Jan
20

Helen Keller in Color


Color photo of Helen Keller as an elderly woman. It is a head shot and her gray hair is pinned back with some waves in the front. She is wearing a white buttoned up shirt and pearl earrings, and she is looking into the camera and smiling
I am not a TikTok user. I did try to learn a dance during the early days of Covid as a way to get my family to exercise. I’ll spare you the video, but share that the teens in my house burned a bunch of calories by laughing. 

One of those teens recently shared a lie that’s been propagated on TikTok and other social media at my dinner table: “Hey, you work with people who are blind. Did you know that Helen Keller was fake?” I barely choked down whatever I was chewing along with my anger and confusion. Then, while (mostly) calmly addressing this with my foster daughter, I took the opportunity to cover truth, verification, and empathy.   

After our conversation, I did some research and found out the falsehood  originally started as a “joke”, and bloomed into full blown conspiracy theories. These theories center around the ableist notion that Helen Keller couldn’t have accomplished all that she had in her life, because of her disabilities. At their worst, they deny Keller’s existence altogether. 

With respect to all 15 year olds, I do admire healthy skepticism. In researching this blog, I discovered that Keller herself was among a minority that believed that Shakespeare did not write the plays attributed to him. While she did publish 12 books in her life, her manuscript about this topic was rejected as the fake news of her day. This astounded me as I’d always thought of Helen Keller as enlightened in every way, but she latched onto a trendy outlying academic group that saw “coded” text within the plays as a pointer to a different author. It also humbles me to challenge myself to root out any big lies I might be buying into because of my biases. 

The Niagra Falls of information flowing over our brains from the internet daily is overwhelming. We are finding for Gen Z what that deluge is doing to a generation of children expected to learn, but addicted to the consumption of screen time. This clearly mandates teaching about media consumption, and giving resources to students for finding and verifying information

This particular instance also mandates the difficult work to overcome ableism. At the heart of my foster daughter’s rejection of historical facts was her disbelief that someone having experiences so far from her sensory experiences could learn anything. I told her about my 2 summers of training as an orientation and mobility specialist under a blindfold. My brain was forced to do some very different things, but my brain was still my brain and also did the things it always does when it is learning. Here are some ways to discover your own ableism and work towards understanding differences. 

We will be listening as a family to Helen Keller’s autobiography to hear it from the source. I also told my foster daughter about some of the folks with deaf blindness whom I’ve met and taught, and about others I’ve followed on Twitter. Haben Girma just published her story of being the first person with deaf blindness to graduate from Harvard Law School. She uses braille technology to access communication, literacy, and her employment. I wonder if she has a TikTok account?

Haben Girma, a woman with light brown skin looks into the distance. Her dark hair is pulled back and she is wearing small gold earrings.
I hope that by connecting to their stories my family and others would see and respect their differences, and know their humanity is not a hoax. 


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Jan
14

Books, yes, real books!

Books, yes, real books!

If anyone has viewed my blogs, you know that my subject matter is family, primarily my grandchildren. Oh, sure I mix relevant content to school and the like, but I have shared a lot on the subject of reading.

My very first blog was “Mimi, would you read me this book?”. That was in April 2018 and it has been almost three years ago since my grandchildren sat on Mimi’s lap as she read to them.

Fast forward and over the past three years my school-age grandchildren have been reading to Mimi. The three oldest grandchildren, Dean, Logan, and Kenzie have found reading to be a window of information, anticipation, and excitement.

Interestingly, all three have access to technology provided by their school and what is available at home. All three however have found that their mode of choice is books, yes, real books! The ones that you hold in your hands.

Technology is amazing when you think that you can have hundreds, if not thousands of books available almost instantaneously. eBooks are readily available at your fingertips, just waiting to be pulled up.

We can change an eBook font, text size, background. We can highlight, bookmark, take notes, and even have it read aloud to us. Can a real book do all that? Or do we want it to?

This blog was inspired by a Facebook post I saw recently. It was an image. The more I looked at it, the more I thought about my grandkids and their choice for a book, yes, a real book!

The book has descriptions of no glare, no batteries, no pop up adds, no dog ear, smells good and probably won't get stolen at the beach.

 There are arguments for and against either mode, but in the end, it is a personal choice or preference, call it what you like.

It fills Mimi and me with delight and satisfaction (particularly Mimi) that the simple “Mimi, would you read me this book?” would open a world of information, anticipation, and excitement for three inspired grandchildren.

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Jan
07

Insult and Injury: Toxic Positivity in Schools

Insult and Injury: Toxic Positivity in Schools blue background of smiley emojis with an occasional sad or mad emoji face, black text highlighted in yellow "Insult and Injury: Toxic Positivity in Schools"

Many years ago I sat in a terrible staff meeting. Positions in our school were being removed, a colleague’s illness had taken a turn for the worse, and one of our dear students had lost her father. Everyone was feeling heartbroken and frustrated.

“We just need to put a happy face on it!” the administrator chirped and moved on to bus duty schedule announcements. There was a clear expectation that we weren’t supposed to discuss what was going on and we all needed to “leave the negative at the door for the children.” That was not good advice or developmentally appropriate.

Toxic positivity, that message to “bring good vibes only” has serious negative consequences, both psychologically and on the outcomes in the workplace and classrooms:

  1. Denying or minimizing experiences and feelings leads to mistrust and shame, see Brene Brown’s “Listening to Shame” TED Talk and the lethal effects of shame that are very applicable to a classroom
  2. Suppressing emotions has negative consequences for mental health
  3. Not acknowledging negative emotions prevents you and others from learning from these painful feelings and experiences
  4. It undermines the UDL framework we need to ensure learners (and expert learners) voices are heard

The message to “focus on the positive” and “it could be worse” was silencing our ability to grieve, process, and be empathetic towards each other.

So what do we do instead? Some points that have carried me through tough feelings and interactions:

  1. It’s okay to not feel okay. These “bad feelings” are not inherently “bad,” they are morally neutral and part of the human experience. Feeling this way doesn’t make you a bad educator, family member, or leader.
  2. Listen to other’s emotions and experiences. It’s okay for others to feel sad, angry, or upset when you are not. Unless asked for, it’s probably not a time to offer unsolicited advice and don’t attempt to police their tone.
  3. Set your boundaries and respect the boundaries of others. “I want to vent. Are you in a place to hear me right now?” with your trusted go-to person might be a good way to start. Recognize when others are producing toxic positivity and set boundaries with them.
  4. Seek support. All these hard and big feelings (whether you are feeling them or others are feeling them) can be difficult to manage. Mental health services like Be Well Indiana or your employer’s Employee Assistance Program often have free or reduced-fee services. They can support you and help you find ways to listen and empathize more effectively, find motivation, set boundaries, and return to a happier and healthier state.

As we start a new year, which may be the hardest year some of us have ever lived: all vibes are welcome. PATINS’s support and kindness are here when you need it when providing healthy, sustainable, and respectful access and engagement for all students.

More resources:

Article: Toxic Positivity: The Dark Side of Positive Vibes (and their handy Examples of Non-Toxic and Accepting Statements)

PATINS Blog: Feeling the Burnout

Article: Should You Hide Your Negative Emotions From Children? 

Indiana Resource: Be Well Indiana for mental health resources, crisis hotlines (both for voice and via text), and assistance

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Recent Comments
Guest — Bev Sharritt
"vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change." Brene Brown. Thanks Jessica for this timely blog. Sitting ... Read More
Thursday, 07 January 2021 12:05
Guest — Glenda Thompson
Kindness is the first step to healing and moving forward with 2021. Thank you, Jessica, for this blog as a friendly reminder. So... Read More
Tuesday, 12 January 2021 11:53
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Dec
30

Bump in the Road

20212021

Hello! It's here again, then end of another year. New Year's Eve. But not just any year. This was the year of 'rona (a.k.a. COVID-19). Good-bye 2020. You were a HUGE bump in the road and we are still feeling the jolt. Many changes and so much loss (loved ones, instructional time, face to face time, family time…normalcy). The year has been difficult in many ways for students, parents, families, teachers, frontline healthcare workers and more. Everyone has been affected in one way or another but we continue on. Two days ago marked the three year anniversary of my son's death. This remembrance hit me harder than past years. However, we must focus on what we can control and how we can support our students. They are counting on us to lead, teach and support them.

Talking with my family has helped. Who can you talk to?


We have all experienced "bumps in the road" this year. What follows certainly caps off my 2020 year. Yesterday, as I was delivering a cup of perfectly brewed and sweetened coffee to my wife, I misjudged (subconsciously) with my eyes the proximity of my dog's bedside steps. Thankfully (NOT), my second toe located it for me. OUCH! CRACK! It was one of those "It hurts so bad, you have to laugh to keep from crying." No curse words. I tried to walk it off.  The pain finally subsided but later the reality set in. Oh no, I didn't run yesterday and now I won't be able to run tonight. What about my over year long streak of Sunday long runs? Runners don't often listen to their own bodies, the advice of doctors or even Dr. Google. 

This "bump" will alter my next few weeks (Rose colored glasses view. Reality might be, ugh, "several" weeks. Sad face). The bumps and losses from the virus have been worse for some but have affected us all. These have been months long changes that will now carry over into a year of changes. Masks, virtual learning, no handshakes, no fist bumps, no hugs. I only provided TWO onsite school visits since March. I am a people person. I miss working directly with people. We have adapted and I believe it will get better. Here's a related blogpost from Jeff Bond, PATINS ICAM,  "I just don’t like this isolation stuff."


I have some close colleagues with whom I connect
. Can you be that someone for a colleague?


Our routines were dramatically altered this year and we adopted the "new normal." We had to adapt in order to continue serving our students, families and stakeholders. Virtual learning. Drive through pick ups at school. Equipment porch drop-offs. No more face to face meetings. Virtual continuing education conferences. Increased phone calls, emails and tons of VIDEO CONFERENCING! I worked to improve my webinars, presentations and materials to better support educators' service delivery methods. I attended numerous professional development opportunities, watched lots of videos, read and listened. Are you teaching the same way you also have and using the same materials you always have? We are all busy but we all must adapt and improve. Amanda Crecelius, PATINS Specialist says it well here:  "Our DIY School Year."


I continue to run (for me), read (for pleasure and learning), listen to new podcasts (for pleasure and learning), try new AAC solutions and just began learning how to 3D print (That has been a learning curve like no other). 
What things are you doing to nourish your mind and body and to make you a better teacher?

Most recent books (usually Libby App (FREE Library books) OR paper copies from Barnes and Noble - I support Brick and Mortar as much as possible): All We Ever WantedThe Nightengale, and Atomic Habits

Most recent podcasts: Ten Junk Miles (running - edgy), Talking with Tech, and Hidden Brain

New and/or FREE AAC/AT Solutions: Flexible Mounts (video), Accessible Switch Activities, Tar Heel Reader, Shared Reader, Gameplay


We have made it this far, let's see it through! Come on 2021!!! I have mentioned before that I run marathons. I'm still stuck at 42 states completed. The New Orleans marathon in February was my only 2020 marathon, all others were cancelled. Ugh. I'll get there. We will get there. It will get better. The PATINS Project and ICAM are here to help. We can provide FREE trainings tailored to the needs of your team, school or district. All you have to do is ask!


Check out our Training Calendar for upcoming FREE trainings!


Borrow something from our Lending Library for 6 weeks with FREE shipping both ways!


Register
for the PATINS Winter Edcamp 2021 on February 9!

EdCamp Winter 2021EdCamp Winter 2021 PATINS Staff Bitmojis participating in various winter activities on Ski Slope

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Dec
23

The One Gift All Educators Need This Year

The one gift all educators need this year. The one gift all educators need this year.

At the end of October, I start to see gift guides for anyone and everyone in our lives such as “The Ultimutt Holiday Gift Guide” or “Your Dad Doesn’t Need Another Tie - 20 Unique Ideas.” While I love exchanging thoughtful gifts with family and friends, there is one gift I am valuing more each year - time. Specifically, time to engage in hobbies, time to learn a new skill, time to learn a language, and even time to be bored once in a while. 

As educators, we know time is a critical resource. It is always at the top of my speech-language pathologist (SLP) wish list. Alas, we cannot wrap up time and top it with a bow to give to colleagues, but we can gain more of it. This year, more than others, time has been at a premium encouraging me to find creative ways to get everything done. I’ve compiled five reflection questions which have proven helpful to me in gathering up more time. I hope you find these helpful too. 

  • Am I inventing things to do? I heard this on a podcast and it stopped me in my tracks. (I wish I could remember which one to give credit!) As educators, we may think “Of course, everything I am doing directly benefits my students.” While I have no doubt we all have the best intention of doing right by our students, there may be a more efficient way to approach certain tasks. For example, as a SLP, did I really need to laminate every speech therapy material? Absolutely not! I could create or find digital materials, print one time use visuals, or use a page protector. I saved hours each week by freeing myself from the unreliable laminating machine and directed this new found time into analyzing data for better educational reports as well as leading to a better work life balance. A major win for me and for my students!
  • Can I “outsource” part of my work? The students on my caseload very much preferred receiving a pass from the office rather than having me picking them up from their classroom. Nothing hurts your “cool” factor more than a random lady breaking up gym time with your buddies. This left me creating hundreds of paper passes each year until I outsourced this work. In lieu of a study hall, some students were “pass runners” for the office staff during a class period. These helpful students were more than happy to cut the passes for me and one of them even offered to laminate a bunch for me so I could reuse them, saving me even more time!
  • What can I automate? Automation is huge in the business world right now. It is one of the main reasons Amazon can get items to your doorstep in two days. Educators can reap the benefits of automation right now with technology readily available on your devices. Do you need to send reminder emails for IEP meetings? Do you need to collect data and send daily/weekly communications to parents? Do you need to speed up the calculation process for progress reports? Automate it all! If you’re not sure where to start, reach out to PATINS Specialists for ideas on how to optimize your work day.
  • How often do I need to check my email/phone? Did you know it is estimated that every time we stop a task to check our email or phone, it can take us roughly 25 minutes to refocus on the task? (View the study “No Task Left Behind? Examining the Nature of Fragmented Work.”) That’s why a seemingly simple task can end up taking us three times longer than originally planned. Also consider this scenario, if you check your work email from bed, on your way out the door, or in the car and then decide you need to be at work to focus on answering it, you are devoting twice as much time to the email reply. To combat these pernicious time wasting habits, dedicate a few times a day when you check your email and voicemail. It’s important this is not the first thing you check though. You want to get your most important tasks on your to do list completed at the beginning of the work day. This new habit has been a game changer for me!
  • How many things can I actually get done in a day? Two. I have averaged it out, and I can get two major tasks done in one day. If I try to do 3 or more tasks, usually I am working overtime or it’s not done well. This realization has been both shocking and empowering. Shocking since I originally estimated I could get five to ten tasks done each day. Two sounds like a low number yet, think about if you completed an entire language evaluation, reported all grades, or developed lessons for the entire week or month in one sitting. Those all require major time commitments and are often completed in smaller chunks throughout time. This information was also empowering because the knowledge of this causes me to be “choosier” about the tasks I agree to and reminds me to reflect again on question one above. Plus, when I happen to get more than two things done, I feel super accomplished!

I believe it goes without saying that the demands placed on educators this year has stretched our time thin. However, we are the only ones who can give ourselves more time. I hope the reflection questions posed help you gather up chunks of time by eliminating, “outsourcing”, and automating tasks to do what you do best - teach Indiana students!

I would love to hear your thoughts on how you might approach your work after reflecting on the five questions above. Is there anything you plan to do differently? Are there any other ways you give yourself the gift of time that I did not mention?

Suggested time management focused reading:

40 Hour Teacher Workweek by Angela Watson

Off the Clock by Laura Vanderkam


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Recent Comments
Guest — Laurel Blough
Jennifer, you said it! Thank you for this en-pointe post about the greatest professional gift we can give ourselves.
Wednesday, 23 December 2020 20:19
Guest — Jen Conti
Thank you Laurel! I hope you're able to "gift" yourself some time for the second half of this school year. ... Read More
Monday, 28 December 2020 15:02
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Dec
16

Our DIY School Year

After much of my adult life as a happy nomadic creature, my husband and I decided to put down roots and purchase our first home. We found our nest tucked in our favorite neighborhood and near some of our favorite people. It had just a few “fun” DIY projects. Once we started the DIY process I discovered that it really stands for Discovering an Infinity of Yikes, rather than Do It Yourself. We dove into project after project with high hopes that our inspiration could overpower our inexperience. We wanted to do each project correctly from the start, knowing that a good investment now would help create a home we could truly love. Despite the ups and downs, we came through with a beautiful home filled with love AND with sore muscles, paint splotches, tears of frustration, and lots of other things that we shoved into closets.

Our home, a view from the front yard of a red brick house.

I see a lot of parallels between my family’s DIY home projects and the “Discovering an Infinity of Yikes” school year. Just as a strip of duct tape here and glue there can be quick patches, this school year has seen a number of temporary fixes. But, I believe that if we take the time to make repairs correctly from the start, we can reshape our educational system into one that we all love.

The Right Tools

This school year, we awkwardly slipped back into remote learning with packets and phone calls. The struggle was similar to turning a rusty screw with a butter knife. Yes it might eventually work; but, the extra time and effort, combined with the possibility it might not work should be enough to start the search for a better tool. In my family’s case, an electric screwdriver made seemingly impossible tasks more manageable. It was just one example of our learning process, as we moved through various never-before-needed gadgets and equipped a toolbox with enough to be the envy of any contractor. 

Just as my family struggled, through tears of frustration and sore mental muscles many teachers and schools have started utilizing support tools (like Schoology, Google Classroom, Canvas, and Seesaw) to enable centralized communication for students and parents. The hard work early on of teaching students (including Kindergarteners) to login and find assignments built independence and a foundation for success when students later moved to remote learning. Through evaluation and reflection, schools using synchronous learning moved from full-class zoom calls to focused, short, small-group sessions with specific goals like collaboration and interaction. Schools also created a balance between asynchronous and synchronous learning, adding even more tools (like Epic, Starfall, Khan Academy, ABC Mouse, BrainPop, Kids Academy, TED, Mendeley) to help balance teacher workload and student engagement in other ways. Another example of added tools were: a variety of Chrome extensions and apps for students are used to practice, learn, and respond in a variety of ways supporting a more universally designed classroom. This has included the increased acceptance of accessible materials and assistive technology, breaking emotional and educational barriers for many students. 

Tips, Tricks, and Expert Advice

When we first opened the door to our adventure in home remodeling, we had many inspiring dreams of what could be; but, the reality of our inexperience prevented us from taking the first steps. So, we called in the experts. We had many professionals give us recommendations on types of paint, low-cost options for tile, and how best to arrange our kitchen. Without this advice, we would have spent countless hours struggling to do these projects. With this support to boost our confidence, we googled how-tos for smaller issues and watched YouTube for our mini projects. 

For teachers, this year has been Professional Development after Professional Development (PD). Consults, webinars, and YouTube tutorials have been equally accessed. Teachers have been in a state of emergency, training and (in some instances) being forced toward technology integration. 

Some popular tips from PDs that I have noticed include: creating a Bitmoji classroom to build a fun space to communicate with students, using Flipgrid to create videos for and by students, and using interactive slide tools like Pear Deck

Inexperience with technology is a barrier that continues to be a stopping point for some teachers trying to reach their students. At PATINS, we have seen an increase of teachers and administrators requesting personalized/individualized training or one-on-one sessions (provided by the PATINS/ICAM team) to create universally designed online classrooms for ALL students. 

The Risk

For many of my family’s projects, one of the biggest barriers was fear. Fear of the first step, fear of messing it up, fear of the cost, and fear it would take too much time or turn into something we hated. One of my biggest fears was to use power tools, especially the table saw. It is big, scary, dangerous, and once you have cut something, it is final. However, at one point in a project, we needed a small piece of wood to be cut before we could move forward. Waiting for a contractor would have increased our wait from one week to up to three months! I stayed up all night convincing myself that I could use this saw. I finally got up, put my safety goggles on, and picked up the table saw. I practiced on a couple of scrap pieces, took measurements, and marked where to cut. I blasted through it with no fear. Did I do it perfectly? No. But, we were able to move forward quickly after that point, and I now can start building my table saw skills. Before this school year, many teachers dabbled in technology integration in the classroom, but some avoided it at all costs. 

Today, many still struggle with the same barrier: fear. One of my AEMing for Achievement Grant  team members, Melissa Harrison, has an inspirational quote in her office: “You never learn anything by doing it right.” In many of life’s fearful experiences this rings true, such as bike riding, public speaking, going on a date, or starting a new career. The level of risk is high, but necessary for success. 

As for our DIY school year, we have all been risk takers and continue to learn new methods and use new tools. The results are not perfect, but the more steps educators have taken toward a seemingly scary new form of teaching and learning, the more enriching experiences have resulted for both students, parents, and teachers.  We are forming bridges and exploring methods that have not been utilized before, and as a result, we are seeing a bright path toward an educational system that we can all love.

Melissa Harrison, smiling and holding a sign that says, “You never learn anything by doing it right.”

Like any new homeowners, our new place will probably be under construction for the rest of our lives, but the process of creating and recreating a space that we enjoy and cherish is invaluable. Similarly, teachers, parents, and students continue to grow as our schools are reimagining what education could be. We still have a long journey ahead, but a universally designed educational system is in our sights. Just like any home remodel, it was not easy and there are still are many unfinished jobs, surprise repairs, and exhausted workers. But we can continue to build our toolbox, seek expert advice, and be brave enough to take risks with that we can continue to build a place we truly love. 

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Dec
10

The State of PATINS 2020

Staff Portrait Collage of the PATINS Project Staff

It's been quite a year for me, and very likely for all of us, for a variety of reasons. A common theme however, for all of us Indiana educators, is almost certainly the transition to, from, and back to again, remote instruction and learning due to the COVID19 pandemic! 

As 2021 draws near, with a mere 21 days left in 2020, I recently carved out a some time to reflect on a few major aspects of my life. One of which, is my 2020 knee injury and a second is the PATINS Project itself, which has been the greatest consumer of my time and my passion for the last fourteen and half years! It's become apparent to me, during my reflecting, that Indiana is quite fortunate to have PATINS and during this unprecented time for us, the PATINS team has shown it's colors in ways that shouldn't go without notice. 

142 days into 2020, I fully dislocated my right knee, tearing all four of the ligaments and meniscus.That means, for the last 233 days, I've had to figure out new ways of doing things that used to be simple. I’ve had to work hard on getting repaired, facilitating healing, re-building strength, seeking flexibility, and re-gaining my balance. ...a strong analogy for public eduction during the pandemic, as well! 

3 Image collage of Daniel riding dirtbike
I'm proud to say that last weekend, I finally threw a leg over a dirtbike again for the first time in 233 days. During those first few minutes, riding through my first easy trail, I realized that it's been the support from my "team" that was integral to that moment of accomplishment. My wife for the daily balance between push, protect, and comfort. My kids for helping with things I just couldn't do. My family and my riding buddies for the constant check-ins, pushing me to work out and go to Physical Therapy PT (pain and torture), including me in their riding videos even when I couldn't be there. The list goes on and on... the common theme is, TEAM...Support...Perseverance. The result is success. The feeling is hope and energy


I'm even more proud to say that during the past 274 days of the COVID19 pandemic, the PATINS team has rallied in ways that have not only provided continuous support to Indiana's public schools educators, but also serves as a model for what a team can look like and confirmation that this particular team can and will re-tool, adjust, accommodate, and leave no stone unturned when it comes to supporting our Indiana educators! 

New Ways of Doing Things:
Two PATINS staff, Specialist Lisa Benfield and Assistant Director/Specialist David Jackson celebrated their first anniversary with us during the pandemic! Specialist Amanda Crecelius also celebrates her first six months with us! These new PATINS additions have not only spent their first year learning a new job, but helping to figure out ways to do their new job in entirely new ways! My hat is off to you three! Visit their pages on the PATINS website, reach out to them, and embrace the knowledge and skill they bring to their new-ish positions on this team! 


For over 20 years, PATINS has held two annual statewide events; our November Access To Education conference and our April Tech Expo. In 2020, both events were forced to either be cancelled or held virtually for the first time ever. We chose the latter. I'm proud to say that this team, lead by our Event Manager Jennifer Conti, (2 yrs w/PATINS) didn't hesitate to jump into planning and implementation to effectively host two of our most successful events ever! Tech Expo 2020 doubled our usual in-person registration numbers and Access To Education 2020 had participants telling us it was the best one they'd ever attended! A handful of attendee comments from those two events: 

"All presenters were great.  Virtual learning recharged my momentum for teaching". - Lena Cummins, Special Education Administrator, Charter School of the Dunes

"I am extremely impressed as to how you pull this event off virtually, I got a lot of information from the presentations as well as the virtual exposition hall, I visited quite a few of the websites that were presented there and I got valuable information!"  - Sandra Durham, Occupational Therapist, Indiana State University

"I really felt that the quality of presenters and topics this year was great! I came away from this renewed and ready to continue serving my students no matter what environment they may be in." - Kelsey Norris, Special Educator, Perry Township Schools

"Lance McLemore provided inspiration and a reminder of why I got into the special education field. He was amazing!  I found that Apps & Extensions and Alternative Pencils gave lots of great ideas, many of which I could use right away. I appreciate that many of the ideas were free!" - Mandy Narcaroti, BLV Teacher, Cooperative School Services

"I truly gained from all of the session, they all offered things I can use today. Thanks so much." - Kimberly Gauck, Special Educator Greensburg Community Schools

"Supporting Families through Integrated Supports, Low Vision and Blindness Supports for the Classroom, and What's New and What to do with Saltillo. I believe all three of these to be equally valuable to me in my educational setting". - Melissa VanLue, Special Educator, Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired

"The information presented by Dr. Grillo on assistive technology and incorporating AT in the IEP was very beneficial to me.  This is information I did not previously know, and I'm looking forward to having access to the booklet with all the AT that can be used with state testing."  -  Kristin Girton, Cooperative School Services

"Technology was so smooth today!! THANK you for the captioning! I am totally impressed with how you all were able to transform this conference to 100% virtual!"  - Laura Knoke, NEISEC, Teacher of Students who are Blind/Low Vision

Repair & Heal:
As with my old knee, sometimes things within PATINS break and we have to find ways to fix or make them whole again. During the period right before the pandemic, we lost two valuable staff members and were forced to work with a new fiscal agency. While the timing of these things made for some difficult months, current staff Jennifer Conti and Felisia O'Bold (2 yrs w/PATINS) stepped up to take on additional roles boldly, and new staff Amanda Crecelius worked creatively and tireless to quickly repair any start of hole in the bottom of the boat! We also realized quickly that all of our friends out there in the schools were also scrambling to repair their ships! This PATINS team immediately pulled together to produce a listing of resources specific to Continuous Learning to do COVID19 here, regular Open Virtual Office Hours, and the PATINS team Commitment to Anti-Racism here.

Building Strength and Being Flexible:
One might consider it enough to be able to say that your team has worked hard to maintain the levels of pre-pandemic, but it's actually really easy for me to say that this PATINS team has built even more strength through offerings and services than ever before the pandemic! Consider our YouTube playlist of NINE Access to Education 2020 training videos by PATINS Specialists, Kelli Suding (8 yrs w/PATINS), Lisa Benfield, Jena Fahlbush (5 yrs w/PATINS), Bev Sharritt (4 yrs w/PATINS), David Jackson, Katie Taylor (2 yrs w/PATINS), Amanda Crecelius, Jessica Conrad (4 yrs w/PATINS), and the ICAM Team of Sandy Stabenfeldt (19 yrs w/PATINS), Jeff Bond (22 yrs w/PATINS), and Martha Hammond (10 yrs w/PATINS)! ...check out all NINE great training video titles PLUS the first-ever virtual Assistive Technology Exporatorium recording


...and by the numbers, this school year so far, PATINS has:

-responded to 1,145 requests for technical assistance from Indiana educators. 

-supplied nearly 1000 braille, large print and tactile graphics to over 100 school corporations, thanks to our amazing IERC staff!

-
supplied 1,507 accessible versions of textbooks, thanks to the ICAM Staff!

-attended nearly 500 meetings and conducted over 150 meetings.


-provided services to 98% of the Special Education Cooperatives in the state.


-provided services to 68% of the School Corporations in the state.


-worked with 485 unique School Buildings in the state. 

-provided a Virtual EdCamp and Make It At Home Training for 120 educators.

-fulfilled 38 unique requests for 80 individual devices for PATINS Refurbished Technology

-loaned out 504 pieces of assistive technology from our Lending Library! Yes, you read that right! Even with school buildings being closed down intermittently, our Lending Library Managers, Sheri Schoenbeck (19 yrs w/PATINS) and Carrie Owens (14 yrs w/PATINS) have been ultra-creative and diligent and we are still shipping items to schools AND paying for them to be shipped back to us at the end of your 6-week trial! Here are a few comments from recent PATINS Lending Library borrowers: 


"I have no idea what I would have done if not for all the guidance PATINS has provided. Everyone has gone above and beyond to make sure my student has what he needs and is succeeding."

"Thank you for offering your services.  It helps so many of our students in deciding what device works best for them."

"Thank you so much for always having what I think I need for my students. You are much appreciated."

"Thankful for the time and thorough training given for everyone involved with the use of the AAC device"

"Thanks for allowing us to extend the loan of this device!  That was a super easy process!"

"PATINS is a blessing to our students and staff."

"The district is buying LAMP WFL and getting him a separate iPad for it so he will have access 100% of the time."

"We will likely be purchasing a different device but this was an excellent shoe in the door for us.  It let us compare/contrast with some other AAC options." 

"I appreciate your availability and ease of use"

-and... drumroll please... provided 401 individual trainings/professional development (all virtually) for 2,542 educators in Indiana! If you haven't checked out the powerful training offerings by the PATINS Specialists lately, you should! Find them all here on our training calendar and here on our condensed Professional Development Guide!

Seeking Greater Flexibility & Gaining Balance:
Sometimes, even though things are highly positive within our team, these unique circumstances demand that we have grace and patience with each other and respect for everyone's strengths and responsibilities. The members of this team fill-in for each other when unexpected things come up. We virtually high-five one another through our "It Matters to This One" internal recognition system, personal emails, Skype messages and informal Zooms! We have staff like Kelli Suding who sets up a virtual holiday exchange and gathering for us on a Friday over lunch! We aren't afraid to reach out when we are overwhelmed and need flexibility, understanding, or help! We realize that a balance must be maintained between work and re-energization and we respect guidelines for time as much as possible. 


In all things, PATINS is more than work, we are a family and a team. We're a team that looks at anything that arrises, evolves, or that is thrown suddenly in our faces, and we say, "YES, we can do this IF...," rather than, "No, we can't because..."

I'm deeply proud of this team and the service and product we are able to provide. I encourage you to remember that our services are all at no cost to Indiana public schools and that we can and we will, work together with you to find a solution to your unique needs! ...every...single...time. Reach out to us!



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Dec
03

Executive Function and Online Learning

I cannot express how grateful I am that Dr. Lisa Beth Carey is my guest blogger this week. Dr. Carey is the Asst. Director of the Center for Innovation and Leadership in Special Education (CILSE) at the Kennedy Krieger Institiute. Her knowledge and brilliant approach with the principles of Universal Design for Learning always in the forefront, creates a welcoming and accessible space for fellow educators to be positively impacted in a way that allows them to immediately want to implement resources/strategies that she develops. Dr. Carey is an out of the box thinker with a great twist of humor as well, to which I have the upmost respect. I have learned so much from her and I have no doubt that you will too.

graphic of student sitting by computer

Imagine: It’s early in the morning. You go to your kitchen and go through all of the motions of brewing yourself a cup of coffee. You can do this half-asleep because you’ve done it so many times before.

Now imagine: You wake up and realize the power went out overnight. You’re running late, the coffee maker’s not turning on, and you realize that you need to go find the circuit breaker to restore power to the outlet. This new set of circumstances is out of the ordinary. Nothing about the power being out is rehearsed. This morning, you cannot brew your cup of coffee while half-asleep. In order to complete the task of making your morning coffee, you will need to use a set of cognitive skills called executive function.

Executive function is an umbrella term for the cognitive skills that work together to help us complete a task or goal (Diamond, 2013). The core executive function skills are inhibitory control, working memory and flexible thinking (Baggata & Alexander, 2016; Nigg, 2016).

  • Inhibitory control: Purposefully stopping/pausing when your immediate reaction will not help you accomplish your task.
  • Working memory: Holding information in mind temporarily in order to manipulate it.
  • Flexible thinking: Switching between different concepts and considering multiple perspectives and scenarios.
Executive function skills work interactively to support our ability to perform tasks that are novel or under-practiced. This important set of skills develops from birth through young adulthood, providing ample time to be shaped by the environment (Diamond, 2013). How we design our learning environments to support the development and use of executive function, or over-burden these still-developing skills, has a major impact on student academic achievement.

How Does Student Executive Function Interact With the Learning Environment?

How well we perform any skill is based on how well-matched our skill is to the demands of the context. For example, I’m a very strong swimmer, but put me in a riptide after a long day of swimming, and I’ll struggle, possibly even drown. Executive function is similar to swimming in various conditions. A calm, shallow pool is very different from rough, deep open water.

Likewise, students will do much better in a well-supported learning environment that matches their executive function skill levels, as opposed to in an unsupported learning environment with multiple executive function demands that are mismatched to their skill development. When there is a mismatch between the executive function demands and the skills of the individual, the result is an expression of executive dysfunction (Jacobson & Mahone, 2012).

Behavioral indicators of executive dysfunction (Gioia, Isquith, Guy, & Kenworthy, 2015) include:

  • Impulsivity
  • Distractibility
  • Difficulty with complex task completion
  • Difficulty with transitioning between activities
  • Difficulty shifting patterns of thought


How Does Online Learning Impact Student Executive Function?

An online learning environment is often highly demanding of student executive functions. This is even more true if the device, software, application or website being used is new, or if the student has limited experience using it for learning activities. Many times, we ask students to use an unfamiliar device, software, application or website on top of learning new academic content or skills. This causes many students to struggle to use their executive function skills to engage in tasks meaningfully. They start to exhibit the behavioral indicators of executive dysfunction listed above.

For example, students who are asked to use new software to record a response to a reading comprehension prompt will need to use their executive function skills to navigate the software, while also engaging their executive functions to organize their thinking and respond to the prompt. This combination of executive function demands is very likely to overwhelm a student and lead to difficulty completing the task.

In studies of students using personal devices (tablets, laptops, phones, etc.) for learning activities, teachers and students reported increases in student behaviors that aligned with the behavioral indicators of executive dysfunction (Islam & Gronlund, 2016; Kay, Benzimra & Li, 2017; Lei & Zhao, 2008; Sarıtepeci & Durak, 2017; Tallvid, 2016; Tallvid et al., 2015). Students using personal digital devices were more likely to become easily distracted, had trouble initiating and completing tasks, were engaged with off-task media or were attempting (unsuccessfully) to multitask, and had difficulty problem-solving when technology didn’t work as expected.

If we consider the role environmental demands play in students’ ability to use their executive function skills during learning activities, it’s unsurprising that online learning environments would place greater demand on student executive function skills. There are more chances for distraction, and thus more need to inhibit responses to all types of exciting stimuli (e.g., a chat from a friend or a link to a YouTube video). There are increases in information, and thus a greater demand on working memory. There are more ways in which to navigate a digital device than a notebook, and thus a greater demand on flexible thinking.

This is not to say that we should ditch our tech! Technology offers greater amounts of accessibility, connectiveness and collaboration. And in the age of COVID-19, we really need technology to safely connect at a distance. We just need to make sure that we are mindful of creating online learning environments that are responsive to student neurodevelopment (meaning that we don’t overtax student executive function with too many novel tasks and digital tools) and that provide executive function support as needed.


Tips for Supporting Executive Function During Online Learning

In any learning environment, we should take a two-fold approach to avoiding contributing to student executive dysfunction. We should reduce executive function demands that are extraneous to the content being taught, and we should provide supports, as needed.

As you design your online learning environment, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is my instructional design/tool/learning management system (LMS) overly demanding on my students’ inhibitory control? (i.e., do they have to focus on stopping/pausing impulses to engage in the task?)
    • What can I do to reduce the demand?
    • What support options can I add?
  • Is my instructional design/tool/LMS overly demanding on my students’ working memory? (i.e., do they have to keep multiple pieces of information in mind as they manipulate the information to complete the task?)
    • What can I do to reduce the demand?
    • What support options can I add?
  • Is my instructional design/tool/LMS overly demanding on my students’ flexible thinking? (i.e., do they have to focus on coming up with multiple ways to approach a task or problem, and do they need to independently troubleshoot their technology?)
    • What can I do to reduce the demand?
    • What support options can I add?
Striking the balance between executive function demands and supports is critical for students to get the most out of their online learning experience. Keep in mind that students are highly variable, and that supports will need to be flexible to meet the needs of your various students. Stay tuned for future posts that include teacher experiences teaching online while considering student executive function!


References:

Baggetta, P., & Alexander, P.A. (2016). Conceptualization and operationalization of executive function. Mind, Brain, and Education, 10(1), 10–33.

Diamond, A. (2013). Executive functions. Annual Review of Psychology, 64, 135–168.

Gioia, G.A., Isquith, P.K., Guy, S.C., & Kenworthy, L. (2015). BRIEF2: Behavior Rating  Inventory of Executive Function (2nd ed.). Lutz, FL: Psychological Assessment Resources, Inc.

Islam, M.S., & Gronlund, A. (2016). An international literature review of 1:1 computing in schools. Journal of Educational Change, 17, 191–222.

Jacobson, L.A., & Mahone, E.M. (2012). Educational implications of executive dysfunction. In S.J. Hunter & E P. Sparrow (Eds.). Executive Function and Dysfunction: Indentification, Assessment and Treatment (ed., pp. 231–246). Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.

Kay, R., Benzimra, D., & Li, J. (2017). Exploring factors that influence technology-based distractions in bring your own device classrooms. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 55(7), 974–995.

Lei, J., & Zhao, Y. (2008). One-to-one computing: What does it bring to schools? Journal of Educational Computer Research, 39(2), 97–122.

Nigg, J.T. (2016). Annual Research Review: On the relations among self‐regulation, self‐control, executive functioning, effortful control, cognitive control, impulsivity, risk‐taking, and inhibition for developmental psychopathology. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 58(4), 361–383.

Sarıtepeci, M., & Durak, H. (2016). Examining student perceptions regarding to usage purposes of tablet computers distributed under the scope of in FATIH project in the course processes and by students. Participatory Educational Research, IV, 171–181.

Tallvid, M., Lundin, J.L., Svensson, L., & Lindstrom, B. (2013). Relationship between sanctioned and unsanctioned laptop use in 1:1 classroom. Educational Technology & Society, 18(1), 237–249.

Tallvid, M. (2016). Understanding teachers’ reluctance to the pedagogical use of ICT in the 1:1 classroom. Education and Information Technologies, 21(3), 503–519.

Dr. Carey sitting beside student

Original Blog on Kennedy Krieger Institute

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Guest — Glenda Thompson
Thank you Kelli and Dr. Carey for taking your time to share this information with families navigating remote learning. I am part o... Read More
Saturday, 05 December 2020 08:28
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Nov
30

Thanksgiving

Cream and Brown Autumn leaves Background with the word Thanksgiving in uppercase letters Thanksgiving

As Thanksgiving comes every year, I love to hear people reflect about what they are thankful for! Traditionally, as a family we go around the table at Thanksgiving and say something we are thankful for, so I thought perhaps I should mirror this professionally as well. 2020 has been a challenge for so many, but I’ve been reflecting on what good things have happened this past year. Professionally, I have so much to be thankful for. This month marked one year of my time being a PATINS Staff member, I want to share a few things that I am so thankful for!


Resources - Immeasurable resources are being shared daily. I have never seen such an outpouring of resources available online, as I have during the pandemic. I am thrilled to see multiple offerings. Check out the PATINS Training Calendar for more upcoming opportunities or make a request from the Lending Library for additional requests. 


Teamwork - I have been given the opportunity to work with the best team of coworkers! If anyone needs support, there is an entire staff to help stakeholders throughout the state. Check out our PATINS Staff, their specialities, and contact them! Just last week, another specialist and I collaborated to meet the needs of the educator supporting a student with communication, motor, and low vision challenges. It is great to gain the insight of my colleagues when we work together. Being an Occupational Therapist, I am able to bring a unique perspective to the table, but the richness of having another specialist with a background in speech and language pathology, blind/low vision education, deaf and hard of hearing education, or general or special education adds to the depth of the consultation and benefits all those involved.


Relationships - Through webinars, consultations, Twitter Chats, phone calls, and more I have been able to develop relationships with stakeholders across the state. Join us on Twitter every Tuesday night at 8:30 pm EST. My PLN, or Professional Learning Network, grows weekly on Twitter! This year in particular, I have met numerous educators in Zoom meetings. It is wonderful to put a face with the name!


Increased Accessibility - Our students in Indiana have had increased access to the curriculum this year, due in part to the quick action of educators to soak up all available resources, virtual training, and support available during the pandemic. Teachers and Administrators have embraced accessibility needs this year. We have an updated document of Continuous Learning support and YouTube videos available offering guidance on providing specific supports for all learners. 



As I wrap up my first full year at the PATINS Project, I am thankful for the new relationships and strong teamwork which have helped me to both learn and share new resources and increase access to the curriculum for Indiana students. I hope to assist many more educators this year in finding the best iPad accessibility features and ways to integrate them into daily plans, consulting and providing support with behavioral challenges, and increasing the use of Assistive Technology and Accessible Educational Material for students in the primary grades. Feel free to contact me at any time! I will look forward to it!


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Guest — David Jackson
Great post!
Tuesday, 01 December 2020 19:26
Guest — Martha
Has it been a year? It's great having you with us, Lisa. We all have much to be thankful for.
Wednesday, 02 December 2020 13:19
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Nov
17

What is YOUR passion?

Sandy as a young girl in her baseball uniform.

Sports have always been a big part of my life. I played girls little league when I was 9 until I turned 13. Back then girls played hardball, just like the boys and we had a great league with many teams in the city. My cousin played with me and one year we even won the city championship. Then I was able to coach and be a manager for a few more years. Another cousin was on the team and we were able to spend lots of time together. 

As an adult, I started playing tennis and it has been such a great blessing. I have met so many wonderful women and made friends that have been there for me through bad days, bad tennis playing, and a health scare. I even ended up on a team with 2 ladies that I had played little league with. 

I have also shared my love of tennis with several family members and my daughter. It is fantastic to be able to play tennis with family, especially in today’s environment. 

Recently, I have taken up Pickleball and I absolutely love it! I have again made many new friends and my family members are playing with me as well. A great part of playing Pickleball is that my husband is able to play, his bad knee wouldn’t allow him to play tennis anymore. I also have an older uncle who shares my love of Pickleball and it is so much fun to play with him. My daughter’s boyfriend has also taken it up and it gives them a sport to play together.

Sports also take up a significant amount of television time. Golf, Tennis, Football, Basketball, and Baseball are usually on at my house. I love the social aspect of rooting for a favorite team. If you carry around a Steelers cup or wear a Yankees shirt you are sure to strike up a conversation. I also enjoy the texting and calling with friends and family when a game is on.

I have so many great memories that include sports. There was the time the Indianapolis Colts fans let me dance with them, but forced me to zip up my jacket to hide my Steelers shirt!

Sandy dancing with Colts fans.

Sandy with Indianapolis Colts fans.

I attended a football game in Dallas where there were just as many Steelers fans as Dallas fans and we won!

Sandy with Dallas Cowboy fans.

I have attended many professional tennis tournaments as well as baseball, football, and basketball games. I have attended my daughter’s sporting events: softball, swimming, and tennis. I have always had sports in my life.

Sandy and her daughter, Courtney.

What is YOUR passion?

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Guest — Rita
Great memories to share! Photos help capture a moment to let us relive again and again.
Thursday, 19 November 2020 11:56
Guest — Glenda Thompson
That competitive drive radiates from you. Ever present in your PATINS/ICAM work as well. That benefits Indiana staff and students... Read More
Thursday, 19 November 2020 12:30
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Nov
13

MackinVia*: Another Path to Literacy

Mackin Logo

*Via: by way of (Merriam Webster Dictionary)

After the long ICAM/Learning Ally partnership was dissolved, many DRMs and educators expressed the same disappointment that PATINS/ICAM felt, and we began the quest for a new solution. By now many Indiana educators know that the ICAM has chosen Mackin, as a source of audiobooks and eBooks for students with documented print disabilities.

Patrons will place a Special Order through the ICAM Web Ordering System for fiction and non-fiction titles, textbooks are not available through Mackin. While Mackin does not provide actual textbooks, it does feature a broad range of content-related titles. The ICAM team has created a training video, Getting Started with Mackin that describes the ICAM ordering process for Mackin titles. Patrons will place a Special Order and the ICAM staff will search for the title.  Patrons can create a free Mackin account so they can log in and search for titles that are available in these formats before they place an order. You can browse by different categories including grade level, interest level, and subject. 

Related content titles can notably enhance a struggling reader’s learning experience. For example, say you are starting a 4th grade Science Unit on our solar system, and you are working from the class textbook. You have a student who is Chafee-qualified to use audiobooks and text to speech. From his IEP we know that this student has an SLD in the area of reading, and as his teacher, you know that he struggles to decode from print. However, this book is not available from the ICAM. If only you could get an accessible textbook! Yesterday! He needs a solution, fast.

You can choose a Mackin title on the Solar System, in an eBook or audiobook platform, at the 4th-grade level, to supplement the textbook. You search available selections and find SOLAR SYSTEM: BY THE NUMBERS by Steve Jenkins. By reading the summary and reviews you determine this to be a near-perfect match for the textbook’s approach. And, it is available as a MackinVIA eBook. Your student can have access for a checkout period or throughout the school year, depending on publisher permissions.

This will help the student in several crucial ways. By 4th grade, sentences are longer and more complex, and multi-syllable words are frequent. Often, students who struggle to decode also experience a working memory deficit; by the time this student has worked through the sound and symbol of each word, recalling the content seems hopeless.

With this Mackin eBook, he will learn the same important vocabulary as his classmates. When he returns to the textbook in class and encounters words like “meteorite” and “asteroid” he will have seen and heard the words before. This will help alleviate his anxiety associated with printed words: They are just words, and he knows them! With the Mackin audio support, highlighting, and note-taking features he will begin to build background knowledge. Then, with teacher support such as guided context cues, repeated reading, and class discussion, his fluency and comprehension will show improvement. Imagine how he will feel, keeping up with the class. This is a powerful confidence builder! 

Next week, November 18-19, is the PATINS/ICAM Access to Education 2020, our annual fall conference. If you are registered, Great! Please stop by the ICAM/IERC Room to learn more about Mackin, and register for an Echo Dot! Registration has formally ended, but if you are just now deciding to attend, please contact Jen Conti at jconti@patinsproject.org. She will set you up, and we hope to “see” you there!

Thanks so much!

 

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Guest — Rita
Thanks for sharing this valuable information!
Thursday, 19 November 2020 20:48
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Nov
04

In Tony's Shoes

In Tony's Shoes

Have you ever been the new kid at school? Being the new kid, I would worry if I would like my teacher and if I would make new friends however the following article invites you to step into Tony’s shoes as the new student with a [perceived] disability in a mainstream or inclusion setting. Can you imagine if the access that Tony needs to the auditory world was just integrated and he didn’t have to advocate for it?  Teachers can plan their classroom and lessons with every student in mind before they even know their students’ names with guiding principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and the PATINS Project’s UDL Lesson Creator

Read more about Tony's story and take a look at how educators can implement UDL for students who are deaf or hard of hearing in this 2020 issue of the Odyssey Magazine published by the Clerc Center National Deaf Education Center at Gallaudet University in the article, One-Stop Lesson Planning: How Universal Design for Learning Can Help Students Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing by Katie Taylor, PATINS Specialist. 



Reference:

Taylor, K. 2020. One-stop lesson planning: how universal design for learning can help students who are deaf or hard of hearing. Odyssey Magazine. Clerc Center. https://www3.gallaudet.edu/Documents/Clerc/Odyssey/Odyssey%202000/ODYSSEY%202020%20-%20pg%2048-51%20-%20Taylor.pdf

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Oct
28

Finding the Bright Spot

Finding the Bright Spot

Last week my colleague and friend, Bev Sharritt, reminded me how much I currently miss all of you and my fellow teammates. I think many of us can agree that virtual meetings simply aren’t the same no matter how much we may want them to be. Including this new way to work, this year has made me feel all the feelings and changed so many aspects of my daily life. It has changed the way I work, the way I socialize, the way I eat, the way I dress, the way I exercise, the list goes on. 

Nonetheless, I can’t help but try and find the silver lining in all of this change and unfamiliar territory. I suppose it’s the forever optimist in me, but when I encounter fear, I try to cling to the bright side. Here’s to hoping that some of what we’re learning and the adaptations we’re making in and out of the classroom are here to stay!

For example, this year has introduced me to more educators wanting to know how to make their materials accessible than ever before! As an accessibility advocate, this is incredibly exciting! Accessible materials level the playing field for all students and decrease the opportunity gap that too many of our students experience each and every year. I love hearing about educators working diligently and asking questions about how to make their Canvas and other learning management system courses accessible and their Bitmoji classrooms accessible on top of their digital and printed documents. 

To help support your efforts, a few of my teammates and I have put together a series of three 30-minute webinars that you can request via email for your school district as an Indiana public educator. This series includes how to create accessible materials from scratch, how to upload and publish accessible materials, and how to make inaccessible materials accessible from the student’s perspective.

Furthermore, this year has pushed us to not only think about our students’ access to our materials (representing our content), but the ways in which we engage our students and allow our students to show us what they know; this is the heart and soul of universal design for learning (UDL). We are stretching our creativity, figuring out how to use new tools for access, using virtual platforms for teaching and teletherapy successfully, and reaching students in ways we may have never thought possible. 

I also believe that 2020 has made us take a closer look at our work/life balance and how we care for our mental health. Not to say this didn’t happen because we overworked and pushed ourselves to the limit in some cases, but I’m hoping that it’s been a lesson learned to take with us into the future. Finding our boundaries and learning to say no is healthy! It’s a common phrase because it's true; we must take care of ourselves in order to take care of others. 

Lastly, I think or hope many of us have begun to re-evaluate how and with whom we spend our invaluable free time outside of the classroom. This year has brought me closer to the ones I love through phone calls, texts, Zoom get togethers, and sometimes in person. My quaran-team has helped me get through this year and will be there for me as we end this year and venture into what’s to come in 2021. I hope you’ve found your team and that you, too, are finding the bright spots in your experiences. 

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Oct
21

A Letter from 2020


Dear PATINS stakeholders,

I hope this letter finds you well. I want to tell you how much I miss you, and a letter seemed appropriate. There are many reasons for angst at this particular point in time, and honestly, most days in the past 7 months I haven’t been able to pinpoint a specific reason for why I’m feeling sad or anxious. I just remind myself that this is normal in a pandemic, and keep putting one foot in front of the other from my home office to the kitchen and back. Today, though, I am missing driving down a scenic Indiana State Highway, enjoying the fall splendor, and ending up in a school parking lot.

I miss walking in and being greeted by the friendly office staff, and then meeting you in a class or conference room to train you in person on a Braille display, or magnification solution. I miss meeting your delightful, thoughtful, eager students who often take off with an AT solution before I’ve left the building. I miss the banter and the physical connection of hand under hand instruction. Also, I even miss the occasional unfriendly office staff.

I miss your faces, looking up from tables in the library, some smiling and attentive, some bored, some zoned out after a full day of teaching, as I tell you about Universal Design for Learning or electronic media. I’ve seen your faces on Zoom, but in the library--in person--I feel a stronger sense of you as a person. I miss driving down the street in your small town and trying the pie at your local diner. 

I’m grateful for Zoom. I can’t comprehend the isolation during a Pandemic before the luxury of the internet and the corresponding agony of doom scrolling... I suppose folks wrote more letters. 

sepia tone photo of two women sitting on a bench wearing cloth masks circa 1918

I searched for “letters from quarantine” and found that folks going through the Spanish Flu in 1918 were just as bored, frustrated, fearful, and sometimes desperately funny as they are on Twitter today. It is a small comfort to read their similar thoughts, complaints and hopes. Here is an excerpt from a letter written by Annie Clifton to her brother at war in Europe:

“Brother, Norfolk is some dull now,” wrote 16-year-old Annie Clifton on Oct. 21, 1918. “All of the moving pictures and theatres are closed on account of the Spanish flu. … I’m not working now [and] school … had to close, too.”

Here’s where I suppose I should add some optimistic thoughts and feelings about the positive things that are happening because of, and in spite of Covid 19. If you contact me or any other of our PATINS staff with your needs, we’ll find some creative way to work with you from a distance.  

On this painfully beautiful October day, though,  I’m going to stick with what I’m genuinely experiencing, and say again how much I miss you and the motion of my car speeding down the road to be with you. If you are feeling depressed or exhausted, that is o.k., and if you are feeling vibrantly hopeful, that is also o.k. Writing about any of it from any century is a good way to cope.

Pull out that journal. Better yet, write me a letter. 

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Guest — Amanda
I love the true feelings all over this. You really captured my internal aches and wrote them as your own and that is what now co... Read More
Thursday, 22 October 2020 08:36
Guest — Bev Sharritt
Thank you Amanda. Looking forward to the end of the ache, and when I will meet your compassionate self in person.
Thursday, 22 October 2020 10:36
Guest — Rachel Herron
I love this Bev...and I agree with the sentiment so much! Looking forward to better days ... Read More
Thursday, 22 October 2020 11:01
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Oct
15

Reading Full Circle

Reading Full Circle

My first PATINS blog was in April of 2016. The title was “Mimi, would you read me a book?” It was about my grandchildren and them asking Mimi every time they visited us to read to them. Mimi took great pride in them not just asking but sitting close to her as she read.

Mimi reading


Fast forward to this week. I received a message from my daughter that contained a video of my granddaughter Kenzie reading. She is eight and in the second grade.


Kenzie’s teacher over the past week or so has been sharing with the class stories written by James Whitcomb Riley. It has fascinated Kenzie as he lived so close to her. More intriguing was her interest in his writing. She would come home and share stories she learned with her family. 


Kenzie’s school happened to be on Fall Break this week so my daughter thought it would be interesting to go to the James Whitcomb Riley home in Greenfield, Indiana. 


They took a tour and collected some memorabilia and on the way home Kenzie recalled all that she had seen. This is how I put into perspective what she had learned in school.


Kenzie and her family came for a visit and she shared as much as she could about James Whitcomb Riley. I could not pass up the opportunity to share my connection with James Whitcomb Riley with Kenzie.


The elementary school I went to in Hammond, Indiana was James Whitcomb Riley Elementary School. I also worked for eleven years at Riley Hospital for Children named after, of course, James Whitcomb Riley.


Kenzie could hardly believe the connections after just visiting his home. Another tidbit, on James Whitcomb Riley’s birthday the Riley Cheer Guild would give out Raggedy Ann dolls to patients. I’ll let you make the connection.


I wrote about Mimi reading to the grandkids in my first blog and it has come full circle over the past four years. The love of being read to has sparked a desire in Kenzie to read and her interest in James Whitcomb Riley has provided a timely story for the season.



It has come full circle and Mimi and I could not be any prouder. Not only for Kenzie, but for all of our grandchildren who have shared in the gift of reading.

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Guest — Martha
This is one of my favorite poems from childhood. Thanks for sharing Kenzie reading! You and Mimi have blessed your grands with thi... Read More
Thursday, 15 October 2020 13:36
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Oct
08

Throw Out Your "Low Tech" Stuff

graph of a positive correlation between AA batteries and potatoes with the title What do we do instead of relying on the imaginary technology spectrum?

My husband and I have an inside joke for measuring things that can’t quite be measured: the potato.

How much do I love you? 12 potato.

How cute is our dog? 9.5 potato.

How much do we hate fireworks after midnight? 14,000 potato.

It’s silly nonsense but easy to use.

A couple of years ago I was talking to a team about a young student who had complex communication needs. They had tried the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) but the student wasn’t making much progress. I asked why they had started with PECS.

“We use best practice. First, we start with low tech.”

Exactly zero potato of that is best practice.

How does one progress on this imaginary spectrum of technology? Is it when you perform really well or really badly? Did the number of batteries used in the tool correlate with her skills or her needs?

No one could say, but there was an unwritten rule: something had to be proven before you got something “fancy.”

a graph showing a strong positive correlation between

It’s a hard paradigm to change for all us folks born in the late 1900s (ouch): it’s 2020, there is no such thing as a low-high assistive technology spectrum.

Consider this model I adapted from my old notes on aided AAC and other AT:

Low tech:
Cheap, easy to learn, no batteries, minimal vocabulary

Mid tech:
Moderately expensive, needs some training, more vocabulary

High tech:
Expensive, extensive training needed, relies on touch screens technology or other newer technology, lots of vocabulary

The more you learn, the more the above is proven wrong. A PODD book comes in paper with tons of vocabulary and in my experience requires lots of training, a minimum investment of several hundred dollars. We have a library of very limited and inexpensive communication apps we could teach you to use in 10 minutes or less.

We have apps and extensions that are free or built into any cheap smartphone that can read text aloud, is this “high tech” AT better or worse than the "mid-tech" text scanning pen or the "low tech" sheet overlay? The number of batteries it has will inform you about as well as my potatoes.

What do we do instead of relying on the imaginary technology spectrum?

PATINS Specialists can help you discover several frameworks and assessment tools that help teams keep the focus on what is important: your student receiving an equitable and accessible education. Our no-cost consultation services are always available for our Indiana public PreK-12 schools with a focus on best practice, sound evidence base, and effective ideas. We'll even loan you tools to try from our no-cost Lending Library and be available every step of your student's trial.

When we focus on our student’s needs and the features of the tools, our IEPs and supports become better. We are able to figure out which things our students have outgrown, we are quicker to identify what isn’t working and why. When we use a common language of tool features, our students learn to advocate for themselves more effectively and our conversations with other team members become more productive.

Do not throw out your "low tech" stuff. Throw out the low/high technology spectrum labels and embrace tool features so your students can address the barriers in their world. You’ll be a better professional for it.

I’m 400 potato certain.

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Sep
22

Boost your Creativity with the PATINS Lending Library Catalog

Types of Assistive Technology Lending Library Items Requested 2019-2020 School Year Portion of Infographic
Before I was a PATINS Staff member, I was a middle school Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP) and introduced to the Assistive Technology Lending Library by a colleague. I knew exactly what I wanted to borrow first. An iPad loaded with LAMP Words for Life for a student with a lot to say and in need of a better tool to tell us about all the amazing ideas he had to share with the world.

I started using the loaned device with the student and saw his language and his personality blossom. Once I had a good amount of data to share with his family and school team, I packed up the iPad, completed the loan request evaluation, and it was on its way for another Indiana student to use.

The last time I borrowed from the Lending Library as a SLP with my own caseload was in 2018. To create the infographic below, I spent some one on one time with the AT Lending Library catalog. I discovered ingenious tools that could have been *life changers for many of my former students, like bone conduction headphones, reader pens, and Cling! ARM.

But why hadn't I seen these items before or thought about different ways to use them? I did some research and it turns out there are two reasons, *time and stress. (Learn more in the article "The Science of Creativity"). Being a new SLP, I was low on time, placed plenty of stress on myself, and therefore did not allow much room for creativity.

*I wish I had set aside a little time to search through the catalog to boost my creativity, stretch my professional skills, and be an even better educator. I would follow only two criteria:
  • Learn more about any item which piqued my interest.
  • Brainstorm how I could use the item to benefit the skill development of students at my school.
*Finding creative solutions is one of the most enjoyable parts of being an educator (and in life). Think of the last time you discovered a new tool that made a big impact. How did you feel? Hopeful? Proud? A little relieved?

Right now, uninterrupted time is a luxury, so tuck this idea away for when you need a burst of inspiration. This would be an engaging activity to begin a staff meeting or even for your students to partake in. Who better to know what we need to succeed in school than ourselves right?

The Assistive Technology Lending Library loans out a variety of educational items, even when we’re facing a pandemic. One of the best parts is that the AT Lending Library is a no-cost service. (The PATINS Lending Library is following the strictest protocol for cleaning and disinfecting all loan requests before shipping to Indiana schools.) Here’s a breakdown from the previous school year:

Types of Assistive Technology Lending Library Items Requested 2019-2020 School Year Infographic.

Types of Assistive Technology Lending Library Items Requested 2019-2020 School Year.

Toys - 23%

AAC - 15%

AT Hardware - 15%

Hearing/Vision - 14%

iPads - 12%

Switches - 10%

Print/Software - 6%

Mounting - 5%



Toys - Educational toys to support academic skills.

AAC - Augmentative and Alternative Communication devices.

AT Hardware - Hardware to facilitate access to Assistive Technology tools.

Hearing/Vision - Devices to support hearing and vision needs.

iPads - iPads for academic and communication apps.

Switches - For environmental and communication control.

Print/Software - Reference guides for theoretical methods, assessment/intervention techniques, and practical tips.

Mounting - Adjustable arms and connectors for improved access to devices.

Peruse the Assistive Technology Lending Library when you have a chance. To view the most results, use a *simple keyword and *always capitalize the first letter. This will return all the items with that word present in the title or description.

Lending Library catalog with

Another way to learn more about the AT Lending Library is to join us at the virtual Access to Education conference in November 2020. You have the opportunity to view new and popular AT Lending Library items paired with practical ideas for your students at the *AT Exploratorium and the UDL Classroom Experience.

How has the Lending Library helped your students recently? Let us know in the comments below.
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Sep
17

Silenced Voices, Let Them Be Heard

Amanda Crecelius with husband and daughter.  Amanda and husband are wearing Mexico soccer jersey and daughter is wearing a shirt with Mexican dolls.

Celebrating Mexican Independence Day.  September 16, 2020
Photo Credits:  Hugo Salmeron

As a new addition to the PATINS team, let me introduce myself. My name is Amanda Crecelius (Cri-sil-yus). I grew up in a small town in Crawford County in Southern Indiana. My mother was an elementary school teacher in one of only 5 schools in the county. My father owned his own mechanic shop which based on the number of men hovering over my dad as he worked, was what I considered one of the hubs of the community. My mother instilled in me a love for reading, learning, and teaching. My father taught me to work hard and that my dreams and my voice were valuable. They both taught me the merits of being independent and caring deeply about others.

Those principles led me to leave home and live abroad in both Madrid, Spain and Mexico City, Mexico for over 13 years of my adult life. From living abroad, I gained a language, a family, and an infused culture. I gleaned empathy for the struggle of a newcomer and an understanding of cultural clashes, racial tensions, and the unfairness of discrimination. Privilege and value were given to me through circumstances that I did not earn and taken away from others for no reason other than their place of birth and/or color of skin. I wrestled with the predetermined value of my voice against the unheard voices of those deemed unimportant, those who showed generosity with empty pockets, who showed love despite abuse, who when I looked in the mirror of their hearts, I saw my own reflection.

When I returned to my home state of Indiana after living abroad, I wanted to find some way to use my voice for the voices that do not have the words to speak for themselves. Many times when I was on the streets in cities abroad, I was not able to communicate my thoughts, my beliefs, my objections, my concerns, my rights, or my dreams. As I state this, I acknowledge that many others have language barriers amplified by poverty, discrimination, and racism.

The first step for my voice to be used was to become aware of the current situation in my area. According to the 2018 Census, approximately 63 different languages (identified on the census) are spoken in the state of Indiana. Of the 559,000 who speak another language and that completed the census (and remember that some did not), 195,000 approximately identified that they did not speak English well. Meaning that 195,000 voices are not being heard. They are not invited to participate in the conversation, in the community, and sometimes in the lives of their children and grandchildren. It's not only language that is unshared but also culture, traditions, and community connections.

When we moved back to Indiana, my daughter at age 3 spoke only Spanish. My husband and I spoke Spanish to each other, while a mix of Spanish and English to her. She went to daycare and soon learned that not everyone understood two languages. Within three short months, she stopped speaking Spanish completely. We were shocked at how quickly she rejected her first language for another. The thing that I have observed over the past 2 years is that she has slowly and unintentionally moved away from her father’s language, culture, and traditions, a heartbreak that I can only imagine for any parent. I know that many parents are experiencing this and want to find ways to connect and participate. If my child and I do not share a language, how can we share the joy of our traditions? How can we build and curate our shared culture?

Over the past 10 years, I have witnessed a growth of the Latinx population in Indiana. This has led to an increase of written material provided for Spanish speakers. I am thrilled to see this incorporated into many aspects of our daily lives but what about those that speak Spanish but do not read it? Apart from providing written translations, how are those who do not speak English invited to participate in our community conversations? In classroom conversations? What about those that speak another language that is not English or Spanish? What do they do? How is their voice heard?

As someone born and raised in a small town, I know the love that a community has and how that love is shown and used to surround each of its members. What are the first steps for us to extend to those that are in our community? I am still in the process of learning how to be a voice. I invite each of you to brainstorm with me about how to use tools, technologies, compassion, and love to build our community to be inclusive and to recognize the value of inviting those that do not share our language and culture to the decision-making table.

Now that we are aware, how can we show that we care? As this is deeply personal, I am hoping that we can each look for ways to create and project the silenced voices around us. Here are some of my resources to help aid in your next steps. If you are a teacher, I am currently offering a Power Series to help ELL parents. In addition, I am happy to set up a time to discuss the needs of the students and the parents in your community and how we can help to get them involved. Also we have many organizations who need volunteers for connecting foreigners to the community, such as, Exodus Refugee and Immigrant Welcome Center to name a few. Also if you have a neighbor, a friend of a friend, or even a stranger on the street, acknowledge them, be patient with them, and listen to them. There is value in their voice. Let it be heard!

Sources:

U.S. Census Bureau 2018. Language Spoken at Home. Retrieved from https://data.census.gov/cedsci/table?q=languages%20spoken%20in%20Indiana&tid=ACSST1Y2018.S1601&hidePreview=false.

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Guest — Rachel
Fantastic and timely blog! Thank you Amanda!
Thursday, 17 September 2020 14:59
Guest — Kelly
This is a testimony to how many families feel, loss of culture and family connection is a real issue when language is compromised ... Read More
Thursday, 17 September 2020 21:37
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Sep
11

Time Management, Focus, and Small Successes


a nail that is bent in two different places so that the point and nail head are still going in the same direction
Have you ever gotten to the end of a work day and realized that you're completely exhausted, did 1000 things, but accomplished nothing that was on your agenda for the day?  

We've heard and read quite a bit lately about finding balance in your life, taking care of yourself in order to help take care of others, putting your own oxygen mask on first, etc. The world of education is tough and always has been! Current times, with face masks, virtual and in-person hybrid models, teaching and learning in completely new ways for many, 100's of online meetings, etc., contribute to an even more trying educational world! While I certainly believe strongly in self-care, I also value the opportunity in struggle and imbalance. This feeling isn't new for me, but it's worth revisiting in our current educational situation. Embracing the struggle as an opportunity involves determining focus and staying focused! 

A couple of years ago, in April of 2018, I blogged about how my philosphy on balance had changed in a post about "...Perspective and Levers." A quote from that blog; *"When balanced, you are essentially standing at the fulcrum and moving nothing, changing nothing! I much prefer the ideology of continual movement back and forth on the levers in one's world, creating movement, as opposed to finding balance at the fulcrum and sitting there dormant."  There is great opportunity within the struggles of *Continuous Learning and COVID19! Amongst many others, for example, our situation has brought to the front burner: 

  1. The absolute need for 1:1 devices and all assistive technology to be sent home with all students, all of the time! Special thank you to the *Indiana Dept. of Education for recognizing and supporting this as well!
  2. Having a *Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework in place, provides for increased flexibility and applicability to a greater variety of situations! 
  3. *Educational materials in place that are already accessible permits teaching and learning to continue more seamlessly!
  4. Having students involved more directly in more of their own IEP meetings that have had to occur at home has lead to wonderfully beneficial insights to individual students' learning! 
Standing at the fulcrum, where we might have felt more balanced and comfortable wasn't changing many of these things, or at least not as quickly as they should have been changing. While we absolutely have to care for ourselves, it's also important to embrace imbalance as opportunites for growth! To embrace this, however, we truly need to analyze our way of work, our scheduling, our focus, and also the direction in which we guide our teams and objectives.  

Most of us have probably hammered in a nail or watched someone else hammer a nail into something at one point or another. Even if you haven't, there are a few things that we can probably easily agree on, when it comes to sucessfully hammering nails. 
  1. *The nail must be stronger or more unyielding than the material you're attempting to drive it through (Think of this as your knowledge, skills, resilience, passion, and determination).
  2. *You must have a hammer or automatic nailer, which must be in good functioning order (Think of this as the tools we use approach the objective). 
  3. *We can likley only accurately hammer a nail in one location at a time (Think of this as trying to multitask several objectives at once). 
  4. *The nail must be straight. (Think of this as the direction we chooose and/or the strategies we implement to complete the objective).
The photograph of a nail above is from a recent construction project of mine, that stopped me in my tracks and forced me to think about some things. First, if I were only looking at the point of this nail and the head of it, I might determine that they are both going in the right direction! I might place the point precisely where I want it and I might also hammer the head correctly in the same direction as the point! However, this nail, having two 45 degree bends in it, is assuredly not going to drive through the wood as I intend. This got me thinking about my goals and objectives. I might have my sights set perfectly on the right target, with the right tools and determination fully in place. I might even know exactly where I want to direct my attention first (the nail head, which looks right), but if I don't also stay fully focused on the one task at hand, I realize very quickly that no matter how hard or accurately I hammer/work, that nail even with all of my skills and passion, isn't going to complete the objective. If I'm not looking *through the implementation process (the bent part of the nail) and only seeing the target and the immediate work in front of me, I'm going to quickly fold that nail in half!

As educators, especially right now, most of us probably feel like we have 1000 tasks all begging for our attention at the same time. Many of us probably also feel like we're good at multitasking. I've realized a few things. First, we're really not good at multitasking, unless one of the tasks is non-cognitive and repetitive motion, for example. The other thing I've realized is that the distraction-tasks (those not on our objective list for the day) are often just as important as our agenda. We can't usually ignore them and we don't usually change our behaviors overnight, but we can work toward changing a few things that could empower us to stop trying to pound in "nails" that aren't straight! Here's a few strategies I've taken, both personally and with the PATINS team as a whole: 
  1. Aim to nail small success and celebrate them! Although our big goal or task might not be able to be accomplished in one day, there are definitely things we can do every day that either move us toward that bigger goal or they simply do not. These may be very small things, relative to the big picture, and that's OK! Each member of the PATINS team maintains a wildly important goal for themselves, which supports the overal PATINS wildly important goal. We each, also identify spefific things that we could be doing either daily or weekly that lead up to the overall criteria that determines success of that goal. In the midst of daily distractions, this wildy important goal and more importantly, the daily steps to get there are essentially giving ourselves permission to spend dedicated time and effort on the item we've determined to be wildly important!  ...and that, is important!  We meet every single week to state what we each did during the previous week and whether we accomplished those things which we acknowledged were wildly important for ourselves. This accountability is important and the celebration of these small steps are also important! This is something you can do, easily, by yourself, but even more effectively as part of a team! 
  2. Be confident in creating a little bit of pressure for yourself on occassion, when the opportunities arrise. For example, this week I had several tasks I wanted to accomplish in the morning. Unplanned, I was asked if I could meet at 11:30 online with a colleague or if not,  3pm. I was given the opportunity to choose 3pm, but instead saw that as an opportunity to put a little healthy pressure on myself to get my tasks done by 11:30 and I committed to that meeting time.  
  3. Given the above situation, I also implemented a simple 4X4 strategy to make sure I stayed focused on my tasks at hand during that time. To do this, I broke my task up into four roughly equaly chunks or components, which is pretty easy to do with just about any task. I committed to spending 30 minutes on each chunk or component. I set a timer on my phone and made sure it was visible. After that chunk of 30 minutes I dedicated 10 minutes to "distractions" and then went to chunk number two for 30 minutes and so on with chunks three and four.  
  4. In a classroom situation or even with meetings (online or face to face), it's important to set a schedule that includes small and very predictable breaks, not only for yourself, but for everyone involved! ...and it's important to stick to it! Knowing there's a break coming up and knowing when it'll be and for how long can have a dramatic effect on productivity between those breaks. Adults can typically go a bit longer than younger students, but the concept is relevant regardless of age! 
  5. Try to not multitask! Research indicates that a "bottleneck occurs when the brain is forced to respond to several stimuli at once," and "as a result, task switching leads to time lost as the brain determines which task to perform." This is based on fMRI studies of the brain.1 
  6. Think critically about your environment and your task list. Is the current or upcoming enviroment conducive to accomplishing that particular task and will you have the right tools with you to accomplish it. Being in a webinar training or meeting and telliing yourself, "I'll use that time to also create this other document," is usually an example of not critically thinking through this.  
  7. Decide which of your tasks are critical and which are optional and give yourself permission to occassionally ditch or postpone the optional! 
  8. Keep in mind that, "there is a striking contradiction between time as one of the most fundamental constituents of human existence, and as one of our most abstract concepts ever!"2  While you can't ignore time and dismiss it as too abstract, you can try to find ways to make the abstract concept of time more concrete and visual, both for yourself and your students. Most educators simply cannot add any more time to their days or days to their weeks! The only other option is to use the limited time you do have differently, effectively adding value to it. For most of us, time is often our most valuable resource. Treat time as your most precious asset and spend it in ways that you are cognizant of and are deliberately choosing anytime you can. Set timers, have schedules...visual and auditory timers and schedules! Keep a log of how you spend your time. We do this frequently with our monetary budgets and we can also pretty easily do it with our time budgets. Both are limited, trackable, and important! 
A nail or set of strategies that we choose with two 45 degree bends in it appears to have the point right on target! Hammering away at that, however, will only lead to unwanted outcomes, not accomplishing the objective we set for ourselves. While staying fresh and maintaining some amount of balance in our lives is so important, but don't let that dissuade you from tipping the level, walking out on the fulcrum and embracing some imbalance now and then, in the interest of growing through controlled struggle! Tip that level and walk on it, every now and then! 

a praying mantis crawling up onto a construction level that is sideways.

Rosen, Christine. “The Myth of Multitasking.” The New Atlantis, no. 20, 2008, pp. 105–110., www.jstor.org/stable/43152412. Accessed 11 Sept. 2020.

Golden, Daniel L. “Visual Management of Time.” In the Beginning Was the Image: The Omnipresence of Pictures: Time, Truth, Tradition, edited by András Benedek and Ágnes Veszelszki, Peter Lang AG, Frankfurt Am Main, 2016, pp. 51–58. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctv2t4cns.7. Accessed 11 Sept. 2020.
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Sep
03

Assistive Tech Supports for Anxiety

anxiety Image of face profile with words questioing themself.

It is with great honor that I get to share my blog post week for my guest and dear friend, Hillary Goldthwait-Fowles, Ph.D. Hillary is a certified Special Education Consultant in the State of Maine who specializes in breaking barriers to learning through the use of Assistive Technology and Universal Design for Learning. She is an educator with over 20 years of experience as a teacher of children with Autism and other disabilities including Developmental Disabilities, ADHD, and Dyslexia; as well as a published author of  “One Size Does Not Fit All: Equity, Access, PD, and UDL.” 

Portrait of Hillary Goldthwait-Fowles


Hello there. My name is Hillary. I have Anxiety. I’ve had Anxiety my whole life. I’ve always worried about something. I never really had a name for it, nor did I really understand it’s impact until I decided to acknowledge it and work with it. It’s a life-long, ongoing process, but it’s one that is not to be ashamed of, nor to hide from,

My Anxiety tends to play out like the image below, which a friend from my Ph.D. days shared on social media. We are not alone in this. While one may see “high performing” or “busy”, or “having it all together”, it’s really a mask. It’s a feeble attempt to obtain worth and value through work (at least in my case). It’s an inability to say no for fear of hurting someone’s feelings. It subscribes to the construct that in order to be of value in our society, that we need to “hustle”, “grind” and work ourselves to death. It’s also a fear of really being seen for the variable, beautiful, complex, soul that lies in all of us.
Graphic- High Functioning Anxiety. Two columns what you see versus what is really happening. There have been times in my life that Anxiety rears it’s darker side. During those times, I have sought out therapy and have used medication- both of which I’m not ashamed to admit. If I had cancer- I’d treat it. the same is true of Anxiety. Flares happen during times of excessive stress, overwork, or because things are good- so there needs to be SOMETHING to worry about, right? Anxiety tells you that you are not worthy if you are not busy, hardworking, giving, loyal, and of service to others. Anxiety will have you comparing yourself to others journeys and successes. Anxiety will have you believing horrible, ugly lies about yourself. Yet, everyone’s experience with anxiety is as unique as our fingerprints.

Anxiety is also playing out in schools. I see learners who are taking multiple AP classes, putting relentless pressure on themselves, and participating in multiple activities. While none of this is a problem on the surface, what is happening is that our learners in this high-performing dynamic are now identified as an “at risk group. This doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the mental health concerns of those who are further disenfranchised, including race, gender, socioeconomic, and disability. Where access to mental health services is grossly inadequate and inequitable. Chronic stress affects one’s health and well being-period. Simply “sucking it up” doesn’t work and only exacerbates the issue.

Of course, being an Assistive Tech Specialist, I am always on the hunt for tools that will help others. In that quest, I have found some tools that have helped me to manage my Anxiety in the way that makes sense for me. Perhaps one of these tools will make sense for you. When I am using the tools and taking care of myself consistently, my Anxiety floats on a little puffy cloud as opposed to it rearing its ugly head.

Meditation/Mindfulness

Probably the best tool that has helped me to better manage my anxiety has been daily meditation/mindfulness practices. I talk about how mindfulness has helped save my life in other blog posts for Everyday Mindfulness. Mindfulness practice has to resonate with you. There are apps that can help you to start your own mindfulness practice.

Calm is an app and site that is chock full of evidence based mindfulness and sleep resources. The app is free and contains a ton of great meditations. I use this breathing exercise in workshops and classes to set the tone for everyone as well as when I need to step back and take a minute.



Sound Therapy

The use of sound has been around since ancient times. Research has shown that using sound is useful in helping to relieve emotional , mental, and physical suffering. Fauble (2016) demonstrated in his research that “music and sound healing can help us release emotional traumas and end the downward spiral of PTSD.” Furthermore, Akimoto et.al, (2018) determined that the use of 528hz solfeggio frequency in their study resulted in lower levels of cortisol, tension, and Anxiety- even with exposures as low as 5 minutes.

Personally, I have used sound therapy for years. I play frequencies at various points depending on how I’m feeling, and use solfeggio tones in daily meditations. Here is a great one:



Movement

Exercise is a great way to keep one healthy, but it’s also a great tool to keep one’s Anxiety manageable. Workouts do not have to be complex. They can be a walk on the beach, yoga, lifting weights, riding a bike. The key is to do an activity that makes you sweat a little, brings you joy, and connects with nature. The AT comes into play with my fitness monitor. You can use a wearable such as the Apple Watch, a Fitbit, or MyZone. Find the features that work best for you and use it to track your heart rate and emotions during and after exercise.

Gratitude

Practicing gratitude daily helps to manage stress and increase happiness (Wong, et. al. 2017). Having a daily gratitude practice is as simple as a pen and paper. You can keep a gratitude journal to write what you’re grateful for (I kept a gratitude journal where I listed 5 things that I was grateful when my uncle and grandmother were dying in 2016. It helped tremendously). There are also apps that you can use to journal for gratitude, including Apple Notes. Practicing an “attitude of gratitude” helps keep things in perspective when times are challenging. It can be as simple as that your favorite show was on, or the sunset, or a laugh with a dear friend.

Like a famous psychiatrist says “You can’t change what you don’t acknowledge”. There are options and ways to manage Anxiety that include taking care of yourself physically, emotionally, and spiritually. First and foremost, please seek medical attention. Talk to your health care provider. Find a good therapist. Support yourself and know that you are okay just as you are. Approach anxiety with a curious heart, and learn the ways it shows up in your life. Use tools such as mindfulness, exercise, sound therapy, and gratitude to help manage your anxiety.

*Disclaimer: The statements made in this post about Anxiety are based on the author’s experiences with Anxiety. This post is not intended to diagnose or treat Anxiety, but to share supports that have helped the author manage their Anxiety. Please seek medical attention for the diagnosis and treatment of Anxiety.


References:

Akimoto, Kaho & Hu, Ailing & Yamaguchi, Takuji & Kobayashi, Hiroyuki. (2018). Effect of 528 Hz Music on the Endocrine System and Autonomic Nervous System. Health. 10. 1159-1170. 10.4236/health.2018.109088.

Fauble, Lisabeth. (2016). Medicinal Music: An Anatomy of Music in the Healing Arts.

Wong, J., & Brown, J. (2017, June 6). How Gratitude Changes You and Your Brain. Retrieved February 21, 2020

 


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Guest — Rachel aherron
Wow! Thank you for sharing this! Loved your tips and your willingness to expose the parts of you that some people hide! Beautiful!... Read More
Thursday, 03 September 2020 15:49
Guest — Glenda thompson
How appropriate the first comment to this post was from Rachel...the very one that introduced me to attention to mindfulness. Kel... Read More
Thursday, 03 September 2020 23:02
Guest — Cara Hunt
Great article, I love Calm! I try to use it every couple of days just to help me get back to where I need to be mentally and resto... Read More
Monday, 07 September 2020 09:00
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