The 5 Things That Went Right Today: Perspective and Levers

Terrifically passionate people make wonderfully significant and impactful decisions, all the time, every single day. These people are usually deeply emotionally invested in all that they choose to do. Some might consider them “all or nothing” kinds of people. This is exhausting, but it's essential to the learning process! These people are probably the greatest educators you’ve known throughout your life, whether they are “teachers” or not. Ponder upon those particular reverberations in your past for a moment before reading further. Make note of a few of those people. Write them down or sketch their presence on a mental note card. Perhaps, consider sending them a real note of gratitude. Maintaining this level of passion for the learning of others isn’t easy and requires exceptionally purposeful labor.    

Great things…amazing accomplishments, etc., most often happen when phenomena are not typical. Have you ever given someone a compliment in the form of, “Wow, you were so very normal today?”  …probably not. 

I struggle with the K-12 education world at times when it seems to be seeking to normalize students and teachers. Placing educators and students into nicely packaged, designated, little boxes with a label on top, and a set of strict policies, can make some things easier at times, for sure. However, it also asphyxiates creativity and disregards the potential impact of outliers. This leads to frustration and burnout of passionate people.  

In the United States, 8% of teachers leave every single year and less than a third of those are retiring. That works out to about 200,000 teachers leaving the field. The greatest areas of shortage include math, science, bilingual education and special education. The percentage of special educators leaving the field is over 50% within the first 3-5 years of teaching. Additionally, enrollment in teacher preparation programs is down about 35% over the past 5-6 years. If we could reduce that overall attrition percentage of 8 to 4%, our problem of teacher shortage could be nearly eliminated. 

Teaching is hard! Teaching students who learn differently than we do is even harder! If you’ve ever heard me speak, you’ve likely heard me talk at some length about “creativity, skill, and determination” all being fluid notions of great importance to successful facilitation of the learning brain. It is my experience that when learning isn’t happening or isn’t occurring at the desired rate, one or more of those three concepts requires some adjusting. I realize this is somewhat of an over-simplification. However, by simplifying a complex equation, we begin to make it understandable and approachable. When we couple this simplified equation of “creativity, skill, and determination” with our belief that all students are capable of learning, we can begin to feel empowered to design a plan of action. We avoid stagnating, which leads to abandonment.  

Creativity, skill and determination are very much interrelated and dependent on one another. In other words, all three usually have to simultaneously exist within a reasonable median on its respective spectrum of potential. Stifled creativity can quickly degrade determination, for example. Lack of skill can make creativity feel impossible. Fading determination can render both lofty creativity and prominent skill ineffective. 

So, how can we begin to be of service to the educators who are working with the learners who often need them the most in order to maintain creativity, skill, and determination? Further, what can we learn from the highly passionate educators who do not become part of the 8% attrition rate in the US? 

How can a student pass an end of course assessment or state assessment, but fail class after class? Is it possible that a teacher can fail a student in a class while that same student actually knows the content material well enough to pass the high stakes assessment? It happens! It’s likely that this same teacher has had a plethora of difficulties to absorb in any given day. Focusing on the perceived misfortunes of the day is easy to do and most certainly punches determination right in the guts, but deliberately turning one’s attention to five specific things that went right that day can happen quickly and most certainly can fortify determination! 

Celebrate the outliers. Administrators can encourage and prop-up educators who substantiate creativity! Administrators have incredible power to do this right in their hands every day! Calculated risks could be weighted with value on teacher observations and evaluations. Teachers can try to avoid making assumptions about expectations for their students until they've tried at least five ways to present the materials to them, to allow them to interact and respond and to engage them. The PATINS UDL Lesson Plan Creator could be a notable place to start!  

Sleeping Cat on a computer keyboard
Research has shown that something as simple as watching kitten videos can cause a rush of dopamine to the brain! Peek-A-Boo Cat is another quick place to start!

 

Similarly, deep interest or passion in other areas can bring about similar reactions in humans. Personally, it’s art, music and motorcycles, in addition to kitties, of course! This biological reaction motivates creativity and can allow the body and mind to refocus on the five things that went right that day, and fuels passion! 

diagram of wheels on a beam mounted with a fulcrum, but at tilt
I used to believe that this allowed me to maintain balance. However, a highly respected colleague of mine has recently lead me to believe something a bit different. When balanced, you are essentially standing at the fulcrum and moving nothing, changing nothing! I much prefer the ideology of continual movement back and forth on the levers in one's world, creating movement, as opposed to finding balance at the fulcrum and sitting there dormant. Distinctly passionate and effective people exemplify this sort of continual movement on their levers! 

Gaining skill can promptly fuel both creativity and determination! Did you know that the remarkable PATINS staff are recurrently hosting trainings that cost you nothing? Check out our training calendar and if you don't see exactly what you're looking for with regard to content, date, or time, simply lets us know! We'll get it scheduled for you! The PATINS Lending Library also offers educators a means of implementing creative ideas when funding may not allow it locally. Borrowing from us costs you nothing. We even cover shipping in both directions! 

Determination can wane quickly when an educator feels isolated. I believe strongly in the power of personal learning networks. These can be local or global or ideally, both! Consider joining the PATINS staff along with educators from around the globe on Tuesday evenings at 8:30pm EST for our weekly Twitter Chat! Just search Twitter for the hashtag #PatinsIcam! Your own network could build quickly by simply committing to 30 minutes once a week on Tuesday evenings! Correspondingly, the PATINS Specialists are always eager to support determination by joining you right within your classrooms and school buildings! Let us fuel one another's determination! 

Don't allow yourself to be alone if you sense your determination or creativity diminishing! Likewise, if you are feeling creative and determined, but not sure of the skills, resources, strategies, or tools needed to make it happen, remember that the PATINS staff is just a click away! At the very least, make precise note of the five things that went right in your day, every day!  


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To Do One Thing Is Also Deciding To Not Do Something Else

Image of a fork in a road with an ominous looking sky above

Deciding to do one thing, is also deciding to not do something else. Likewise, to believe one thing, is simultaneously to not believe something else. This almost certainly seems like a simplistic statement...one that is nearly self-evident. Yet, when one begins to contemplate daily decisions, even routine or minor ones, from this virtually-transposed perspective, things can start to be inspected differently.  

I had a friend once, whom I haven't spoken to in many years. Like most people I have had any length of contact with, he said a lot of things, most of which I do not remember even the notion of. However, one particular statement he verbalized to me nearly 20 years ago, has remained with me, word for word.  

He said, "You are always going down one road or the other with every single decision you make, but never the middle." He continued, "Any time you think you're in the middle, you're actually on one path, but thinking about the other path." He concluded with, "Every decision and every action is either moving you in one direction or the other, but never both directions at the same time." 

He wasn't a really great friend, but I've always remembered these particular words from him. I try to meaningfully and regularly ruminate on the deep implications of their meaning. I was also recently prompted to think of this ever-protruding philosophy in my life in a slightly different way, which I anticipated to be worth discussing here.  

There's a question that tends to get posed consistently, whether I'm providing a training, sitting with my office computer, checking emails from my phone on-the-go, or participating in a meeting. That question has to do with two separate, but very related concepts: ALL students' ability to work toward grade-level standards and which accommodations are/are not permitted on high stakes testing. Conclusively, questions that indicate one belief...one path, which is simultaneously not believing something else, according to this philosophy at hand. 

I pose that these questions represent beliefs, rather than simple factual inquiries. Asking me which shoes I put on this morning, could be a simple factual inquiry. In contrast, asking about allowable accommodations on a high stakes test or how it could be possible for ALL students to work toward grade-level standards, proposes that the inquiry comes from someone who is traveling down the path to the left, while thinking about the path to the right. 

While I cannot fault this, and much could be said at this juncture about the value of reflection while on one path or the other, the actuality of the path that is underway (decisions and beliefs), is that the student who is figuratively walking with the facilitator, is actively traveling on ONE path, but not both at the same time and not the middle. When accounting for the relatively limited time our students have with us, each step taken in one direction, potentially sacrifices steps that could be taken in the other direction.  

By deciding that what ultimately matters, is the allowable accommodations on a high stakes test, one is also deciding that the tools that could engage a student meaningfully for "the other 175 days" of school are of secondary importance. Traveling down this particular path seems to be rather common and also understandable given the gravity of these tests! Yet, allowing this anticipation of the end of the year to decide the path to get there, seems quite counter-intuitive to our ultimate goal.  

We know that the more actively engaged our students are in a curriculum that is accessible to them, the more accurately we can predict their success on that high stakes test (with or without the tools) and more importantly, their success toward independence as uniquely awesome and creative humans in society.  

When we slow down to think before we take that next step or make that next decision, it is of significant consequence to ponder what we are also deciding not to do... not to believe... not to expect.  

Decide to expect greatness from ALL of your students in ways that you can't even envision yet. Take steps that demonstrate your travel down this path decisively. Seek support, training, and trials of tools, from PATINS. Be aware of what your steps, your decisions, your beliefs also mean that you are not choosing, not traveling toward, not believing in. Deciding to do one thing, is also deciding to not do something else. To believe one thing, is simultaneously to not believe something else.

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Are You Getting The Results You Want Now?

Daniel Presenting

At a recent training I was providing, I began to discuss the concept of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and proceeded through the notion of a framework full of choice and options as well as the necessity of providing multiple and flexible means of engagement, presentation, and interaction/responses. Participants had a lot of great examples of what each of those UDL bullet points might look like in a classroom setting and there was ample head nodding and note taking occuring. I valued these indications of a group of educators looking forward to teaching differently, rather than just with different tools. As I was demonstrating the PATINS Universal Design for Learning Lesson Creator, walking through each of it's sections, I was met with a sense of agreement and excitement! 

Image of children in a traditional classroom facing the front in desk and chairs with one boy raising hand and teacher looking at him.
However, the demeanor in the room quickly took a u-turn when I arrived at the discussion of environmental factors in a Universally Designed learning space! More specifically, I began to talk about the importance of flexible seating options and student choice. Up to this point, everyone seemed very much in-sync with my push to try doing things a different way. We had talked of our mutual belief that all students can learn and grow and, in accordance, there must be a way to teach all students! There seemed to be a shared agreement that, in order to achieve different outcomes, we had to be willing, able, and permitted to teach differently. Yet, when I mentioned the out-dated concept of students being forced to sit at desks, in traditional chairs, facing the front, raising their hands to speak, I was literally and loudly met with laughter. Typically, getting a laugh or two in a presentation, I would consider a positive thing, but this was at a very unexpected time and caught me totally off-guard. However, I continued by asking, "Why do we have this seating requirement in many classrooms...what is the reason for it?" At this point, I was almost knocked backwards in my brown wingtips by the increased laughter and head-shaking, by one table in particular. Worse, this table of participants began to pack up their belongings as if they were preparing to leave at that point in the discussion.  

As a presenter/trainer, this is rarely something you look forward to seeing or hearing. In fact, it's often what a presenter's nightmares consist of the night beforehand, right on-par with forgetting to get dressed and spilling coffee on your shirt! Unfortunately, this was near the very end of our time and I didn't have an opportunity to seek clarification on the laughter and head-shaking. Quickly afterwards however, I began to think deeply about it. I can only interpret that sort of reaction as a strong disagreement with what I was encouraging with regard to flexible seating and other environmental UDL factors.  

One question ran through my head over and over; "what could be the reason that people who are looking for different results are so interested and willing to try a different strategy when it comes to presenting materials in a different way, while being so adamantly against allowing students to sit on the floor?"  

Perhaps, they had reasons that I am not considering. I certainly realize that abandoning what you know and are comfortable with to try something new, especially in front of a student audience, can be overwhelming. Fear is a natural response and sometimes, a natural response to that fear can actually be laughter. Upon thinking even more deeply, it seemed that I found myself settled into one valley of a tough spot between two mountainous forces. Looking to the left, inside that valley, I see the fear of abandoning the familiar. To the right, I see the seemingly insurmountable climb toward different results. If I stay safe in the valley, I experience neither the fear to my left, or the strenuous climb to my right. ...it feels comfy right here in the valley...safe. As long as I keep walking straight ahead in that valley, not veering too far to the left or to the right, I stay safe. However, I also continue to achieve the same results that I always have.  

Tree high upon a mountainous ledge
As I've said for many years when talking to others about trying something new, and have tried to live my own life by "greatness rarely happens when you're comfortable." That tree, the one that you really want to sit under and truly enjoy the view of results, is high upon the hill. Getting to that view requires abandoning the mountainous fear to the left and taking that first step toward making the ascent to the right. It's going to be uncomfortable, but the desired results are there. ...way up there. Further, if you happen to get winded or scared along the way, it's far easier to just turn around and head back to the safe spot in the valley. ...somewhat like trying a different way of presenting information to learners, but deciding that flexible seating is just to difficult to keep climbing. From that spot under the tree on top of the hill to the right, the view of the mountain of fear that used to be to your left looks peacefully at rest in the distance. The view of your former safe spot below seems minuscule now and the differing results achieved as a result of your dedication to the climb is exactly the fresh air needed in the lungs of yourself and your learners.  

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Hammers and Screwdrivers: One Approach to Accommodations and Design

Photograph of Daniel as a child in first grade
"He's so quiet."

"I think he knows the answers, I wish he would just talk more in class."

"He never raises his hand in class." 

"He never volunteers to work at the board." 

"His handwriting needs work."

"He's got a lot of cursive work to improve, does he practice at home?"

"I can't always read what he writes, so he loses points if I can't read it." 

"He's so shy."  

...the comments on nearly every report card I can remember and/or every parent-teacher conference as a young student in school.

I was reminded of these teachers' comments recently during an interaction in a presentation I was facilitating on UDL and then again in a subsequent meeting, during which I was speaking about accommodations. A few notions immediately came to mind: relevancy, universal design, and accommodations.  

Relevancy: When I think about what I've done to earn a living for the past 18 years, I snicker a bit, regarding those teacher's comments.  For nearly two decades I've been speaking to both live and virtual audiences out of my passion for education and to put food on the table. During that same time in my career, I can't recall more than one handful of times I've ever had to handwrite anything for professional purposes, besides my signature of course. The relevancy of what was important to those teachers at the time, and the fact that I lost points for my handwriting, turned out to have very little to no relevancy to my professional life, yet they were items I was being measured against year after year.

The rhetorical question I propose is, "Were those teachers assessing things that were relevant to my becoming an independently successful adult?" Something I talk about nearly every time the topic of education is at hand, is the idea that we frequently measure or assess one component of a task that is impeding the subsequent component, when what's truly relevant is that subsequent component. One of my favorite quotes from David Rose; "Every single test is first a test of engagement, secondly a test of reading, and then perhaps a test on the content itself." 

Universal Design: 
I wasn't shy. I've never thought of myself as shy anyway. I did prefer to speak when I had something to say, not just to demonstrate that I knew the answer. I also preferred to work on my own and in a way, perhaps, different than the way I was "supposed" to work in order to show my understanding. I knew that I despised the sound and feel of pencil lead on paper, and I knew that I could/would have shown a lot more of what I understood had there been a couple other options for responding available to me.


While it's not always easy, we might find out things about some of our students that we didn't know existed by reflecting on our instruction and honestly asking ourselves whether we offer options for students to show us what they really understand.  


A picture of 3 hammers and multiple screwdrivers in a tool drawer
Accommodations
: There are many kinds of hammers and there are, of course, equally varying types of screwdrivers. There are rubber mallets, ball-pein hammers, multi-pound sledge hammers, etc. There are phillips head, flat head, torx, star head, and a multitude of other screwdrivers. I might be really familiar and comfortable with a hammer, or even three different types of hammers, but that doesn't mean that I can use any of those three to drive in a torx head screw. Instead, I might just have to figure out what a torx head screwdriver is, borrow one and then learn to use it.  


As teachers, we frequently instruct utilizing the methods and materials for engagement, presentation, and response that we tend to, ourselves prefer. That's a really difficult habit to break, even for some of the very best teachers. What this can ultimately mean is that we tend to be slightly better than chance at choosing the appropriate accommodations for our students, unless we utilize objective forms of determination.

Finding the right accommodation usually necessitates the systematic and trialing of several different things with fidelity before deciding upon the most appropriate accommodation for that student. This, of course, is dependent on the particular time and setting, for that task at hand. That can seem daunting, to say the least. The PATINS Lending Library is where you can borrow items to trial and the PATINS Specialists who can help you implement those trials.

The next time you might be writing an IEP, struggling with a student, or sitting in a case conference and you want to recommend an accommodation, spend just a few moments considering why you're recommending it. Is it because it's the accommodation that you're most familiar with or that you have at your fingertips, or is it truly the correct accommodation for that student in that environment for that task? Let us help you get your hands on a torx-head screwdriver and perhaps show you some ways it can be used. 



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Dignity of Risk

Likely, you've heard me assert the term, "dignity of risk," if we've ever had any discourse about life-long learning in any respect whatsoever. It's a term that stockpiles deep significance in all aspects of my professional and personal life. Its significance appears repeatedly and in many forms. It's also been spoken about by a select few people in much more eloquent phrasing than I typically am able to utter.

In recent months, while auditorily reading a book in my car, I stopped to bookmark and highlight a section of notes (ask PATINS staff how easy this is to do). This particular section of text was describing a trip on a motorcycle through some especially harsh weather and trying conditions. One person was anticipating his partner needing to take a flight back, while another character argued strongly that, "physical discomfort is important only when the mood is wrong." That when the mood is wrong, one fastens tightly to the discomfort and calls that the cause. When the mood is "right," the physical discomfort carries far different meaning.  The author goes on to say that arriving at the Rocky Mountains by plane is certainly one context, in which they are seen as pretty scenery, but to "arrive after days of hard travel would be to experience them in another way, as a goal, a promised land." Further, that you're "in the scene," rather than simply watching it. I liked this smooth and expressive alternative form of describing what I hold so earnestly as "dignity of risk." 

Two years ago, at the PATINS State Conference, I had the distinct pleasure of spending some time with Daniel Kish, one of our keynote speakers. Daniel is brilliant, inspirational and he is blind. He navigates his physical environment partially by clicking with his tongue and then making determinations about his surroundings based on the reflections of sound off objects around him. Daniel hikes national parks, negotiates busy cities, and rides a bicycle. When talking about receiving the bike from his dad at a relatively young age, Daniel talks of the many risks involved in riding it and his thankfulness that his parents were able to grasp far more positives than negatives in this regard. He finishes with a line that I'll never forget, and that sums up "dignity of risk" in yet another marvelous fashion. Daniel says, "running into a light pole or mailbox is a real drag, but being denied the opportunity to run into a pole is an absolute disaster." 

Thirdly, as a young teacher, I had the great fortune of knowing a miraculous little girl whom I'll refer to as Strawberry Shortcake. I have confidence she'd smile approvingly at this name since she referred to me as "Blueberry Muffins" on more than one occasion. Ms. Shortcake faced several challenges, but her olfactory sense was keen and she always seemed to know exactly what I had for breakfast. I also have her to thank for keeping a toothbrush in every desk I've ever kept since! Ms. Shortcake carried an outlook on life that inspired many and stuck with me. While many factors caused her to fall often, bump into things and people, and show up seemingly every few minutes with new bruises, she wore protective headwear and never slowed down. Adults would ask her things like, "What happens if you fall and scrape your knees again?" "That's a long way to fall, are you sure?" I would often just observe and smile as her response was always, "I'll just get back up and keep going." Fortunately, Ms. Shortcake had parents who also adored this life lesson she so often taught through the way she truly lived. She never let the negative what-if's slow her down or keep her from doing the things that made her happy and successful. She just, "got back up and kept running." In 2005, our little Shortcake with big inspiration passed away rather suddenly and unexpectedly from an unforeseen disease. This broke my heart and soul and nearly ended my career in education, until I genuinely internalized what she'd been teaching me and followed her lead. I was so very thankful that she'd fully lived every moment she had and that she never allowed others' fears to contain her love for experiencing life. ...I "just got back up and kept running," and at that time my realization of the deep importance of "dignity of risk" had an unshakable foundation. 

Having now provided three brief synopses of just a few of the examples I treasure, my hope is that I've started to offer a more rounded view on what it means when I refer to "dignity of risk." When a person only has one choice, there's really never any pride in making that choice. When mistakes are not permitted (and encouraged) creativity is non-existent and true learning doesn't occur. I realize that may be a controversial and bold statement, but it's one I believe in strongly. It's also one that I feel applies unconditionally to education from a professional development perspective both in regard to student achievement and teaching strategy. That is to say, students AND teachers must be encouraged and supported to take risks for the purpose of achieving both academic results and dignity. 

Consider two people, if you will; a scientist who has his own TV show on a set filled with a million dollars worth of equipment. He puts on a fascinating scientific demonstration of massively impressive proportions. Is what he's doing a scientific experiment, however? I'd argue that it most certainly is not, if he already knows what the results will be. The other person is a garage mechanic working on his motorcycle. This individual might turn on the headlight or honk the horn to see if the battery is working. This is, essentially, a more true and creative experiment. If the horn honks, the battery has been proven good. If trying to determine why the bike won't start, the TV scientist might call this experiment a failure because the bike still doesn't start even though the battery has been proven good. The garage mechanic realizes that an experiment is only a failure if it also fails to adequately address the single hypothesis being questioned AND/OR if experimentation stops at that point. The skilled individual moves on to the next single hypothesis and tests that, etc., eventually arriving at complete success. This notion of experimentation involves many "failures" along the route to complete success. It takes time, it may be frustrating, but success is nearly inevitable and it is definite once it's reached. 

Teachers have to be willing, permitted, and able to teach differently, not just with different tools. They must feel supported by administration to be creative, try things differently, and scientifically test one hypothesis at a time, with understanding that there will be necessary "failures" along the route to eventual definite success. Teachers must be allowed and encouraged to experience dignity through risk. Students must be permitted and encouraged in much the same way by their instructors. Barring physical safety and destruction of property, of course, students have to feel supported to take risks in thinking about academic problem solving, about the tools that might allow them to circumvent their own barriers to learning, and about creative ways to arrive at a solution. The certain minor failures along this road ARE where great teaching happens. Superb instructors guide, shape, prompt hierarchically, and reach out their hand after every small set-back. This is where deep learning occurs. While I think that many would probably agree with this, I wonder if they truly offer the necessary support to those they are guiding that allows them the "dignity of risk" that is essential in this process.

My purpose at this point is to encourage administrators and instructors to utilize the PATINS staff, resources, and Lending Library, as your supports. We will be there with our hands held out after every step in your journey toward the "promised land." Try a new strategy or tool, take data, draw conclusions and then form an adjusted hypothesis and borrow something else from us. We are full of, "maybe you could try this next, here's how you could try it..." and we have so many items in our Lending Library for you to "honk" to "test the battery," before you move on to the next hypothesis. Embrace the "physical discomfort" from the perspective of knowing that those mountains will feel far different than if you'd simply flown to them. Remember that bruises will happen, but that "never having the opportunity to crash is a total disaster." Finally, know that "next year" might just be too late for some students. Start now with the notion that while creativity stifled by fear may feel safe, true greatness happens in "just getting back up to keep running," even with scraped knees.  



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Just Leave The Light on 10 Minutes Longer and Watch the Door!

Image of porch with spider webs, dragon, and big spider
This spooky Halloween evening, while 10 important things I contemplated blogging about campaigned vividly through my over-flowing mind, I finally retreated from the front porch to my desk.  The porch was subject to the breeze of the surrendering days of Fall, where I’d been passing out sweet treats to little monsters and giant gremlins who dared make the trek up my mountain of steps through the faux webs, past Frank the heavyweight arachnid, toward the bag of magical sugar in my grasp.  The clock had just struck 9pm, treating had ended, and I needed to get to work! 

With SO many recent questions and important discussions, ranging from state testing accommodations, to the 
PATINS State Conference THIS WEEK, to ESSA and the Nov. 2015 Dear Colleague Letter, I had a multitude of topics from which to base my writing on!  Right about the time I was certain my stampeding blog-related thoughts would trample everything else in my mind, leaving me unable to lasso a single one and reign it in, I caught a glimpse of one last little pig-tailed-skeleton girl standing on my porch… just standing...waiting.  She looked as if she were frozen in confusion about whether to knock on the door or to turn back around to her mother and admit defeat.  Confusingly, I had left my porch light on and it was now 9:15pm.  Recognizing that look on her painted face, I bounded vigorously for the door before she could turn around to her mom and just as my hand hit the door handle, the skeleton-paint nearly vanished from her face and all that remained was a smile that looked as if an amiable dragon had just swooped down and carried her from harm’s way upon his mighty back.  Delighted, she reached into my candied cauldron and politely took just one packet of sugary delicacy.  At that very moment, I heard her mother speak, which startled me!  I hadn’t even noticed her standing there during all of my “dragon-swooping” toward the door handle!  Phew, It’s a good thing she didn’t take offense to all the reptilian swooping parts of this story!  In fact, what she said, hit me like a harpoon right in the chest and instantly I knew what I’d be writing about this evening. 

She spoke, “Oh, thank goodness someone's porch light is still on! I had to work late tonight and her grandmother wasn’t going to take her trick-or-treating. I was so afraid she wouldn’t get to go out for any candy at all tonight.”  

Thank goodness indeed, for that porch beacon like a lighthouse on the dark street for a lone pig-tailed skeleton, and thank goodness I’d left the front door open enough to see those little bones on my porch.  Immediately, I extended my dragon paw into that same candied cauldron and pulled out a pile of bounty, piling it into her small, but strong and eager, skeleton hands.  

Some, could perhaps, reduce this to unhealthy confectionary on a weird Autumn night that really doesn’t affect anything important.  However, what I saw on that little pretend-skeleton’s face and heard in her mother’s voice was something quite different.  Here was a student, whom you might have in class tomorrow, who was waiting at her grandmother’s home, all dressed up with nowhere to go, waiting on her mother who was working late to put real food on her table and fun paint on her face.  One person, whom she didn't even know, leaving their porch light on for an extra 10 or 15 minutes WAS the difference between this child having a disappointing evening and one that just MIGHT give her something fun and positive to write about tomorrow as she uses word
-prediction to collect her thoughts into a meaningful response to your assignment in your morning class.  ...and even if she forgets the candy entirely and ends up writing about the ridiculous old guy who thought he was a dragon, clumsily stumbling toward the door, she's still smiling and writing.  

Others could say that "rules are rules" and that structure and guidelines are important.  …and I will agree to a very large extent.  However, sometimes it’s possible to be the amiable dragon for a student, a parent, or a colleague, and it costs us truly nothing more than maybe an additional 10-15 minutes with the light on, or another sentence in an email to ensure it’s encouraging rather than discouraging, one more phone call, email, or one more google search with a slightly different keyword before we toss in the towel on finding a potential solution for someone facing a difficult barrier.  Sometimes people just need ONE other person to leave that light on for an extra 10 minutes.  …for someone to care as much as they do, even if just for a small moment. 

As educators, we find ourselves every single day, in a position to be that difference.  While rules and structure are important for a mass of reasons, I’ve found that greatness usually happens when we step outside of comfort, normality, and guidelines, within reason, of course.  For instance, we sometimes feel hesitant to try something different, even though we KNOW that what we’re doing currently isn’t working.  We still become fearful that whatever we might try could end up worse than what’s not working at the moment OR we simply just do not know how to begin implementing that new strategy or device that we THINK MIGHT possibly work better, and so we let that fear keep us from moving.  We stay still.  We turn the light off early.  

The PATINS Staff is here to support your effort.  I hope to see so many of you this week at the 2016 PATINS State Conference, where we will have near-record attendance AND an absolute record number of general education teachers, which makes me so happy!  After all, ALL students are ALL of our responsibility ALL of the time in ALL settings.  If you are coming to the conference, please come say hello and be brave …tell us what keeps you from doing something differently next week with your students and let us be YOUR support. 

Image of old light switch on wall 


For A LOT of educators, substance such as Assistive TechnologyAccessible Educational Materials, or Universal Design for Learning in a Twitter Chat, can seem more scary than a pig-tailed little skeleton girl on the porch!  Regrettably, we aren't always able to see that what’s genuinely frightening is NOT melting away that skeleton paint with a child's smile that just cannot be contained behind paint, brought about by simply trying a new, different, untamed, unexampled bounding toward the door before your student can turn around and look toward the ground in disappointment.  Be that amiable dragon.  Be brave.  Leave your light on a bit longer and keep your peripheral vision on the door.  
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Daniel G. McNulty
Thanks, Sharon! What nice things to say and thank YOU for all that you do! Stay in touch with us and let us know how we support ... Read More
Tuesday, 01 November 2016 11:02
Daniel G. McNulty
Ahh, YES! I remember ACR prep very well. ... I am so GLAD that your students have you on their side at that case conferences.... Read More
Tuesday, 01 November 2016 11:12
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Break it… Just Break it.

collage of Daniel, laptop, guitars, motorcycles, and a truck

...Buy it broken. Accept it damaged and worn. Welcome it ripped, ragged, and rough. 


…Don’t just stand there because it works ok right now. Don’t just stand there and talk about the pieces of it that don’t work ok right now. Dive in, take it apart, try something new with it!  For Daniel’s sake, take a chance on breaking it! Here’s why...

When I literally steal a moment away from other things I should be doing to sit in the breeze to assuredly think about the things I’m truly good at; the list is definite, short, and the items on the list are unmistakably bound together with 3 common threads…

The things I feel confident other people would identify as those I’m good at are all things I’ve: 1. Had to learn out of necessity to fix something, 2. Taught myself by seeking out resources and through trial and error, 3. Were born out of deep passion. 

Not many people likely know this about me, but almost every single thing I know about computers, programming, assistive technology, motorcycles, cars, photography, welding, or music, I’ve taught myself. These things, I taught myself because I either HAD to learn to fix problems I created for myself, couldn’t afford something without pre-existing problems, or simply NEEDED to know NOW…before I could wait for someone to teach me!  

When I was 16 years old, I broke my leg playing the sport I was best at. A subsequent domino effect from this unfortunate event proved highly negative to the point I lost almost all of my friends; some of whom I’d had since kindergarten. Long story short, I could no longer march in the marching band as a snare drummer, which meant that I couldn’t be in any other bands in my high school. Devastated to have lost two of the things that I most valued, in addition to my friends, I sunk deep. I bought an old Peavey guitar with the last $150 I had from working the previous summer cutting grass. Not being able to walk, drive, or even hang out… I taught myself to play that guitar. It kept me going and the necessity to have something to keep me going required me to learn something I may not have learned otherwise. Now, playing the 6-string is a return-ticket to a place where I’m deeply rooted and can return, re-focused and recharged to some extent. 

At 17, I was so ready to have my own car. I had loved motorized and mechanical things for as long as I can remember. As a child, I remember very limited things, but I most definitely remember disassembling nearly every toy I owned.  ...taking them apart, exchanging pieces with other toys, sanding off the paint and repainting in differing colors, and sometimes never actually getting them back together. I always felt like I’d gained something though and never felt like I’d “lost” a toy. I always gained the knowledge of the inner workings of my things, which meant so much to me. It was a most certain gain that would apply positively to the next thing I took apart! I’m not so confident my mom saw it the same way as she stepped on parts and pieces of toy cars, action figures, bicycles, speakers, radios, and OUCH…legos! So, I bought my first truck for $700 with money I’d earned by tagging successfully hunted deer at the local sporting goods store in my small town. You’d be accurate in thinking it needed a lot of work.  …work I had no real idea how to do and parts I didn’t have and couldn’t afford. Long story short, I got really good at searching salvage yards, applying-sanding-painting bondo, and shifting that manual 4-cylinder in such a way that I could limit it’s back-firing, which would cause me undue attention in that little red truck that could. 

When I bought my very first computer in 2000 (yes, just 16 years ago), I pushed that poor laptop to do things that nearly made it blow smoke and cry… which in turn caused it to have issues that required me to blow smoke and cry! I spent MANY late nights learning coding and writing script to fix the problems with my Windows 98 installation that I didn’t have a disc to fix and couldn’t afford to buy. I was literally eating macaroni and cheese 4 nights a week out of a Frisbee with the same plastic fork. I had a special education degree to finish and well …that computer simply HAD to live and I was the only surgeon on call!

The same is true about photography (which I learned DURING the professional transition from film to digital), website building (back when we had to do it all in html code), and both riding and maintaining motorcycles. 

Almost everything I know on a deep-understanding, passionate, and highly confident level with regard to all of those things...is self-taught for the reason that I HAD to fix things, learn things, try things, rebuild things, redesign things, and seek resources. These were (and still are) problems that I mostly made for myself. But many kiddos are not permitted the opportunity to create situations for themselves which require such trial and error type of learning. We have been taught to set them up for success, which isn’t entirely bad! But…

While this may sound a bit silly to some, I feel there's no better, deeper, more comprehensive or true way to learn something.  …to fully KNOW something in a way that you feel confident in pushing it to it’s potential, than to experience breaking it …and subsequently repairing it, seeking resources, improving it, redesigning it, and ultimately gaining OWNERSHIP of experiential knowledge. 

This is one area I think we often may fail our students. We care about our students and we want to protect them and keep the space in which they exist safe and secure.  In doing so, we sometimes limit their space to ‘existence,’ which is not the same as ‘living.’ While I’d never advocate for creating an unsafe environment for a student, I undoubtedly feel that without allowing them the dignity of risk to fail, frustrate, and re-build, we are plainly denying them the opportunity to truly and deeply KNOW a thing at it’s core measure.   

We CAN offer that opportunity to students in a way that props up curiosity and DEEP understanding of THINGS in a way that is secure and encouraging!  We can! …and in doing this, we encourage independent people! I recently heard a speaker say something that nearly made my eyes too wet… “We don't have to TEACH kids CURIOSITY...they came to us that way. We have to NOT siphon it out of them!” Thanks @goursos. 

We have to focus more on the result of the 27th re-build, when they finally “get it” and it works, than the 26 times we stepped on Legos, thought about the cost of dis-assembled ‘things,’ or placed our own value of whole-things over the value of BREAKING IT and learning to re-create, improve, re-design, rebuild that’s so essential to our job of building independent little individuals. Independent and proud little faces ONLY ever result from allowing the dignity of risk, which can require a difficult transformation of philosophy about what’s best for learners. 

I’d go so far as to say that many education professionals have denied themselves or have been denied through a variety of reasons, the same opportunity to explore something, potentially break it, and subsequently truly LEARN it by having to re-construct it. Many who’ve heard me speak probably know my “just jump in the shark tank” philosophy.” If you don’t, just ask me sometime. I like to share. 

Likely through a combination of policy, fear, and conditioning, many educators may feel discouraged from pushing anything to it’s limit without the confidence of being reinforced, propped up, and encouraged to struggle through repairing it.   

When we consider the weight and prominence of “HIGH EXPECTATIONS” and “SHARED RESPONSIBILITY” for ALL STUDENTS set forth for us in both ESSA and the November 2015 Dear Colleague Letter, I feel strongly that we often have had safety goggles on when we should have been sporting binoculars, microscopes, and welding helmets! To arrive at achievement levels beyond what we currently are experiencing, we MUST value the dignity of risk in being the reinforcement for teachers to TEACH DIFFERENTLY, and for students to LEARN DIFFERENTLY, which might require rebuilding and redesigning, and we MUST value the opportunity for ALL of our students to feel absolute pride in THEIR confident stride toward independence through temporary downfall and subsequent, necessary, and repeated rebuilding! 

It is only through this process of experiential acquisition of knowledge with an authentic purpose or audience, that one becomes an “expert learner,” which should be the ultimate goal of what we are trying to achieve through all educational experiences. The task, the tools, and the method can be counted on to evolve. Those things will not be the same in 5-10 years, I promise. The desire, passion, and experiences to be an ever-growing LEARNER is what separates existence from living. 

So…Twist the throttle until something smokes. Smash the brakes until traction is temporarily lost. Take something apart solely for the purpose of knowing how it works in order to put it back together BETTER. Sit on the floor and just look at something that works OK as it is and IMAGINE what it COULD BE if you took off panel A  and B and moved some things around between the two compartments or found a totally new component to install. Or …Just simply take it apart, look at the pieces, put it back together exactly as it was….and truly KNOW how it works. 

PATINS has parts and pieces. We have passionate people who want to support your journey.  We have high-fives, encouragement, strategies, data, opportunities to push expectations for yourself and for your students. In fact, THIS is WHY WE are here…we’ve taken ourselves and the things around us apart and we’ve arrived HERE to support you during your experiential road-trip. …just find one of us and say, “watch this….”  We’ll be there. Break it.  


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The Timely Manner

drawing of an antique looking stop watch
"TIME"  ...the indefinite continued process of existence and events in the past, present, and future regarded as a whole.   

Yes, I looked up the definition.  I had a couple of reasons and you're right again, the first was in desperate attempt to understand how in the world it was possible that NINE other PATINS bloggers had beautifully taken their rotation already and the arrow points directly at me again!  If you haven't already read the previous 9 wonderfully written blogs by the PATINS Coordinators, you're missing out on a wisdom that I'm confident you won't find elsewhere.  I started this blog process in hopes that you might gain some insight into the brilliant minds of the PATINS Coordinators. However, I admit that I was promptly put in my place, week after week, as every single one of them have posted nothing less than magic in the form of words.  I've personally been inspired by each of them.  

Second: my limited and rapidly transfiguring attention was recently drawn, by a colleague, toward a conversation that was happening online.  A question was posed online to the world of "us" regarding "Timely Manner."  My colleague and I experienced very different INITIAL reactions to this question posed online and I want to talk about that a bit, because I think the same sort of variety in reactions likely exist in the field.  

From my professional perspective, the majority of the time, "timely manner" typically refers to Accessible Educational Materials and more specifically WHEN those materials arrive to the end user (the student).  Of course, Timely Manner also applies to other services and assistive technology.  The IDEA mentions "timely manner" several times, and gets as specific as stating, "...accessible formats are provided those materials in a timely manner, the SEA must ensure that all public agencies take all reasonable steps to provide instructional materials in accessible formats to children with disabilities who need those instructional materials at the same time as other children receive instructional materials."  In Indiana, our Article 7 makes some similarly nondescript statements about "Timely Manner," which do provide some level of guidance, but lack a certain desired specificity.  Allow me to explain.  

There can frequently be many steps and people involved in getting services, materials, supplies, or assistive technologies to a student, once the need has been determined.  Many potential roadblocks exist, which can cause the "Timely Delivery" of said services or items to possibly be delayed.  This brings up the question, "how much delay is too much and how much is acceptable/unavoidable?"  

Again, only dealing with the Accessible Materials subsection of "Timely Manner," our Indiana Article 7 refers to "Reasonable Steps."  511 IAC 7-36-7...

(h) For purposes of this section, "timely manner" means that a public agency will take all reasonable steps to ensure that students who need print instructional materials in accessible formats are provided those materials at the same time as other students receive instructional materials. Reasonable steps include, but are not limited to, the following: 
(1) Requiring publishers or other contractors to, at a minimum, provide the National Instructional Materials Access Center (NIMAC) with electronic files containing the content of the print instructional materials using the National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard (NIMAS). Such files must be provided to the NIMAC with sufficient time, according to policies and procedures established by the department of education, to ensure that students requiring accessible formats receive the instructional materials at the same time as other students receive the instructional materials. 
(2) Having a means of acquiring print instructional materials in accessible formats according to policies and procedures established by the department of education, including for students who transfer into the public agency after the start of the school year. 
Reasonable steps would not include withholding print instructional materials from other students until print instructional materials in accessible formats are available. 

The very next portion of our Article 7 states something of DEEP importance

(i) Nothing in this section relieves a public agency of its responsibility to ensure that the following students, who need print instructional materials in accessible formats, receive those materials in a timely manner: 
(1) A student who is not a student with a print disability as defined in 511 IAC 7-32-93. 
(2) A student who needs print instructional materials that cannot be produced from NIMAS files. 

THAT... my friends, essentially means that ANY student, regardless of a "Print Disability" presence, has a right to receive materials that are accessible to them in a "Timely Manner!"  Yes, you read that correctly, I'm no lawyer, but that reads pretty clearly to me, that even students who do not have a print disability MAY need Accessible Materials, they MAY not qualify for materials derived from NIMAS files, and they have a right to them in a "Timely Manner!"  

While that certainly can be as tall of an order as it sounds like, it is actually very doable with the right processes, policies, procedures, workflow, and training.  It DOES NOT, however, just happen on it's own.  At this point, I'd like to mention two things: 

AEM Collaboration Day 2017 Participants1. The PATINS AEMing for Achievement Grant.  This is a year-long collaboration between your entire district (represented by a small team) and PATINS-ICAM staff.  This 15-16 school year had 8 teams and we JUST finished up on Friday with a day of collaboration and sharing successes and struggles of the year and I honestly tell you that it's the most inspirational day of my whole year!  Incredible!  Success stories of student's lives literally changing for the better evidenced in video and data.  ANYWAY... I will be posting the application for NEXT YEAR's district teams THIS WEEK!  The purpose of this grant is EXACTLY what I stated above; to assist your district with the the right processes, policies, procedures, workflow, and training to ensure that ALL STUDENTS have the materials they need in a "Timely Manner."  Regardless of where you feel your district is now, we can help you to get this tall order accomplished over the next school year.  We've done it. 

2.  I've been upfront up to this point that I'm really only talking about "Timely Manner" as it refers to AEM, both in IDEA and Article 7.  However, I want to deviate just a bit here and I'll be blunt and direct.  One COULD deliver Accessible Materials in a "Timely Manner," (at the same time as peers receive their materials) BUT, there may still be a mountainous problem!  MANY times, those materials in specialized formats REQUIRE some technology or Assistive Technology before they can be used at all!  So, they MAY be "Accessible," but at that point, they are NOT USABLE!  This brings up a whole new level of policies, procedures and workflow around the coincidental delivery of tech or assistive tech, also in a "Timely Manner!"  

While the concept of time is both abstract and relative, it is of great importance to students waiting for the materials and/or technology they need to level the playing field, to close the achievement gap!  The unit of measure we must use for this is that of the same time when other students receive their materials and/or technologies.  However, we KNOW that there can often be a greater number of obstacles in the way when we're talking about specialized materials, services, and technologies.  This means that there must be a systematic process in place, which means that policies, procedures, and workflow, must be established and adhered to.  Long story short... it doesn't just happen on it's own or by chance.  

...and, YES, for those keeping track of such things, this posting IS 4 days LATE and YES it is a posting about "TIMELY MANNER."  ... oh, the irony.  My apologies.
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New Blog, New Website, Ever-Improving Service, Invaluable Staff Ponderings, and Embracing of the Potentially Uncomfortable.

Dirty Motorcycle at the edge of the water and land at the Bonneville Salt Flats
If you’re reading this, then you’re either a previous subscriber to one of the PATINS Blogs (Rapid Fire or ICAM Dispatch) or you’ve stumbled across the NEW PATINS-ICAM website, no doubt in your quest for wisdom and panache!  Either way, it’s an  honor to welcome you as the first blogger in what will quickly become an abundant archive of far more brilliant ideas, resourceful tools, and insightful reflections from all of the PATINS Coordinators who will rotate posting weekly, sometime between Sunday evening and Thursday evening.  While both previous blogs were outstanding resources, this new weekly digest will not only feature the wisdom, talent, and expertise of ALL PATINS-ICAM Coordinators, it also means that everything is right here!  The PATINS website, the ICAM website, AND the blog posts are all right here in one easy to bookmark place!  There are “app lists” and tools, and links to great resources everywhere.  This blog will offer something different and additional; the meditations and ponderings from the staff.  Collectively amongst the PATINS-ICAM Coordinators, there are over 100 years of experience WITH PATINS and many more years of previous experience in the field of education.  This is invaluable and deserving of an outlet.  I do hope you’ll return weekly to read and share.  If you’re not already subscribed to the blog, consider doing so.  We’re happy to help you if you have questions, always.  Check out the Lending Library, the Featured Vendor Solutions and Staff Sharing on PATINS TV, connect with Starfish Award Winners, check out AEMing for Achievement Grants, look at all the incredible trainings offered on the Calendar, the Family Resources, and be SURE the check out ALL of the PATINS Coordinators Regional Pages!  They'll be updating them often with offerings, tools, resources, and information! 

As the first of what will, with no uncertainty, be a growing list of far more insightful musings from the rest of the staff, I’d like to reflect briefly on a topic of particular importance and interest to me; temporary discomfort in the interest of ever-improving and evolving situations.  For many years, I’ve encouraged audiences I’ve facilitated, to “go with the choice that scares you most.”  This is so important to remember, even though it may seem a little extreme.  Greatness rarely happens when you’re comfortable and that’s a terribly intimidating concept to embrace.  Be brave and strong and utilize all resources at your disposal.  Keep in mind that the PROCESS can sometimes matter as much as the final product when electing to accept the uncomfortable.  Strive not only to "get there," but rather to absorb, rebuild, and share experiences from everything along the way.  An epic ride doesn’t always have to be made up of 4700 miles far from "home" in a breath taking environment.   Sometimes, the epic nature of the ride has more to do with having the courage to take the necessary deep breath and saddle a ride that seems too big, too wild, too powerful, or too new, even if you and your bronco never make it out of the barn, than actually arriving at some predetermined destination.  In the wise words of, Daniel Kish , one of this past year's State Conference keynoters, "I'd rather deal with the bruises from crashing, than the bruises of never being permitted the opportunity to crash."  

Return often, request assistance, collaborate, build networking, and construct a culture of HIGH EXPECTATIONS for ALL kids, ALL of the time, in ALL buildings, with ALL staff!  Saddle up! 
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Daniel G. McNulty
Oh! ...and LEAVE COMMENTS! We LOVE your ideas and responses and additions to our reflections. We love interaction with other pa... Read More
Thursday, 10 March 2016 21:42
Daniel G. McNulty
Thanks Colleen!
Saturday, 12 March 2016 09:09
Daniel G. McNulty
Excellent... Can't wait for your posting turn to roll up, Julie!
Monday, 14 March 2016 11:22
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