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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How Do We Know What They Know?

A person who is severely impaired never knows his hidden sources of strength until he is treated like a normal human and is encouraged to shape his own life. quote by Helen Keller
Following up on Jim’s Santa and gift message, I am reflecting on thoughts of thankfulness and anticipation. This is something for all professionals, educators, staff and loved ones to work together with students. We all have perspectives and skill sets that can make a difference and place a piece of the puzzle where it counts for challenging students to achieve in school. How do we know what they know?

When it comes to children with significant needs, we talk about needs and wants. But what does that really mean? Every year, we write it in goals for them and then we try to measure progress on those goals. Parents hope to know what their child’s wants and needs are, but how do we drill down from such a genuine but general statement to something meaningful for each person involved? How do we get to the richness, the fabric of life? This is truly a challenge and a noble effort. These are open and honest questions intended to go beyond comfort and safety into a different level of challenge for some students. How do we know what they know? In thinking about Christmas or Hanukkah or any holiday that might be celebrated we note a richness of the season. For those who do not celebrate holidays, each day on earth is enough of a celebration. This celebration is found in the seasons, the colors, the brightness, the sounds, the activity, the energy, the countdown, the clothes, the food, the gifts, the visits and the list goes on. How do we tap into this for our significantly or complex or medically involved students? How are they an active part of this cycle of life? How do we know what they know?

Here are some perspectives I’d like to share:
Some of these students are the most medically fragile students to attend school. This is difficult for some educators to balance because the medical status can be very overwhelming and demanding. Balance that with requirements of academic accountability and other limitations and it can seem a bit much at times, especially when various people have different perspectives on what is the right way to do something. We know learning occurs when one is actively involved. So let’s focus on thoroughly and actively engaging complex medical students in learning in the school environment. One little blog cannot possibly cover it all but here are some opening teasers:
  • Provide a schedule of events for each child
    • Engage them visually/auditory/physically with “their” schedule on or near their person within their visual/physical/auditory range.
    • Provide a purpose to every activity
      • You know what you are doing, so clue the student, son, daughter, sibling, in on it as well. It is an easy thing to unintentionally overlook. 
      • This requires full conversations, instead of just a single action or directive.
      • Rather than, “Put the spoon on the table,” explain the activity preferably with steps included, with rich vocabulary, because
    • Students need to know:
      • What are we doing?
      • What comes next?
      • How will I know I am done?
      • Is it worth my time? :)
    • Likely Result:
      • Positive behaviors will improve
      • Communication will increase
  • Home-school connection is important
    • Exact duplication may not make sense because of the two very different environments
      • (I can tell you that what worked for my children at Grandma’s had nothing to do with home life. Haha).
      • But we can usually agree about carryover and consistency and consensus
  • Determine a consistent and appropriate YES response
    • This response should be simple, consistent, not reflexive or not increase muscle tone.
    • Negation is not as critical. A long pause of silence can be a no response. If you can get a consistent "No" response, great.
    • Eventually a Y/N location on a board can be achieved.—even eye gaze.
  • Partner-Assisted Communication can be initiated at this point to engage complex medical/physical/communication students. 
Then communication can go beyond wants and needs and delve into richness of life interactions. Students can have a means of initiation and continuation. Students can have a means of ending a communicative moment. Interests, humor, dislikes, topical interests, preferences, depth, knowledge, background information can be explored or revealed. Once a student has established cause and effect, they have it. That’s it. Move on to something more challenging. If they start to fail at something they have been successful at, consider that the student might be bored or ready to move on. If the student sleeps a lot and it is not necessarily a medical or schedule issue, it may be boredom or a statement of negation. This is the potential for our students. Getting to the solution may not be fast, and there are a lot of factors that get in the way of progress for some students, yet knowing that we can all work together. Positioning, access, language, range, breathing, working around seizures. All this is a challenge. I will admit that some students are very difficult to figure out, yet overall let’s agree to raise the bar high, get excited about the seasonal offerings of variety and assume they are waiting for us to get on board with engagement, action, expression and multiple means of representation.

If Stephen Hawking were disabled sooner, would we have known his brilliance? If Helen Keller was left to roam around the table for scraps, would she have been the first Deaf-Blind person to receive a degree in America? If we expect our students to tell us what they know and keep trying to find ways to help them communicate, will they some day?


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5th Grade, UDL and PLENTY of reasons to be Thankful

"Get out a sheet of paper and put your heading in the upper right hand corner.” This direction was given to my 5th grade class multiple times throughout a school day by my teacher, Mr. Mull. What happened next was a “choose your own adventure.” Could it be a pop quiz? A spelling test? Were we going to be given a topic to write about? Would that topic be The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton? If so, I had my tattered, dog-eared copy available at all times for reference. I usually sat with my fingers and toes crossed hoping that Mr. Mull did not drift toward the record player in the back of the room where “Mr. Numbers,” the recorded multiplication test, lived. I get sweaty and nervous even today just thinking about it.

This process was pretty “cut and dried” in the 80’s. Students pulled a crisp sheet of college-lined, three-holed paper out of their desks and followed directions. No one ever said, “Is there an alternate way I can do this? We BOTH know you can’t read my writing.” No one ever said, “Do you mind if I dictate this? I am a great thinker, but when I start to worry about the mechanics of getting my thoughts down on paper, it never turns out the way it did in my head.” No one ever said, “My hand gets really tired when I write, and it is a really painful task for me. Do you have a way I can type one letter and a word is generated for me to select?” Everyone took out a piece of paper and tried to fulfill the request.  

My note paper was always a disaster. I was fortunate enough to be able to hand write assignments, but organization was not my forte. My desk looked like it had been ransacked by gerbils obsessed with building a “dream home” out of shredded tissue. Somehow, my loose leaf paper always seemed to turn gray in my desk, and I often found sheets of paper by closing my eyes and hoping that a fairy godmother had somehow waved a wand over my desk, rendering it organized. Still, I managed to smooth out creased pages, wipe away remnants of melted Hershey Kisses and write my name on the upper right-hand corner with my classmates. I remember my jealous amazement when I looked over at Kimberly B., the queen of unwrinkled paper, adorable handwriting and what-are-we-going-to-learn-next smiles.

Others in the class were lost. Really lost. Mr. Mull was the kind of energetic, dedicated teacher who would have accommodated for any learning difference if he had had the tools or the knowledge in the 80s. He was exactly the kind of person and fantastic teacher who would have embraced the principles of Universal Design for Learning in his classroom and made sure everyone was learning the way that made the most sense.

Today is an exciting era when teachers are starting to arm themselves with this knowledge. So many resources are available for teaching the principals of the UDL framework. Strategies to make sure each student has a personal way of expressing and receiving information are not even expensive. Those who take time for proactive planning can make a huge difference in the learning experiences of children.

As a former classroom teacher, I know how I felt about anything that was presented as “one more thing” added to my heaping plate of tasks to do at night. Now, as a person who trains teachers, I want to say, “But thinking about learning strategies up front makes everything that follows easier and more attainable.” It is definitely a shift in mindset.  

Flip back to my 5th grade class (PLEASE, for my sake, erase Mr. Numbers from the picture all together). Think about what the picture would look like with multiple means of expression and allowances for organization.  

Mr. Mull says, “All right class, get ready to express your viewpoints on The Outsiders.” Students automatically move to their preferred mean of expression. Kimberly B. pulls a fresh, crisp piece of paper from her neatly organized desk and looks at Mr. Mull expectantly. Gretchen W. takes out a small Chromebook with word prediction software already loaded so she can type one letter and have a list of words generate in a helper box. Heidi P. glances at a word wall in the classroom for extra reminders and help. Ann H. moves to her seat, equipped with a ball instead of a chair because she knows she writes better when she can also regulate her movement. Billy C. picks up a thicker pencil that really helps his grasp and allows him to write legibly. Buddy H. pulls out a blank comic strip and begins to draw, since he has found illustration a better way of getting his ideas across. I pull out my laptop and search through my organized folders for a fresh document — sans the Hershey Kiss stains and gray hue.  

On this day of being thankful, I turn my thoughts to the promise of a brighter future for students who in the past have been left in the dust. I give thanks to the teachers across the state who are taking every student into consideration — no matter how much work it is and I am forever indebted to excellent teachers, like Mr. Mull, who shaped my life and learning. Happy Thanksgiving!


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The Shaved Shih Tzu Effect or The Case for Universal Design for Learning in Everyday Life

Pei Pei 1   In March I brought home a shih tzu puppy! 

Included in the care of a shih tzu is grooming.
Pei Pei 2 The first time went well. Pei Pei 3


Pei Pei 4But it grew out quite quickly.  

It was time to take her back and I had a few other requests.  

Just a bit of a change.  
Not much really... just keep the hair around her nose and mouth a bit shorter this time.
Not so much mustache and beard.  

So, I took her to her 6 week appointment and I think I said just that.


Pei Pei 5

Obviously I had failed in communicating my request.  I was disappointed.  In my mind, I blamed the groomer.  How could they have done this?  
They took my puppy away.  As I looked at my poor hairless baby, I reflected.  How could I have made myself clearer?


This reminded me of when I would fail to teach something I was really passionate about, like weather.  I would stand up in front of the class and give
some of the best lectures of my life.  Full of energy, (hand motions are required) sound effects, (boom, crash, swoosh, zoom!) engaging anecdotes
(hold the camera still and be quiet)!  Then I would give my students a lab that I thought they were totally prepared for and some would be, but most
wouldn’t.  I would be disappointed.  Why didn’t they learn?  


We forget all the work that we have already done in our brain that we take for granted.  I have taken numerous courses and had several extensive field
experiences.  I have read and internalized all of the information that I will be providing them.  I designed the entire experience.  No wonder I would succeed.  
So how can we be better guides for those who have not had this experience? Universal Design for Learning (UDL).


Universal Design for Learning tells us that if we want our students to understand and embrace what we are teaching we need to employ multiple means to:

  1. Engage them - interest them in the activity.
  2. Represent the information to be absorbed - facilitate different modes of communication to create understanding.
  3. Action and Expression - allow for different ways to show that they comprehend the information.

So, let's UDL my next grooming appointment:


Step 1:  Engagement - Upon entering the new groomer I will show them pictures of my dog before and after our previous appointment.  We will brainstorm
ways that she could look cuter than she did following that last appointment.  They will gain ownership of her hair care and connect with past knowledge
of shih tzu hair appointments.


Step 2:  Representation - I will offer alternatives for auditory information.  I will show them pictures of other shih tzus that I feel are very cutely groomed.  
I will clarify vocabulary such as “teddy bear cut” and “beard and mustache” through pictures and physical manipulation of the areas prior to cutting.


Step 3:  Action and Expression - I will break the assignment into manageable chunks.  We will begin with trimming around her eyes and trimming her ears.  
Once I am confident that we are communicating well I will continue with graduated levels of support to work towards a full grooming experience.


When we look at what we could have done, it is easy to see what we should have done. UDL is great in that way. We look at the barriers and the ways
that things could go wrong and place options into the lesson plan that take those barriers away.

For more UDL fun you should tune in to our Twitter Chats on Tuesdays at 8:30 pm. #patinsicam We always have great discussions peppered with
interesting points of view!

Until next time! Pei Pei 6

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Rachel Herron
Great Blog, Sandi! I love the tie in here...and, of course, the adorable pics!
Monday, 21 November 2016 11:33
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Taking a Backward Glance Into the Future

Letter.png
Dear Colleague ** Student ** Letter


 
Dear Shaunteé,

You’ve been on my mind quite a bit lately. I’m writing these words in an attempt to make sense of why that is. It’s been a long time since our paths crossed.

I came to your classroom as a first-year teacher. It was a third grade, full inclusion classroom, with 43 students crammed in the room. You might not remember the first part of the year because you weren’t there very often. It was absolute chaos. I don’t remember much of it myself. The class number adjusted to 35 students by the end of October but there was still plenty of chaos.

As for you, well, you could often be spotted outside the classroom window on your bike, riding furiously up and down the sidewalk. You would ride up close to our classroom window and laugh wildly as if to mock those of us trapped inside the four walls you detested.

bike.png

I was told by a few of the more experienced teachers there was “just no getting through to Shaunteé.” They would say to me, “You need to focus on the ones you can help, starting with the ones who actually come to school. Just concentrate on the ones who are teachable.

I knew those words weren’t true. I wanted to be strong enough to fight upstream against that trending mindset. But to be brutally honest, it was usually easier when you didn’t come to school. Even as a new teacher, my observation abilities were pretty astute – our system of school wasn’t working for you.

desk.png

You had few connections to anything that happened at school.

Your records branded you as non-communicative, non-verbal and non-performing in most areas. You didn’t use many words but you did communicate your likes and dislikes on more than one occasion. You liked numbers and shapes. You liked figuring things out. You liked riding your bike. You didn’t like being cold. You didn’t like books. You hated sitting at your desk.

I had realized very early on that school was no joy for you, but it didn’t take long before I felt as if I’d exhausted every option for making it better. I fought harder some days than others; sometimes I fought for you; sometimes I just fought not to fight against you.

I know now that so many of the struggles – yours, mine and ours – were struggles that fundamentally shaped my teaching practice. I also know that a portion of those struggles came from me trying to fix you rather than honor you, from focusing more on students blending in rather than belonging, and from valuing an ideal classroom more than an effective learning community.

path.png

The process of looking backward and reflecting on our experience has helped me envision experiences for teachers and students that are more impactful, intentionally designed and thoughtfully executed. As I’ve become immersed in Universal Design Learning (UDL), I’ve figured out why you’ve been on my mind so much. If your school experience had been framed through the UDL framework, you might’ve found more reasons to come into the school instead of riding past it on your bike.

I know UDL wasn’t around when you were in my class so let me explain briefly. UDL is a framework for guiding educational practices that reach all students in the classroom. This framework acknowledges and accommodates the variability of learners; it negates the notion of “one size fits all.” Goals, assessments, materials, and methods are designed with consideration for all learners. The principles of UDL necessitate that students have options and multiple ways to engage, flexibility in the way material is represented and offered to them, and choice when determining how they respond and express themselves.

The UDL framework honors the belief that all students can learn and achieve.

Imagine having options as a kinesthetic learner, allowing you to move and explore the space around you. Imagine having the choice to build, take apart and design things using a variety of textures, objects and mediums. Imagine having access to learning opportunities just like other students. Imagine being supported to express yourself in ways you never thought possible.

Imagine wanting to come to school, and being valued as an important member of the class.

Am I thinking unrealistically or dreaming the impossible?
I don’t think so. And I think you’d agree with me.

Sincerely,
#ThxShaunteé

P.S. PATINS Specialists are here to help you with your big (and small) steps to change the world for your students!
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Daniel G. McNulty
You, Vicki Walker, fully embrace the passion that leads to fundamental changes in the quality of life for the one starfish left on... Read More
Wednesday, 19 October 2016 18:10
Rachel Herron
Vicki, this blog touched on ALL of the emotions that a teacher might have with a challenging student! You are so right...the pri... Read More
Friday, 21 October 2016 10:45
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Go Forth & Teach Like a "Gamer."

Go Forth & Teach Like a "Gamer."
We just recently wrapped up our first #patinsicam Twitter chat, 6 week cycle on the Basics of Universal Design for Learning (UDL).  When the question, “Which UDL principle do you find the most challenging?”...the majority vote was not surprising at all:  ENGAGEMENT.  

This made me reflect as to why engagement poses to be the most difficult in teaching.  After all, we can engage with people easily on a daily basis and also engage ourselves.  We share conversations, we tell jokes, we laugh and smile, we listen to music, we enjoy our hobbies, we may read for pleasure...all for engagement.  

We are engaged because these are things that are relevant and meaningful to us.  We aren’t focused on our weaknesses but using our strengths and interests to enhance fulfillment of our lives, which results in applying these experiences to increase our own intelligence...naturally.  It’s not even something we think about, it just happens.

A coworker and I have often pondered about the intense level of engagement in video games.  We have thought that if as teachers, we could change our mindset like that of a developer of video games, engagement may be a piece of cake.  What IS the secret key they hold that will naturally lead young people to sit for hours in front of a monitor, take breaks and stop when they need to, be driven and take self initiative to be successful in the game?  NEWFLASH!  Video games are universally designed and player centered. Are our classrooms, instructions and materials universally designed?  Are they student centered?

Well folks, I have to say that recently- I happen to be at the right place, at the right time.  After all of these years of pondering the draw to video games...I had a young man eloquently describe his occasional video game dabbling.  This is how it went:

Boy:  “I feel dumb sometimes.”

Me:   “What?  Tell me more about that.”

Boy:  “Well, school doesn’t come easy to me like it seems to for everyone else. I have to study all the time to even get smart and I don’t feel like doing that all of the time. My mind races because I’m so focused on getting the good grade, that I start forgetting what I learned and then make mistakes”

Me:  “So, how do you cope with that?  What do you do?”

Boy:  “Well, I started wearing earbuds and listening to music while I do my math homework.  It keeps me from overthinking the problems and then I just do the problems right without even thinking really.”


Me:  “Oh wow, that is such a great idea!  I need to do that!  I overthink all of the time.”

Boy (laughs):  “Yes, it really helps.  I don’t even think about the grade.  I just enjoy my music and working math becomes easier.”

Me:  “What makes you focus on the grades so much that you actually get stressed out?”

….and then this is when my teacher lightbulb came on and shined brightly with confirmation after the innocent, perfect “rant”...

Boy:  “School seems to be ALL about the grade!  It’s so stressful and so focused on intelligence. When someone doesn’t feel so intelligent, how can you even survive?  There is so much more to us than how smart we are!  If school was like most video games, we’d all do better….”

Me:  “What do you mean “like a video game”...?”

Boy:  “...I feel as if we are just seen with how much intelligence we have.  They are forgetting the other qualities of us that build us as people!  We have strength, agility, luck, perception, charisma, interests and endurance.  In certain video games, you build your own character and the better you perform with ALL of your qualities, the more intelligence you build.  You have to have all of those qualities to become more intelligent in video games.  As we go through school, we are just focused on gaining intelligence and teachers forget about our other qualities.  Some of us may have high intelligence and some of us may feel like we don’t.  This makes us feel completely unbalanced which affects everything else.”

                                                                game.jpeg

I heard a keynote speaker once say, “We don't have to teach kids curiosity...they came that way. We have to NOT take it out of them!”  Let’s make our students feel BALANCED inside of our classroom.  Let’s teach with relevance, meaningfulness and then naturally ENGAGE.  Let’s get to know our students and build upon their strengths and lessen the load of heavy feelings of weaknesses.  Have them actively participate in their own goals, no matter how big or small.  Let them self monitor themselves by using tools like https://www.futureme.org/  Let’s bring their interests into our teaching.

Need suggestions on how to make that happen?  Give any of us PATINS Specialists a shout!  

Now...Go forth and teach like a “Gamer.”


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We All Need to Belong


“Jena, how can you be so happy with your ears so big and flappy?” was one of the questions used by my uncles and their friends to repeatedly tease me as a child. I always took it in stride and laughed it off, because I was young and not really worried about the way I looked.


You see, my elementary school friends had always known and accepted me with my “big ears.” I was on the track and basketball teams, and I was a cheerleader. I had a strong group of friends, and I belonged. I LOVED school and couldn’t wait to start at the end of every summer!

belong

So sure, my ears may have been “big and flappy,” but elementary school life was good! And then...


Middle school happened.

Now my friends and I, overrun by hormones, were funneled into a new school with 3 other elementaries frantically trying to figure out where we fit in this new world. It wasn’t easy (at least for me).

There are two things, a moment and an experience, that stand out in my middle school memory:

One - It was the third day of school in the locker bay. I was heading out as a new boy was coming in. As we passed, he cupped his ears with his hands and blew up his cheeks. He laughed hysterically and told me I looked like a monkey.

Two - I was losing many of my friends. All of these new kids kept swooping in like vultures and taking them away. I thought we were closer than that. Guess I was wrong.

School just wasn’t what it used to be… My sense of belonging had begun to disappear. I no longer fit in the way I used to. Maybe it was because of the way I looked.

So where does this leave me today? How much of an impact did these moments and experiences have on me later in life?

Well, at 14 I had bilateral otoplasty, surgery to pin back my ears. At 15 I found a hairstyle that I felt confident with, because it hid my ears that still stuck out more than I wanted. At 25 I attended an event where I styled my hair in a ponytail for the first time since I could remember. And now at 32 ponytails are part of my day-to-day style, and I no longer fear my ears.

The friends that were so easily pulled away in middle school weren’t meant to be my lifelong friends and that’s okay. Two of my best friends are friends from my elementary school years. The rest of my current friends are those that I choose to surround myself, not people that I’m trying to fit in with.

Generally life is good! I am happy being me! I don’t dwell on these moments and experiences, but rather reflect on them in a way that continually helps me to learn more about myself. My sense of belonging has returned.

So where does this leave you and your work with children?

I think you can begin by asking yourself some questions. Have you ever felt like YOU didn’t or don’t belong; what was that like?

Do you foster your students’ sense of belonging? Have you ever asked your students if they feel like they belong to your classroom community? To your school community? To the community at large?

How about your students that get pulled out for special services; do THEY feel like they belong when they are being pulled in multiple directions?
I believe that as educators we must take the time to TRULY get to know our students and support their sense of belonging. Additionally, we must be sensitive to the words that we use with our students. The impact, whether positive or negative, may last far longer than you expect.

kids embracing in circle

In the end, we want ALL of our students and the others that we influence to have positive self-images and to know that they belong.



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Glenda Thompson
I'm grateful you "belong" to our PATINS family. This entry was so expressive and visual in my mind. You took me right to that lo... Read More
Thursday, 06 October 2016 11:54
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Just skip to the butterflies

Usain Bolt guiding Terezinha Guilhermina, a Brazilian sprinter to train for the paralympics
(Rio 2016 / Alex Ferro)

Have you seen this photo of the fastest man in the world guiding a Paralympian with blindness while training for her own Olympic quest? Usain Bolt showed up for this event not knowing exactly how to guide (he worried he might run too fast--seems legitimate!) But he showed up, nonetheless, to guide Terezinha Guilhermina, a Brazilian sprinter competing in the 200 meter run.

This recent image in the news encapsulates the vision for educational teams working with students who have blindness and low vision in Indiana schools. We want students to achieve to their highest potential whether their race for the year is to complete AP World History, or learn how to cook some great Indian food like their mom. Many who might guide and teach them have similar worries as Usain, wondering,

“will I go too fast?”

“How do I share visual cues with someone who does not have sight?”

“How the heck does a student with blindness use an iPad?”

Because the particular disability of blindness occurs in such low incidence, many teachers may never have a child with this need in their classroom. Those that do, may never repeat the process. In my experience as a teacher for the blind and low vision, I witnessed a predictable emotional timeline for each school year for staff dealing with this particular new need in their classroom:

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Starting with the initial fear phase, and gradually coming to a settling-in phase, and ending with the this-kid-with-blindness-is-just-a-kid-after-all phase. My career quest has become to find ways to pole vault over those first 6 weeks of freaking out--not an easy task, as folks have deep seated fears regarding blindness. So as fearless as Usain Bolt may seem, his hesitance to guide comes naturally.

The guidelines for being an effective running partner from the AFB (American Federation for the Blind) organization United in Stride apply in many ways to the races we are running with our students toward their educational, social, and expanded core curriculum goals.

Highlighting a few from their website:

  1. Let the runner set the pace.

  2. Communicate often.

  3. Be patient.

  4. Accept correction as a way to improve your guiding skills.

If you read these, and let them sink in for a moment, you’ll realize that they can be further boiled down to: let the runner/student maintain most of the control for the process, and listen to them. Like many other challenges we face with fearing those who have differences from us, the remedy to fear is spending some time with, and getting to know the person. Ask them about their blindness, and the challenges they face, but also ask them about what kind of running shoes they prefer, and what movies they saw this summer.

After making a connection, seek the resources available for answering the questions about visual cues, access, and iPads. In addition to your local teacher for the blind and low vision who will be your point person for accommodating your student’s needs, PATINS has added my position as specialist to help teams sort through, and implement the amazing advancements in technology available for students with visual needs. I’m excited to be your coach for pole vaulting over the fear,  sprinting past the fear,  wrestling fear to the ground (insert your favorite sports analogy here).

We’ve got some exhilarating races ahead of us!


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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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