Jul
18

The End...Or Is It?

This is a bittersweet week. I am leaving The PATINS Project on Friday to head out on a new educational adventure supporting students in a similar, yet different capacity, for multiple school districts south of Indianapolis. Leaving the team is a decision that was not made lightly. Being a Specialist for the PATINS Project has been an opportunity that has changed me professionally and personally; it allowed me to partner with some of the most innovative and knowledgeable educators I have ever known. It has exposed me to dynamic and creative professionals who have what I consider to be the key to helping students -- a mixture of extreme passion, ability to transfer information to educators and always knowing WHY they do it.

Being a part of the PATINS Project has armed me with the ability to access an entire world of no-cost resources than I never imagined existed. I have learned from the best in my field, and have also been exposed to so many ways that expand my educator world without ever going outside my school office. It is my honor to impart some of these things to all of the blog followers out there.


Twitter 

If someone tweets in cyberspace and no one hears it, did it ever happen? 

When I was hired as a PATINS Specialist, I had a Twitter account -- @RachelH872 for those of you who do not follow me but absolutely should! Truthfully, I rarely used it and quite frankly had no idea why or how it could be a networking tool. I followed the Indigo Girls, Ryan Reynolds and some of my friends who seemed to lead interesting lives, but it was just something else to check. 

What I found as I started to delve into the “Twitterverse” absolutely changed my life. My Personal Learning Network (PLN) expanded beyond my wildest dreams. I took the time to figure out who I wanted to learn from and who to follow. I joined incredible weekly Twitter chats where I could learn from the experts and threw myself into moderating and participating in the PATINS Twitter chat. If you are interested in learning in a fast-paced, information-packed way, join the team every Tuesday at 8:30 EST for a half-hour chat where you can gain a PGP point for participation. The chat can be found under #PatinsIcam and is well worth your time and I will see you there! I plan on engaging and energizing each week in this chat next year!


Trainings and Webinars

I think this is one of the most incredible services offered by the PATINS Project and I plan on not only attending webinars and sessions in the future but bringing more live sessions to my new districts. Team members host in-person and web-based trainings each week delving deeper into topics that are important to educators and provide PGP points for attendance. Webinars are given at convenient times but the staff even offers private viewings and in-person trainings if the times don’t work. 

I know from experience that this is a fantastic way to connect across the state and a platform for educators to gain and share information. It is mind-blowing to me that these services come at no cost to educators. Team members will even take topics, research cutting edge information by request and produce a fantastic and informative session. Check the PATINS Project calendar for a listing of webinars and trainings! I have my eye on learning even more about accessibility this year and cannot wait to dive in!


Lending Library

The extensive Lending Library is a lifesaver to those out there, including myself, who like to “try before you buy.” No one wants or can afford to purchase an expensive device only to discover that it is not the perfect match for a student. The library not only lets educators check out devices, software, apps and other AT beauties, but also pays for shipping back and forth to further make it an economical choice for schools. There are also two virtual librarians who are extremely knowledgeable and willing to help! 


Newsletter/Blog

If you are reading this, you are probably already signed up to receive the blog. In my humble opinion, it is a fantastic weekly read. I love the fact that each team member is given the opportunity to bring a different perspective on education and what might benefit our valued educators best. In addition to this, the newsletter keeps stakeholders informed of new products and trainings on the horizon while highlighting some of our exceptional educators and students across the state. 



Conferences

I believe the PATINS conferences are the best networking experiences that Indiana has to offer for classroom implementation, Universal Design for Learning and Assistive Technology. Long before I worked for PATINS, I valued these genuine experiences full of national and local presenters. After experiencing the inner circle of these events, I am convinced that they are worth the time and funds. The annual Access to Education (A2E) conference is the only PATINS’ event that has a registration price tag, but in exchange, educators walk away with meaningful interactions, are exposed to state of the art presenters and flavor from the country as well as local expertise.


AEM Grant

Before I was hired to work for PATINS, I was a proud member of a school district that was accepted for the AEM Grant. My husband asked me multiple times what I was talking about, believing that our team was participating in the AMY Grant...big difference!






The AEM Grant stands for Accessible Educational Materials Grant and is a great way for school districts to bring the policies and procedures up to speed while respecting individual student need for materials given to them in the form that works best. Past school districts who have participated in this grant have shifted the paradigm of learning and increased the inclusive culture of their communities! It is a great way to support students and to help teachers with such an important charge. The grant application is still open until July 29, 2019 at midnight!

I am not sure how to end this blog entry or this chapter of my educational journey. I will never be able to thank my team enough for the experiences and knowledge I have gained from them. I am absolutely grateful that as an educator in Indiana I will be able to continue to reap the benefits of their tireless work. Thank you, PATINS for helping me become the best educator I can possibly be through your collective expertise and passion. I am so excited to work with the team in the future now that I have a true understanding of the breadth of what they have to offer! You should too!
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May
02

Better Together

“I’ve got it,” my eight-year-old daughter Zoë frequently says when I offer to help her. I am completely on board with her show of independence, although sometimes I have to fight the urge to help her do “it” the same way an adult would. She actually mowed the front lawn on Friday...she was so determined and excited. Yes, the yard looked like crop circles and she had to contend with a low-flying helicopter parent, but she felt accomplished and proud.

Zoe mowing the lawn
I love that she wanted to do it on her own. However, here is the rub. How do humans balance learning and growing when one of the best ways to grow is to seek help? Especially after we discover that we are way better together when we share our gifts with one another.


Consider the gift of discovering that someone already created a form, saving you hours of time and hard work. Learning a strategy from a veteran teacher of how to streamline lesson planning and collaborating with others should be wrapped up with a bow. My favorite gift arrived from a former teacher of a student who was struggling in my class. Incredible suggestions on how to help allowed me to offer the best support possible. I know how important these gifts have been to me.


For those of you who know me, you know I have moved around a lot. I never dreamed when I started teaching the small middle school classroom designed for students with Emotional Disabilities in Indiana that my life would change so drastically and look so different from year to year and from state to state.


I taught a cross-categorical classroom in an elementary school in Gambrills, Maryland. I taught high school at a separate day school for students with significant disabilities in Edgewater, Maryland. I taught self-contained and collaborative classes on the high school and night school levels in Chicago Public Schools. All of this was before I decided to take a leap to become an Assistive Technology Specialist for the city of Chicago. Moving back to Indiana I was an AT Specialist for seven school districts as well as a behavior consultant for another district.


All of these experiences specifically taught me how to change, to learn, and to reinvent.


None of this, however, have I done alone.


When I found myself in a classroom where my principal was not a fan of encouraging words and teaching a man to fish, I learned a huge lesson on what collaboration could do. I viewed it as a punishment when she called in the “big dogs” to teach me how to do reading intervention and how to structure a classroom with so many demands. The class had 13 students and ranged from a student with limited communication who became physically aggressive toward the other students repeatedly throughout the day to students who had dyslexia and would pop in for extra help. I had one assistant and I was drowning.


When the “Big Dog” sent to save me, entered my classroom I felt defeated. I knew she had been sent there because I could not keep my nose above water. What I didn’t know is that this dynamic, brilliant and compassionate person would literally turn around every thought I ever had about education. She would work by my side, not in judgment, and forever alter my path as an educator. I could have said, “I’ve got it.” and completely dismissed her support in fear of seeming unskilled or incompetent. Look what I would have missed!


The PATINS Project also does not want anyone, not a single educator, to move through life without a collaborator. I am so proud to be on a team of specialists who are dedicated to learning everything that they can and sharing even more. My best hope is that you take advantage of the in-depth and informal training sessions, conferences and the vast Lending Library we share with you! So many educators have already taken advantage of these services that are, almost completely, no cost to educators. Just this year:

  • 1,242 educators received classroom training sessions led by PATINS/ICAM specialists on Universal Design, accessible materials and/or assistive technology.

  • 800+ attendees learned from and networked with local and national leaders in education at our Access to Education conference & Tech Expo.

  • 1,797 items borrowed from the Assistive Technology Lending Library. Trialed items support communication, vision, hearing and executive functioning in the classroom.

  • 167 in-depth trainings held for publicly funded district, school, and cooperative employees throughout Indiana.

Never do alone what you can do better together. Collaboration is what teachers were born to do! We want to be a part of that collaboration!


PATINS In-Person Educator Support July 2018 - March 2019 Infographic.
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Jan
24

What is Your Gift?

Last month, while visiting a school in Jennings County, I had an “Aha” moment that made me assess my own gifts.


As I entered Graham Creek Elementary, I could already hear the sound of excitement drifting out of each classroom. Enthusiastic student voices, shuffling papers and the distinct sound of backpacks zipping up indicated one thing....the students were getting ready to leave for the day.


The principal escorted me to the room where I would be speaking to the staff about the Mindful Management of students who are in crisis or have been suffering from trauma. He explained that many of the families who live in the rolling farmland surrounding the elementary schools have taken in children to foster and that they want to make sure staff members are paying attention how to best serve the new set of needs that they are starting to see.


As we continued to walk, a small boy approached us and his face fell as we drew near. The principal stopped him and indicated that he would be right back in his office to meet with the child and that he was looking forward to it. The child’s face immediately lightened and relief seemed to wash over him. I told the student that finding the room would not take long and that he would have his special time, as promised.


The principal turned his focus back to the student and said, “Tell Rachel what your gift is."


Hands holding a small red gift with white ribbon.



The young man smiled broadly at me and pointed to his Star Wars themed shirt. “I know a lot about Star Wars,” he replied. I told him I thought that was fantastic and that I loved Star Wars too. As he turned and headed to the office, his steps seemed to be lighter.


Seconds later another student approached. This time it was an older girl, possibly a 5th grader. She raised her hand to greet us as we passed, and once again, the principal introduced us and asked, “Tell Rachel what your gift is.”


Suddenly her expression changed from one of concentration to an ear to ear grin. “I am an artist,” she exclaimed. She was prompted then, to get some art from her classroom and to show me. It was good. REALLY good. She showed me that the anime character she had drawn actually had special details that only showed up when you moved the paper under the fluorescent lights shining from above.


Later upon reflection, I really began to consider the action of students identifying and naming individual gifts. Yes, it helped me understand the students better and gave them something to be proud of. It added to the overall climate of the school and showed a closeness and sense of community to a virtual stranger. However, it did something greater.


As an adult, I have a hard time sharing my true gifts with others. Not the gifts that others tell me I have, but what I truly value about myself. We have been conditioned in our lives to be modest and humble, which are thought to be great attributes, but upon second glance, are they?


When I was a kindergartener in Texas and was picked to be a Munchkin for Richardson High School’s production of The Wizard of Oz, I discovered that I loved to be on stage, to be in the spotlight, to sing at the top of my lungs and to perform. If you asked me in middle school, after years of being told by society not to “brag” about myself, I probably would not have told you that I was born to have an audience, that I liked my sense of humor and that I prided myself in being able to talk to people even if I was uncomfortable. The short years that fell between discovering a gift and a talent and being shaped by my surroundings certainly took a toll on who I was to the outside world.


I would like to collect some data about these children who are so encouraged to talk about what makes them special and the encouragement and excitement that adults in their lives have when sharing the experience. Does hiding your pride and strengths make you modest and humble, or does it hold you back?


In education we like to celebrate the joys of our students, but do we take the time to sit down and really talk about the incredible things THEY have identified about themselves? How would this empowerment shape the outcomes of kids across our country?


We are being faced with a wave of children who are living in crisis and facing tremendous trauma. However, one huge difference exists from other generations of children born into trauma. Teachers across our country are taking a stand, educating themselves about how to reach students and learning how to empower and connect with them. My challenge to you today is to start the process of discovering the gifts that every student you meet has. Just ask them! They will tell you!
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Sandy Stabenfeldt
Great post! Thank you for sharing!
Thursday, 24 January 2019 13:10
Sandy Stabenfeldt
My gift is being a terrific mom! There is nothing that brings me more joy than being a good mom and seeing my daughter grow into ... Read More
Thursday, 24 January 2019 13:42
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Oct
18

Time Machine Moments in Education

The setting was an educational psychology class at Ball State University, the time was sometime in the early 1990s. I eagerly anticipated my masterpiece, a million-page research paper on the brand new fundamentals of why including kids with special needs in the general education was so important. I had been working on the paper for months. I can still hear the click clack click of the Brother Electric Typewriter I borrowed from my roommate to complete the task. I knew it was an incredible paper. I could feel it in my bones. No matter what some professors or teachers from the past might say about my multiple choice test taking skills, I have always prided myself in being able to convey information through writing.

The moment of truth arrived, and my paper was passed back. The score, written on the cover page in a slash of red, was less than enthralling. My mind raced. I had been so confident that my message was clear, my content so developed, my avant-garde approach to education so stunning that my teacher would be showcasing my paper in front of the class...not slipping it to me as he walked by.

red pen markups on a typed paper


I flipped furiously through the pages to find the culprit. On the first seven thousand pages, only a hint of the red color came in the form of agreement, encouragement or an occasional probing question designed to make my preservice mind churn. The last page, however, was a sea of red - waves crashing all over the bibliography I had to include per the rubric. MLA style was absolutely not my friend. All of my innovative ideas and passion took a back burner to something I had been taught but had not learned.

As a person who has been in the field of education for a long time, I feel like part of the overall job is never to stop learning. Ever. It is part of what we preach, and part of what we should do. However, continuing to learn new things and expanding horizons often comes with a price. A price I like to call, “Time Machine Moments,” or TMM for those of us who love acronyms.

To be specific, Time Machine Moments refer to when directly after learning something new or better one thinks, “I wish I had a time machine so I could go back and teach that again.” This does not mean that there is anything wrong with what I taught, especially taking into consideration what I knew then. I did what I did at the time, because it was what I knew and I always tried my best for students.

I also do not want anyone to confuse these moments with regret. I refuse to beat myself up for not knowing about or having the resources to do something. I can be aware of the fact that I always got marked down in college for MLA or APA citing style issues, and as a result I could spend time being furious that I did not have a tool like Snap&Read Universal that actually generates the citing mistake free. I could react by either shaking my fists to the sky, screaming, “WHY?!” OR teach students to use the tool, sparing them from the defeat of turning in a fabulous paper marked down by something ambiguous to most students.

When I speak to teachers across the state about writing tools and devices, a frequent reaction held by the attendees is one of frustration. The response to the Livescribe Note-Taking pen is almost always, “Where was that when I was in college?’’ The response to APA, MLA or Chicago style citing tools is one of disbelief. Is it possible that so many people with so many good ideas might have missed an opportunity to shine due to a technicality? My philosophy on when we introduce text readers or word prediction software with auditory feedback to children is in the same vein. How many years did I drill decoding into a student who wanted to read Harry Potter? A text reader with a highlighting tool would have allowed the student to be reinforced of the words and text while auditorily reading on a level of extreme interest. The way to get better at reading is to...you guessed it...READ. Bring me that time machine now!

How many students would I have helped if I had been figuring out a way to get original ideas out of them instead of asking them to do something technical that was not the point? Traditional teaching models I used were good for some students, but truly figuring out what would have helped them discover inner brilliance would have been the best gift I could have given them.

Time machine selector pointing to present
There will always be time machine moments for educators. There will always be an advancement that will make a teacher run for a “Back to the Future” type Delorian and start wildly punching in dates. I think the thing that balances it out, however, is having an open mind in the present. Being innovative and outside of the traditional teacher comfort zone is what it is all about.


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Jul
12

Cats, Students and the Gifts They Bring

Whiska sleeping
Upon our family's return from St. Louis several weeks ago, our indoor/outdoor cat, Whiska, barely rubbed our legs before bolting outside. She excitedly dashed between the yard and the house multiple times as we carried in our luggage before reappearing, yowling with joy, as something tightly clamped in her jaw muffled the sound. Although the commotion was confusing at first, it was soon revealed to be a struggling and squawking bird...a bright red cardinal to be exact. My husband, Bill, who comes from a long line of St. Louis Cardinals fans, looked admiringly at the feline and fowl, commending our huntress for the appropriate welcome home gift. I reminded him that no matter how fitting the offering was, it was still Indiana’s state bird.


Our daughter shrieked as she accidentally let the pair into the house and we scrambled, blocked and finally ushered both gift giver and gift out of our home. Whiska communicated through a series of guttural declarations and yips across the screen door that separated us, looking from us to the now inanimate creature on the step, her confusion apparent to those of us standing in the kitchen. Bill praised her for her generous token, and I grabbed the disinfectant cleaner.

As I wiped down the floor, cabinets and walls, I pondered my reaction as a vegetarian and pacifist to the frequent lifeless bodies left on our breezeway step. Countless bunnies, tiny shrews, and a wide variety of birds were out next to the newspaper to greet us many mornings. Sometimes an unexplained larger, more interesting creature -- like the opossum that was not actually playing dead in our yard -- appeared. The mysteries of our slightly feral and fierce feline were vast. Somehow I managed to view her with wonder instead of disgust, cleaning up her sometimes messy contributions.

Whiska’s gifts, though non-traditional, were from the heart. Educating myself on what they meant was half of the battle. A quick internet search on The Spruce Pets website for why cats leave dead animals for their owners revealed, “...when a cat brings you an animal they caught, be it alive or dead, they consider you a part of their family.” She considers us part of her clowder.

My mind drifted to the gifts I have received from students over the years, sometimes equally as foreign and in need of translation:
  • The gift of conversation after a student had refused to do so for hours
  • The gift of a paragraph written after the student learned how to use word prediction software
  • The gift of a classroom discussion after the student was shown how to access and read audio text
...the list goes on and on.

Not all gifts that we receive, or give for that matter, are apparent to others. Much like Whiska’s expression of gratitude for the environment we have provided for her, universally designing a classroom to make sure every student feels as if he or she belongs, has been thought of and nurtured can only lead to larger feelings of community and acceptance.

We, as educators, are repaid for this conscious effort through student participation, work completion, further education, boosts in student confidence and smiles...which are my favorite. Thankfully students, unlike felines, rarely give back the gift of a dead bird.

Whiska sleeping on her back

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Mar
23

Spring Break...Or Is It?


We have been looking at websites and talking about the sights and sounds of our upcoming trip to St. Louis, Missouri, for several weeks now! Our family is very excited! I have wanted to take our 7-year-old daughter, Zoë, to the City Museum in St. Louis since her first step -- fearing that if I took her too young, I would spend my time looking for her and being worried. If you are not familiar with the museum, is in an old 10-story shoe factory downtown. Floor after floor, kids (and adults) are encouraged to run, jump, climb and dance through tunnels, cave systems and a circus -- to name a few things. There are over 30 slides. I am bursting with excitement!



suspended pathways and structures on the exterior of the City Museum

My best friend and her family suggested that we rent an apartment near the zoo together, and we found the perfect place! It is right off of Forest Park, where the zoo and so many other activities are at our fingertips! We plan to roam the park that contains a pavilion, which was created with proceeds from the 1904 World’s Fair! I am a huge roadside attraction person and the park is full of monuments and statues from a giant turtle to an elephant reaching for leaves in the trees. We will be able to take our time seeing a huge waterfall created during the World’s Fair, the art museum and planetarium.

My friend ordered brochures that have a huge kid’s map of the city, and we have watched multiple YouTube videos on what to expect when we ride to the top of the St. Louis Arch. We can decide which day might provide the most glorious view of the Mississippi River or the Courthouse greens, depending upon which way we decide to look out.

St. Louis Arch at dusk
If you were my teacher and asked me to talk about my spring break, this is exactly what I would tell you...all of the gorgeous details! I would not hold back on the excitement of what was getting ready to happen! I would unintentionally brag out of sheer enthusiasm for what is going to be the best part about not being in school.

What if, however, you were not going anywhere. What if your family never planned a trip, or had the money to go. What if you got yelled at by your mom if you mentioned doing something over break, or if your parents worked and you were watched for a week by a random family member? What if you were not sure where you were going over break? What if home is not your safe place, and every day you look forward to coming back to school because the stress level seems so much less there? There are a lot of reasons, suddenly, for a student not to want to hear about break and not to celebrate the minutes escaping from the clock as its hands journey toward dismissal.

As teachers, we are born to celebrate the excitement of our students. Sharing what was to come or what happened during a break is part of what has always happened in classrooms. After all, it is fun to talk about these things, for most. Still, imagine for a moment if you dreaded going home for even a night or a weekend and the rest of your classroom was happily counting down to the final bell by crossing off days on a fun calendar? What if your only option during a Language Arts lesson was to write about upcoming plans when it was the source of so much stress? What if your favorite teacher kept on saying, “I can’t wait until next week!” in front of you? How would you interpret that emotion and how it related to you?

As teachers we have to be mindful. I am not sure I processed this enough when I taught my own classroom, but I certainly was attuned to it when I was part of behavioral support team for a small school district. I had many conversations with staff members just making them aware that some students were not celebrating. I saw teachers change their phrasing from “vacation” to “break.” I saw lots of one to one conversations and reassuring moments of us all being back together in a week. I engaged with students who I thought might be worrying and helped them put vocabulary to the emotions they were feeling because it is hard to express things that you don’t have words for.

As school breaks for the spring term, keep these kiddos in mind. They are out there and they are nervous. That does not mean that students are not allowed to express fun times had before and after break, but maybe through more personal conversations and alternative writing prompts and activities that include both vacationers and "staycationers."
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Jan
18

Returning to Mindfulness and Reaping the Benefits

clementine oranges with leavesSitting “criss-cross applesauce” on the circle rug in my daughter’s kindergarten class last year, I learned something new. Maybe it wasn’t completely new, but certainly not practiced consistently in the “rush around world” I seem to be living in.

Ms. Indu, the founder of the school, passed around a little white basket of brightly colored clementines to all of the parent-night attendees. She instructed each person to select a fruit, then encouraged us to examine the smooth texture. She quietly described the hands that planted the seeds...hands that were passed down from ancestors, and ancestors, and ancestors. She characterized the process of love and nurturing that allowed it to grow into a tree. As the fruit ripened, sweet and heavy, she discussed the hands that picked it from the green leaves so high up in the tree. How many hands passed the clementine as it was washed, shined, packed and transported to the grocery store. She detailed the careful stacking of each clementine by a person who came from ancestors, who came from ancestors, who came from ancestors. She considered the inspection and selection that you, the consumer, went through to bring this delicious snack home.

As the mindful activity unfolded, I watched my husband Bill’s face out of the corner of my eye. He sat, looking at the clementine and listening intently to Ms. Indu speak. I fought back a sudden wave of the giggles as I wondered what this 45-year-old man would do when asked to eat the delicious fruit. Bill is what I would call a “reformed picky eater.” When he was young, he would reject a hamburger if the plate was sprinkled with parsley. Over the past 10 years he has developed into what I would consider a “typical eater” with occasional moments of adventure. One thing, however, that I knew for sure was that he did NOT like clementines. Clementines, oranges, grapefruit, none of them!

I closed my eyes and concentrated on putting the clementine segment in my mouth. Ms. Indu continued to guide us through the mindful activity of tasting the sweetness of the fruit, savouring the tangy yet sweet ...wait...what did I hear? Was that...chewing? Bill was chewing. Eyes closed, intently listening, and chewing. He was not just eating a piece of the clementine, he was eating the entire fruit. Mindfulness.

Mindfulness, in this case, turned my “typical eater” into a person who now purchases a bag of clementines every time he goes to the grocery store. He is now a person who carefully stacks the fruit in a blue glass bowl on our counter and enjoys the flavor and benefit of this nutritious snack. That moment of sitting on the kindergarten rug with purposeful and guided thought actually changed his pattern of thinking. I think he surprised himself that evening. He certainly never thought of himself as a citrus lover.

As I processed the mindful activity that led to a pattern change for Bill, I started to ponder school environments, students and how simple mindful activities might shape everyday activities. Research has shown that mindful behavior actually changes the neurological patterns in the brain. Mindful activities can promote goal setting and attainment, overall peacefulness throughout a school day and can be a confidence builder for a student who is struggling.

As a teacher, mindful attention to the day can increase student connectivity and might bring attention to the individual gifts students bring to the table with a reduced focus on those items that seem to be out of our control.

I was recently in a classroom in Greencastle where a teacher of students with Emotional Disabilities was detailing some of the progress the students had experienced this semester. She explained that every morning the students took a moment to reflect quietly on the upcoming day, to process through the daily hurdles and to have a moment to gather thoughts of how to navigate. She attributed much of the success of her students to that carefully planned moment in time, and stated that if something happened and that moment did not occur, the day definitely reflected it. The skill she was teaching did not cost money. A student never had to be without it because it comes from within. It was a life skill that encouraged goal setting and personal growth. What more could we possibly want for our students?

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Rachel Herron
Thank you so much!!! I am in total agreement! I was so impressed that the teacher, Jessica Tomasino, was so thoughtful about thi... Read More
Thursday, 18 January 2018 21:06
Rachel Herron
Fantastic! That makes my day! I need to make sure that I am also practicing this incredible skill! Thank you for reading this G... Read More
Friday, 19 January 2018 09:06
Rachel Herron
You are the second person who has mentioned automated systems to me this week! I had not even considered it before, but it is so ... Read More
Wednesday, 24 January 2018 09:20
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Oct
12

Lessons from the Past Shape the Future


A friend of mine asked me how my job was going. At the time, I was working as a behavior support person in district where every day was a brand new adventure of finding the best way to educate students with various levels of trauma. I answered her in very general terms...my day had been spent jumping from meeting to meeting with various students, staff members, therapists, parents and social workers and I was exhausted. How could I explain the phenomenon of helping a student in crisis only to find another student, and another student, and another student in line behind the first.


“Wow,” she remarked. “Times have changed. We never had students like that in school when we were growing up. What has happened?” The remark was innocent enough. I began to scan my memory banks for a clue of how to answer her. My mind searched elementary and middle school files as I tried to remember students who were difficult to plan for...students who needed extra resources and consideration. I remembered the challenges of having child refugees from Vietnam in my early elementary school classes in Texas who did not speak English, which was the predominate language. These students were definitely in crisis and had been through trauma, but outside of this group of special children, I could not remember the type of support required daily to so many students with Emotional Disabilities.

I wanted to be thoughtful in my reply, because I did not want to be unfair to the teachers I had in school. I had some really great teachers and I do not have a memory of having a crisis intervention team entering our room to help with students. I don’t remember student disruption occurring beyond minor disagreements. I remember faces of the students who would have been considered as behavior problems. I remember the threat we all had hanging over us of going to the principal’s office. I remember those students being sent and sometimes never returning to class.

Suddenly the light bulb in my brain flashed on.

“Well of course we have always had these students.” I replied. “We just have not always been charged with educating them.” If students had a behavioral issue that was strong enough to be dealt with, the student was removed from school. No one wondered if something deeper, more pervasive was behind the student’s behavior. No one questioned whether the curriculum should be adjusted to try to help students. No one created an individualized behavior plan to try to keep students in school or found a therapist or social worker to help the student work through issues. The student was simply “let go.”

I had a huge realization that day about the state of our country. Students who were once forgotten and disposed of in our educational system are now being helped. Most of my career has been devoted to finding a way for every student to have the opportunity to learn and I am not alone. Across the state, every day, I am witnessing the same kind of compassion and careful planning for students who were once punished or removed. Teachers are looking for resources and striving to connect with students in new and groundbreaking ways.

I recently was given the incredible gift of being able to work with students and teachers of students who have Emotional Disabilities through The PATINS Project. The focus of this charge is to discover different ways to support individuals through technology, strategies and principles of Universal Design for Learning. Already teachers across the state are using relaxation techniques, self regulation processes and calming environments with students who are in crisis. Technology elevates those strategies in order to give students an independent moment with a calming app, self monitoring journal or video of the classroom activities while respectfully being given permission to de-escalate.

Teachers are understanding that along with the Emotional Disability qualification, a student might have an unidentified or secondary learning disability. To have a classroom that is already created to consider different means of expression and reception of materials is such a positive direction for students who might be struggling.  

I am so glad the viewpoint is evolving. Education is a thoughtful field and the endeavor of finding new ways to elevate self growth and understanding amongst teachers is a full time job. Challenging old ways of thinking and finding resources to help face this undertaking is only part of the battle. This is a time of enlightenment and consideration for all students. Placing value on ways to keep students in school, no matter how challenging the behavior, is a passion of mine and I am grateful to be a part of the revolution.

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Jun
29

UDLabyrinth


On a recent gorgeous summer night the only choice my family had to make was whether to walk or ride bikes through town. The unanimous vote was to walk, and the mile that separates our house on Franklin College Campus to the courthouse on the square was full of colorful discussion. My 6-year-old daughter Zoë was very excited about the adventure. She mused aloud about many topics -- including how high the water was in the creek, why the college boys next door grilled in the rain and when she could host her next sleep-over. As we wandered through the streets of the downtown area, smoky barbecue aroma surrounded us from the annual competition that had taken place earlier that day.


We found ourselves heading south on Main Street toward a labyrinth nestled in a small sculpture garden that Richard Goss, owner of Richard’s Brick Oven Pizza, built in 2015. The labyrinth that started out as foot-tall bushes now loomed over our heads.

Richard Labyrinth
Zoë asked endless questions about the purpose of a labyrinth, what it was used for and what people did once inside. I explained that labyrinths were used for meditation and reflection, moving through the intricate design was personal and people used it for different reasons. We stood at the entrance of the maze together. The only direction I gave her was that once inside the labyrinth walls she could move through in her own personal way, but with a catch. She would have to be silent. I explained that some people (like me) chose to reflect and think in a labyrinth, which is hard to do with people  talking or making noise. She nodded in understanding and looked longingly at the entrance. I asked her if she would like to go in first and she entered, smiling over her shoulder.

I moved onto the stony pathway next, ambling at a medium pace but deliberately taking in every step, trying to clear my mind. As the fog began to lift, tiny granules of thought began to form into larger structures, castles of ideas began to envelop the dark corners of my brain. With every step, every twist and turn of the path, I felt myself sinking into the calmness and refreshment of what the labyrinth meant to me.

I glanced to my right and made out the shape of my husband, Bill, as he followed his path through the labyrinth. Our paths that once seemed very different converged for a brief moment. His eyes never met mine as he focused on a spot on the horizon; he walked slowly and deliberately and appeared to be far away. He methodically moved through the intricate design in total silence. I ached for a moment, wishing I could focus my mind in the same way, shutting out the sound of the breeze, the birds overhead, the occasional swish of my arms brushing against the hedge wall.

WHOOSH...I could see my daughter's pink shirt through the hedge in a blur as she ran by. I could see her curls blowing back in the breeze. My attention turned to the sound of the gravel crunching under her feet in a rapid pace, her head tilted slightly back in sheer exhilaration but still in complete silence. I giggled to myself as she dashed by. She was doing exactly what I asked her to do, but her style was completely contrasting mine.  

Upon reflection I realized that we had one labyrinth and one instruction yet three totally different interpretations of how we were going to complete the task. Was my method any better than Zoë’s? Was my reaction to the labyrinth any less because I was not focused like Bill? We all reached the end with a better understanding of what the journey meant to us. It was personal and uniquely executed but the gains were similar.  

As I walked away from the labyrinth, I considered the principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL). Figuring out the most personal and unique way to increase knowledge while being given a multitude of tools and approaches seems like a never ending task. Piquing interest/designing education in order to engage students who come from so many different backgrounds and preferences in learning is the hurdle that teachers face daily.  

Allowing for differences, planning ahead to make sure that those differences are not only accounted for, but respected every day, is what UDL is all about. After all, it is not how we get to the finish line, it is what we know when we get there. Our journey is the most important part.


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Mar
17

Getting Lost and Found in Translation

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Nov
24

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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Aug
18

Tall Fences and Locked Doors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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