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Promoting Achievement through Technology and INstruction for all Students
Oct
31

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image of old light switch on wall 


For A LOT of educators, substance such as Assistive TechnologyAccessible Educational Materials, or Universal Design for Learning in a Twitter Chat, can seem more scary than a pig-tailed little skeleton girl on the porch!  Regrettably, we aren't always able to see that what’s genuinely frightening is NOT melting away that skeleton paint with a child's smile that just cannot be contained behind paint, brought about by simply trying a new, different, untamed, unexampled bounding toward the door before your student can turn around and look toward the ground in disappointment.  Be that amiable dragon.  Be brave.  Leave your light on a bit longer and keep your peripheral vision on the door.  
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Jul
28

Break it… Just Break it.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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May
19

The Timely Manner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

...and, YES, for those keeping track of such things, this posting IS 4 days LATE and YES it is a posting about "TIMELY MANNER."  ... oh, the irony.  My apologies.
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Feb
23

New Blog, New Website, Ever-Improving Service, Invaluable Staff Ponderings, and Embracing of the Potentially Uncomfortable.

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

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

Return often, request assistance, collaborate, build networking, and construct a culture of HIGH EXPECTATIONS for ALL kids, ALL of the time, in ALL buildings, with ALL staff!  Saddle up! 
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