Death By Paperwork

"Death By Paperwork" in a creepy font and a blood splatter
First: I made it out alive. You will too.

This year I messed something up in my back, and by April it was hard to sit for more than twenty minutes at a time. Every drive, conference or meeting I was engaged for a bit and then the rest of the day was spent imitating your favorite wiggly child, trying to ease the pain. I felt terrible.

Sometimes it got better, and then it got worse. I complained. I ignored it. I tried what I knew to fix it, I asked friends for ideas. Nothing really worked.

I had enough and went to a specialist, definitely not something I was looking forward to. I hate going to the doctor. But within a few sessions, my life had changed.

It was like getting glasses in the correct prescription or wearing good shoes after years of wearing Old Navy flip flops. I didn’t know how bad it was until I experienced how my spine was meant to be.

About three years into my career I had another issue that was a major pain: paperwork.

Paperwork is like back pain. Everyone gets some, some people get more than they can handle. It comes when it’s least convenient and it will not go away if you ignore it. By the end of my third-year the IEPs, evaluations, and caseload documents piled up to my ears. It was affecting my ability to do my job and my family life. I felt terrible. If death by paperwork was a thing, it felt imminent.

I complained. I ignored it. I tried what I knew to fix it, I asked friends for ideas. Nothing really worked.

An administrator gently suggested I see some “specialists.” I did not want to admit that I was struggling to anyone, but after meeting with others who were amazing at keeping on top of it all, they gave me some ideas. They pointed out some of my mistakes, the weight that was causing the paperwork pain, and they helped me develop my paperwork treatment plan.

In less than two months, I started to feel better. My files were in order and I felt in control. By the next year, I was rocking a weekly paperwork schedule and found tools to help me streamline and automate. I was spending even more time working with kids than I was before! It was career changing. I didn’t know how good it could be.

You, dear reader, might be dealing with some pain in your career. Maybe it’s paperwork or a student on your mind who you don’t know how to reach. Maybe it’s a new tool or expectation that’s pain in your neck, and doing your job effectively seems out of reach. Maybe you complained or ignored it. You tried what you knew to fix it, you asked friends for ideas. Nothing may have worked.

If it’s related to supporting student’s access to education, we’ve got a team of specialists here to help.

It might just change your life.


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Summer Musings, Student Thoughts


Summer. What a great time to store up some natural vitamin D, enjoy the outdoors, and clear our minds from the doldrums and cobwebs that some of us collect during the winter months and look for renewal for the upcoming school year.


At our house, we remodeled our kitchen and, that was an undertaking! It only took three times longer than anticipated but the end result is gorgeous. One does not realize how old something is until it is updated though to be sure, my daughter did try to advise me of this for a while. I took the opportunity afforded by dust, chaos, and disarray to purge the rest of the house. This made the mayhem worse. The saving grace for me was in knowing this messiness was temporary and actually, in my relative control. We have expanded some of the renewal to include new carpeting, which should be installed next week. So it is not smooth sailing yet. Then, of course our family get together is happening before the carpet comes in so it is not “perfect”. There is a lesson in there, too. Perfect is not necessary. 

As I gear up for the 2017-2018 school year, I cannot help but reflect on the daily lives of some of our students. This is not a statement of poverty, class, background or anything else. It is just life. The issue of clutter, chaos and stability crosses all the lines. So, how does this impact our students?   

On an individual level, consider how each of us is able to focus, find things, concentrate, think, create, remember or recall in an environment where we feel we have control, or where we feel we do not. A great example of this comes to mind with the topic of homework. How can homework get done in the midst of chaos? Let alone get done effectively. What does it take to set students up for success when it comes to homework completion? We have to look at individual needs on a universal level.

If we follow the UDL principles set by CAST and follow up work at the UDL Center we have an expectation to facilitate students ability to become expert learners. How can a child and young adult be resourceful and knowledgeable; strategic and goal-directed; purposeful and motivated amidst clutter, chaos, mayhem and limited choices? I think of students with complex disabilities.  Again, the issues cross all the demographic lines. Without a voice or a way to effectively communicate, an individual is dependent on the organizational style, timelines, thought processes of those around them. I do not see how this can promote the development of expert learners.

As an occupational therapist, we look at the whole person, not just the physical aspects of disability. When I see homework not getting completed, there are usually a number of reasons and punitive measures do not seem to get better results. These other reasons can include many issues including significant/subtle learning disabilities, no adult support, poor executive functioning, and emotional issues. This is obviously not a comprehensive list, but you get the idea. Also, a question that is good to ask is “What is the purpose of the activity?” The answer to that question alone can make a big difference in focusing on critical elements of performance for a student that is useful in growing their expert learner potential. This can even be explored with seating and positioning in the classroom. Without control and confidence of one’s physical state, learning becomes the secondary focus. So, homework, in-class work, whatever the work of a student is we need to know what we are working toward universally, know the student individually, and intentionally plan upfront for all the diversity and chaos eager to learn this year!

Let’s find “techy” ways to help students find their own control and stability in a chaotic world.
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The Hyphen

I never quite realized why I chose a career in special education until this spring. Both of my brothers are electrical engineers and I had a math minor in college. Ending up as a special educator certainly was not my intention when I went off to college. I always would joke that I selected a profession that did not require a government clearance.

Recently, I realized that my mother influenced my career. Mom made it a priority in her life to make sure everyone was cared for, that no one was forgotten. She single handedly took care of my dad for twelve years after he had a debilitating stroke. When I would take her to doctor's appointments she would always take time and ask the doctor how they were doing almost immediately after they would ask her how she was doing. I would often just chalk up this behavior as part of her dementia.

But then it hit me. She knew exactly what she was doing by asking the doctors how they were doing. It was not related to dementia at all. At her assisted living facility I would watch her make sure that fellow residents had everything they needed at meals. She would inform nursing staff if she thought a resident needed some attention. She always had a stash of Lifesaver mints to give to residents and employees. She truly cared for everyone and in her own little way worked to make everyone's life just a little better. For 93 years she had been tossing starfish back into the ocean!

Why did I end up in the special education field? I was destined by my upbringing! I was taught to seek out starfish and return them to the ocean. When I was in the classroom I would somehow always get a challenging student or two because 'I could work with their uniqueness '. At the time I would wonder what I did to make my supervisor continually give me challenging caseloads. I know now that my caseload was based on my ability to see the starfish in everyone. We all need to find the starfish and return them one at a time to the ocean.

I am sure my mom taught me a lot of things. It has just taken me 64 years to realize how she modeled and shaped my life and career. Thanks Mom for your patience with your middle child. You threw me back into the ocean many times!

You always hear it is the hyphen or dash that really counts between your birth and death. It represents the accomplishments, both good and bad, in the course of one's life. Mom has quite a distinctive hyphen, oh the stories it could tell!

Rest In Peace, Mom
February 14, 1924 - June 17, 2017

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Julie Kuhn
Jim, this brought me to tears. How beautiful and thank you for sharing this amazing reflection. What a rich life.
Thursday, 13 July 2017 10:42
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"I got this."

fishing jumping from one bowl to another with the words I got this
Reflect, reflect, reflect is what my college professors used to say constantly. I always felt like I was going to lose my mind with one more forced reflection because I never understood the “why” of reflection.

If you have ever been to one of my trainings, you will know that I discuss the “why” in all that I talk about. I do feel that if we do things for a purpose because we know the meaning and relevance for ourselves, then we will most likely stay ignited in the passions we pursue or grow within the learning environment. We will want to learn. We are presented with the big picture and we can actually see it. We will apply and we will continue to remain expert learners; which in turn...can turn glazed-over eyes that look upon us in a classroom- into active, independent, engaged participants in their own learning. Our students.


I naturally reflect almost daily now as I work in education. This wasn’t an easy thing to do for myself because I am my biggest critic. Reflection makes you pause and think about the recent past and when you feel like you have failed; it’s so hard to relive in the moment because most of us just want to accept that feeling and just get away from it. However, within that pause, we can find change, we can find resolution, we can find growth.

Flower reflectionIt’s now summer time when most of us finally take that moment and reflect over the entire year. If you are like me, do not only reflect as your own biggest critic; but also as your own biggest fan. Look back at the awesome things you have accomplished, the changes you have made, the lives you have touched and the laughter that you may have sparked. Grow within those awesome moments and pack up the feelings of failures, learn from them and become a stronger, better teacher because of them.  

As you take some much needed time off this summer and begin the planning of the new school year, consider adding reflection into your days, weeks, months...not only for you, but for your students. Explain the “why.”  In thinking of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles of engagement and action and expression, here are some examples for fun and engaging ways to incorporate reflection into your classroom:

  • Tools such as Padlet for weekly reflections to share.
  • Try using the app One Second Everyday from the first day of school until the last to create a virtual diary by taking one picture each day. The app quickly makes a video contemplation of your entire school year. What a fun way for students to reflect and to share!
  • Consider using furtureme.org to email the “future you” for goals to yourself or for your students. However, there are many good ways to use this free online tool.  

Relax and enjoy your summer.  When the moment comes to get back into the swing of things, pause...look at yourself and repeat, “I got this.”

PATINS staff has got your back also. Contact us anytime.  

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The Best Next Step

I’ve had the opportunity this past year to attend several workshops and conference sessions focused on innovative uses of technology in the classroom. I’ve been excited and inspired by the ideas, activities, strategies and suggestions for using technology in meaningful, engaging and thought-provoking ways with students.

These are the kinds of learning opportunities all students (and teachers) should be engaging in and benefiting from. These are not experiences designed solely for the purpose of using technology. Nor have they been designed exclusively for the adventurous, the extraordinary or for those with too much time on their hands. These are experiences designed for content-rich, level-appropriate learning opportunities that incorporate technology.

Yet, in nearly every session I’ve attended, a handful of attendees have commented on challenges they face either with getting technology into their classrooms, or with being able to fully utilize the technology they have. The challenges mentioned include things like inconsistent internet access, restrictive internet blocking, lack of training, lack of training on devices, lack of time for training, lack of technology plans, lack of technical support, and lack of funds.   

A handful of situations where challenges like these exist may not seem like much of an issue, but I wonder how many students are being impacted by each of these situations? Even a handful of these kinds of potential barriers is too much. A barrier is still a barrier for the person(s) being impacted.

This has caused me to think deeply about the disparity that exists between technology-rich and technology-less environments. It doesn’t mean that an impressive and powerful learning environment cannot exist with little or no technology. Nor should we assume that wherever technology is plentiful, the learning will be guaranteed and abundant. However, it does mean we have not yet reached a level of equitable access to technology for every school and every classroom. While I’m sure we can’t afford to be okay with this status, I certainly realize the magnitude and complexity of a viable solution.

Likewise, I’ve been thinking about the notion of ensuring equitable access and equitable use of technology for every single student. As in:

  • All students should have access to technology that allows them to learn and survive in the ways they need.

  • All students should have access to current and emerging technologies and to technologies that extend their own thinking about ideas, experiences and the world around them.

  • All students should be able to use these technologies (not just have access to), as much and as often as needed, with the level of proficiency needed, and in ways that provide similar experiences with the technology as their peers are able to receive.

All students, not just some.

When I think about the question “So what do we do?” I realize there is much that can be done, no matter the particular circumstance. There is always a best next step. One great starting point is to consider what technology already exists and explore how it can be used to improve students’ (and teachers’) lives. No matter what your current situation is, it’s important to clarify (and share) key thinking around the following kinds of questions:

  1. What does it look like to use technology in the classroom in such a way that it becomes meaningfully infused into students’ lives?

  2. What message(s) will we send to students and others by virtue of the technology we use - or don’t use - in our instruction and daily life?

  3. What measures can we take as we design instruction that will incorporate the use of technology to enable and encourage students’ thinking?

Moreover, the best suggestion I can offer anyone is to call upon the expertise, resources and support available through PATINS-ICAM Project. Services are at no cost to Indiana public/charter schools & educators. So borrow an item, seek an in-class consultation, submit a request for refurbished tech; you can request services just because! (No IEP required.)

Here are highlights from my own learning opportunities with PATINS-ICAM, but you’ll want to discover these and others on your own:

Let PATINS help with your best next step!

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"Crazy"


Charlie Brown and speech bubble with the words good grief
 


OK, so, I missed my blog deadline this time around and it made me think of how crazy our lives can get. I am not so sold on the benefits of multi-tasking. So here is a YouTube link to Gnarls Barkley (CeeLo Green and Danger Mouse) singing "Crazy". At the bottom, I included a copy of the lyrics from the St. Elsewhere Album. It’s really fitting for all of us, I believe. Parents, educators, students, administrators, support staff. Craziness is for anyone who is putting themselves out there to make our world a better place.  


Feel free to slow down and take 5 minutes to enjoy a song not usually connected to what we do, and is inspiring in its own way!

As we all strive for control over our lives, it seems many of us (attempt to) do this through schedules. In our paperless office, I find I still need the print version of a calendar to ground me on a daily basis.

Here is a little of what I have learned over the years:

Digital calendars/schedulers:
  • Great for portability
  • Great for ease of adjustability
  • Easily searchable, depending on how it was set up
  • Easy to set repeating appointment
    • And my favorite
      • Great for color coding/categorizing
  • Downside:
    • Too easy to misdate or delete something
Paper calendars/schedulers/appointment books
  • You can see what you erased!
  • Easier for me to see a week at a glance.
  • I am able to glance at weeks more quickly.
  • Easier to quickly glance on the road.
  • I can make notes right on the document.
    • including…my mileage
  • Downside:
    • If you leave it at home, you are sunk.
Conclusion:
  • There is no one system that works for me and believe me, I have been looking for a long time.
  • About the time I think I have a good system, I find it may be perfect on a desktop, but not on a mobile set up.
  • Or it was better with a previous email system, but not a new one.
  • Or a new data collection system changes my personal coding system.
And it is all good!
OK, anything useful here?
  • First of all, we all have to work with the materials at hand and the resources available.
  • Decide how to visually organize your life and go from there.
  • We also look at ourselves or who we are considering. 
  • So this is where the feature match comes in. 
    • I can be pretty flexible with some basic features and allowing myself to print out a working calendar document. 
    • Anything else is just crazy!
Choices:
  • These are more schedulers than organizers, but the list might get you thinking. These are a drop in the bucket I currently have eleven in a folder on my phone that I have explored.

Gnarls Barkley (CeeLo Green and Danger Mouse) singing "Crazy"

"Crazy" St. Elsewhere Album Lyrics
I remember when, I remember, I remember when I lost my mind
There was something so pleasant about that place.
Even your emotions had an echo
In so much space

And when you're out there
Without care,
Yeah, I was out of touch
But it wasn't because I didn't know enough
I just knew too much

Does that make me crazy?
Does that make me crazy?
Does that make me crazy?
Possibly [radio version]
probably [album version]

And I hope that you are having the time of your life
But think twice, that's my only advice

Come on now, who do you, who do you, who do you, who do you think you are,
Ha ha ha bless your soul
You really think you're in control
Well, I think you're crazy
I think you're crazy
I think you're crazy
Just like me

My heroes had the heart to lose their lives out on a limb
And all I remember is thinking, I want to be like them
Ever since I was little, ever since I was little it looked like fun
And it's no coincidence I've come
And I can die when I'm done

Maybe I'm crazy
Maybe you're crazy
Maybe we're crazy
Probably

Uh, uh

Credit AZLyrics 

Thanks! Julie

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Spring

I grew up in a Belgian neighborhood. Most of my adult neighbors were immigrants or first generation Americans. ‘Broken English’ was the neighborhood language, English was the second language. The Belgians take great pride in the appearance of their household and neighborhood. Lawns were perfectly manicured, weeds were pulled. Neighbors could be seen twice daily sweeping the curbs due to cars kicking stones up onto the sidewalk.

The hobby of choice was racing pigeons. Every Saturday they would take a crate of their best birds to a designated location to have them turned loose early the next morning to see whose pigeon would return back to their respective coop the fastest and give their owners bragging rights.

Annually in spring and fall were two very special events……Spring cleaning and Fall cleaning. They would wait for the perfect string of days so that windows could be opened to air out the house. Over the next few days every inch of the house got a thorough cleaning. Furniture had to be moved and every wall in the house was washed. Carpets were shampooed. Draperies were taken down and cleaned! All the closets were reorganized! Windows were washed inside and out! The neighborhood smelled like Spic n Span! Six months later a repeat performance.

Well it’s spring again. The neighborhood I grew up in is now ‘integrated’ with non-Belgians who don’t have the same work ethic as old timers once did. But something can be said about that work ethic. It sort of provided each household with a clean slate that was refreshed and renewed.

As educators, a good spring cleaning may just be in order. With ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act) and the Dear Colleague Letter, we as educators are being asked to do a thorough cleaning. But instead of washing walls and shampooing carpets in our classrooms we are being asked to refine out teaching styles by insisting that all students live up to high standards and incorporating UDL principles into everything we do. It is not a simple task. Nor is it a task that can be completed in just a few days. Nevertheless, it is an important task. Generations of students will benefit.


And just like when I was growing up the deep cleaning was an annual event held twice a year, we cannot be complacent with an occasional deep cleaning of our teaching style. It, too, needs to undergo a good cleaning and rejuvenation often. So get out the proverbial ‘Spic n Span’ frequently and transform your classroom into a learning environment where everyone has an opportunity to learn. Our students will be grateful for it.


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Getting Lost and Found in Translation

For several hours I was lost in Paris. I was in my early twenties and the world was just starting to expand for me. I had frequently been lost in America, lost in England and lost in my own world, but all of these places shared one commonality...they were places where English was the predominate language. However, THIS moment I was lost in France, only armed with the phrase “Le garçon stupide!” which translates roughly to “The stupid boy!” I began to panic.

That day, I found out that part of getting by in another country was being nice enough to the people there to get them to speak English. It almost seemed as though everyone knew English. Kindness elicited a heavily accented response, sometimes broken, sometimes flowing, in my own language. How lucky I was that they were willing to help an American girl with mascara tears running down her face.  

During those hours of being lost, I discovered a huge difference between this country and mine. My country is landlocked for miles with people who mostly speak the same language and have the expectation that others will learn the language as well. The concept that people living in states as close to me as Kentucky or Illinois would speak different languages is mind boggling. People growing up in France probably learned English, German and Spanish in order to communicate with the people right next door.  

Many years later in America I faced the obstacles of speaking a predominant language and teaching students who did not grow up speaking English. My first year of teaching high school in Chicago found me in a school where 87% of the 3,000 students who attended came from Spanish speaking homes. When I moved to Assistive Technology several years later, I worked with a group of children who had moved from a 16th century agrarian farm setting to the third largest city in America. How was I going to speak to the children? How would I communicate with their families? Software and translators were present, but not mainstream and very expensive. How would I meet the needs of people who could not use kindness to have someone help them in their own native tongue? No amount of “kindness’ on their part would be rewarded by my speaking a language that they understood back to them.

I would like to thank Kelli Suding, another PATINS Specialist, for showing me one of the best apps I have heard about in a long time. Google Translate. Google Translate is free, easy to use and has incredible features. The app translates 103 languages. It translates handwriting directly applied to the screen. A person can speak into a microphone and the app translates what is being said in real time. A phrasebook can be programmed to save translated words and phrases for another time. The best feature, to me, is the camera translation. If you hold the camera up to anything written, it translates the image to the desired language. Imagine holding your phone camera up to a direction sign, or document in a foreign country. Imagine changing the language of a document in real time in a case conference for a family who needs the kindness of someone speaking in their native tongue.

Over winter break I met a woman from Turkey who was visiting her son in Manhattan. As we laughed and talked, I watched her wistful smile as she was not able to join the conversation. I realized after I left that I had the key, and immediately sent them the information on the Google Translate app. A week later, I received the best text of the year. Google Translate was a game changer for the entire family. The text recounted how incredible her trip was and the enjoyment she felt as she was able communicate with everyone. She was able to read signs, converse back and forth and gain independence over her vacation. It was almost as if she was kind enough to get someone to speak to her in her native tongue.


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Happy Birthday to...Me?

Please wait, I'm thinking
I recently attended a training and the presenter asked us all to introduce ourselves and then share one thing about us that would not be on our résumé. I instantly went into panic mode and could not think of one thing about myself to contribute. Luckily, my colleagues came to the rescue and offered this unique information about me when I was failing. My response was, “One thing that is not on my résumé is that when I am put on the spot to answer a question about myself, I totally forget who I am and what I like.”

For instance, I’ll never forget the time I was in gym class when I was in second grade. It was January 12. To make teams, the PE teacher had us line up and tell him the date of our birthdays. I was third in line, and he wanted this to happen very quickly. When he pointed at me, I said: “January 15.” (My birthday is September 23.)

I was horrified when he responded, “Oh! Your birthday is only a few days away!” He then proceeded to let me pick whatever team I wanted, and I was first in line for everything. Then the worst (but kind) thing happened on January 15...he had the whole class sing “Happy Birthday” to me.

Birthday Balloons


I mention this story as a reminder to give students multiple ways to respond to your requests, alleviating many of the barriers to expression. This will allow students to access themselves. Even if we feel our requested tasks are simple things to ask of our students, we must also make it simple for them to respond.

Being cognizant that some students may struggle with verbal responses for various reasons can be a game changer in getting to know our students and allowing them to open up to their peers. It may not even be a struggle to express; but a matter of their own processing time as we hurriedly skip them or show frustration, translating their actions into defiance.

This coincides with the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principle of offering multiple means of action and expression. Having a universally designed environment in all areas, all locations, all subjects, all the time within the walls of your schools is essential for equitable education.

Just a few examples to start or continue;

  • Get to know your students. Ask them how they like to respond.

  • Have visuals available for responses.

  • Allow students to write or use speech-to-text (STT) responses.

  • Using backchannels in your classroom are not only a beneficial way to remove the barriers of anxiety of having to verbally respond on the spot; but they are also a good way to expand the classroom outside of school hours. There are many free tools to make that happen.

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How to Write a Solid Lesson Plan


The simple answer… collaborate. But maybe not with someone in your comfort zone. Let me explain. 

As a 3rd grade teacher, I often co-planned for each week with my partner-in-crime, Tracey, the other 3rd grade teacher. We worked extremely well together — her strengths were my weaknesses and vice versa — and our collaboration decreased the amount of time and effort it would have taken us to plan independently. Think smarter, not harder, right?
two nondescript human figures collaborating to push two 3D puzzle pieces togetherNow fast forward to the present. I am no longer in the classroom and responsible for writing day-to-day, week-to-week lesson plans with Tracey. However, only a mere three weeks ago, I discovered the most valuable trick to lesson planning.


It was the last Friday of December 2016. At the request of our director, my colleague, Jessica Conrad, and I were nestled into a corner at Panera, collaborating on an engaging, universally-designed lesson plan. 

I’ll admit that I was a little intimidated by working with Jessica. She’s a super smart and creative licensed speech and language pathologist. What did I know about speech and language pathology anyway; other than my students getting pulled out for their time with our speech and language pathologist (SLP)? Not to mention, I preferred teaching math and science when I was in the classroom. My bet was that she would prefer to focus on the English/language (ELA) arts standards in our plan. 

I was right. ELA standards were on the menu, but she made a kind compromise and agreed to write a plan using third grade standards; standards in which I was the most familiar. 

And so the lesson plan writing began. 

Trading ideas, resources, and strategies came naturally to us both. What I hadn’t given much thought to was everything that Jessica would bring to the table from her role as an SLP. She shared so many awesome resources and techniques — in addition to introducing me to the Indiana Content Connectorsmodified standards written in parallel for each grade for students who are not on a diploma track in Indiana. Embarrassingly enough, I did not know these existed. 

In the end, we created what we felt was a solid lesson plan that implemented activities and resources in a way that would make the content accessible to each student in a classroom.  

Without her expertise, my lesson would have been lacking in its universal design and implementation of assistive technology and accessible educational materials — even though I may not have realized it at the time. 

female student pressing a big switch to activate a toy


So, while I always thought that the lesson plans Tracey and I co-wrote were engaging and creative, many of the students in our classrooms would have had greater access to the curriculum if we had the opportunity to include the expertise of another educator who was beyond the general education setting. 

If you’re reading this and thinking that perhaps your lesson plans are lacking techniques or technology that could increase access to the curriculum, I encourage you to step out of your comfort zone. Reach out to another professional in your building. Schedule some time to collaborate on a chunk of lesson plans for a week. Be open to new techniques, technologies, and ideas. Plus, our staff is here for support. Just let us know how we can help! 

Trust me, your students will thank you for it.

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Rachel Herron
What a fantastic reminder to think outside the box, collaborate with many and to occasionally step outside of our own comfort zone... Read More
Friday, 27 January 2017 15:49
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