Oct
10

The Intersection of Literacy and Joy

IMG_071_Smiling girl showing her book on her iPad written for her
book cover for Where the Red Fern Grows with boy and his two hunting dogs running through a field

“I cried when I read Where the Red Fern Grows in 4th grade.”

“My first grade teacher was stern, but when she read aloud she used funny voices.”

“Non fiction is my favorite. I’m still all about the facts.”

“I followed the hymnal at church while listening to my mom sing.” 

“I loved Dr. Suess. . . comic books. . . Harry Potter . . . mysteries . . . .

I’ve had the joyful privilege of working with Indiana teachers in trainings about making and engaging with books and literacy this summer and fall. An introductory activity that I did with groups was to ask them to place 3-4 influential books on a timeline of their life, and these were comments I heard during share time. For most of the presentations, I had to interrupt lively heartfelt discussions because the participants didn’t want to stop talking about books.

“I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a book.” – J.K. Rowling

Something magical was also happening during those discussion times. Folks were connecting over shared experiences and writing down titles for books they had yet to discover. It reminded me that any learning task is made more meaningful with emotional engagement. Our brains get primed for the what and the how if we are taken through the door of the why.

door opening with a bright light behind it
We spent the remainder of the trainings looking for sources for books in electronic format, and making both electronic and tactile format books to take back to all students, no matter what access they may need to engage with a book. 

I’ve received even more joy via photos and stories of students with the books their teachers found or created for them. 

smiling boy reading a book on his iPad with headphones

I’d love to see your face light up at the mention of a good book. I’d also love to hear the particular challenges you face when providing opportunities for improving literacy for students in any setting. Give me or another PATINS specialist a shout if you’d like to bring a training on engaging literacy to your district or educational team!

“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.” – James Baldwin


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Jennifer Conti
Not a dry eye in my 8th grade classroom when we got to the end of "Where the Red Fern Grows". What a memory.
Thursday, 10 October 2019 13:51
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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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Jun
06

UDL is Natural

This has been a lively few months at the lake. I have seen wildlife for the first time and welcomed back regulars. What a year! Our new visitors include unusual ducks- the Bufflehead and Redhead, a red fox trotting in our yard before going over the frozen lake; a deer in the yard (and in the past, deer swimming across the lake). A turkey flying from a tree over the marsh behind our house, an orchard oriole. Some old friends include the Bald Eagles fishing over open water at the edge of the frozen lake, wood ducks, 2 Loons, Baltimore orioles and the noisy spring peepers/bullfrogs.

Reflecting on these friends from the animal kingdom, I realize I look forward to their seasonal visits and delight in their individuality, listening and looking for their sights and sounds. In the same spirit of appreciation, I am glad to see regular visitors including robins, hummingbirds, cardinals. In the summer, the purple martins fly low over the lake at dusk to catch mosquitos and other tiny airborne critters and the occasional kingfisher will find a tasty fish. A regular year round visitor is the great blue heron. I call our home “Heron House”. So yeah, cool stuff in my mind. 

Common Loon     Bufflehead Duck
 Redhead Duck     Wood Duck 

Orchard Oriole     Baltimore Oriole     Spring Peeper
       
Bull Frog    Bald Eagle     Wild Turkey in Tree
Red Fox    White Tail Deer in yard

I cannot help but draw a comparison to my work. There are seasons to working with schools and school systems. Each year, in the spring, I reflect on that school year as my thoughts move to the next school year. This happens with a comfortable regularity. I think back on individuality even within a system, district, school and classroom. I look for trends for what worked and what did not work and how drawing general conclusions may lead me to miss the mark on some things. For example, back to the birds. Orioles like oranges and jelly. They do not like orange marmalade. Thinking that I could combine two features into one solution proved to be an epic failure. I had not truly individualized what the orioles needed.

I am also struck by Universal Design in Nature. Everyday there are many options available to the animal kingdom for food, housing, and development. Those options are always available, not pulled out occasionally. Sometimes, new ones are provided (i.e. jelly, nectar, birdseed, corn). The key is that not each animal needs all that is available, but all animals need something from what is available.

So, taking a cue from my friends in nature, let’s make materials available in the classroom so that what is needed for each unique learner will be at the ready when our students make their seasonal return. What I wish for is the same delight I have in watching life being nurtured outside my windows, be the same delight in having student and staff nurtured, inside the classrooms, with what they need to thrive. After all, a bird is a bird, but a heron does not need what the oriole needs.

Have a fantastic summer! Rejuvenate, Revive and Return! Contact PATINS to help you achieve some classroom Universal Design. Here is a good source for learning more about Universal Design for Learning  (UDL).

Photo credit: Common LoonBufflehead Ducks,Redhead Duck,  Wood DuckOrioles, Spring PeeperBull FrogBald Eagle Wild Turkey,Red Fox,White Tail Deer, and Alamy Stock Photos -Wild Turkey Roost.

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May
16

Helping Students Move Forward

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

mailboxes

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

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

We can make a difference. Believe in it.


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Feb
28

Where's A.T. "Waldo"?

We live in great times. The connection between general classroom technology and specialized technology has never been closer. We are increasingly talking about accommodations, assistive technology and Universal Design for Learning (UDL) as regular discourse as stakeholders make decisions for accessing curriculum for students. Technology directors look at means of providing technology for most students. UDL makes sure students in the margins are included and assistive technology takes technology beyond a general consideration and provision to addressing specific needs for students who require these solutions to access their education. It does take a village to accomplish all this.

Given all these considerations and efforts, what does technology look like in the classroom? PATINS supports teachers as they work with students to have access to the curriculum. So, let’s look at a classroom through the lens of "Where’s A.T."?

Classroom with students working at tables and desks and in a group on the floor.
Classroom supplies and equipment fill the room including specific assistive technology tools.

So, the items to look for include:
  • AAC Devices
  • Keyboards
  • Computer
  • Books
  • QR Code
  • Exercise ball/ alternative seating 
  • Visual icon-based schedule
  • Magnet letters
  • Glueing options
  • Keyboard
  • Wheelchair
  • Projector
  • Slant board
  • Trampoline
  • Switches
  • Pencil grip
This is certainly a busy classroom, and that is the good news. Students are engaged, and able to produce their work using a variety of means. This is a great example of a classroom environment where universal design is implemented. Not all students need all of the tools. The tools are available and ready for students who choose to use them and for students who require them. The tools are available everyday and used on a regular basis. Consistent use of the tools sets the stage for increased daily participation in the curriculum and activities. Once a student has appropriate access to the general curriculum, they have an increased likelihood of improved performance on local, district and state tests and assessments.


Now, we need to implement intentional steps toward tool determination and implementation of use. Throwing a bunch of technology into a classroom without considering the range of needs and abilities in students and staff is not helpful. Any implementation must also be supported through training and follow up to evaluate effectiveness. This data will help determine future technology requirements.

PATINS has a UDL Lesson Creator available that will expand the typical lesson plan to be more inclusive of students on the whole spectrum of abilities, including the specialized needs of students who are considered gifted and those who need various scaffolds for support in their learning. We have a Lending Library from which educators can borrow tools before purchasing them. Our specialists can also help educators work through the many options for Universal Design for Learning, Assistive Technology and classroom/student supports.

Given the tools and strategies that are available, this is a great time to be in education! How many Where's A.T. "Waldo's" did you find?


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Jan
23

What is Your Gift?

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


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


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


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


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


Hands holding a small red gift with white ribbon.



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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


We are being faced with a wave of children who are living in crisis and facing tremendous trauma. However, one huge difference exists from other generations of children born into trauma. Teachers across our country are taking a stand, educating themselves about how to reach students and learning how to empower and connect with them. My challenge to you today is to start the process of discovering the gifts that every student you meet has. Just ask them! They will tell you!
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Sandy Stabenfeldt
Great post! Thank you for sharing!
Thursday, 24 January 2019 13:10
Sandy Stabenfeldt
My gift is being a terrific mom! There is nothing that brings me more joy than being a good mom and seeing my daughter grow into ... Read More
Thursday, 24 January 2019 13:42
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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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Aug
16

Transition Times

Transitional times, like back to school can bring pleasant opportunities for reflection and change.

yellow Nasturtium flowers in bloom

At my house, the Nasturtiums are in bloom. Nasturtiums are beautiful as a garnish and completely edible with both leaves and flowers giving a peppery flavor.

There are two transitional times of the year for me; the end of the school year and the beginning of the school year. Approaching the end of the school year, I always say, “ I have run out of year.” I mentally begin moving on to the next year. I reflect how the current year prepared me for the upcoming school year.

"Finish each day and be done with it. You ahve done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

I keep in mind this quote and set my sights on to the next year and a centralized focus. I have my goals, my hopes, and, dreams in place. If I can establish a routine, all the better. If I can schedule ahead, great. My goal is to create usable forms and personal procedures. When I do this, I can be flexible and responsive. I am a happy camper!

coffee mug with the words Happy Camper

If I start the next year all up in the air without a centralized focus, all I will have to guide me is luck and frustration.   I don’t want to live that way.

The word chaos repeated and scattered around a white background

I can only imagine that I am not unique in this. Everyone would appreciate a system that is flexible and responsive to change.


My tips on how to do this:
  • Follow a schedule to keep track of what needs doing and when. What can step aside for an immediate need but not forgotten later?
  • Annual and/or Quarterly planning
  • Monthly chunking
  • Weekly reflection
  • Daily updating
  • Pick a system that is easy to use, intuitive and fits with all the apps and software you use.
  • Use a system that will sync with all the devices you use.
  • Use a system that will provide the accommodations needed.
  • Speech to Text
  • Text to Speech
  • Searchable Handwriting Recognition
  • Handwriting Recognition to Text
  • Use of a stylus
  • Word prediction
  • Alternative keyboards
  • Sometimes free is best. MS Office (Office 365) and Google, have calendar/planner/tasks options. Look for add-ons or extensions to make them more flexible.
PATINS is a great place to find out more. The PATINS Lending Library has organizational tools available that may help. PATINS Specialists can assist with finding your focus. We can help create plans that are flexible and specific. Address your unique details related to organization and executive function. Even set up tracking systems to measure progress.

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Jul
06

Cats, Students and the Gifts They Bring

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Whiska sleeping on her back

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May
15

A Regular Committee Meeting or an Example of Everyday UDL?

I just spent the evening with a group of friends focused on organizing for a project. We ate a lovely carry-in meal and got down to a business meeting and ended with a group effort on a task to start the project. It was good to catch up with people we don’t see very often, share quite a few laughs and work on a common goal. The entire process lasted about 4 hours, which was longer than absolutely required to get the job done, and to be honest, we were all glad to go home at the end, and we left with a feeling of having done a good thing. For me, it had been a long day, as I left for work at 6:00 am and got back home at 9:00 pm after this meeting. We all have those kind of days if we are involved with children or community activities. It is what makes life rich, if not overdone.

Every time I am with a group of people charged with making a plan of some sort, I am reminded that “decision by committee” can be, and often is, loud and messy. I will admit that I was pushed to my limit with 16 passionate people enthusiastically sharing ideas and thoughts, often at the same time, and there were plenty of sidebar conversations. Loud and messy are good and important in this process. It means the participants are active and engaged. Each personality and style had an opportunity to express themselves and folks who needed to keep things rolling felt comfortable to nudge the group along. Those of us who prefer less noise and more structure were empowered to move things along or refocus the group. It was easy to shift any negativity into a more positive outcome and when the group needed more gross motor activity, the meeting shifted accordingly.

As I watched this process unfold, it seemed to me that every person there felt safe and comfortable to share and interact. Respect was given to each member who contributed. Interestingly, this was a blend of two separate groups who function very differently from each other and the results were positive.  

Looking around at the tools available to make this work, I saw low tech pencil and paper, notes on a napkin, a sophisticated daily planner, an iPod. We even had a bell as a signal to bring the group back together. Empowerment was evidenced by the willingness to take responsibility for ideas and assignments. Collective wisdom was respected, and new ideas were considered.

This was a great opportunity for UDL principles to be used and, without knowing it, these adult team members took full advantage. Throughout this process, we reviewed the why, the how and the what. For the Why, I saw examples of interest, sustaining effort and persistence and self-regulation. There is no doubt about the level of engagement in this group. We had a clear purpose and goal. For the How, we demonstrated multiple means of action and expression with lots of opportunity for movement, we worked through a variety of organizational abilities as we had to problem-solve challenges and change course. We provided opportunities to work in a large group, small groups, with a partner and alone. On a practical level, we had a heavy emphasis on auditory as it was a group discussion. Some people had notes from a previous meeting, others had samples and there was a practical task that required problem-solving, manipulation and visual skills, manual coordination and teamwork. Scissors, sticky labels, signage, scheduling, lists and a schematic layout, paper, planners, iPads, smartphones, varied activities, the use of a walker, tables and chairs, and food are examples of universal design that were brought to the meeting.   

The difference in this practical application of an evening meeting and true Universal Design for Learning is that the UDL piece was not planned. Therefore no specialized needs were anticipated, planned for, nor setup with needed materials. What we saw tonight was evidence of how Expert Learners function at an integrated level. Most of us in the group have experienced enough life to know how to meet our individual needs. We were able to locate adaptation in the environment (scissors) to facilitate our work. And team decisions were able to be made with input from multiple individuals.

This was truly a fun experience for me and I had a lot of fun looking at it through the lens of Universal Design for Learning. What would I do in the future to be more intentional? Perhaps provide writing options for those who did not bring any tools/material. Knowing in advance how we can include elderly or mobility limited, or participants with other disabilities. But we also knew we could provide most of what was required because there is a ready supply of alternatives in the building for those who need it and the level of experienced learners we had assembled.

So, what started as another meeting at the end of an already long day, turned out to be a nifty example of the universality of people’s needs and abilities as we work toward a common goal. Quiet, silent classrooms with a teacher providing information via lecture is not always an indicator of an effective learning experience. In reviewing the revised UDL Guidelines 2018 Chart, these expert learners used a variety of means to access knowledge, build upon that knowledge and take these internalized skills to a functional and productive outcome.

Kudos to these participants who demonstrated expert learner skills by integrating purpose and motivation, resourcefulness and knowledge, toward attaining an end result that was strategic and goal-directed.    

Thanks for the fun evening!

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Apr
20

Expectations

Expectations are tricky things. Sometimes they let you down, sometimes they lift you up! I had expectations for April to be a lot warmer by now, and yet I wait. The warm air may be late, but ISTEP testing, Senioritis, and transition fairs are all occurring right on schedule. This is the final stretch of the school year, expectations are being fulfilled! But the story for each student started much earlier.

ant 1       “Just what makes that little old ant                          
        Think he can move that rubber tree plant

        Anyone knows an ant, can't
        Move a rubber tree plant” *


Let’s talk about rigor in education. I have never liked that word. 
I associate it with the dictionary definition, “harsh inflexibility in opinion, temper, or judgment”, but the education definition of rigor is quite differentThe Glossary of Education Reform is a great place to go when education speak gets in the way of understanding. It equates rigor with educational experiences that are, “academically, intellectually, and personally challenging”. When we challenge our students with a rigorous curriculum that is universally designed and equitably supported by accessible content and assistive technology we are showing that we have high hopes. Our expectations are that each student under our care will be challenged and supported so as to reach their full potential. 

 "But he's got high hopes, he's got high hopes"                 Ant looking left


So as this year’s finish line approaches, keep pushing, and search for why they are pushing back. 
Equip them with all they need to access the curriculum for the 175 days they aren’t testing so that on the 5 they are, they know and show their potential. Give them all the skills and knowledge they need to earn the transition of all our dreams!
ant with hands on hips                                               “Oops, there goes another rubber tree plant.”*

*Writer(s): Cahn/Van Heusen
Frank Sinatra High Hopes on YouTube

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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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Mar
23

Spring Break...Or Is It?


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



suspended pathways and structures on the exterior of the City Museum

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

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

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

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

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

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

As school breaks for the spring term, keep these kiddos in mind. They are out there and they are nervous. That does not mean that students are not allowed to express fun times had before and after break, but maybe through more personal conversations and alternative writing prompts and activities that include both vacationers and "staycationers."
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Mar
08

Just One Emotional Connection


I am a podcast listener. They are great for passing the time when I’m driving, mowing, or out for a walk. “Missing Richard Simmons” was the latest podcast that I checked off of my to-listen list, and I learned some things about him that I found fascinating.


The first fact being that his gym in Hollywood was called Slimmons, which couldn’t be a more brilliant name. For some reason, I really enjoy saying Slimmons. Secondly, to attend a class with him only cost twelve bucks. That’s less than I pay for an exercise class with an instructor far from one of the world's most renowned fitness gurus.

Richard Simmons posing in gold tanktop and shorts
Yet, most interesting to me is a fact that this podcast made clear through numerous interviews with people who know this outspoken, eccentric, lovable man-- he has the ability to create a connection with nearly every person he encounters, and these connections don’t feel fake or false as one may expect when meeting a celebrity; they feel authentic and natural. He became the friend who - from states away - would call to check on your weight-loss progress. He was the friend who made you feel important. The friend who could relate to your story, empathize with you, and validate your feelings. The friend that truly got “it”, whatever “it” was.

His gift for making connections got me thinking about the relationships built between teachers and students. Relationships that have the ability to change the ways students think and perceive themselves.

In fact, I learned from watching a presentation by Dr. Lori Desautels, associate professor at Butler University in Indianapolis, that “resiliency research in children has shown that just one emotional connection with a teacher, a coach, an educator of some capacity can change the architecture of the brain of a student who has suffered from trauma.” Changing it in a way so that the student begins to see themselves as a valued, loved, and an important human being.

I would argue that Richard Simmons’s gift for connecting with individuals can be used as an example for the change that can be effected in our students’ lives when they feel valued and validated. He was able to motivate thousands of people to lose countless pounds and to once again put themselves first in their own lives through the bonds he created with them. We can surely connect with our students in deeper and more meaningful ways, remembering that just one emotional connection with an adult can mean a new, more positive outlook for the student.

Armed with this knowledge, take the time to ask a student how you can help, and listen intently and give the 2x10 strategy a try. Employ available community or school resources like before or after school care, the Boys & Girls Club, Girls, Inc., etc. to support the student. Go out of your way to show that you care and are genuinely concerned for their well being, because you may be that student’s one emotional connection that becomes the game-changer.

Image attribution: Angela George [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons



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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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Feb
04

AT Team Development- Worth the time!

We just wrapped up ATIA 2018 in Orlando. There were so many wonderful sessions and so many great folks to network with. My focus was AT Team Building this year. It strikes me that the issues are the same as always and the individuals faced with solving the issues are the same groups of people. The difference in all these years is that our general knowledge has evolved as has the mass, open accessibility to tools. Maybe it is helpful that our funding is increasingly blended, too, making it more obvious that these kids are all of ours, so more folks are naturally involved in the brainstorming.

Stakeholders are all talking classroom accessibility rather than pulling a student from natural instruction to provide access on a tool so special or expensive it has to be stored in a special "AT room" with security akin to Fort Knox. Talk about leveling the playing field! The Cloud; Access to the Same Curriculum; Getting materials in Real Time; Accountability; Showing what someone Knows; Expecting Achievement; and working with General Educators have all facilitated this growth in Access and Communication. If that is not team building, then I have missed something.  

Bridge builders working together on structure

We still need framework, structure, support, training, modeling and followup as we develop this process. We need to encourage individuals with expertise to blossom, find their niche and shore up the structure for staff and student. The knight in shining armor coming in to save the day never really did work because you are still left with the issues, once the knight leaves.  

Let's work together to Level the Playing field for staff working to find solutions and support each other as we support students. In the immortal words of my daughter, "It's a marathon, not a sprint." Let's pace ourselves and dig our heels in for a lot of fun as we lope along! It is a familiar path and now we can slow down enough to welcome friends. With the tools readily available, progress can be seen fairly immediately, so this marathon can be a satisfying journey.

The PATINS website has some suggested structure to get you started. Go to the Julie Kuhn Webpage and look for AT Team Development. Also, I periodically host webinars on this topic and you can always contact me to get started on your own problem-solving and action plan!

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Nov
30

Searching for the Why

Recently, I was invited to an evening of wreath-making where I would be making a live wreath in the spirit of the holidays. Upon RSVP’ing to the event, I felt excited yet anxious about a new upcoming experience. Plus, I was acutely aware that I’d only know a couple of the attendees, so I was already feeling insecure about my lack of wreath-making abilities that would be on display in front of people I had never met.  

Making a wreath should be easy enough, right? I mean what all would it really involve? These were questions I kept asking the slightly crafty side of myself in an effort to prepare for what to expect.

Now the time had come; I was working on my wreath. Nervously, I gathered eight bundles of greenery, wondering if I was bundling the greenery in the right way, if I was choosing the right combination of greenery, if anyone was watching me, and if it would all come together.Jena & Bev displayed Jena's completed wreath

In the end, with the support and positive reinforcement of my two friends and a mild allergic reaction to the greenery on my hands, the wreath turned out just fine. I even received a text the following day from a neighbor who said she thought it looked great and wanted one of her own. What a compliment!

On that same day with the wreath hung on my front door, I was having a conversation with a couple colleagues about the underlying reasons students misbehave. This conversation made me think of my recent wreath experience.

Most likely unbeknownst to anyone at the event, I was truly nervous and uncomfortable when I arrived that evening. And if I didn’t have the ability to persist through my anxieties with an understanding that in the end I was likely to be successful and enjoy the experience, I may have taken a spot on the sidelines or possibly shut myself off from this experience altogether without anyone understanding why. This potential misunderstanding could have led me to additional feelings of fear and isolation.

Though this comparison may seem trivial, my experience got me thinking about how as educators with standards to teach, lessons to create, and progress to monitor (among myriad other responsibilities), it is easy to forget that each of our students bring their own sets of interests, anxieties, experiences, traumas, etc. to school each day. It is this unknown, the why, that often materializes as challenging behaviors in the classroom that we cannot fully comprehend.

Then in the moments of challenging behaviors like withdrawal, refusal to complete tasks, and outbursts to name a few, we can be all too quick to react without considering why the student is behaving in that way. Not only can the why be so easily neglected in the heat of the moment, but a search for the answer takes time and resources and can lead to a strained relationship with the student or to heartbreaking answers. This can trigger us to build walls for our own protection, along with the reasoning that we have a number of other students who deserve our time and interest.

Yet, I believe it is necessary that we remain compassionate, knock down our walls, and fervently seek out a deeper understanding of the why behind our students’ behaviors. And because the why can be multifaceted and very complex - while still so integral to our understanding and ability to provide proper support - remember that it’s okay to ask for help.

Seek out the programs, resources, parents/guardians, professionals and colleagues in your building or district, in addition to further training. A collaborative approach will ease the burden and better ensure a thorough understanding of the student’s experiences and needs. For it is in this why, that we have the opportunity to replace these behaviors, empower students with the necessary tools to feel secure and in control, and make the difference that so many of us set out to do as educators.
 
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