Special Education Photos: Mrs. Heile & Mrs. Combs

What’s Here

This page contains a photo AND video tour of a special education classroom! Mrs. Heile and Mrs. Combs have graciously shared images of their beautiful and well-organized classroom for special needs students. They’ve included pictures with detailed captions to show how they set up the physical structure and visual structure of their classroom, the schedule types they use, and techniques they’ve used to organize their classroom.

I love how clutter-free this classroom is and the way every inch of space is utilized to meet the students’ needs. It’s quite rare to find pictures of special education classrooms on the web and I’m really thrilled to have this amazing example to share with you all. Enjoy!

Welcome to STEP 3!

STEP is an acronym short for “Structure Teaching Education Program”, which is a teaching model based on Structured Teaching and TEACCH, originally designed for children with autism but now is a well-established design that has applications for all grades and types of learning disabilities. The classroom is housed at Indian Trail Elementary School in Highland Park, IL and is part of North Shore School District #112. The STEP program is particularly unique because it uses a co-taught model in each STEP classroom, composed of one special education teacher (Kelley Combs) and one speech-language pathologist (Beth Heile). This classroom is called STEP 3 because it is the third STEP classroom at Indian Trail, covering grades 4 and 5.

To sum up Structured Teaching in a single sentence, it states that “a teacher must provide structure, i.e., set up the classroom so that students understand where to be, what to do, and how to do it, all as independently as possible.” (from the TEACCH webpage)

Structure Teaching follows a couple of main principles, three of which are highlighted in STEP 3:
  1. Physical Structure – using furniture to clearly define the start and end of a space, reduce visual distractions, help the students to learn the expectations used in that space.
  2. Visual Structure – using pictures, words, signs, lines, shapes, or any other form of non-verbal communication to help label areas, and provide instruction, clarification, and detail. A space that contains strong visual structure allows a student to increase their independence, since less of the instruction comes from an adult’s speech.
  3. Schedules – Schedules are obviously used in all classroom, but STEP schedules can cover a minute, an activity, a day, a week, or even a month! A wide range of schedule types (objects, pictures, written, etc.) is used to provide information on a level that is accessible to all of the students.

If you would like to check out the space, Beth and Kelley created this video tour of their room which highlights some of the elements of structured teaching:

Click on the Picasa slideshows below to see picture examples of physical structure, visual structure, and schedule types found in STEP 3:


STEP 3 is also themed to mimic “a city in a room”. Although we hang up few decorations to keep visual distractions to a minimum, below are some examples of how we incorporate a city theme to make some concepts more functional.

Finally, STEP 3 aims to remain as uncluttered as possible, and here’s a few organizational ideas utilized around the room:

About the Teachers

Beth Heile is a speech-language pathologist working full-time with D112 in Highland Park, IL and is in her fourth year of co-teaching in STEP 3. Previously, she was a traveling SLP and provided therapy at home to both adult and kid clients. She specializes in voice disorders, alternative forms of communication, and integrating technology to support education and communication. When not school, Beth is a video interviewer and films rules tutorials for board games for a local game and puzzle store and an online board game webpage.

Kelley Combs is a certified special education teacher in her fifth year co-teaching in the STEP program. Before STEP, Kelley worked as a special education teacher in a therapeutic day school. She specializes in differentiating curriculum, particularly through the use of technology. This summer, she trained new special education teachers regarding the practices of structured teaching, data collection, and classroom management. Recently, Kelley also graced the stage in a regional production of Sweeney Todd as the delightfully evil Mrs. Lovett.

More Teachers’ Rooms

See how teachers from around the world have decorated and organized their classroomsMain Page: Other Teachers’ Rooms
K-6 Photos: My Colleagues
Kindergarten Photos: Mrs. Amoson
Kindergarten Photos: Mrs. Partin
1st Grade Photos: Mrs. Alsager
1st Grade Photos: Mrs. Bennett
1st Grade Photos: Ms. Sheets
2nd Grade Photos: Miss Nelson
3rd Grade Photos: Mrs. Alexander
4th Grade Photos: Ms. Edelen
5th Grade Photos: Mrs. Moorman
6th Grade Photos: Ms. Jung
6th-8th Grade Photos: Ms. Esparza
High School Photos: Mr. Dyre’s Science Lab

Please share YOUR classroom photos!

Email the link to your Flickr, Tumblr, blog, or other site, or put the pics in a Word or PDF doc which I’ll upload to the site!

Tour My Classrooms

Tour my classroomsClassroom Photos After 2009
Classroom Photos 2009
Classroom Photos 2008
Classroom Photos 2007
Classroom Photos 2006
Classroom Photos 2005
Classroom Photos 2004
Classroom Photos 2003
Classroom Photos Before 2003

Now What?

Find tips and tricks on the Classroom Arrangement Ideas blog post
Get tips for decorating your space on the Creating a Cozy Classroom page
Check out the ideas for using your wall space on the Bulletin Board Solutions page

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Angela Watson was a classroom teacher for 11 years and has turned her passion for helping other teachers into a career as an educational consultant based in Brooklyn, NY. As founder of Due Season Press and Educational Services, she has published 3 books, launched a blog and webinar series, designs curriculum resources, and conducts seminars in schools around the world. Subscribe via email for blog updates, exclusive tips & tricks, activities, printables, and more.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Yanett October 9, 2012 at 7:37 pm

I am lucky enough to work in the classroom directly upstairs from Beth & Kelley! I can truly say without a doubt how AMAZING these two teachers are and all the great things they do for kids! I heart you ladies!

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2 Angela Watson October 15, 2012 at 9:34 am

How cool! Thanks for stopping by, Yanett.

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