Laundry Day

While doing my laundry recently, I pulled my PATINS shirt out of the dryer and ran my hand gently over the embroidered PATINS logo on the sleeve.  My mind went to the blog Julie wrote a couple weeks ago about PATINS.  I wondered, “How did this Project get started back in 1995 anyway?“

I decided my best source to ask was the woman who hired me back in 2004, Vicki HershmanHead shot of Vicki Hershman. 
I knew Vicki was in on the grass roots of this Project retiring as Director in 2012 as well as my mentor and lifetime friend.  It was time to pick her brain for the details.  After treating her to lunch one day, I started asking her questions.  It was touching to see the spark in her eye and obvious drive of seeing ALL children succeed still in her demeanor, after being out of the PATINS trenches for a few years. 

Vicki shared that in 1988, States were given dollars through a Federal Tech Act Systems Change Initiative to increase student access to curriculum.  Indiana’s solution was to set up a Lending Library of Technology in South Bend.  This attempt was unsuccessful due to no structure, no supervision and no training available.

 In 1990, they moved the Lending Library to Valparaiso as if logistics would help.  Change of logistics of the Lending Library did not improve student access at all. 

Along came IDEA Part B requiring schools to do something to increase student access to curriculum or lose Federal Funding.  To get a plan together, in 1994, the Director of West Central Joint Services Cooperative, Shirley Amond and Bob Marra, IN Department of Education Special Ed Superintendent created a task force to research what other States were doing to increase student access. 

The task force was comprised of: 
  •     IN School for the Blind Superintendent
  •      East Allen Special Ed Director
  •      Crown Point Special Ed Director
  •      Madison Special Ed Director
  •      Evansville Special Ed Director
  •       Voc Rehab Director
  •       Shirley, representing WCJS, Wayne Township, Indianapolis
  •       Bob, representing IDOE
It didn’t take long for the task force to realize that they needed a special someone to be in charge of Student Access for the State of Indiana.  Someone to develop a state-wide system to offer hardware and software to teachers to assist their students as well as training for these teachers.  Shirley hired that special someone in 1995…Vicki.  Together, they came up with the acronym PATINS and the framework to work statewide for student access to their curriculum.  It was a natural decision to set up five regional lending libraries in East Allen, Crown Point, Indianapolis, Madison and Evansville and to hire staff for each regional location.

One of those original staff members was Tina Jones from Madison.Head shot of Tina Jones  I called Tina and asked her about her first days with PATINS. 

“I was hired and given an office equipped with a desk, a chair and a stack of assistive technology catalogs.  I didn’t even know what assistive technology was!  Email was brand new too.  So, I spent the first 3 months of my PATINS career reading AT catalogs cover to cover.  You can learn a lot from those catalogs!    After that, I emailed all the vendors I had just read about and they instructed me on how to use the devices they were selling.  I equipped my lending library with the latest and greatest and hit the road-teaching teachers.  As I trained a teacher to help a kid, it was like a wheel with spokes…it spread.  I was hooked on helping kids access their school needs using technology.” 

The law was revised in 1995 with more specific regulations and it was PATINS responsibility to comply.  By 2004, the emphasis was on not only technology, but instruction as well.  Universal Design for Learning was born! 

In 1996, Vicki, Walt and a local cardiologist started volunteering their time to refurbish donated computers and distribute them to needy children in schools.  In 2004, funding was established to hire a manager for this program.  Refurbished Computer Program was born!

As awareness of diverse disabilities increased, Vicki turned to her friend and colleague Leslie Durst at ISB.   Vicki and Leslie followed legislature and studied Accessible Instructional Materials (AIM). They worked on ways to help ALL students with disabilities.  In 2006, they presented the idea of IN Center for Accessible Materials to IDOE.  ICAM was born!

I asked Vicki why she thought PATINS has been so successful over the years?  Without hesitation, she answered PATINS has always had a dedicated staff who had the same focus – believe in the students and do what it takes to reach the potential of each student.

Since 1995, PATINS has changed its acronym a time or two, our logo design and a few shop locations.  Tina retired from PATINS the same year Vicki did, 2012.  If fact, we’ve had 39 talented employees come through our doors with a current staff of 17.

 People, places and things may have changed but the foundation and focus of what we do never has… it’s all about the children we serve.  Those faces, tiny little faces.
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Good Educators are Experts, Great Ones are Rookies

Good Educators are Experts, Great Ones are Rookies
Do you remember your first year in education? I think on it often lately because I just started with PATINS, my rookie year*. Looking back, my letter to myself on that first day after college would be something like this:

Dear Jessica,
You can still cry every day during the first two weeks of school and it won’t be a reflection of your skill, value, or how much you will love your job. Be gentle on yourself, everyone starts here.
p.s. Stop buying everything in the Target dollar section.

My first year I introduced iPads to my students. One little girl wanted to know how to share her beautiful “I Love Mommy” themed cookie she made on an app and send it to mom. I told her I didn’t know, so she told me I wasn’t good at my job and her mother enrolled her in another school. I never touched another iPad again.

Haha, just kidding! Kids don’t care if we are rookies (being rookies themselves) and I learned to embrace my rookie-ness. We played on the app a little and decided to snap a picture of it on my phone and email it. Later I learned I could have done a screenshot, but I didn’t know that yet, this was all brand new to me. Multiply that moment by hundreds or thousands and you’ll see a typical educator’s year. Not a semester will go by that we aren’t handed something new: new policy, new responsibilities, new kids, and new chances to be true rookies in something we have never tried. Which new challenges makes us decide to suit up? Which ones do we avoid and sit on the bench, and how will that impact our students?

Andi Stevenson talks about how important it is we embrace being terrible at something new, from her own experience as executive director and rookie ballroom dancer. Rookies, she explains, turn off internal criticism and don’t fall prey to perfectionism. They are supremely empathetic towards others on their own learning curves. Being a rookie stretches mental muscles, making us approach the new and the difficult in different ways.

Sounds like an awesome educator or administrator, doesn’t it? We call those people expert learners, and these are the skills that make successful students.

Andi also speaks to something that has probably haunted all of us at one point: burn out. Being a rookie gives you the opportunity to discover what makes you happy, and that the happiness can’t come from just one source. Staff who pigeonhole themselves into one area, personally or professionally, are staff who don’t stay long in the field. I struggled with major burnout my third year, so I started some rookie tasks in my personal life. I had a milestone birthday this summer, and leading up to that day I had a list of things I wanted to accomplish, a bucket list of sorts. There were about 25 things, including:

Bake bread from scratch
Vacation somewhere new in each cardinal direction
Learn how to repair my car
Go back to school
Host Thanksgiving dinner

Some of these things I still do, some not, and some activities I eventually purchased technology to assist me.

You can watch me complete the very last thing on my list, the day before my birthday: basic carpentry. This is the beginning of my budding role as a carpenter. I'm not bad carpenter, or just a woman just playing around with some power tools, but a real carpenter. Just like our students are readers, writers, artists, and citizens. We're all just rookies right now, and given the right tools and instructions, we'll blossom.



My favorite part about education (and PATINS in particular) is that we are big fans of rookies. We have to be rookies every school year in something. Welcome to the team!  PATINS and ICAM have the coaches, the training, and the equipment to help you and ALL your students be rookies of the year. You might say we’re your number one fans.

What rookie adventure are you starting this year? How will you model your rookie mentality to your staff or students?

*warning: overuse of sports cliches
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We can do this-Together!

There are so many things to talk about and today PATINS itself, seems to be a good topic. We welcome additional employees, we are in the 21st year of what was originally a 5 year grant and we are restructuring into areas of specialty to better meet the needs of staff and students in Indiana. I start the year with a sense of excitement. Ok, it is true, I start every year with a sense of excitement. There is a quote I used to post on my wall to keep me grounded and here it is.

 Ralph Waldo Emerson“Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense."
― Ralph Waldo Emerson

I like to think this is true not just daily, but for a new school year as well. So, let's move on. Goodness knows the children have! So reflecting on why I get up every morning. When I think of work, it is PATINS. Really, our mouthful of an acronym. Promoting Achievement through Technology and INstruction for all Students.
Promote  
Achievement  
Technology  
INstruction  
Students  
The big words may say it all, but it is the little words: the prepositions, adjectives and conjunctions that really send the message home.
     
    through  
    and  
    for  
    all  
       
    According to state records, (http://compass.doe.in.gov/dashboard/overview.aspx IDOE Compass reports) there are 1,046,527 students in Indiana public schools. Close to 156,910 or 15% are identified as requiring special education services. No matter what scale this is measured with, it could easily be overwhelming if a teacher feels alone in their one room school within a building. Let's start with the belief that children want to learn. We know teachers can feel isolated in classrooms within schools. As we learn to work together to open doors and walls amidst our daily blunders and absurdities, we should remember to Promote Achievement through Technology and Instruction for ALL Students. The task is and has always been to build local capacity and PATINS is here to help. Let us be part of your reason to leap out of bed in the mornings! Or at least grin as you reach for your caffeine of choice.

    Till the next time!
    Julie
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    Going For The Gold!

    The 2016 Olympics are over! New records have been set! History has been made! What an amazing two weeks of individuals and teams working together. Everyone working towards a common goal. Athletes helping, and at times even consoling, other Olympians. Even though there is only one gold medal per event all the athletes who competed worked to finish, to do their best. Every athlete had high expectations, they did not give up. You must admit just being in a race with Michael Phelps had to be intimidating, yet everyone raced with a gold medal in mind.

    We, as educators, hagold medalve been challenged to make sure that students with disabilities also ‘go for the gold’. On November 16, 2015, OSERS (Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services) issued a Dear Colleague Letter regarding FAPE (Free Appropriate Public Education). In the opening paragraph of that document, it states that “children with disabilities are to be held to high expectations and have meaningful access to a State’s academic content standards”. Certainly, it is a challenge to have ALL students working on the statewide standards, but not impossible. The document goes one step further and states that the “individualized education program (IEP) for an eligible child with a disability under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) must be aligned with the State’s academic content standards for the grade in which the child is enrolled’! The bar has been raised. All students does not just mean only those students serviced in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) settings. All students also includes those students in life skills classrooms. Every student should now be working on standards based on grade level, not functioning level.

    At first, you must admit it seems ridiculous for ALL students to be working on grade level standards. Obviously, some out of touch policy maker in DC is just trying to stir up the pot! But if you think about it the thought of ALL students working on grade level standards makes a lot of sense. When we have high expectations for our students they will perform to those standards. (This brings back memories of college psych classes and the Rosenthal Effect.) So look at the Indiana standards and figure out how they can be broken down. How can technology be infused within the standard to bring student success? We have at our fingertips a variety of tools (and even tools yet to be created). There are tools that allow students to show what they know and not dependent on being able to read. We constantly, as special educators, work at scaffolding the curriculum to eliminate the barriers. We are, without actually realizing it, infusing some elements of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) into the curriculum.

    So I urged you to raise the bar for your students. Demand high expectations! Have your students go for the gold! Allow them to become successful individuals! And for those who can’t wait or want to get cheap airfare 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea (2/9-2/25) and 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo (7/24-8/9).
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    Tall Fences and Locked Doors

    My first year of public school was spent at Greenwood Hills Elementary School in Richardson, Texas, right on the outskirts of Dallas. The year was 1978, and progressive theories of education were taking root around the country but were yet to be planted in most of Texas. Corporal punishment was alive and well; reading groups were broken down into high, middle and low categories — not much changed from the redbirds, bluebirds and blackbirds of my parents’ era; and differentiated instruction consisted of sending a student to the principal’s office for not working hard enough.

    Special education did not appear to exist in my school. At the time, that was not a mystery to my six-year-old mind. It seemed most everyone was pretty much just like me. Still, other mysteries were plentiful.

    One of the greatest mysteries to me was the tall fence that surrounded a tiny yard next to the playground. The slats of the fence were so close together that my eyes could not decipher what the large metal objects were on the other side. A tiny knot hole in the rotting wood allowed me a better glimpse one day; that is, until I heard a whistle blowing and realized it was directed at me. One of the teachers waved her arm at me across the blacktop, indicating that I needed to move away from the fence. Of course, this only intensified my desire to see inside. I managed to make out a metal structure that looked like a swing, but it was like no swing that I’d ever seen. What were they hiding from me? I just had to know.  

    The answer came several months later at the school’s annual Halloween costume parade. That morning I shook with excitement as I put on the pink polka dot princess dress my mom had made for me and placed the spray-painted cardboard crown — with little mirrors I carefully had glued on every point — on my head.  

    When I got to school, I realized something had changed in my hallway. A set of double doors that had always been closed with a padlock and chain were open. I had never noticed that we were being blocked from entering a part of our school. My curiosity surged and my heart began to pound as we marched down the hallway single-file. Whatever was beyond those doors was right next to the fenced-in yard. What I would find down that hall would change the course of my life.

    The hallway was dim and although it was a mirror image of the hallway I had just left, it felt different. It was quiet and solitary, with the exception of moaning. I looked around at my peers to see if anyone else was as nervous as I was, and wide eyes reflected back at me as we walked, cautiously now. The source of the moaning drew closer, and what I saw was a puzzle, and a door opener. A child, not much older than I was, sat in a wheelchair with her mouth open in a broad grin as my classmates and I paraded past her dressed as goblins, pirates and clowns. 

    Other students were gathered at the doors next to protective teachers who nodded at us as we passed. Not a word was spoken by the students in my class, nor were smiles returned, but the sentiment was clear. How had we be attending class every day with another world full of mystery simultaneously taking place just down the hall? Why were these children hidden away, and why were we educated in different classrooms from each other? Why did we play on different playgrounds?

    The Halloween Parade of 1978 was a monumental moment in my life. That day is what made me volunteer with my father as a child through ARC and become a peer tutor in high school. It is the reason I became a special education teacher and fought for my students to be included in class. It is why I wanted to become a job coach in the community and to find technology that created leveled playing fields and voices for students who didn’t have them. And it is why I now am part of the PATINS team and why all of these years later I still work passionately for the equality of all students.  

    Many tall fences and locked doors exist in education — also many bolt cutters and crow bars that break down these barriers. Finding ways for our children to have meaningful instruction in the classroom along-side their peers is one of the mystery solving hurdles that our country is facing. What tool are you going to use to rip down the walls?
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    Rachel Herron
    It is pretty incredible when you really dissect it! I am glad that kids growing up now are learning how to live and love differen... Read More
    Thursday, 18 August 2016 13:30
    Rachel Herron
    It is kind of incredible to me how many people have shared similar stories from the same time period...I am glad yours are positiv... Read More
    Sunday, 21 August 2016 11:35
    Rachel Herron
    Sue, as usual, you are correct! Allowing access for ALL students to these kinds of tools is part of the way we can help them be t... Read More
    Thursday, 25 August 2016 10:07
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    Kindness

    Kindness
    Kindness.  This is a very personal topic for me, and I thought I would share it with you as we start this new school year.


    "Be kind whenever possible.  It is always possible."  Dalai Lama


    I recently was fortunate enough to attend a week of Universal Design for Learning training through CAST at Harvard.  I won’t lie, I felt pretty intimidated at first.  Harvard is a big step for someone who graduated in the middle of her approximately 1000 member high school class.  While there, Jon Mundorf talked about reading the book, Wonder by R.J. Palacio with his students and recommended we read it.  It had nothing to do with UDL, and maybe it was just a throwaway statement, but I took his advice and ordered it right then.  I am so glad I did.  I’m not going to give away any part of the book, other than to tell you that it is written from many points of view.  This gives the reader insight into several individuals heads and explains their actions from that point of view.  This is a powerful message.  At one time there was a TV commercial along these same lines.  People saw other people’s thoughts.  We were asked, “If you could stand in someone else’s shoes… Hear what they hear.  See what they see.  Feel what they feel.  Would you treat them differently?”  


    “When given the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind.” - Dr Wayne W. Dyer


    As teachers, we are possibly the only people in a student’s life that can constantly model kindness to our students.  They get sarcasm, friendliness, anger and conflict from their friends.  Parents are in charge of love and all the other parental emotions.  Teachers do many other things, but we are the default role models for kindness.  We get the consistent opportunity to give others the benefit of the doubt.  We get to give second chances.  We get to offer help when none is asked for.  We get to recognize needs.  All the while, our students are watching us and maybe just maybe learning to do this for others in their lives.  Is there any other job this great?  


    “We carry with us, as human beings, not just the capacity to be kind, but the very choice of kindness.”  R.J. Palacio, Wonder


    One of the kindest things we can do for our students is to make school a safe, comfortable place for them.  Not just the building, but the curriculum.  A universally designed curriculum is a great way to do that.  We would like all of our learners to be resourceful, knowledgeable learners.  Students who are engaged and have the tools and ability to know where to go for assistance and where to look for information.  In a Ted Talk, Dr. Todd Rose speaks about size 8.5 running shoes and Usain Bolt.  To summarize, we were to imagine if all runners were to be judged on their ability to run while wearing size 8.5 shoes.  He goes on to say that Usain Bolt wears a size 13.  We can assume that he would not be the World's Fastest Man in a size 8.5 shoe.  We might even say that he was a bad runner!  Taking this analogy all the way out, do you think Usain Bolt even wears shoes off the rack?  I bet he wears shoes that are custom made just for him so that the shoes are not a barrier to his performance in any way.  UDL is about designing learning so that there are no barriers for our students.  As teachers, we kindly take into account the different barriers to learning that our students may encounter prior to them beginning their learning in our room.  They are naturally scaffolded so that each is challenged yet secure in the knowledge that we are guiding them towards the goal (standard) of the lesson.  They are guided towards being purposeful, motivated, resourceful, knowledgeable, strategic, and goal-directed learners.  That is how powerful the kindness of universalizing instruction can be.  


    “Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.”  Mark Twain


    I wasn’t the only PATINS specialist to attend this week of learning, most of our staff was there.  We are all excited to share what we have learned with you.  We are just a phone call or email away!  I want to also take this time to thank all of the schools and educators who opened their mind to us at PATINS this summer during the Summer of eLearning conferences.  As always I am humbled by the dedication, intelligence and kindness that exists in abundance in Indiana’s teachers.  Together, you all make the world a kinder place.  Thank you!


    Follow Jon Mundorf on Twitter https://twitter.com/Fundorf?lang=en

    TV Commercial  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cDDWvj_q-o8

    Todd Rose on Variability  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8WClnVjCEVM

    UDL at CAST:  http://www.cast.org/
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    Food Trucks & Snow Cones & Grasshoppers, Oh My!

    Food Trucks & Snow Cones & Grasshoppers, Oh My!
    I have a slight obsession with food trucks.  I follow the food truck schedule on FB. Then, assume most people around me are just as excited as I am that one is parked in our office lot.  (They’re not.)  Recently, I have honed in on snow cone ice.  I passed a food truck this summer that HAD snow cones!  I felt like I was in heaven. 

    When I get gas at the station, I HAVE to end the dollar amount on a zero (0) or a five (5).  I struggle with beginning a project and having to stop in the middle.  I am allergic to hay and as a young child, got bucked off of a horse and quickly found out what manure tastes like. (It tastes like it smells…blah.)
    Boy holding nose in disgust
    Watching scary movies as a child has left me STILL to this day, always pulling the blankets up past my neck to keep vampires away; and occasionally jumping up on the bed so no Boogieman can grab my feet.  (Yes, I am a grown-up.) As if that isn’t enough, mice will make me find a safe spot on top of furniture; but grasshoppers can nearly make me pass out from fear.

    If you have never met me or maybe even DO know me, you probably would not know those things about me.  I’m terrible about talking about “me.”  It’s out of my comfort zone to share things about myself.  This reflection made me think of students in the time we are at now…BACK TO SCHOOL!
    Back to school!

    As teachers, the first weeks of school are spent getting to know your students, students getting to know you, and students getting to know their peers.  For students who struggle with expression and communication, this can create high levels of anxiety; or students who are nonverbal may be unable to get to know their peers equally.
    With that said, while being focused on the implementation of accessible educational materials (AEM),let’s not lose sight of being socially accessible as well.  Here are a few ways to make that happen:

    telegami logo   Telegami:  Create a quick avatar, typed or spoken text
     
    TeleStory Logo  TeleStory:  Write and tell your story via video

    ChatterPix Logo  ChatterPix:  Take photo, draw line over mouth, and record voice

    Photo Mapo Logo    Photo Mapo:  Great app to share summer adventures or wish list places

    Book Creator Logo  Book Creator:  I feel like this should be a “staple” app; but is great to use for digital About Me books.
     
    Give all students that voice for introductions, regardless of barrier and allow them multiple ways to find their own zone of comfort to open up and share with their peers.  Let the friendships begin!

    Drawing of boy and girl happy
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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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    Don't forget the Parents!

    As I have been presenting this summer at the Indiana E-Learning Summer Conferences, I have been approached by many parents. Some are educators and parents, and some are just parents who are attending the conferences to gain additional information about how to support their children.  This reminded me of my experience of being a parent to a student, I was lucky to be in a field where I had exposure to many tools and resources.  Other parents are not so lucky, but many of them want to learn and gain knowledge along with their students so they can help them build a foundation for success. 

    I shared with one particular group of parents how to turn on Speak Selection on the iPad and the iPhone. They were all unaware of this feature and all very excited about the possibilities of them and their children using this function. Speak Selection allows anything on your iPad or iPhone to be read out loud if you can select it. Unfortunately, these devices ship with the option turned off, so most people are unaware of the feature. I encourage everyone to enable this feature on all their devices especially in the school setting.

    There are many accessibility features available on iOS devices as well as other platforms which can greatly benefit parents and students. The PATINS Project can to teach you how to benefit from these accessibility features on many different devices, just contact us!

    Another area of great concern that was expressed to me was in organization skills. Students have trouble organizing all their different files, papers, etc. One great organization tool that I use is Evernote. Evernote is available for many different devices and platforms. I take lots of pictures of notes, snippets from the Internet, and receipts, then I use Evernote to organize them. It allows me to keep everything in one place.

    I have also discovered Wunderlist this summer and it has also helped me to stay organized. Wunderlist is an app that allows you to make things to do, things to buy (groceries, etc.) and any list at all. It also allows you to share your list. I can't tell you how many times I have arrived at the grocery store without my list, but now I always have it because it is on my phone. I also share this list with my daughter and husband so that whoever is at the store can see the list. Then with a click, the item is removed from the list so we all know it has been purchased.

    As I was sharing this app with my daughter, I was reminded of the many times I spent teaching her and sharing tools to help her to be organized. I must have done a good job, because she is one of the most organized people I know. She is a senior at Murray State University in a very difficult major, Speech-Language Pathology, she is President of Student Ambassadors, the Vice-President of Best Buddies, she is a member of the ASA sorority, she volunteers at the Speech Clinic, and she finds time to spend with her own Best Buddy Zach!  In the summer she works as a counselor at the Mesker Park Zoo.  She could not succeed without her great organizational skills.   

    I would encourage teachers and parents to spend some time with their students to teach them great organization tools. I would also encourage teachers not to forget the parents, they want to learn also and can become great role models. Of course don't forget if you need help, the PATINS Project is here to help. We offer free training; all you have to do is contact us!
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    The Value of Human Connection

    Years ago while I was finishing up my master’s degree, I was also substitute teaching. Which may put me in the category of Wimp-I know many of you continue your education while teaching full-time. I salute you for that.

    I had a 6 week assignment to teach a 2nd grade class during the teacher’s maternity leave. It was a dream. Teacher had left concise lesson plans and extra activities to be used as needed, for every day. So once I learned the children’s names, we sailed. We were able to follow her plans exactly, the children kept up their hard work, it was clear they missed their teacher, and wanted to make her proud of them. They were used to that.

    There were several students with an IEP, 5, maybe 7. The classroom accommodations were well chosen and easy to follow, and Teacher had left me personal notes about the children’s preferences and quirks. When one was pulled out for the resource room or a related service, they knew exactly what to take with them, they were cheerful to go, and to return. They were very nice, very well-prepared children.

    Of course if your absence is sudden, this kind of preparation is likely impossible. When I complimented Teacher on making this experience seamless, she said, modestly, “Well, I did have several months to get this ready for you.” I would come to learn though, that her preparation went way beyond concise instructions and great lesson plans for the sub.

    Every morning I would greet the students at the door. I remember those sweet little faces, and it’s one of the things I miss the most about not being in the classroom: those shiny happy little faces in the morning, usually with a story they wanted to tell.

    The children would hang up jackets and backpacks and put away personal belonging, sort their homework papers in specific boxes, and then they could go to centers while they waited for the bell. I loved to quietly hang out around the classroom and listen to the conversations during this morning transition.

    One tiny little girl wanted to take care of everyone: if someone sneezed, she got them a tissue. If someone coughed, she patted their back, if someone was sad or disappointed, she supported them: “It will be all right. Today at lunch, you can sit with me.” Both her parents were nurses, Teacher had written, “she will remove her shoes and give them away if someone asks for them.” She told me to “intervene as needed.” This one had vision in only one eye, and wore very thick glasses. She was a heart-stealer.

    One little boy was noticeably sullen and gruff, but soon I saw that he was very sensitive and often had his feelings hurt by the more outgoing children. Eventually, I won him over with smiles and attention, and learned that his parents were separated. He was with this mom during the weeks, and with his dad on weekends. His sister, who was in middle school, did the opposite: she stayed at their dad’s apartment during the week, because it was closer to her school, where she was involved in cheerleading and clubs. Then she came to their mother’s home on weekends. They saw each other for just a little while during this child-swap, and sometimes a parent would take them both for ice-cream or go shopping. But, he really missed his sister. I emailed teacher, she knew of the separation but did not know his sister had moved. She would communicate with mom.

    Even while caring for her new baby, Teacher wanted daily updates on her kids, wanted them to know she was thinking of them. Her love for these children was a major support in their lives. She sent me emails of encouragement to share, and pictures of her baby sleeping.

    It was clear that these young students had been infused with certain competencies that would, I hoped, stay with them throughout school, college, life: The children possessed a level of self-control that was obvious when they waited their turn, raised their hands to speak, and did not constantly nag me, “just a sub” to get a hall pass for the restroom, go to the nurse, or call their mother. Their class had a schedule for certain activities, and usually no one made requests to vary from that. I had subbed for older students who were way less mature!

    They were decision makers. For instance, to choose a center, they had to remove a tag from the wall, for the center they wanted to play in at a given time. There were 5 centers, and no more than 5 students could be in a center at the same time. Also, they could not just move from center to center. This was understood, and although sometimes someone might show brief disappointment when a friend could not choose the same center they were in, every child would interact with anyone else in the center. They had to choose, they knew to follow the rules.

    Most of the students presented a sense of autonomy. Now and then someone would have a “moment” or a little “meltdown” but largely these students knew who they were and why they were at school: to learn. There was a little girl with mild CP, who obviously moved and walked differently from the others. She wore it well, so her physical differences were accepted by the others. For instance on Fridays after lunch, I would write sentences with errors for them to correct. She would come on up in her jerking little gait, and do her work like everyone else, unembarrassed. If she dropped her dry erase pen, she would awkwardly pick it up and move on. She got applause, like everyone else, and she expected it.

    This classroom experience was wonderful for me as a beginning teacher. Teacher insisted she had great kids from great families, but I learned from conversations with others, the PT, SLT, and the teachers on my hall, not all of the kids came from stable families. There were divorces, a jailed father, couple of addictions, some domestic abuse. What I’ve come to regard as “normal traumas.” Teacher saw what was lacking and endeavored daily to fill in the gaps. She developed relationships with the parents where she could, and especially with her students. They trusted her, she valued their trust, and they learned from her that even if things at home were imperfect, there are codes to living in the world away from home that will allow us to experience success.

    These were 23 small people learning to navigate a big world, and it was fascinating to be a part of that from a different perspective: not as a parent, and not as a constant figure in their lives. In fact it made me sad to know I might never see them again. But for thirty days I developed relationships with nearly 2 dozen little people, who knew how to do that because of an exceptional teacher who understood the value of human connection.

    Rita Pearson:  Every kid needs a champion
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