Teaching behavior during an assembly, especially during the holidays


Any time of year, an assembly can cause anxiety for even the most seasoned special education teacher. But, when it falls during the crazy holiday season, it can be even more stressful. There is no way to avoid going to an assembly. It is an important skill to learn, plus it can be a lot of fun. Here are some ways to make sure you and your students make the most out of your next assembly.

1. Get all the details up front

The first thing to do is to get a really clear picture of what the assembly will look like. Will there my music? Will there be audience participation? I had one student who was terrified of birds. When I found out Dan the Bird man was coming, I emailed him with a list of questions. In the end, that student did not go to the assembly. Of course I communicated all of this with the parents. But, once we found out the birds actually flew out into the audience, I knew it was a no-go.

Think about all the triggers your students have. Just because a student has a specific trigger does not rule out assemblies, it just depends on how severe the associated behavior is. Are there some coping mechanisms you can add or try? Most of my students took headphones to an assembly. Some took a sensory cushion to sit on. I just wanted to give them the tools they needed to increase their chances of success.

2. Prepare and practice

Once you know the details, you can begin talking with your students about what will happen. You can practice appropriate behaviors and expectations. This is where a social story can be a great tool. Of course, I have one for you to download right here!! Just click the button to get a copy of my social story, What to do at an Assembly.

In addition, it is important to practice in the actual location of the assembly. Practice walking in quietly, finding your seat, and staying quiet. Remind them to look to you for directions. When you are done, practice lining up and leaving.

3. I need a break

Speaking of leaving, you want to make sure your students have an easy and clear way to tell you if they need to leave early. This will depend on the communication style and level of the student. In addition, you should take into account how significant or severe the behavior can be. Make it as easy as possible for the student to tell you he/she needs to leave. You can use a break card, a hand signal, or some other visual cue that is easy to perform and understand. However you decide that student will ask for a break, be sure this is also something you practice.

Participating in the assembly

Finally, what if your students are actually part of the assembly? This may make you cringe. I know it often made me cringe. However, they were also some of the most rewarding experiences, not only for me, but also for the student and the parents. It is important for our students to have the same opportunities as all the other kids. Luckily, the steps for participating in an assembly is the same as those above.

  1. Get the details ahead of time
  2. Prepare and practice
  3. Identify a way for the student to say, “I need a break”

One other thing that is important to do is talk with the parents about what their expectations are. Is it okay with them if you or another adult is also on stage to help their son/daughter? Is there a peer that could step in as the assistant? And, of course, is it okay for their son/daughter to participate. Some parents worry their child may be made fun of when up on a stage. This is a very valid concern, and it is one that should be addressed. Let the parents and students know it is OK if they do not want to participate. If the expectations are clear, and there is a good understanding of what will be occurring, then there is a better chance of success.

So, remember, as much as we may dread assemblies, there are ways to make them a successful and fun experience.

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