing. It’s like, I wasn’t taught how to manage the adults in my room. It seems like in more recent years, there’s getting to be more and more adults in the room. I know when I taught in the classroom had no more than three adults in the classroom, but now that I’m an itinerant specialists going around from school to school, sometimes you go into classrooms and there’s seven or eight adults. Some of them are assigned to certain students. Others are helping just general students in the class. You might even have a nurse in the room or a behavior specialist. And so not that the special ed teacher is supervising maybe the nurse because that’s a different area, but you still have them in the room. And you’re still managing because if you have some adults that are going to be talking about what they did over the weekend all day, and you’re trying to teach a lesson, then you have to somehow deal with that to try to keep the kids focused. Absolutely. You know, so it definitely gets tricky.

Sarah (19:33):

Another thing I was going to point out is when you come into a classroom, if a teacher asks you to make copies, because I’ve seen this, I’ve seen teachers do this. And it, it angers me because I’m one of those people that I want justice. The gen teacher just wants to make sure that all of their P’s and Q’s are in order for the week, for next week or whatever. And they have the aide running all these copies. And then when I see the aide, because we’re friends and I’m like, what are you doing? Oh, they asked me to do XYZ. And I’m thinking, that’s not in your job description, right? Oh no, no. Are you doing that to be nice? Or do you feel like you have to? And they feel like they have to. And I, I don’t want to be the person. That’s not my battle, but at the same time, what is that doing for them?

Lisa (20:22):

Yeah. I know in the district where I taught for many years, there was actually a rule or in the job description. It said if you were get paraprofessional, but your job is not to make copies. Our job is to work with students. And then if for some reason there’s a little extra time that’s okay. But they were really good at being very clear that the tutors or the paraprofessionals their job was to help, not be doing clerical things. And I appreciated that.

Sarah (20:50):

Yeah. That’s so nice.

Lisa (20:52):

Well, this has been great. So thank you so much, Sarah. I appreciate your perspective and your stories. And I am sure all the listeners will appreciate your ideas as well.

Sarah (21:01):

Thank you. It was wonderful to do this.

Lisa (21:03):

And I’m so glad that I had Sarah on, because we just met this summer at the teacher pay teachers, teacher, author conference in Austin. And we sat down at a table together and we started talking and then we ended up going to the first seminar together. And so we just really connected. We both do a little bit of podcasting. And so it’s just been really fun. Sarah, having you on my show.

Sarah (21:26):

Thank you. I was so happy that you are also a podcaster. It was a lot of people that I talk to and I say, Oh, have you heard XYZ podcast? And they’re like, what’s a podcast? And it’s such an underutilized way of communicating. And it’s so much fun to listen to.

Lisa (21:44):

Oh yeah. And so over the summer, I really haven’t listened to too many podcasts, but now that I’m getting back into the swing of starting school I was looking up teacher podcasts. And it seems like there’s 10 more than I ever saw last spring. So I’m excited that there’s more out there and more podcasts in different areas.

Sarah (22:03):


Lisa (22:04):

So yeah, hopefully our listeners will tell other people about this podcast and just about teacher podcasts in general. Okay. Well, it’s great talking to you, Sarah, and have a great day and we’ll talk soon.

Sarah (22:17):

All right. Bye-bye.

Lisa (22:18):

I hope you enjoyed this interview as much as I enjoy talking to Sarah. And I want to let you know how you can reach out to her on social media or on the internet:

  Sarahs Steamers TpT Store

  Sarah’s Blog

  Instagram: @sarahs_steamers

  Facebook: Sarah’s STEAMers

  Twitter: sarahs_steamers

  YouTube: Sarah’s STEAMers

So if you go to my show notes, I have a link to every single one of these places where you can find her on the internet.

Lisa (23:45):

And now I want to add just a little bit on this topic of collaboration and give you a few other tips on how you can try to start reaching out to general ed teachers to build a friendship and relationship so that you can have better collaboration efforts on behalf of your students in the future.

Lisa (24:05):

Tip number one, always ask questions. I know one year before school started, when I was a special day class teacher, I just started walking around my building and I’d go into a classroom with an open door where teachers were working on stuff. And I just say hi, and ask how they were setting up their class. Everybody was really friendly. And of course, everyone’s excited about what they’re doing to set up their classrooms. So it was an easy way to get people talking and to find some connections and rapport with teachers. I didn’t really know yet. And you can do this any time of the year, even if there isn’t an upcoming holiday to ask about, then you can ask about how they do reading homework or math, independent centers or, or any topic that is concerning you, because if it concerns us special ed teachers, as far as classroom setup and curriculum, and all of that, we can always ask what our general ed counterparts are doing.

Lisa (24:57):

And typically they’re always going to be willing to talk. And it’s really great too, because once you get to know them, a lot of times you can share ideas and resources with each other one year, this was really special. One of the first grade teachers that I got to know her mom had just recently retired as a school nurse. And so she was very excited to come out to her daughter’s classroom and to help out. And so in the process of doing that, she would come and bring like little boxes of craft items that she would pick up and do with the class. Well, this first grade teacher’s class was pretty big. And so she would always end up with extra supplies because she had to buy more than necessary.

Lisa (25:34):

Well, because she was a school nurse and she had remembered at her old school, how sometimes the special ed teachers were a little bit isolated. She always made sure to buy enough, extra crafts that she could come and give them to my class. And, Oh my gosh, it was just the sweetest thing. When she said, Hey, I just want you to know that you’re not forgotten. And so I want to give these craft things to your class. And it was just so nice of her to do that. So don’t be afraid to go around and try to build some relationships because you might end up with some great friendships that last for years.

Lisa (26:06):

And tip number two, always try to be friendly. I know we all have days where we just got to get out of the classroom, get into the office, make our copies, get back to class because we need to work on an IEP, but really make an effort to make eye contact, say hi to everyone that you meet in the hallway. As far as teachers, people on yard duty, parents maintenance staff. Also, when I taught a self-contained class, all the kids at the school thought they knew me because I always tried to make a point to be friendly to the kids at recess when I was on yard duty, or if I was on crossing guard duty or anything. In fact, my family would laugh because if we would go grocery shopping almost every time, at some point, there would be a little kid looking at me as they were with their parents shopping. Like I was a rockstar, they wouldn’t know my name so they’d act like they wanted to say hi, but I always said hi back. And I asked them what grade they’re in. And I acted like I knew them too. And they just totally loved it.

Lisa (27:03):

So just being polite and being kind in such a small way will really go very far. I would also love to hear any stories that you have about collaboration or also tips that you might have on how to encourage collaboration between special education and general ed teachers. All of the resources and links for this episode are on my website at That includes links to reaching out to Sarah on all her social media platforms. I also have links for some of the things we talked about, like the people article about Ryan and also Bernie Sanders’s tweet about it.

Lisa (27:53):

Now, when I start to get stressed or overwhelmed about school stuff, I find it helps to take a moment to slow down, stop and focus on my breathing. Sometimes I also might say the Serenity Prayer aloud or in my head. Here it is: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. I might also add a few of my own words. Here’s a sample for us special educators: Help us to listen and truly understand our students. Please give us words, actions, and solutions, which will help in difficult situations. May our classrooms be peaceful places where teachers, staff, and students learn and thrive.

After that, I try to go out and find someone else to help because helping others keeps me from selfishly dwelling on my own problems. Thank you so much for listening. And I hope you’ve heard something helpful during this episode that you can implement in your teaching. Remember, you are amazing! What you do makes a difference, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Go find someone else to encourage because they probably need to be reminded that they are amazing, too!

(29:19): End

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