Jun
18

Temporarily Abled

Pause your day for a moment and deliberately gather a handful of some things you regularly do every day. Think of some things you do without thinking too much or without putting much effort forth. Making coffee, emptying the mailbox, carrying my own towel to the shower, walking through the front door of the grocery store or doctor's office, carrying an onion from the refrigerator to the cutting board with a knife, are a few such activities that come to my mind. I want you to keep the activities you thought of readily accessible, perhaps, even write, type, or dictate them into a quick note. I'm actually going to ask you to make two lists, so here's a template for you to use, with two columns and some ideas to get started, if helpful.  

visit link for access to 2 column chart for use with this blog
Now, I'm going to make an assumption that many of the readers of this PATINS Ponders blog are educators or other professionals working with learners who struggle with one or more aspects of their daily world. ...some of my most favorite people in the whole world, by the way. I'd like you to now think of why you do this work. Write, type, or dictate the top three reasons you do this work. You've probably stated this many times when people tell you, "I could never do what you do," or "You're a very special kind of person," and then ask you, "What makes you want to do this work?"

Place your second note next to your first note now. Compare them. Do any of the items (activities) from your first list appear, in any way, on your second list (why you do this work)? If they do, you probably already know what I'm going to tell you next! If they do not, stick with me here and let's think about why they should. 

Several years ago, a colleague for whom I have a lot of respect, whispered something to me. She looked around first to make sure no one else was within earshot and still whispered the term to me, "Temporarily Abled." It took me a moment to process her term and while I was processing, she indicated that she was whispering it as to not be offensive to anyone around. At the time I nodded my head as she explained that we're all "Temporarily Abled" in one or more ways, inevitably due to either an accident/injury, disease, or simply due to aging. I've spent significant time thinking about her words since that time and more importantly, why she felt it could be offensive to hear. I do want to say that I understand that disability, for people who have a disability now, is much deeper than using this term or this concept to promote understanding. However, the conclusion I've come to is that there is so much work still to be done for our world to truly be inclusive and there are so many people in our communities who have no idea what that even really means, largely in my opinion, because it hasn't had a personal effect on their life... yet. I do think this matters and I think it has potential for making a difference more quickly, fully and meaningfully including all people in all of our communities, all of the time. 

Moving Image of Daniel riding a dirtbike up steep hill and flipping it over at the top
Seven weeks ago, doing what I love on a steep hill in the woods on my old dirtbike, I completey dislocated my right knee, severing all four ligaments and causing cartilage and meniscus damage. Yes, that's right, the MCL, LCL, PCL, and ACL are all torn! I didn't even know there were so many CL's in my knee! Two required surgeries six weeks apart and 9-12 months of physical therapy certainly have put some things into perspective and strongly reinforced many things I already knew. Several of the people in my personal life whom I consider the smartest, strongest, kindest, and most creative I've ever known, have a disability. From this angle, accessibility and inclusion have been important to me since I was a young boy. However, the inability to walk, carry anything, perform manual labor, sleep normally, etc., these last 7 weeks have reinforced another dimension of my understanding of access and inclusion as well. These personal experiences, while never as meaningful to someone else, are still so important to share. While it may not be your experience (yet), my experiences just might add something to your second list that wasn't there before. 

collage of three images showing three sides of Daniels knee with large surgical incisions and stitches.

Some things I've learned recently and will never forget: 
  1. Automatic or button-operated doors that work are very important. Being non-weight-bearing and havinig to fully utilize crutches, I simply cannot open some doors by myself. While most people are very quick to help, if they are around, I just want to be able to open the door myself! Many places have not had working automatic doors, including the hospital where my surgeon works AND the building my physical therapy is in! 
  2. Knowing where my assistive technology is at all times, that it's close to me, and trusting that other people aren't going to move it, is essential and causes a good bit of anxiety. For me, it's mostly my crutches. I simply cannot move from one place to another without my crutches unless I sit down and scoot. For someone to see my crutches as a tripping hazzard, for example, and move them, is a lot like taking my legs away from me. I compare this to taking away a learners communication device or system for any reason... behavior, battery dead, damaged, etc.  My crutches have become a part of my identity and nearly a part of my body. Moving them or playing with them without talking to me first feels violating. I'm not sure we always keep this in mind when we work with students using assistive technologies. I think that sometimes we feel we're helping by making adjustments or moving things and it might NOT really be a help at all! It might actually change the task entirely. 
  3. High Expectations are essential! Be very critical about ever telling someone that they "can't" or "shouldn't" do something that they want to do! Further, expect that they will do things that they think they cannot! In my case, while I may not be able to carry the onion and knife to the cutting board, I can sure as heck prop myself up and chop it like a pro! ...right along with the peppers, carrots, tofu, and zuchini! I actually love when I'm asked to do things instead of asked what someone can do for me! "Can you come chop this onion." "Can you refill that soap dispenser in the kitchen." I already know that I need many things done for me, but I can totally still do other things and I need to feel needed as well. Let's try to remember this with ALL of our students! 
  4. My "mule pack" is essential to my level of independence. This is a simple and low-tech assistive technology that I greatly rely on. It's a small backpack that I can carry without my hands, that I cram full of as many things as possible allowing me to not have to ask someone else to get them for me. All the things I need daily or that are high on the list of importance, such as my wallet, tools, medical items, snacks, personal care, etc. This allows me to have many of the things I regularly need with me, minimizes repeat trips, and minimizes my reliance on others. 
  5. Steps! There are just some steps that are too high, too steep, or too slippery for me to even consider using.  This means that I have the choice of not accessing that place or sitting down and scooting up or down the stairs...neither allow me to feel dignified or included in that place.
  6. Trust! Whether I like it or not, I simply need help with some things. Our students do too. Having someone you trust immensely is very helpful. Someone you trust to encourage and push you to grow, to assist you minimally enough to preserve your independence and dignity, and to still expect great things from you. This is also exactly what our students need! Thinking about this from the perspective of what I need from my trusted help right now, most certainly provides some guiding mental framework for when I'm the one helping students in the future.  
These are just a small handful of some things that I've realized and/or had solidified for me recently. I'm sure I'll have many more to share. This has truly reinforced the fact that accessibility is so important for everyone, all the time, even if you aren’t one who needs it right NOW. Chances are definitely that you will need something different, something specialized, or just something more accessible at some point in your life, either due to an accident, an injury, a disease, or through aging. The notion that accessibility only matters for a small percentage of “the disabled” is so completely short-sighted and irresponsible to your future self! If, for no other selfless reason, try to keep in mind that the fight for inclusion of all people, high expectations of all people, accessibility to all places for all people is a critical one for more reasons than you might know right now. The loss of or lessing of inclusionary concepts in any amount is a very slippery slope. Work hard, daily, to build a culture of increased expectations and inclusion of all people, never letting that lever tip in the opposite direction. Imagine all the things that are simple for you now that could very quickly and easily be otherwise...what sorts of actions on your part TODAY might better prepare your world for that scenario...what sorts of people would you want surrounding you in that sort of scenario? Speak up when you notice inaccessible entries, public televisions without captions, etc. Learn and become better equipped through the many diverse PATINS Trainings on our Professional Development Guide and our Training Calendar. Trial the many assistive devices available to you, through the PATINS Lending Library!...all at no cost to you, of course! Consider networking and furthing your knowledge-base by attending the FIRST-EVER PATINS Access to Education VIRTUAL Conference this coming November!  



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Guest — Emilee
Thank you for sharing. Being "temporarily abled" is something I have taken for granted all my life. Understanding that I, too, mig... Read More
Sunday, 28 June 2020 21:28
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Apr
23

Big Dreams, Small Spaces

laughing child sitting in a garden with purple catmint blooming
I hope this blog finds you healthy and coping well with this not-in-Kansas-anymore life. I was looking at my work calendar from a couple of months ago, and looked at an entry where I traveled, and thought, “Logansport seems like a distant universe.” 

Many of us are escaping to places (other than our snack stations) by watching Netflix. We are all sharing the shows we’ve been bingeing on the streaming platforms. It is spring on our farm, and I am re-watching my favorite British gardening show. 

“Big Dreams, Small Spaces” follows the famous British gardener, Monty Don who guides 2 different garden makeovers per episode. (He’s also an excellent follow on Instagram if you like dreamy garden images.) On the show, the participants share their ideas for a dream garden in their tiny backyard, and Monty checks in over the course of a year to counsel them, and lend some hands-on help. It is the opposite of sensational--there are no bodies found buried in the gardens. There are no cash prizes, and the often very small budgets are footed by the gardeners. 

British gardening guru Monty Don holding a watering can in his garden with his 2 golden retrievers at his side

But many of their dreams are indeed big, including turning their back garden into an enchanted forest, or creating a community vegetable garden for their neighbors. One of my favorites is an episode where parents are designing a garden for their son who has a disability. 

It would be fair to say it is boring, but I also would describe it as compelling. Watching someone dig their own pond with a shovel, and hearing them describe how it has helped them battle depression is a medicine that is working for me as I look for hope wherever it can be found.

My PATINS stakeholders who are contacting me are living in their own “Small Spaces” right now. But like the gardeners, they are dreaming big of taking their limited resources and turning them into a thing of beauty. They are forging stronger relationships with their students’ parents, spending hours communicating how to take their child with blindness on a mobility scavenger hunt, or how to enter math homework using a screen reader. They, like Monty Don and his gardeners, are giving me hope that continuous learning will grow and evolve into something surprisingly lovely. 

At PATINS we’re here to support your big dreams in small spaces. Check out our special resource page or visit our daily office hours with your questions and impossible ideas. 

I'll make the tea. (I guess you'll have to make your own tea if we meet on Zoom. . . but you get the sentiment.)

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Mar
06

Literacy, Performance, and Well-Being: Realizing Reading, Writing, and Accommodations!

Each year, about this time, educators all over Indiana are likely feeling drained, pressured, overwhelmed, and perhaps worried! I hear so much about state assessment and preparing for it, how it throws off schedules and routines, and how everyone in the building is a bit on-edge. I understand that feeling! I struggle a bit, however, with some of the reasons we allow it to occur. While we don't have a choice in many aspects of high-stakes assessment, we do have a lot of control over the other majority of the school year, which most certainly has an effect on the relatively short assessment portion! 

The things that come to mind are the concepts of literacy, of testing anxiety, and of the general well-being of people. The PATINS Project has a laser-like focus on improving literacy in Indiana PK-12 schools and in order to achieve that, we had to define literacy, which is where my struggles around high-stakes testing anxiety likely begins. The dedicated, passionate, and skilled PATINS team chooses to recognize and actively support the International Literacy Association's definition of literacy: 

"Literacy is the ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, compute, and communicate using visual, audible, and digital materials across disciplines and in any context. The ability to read, write, and communicate connects people to one another and empowers them to achieve things they never thought possible. Communication and connection are the basis of who we are and how we live together and interact with the world."

With this definition in mind, the PATINS staff meets every single week as a team to share, collaborate, and ensure that everything we're doing maintains a strong focus on improving literacy outcomes! While this intentional and deliberate focal point of our work is fairly recent, our services have always centered around literacy. I was reminded of this recently when I was asked about an old (2009) article that had been written about me as a classroom teacher, which you can find here, for some additional reading! 


Daniel as a first year teacher playing guitar for students.
Back in 2001, I decided it was time to leave the business I'd started. I had spent the previous 4 years establishing a system of working with very young students on the autism spectrum and had experienced some great success. While a very difficult decision, what I really wanted to experience was my very own classroom of students on a daily basis. So, I took a teaching position in a K-6 classroom with students identified as having "moderate - severe disabilities."  

When I arrived, eager and enthusiastic, I received a warm welcome, but I also received some advice about my students-to-be. I was told that they were non-readers and non-writers and that I would be using a lot of pictures and symbols. Not knowing my students, yet and also realizing that I hadn't ever had any real reading instruction in college, I took this advice. Not only did I take this advice, but I plastered by classroom with pictures I printed out and with symbols of all sorts! Schedules, social cues, tasks related to IEP goals... all pictures and symbols! I covered a 10' X 6' board with tempo-loop and laminated and velcro'd until my poor, raw, aching fingers nearly bled! We used these in my classroom day-in and day-out! 

a sample of Daniels classroom schedule in all text
While I realized that I was no expert in reading and really had no formal training in the science of teaching others to read, I also understood behavior and I understood fairly well, how learners often perceived things differently in their learning environment. I remember sitting back in my chair at the end of one school day, frustrated that my students were paying textbook rental for books that were inaccessible to them, that I wasn't able to work on writing (composing) with my students, and I looked across the room at my giant tempo-loop schedule. I looked at the symbols and it suddenly hit me that some of them, very much, resembled short words from that distance. It stood to reason then, that if that symbol resembled a word and my students were recognizing the meaning of it daily, perhaps they could just recognize words! ...And they DID! What I also very quickly realized and made all of my paraprofessionals and parents aware of, was that my students were not "reading" phonetically. They were recognizing symbols. However, these symbols they were recognizing were now far more functional in the real world than most abstract, stick-figure symbols, that I had to teach the meaning of anyway. Nevertheless, I knew that my students needed more, if they were to become readers (and writers). 

At this point, I implemented a systematic phonics program, but I also implemented word-prediction! Not really knowing how to teach phonemes, nor understanding reading science at the time, I did realize that by removing the barrier of spelling (with word-prediction software), that I could very quickly begin experiencing the ideas, reflections, and questions that were in my student's creative minds! ...thoughts that I often wondered if anyone else ever knew was even in there!  ...stuff we'd never heard come from these kids verbally, that was coming out in writing, because now they could compose without the impasse of spelling or physical handwriting!  Another amazing thing with word-prediction was that my students could hear the computer read their sentence back after they'd punctuated it, which effectively improved their self-editing and perhaps more importantly opened my mind to the powerful idea of them reading with their ears, and thus began text to speech in my classroom for all students, all of the time. They became VERY good and implementing it for themselves when they needed it and choosing to read with their eyes at times when they did not need it. They began leaving my classroom and joining their general education peers for more and more academics, for arts, and music, and on the weekends for birthday parties!  

As a result, I also worked out that text and language could be fun, engaging, and musical! We played with my guitar and made up words to made up songs and then wrote them down and discussed them, revised them, and laughed! Yes, we laughed! We had fun with language. We went from using stick-figure symbols to having fun with language.  

I look back and recognize this successful and fun 4-year experience in my classroom as a culmination of having high expectations, implementing assistive technology and accessible materials, and having FUN! ...also known as engagement!

Circling back, I wonder why more case conference committees aren't checking the boxes on the IEP that asks if Assistive Technology (AT) or Accessible Educational Materials (AEM) are needed when those two things can lead to such unthought-of outcomes, often at little or no cost. I wonder why, in many places, schedules change and test prep becomes such a focus that the stress and anxiety actually shows on the faces of educators. At the time, my students wouldn't have been permitted to use many of their accommodations on the state's high stakes test, BUT I can guarantee they still would have done better on those assessments with me providing them all year long until then!  

In summary, if you ever find yourself in an IEP meeting and those two questions about Assistive Technology and Accessible Educational Materials aren't deeply discussed, I:  
  1. Encourage you to borrow items to trial (at no cost to you whatsoever) from the PATINS Lending Library.  
  2. Challenge you to initiate those discussions about AT and AEM in the IEP meeting. 
  3. Contact PATINS Staff, even during the meeting, for more information, consultation, and support on AT and AEM! 
  4. Implement something new with ALL of your students THIS NEXT week! It doesn't have to be in an IEP and you don't have to be an expert to try something new! 
  5. Reach out to the PATINS Specialists for specific training and support! 
  6. Come to the (no cost) PATINS Tech Expo on April 9th, to make yourself even more aware of some of the tools, resources, and strategies that are available!  
Photo of Daniel riding a stick unicorn in a literacy phoneme game       Word Play Root Matrix of word parts and phonemes


















Be brave this week... take a deep breath, think about literacy a little more broadly and try to have fun with your students doing something for at least a few minutes every day! It's OK to laugh with them! ...and, I'll leave you with this one fun literacy-based idea. I recently took part, as a volunteer, in a silly activity with respected educational colleagues from around the world called, "Unicorn Poop." Yes, you read that correctly. In this game, I was part of a team, "riding" on a stick-unicorn from one side of the room to the other in order to scoop a plastic spoonful of unicorn poop (skittles candy) and bring it back to my teammate who was making a new word and conveying it to our "teacher" allowing me to claim the unicorn poop on our side of the room! We ended up losing the game by only a half of a spoonful of poop, but I ended up learning so much about teaching reading instruction in the process. We didn't spend any time on letter recognition or even individual sounds. We put BIG words together by practicing understanding of smaller phonemes!
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Feb
26

#Dyslexia: Celebrating Those Beautiful Brains

IMG_1557-2 Beautiful Brain Sticker
I read an audiobook a few weeks ago by Jonathan Mooney titled Normal Sucks: How to Live, Learn, and Thrive Outside the Lines. Jonathan was identified with dyslexia and ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) when he was a kid and did not learn to read until he was 12 years old. He writes with a hilarious twist of confessions and speaks about the uniqueness of learners. Jonathan leaves the message that instead of trying to fix these students...let’s empower them to be successful in their own way.

He shares after being sent to the office due to some choices he made and his mom was called to come to his school, “I had crossed that invisible line between the normal and the not normal, which we all know is there. Though we aren’t quite sure where it is all of the time, or who drew it, or how, or why. At that moment, I knew for sure that whatever normal was, I wasn’t it.”

I am constantly meeting and working with new students who have been identified with dyslexia. I am tasked with the privilege to explore with them ways that they may learn and ways they can feel empowered in their own learning. I often get to see their new learning journey with assistive technology accommodations such as text-to-speech, word prediction, speech-to-text, etc. to keep them from getting further behind in school. Each time I am with a student, they teach me something new which makes me a better educator. I am so thankful.

When meeting new students, I have to create relationships very quickly. This often begins with talking about anything but dyslexia. I have laughed so hard with students at the amazing conversations we have had and the stories they share about life in general. I have also left schools with my chest so heavy due to students feeling so stomped down from the weight they feel from struggling to read. They do not feel smart and feel shame, which leads to low self esteem and often matched with bullying. 

Instead of writing a blog about dyslexia, I wanted to put some faces to dyslexia. Each time we talk about dyslexia in schools, there is a face to every single number. Each time accommodations are denied, there is a face to that denial. We have to remain connected in order to prevent the disconnection of accessibility. 

So! I rounded up just a few kiddos who have impacted my own life in some way this past school year, brought together by dyslexia...but relationships built due to all of the other amazing conversations those beautiful brains have shared with me. I asked them a few questions and I have no doubt you will lift them up with me. 

First, Samantha was a feature on PATINS TV! After meeting her one time and working with her for accommodations on the iPad, the next time I came back, she showed me some ways she was using her iPad that I was able to share with other kids. She is brilliant!

Meet Sam
Sam
  Age: 11 years old

  Favorite book or type of book: Dog Man

  What is something you really enjoy doing and know you are good at doing?  Driving the ATV and maneuvering it with a trailer anywhere!

  Anything else you would like the world to know about you? Sam is in 4-H and shows ducks, chickens, and pygmy goats. This year he is going to try his hand at the lawn mower driving project and LEGO building project. When he grows up Sam wants to be a farmer because farming is cool. 

The first time I met Sam, we had a race. He was in his running shoes and well, me in my high heels. He won but I’m ready for a rematch. Sam is an impeccable problem solver. His thoughts take him into creative action on a route we may not think of at the time. I was fortunate to see Sam show one of his goats at his county fair. It felt like 110 degrees in the summer inside a metal barn; but Sam took it like a champ (unlike me sweating profusely). He had an adorable and rambunctious goat that he gave 100% attention to in the heat and he placed! Also, this kid can do the Floss dance better than I have ever seen and brings it alive on the drop of a hat! I can’t wait to see him one day on his own farm...living his dream and being a mentor for those who want to learn his craft of farming. He is unstoppable.


Meet
Precious
Precious
  Age: I am 16 years old. I’m going to be 17 years old in March. 

  Favorite book or types of books you like to read: My favorite   book is Dork Diaries

 What is something you really enjoy doing and know you are good at doing?
My favorite hobby is art. 

Anything else you would like the world to know about you? I am a homeschooled student. I want to show my artwork to encourage everyone. I am building my own art studio called Shout Loud. I want people to know, "You can do it!"
Precious's artwork of colorful tree

As you can imagine by her answers above, Precious is extremely kind and talented. I was honored to see her art spotlighted at an event in Indianapolis, Indiana. I noticed on her art displays, the first line was “I have dyslexia.” The way that she sees colors and puts them together truly amazes me.


Meet
Piper
Piper
  Age: 9 years old, March 1st!

  Favorite book or types of books you like to read: Adventure, crime solving
  and mystery genre


  What is something you really enjoy doing and know you are good at
  doing?
Art, ice skating, skiing, and acting.

  Anything else you would like the world to know about you? I would like
  the world to know that I love having dyslexia, because it helps me be even more creative than I thought.


Piper helped me out when I presented on assistive technology accommodations. After learning that she loves to act, I can see now how she stood in the front of the crowded room with me with ease. When I showed Piper the C-Pen Reader, she practiced and figured it out quickly. Then, she proceeded to try it out backwards, upside down and up and down. She then explained to me all the ways one should not use the C-Pen. Ya know, she is right...we need to know that part. Thank you, Piper! 


Meet
Reed
Reed
  Age: 9 years old

  Favorite book or type of book: Dog Man

  What is something you really enjoy doing and know you are good at doing?
  Shooting 

  Anything else you would like the world to know about you? If the world wants to
  know anything else, they need to meet me!!


Reed wasn’t so sure about me at first. He was the observer and then came over to me when he was ready, which works just fine for me. Once he did, he told me about Dog Man and was extremely well spoken about not only the book; but about anything we talked about. Reed heard me say that I had a fear of grasshoppers. At the end of my talk, he walked up to me with his hands closed and said, “Hey, I caught a grasshopper for you!” I thought he was serious for about .2 seconds, which felt like an eternity. He asked me to come back, but Reed, you better watch out! I like to play tricks as well! Reed is right, the world needs to meet him one day. I have a feeling they will as he will positively change the world in his own unique way.

Note: Sometimes kids are labeled as shy, when in reality they just need time or need a purpose to engage. As an educator, practicing wait time and as well as creating purpose can make all of the difference. 


Meet
Jackson
Jackson
  Age: 7 years old

  Favorite book or type of book: Dyslexic Legends Alphabet. This
  is my favorite book because it has the people that are famous
  because they have dyslexia. Even though you have dyslexia, you
  can still read using audiobooks! 


What is something you really enjoy doing and know you are good at doing? Playing baseball and hockey! I really enjoy reading audiobooks. 

(Hey Brent Sopel...I think you've got a huge fan in the making for more than one reason!)

Anything else you would like the world to know about you? That you can do any job that you want, even though you have dyslexia! Even though dyslexia is hard, you can still do whatever you want! 

Clearly, Jack is a true champion for himself in the way he learns best. When he says “...enjoy READING audiobooks,” that kiddo is ahead of the game! Of course he is reading! He is reading with his ears! Jack is an inquisitive thinker and I feel pretty confident when he is not playing hockey or baseball, he is tackling his younger brother. I am hoping to recruit Jack in a future training video on how we all read differently. We can all learn something from Jackson for sure. Besides, he and I have matching shirts... T shirt: Dyslexia is not a disability, it's a different ability.

Jonathan Mooney continues to say and I would like to echo this to all students…

“...I want you to know that normality is a problem to be struggled with, to be resisted, and ultimately, an idea to be rejected and replaced. ...When normal comes for you, I want you to be able to say what I couldn’t when it came for me. Normal sucks.”

What is normal anyway? It’s a measurement we can forever chase and never find. If we always consider the variability of all learners, presume competence, appreciate the diversity and be facilitators toward independence with accessibility in our instruction...our impact will be larger than imaginable. It can literally change life paths in a positive direction for all those faces for not only dyslexia but for all students.

#Presuming Competence is the easiest or the hardest barrier to #inclusion. The hardest because you can't force someone to believe in ability. The easiest because believing in ability costs nothing. It requires zero resources. The ? is, what side of history do you want to be on?
What side do you want to be on? Let's celebrate those beautiful brains...together! 


Note: Make sure you click on each picture to enlarge!  Also, If you have a student or child you would like to celebrate in ANY way, please email me at 
ksuding@patinsproject.org, tweet me @ksuding, or share in the comments below and I will lift them up with you and share!

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Guest — Glenda Thompson
What an interesting and fun group of friends you introduced us to, Kelli. Here's my takeaway: Samantha - look at the look of dete... Read More
Friday, 28 February 2020 14:47
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Dec
12

The One Question I Ask All Students

The One Question I Ask All Students The One Question I Ask All Students with rainbow paint in the background.
What is the most interesting thing you learned?

Why is this the one question I ask all students? It seems simple at first, but this question alone has given me vivid insight into who my students are at their core while sneakily working on enhancing language skills. Here are 5 reasons why.

1. Build rapport. Instead of relying on the "About Me" worksheets students fill out once in July or August, you can keep the lines of communication open between you and your students all year long. We all know what's cool one minute, is out the next anyways.

2. Work on skill deficits. With this one question alone, SLPs (and anyone working in the school) can help foster social skills, correct use of conjunctions, and expanding verbal/written sentence length. For social skills, students can work on turn taking, topic maintenance, asking follow up questions, perspective taking and reading nonverbal cues. For example, "What do you think X found interesting? How do you know?" If students answer with a simple sentence, you can use a visual of conjunctions to prompt them for more information. FANBOYS is always a favorite.

3. Find out what they've truly learned. Wait 10-15 minutes, a class period, or even a day and then ask what they found interesting from an earlier lesson. It may be a small detail you've glanced over that actually piqued their interest while they may have forgotten about information needed for the test. Now, you know what needs re-teaching.

4. Learn more about what engages them and use that information for future lessons. Students may reveal surprising interests such as loving opera music or a passion for tornado chasing. These are two real life interests brought up by my former students and you bet these were incorporated in more than one speech session.

5. There is no "wrong" answer. It's a low stress way for students to participate who may not otherwise felt confident enough to speak up with their ideas. Even if they say nothing was interesting, they can explain why and what can be different next time.  

As you can see, "What is the most interesting thing you learned?" packs a lot of educational "punch" with virtually no material preparation (unless you choose to - this could easily be done on a Padlet, white board, or other discussion format should you like a record of it).

Weave this question into your school day and comment below your thoughts on my all-time favorite question. 




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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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Aug
15

Fancy Font Over Function; Preparing Your Classroom for All Students!

Whilst engaged in a recent discussion with a dear educational colleague and friend, we unraveled the first days of school. Social media often tends to focus on surface level things that are able to be captured in a photograph or video. Being a photographer and artist, I very much appreciate these things. However, also being a professional educator, I also give caution to other educators concerning the intentionality of deep and thoughtful preparation for meaningful instruction for all students. As Beth Poss, assistant principal and private educational consultant, and I discussed the seemingly alarming rate of this focus on the superficial decorating of learning environments without consideration of students and universal design, Beth requested the opportunity to tackle this important topic through the PATINS Ponders Blog! 

It’s Back to School time! Teachers are busy getting their classrooms ready and school has even started in many districts. And based on the multitude of social media posts I am seeing, teachers are all about having the most beautiful classroom decor, the cutest bulletin boards, and jazzy curriculum resources from the Teachers Pay Teachers. It is easy for new or even veteran teachers to believe that if their classroom decor and resources aren’t Instagram worthy they must be doing something wrong.
The truth is, however, that pedagogy should still be the top priority and that just because it looks attractive doesn’t mean that it is effective. 


My fear that a focus on font over function was taking over Twitter and Instagram moved me to write this guest post for PATINS. So as you gear up for the 2019-20 school year, here are a few tips to help you ensure that you don’t get caught up in the “my classroom must be gorgeous” trend and instead focus on what is best for students.

1. Many students identified with various sensory processing challenges, in addition to many students without, can be easily overstimulated by an over-decorated classroom. Researchers found that increased visual stimulation in classrooms correlated with decreased cognitive performance (Fisher, Godwin, and Seltman, 2014; Rodrigues and Pandierada, 2018). So, keep it simple! Personally, I love this classroom from @thegirldoodles, especially how she sticks to just one set of monochromatic color selections, rather than her room looking like a bag of skittles exploded all over it. It is definitely attractive, projects a positive student message, and there is plenty of blank space. 

photo of a classroom dry erase board, 2 chairs, motivational posters, and cabinet all in monochromatic blue-gray color scheme
2. Classrooms should be student-centered! Leave wall and bulletin board space for student work. When students see their work displayed and their peers as their audience, we promote ownership and greater participation and involvement in their own learning process.  (Barrett, et al., 2015)

3. Anchor charts are most effective when they are generated with students, during the learning experience. So don’t worry about having beautifully hand-lettered anchor charts up and ready for the first day of school. Create these with your students so that they connect personally to the information. They are more likely to refer back to the charts while working if they helped to generate the information on the chart.

4. Consider carefully, your font choices on both classroom displays and printed or digital materials that you design. Are the fonts readable to all the students in your classroom, including those with low vision or dyslexia? If your students are learning to form and write letters, do the fonts you use provide a model for the proper formation? I see many cutesy fonts where letters are a random mix of lower and uppercase or where the”tails” of the  p and g are not below the bottom of the other letters. Cute however, doesn’t really help our students learn how to form letters correctly, and if we are teaching students that lowercase g, j, p, q, y, and are “basement” letters, be sure that they see this in what is given to them or displayed around the room. Additionally, research shows that sans serif fonts are generally more readable than serif fonts. (Rello and Baeza-Yates, 2013). What is the difference? Serif fonts have those decorative tails or feet, while sans serif fonts don't and instead are made up of simple, clean lines. You might even check out Dyslexie font or Open Dyslexic, which were both created specifically to promote readability for individuals with dyslexia. Additionally, you might check out the following video and/or this research article, "Good Fonts for Dyslexia.


5.
When downloading teaching resources, check that the strategies and pedagogy behind the resources is best practice. Does it align with your curriculum guide? Is it standards based?  Does it promote the principles of Universal Design for Learning and accessibility? Is it culturally responsive, promote diversity, and free of stereotypes?


One last piece of advice. When you see an idea from a post on a blog (like this one!) be sure to check the blogger’s credentials. Google them, take a look at what they post on Twitter, Pinterest, or Instagram and make sure they truly are someone you would want to take advice and inspiration from! I hope you check me out--find me on Pinterest and Twitter as @possbeth,or on Instagram as @bethposs.
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Aug
08

Stop Teaching "Low Functioning" Students

Stop teaching the low students Magic Ball indicating High. A witch's hat with speech bubble reading,
I half-joke that I’m working my way out of education purgatory, trying to make up for my sins in years past. One particular mistake I made: I let myself believe I could help “low functioning students.” The year I refused to teach “low” kids (and “high functioning” students too!) I started to realize what my purpose was.

I worked in a school that had two self-contained special education classrooms. On paper, it was just Ms. A’s class and Ms. Z’s class, but everyone referred to it as the “high functioning room” and the “low functioning room.” Sometimes the students had instruction together or joined their peers in general education but, in general, the students of the low functioning group stayed in their room and the high functioning students had more chances to be included. The high functioning students sat with assistants and learned letters and numbers and the low functioning students watched the other students work. Maybe we’d stick a switch toy on their wheelchair tray. Yipee.

Why? Because it was The Way We Had Always Done It. You’ll be happy to hear it’s changed.

On the flip side, I had students who were “high functioning.” Teachers were very pleased to have high functioning students except when they didn’t do what the other kids were able to do, or in the same way. Every year, like an unspoken agreement, accommodations were slowly chipped away. “He’s high functioning,” we’d all say. “He doesn’t need a sensory break, or note taking support, or Augmentative Communication. He should be able to do that on his own by now, or else he’d be low functioning.”

“The difference between high-functioning autism and low-functioning is that high-functioning means your deficits are ignored, and low-functioning means your assets are ignored.” - Laura Tisoncik

Once I was asked to observe “Cory.” Cory was a youngster who enjoyed trampolines, letters, and car commercials. He needed constant supervision, plenty of breaks, and explicit directions and support for academics, leisure, and daily living skills. He frequently hit the person nearest him, although staff could not pinpoint as to why (no FBA completed). He had no way to independently communicate. It wasn’t that they hadn’t tried but what they had tried wasn’t working, so they stopped. He did have two little symbols taped to his workstation: “more” and “stop” that were used to direct his behavior.

His teacher met me at the door and gestured to where he was “working” (10+ minutes of redirection to sit in a chair with some math problems attempted in between). I asked what would be helpful to her as a result of our consultation.

“As you can see, we’ve tried everything,” she exclaimed, gesturing to her lone visual taped to the desk. “He’s just too low.”

It took me a while to pick apart why this particular visit weighed on my soul. I had been that person and I knew the ugly truth: as soon as we start saying students are “low” we’ve haven’t described the child, we’ve described our own limitations in believing in kids.

The terms “low functioning” and “high functioning” are not professional terms. They have no place in an educational report, school policy, or conversation. They are born from poor understanding, frustration, and/or a misplaced desire to categorize students by how high our expectations should be. Who gets to be high functioning? Who gets to be low? Did you mistakenly think (as I did) that researchers set an agreed-upon standard or that there was a test or some type of metric to determine what bin of functioning we all belong in? Perhaps there was a Harry Potter-esque Sorting Hat of Functioning?

"...‘high functioning autism’ is an inaccurate clinical descriptor when based solely on intelligence quotient demarcations and this term should be abandoned in research and clinical practice." (Alvares et al, 2019)

In absence of a Magic 8 Ball of Functioning, I challenge you to stop teaching “low functioning students,” erase the phrase from your vocabulary, and start wondering “what do we need to be successful?” Describe the supports your student needs, the skills they are working on, the behaviors and interests you’ve observed. What do you need to do differently? Tell me about your student, not the expectations people have formed. At PATINS we have not met, in our entire combined careers, students who were too anything to learn. There is always a way, and we can help.

What ever happened to Cory? I haven’t heard back from his team since then. It still makes me sad, because I know that as long as one of the most meaningful adults in his life thinks of him as “too low,” not much will change.

You will not regret ditching those words. Your students will remember you for it. You have nothing to lose but functioning labels.

They weren’t helping anyone, anyway.
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Recent Comments
Guest — Deb Meyne
Love this. Guilty of this. Will do better and share with my colleagues. Thankyou!
Tuesday, 13 August 2019 05:06
Guest — Jessica Conrad
Thank you, Deb! I am right there with you. "I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better." - Maya Angelou... Read More
Tuesday, 13 August 2019 09:25
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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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Recent Comments
Guest — Bev Sharritt
making room for grief is so important. Grateful for the way that you have intertwined your story with all students' stories.... Read More
Thursday, 16 May 2019 13:55
Guest — Jessica Conrad
You are so right, I love that quote "move forward with it" and your point about teaching them to self-advocate for their wellbeing... Read More
Tuesday, 21 May 2019 09:46
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Jan
10

Teacher, Wash Your Face

Thanks for sharing the lies you used to believe and found a way to dismiss, Rach! Have you heard of Rachel Hollis? She published a book this year that has gone viral called, “Girl, Wash Your Face: Stop Believing the Lies About Who You Are So You Can Become Who You Were Meant to Be.” Have you read it? If you haven’t, I recommend the great and easy read!

Katie holding Girl, Wash Your Face book.

Now, it's our turn to share and help others dismiss the voice inside their head. One lie that I used to believe for a long time is the one regarding age. Growing up we all experienced those moments when our parents told us, "You can when you're older," or "You’ll understand when you're older". Leaving you to always long for just the right moment “when you're old enough” for whatever it is.

Now that I am older, it has morphed in my professional career that has left me longing until “I have enough experience to write that book, or present on that topic, or to do exactly what I think I have always been meant to do". Always being told that you need to “put in your dues” and then it will be your turn. Suddenly, I realized that I am longing to do the things of the “experienced” and waiting for “someone” to tell me “it's time”. Do you find yourself waiting for permission or asking for someone else’s approval for that gutsy move to get ahead in your career? One of Rachel Hollis’ quotes from the book is,


“No one can tell you how big your dreams can be.”

We all seem to care a little too much about what others are going to say. The truth is if we wait for these moments, we may be waiting our whole lives. Another favorite quote:

“Someone else’s opinion of you is none of your business.”

So, what have you been waiting to do?

Maybe you have been waiting to integrate Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and technology into your classroom or program? PATINS Specialists are standing by for your email or call for on-site consultation and our *no cost* PATINS Tech Expo is coming up on April 4th to help connect you with the right tools, know-how, and inspiration to make your ideas a reality! Your time is now! Don’t wait to contact us and let us know how we can support you today! {Free Registration for Tech Expo opens soon!}

Don’t forget to like, comment and share this blog and the Tech Expo with your fellow teachers!

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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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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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Guest — rachel
Oh how I love this blog...and relate to the salty excitement! Thank you for including ways to share the joy!!
Tuesday, 10 April 2018 16:22
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Feb
28

March Towards Hope

March Towards Hope

The calendar has some quirky coincidences in 2018. The somber first day of lent, Ash Wednesday, when folks in the Christian faith acknowledge that yes, they are
going to die, fell on Valentine's Day: a frivolous celebration of worldly love. Easter is on April 1 this year. I don’t envy the ministers and theologians who will have to work on that Sunday. It seems like they’ll have some extra explaining to do. And now my turn to write the PATINS blog falls on March 1st. Ugh.


Not true everywhere, but in Indiana March is the worst month. Don’t let that iconic shamrock on the calendar fool you, there isn’t much green to be found anywhere. We’re surrounded by gray skies, flat beige landscapes, and still wearing thick socks. In March, there might be a 70 degree day or two where you are lulled into thinking winter is loosening, but it will be followed by a lockdown-drill of freezing rain.

road 2125828 960 720 2
There is the big basketball tournament to distract us, but as I write this, Purdue has dropped from the top of the Big 10 standings, and it seems that having not one but two 7-footers on the team wasn’t enough to propel the Boilermakers from our mid season winning streak to tournament favorites. I blame March in the midwest. I know, not rational, because all Big 10 teams are in the midwest, but before you all message me and gently suggest that maybe Bev needs some medication, I’ll let you know that I do have strategies for surviving March.

First, seed catalogs = hope. Slowly page through them and drink in the colors. Or, while you’re at the home improvement store finding replacement parts for your sump pump (March floods) stop by the display of seed packets, pull out a packet, gently shake it by your ear and hear the sound of presumed life. My second strategy is to pretend I’m somewhere else; otherwise known as Mr. Rogers make believe medicine (I know, maybe consider medication). I put on my colorful bathing suit, lime green swim cap, and swim at the Y once or twice a week. And I imagine that the water is heated by a tropical sun. This week: Belize. My final strategy was a gift given to me by my friend Kelly. She created a Pinterest board for me called “March Madness Prevention” and she posts images or links to my favorite things: Bugs Bunny cartoons, snapdragons, and porch swings, to name a few.

The PATINS blog calendar lottery has also slotted me into a point in time where schools and teachers are looking out at what could be described as a bleak landscape. Fear seems to have enveloped schools, and infected the debate about how to keep all safe in the sacred space of the classroom. I’ve laid awake at night with the debate about violence in schools ricocheting around my brain, but haven’t been able to come up with much that doesn’t sound like more noise.

I’ve decided to follow Kelly’s lead to offer you a Pinterest board of sorts to share some images of hope. As a PATINS specialist I am in and out of many Indiana schools each week, and I see so many lovely things happening despite all that seems against us. Here are a few snapshots of hope happening in schools. Right now. Despite March:
  • My colleagues in Bluffton who work every day to hold high expectations for all and ensure that each child in the room has a voice. Follow the joy: @asheetsroom14 on Twitter.
  • An art teacher friend shares this story
painting created by high school student of bare trees with snow and shadows
  • One kindergartener telling another to take a deep breath when they can’t seem to figure out the reader app I’m teaching them. I followed her lead.
  • Students from STEM and robotics clubs finding solutions for students needing them. I was fortunate to meet members of the Mishawaka Penn High School Robotics Club who presented at a national assistive technology conference.
  • Pre-teacher in a Butler training determined to reach middle-schoolers, despite showing a depth of understanding of the middle school psyche. Felt like a hope earthquake under my feet.
  • Students at the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired discovering healthier food by massaging kale with avocado, and planning a new cafeteria garden on their campus. (I repeat, seeds = hope)
If you have an image of hope, please share in the comments!

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Nov
22

A Universally Designed Thanksgiving Gathering

black raspberry pie
Happy Thanksgiving everyone! The Sharritt’s have already stuffed themselves once last Sunday as we hosted my husband’s Kincaid cousins, and we’re on our way to Lansing today to feast with our daughter Grace, her husband Chris, and their family of choice at their church.


I hope you are on your way to a gathering filled with love, moist turkey, and many kinds of pie. It’s a time for human to human contact, something we may feel a little uneasy about in these days of personal interaction mediated by devices. We’ve been seeing Cousin Cyndi’s baking wins and fails all year on Pinterest, and now it’s time to sit down and actually break some honey twist bread with her. Uncle Mickey has been lurking on Facebook all year, and while we haven’t seen him, he’ll know much about what we’ve been up to by monitoring our newsfeed.


It is a new and ever-changing social dynamic we’re all figuring out together. I thought I’d share some tools I’ve discovered as a Specialist for
PATINS that might help you navigate this tricky digitally disposed world.


There are many apps designed to help folks who struggle with social skills. And I don’t know about you, but there’s nothing like a family gathering to make you feel like your social skills have been set back a couple of decades. A Jeopardy-style game called 10 Ways helps students learn to recognize idioms, sarcasm (also known in our family as decoding what Uncle Roger is saying), and how to start a conversation, among other things. These are mainly developed for people with autism, but who among us couldn’t benefit from choosing “listening for 400” or “personal space for 100” and learning some pointers to help us improve at getting along?

gameboard for 10 ways app showing the categories body language, facial expressions, tone of voice, personal space, and eye contact

Working with students who have blindness or low vision, I am constantly on the lookout for ways to help these kids find ways to interpret social situations without the benefit of seeing body language and facial expressions. A new viewing device called the
OrCam helps them to not only read print in their environment (signs, menus, books), but can also be taught to recognize faces of their friends and family. The lens on their special glasses sees who is present when they enter a room, and voices names into the user’s earphones. An app for your phone called Seeing AI does this as well with the phone’s camera, and goes a step further: you can train it to not only recognize “Aunt Ethel” by taking her picture, but you can train it to recognize “Angry Aunt Ethel” and “Happy Aunt Ethel” by taking her picture with those facial expressions. Then when you walk into the kitchen you’ll know if she’s discovered that you broke into the fudge stashed in the pantry before she yells at you.


screen from seeing AI app showing boy aiming his phone at a girl with the text

I don’t have low vision, but this app is helping me to remember which one is Auntie Mid and which one is Auntie Rene (same enormous nose and sweet smile) just by discreetly aiming my phone their way. Honestly, it is helping me keep track of names for folks I may only see a couple times per year at the family dinner. At PATINS we are promoting a movement in education towards
Universal Design for Learning and this app is a good example of how one tool designed for a special need or task can evolve into an improved learning environment for all (including those of us who have 51 first cousins!)


There are new instant captioning apps for the hearing impaired that use voice recognition to put speech into text. This is huge for both students in a classroom, and also for Grandpa who is struggling to hear his granddaughter speak to him over the football game.

There are three major principles for Universal Design for Learning: Engagement, Representation, and Action & Expression. Engagement entails getting someone interested in learning, like this little cheer my son Ben did with his younger cousins to get them get motivated to help dry dishes.

Representation is the practice of presenting content in many different ways. For Thanksgiving, this obviously translates into having as many flavors, colors and textures of pie as possible. You also might want to contrast with a cheesecake or flan.

The final principle, Action & Expression is easily illustrated at any family gathering. Look around the table at the beautiful diversity that came from the same bank of DNA, and embrace all the forms of expression that we have to share what we know.
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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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Jul
18

Death By Paperwork

"Death By Paperwork" in a creepy font and a blood splatter
First: I made it out alive. You will too.

This year I messed something up in my back, and by April it was hard to sit for more than twenty minutes at a time. Every drive, conference or meeting I was engaged for a bit and then the rest of the day was spent imitating your favorite wiggly child, trying to ease the pain. I felt terrible.

Sometimes it got better, and then it got worse. I complained. I ignored it. I tried what I knew to fix it, I asked friends for ideas. Nothing really worked.

I had enough and went to a specialist, definitely not something I was looking forward to. I hate going to the doctor. But within a few sessions, my life had changed.

It was like getting glasses in the correct prescription or wearing good shoes after years of wearing Old Navy flip flops. I didn’t know how bad it was until I experienced how my spine was meant to be.

About three years into my career I had another issue that was a major pain: paperwork.

Paperwork is like back pain. Everyone gets some, some people get more than they can handle. It comes when it’s least convenient and it will not go away if you ignore it. By the end of my third-year the IEPs, evaluations, and caseload documents piled up to my ears. It was affecting my ability to do my job and my family life. I felt terrible. If death by paperwork was a thing, it felt imminent.

I complained. I ignored it. I tried what I knew to fix it, I asked friends for ideas. Nothing really worked.

An administrator gently suggested I see some “specialists.” I did not want to admit that I was struggling to anyone, but after meeting with others who were amazing at keeping on top of it all, they gave me some ideas. They pointed out some of my mistakes, the weight that was causing the paperwork pain, and they helped me develop my paperwork treatment plan.

In less than two months, I started to feel better. My files were in order and I felt in control. By the next year, I was rocking a weekly paperwork schedule and found tools to help me streamline and automate. I was spending even more time working with kids than I was before! It was career changing. I didn’t know how good it could be.

You, dear reader, might be dealing with some pain in your career. Maybe it’s paperwork or a student on your mind who you don’t know how to reach. Maybe it’s a new tool or expectation that’s pain in your neck, and doing your job effectively seems out of reach. Maybe you complained or ignored it. You tried what you knew to fix it, you asked friends for ideas. Nothing may have worked.

If it’s related to supporting student’s access to education, we’ve got a team of specialists here to help.

It might just change your life.


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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.  

PATINS logo
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Apr
06

A Mighty (Laminated) Sword

A Mighty (Laminated) Sword
A preschool teacher consulted with me about a student who was struggling with behavior; one of most intense issues she’d ever seen. The little girl would bite and punch and roll on the floor, and it was a full-time job just to keep her in the classroom. She also had a severe communication impairment. She talked and you could understand the words, but there wasn’t any meaning behind them. She couldn’t tell you about her favorite movie or answer beyond a simple question. For four years, every adult and child had to guess what she wanted to say.

“We’ve got a lot of things started, a lot of plans,” she explained, rattling off all our favorite behavior acronyms: FBA, BIP, FERB, etc. The one thing she didn’t say: AAC - Alternative and Augmentative Communication. The student had a severe communication impairment; couldn’t that be a big part of why she’s having behavior issues? Did they consider AAC and giving her a voice?

“But she can talk,” the teacher said. “The issue isn’t talking, she just wants control.”

Before I could jump on my soap box, another preschooler yelled with perfect dramatic timing:

I don't wanna tootie!” edged with the desperation of a preschool boy who would probably explode if he had to eat an animal cracker cookie.

“This is what we have,” said the assistant, pointing to the snack menu visual. He screwed up his face. “Do you want anything?”

“My teez.”

“You have cheese in your lunchbox?” He nodded. “Go and get it.”

And life went on. Crisis diverted! Communication saved the day! And wouldn’t you know, he was awfully and age-appropriately controlling. It’s communication that gets us what we want: acceptance, love, and cheese. Adults are known to throw fits when they can’t communicate their order in a drive-thru. Imagine four years of being stuck in the Taco Bell drive-thru and never getting to talk to someone. You’d want to hit someone too.

In another preschool, I got to observe a program where AAC was wrapped around the entire classroom. Brightly colored AAC boards were taped to the walls and hung from the cabinets. Every kid, whether they needed to use it or not, had a core word communication board at their elbow and so did all the adults. I sat down next to one student, and the teacher smirked.

“I don’t know if you want to sit next to him.”

Oh no, I thought, panicking, Did he have pink eye? Was I going to get pink eye?!

“He’s our typical peer.”

This little guy, brand new to preschool and a little wary of everything around him, was talking with the communication board like he’d used it for a month. He didn’t have a communication impairment, and he wasn’t anyone’s idea of a typical AAC user. But we’ve all seen the new preschoolers cry and shut down at their first-ever activities, and he was using an alternative way of communicating and interacting with his brand new environment and classmates. Maybe he only needed it that day, maybe he’ll never want to use AAC again, but he’ll remember feeling safe and included in preschool from the beginning. Communication, in any form, saved the day.

According to their speech-language pathologist, Jenni, including robust and thoughtful AAC has been amazing:

“They know that they give them a voice… We've had so many days that we've just looked at each other and shouted, "Did you see that?", "Did that really just happen?" It's been so fun to watch these kiddos learn... I can't believe how quickly she is learning. She carries her board around with her like it's a mighty sword.”

So teachers, therapists, administrators everywhere, (I can’t believe I’m saying this): all students must have swords*, whatever sword(s) fit them best. Make sure they have their swords everywhere. Make time for sword practice. Seek sword specialists, talk to other sword users. Don't favor one type of sword over another, because it was never about the sword, but the person wielding it.

Expect swords to be mighty and all students have strength to wield them, and they will conquer dragons.

*the sword is communication, all types of communication, for those who still aren't into my ridiculous analogies


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Guest — Kristen Baker
Love!
Friday, 07 April 2017 11:35
Guest — Martha
I love your analogies! Great Blog! Would like a follow-up to the first little girl, with the great big behaviour problems...... Read More
Monday, 17 April 2017 15:27
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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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Guest — Laurel Blough
Kelli, I connected completely with your dilemma in your opening paragraph, as I also have a tendency to shut down when asked on th... Read More
Thursday, 02 March 2017 18:03
Guest — Dee Suding
Kelli, I wish I had had someone like you around when I was teaching. Keep up the grat work. Love ya
Thursday, 02 March 2017 19:56
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Feb
02

Social Stories in the Classroom

Recently a friend, an educator, asked me for advice on a student with autism who was sweet natured, but lacked friends because he was a grabber: of food, milk, books, toys, whatever he wanted, he grabbed, and his classmates disliked him. I suggested using a social story. She was unfamiliar.

When I first learned about Social Stories, it was as though I had discovered pencils; here was a simple tool that could have profound effects in my classroom that included 4 students identified with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).Carol Gray developed Social Stories in 1990 as a tool to help individuals with ASDs respond to others and to situations more appropriately. More complex stories may be used with higher functioning students, however my students were younger and still learning basic skills, in many cases, with limited support from home. I had participated in a full-day workshop of strategies for reaching students with ASDs, and social stories were my light-bulb take-away. Implementation was immediate.

One afternoon I met with my classroom assistants for several hours of brainstorming. We discussed frequent stressful situations and wrote social stories for those. High stress times were: upon arrival at school, before lunch, before bus-boarding, intercom announcements, and any occurrence that was out of the ordinary, such as a whole-school assembly, or a fire or tornado drill. Other situations included another student having a meltdown, being asked to end a preferred activity, or being presented with food that was not a favorite, at breakfast or lunch.

We used positive words to guide the students to appropriate behavior; for instance, instead of saying “When the bell rings I will not throw a fit” say “When the bell rings, it is time to go home.” Writing the stories for the students was fun, and we shared a few good belly-laughs as we
wrote stories for each other! Following is a story for a 4th grader.


When the Bell Rings

When the bell rings, it is time to go home.

I will keep calm and quiet.

When I go home, I can play with my dog.

First I will put my books in my cubby.

Miss Patty will help me pack my backpack.

I will get my coat.

I will get in line behind Teacher. I will walk to the bus.

I will keep calm and quiet.

When I go home I will see Mama and play with my dog.

Stories can of course be personalized: My name is Charlie. When I go home I can play with (my dog) Hank. More generic ones may be used with several students, for our class we decided that was best in many cases. We typed, printed, and laminated the stories we created, and filed them in a basket on my desk. Once we began using them, we’d find them everywhere at the end of a day. A story would be grabbed in a hurry, read with a student, and left behind. I found them with the corners chewed, damp, sometimes stuffed in a desk. It did not matter—the stories worked, by preparing students for changes ahead, limiting outbursts, and giving them some power over their behavior. We were fairly consistent in recording behaviors, which should be done to measure progress. In addition to the stories for recurrent issues, my assistants and I became quite proficient at writing stories off-the-cuff, as needed. If you have card-stock paper and a Sharpie pen, you can write a story in a minute. Later you can add pictures and make it look nice.

I talked to the General Education teachers about the stories, and we designed stories for behaviors they saw when my students were with them. One of the teachers had a cd and license for Boardmaker, this was another life-changer, since my students preferred stories with pictures. I had also used free resources from Do2Learn and am happy to see they’ve expanded services and added color to their web site. When you click a heading, look for the green tabs: Free Area. There are printable symbol cards, teaching resources and more.

Of course this sounds like old-school. Now there are on-line resources, and many of you may be using these. And some of you may be like me, and will have a head smacking moment.

There are myriad social stories on YouTube --just search on the social or academic skill you need to address. You will want to preview the stories before presenting to your students; some are just too long; some characters may have an annoying voice for a particular student. Social stories are great for teaching skills such as sharing and taking turns, as well as more complex issues such as expecting a new baby in the home. Check out One Place for Special Needs and Small Steps, Big Skills from Sandbox Learning; the latter provides options for designing individualized stories by creating student profiles so the child in the story physically resembles the student.  

The use of digital social stories requires planning, preparation and time. For example, after you preview and choose an appropriate story, you will need to upload it to the student’s device. If you personalize it, there is another step. Some may find it is effective to use a combination of digital and hand-designed social stories. You may want to review a few guidelines before you begin, and soon you will be able to execute a story quickly for nearly any situation. Parents will also find social stories helpful for home-life skills, so please share your resources.  

On a lighter note, once I began writing social stories for my students, I would sometimes find myself in circumstances where I felt that adults could use a social story: Can you imagine when you encounter a grouchy or inattentive server while eating out?

When I Have a Customer

My name is ______.

I work at Nikko’s Cafe.

When I have a customer, I will be helpful, patient, and kind.

This is my job.

When I do my job nicely, we all feel better.

Social Stories could lead to a kinder, gentler world. Which could start in your classroom!

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