Aug
21

Empowered Muggles

Irish logo, DNA logo, Muggles, German Flag
I recently discovered through DNA testing that I am 53% Irish and 33% German. There are stereotypes of being Irish and/or German and if you know me, you may not be that surprised with those recent findings. I may or may not be stubborn at times and I do enjoy a good pub. My locks of curls are red and I do have blue eyes. Although, I am a vegetarian and do not eat schnitzel. I was emotionally impacted by discovering my heritage.  

Also, a few weeks ago at a conference that I attended, I participated in a session titled: “What Harry, Hermione and Ron taught me about learning” and was presented by Tony England. Tony is the Assistant Superintendent of Student Services at Elkhart Community Schools in Indiana and all around brilliant individual. 

At any rate, discussions were had about the diversity of each of us as individuals and how we and our students can appreciate others diversity when open to understanding. This could be certain behaviors, personalities, traits, etc in a classroom setting coming together with our strengths and weaknesses. Also, taking this into consideration when assigning group work, thinking about our own friends who we surround ourselves daily and how we can positively build upon differences.

What does this have to do with Harry, Hermione and Ron, characters from Harry Potter you may ask? After some fun activities throughout the conference session, it was concluded that my personality and traits could reflect that of Harry Potter’s. Of course, due to feeling highly intrigued, I began reading the entire Harry Potter book series. I am nearly embarrassed to admit as an educator, I had never read those books. Where have they been all my life? My Amazon wish list is now stacked with sorting hats, wands, owls, maps and stickers.

Why am I telling you this? Well...as the saying goes, “knowledge is power.” That could not hold more truth in my recent findings of my own self. Knowing my heritage gave me a sense of empowerment, deeper understanding and eager to learn more about where I come from. Constantly seeking new knowledge about the diversity of others and reflecting upon myself, gave me some unexpected permission to be ok with being curious and passionate about things and just jumping into it and figuring it out. That yes, I can be “competitive” and “fiercely independent” but at the same time being “supportive, easy-going, spontaneous and comfortable to be around.” At this point, I even feel completely ok with purchasing those Potter items on my wish-list! 

As educators, we are seen as individuals in a position of power. How can we use that power in a way to empower our own students? We have classrooms of students full of diversity and learning differences. How can we empower all students in embracing not only who they are but who their peers are and creating a safe place to not only succeed; but to fail?
question mark and light bulb ideas


What if…
  • We asked our students how they learn best? Then, begin teaching how our students learn best? aka: Universal Design for Learning If they don’t know or understand, how about helping them discover themselves as learners? Help them understand why they may read with their ears (auditory) and/or eyes (visual) and perhaps why using a stand up desk or a fidget can enable them to embrace their unique way of receiving and comprehending information. Empower them.
What if…
  • We talked about disabilities in our classroom? Do not fear those conversations.  The International Dyslexia Association states:
About 13–14% of the school population nationwide has a handicapping condition that qualifies them for special education. Current studies indicate that one half of all the students who qualify for special education are classified as having a learning disability (LD) (6–7%). About 85% of those students have a primary learning disability in reading and language processing. Nevertheless, many more people— perhaps as many as 15–20% of the population as a whole—have some of the symptoms of dyslexia, including slow or inaccurate reading, poor spelling, poor writing, or mixing up similar words. Not all of these will qualify for special education, but they are likely to struggle with many aspects of academic learning and are likely to benefit from systematic, explicit instruction in reading, writing, and language.

Isn’t this an important conversation to have? Having these conversations can provide understanding and acceptance of why some students may be reading with their eyes and some with their ears. This will help those students who use assistive technology accommodations to not feel different; but accepted. Again, knowledge is power and this means educating all students about learning differences. Empower them.

What if…
  • We asked our students what they wish everyone knew about them? Let them speak freely, write them down and share if they choose. Create an environment with school and/or community resources that students know where to go if they need someone to talk to or get help. Empower them.
What if…
  • We not only celebrated successes of our students; but also their failures? This will empower them through teaching resilience and to keep trying! What if our students do not know how to regulate their negative reactions to failures? How about we model the behavior, celebrate loudly and practice the celebrations by setting up opportunities to fail.

I challenge you to have sign on the entrance of your classroom door or building that says:

“You do you.”

What if...we really let them?
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May
16

Helping Students Move Forward

Grieving from the loss of someone or even a big change or transitions in your life is probably one of the hardest emotions to tackle. In grieving, so many other emotions are entwined with sorrow, pain, sadness and often misery. It’s like a tornado of memories that keep us attached to our loss or change that is constantly spinning out of control. How do we find control?

Everyone handles grieving in different ways. Some of us just shut down or we get angry. Some of us throw blame or stay so busy that we can almost pretend it didn’t happen or will not happen. Some seek supports and surround themselves with friends and family.

When we know that someone is grieving, we seem to be more lenient and understanding in how they respond to grieving and try to figure out how we can play a helpful role.

This leads me to the end of the school year approaching and how we can play that helpful role. As a teacher, besides holiday breaks, we often see many behaviors on the rise during this time. Often times, these behaviors are associated with the overwhelming joy that summer is coming and students can’t wait! While I have no doubt in most circumstances that is true; let’s not overlook those students who may be in grieving within the anticipation of no longer being at school because they may have food insecurities, violence, zero social interactions, deplorable living conditions or even perhaps no longer access to reading material.

Some students count down days to loneliness, violence and hunger.

We can predict this pattern of behavior toward the end of the school year; which means that we can also do our part in prevention. How can we help?

First, let’s not assume all students are excited about summer break and then make all of our writing and conversations about that excitement. I challenge you to ask your students what they will miss about not being in school, if they have fears, what they wish you knew about them and what they wish they had over summer break. Then, talk with your students and create solutions and goals.

Create summer calendars for your students to support the visual of each day to countdown summer days.

Share resources for local libraries, online access to reading materials, audiobooks or create a YouTube playlist of individuals reading books aloud for children. I love this story of how a principal is using Facebook to make sure her students get bedtime stories.

Make sure all of your students know how to call 911 and also have resources for local helpline numbers. This should also include information about local summer kitchens that provide meals for students at no cost.

Create a summer group backchannel to help prevent isolation and loneliness. This would be a place that students do not have to have “friend requests” but are already a part of the group. This could be a FlipGrid, Padlet, private Twitter feed with GroupTweet or even create summer pen pal kits, AKA: snail mail. (Yes, with stamps, envelopes, paper...shocking, right?)

mailboxes

I do believe some students begin to grieve the upcoming summer break. I recently watched a Ted Talk on grieving. The speaker mentions how we don’t “...move on from grief. We move forward with it.” Moving on being leaving what you know and moving forward being taking all of the skills and memories alongside you and growing with them. Also, knowing how and having supports. I found that extremely resonating and applicable for so many things on many levels. It is definitely worth the watch.

While our students head out for summer break, let’s not focus on them moving on toward the next transition...let’s help them move forward with supports, skills and tools they can use to continue to grow and self advocate for their well being.

We can make a difference. Believe in it.


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Feb
07

Playing beneath the clovers...

“It was late in the night when she heard her mother screaming from her bedroom. Even through the headphones she wore each night to block out those sounds, she could hear.  She ran to the door and threw it open to find her mother being held beneath scalding water in the shower fully clothed. She already had bruises but immediately stopped crying and said to her daughter, “I’m fine. I am sorry, go back to bed...I am OK.”

She left like she always did, not hearing her mother make another sound. She lay on the floor beside her sister’s bed in the corner as she always did when her mother and stepfather came home late at night. She put her headphones back on and dreamt of wishing she could shrink small enough to play beneath the 4 leaf clovers in the grass where no one could see her or ask any questions about her or her family.

She woke up hungry, put on clothes that had not been washed and walked to the bus stop away from the large, beautiful home with the facade of a happy, safe place...her siblings not even waving as they drove past her to school.

The bus door opened, the driver offering her a large smile and she offered one back making a joke that she woke up late, barely caught the bus and that’s why her shirt was so wrinkled. She found her friends on the bus and headed to school.

Field of clovers with heart shaped open patch.
Her teachers adored her and appreciated that she always asked about their day. She loved to laugh, even though insecure about her own smile...laughter was the medicine that kept her afloat. Her friends commented on how well she listened and that she should think about being a psychologist one day. She did think about that; for it would keep her in a place to continue to listen but not have to share. She developed and honed in on that skill of listening...truly listening, hearing, caring and helping all those around her. 

One day while at school, she found herself in a daze in class and a tear must have escaped her eye. Her teacher approached her and asked if she was ok. She responded, “I’m fine. I’m sorry...I’ll get back to work. I’m OK.” Words she heard so often from her mother...nearly every night. Once again, she succeeded…she was able to continue to play “beneath the clovers,” then get back on the bus and start it all over again.”

This is just one story of a student. There are many left untold, unfixed, unnurtured. I once read an article about “ghosts” in the classroom. These are the untold, unseen stories of our students who come to our class each day. These are stories that get suppressed, buried deep inside because they feel like they have no outlet or a safe place to share.

There is so much trauma that comes to our classroom each day. Give students multiple outlets to share, share your own struggles, offer understanding and make it known that we all have stories. These stories need to be shared, nurtured and cared. Do not let these stories define our students; that leads to feelings of shame. Everyone has a story...make sure you are listening with ALL of your senses. Be a Ghostbuster. Ghostbuster logo.

If you do not have this commercial in your life yet...take the 3 minutes to make that happen now






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Nov
01

Hopscotch Moments

I wrote a blog post last year titled, Happy Birthday to… Me? There I described my difficulty in answering on the spot questions about myself…to the funny (not funny) moment of actually making up my birthday date after going numb from a simple question, “Kelli, when is your birthday?” You’ll have to read it to believe it.

This past summer, I had the professional development opportunity to spend a week at Camp Yes And at Indiana University learning the art, skill and the power of improv to support social and emotional learning for students on the autism spectrum. This is on the spot responding at it’s finest, which the idea made my heart race. Jim Ansaldo, Ph.D. from the Center on Education and Lifelong Learning and heads Camp Yes And states: “Improv is not about being funny, it’s about being you.” It was intensive, meaningful instruction in the morning and then immediate implementation with students with autism in the afternoon.

3 people sitting on chairs on stage

This type of professional development was out of my comfort zone knowing that I once succumbed to making up my own birthday from fear of being judged of my slow processing. However, I also know that we cannot grow as educators if we remain in our comfort zone. Students deserve the best us and they deserve to know and have the skills to be the best them. Modeling plays a considerable part. Their success often begins with our support so count me in with zero hesitation!

What if you don’t know where to start? Start with finding your tribe. Your tribe does not mean like-minded people. It’s about finding fellow educators who will push your thinking and at the same time support you. Besides your colleagues, PATINS staff is always ready to gently get you out of that comfort zone. Join Twitter and develop your personal learning network. Joining Twitter may even be out of your comfort zone…which means 
do it!
iPad with question mark on screen.

Register for Access to Education 2018 and attend sessions that are geared toward the integration of methods, tools and equitable education for your students. When you come to barriers in education, don’t stop and stare…find solutions. When you are not sure how to do something or working with a student you cannot seem to find that breakthrough, ask for help. All of this will not only impact you but also your students!

As I was typing this blog, I received an out of the blue message from a young lady on Facebook who I have not actively spoken with in probably 21 years. She was in elementary/junior high school at that time. She was one of my “little sisters” from the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program where I volunteered. Her message states this: “My aunt sent me pictures after cleaning out my grandmother’s place. There was an article about you being the Big Sister of the Year. Thank you so much for helping me at some of the hardest times of my life. My childhood was extremely rough, but you have no idea how you inspired me to have a better life. You helped me break the cycle.”

I had no idea that I had that impact on her after all of these years until 10 minutes into writing this blog. Here I was trying to break my own cycle of my painful childhood by supporting those who were struggling. I was out of my comfort zone then but realized that no change can be made by staying there…just like taking that improv class. We may never hear of the stories of how we have changed a student’s life; however, push your own thinking and remain that expert learner and seek those out of box moments to be the best you…because you indeed can help students be the best them. I was told that we can’t control the lives of our students…but we do have influence.

I LOVE this video and have watched it more than a dozen times. It is worth the few minutes to watch. What would you do? Would you be able to release all inhibitions and play? Get uncomfortable and find your hopscotch moments…and let’s model for our students that it’s ok to be “you.” #KidsDeserveIt

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Jul
25

Trust + Acceptance = The Moonwalk

I am so excited to introduce my friend, passionate educator and guest blogger, Beth Tharp...

Moonwalking is the most important asset I have as an educator. Scary to consider and not something I have built into my “Back to School” presentation or resume, although maybe I should consider it! As a seventh grade math teacher, moonwalking -- or being cool at all for that matter -- is a mighty stretch. It started as just a #RunningFantasy -- you know, about two minutes into your run when you consider putting your smartwatch on your dog to complete your steps for the day because who would really know? Come on, don’t pretend like you have never considered it. In those moments I turn to music, and Michael Jackson had the answer that day. Divine intervention? Perhaps! And the answer was, I was going to teach myself to moonwalk. So, after hours and hours (which, honestly, stretched into weeks and years) of practicing in my living room, I was a moonwalking fool looking for the right moment to unleash my impressive new skill.

My blaze of glory didn’t happen the way I planned. In fact, ten years had gone by and I had all but forgotten that I even had this hidden talent. The day was just like hundreds of days previous; first period started at 7:45 a.m., students were working on mathematical tasks in small groups, and I was there to facilitate instructional conversations. On this particular day, I had a student who desperately wanted to avoid anything and everything related to math. Task avoidance wasn’t at all out of the ordinary for him. His attendance was spotty at best, and when he did show up he seemed more interested in distracting and antagonizing others than in completing any content related task. When I would try connecting with him, I was met with a wall solidly built on insults and language that would make even the most seasoned sailor blush. He made sure to tell me, and anyone else who would listen, that he
disliked school but that he hated math above all else. I had all but given up on him (a fact I am not proud to admit). That day he was mouthing the words to a Michael Jackson song. If he knew the song, he surely knew the moonwalk. This. Was. My. Moment.

Michael Jackson doing Moonwalk dance

I picked up a pencil, moonwalked to his desk, and placed the pencil in his hand while simultaneously giving him the “shhhh” signal. I immediately regretted my choice, especially when he didn’t smile and instead scowled at me. I had made myself vulnerable and wanted to avoid any contact but couldn’t when the boy stayed after the bell to talk to me. I had already made up my mind he was approaching me to insult me; after all, I had been the target of many of his tirades in the past. I mentally prepared my armor and reminded myself that no matter what he said, it wasn’t personal. But instead of an insult, he said something I never considered would come out of his mouth. “Mrs. Tharp, I never would have thought you could moonwalk. I mean, you’re a math teacher and kind of older. How do you even know that song? Who knew you could do something so cool?” I. Was. Speechless.

I had to hide my cringe at the word “older” and the insinuation that people didn’t know how cool I was (like ice, that’s how cool, in case you were wondering), but in setting my (bruised) ego aside I was able to see he was giving me a compliment. Not only that, I knew he was able to understand how far outside my comfort zone I had traveled, and how weird I was feeling. He met me in that scary place with a compliment and assurance that would give me confidence. It was then realized I often asked him to travel to that scary place and I did not meet him with understanding and assurance. That realization made my soul hurt. I was sacrificing connection for content, and I realized that in order for him to absorb any content, he needed me to empathize with the fear of feeling vulnerable. I was dead wrong; this was and should be personal.

This is the part where I would love to tell you from that day forward this boy came to class every day with a positive attitude and ready to learn. I would love to tell you that he emerged as a leader and made great academic and social gains. I would love to tell you that this one moment was so profound it changed the course of his life forever. These are the moments we go into teaching hoping and dreaming to achieve. But I can’t tell you those wonderful things because that isn’t what happened. It wasn’t a profound moment where he suddenly loved math and all things school. Instead, it was a subtle shift in trust -- almost imperceptible to those outside his small circle. He still struggled in math and told everyone he hated it, but he now made sure to add that it wasn’t my fault, and that he knew I really understood him and I was there for him. He was now able to be vulnerable and would try new tasks without shutting down before even starting. He was able to feel understood, a feeling he had never before experienced at school.

This student that taught me the greatest lesson I have ever learned as a teacher: content is important, but trust is vital. And sometimes you just have to take a chance and moonwalk.

As you begin this year, find whatever fills you with joy and makes you a little uncomfortable (be it the moonwalk or something else) and let that feeling drive making connections your priority. Fear not, awesome teacher, once you establish connections, content knowledge will surely follow.

Beth Tharp, her husband, and sonBeth's Bio:

Beth Tharp is a 7th grade math teacher at Avon South Middle School. She holds a Bachelor’s degree from Indiana University in Education, and a Master’s degree from Ball State University in Educational Leadership. She will begin her 9th year working with kiddos, focusing on Math 7 and Pre-Algebra. She loves trying to keep up with her son and husband on adventures, moonwalking, and completing Tough Mudders with Kelli Suding.
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Apr
10

The Ugly Cry Is Beautiful

You know you are a special education teacher if “it takes years for your student to reach a goal and when they do...you just want to cry.”

Oh yes...celebrations of students’ success…big or small. Those are moments when you feel the rush from the pit of your stomach and then it slowly starts flowing through your veins….then explodes like a can of pop that was shook and quickly opened...which leaves your eyes dripping with salty excitement...and the next thing you know...you are doing your interpretation of the happy dance. If you are a teacher or anyone who has celebrated a child, you know exactly what I am describing. No, it’s not always pretty...but I can guarantee that it is always beautiful to the student to which brought about this emotion.

Happy Dance

I will never forget the first time I experienced this organic feeling. I was sitting on the floor in the hallway with a 5th grade student who independently decoded an entire paragraph for the very first time of a book we were reading together. He paused at the end of the paragraph and was nearly shocked by his own reading. The moment he turned his head, smiled and looked at me...the unexpected floodgate began. It was lovely chaos...I was celebrating him and he was consoling me! Ha ha It’s like sitting in a baseball stadium and your team hits a home run...the next thing you know...you are on your feet cheering and clapping! It’s uncontrollable excitement.

I have to admit, celebrating myself is a personal struggle. However, doing whatever it takes to facilitate a student in success of emotional, social, behavioral and/or academic skills...I am all in. While I am not in the classroom any longer...I get the privilege to have shared classrooms and students across the state. With that said, I am still “all in” for you as educators and your students. In fact, my whole team is all in for you.

The year is coming to an end. Find time for pause and instead of just looking directly at a student’s struggles as we support them, also look around them...see and feel the moments to celebrate.  I have great adoration for this quote from the book Wonder, “Everyone in the world should get a standing ovation at least once in their life.” Go ahead, it’s ok to get ugly; because it’s beautiful.
Woman crying holding tissue to face.
Fun ways to celebrate your students while also motivating them:
  • Send an email or note to parent/ guardian or school administrator
  • Praise verbally
  • Throw graffiti parties
  • Ring a bell
  • Expression by using GIFs
  • Allow students to write down what THEY feel they did best, crumble paper and have them shoot into a “shining moments” basket at the end of the day.  
Wonder Book
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Jan
04

The Best Things In Life Are Free

scs
I stumbled upon an old song that Sam Cooke re released in 1964 called, “The Best Things In Life Are Free.”

“Moon belongs to everyone

The best things in life, they're free
Stars belong to everyone
They glitter there for you and for me
They are yours and me

Flowers in spring
The robins that sing
Sunbeams that shine
They're yours and their mine

Love can come to everyone
Best things in life they're free
All of the good things
Every one of the better things

The best, best things in life
They're free”

While the lyrics are very simple, the reflection it gave me as I listened was rather deep. Knowing that research constantly reflects that teachers can be one of the most impactful persons in a student’s life, it made me immediately think about all of our students who may struggle daily; whether academically, socially or emotionally.

I had recently been with a passionate group of educators who were seeking ways to support their students. Together we brainstormed some considerations for appropriate accommodations. Assistive technology tools were introduced to facilitate independent learners and support students on the autism spectrum. Strategies for classroom management and behaviors were also shared. We engaged in conversations about specific learning disabilities and had discussions about accessible educational materials.

So, what does all of that have to do with a song titled, “The Best Things In Life Are Free?” Chance. It all comes down to Chance. It’s free and sometimes...it’s all a student really needs...to be given a Chance.    


Sing it Sam! 


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Sep
28

Learning with Laughter

Kelli laughing
Cachinnate: “to laugh loudly”


“You gotta have a sense of humor or this career will take you down,” was what Dr. Cathy Pratt, Director of the Indiana Resource Center for Autism (IRCA) said during her training titled: Understanding and Managing Challenging Behaviors. She hit the nail on the head.

If you know me, you will know that laughing is one of my favorite things to do. Whatever means of communication that we have, laughing is a universal expression and when shared, can be life changing in moments. I’ve always told my students that laughing is good for their insides and I firmly believe that. Laughter releases those feel-good chemicals called endorphins. It decreases the hormones that cause stress and even helps keep you healthy by increasing immune cells. Laughter is also believed to be able to temporarily relieve pain.


We have had a few weeks to spend with our students this school year and are busy building relationships, let us remember to get their blood flowing to assist with concentration. This can be done by offering several silly brain breaks during the day for any grade level. For example, each student tells a partner their name and address by keeping their tongue at the roof of their mouth. This could be done for a student using an AAC device by saying a sentence backward.

We are in the midst of offering the appropriate accommodations to meet all of the diverse needs in our classroom and it can all seem overwhelming at times. We all need laughter in some form. We need smiles that beam from the inside out at times. All students need a mode of communication. Laughing can assist students to build relationships and boost self confidence. While we continue to teach our expert learners on an academic level, let’s add a new word to their vocabulary: cachinnate. Not just give them the word, but live it often within the four walls of the classroom.

Let me get you started...
Lady laughing
Contagious Cachinnating Lady 



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Jun
14

"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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Mar
02

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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Oct
12

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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Aug
04

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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May
25

Curly Locks & The 2 Dimples

Curly Locks & The 2 Dimples
As a young girl, “Oh my goodness, look at those curls; and those dimples nearly swallow your cheeks!” were words that she would hear often from strangers.  One day, she even slipped and fell face flat into a mud puddle at a public park.  Clearly, the mud was what swallowed her face AND her embarrassed tears; but what she heard was, “Not even a speck of mud in those dimples,” from the lady who came to help her.  All she really wanted to hear was, “Are you ok?”...because she wasn’t.

Growing up, she quickly realized the smile that would create those dimples, was like a magic cape that would make her invisible...even when she wanted to be seen. Many acquaintances, friends and even teachers knew that behind the facade of a beautiful home, lived the girl who could not possibly be “ok”...but no one ever asked.

When she entered her high school years, a teacher realized a pattern in missing days at school...and the teacher asked, “Are you ok?”  The young girl froze in surprise of the question, looked at the teacher and smiled…”Yes, of course I’m ok.”  Her “magic cape” allowed her to vanish in plain sight once again with her grades slowly faltering.  Her barrier was the inability of verbal expression under intense stress, fear and/or anxiety.

While she was a typical student in the mainstream classroom who could speak and read and write text, this story makes me think of all of the students that come to classrooms daily from diverse backgrounds and needs...each one with their own form of a “magic cape.” With that in mind, working to create a universally designed environment (UDL) may seem like a daunting task when working with students with disabilities and/or emotional & behavior disorders. How are those students able to access what they know or how they feel if they are unable to access that communication in the way that they need? I would like to focus on one of the UDL principles- “multiple means of expression.”  


Behaviors happen for a reason and they can adversely affect a student’s educational performance.  Some students would rather have a physical or emotional outburst or shut down completely when asked to do a task in front of the classroom- before they will EVER let their peers know that they struggle with reading or completing what seems to be a simple math problem to most.  Some students may be repeatedly told in various ways that they are not smart; which in turn causes them to disengage academically and socially.  Not all students can express what they know or how they feel verbally.  What about our students who are nonverbal?  Not all students can express what they know or how they feel in written text.  What about our students with physical disabilities?  

At times, we get so caught up in what is in front of us, whether it is the disability, the behavior or even the dimples- that we avoid or forget to simply ask, “Are you ok?” A simple gesture that when asked, we must provide various ways for our students to respond in a way that best fits them.  A few examples are verbally, written, text-to-speech, drawing, recorded response, AAC, pictures, etc.  

Getting to the core of what is creating the behavior and addressing that with your student, can certainly assist in avoiding what I like to refer to as the behavioral domino effect.  Dominoes in lineMeaning, when one falls without being caught, it lands on another that falls, which lands on another, etc.  Before you know it, you have a whole line of new behaviors.  If you have ever lined up dominoes to create the chain reaction of falling in a pattern, then you know that if you want to set them back up...you have to set the very FIRST one back up that fell.

Let’s help our struggling students KNOW and FEEL that we care and that they CAN achieve great things.  Sometimes that IS the most important thing they need to know and understand.

For those of you who may want to know what happened to “Curly Locks & The 2 Dimples,” I do not want to close this blog with a story half written.  A teacher did ask her AND her entire class one day a simple question in the form of a writing prompt:  “Tell me something that you think I would never guess about you.”  The young lady wrote and she wrote and she kept writing...  

If you were to ask her if she is “ok” today...she will offer you a real smile, with no magic cape and now verbally respond,  “Absolutely.”  I can answer for her with complete confidence...

...because she, is me.
Drawing of girl in grass

 
 
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Mar
15

What I learned, I learned from a robot.

What I learned, I learned from a robot.
Let’s face it, teaching isn’t for the weak.  Not only do we have to smile to our student with Asperger’s when he asks us a question that warrants the reply, “No, I am not growing a mustache. Mustache Icon It must just be the lighting.  Eeks! Let’s focus on math now;” we also need to provide multiple means of engagement, representation and expression.  Better known as creating a universally designed learning environment (UDL).   

I have to admit, many moons ago- there were times when I allowed my students to be too dependent on me.  I would read their tests for them, often times take notes for them, type their papers, inflect my voice at JUST the right word to heighten their senses or do the brainstorming while they were disengaged from me.  Afterall, if the work didn’t get completed- my students may have a huge physical meltdown. Who wants THAT to happen?!  To go even further, while on recess duty, if they fell- I’d even rush to help them up.  As I reflect...what a complete disservice I offered them in those moments of my own discomfort.

Today, I work with educators on a daily basis sharing ideas, suggestions, tools to make sure that codependence is so far removed- regardless of any disability.  Afterall, the main teaching/modeling objective for our students should be independence.  Accessing the curriculum independently, in the way our diverse learners need- may require our own mindset change to having high expectations for each and every student.  Yes, the easiest and quickest way to get through a lesson to prevent upset or outburst is to continue to assist them; but the RIGHT thing to do is to give them the tools they need to work independently.  I do not mean just SOME of the time, but ALL of the time.

With a universally designed classroom environment comes independence.  With independence comes confidence.  With confidence comes natural problem-solving in your students’ life skills without relying on us.  We owe it to our students to provide accessible materials with the support of usable assistive technology tools that fits them;  and develop self regulation through everyday experiences.  If you aren’t sure how to make this happen or even find yourself allowing your students to be dependent on you SOME of the time, let me know.  I will fill your “teacher toolbox” with a plethora of resources with FULL support for you to get started with your students.  

Portrait of Kelli Suding
 
I brought our NAO robot, Ophi- into a few classrooms these past few weeks.  During one of his activities for students in a life skills class, he got tangled in himself and went crashing down on the table robot-face first.  His fall was loud; but not as loud as the shrieks from the teachers and students nearly rushing to pick him up.  I use to pick him up.  However, I now have impeccable wait time.  I held up my hand to assure the students that Ophi was fine and I stood back and let him figure out how to get back up himself.  He did.  Success.  The student’s smiles were stretched from ear to ear because they did not know that he could stand up by himself.  However, I knew.  

Always know that your students can do it.  Believe in them and show them how and/or give them the gift of figuring it out. We don’t have the right to impose our fears, or our lack of confidence in implementing new tools for students to gain independence.  Our students face enough barriers daily…let’s not be one of them.

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Kelli Suding
The app "Fused" was used to create multiple pictures into one and it's FREE! https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/fused-double-exposur... Read More
Tuesday, 15 March 2016 12:21
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