Connecting with Special Needs Students

A story from Michelle Iavarone

If you have a special needs child, Michelle Iavarone is the kind of teacher you want for your student. “I’ve always had a love for children with needs, whether they were mentally challenged or had Down syndrome or were dealing with something else—I wanted to be a teacher to help these children,” she says. “I think these students are awesome. Maybe they can’t read like a general education child, but they will have other qualities that shine.”

ClassDojo offers her a great way to tackle persistent classroom issues. “My students just took off with it,” she says. “Now they strive to behave themselves. I’ll say, ‘Well, I know who wants to earn Dojo points today’—and that will help whoever’s having a hard time redirect themselves and do their work.”

When a student is having trouble, ClassDojo gives Iavarone another way to approach a conversation about modifying behavior: “If they don’t earn a point, I’ll ask if they know why, and they’ll tell me: ‘Do you know why you were off path, or disrespectful, or bullying?’” And she says that while she sees the benefits for a using the tool in a general education class, Iavarone believes that it offers particular advantages for special education students. “They really need to see their reward,” she says. “Saying, ‘You’re doing a good job’ doesn’t mean anything to them. But if we can look on ClassDojo and see that they have 50 positive points, that’s great. And if they only have 20 points, we can talk about why.”

Michelle Iavarone, Special Education Teacher

Michelle teaches special education students at P.S. 253 in Queens, New York.