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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Recent Comments
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
  2 Comments
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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Recent Comments
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
  3 Comments
Aug
28

Starting Each Day… Thinking about the End of the Day

Starting Each Day… Thinking about the End of the Day Journal open to "Everyday is a Fresh Start."

My family is 4 weeks into the school year and mid-term grades are being posted this week. I don’t know what your situation is, but our school day schedule can be chaotic. I have five children. Three of them attend school 5 days a week all day (2 different schools), 2 children attend a hybrid program that is in person 2 days a week with online instruction 3 days, and the last child attends classes 5 mornings a week at a technical school. Did you follow all of that??? I would be lying if I told you we are always organized, on time, and knowing whether we were coming or going!

I am so grateful for grace and compassion in this season of continual change! Seems like every day, I try to give both of those freely! I may fail some days, but I sure try. One thing that helps my family is having a predictable schedule or daily agenda. As a parent and OT, I encourage you to model this one important life skill: 

Managing Schedules

I will be the first to admit this hasn’t always been my strong suit. It’s something I have had to work on and model with my children. Following a schedule is so important for all of us especially now. We take comfort and feel safe in knowing what comes next!

What works best for my crew is to let them know what to expect all day. We wake up and start thinking about what’s next…and actually what we will do after school too. This structure is helpful for ALL of us.  All of my children have a printed schedule of their school day in a folder, with various layers of strategies to support them (e.g., some with times for class periods, some have icons to remind them which class/folder is which period, and some are color coded with subjects written out). One of my children has visual schedules for smaller chunks of her day as well (morning and evening routines, chores, after school schedule, bus or car rider, etc.). For my 2 with hybrid schedules, they stay on the school period schedule even though they are home to ensure they get their work done. Schedules are a tool that helps them to be independent with many school and home activities.

When the schools transitioned to virtual in the spring due to COVID-19, the one thing that held our family together was our schedule. With the therapists, counselors, special education teachers, and classroom teachers meeting virtually with my children, they needed the daily schedule as much as I did to keep all the appointments all straight. Following a schedule is a skill that we now rely on daily. The daily schedules are especially helpful for transitions from play to work activities and providing built in breaks. This week, a dear friend of mine from the United Kingdom sent a message mentioning she shared a recent PATINS TV feature on Visual Schedules with the family of one of her students, which inspired me to share this resource again and the success of using schedules in our family. 

Check out the PATINS YouTube channel for more ideas and resources. The PATINS Project Staff supports all Indiana public and charter schools and can help you create the high tech, low tech or no tech solutions to help your students access their education, including creating visual schedules.


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Jennifer Conti
It's so helpful to share what is working for your family this school year and I have no doubt it will be beneficial to others as w... Read More
Monday, 31 August 2020 09:31
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Aug
21

Grateful!

Grateful! Sandy smiling with her family.

With all the craziness going on in the world today, I wanted to take a moment to pause and to be Grateful! I consider myself to be very lucky and I am going to take this opportunity to express my gratitude. I have so many people in my life that make my life better in so many ways.

My family is a big part of my life and through this pandemic, I have been able to spend time with my parents, my daughter, her wonderful boyfriend, and my husband. We have shared so many wonderful meals, played cards and games, and worked on countless puzzles.

My daughter has also chosen this crazy period in time to join a school corporation as a Speech-Language Pathologist. I am grateful that she has a job and is able to meet the needs of her students who need her so much. I am also so grateful that PATINS and ICAM have another great advocate out in the schools and she is already raising awareness in her school. 

I also have a fantastic extended family and we have been able to play tennis and to get out and take walks. I am also so grateful that while one member of my family has contracted COVID-19 that they had very minimal symptoms and they have recovered. We also survived a COVID-19 scare with my daughter, she had Bronchitis and we were grateful for that!

I am blessed to have a magnificent group of friends that I am very grateful for. I have so many women in my life that I can reach out to. I have my tennis friends who are always there to not only hit a ball around but to listen to me and take my mind off the world for a while. I also meet every Thursday for dinner with three friends. I look forward to our night out every week. I am grateful that I can call any of these women and know that they are there for me. 

Finally, I am so grateful for my current position as the ICAM Digital Services Specialist. I have been employed by the PATINS Project since 2001, so this will be my 19th year. I have the privilege of being able to work from home for an organization that I believe has made an enormous difference in the lives of so many students, teachers, and other school personnel. Just last year, the ICAM served staff and students in over 180 school corporations! I am grateful that the work that I do is so rewarding! I hope that you will take a pause and think about everything you are grateful for, I know it made me feel better.

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Recent Comments
Guest — Martha H.
Thanks for this, Sandy. Everything is crazy and being grateful is a good way back to Zen.
Friday, 21 August 2020 13:59
Guest — Glenda Thompson
The very definition of grateful according to Webster is “thankful for benefits received” ...how appropriate for the grass roots of... Read More
Friday, 21 August 2020 19:37
  2 Comments
Aug
14

Whatever Happened to Civics?

My sister Linda is fourteen years older than me. So the year I was born, she began high school. She taught me how to count and sing and write my name and read and spell. There were three more children between us who may have encouraged these tasks, as did our parents, but she took seriously her role as the “older sister”, which was of great benefit to me in many ways, over many many years. And counting.

I loved looking at Sister’s textbooks; they fascinated me. I had only children’s storybooks, with gold painted on their little spines. I loved my books, but her books were great objects of mystery. One of her favorite classes was called Civics*. The cover of the book was dark blue and plain, but inside were amazing, unsettling photographs--a building burning, men arguing in a courtroom, people carrying picket signs in front of a school, soldiers standing at salute, a hand on a Bible, a circle of women raising their fists. I didn’t know what Civics was, but I loved the pictures.

When I began 1st grade, Linda was off to college.
By the time I got to high school, there no longer was a class called Civics. Now we had Social Studies. That class had a nice textbook, with color photographs of people in daily life in cultures far away. Dark-skinned men trudging through jungles wearing loincloths made from animal hides, bare-breasted women in bright woven skirts, carrying babies and baskets of grain. I wasn’t nearly as serious and percipient about that as I’d like to remember. So much giggling. 

We also had U.S. History*. That was largely about our presidents and their backstories, American inventors, the Industrial Revolution. Important to know, very interesting, but I do not recall discussions about why laws were written and passed, or which laws were left up to the states. We didn’t discuss the appropriate actions to take if we saw a Policeman act in a way we felt was wrong. Or the results on future employment and other endeavors after one has been incarcerated.

Linda and I recently spoke of our different school memories, and she said something stunning:

“By the time your generation needed Civics class, they had quit teaching it. Schools stopped teaching teenagers how to be good citizens; how to thrive in and support their communities, their state, our country. The United States was at several crucial crossroads, and while there were strong voices shouting their views and there were few good maps.” *

Hmmm. Perhaps that depended on where one lived? Or if one grew up in a family that discussed current events from an historical perspective

We talked about the political/social icons of my generation, as she was raising young children: the Ban the Bomb emblem (aka ‘Peace Sign’). The red, white and blue VOTE patches we sewed on our bell-bottoms. The Uncle Sam Wants You! posters. The POW bracelets we wore to honor soldiers in Viet Nam who went missing in action. We participated with enthusiasm even though we didn’t fully understand. 

Many of us were not natural-born activists, and our interests ran to football games and dances more than Poli/Sci. Civics class would surely have helped mold our thinking and would have better prepared us for the world. 

The real puzzle is, why was it decided that Civics would no longer be taught in American public schools? Did a committee decide that instruction in our duties as citizens would somehow impede our process of becoming free thinkers?

Five decades later and still America is muddling through the same entangling and destructive social ills as it always has: racism, sexism, classism. Problems that result from illegal immigration, like detainment, family separation, and disease spread due to overcrowded conditions. Climate change, unemployment, income inequality. Disability law, freedom of speech, international travel laws.

These are important issues that depend upon our democracy. We should be teaching students to be informed about the civil rights of themselves and others. Kids should leave high school with a base understanding of how our federal government works, and how their local government works within it. I’m probably not the only adult in the room who has a rudimentary understanding of many such topics. Of course, we tend to become more informed when an issue touches us specifically in some profound way.

So maybe teachers and parents just start talking about it. This is a win-win, as we’ve seen the best way to learn something is to teach it. Discuss scenarios between someone who comes from a place of privilege and an obvious underdog. What unites and divides such individuals? Can this be fixed? Open conversations about racial tension kids may experience or see on the news and discuss ways we can become a solution, not another problem. What values are we purporting, in the ways we interact with certain students, or teachers or parents? We all know we lead by example, so are we setting good ones?

Sister is right. Kids need a map. We can help our kids learn how to help others. How to ponder and talk about hard subjects, and how to navigate the maze of social turmoil by thinking and engaging their friends, schools and society at large. The pandemic is forcing students and teachers to find new approaches to teaching and learning. So maybe this is the perfect time to work a renewed Civic awareness into our lessons, no matter what subject we teach.

Check here for suggestions on engaging children in civic matters, and learn how each of the United States is working toward greater Civic understanding. There is much work to be done.

Thanks so much!

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Aug
07

The Greatest Show

The Greatest Show The Greatest Show

Nothing quite gets me hyped up like a good theme song. The one that I started listening to this morning to start off my live webinar was, “This Is Me” from the movie The Greatest Showman. I was looking for American Sign Language (ASL) songs on YouTube to start off my webinar on a great note. When I stumbled upon this one: "This Is Me" The Greatest Showman - ASL by Sarah Tubert, I knew I had hit paydirt. 

After watching this video, I realized the connection to this song for our students and educators. Educators are equipping students for their greatest show, that is, their adult life. In many ways, this school year (2020-2021) will be most educators’ greatest show yet. This will be the year for educators to really show what they’re made of. I already know - they’re made out of a great deal of awesomeness. This year, countless districts are stepping up to support students and families in order to improve their delivery of distance and in-person learning. Students and families are also demonstrating great compassion through understanding and giving it their all to help make this year a great year.

We have heard many times that we need to take care of ourselves (e.g., eat better, get more sleep, exercise, read, connect with nature, etc.). We do need to be healthy before we can help others, and we need to nurture our own mental health. Similar to the flight attendant’s instruction “to put on your oxygen mask first” so that you can help others. If we aren’t prepared, we won’t be able to help others. We must take care of ourselves. I hear this so often yet I’m not quite sure what it means for me. Much like student rewards/motivational charts/options change over time, our own self-care choices may need to change to meet our current needs. What worked before the pandemic doesn’t seem to be working for my own self-care. I’m trying though. I am always looking and willing to try something interesting and different to try to keep things novel and fun. However, lately, I’m hanging out more and more in bed when I’m not at work watching Netflix and the series, Good Bones on Hulu. If I wasn’t careful, this social isolation could easily sabotage my mental health. So, I made a change. I’m on to seeking new things that spark joy in this new time in our lives. I found sunflowers bigger than my head at the local farmer’s market and I’ve been getting back into a safe routine at my gym.

image of a gym with pull up racks and black mat floor

G
ym time has been a refreshing self-care choice and is something that I am clinging to lately. Oddly, that had never really been the case for me. I realized why I love this gym so much, it demonstrates universal design like the
Universal Design for Learning (UDL) we advocate for in our classrooms. I’ll give you a little rundown of the similarities (Engagement, Representation, Action & Expression); 
  • one main coach, 
  • objectives and activities are written on the board, 
  • sometimes we work with partners but we all need to do our own work, 
  • we can learn from my peers by watching how they do different lifting exercises, 
  • everyone is at a different place in their fitness journey, 
  • no one is compared to each other, 
  • each activity can be scaffold to meet each person where they are, 
  • all the tools and activity access options in the gym are available to everyone at all times,
  • those who are ready to be above the prescribed work out can do that and it’s not displayed in a way that everyone else can’t achieve that as well, and 
  • there is a timer for the workout but you can take longer if you need extra time. 

My favorite part is that we use a smartphone app to track our individual progress, but each week we celebrate our growth together! Although we all work separately, we root for each other together.  Each visit improves my mental and physical well being, I am excited too by seeing my progress from my last session. 

Katie and her husband, Cam, after working out at the gym.

Everyone’s self-care will be different and can change with the seasons of life. Make time and do something for yourself even if it’s a small change. Let’s all put on our oxygen masks first and ready ourselves to support our students, families and fellow educators. If we are healthy and ready, we can help change the lives of our students in an even bigger way than we have ever thought possible.  This is the year that we show everyone that each educator is The Greatest Showman/Showwoman and the amazing impact we have in every student’s lives that walks in the doors or logs into their device. Let’s give them the greatest show!

                                                                            image from the movie The Greatest Showman, the main character with his arms open wide at the end of the show with characters around him.













If you are feeling even a little overwhelmed by all the cute Bitmoji classrooms, digital files, or unique access materials questions, please come visit with a PATINS staff member during our new Monday - Wednesday - Friday open office hours. These are drop-in, no appointment needed support for any educator, we are available to brainstorm ideas and offer technical support at no-cost by a PATINS Specialist. Links for the office hours can be found on the
PATINS training calendar.

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Jul
31

Have I Been Doing It Wrong?

Have I Been Doing It Wrong? Clipart of racially diverse students

Recently, a colleague shared an article with me that threw me for a loop and spurred my thinking. Could what I’ve been so passionately sharing with educators all along be wrong? Yikes! 

Well, of course it could be. Because if what we love about teaching most is learning (and I do), then we always seek to expand our knowledge. We also keep open minds and regularly reflect on our practice and understanding. And when we know better, we have the opportunity to do better!

So, here’s what I’m wondering and questioning… “Have I as a white, middle-class American citizen been touting Universal Design for Learning (UDL) as a solution that may only be designed in ways to support other white individuals?” Unfortunately, I think the answer is yes. That now put in writing, let me reflect upon why I feel this way. 

Simply based upon my race, gender, and lack of diagnosed disability, I have experienced privilege in ways that I both understand and still have yet to comprehend. Take, for example, my gender and personal experience, as an educator I have always worked with far more educators who identify as she/her than those that may identify as he/his, or they/their. Since I also consider myself to be neurotypical and able-bodied, I find myself pondering what proactive steps I must take in order to appropriately advocate for UDL when my experiences and thus my true empathy are first and foremost limited by traits I did not choose.

My new knowledge on intersectionality from Ijeoma Oluo’s book, So You Want to Talk about Race is also making me question the ways in which I’ve been promoting UDL. For example, I know that I’ve shared how implementing the UDL framework can change the game for a student with an intellectual and/or physical disability, but I have neglected to challenge myself and others to think about more than one demographic of students at a time as the philosophy and culture of UDL represents. 

This neglect has me now reflecting upon how a person of color with a disability may be experiencing their education; or, how a person who is transgender, Black, and has a physical disability may be experiencing their education. Have I been promoting UDL to specifically level the playing field for these individuals? The answer is again sadly no, which tells me that I haven’t been serving all students and that I’ve missed the mark on explicitly sharing the true definition of UDL, which does include a framework for all demographics and their intersections, with educators.  

With equitable access to education for every single student and the gaps in opportunities that have been created through well-intentioned educators like myself, I’ve begun to explore new (to me) research and changes I can make to best serve each and every student. One element I have found and believe is worth sharing is that while there is much research in support of UDL for a variety of students, it is worth noting that Indar (2018) and Azawei, Serenelli & Lundqvist (2016) point out that many studies conducted on UDL leave out specific student demographic information. 

These studies leave me questioning the general population’s comprehension of or attention to who is actually a part of our student body. Thus, I believe the time has come to put our UDL practices under a microscope in search of their demographic weaknesses and to boost true equity in our classrooms both in-person and virtually. 

Some ways we can get started are to:

  1. Find and explore research studies with a critical eye for participant demographics and the potential for researcher bias - are a variety of student populations being studied or is it unknown?
  2. Don’t be afraid to admit that some changes may need to be made in your classroom.
  3. Like my colleagues, Jessica Conrad and Bev Sharritt, have mentioned over the past few weeks, explore your own implicit bias using these tests and this study on implicit bias in the early childhood setting. Finding yourself feeling uncomfortable is normal, or at least I hope so, because I certainly had my eyes opened to some of my biases and subsequent actions in and out of the classroom.
  4. **Don’t forget that bias isn’t always assigned by a different demographic onto another. Many, if not all, of our students have been socialized to hold both positive and negative beliefs about themselves based upon their cultures, race, gender, etc. Check out the Doll Test to gain more perspective on this idea.
  5. Promote more racially diverse workplaces or push yourself to find more diverse educators and professionals to converse with (as a white person, I consider these tips in more difficult conversations about racism). Social media can be a great place to connect with others from more diverse backgrounds on student, classroom, and school issues.
  6. Ask your students and their families for feedback. How can you make them feel more included? 
  7. Consider your shared resources and teaching:
    1. Are you including diversity in your shared images and graphics?
    2. Are you including diverse titles for reading and research?
    3. Are you using inclusive language?
    4. Are you open to constructive criticism when it comes to diversity and genuine inclusion of everyone; not just those students that look and sound like you. 
  8. Consider crafting a statement on diversity and/or anti-racism for yourself as an educator or as a school/district to follow. We have dedicated ourselves at PATINS to our statement on anti-racism.
  9. Reach out for support. We are here to explore these issues together!


References:

Al-Azawei, A., Serenelli, F. & Lundqvist, K. (2016). Universal design for learning (UDL): A content analysis of peer-reviewed journal papers from 2012 to 2015. Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 16(3), p. 39-56. doi: 10.14434/josotl.v16i3.19295


CAST. (2020). About universal design for learning. Retrieved July 29, 2020 from http://www.cast.org/our-work/about-udl.html#.XyLDBfhKjMJ


Indar, G.K. (2018). An equity-based evolution of universal design for learning: Participatory design for intentional inclusivity. Retrieved June 25, 2020 from https://udl-irn.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Done_INDAR.EDIT_.DH_.JEG-copy.pdf

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Jul
23

All the Colors are Welcome


In addition to serving as PATINS specialist for blindness and low vision, I am a part time flower farmer. My husband has a full time job off the farm as well, but between the two of us, our daughter Grace, and another part time employee, we grow, cut and assemble 70 - 100 bouquets/week to sell at an Indianapolis farmer’s market. Roger makes the dirt fly, and I cut and assemble bouquets. Every week I get to design with a new palette of colors and textures as different varieties come in and out of bloom. 

Right now, in the technicolor heart of July, we have the most variety, from the cool blues of forget-me-nots and cornflower to brilliant coral zinnias. We have found that certain combinations sell every week, so we assemble what we call “The Rainbow” and “The Rhoda” (named for a former employee) every Friday evening. They sell, but they’ve become boring to make after many years.

The Rainbow and The Rhoda:

bucket of bouquets with rainbow colors featuring sunflowers, cynoglossum and zinnias

bucket with 6 bouquets featuring red, purple and yellow flowers including sunflowers, hydrangea and zinnias

We make these standard sets, then we turn our creativity loose and play with the colors. After many years, I’m realizing I have certain biases in what I will and won’t use together in a bouquet. I’ve never been a fan of putting a lemon sunflower together with a gold one--although others in the crew do this, and the flowers sell. Same with coral and burgundy. Just writing this down makes it seem pretty ridiculous, unless you consider the science of color and perception.

I’ve been trying to push past my color biases this season by intentionally putting together things that don’t appeal to me. Here is a set I did last week: I like orange and blue together, but adding the dark red/brown foliage was difficult. I desired to add a sunflower, but I’m working on moving away from that requirement. I wanted those delphiniums to get noticed! bucket of 6 bouquets with purple, blue and orange flowers featuring delphinium, marigold and celosia

As I disengage my color autopilot, I hope I’m uncovering all of the crazy rules that I’ve accumulated for shades and combinations. I don't want to miss any possibility of beauty because of my bias.

Have you been examining your biases lately? It’s hard to accept that we have any kind of unfairness expressed in our brains subconsciously, but we all do--a part of being human and big-brained. If you want a glimpse of what yours might be, you can take a series of online tests. Knowing what your subconscious is doing humbles you, but might also transform you. 

When my colleague Jessica posted this blog about bias built into assistive technology I had a scales-falling-from-my-eyes moment that made me want to just lay down and cry. I had a similar sensation when I listened to this podcast about the watershed legal case Brown vs. Board of Education, and the shameful racist history I had never learned about my profession, and its impact today on the field.  

When my daughter Grace got married we, of course, did all of the flowers. I kept trying to pin her down on a color scheme. She had just come home from a year of study in Ghana, and from that influence told me in her best Ghanain accent, “All of the colors are welcome.” She’s human and also has biases, but her bouquet creations are varied, bold and spectacular. 

At PATINS we welcome all, and want to break free from any racist biases we may have and serve all. Here is our recent statement to that effect. We hope that you will join us in this work, and hold us accountable to these words. 

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Jul
16

“I just don’t like this isolation stuff”

Back in April, I wrote a blog titled, “What it means to them.” I asked my grandchildren what Continuous Learning meant to them. For the three in elementary school, I received a pretty mixed bag of responses.

Since then, summer has been upon them and school, well what it might be like, is soon to resume. I heard my three oldest grandchildren tell me last spring that the best part of the Continuous Learning was getting to meet with their classmates via Zoom.

For them, it was a sense of connection, which became even more important as the summer progressed. My oldest grandson, Dean, who is ten felt the pain of not seeing his friends because of Covid-19. As everyone was told to stay in place, Dean knew why, but that didn’t make it easier to accept saying, “I just don’t like this isolation stuff.”

Dean turned ten in April, and for his birthday he got a new bike. He and his siblings could ride them in the street in front of their house, but it wasn’t the same as riding with friends.

It was a couple of weeks ago when some of the restrictions were eased, my daughter contacted one of Dean’s friend’s mom to see if they could get the boys together for a bike ride. Both parents agreed that social distancing would be part of the deal if the boys agreed. Dean was ecstatic at the opportunity.

The boys spent most of the afternoon riding up and down the streets in the neighborhood and just catching up on all they had missed.

Logan, my eight-year-old grandson, was more comfortable spending time with Dean and Hazel and his parents who are both in education. As the restrictions eased Logan has been enjoying the small family gathering that include his cousins again. Logan has also collected a number of four-leaf clovers that he has found scouring the backyard.

Since then, the football season is about to begin, and my two oldest grandsons are itching to get started. It will be bringing some normalcy to their lives again and an opportunity to catch up with teammates.

My other daughter’s oldest child, Kenzie, dealt with her isolation a little differently. The family had an old iPhone that still worked, and her dad connected it to the home WIFI. When you give a seven-year-old a working iPhone that has FaceTime you might imagine what’s next.

I can’t tell you how many times Mimi got a FaceTime call from Kenzie as well as her Aunt Sarah, Aunt Bernie, friends… you get the picture. You noticed I was not included. Fortunately, I have an Android, but that didn’t deter her from wanting to talk to Pappy Pa if I was around Mimi at the time.

Being home for this extended amount of time seems to have been easiest for my two youngest grandchildren, who are both now four. 

A joyful learning experience they both shared was their families both planting their first vegetable garden. This seems to have been very popular with many families in the Midwest this year, myself and my wife included.  

All the tomatoes, squash, green beans, watermelons, carrots, cucumbers, and MORE are growing well. Ethan eats the pickling cucumbers right off the vine with a grin on his face, while Hazel jumps for joy showing off her zucchini that is SO BIG! Both of the little ones can’t wait to go back to pre-school to see their teachers and make new friends.

This year has been trying for all, and we are still dealing with what’s next. School for my grandchildren begins at the end of July. All the precautions are being put into place. They are fully aware of what to do with wearing a mask, washing their hands frequently, and social distancing as they have been practicing for months.

That said, the isolation will no longer be the issue. The challenge will be the major changes in the school and classroom routines, but that will be another blog.

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