Why Are Specials So Special?

Holiday break always feels like the mid point of the year. At this point, like many educators, I reflect. One area that really got my attention the first half of this year is how much our students are struggling with behavior during “specials” (art, music, physical education, special education, ESL, library, etc.). Why do we get more referrals from specials classes than from regular classes?


When students enter a new classroom environment, it makes their anxiety rise. They have new expectations, new structures, and a new teacher in charge who does ‘everything’ different than their classroom teacher. They most likely do not have a meaningful relationship with this teacher either, due to the limited amount of time they spend in this additional classroom.

This is where PBIS becomes so valuable. With common area expectations (any classroom being a common area) it levels the playing field. All of a sudden the expectations in the general education classroom are the same as in the specials classroom. The playing field is now leveled.

You might be thinking, well “normal” kids wouldn’t be affected by this. Guess what? ALL kids show an increase in anxiety when they are in new situations and they don’t know what to expect. The tricky thing with specials classes is that students often go to them so seldom that they never feel comfortable in the new classroom.

What can we do to help? There are a few things I’ve got planned for this semester. First, I need to be in specials classes more frequently than I currently am. This will help me determine how different the expectations are from classroom expectations. Once that is known, then we can work as a staff to align our expectations. Second, each of our specials teachers will need to be intentional about class building activities that are done. My personal favorites come from Kagan Publishing, but there are so many out there that are easy to find.

My promise to my students and staff: I will work diligently to ensure that students are given a fair shot in any learning environment, and that anxiety does not show through behavior due to a lack of relationship or understanding of structure.

  • As a leader, how might you facilitate a conversation between specials teachers and classroom teachers regarding expectations?
  • As a leader, how might you cultivate a school culture where a lack of knowing the expectations does not cause anxiety?
  • As a leader, how do you provide time and space for specials teachers to build meaningful relationships with students?
  • What would happen if specials teachers spent 5 extra minutes each class period building relationships with students?

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