Teachers are Superheroes: Challenging Students With Exceptional Needs

teacher helping students who have exceptional needs

Over the course of the year we have seen seasoned and newly-minted teachers implement multiple innovative strategies and lessons to continue challenging all their students to meet and exceed their academic standards. The teachers of students with exceptional needs do this in a variety of ways. A teacher's approach to challenging a student with exceptional needs should include "the four E's": Establishing Relationships, Enthusiasm, Expectations, Encouragement.

Establishing Relationships

In a virtual or in-person setting, you can implement classroom circles or morning meetings. During this established time and routine, you can give all students an opportunity to use their voice, express their thoughts and feelings in a safe and trusting environment. Another strategy to build relationships is to expand your knowledge of students. Surveys are another method to learn more about your students. You can gather information like their favorite foods, books and hobbies. As a teacher you can use the information gained to talk with your students and make content relevant to their preferences.


Many students will express some discomfort or anxiety in starting a new class, however you can ensure enthusiasm for learning when you incorporate areas from your survey to build interest and excitement in your lessons. When students see that you are interested in them, they will want to work harder and create a culture of inquiry and learning. Teachers are an important part of that culture, and you can demonstrate your passion for inquiry through your own enthusiasm. Exhibiting this enthusiasm is contagious and promotes problem-solving, creative thinking, collaboration and innovative thinking to build a bridge to meet student needs.

Referring to one of her teacher candidates in the field, GCU College of Education Assistant Professor Stephanie Nilsen said, “I had a student who was so excited about one of her history units and had an idea for implementing it online. She kept adding on creative elements and including her students’ ideas in preparing. In the end, she had a costume, an online game-based group adventure, and so much excitement busting at the seams that her students couldn’t help but follow suit and eagerly jump in to learning – even if it was online! I love to see the enthusiasm and joy they bring to this new and uncharted territory. It spreads, expands and makes all of us eager and excited to make this challenging time amazing.”


When you have established enthusiasm in the culture of your classroom, heightened expectations fall right into place. There will be collaboration and teamwork evident in your classroom practices. Even when you have students with exceptionalities, they may have heightened skills and abilities to complement other areas which will facilitate their abilities to meet grade-level standards. With higher levels of expectations, you can foster higher levels of growth for your students! When you gradually support your students with attainable goals, and relevant scaffolding, you will build their self-confidence to work hard toward their achievements.


When you are supporting and encouraging students in your classroom, the students will naturally build on those attitudes by helping one another to reach new understandings and benchmarks. One strategy for strengthening collaboration and encouragement in the classroom is by pairing up students. For example, if a student is strong in verbal abilities, and another student is strong in writing skills, they can be paired up for a language arts learning experience. Their abilities will complement one another for an outcome that may exceed expectations. Another strategy to encourage students is using sticky notes, or the virtual chat feature, to share some encouraging words with your class, such as, “I’m so proud of you for checking your work before turning it in!”

These four E’s are great strategies for challenging students with exceptionalities, but they can also be a formula to help all students succeed in classrooms. Establishing Relationships + Enthusiasm + Expectations + Encouragement = Superhero Teacher

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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.