Jan
24

What is Your Gift?

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


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


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


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


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


Hands holding a small red gift with white ribbon.



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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


We are being faced with a wave of children who are living in crisis and facing tremendous trauma. However, one huge difference exists from other generations of children born into trauma. Teachers across our country are taking a stand, educating themselves about how to reach students and learning how to empower and connect with them. My challenge to you today is to start the process of discovering the gifts that every student you meet has. Just ask them! They will tell you!
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Sandy Stabenfeldt
Great post! Thank you for sharing!
Thursday, 24 January 2019 13:10
Sandy Stabenfeldt
My gift is being a terrific mom! There is nothing that brings me more joy than being a good mom and seeing my daughter grow into ... Read More
Thursday, 24 January 2019 13:42
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Jan
17

Solving the puzzle!

Some of my favorite things go together so nicely.  Playing tennis on a tennis court overlooking the ocean while a dolphin plays in the background would be my idea of a perfect afternoon!  Another perfect scenario would include me sitting by the ocean reading a mystery novel while a manatee splashed around. Another of my favorite activities is putting together a puzzle with my husband and daughter on our dining room table.  I call it “family puzzling time” and it always makes me so happy to have everyone together completing a puzzle.

As I was contemplating my next blog posting I was thinking about how things fit together. Many times we have pieces of our lives or daily routines that need to fit together to help complete our puzzles.  Thinking about how pieces go together relate to the students I serve as well. Teachers have the complex task of figuring out which pieces of the puzzle fit to best serve their students.  

Each student is unique and will require a different solution.  Some students will need AEM (Accessible Educational Materials) and a technology solution to access these materials. This is where the ICAM (Indiana Center for Accessible Materials) can help. We can provide answers and solutions for your students who struggle with print materials. We can help solve your puzzling student situations.

Do your students need digital text, do they need to access it on an iPad, do they need text to speech? Or do they need audio text on a Windows computer? The different scenarios are endless and the ICAM can help you put the puzzle together.   

If you find yourself with a puzzling case, please do not hesitate to contact the ICAM! Sandy Stabenfeldt (myself), Jeff Bond and Martha Hammond are here to help you every step of the way.


Sandy StabenfeldtJeff BondMartha Hammond


The ICAM webpage is full of great information and resources for you to check out as well.  We have also made some step by step videos to assist you!
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Jan
10

Teacher, Wash Your Face

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

Katie holding Girl, Wash Your Face book.

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

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


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

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

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

So, what have you been waiting to do?

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

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

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Jan
03

Happy New Year!

You maybe haven’t thought about it but we are 8 months away from the implementation of IN SB 217, the dyslexia law. I think of it often. I have this fear that the 2019-2020 school year will arrive and there will be those who have not prepared and are not sure where to begin. Don’t let that happen to your school. If you haven’t already, begin working toward success now as we inch towards implementation. It is not too soon, even if students with dyslexia have not been screened yet, to consider accommodations. I know, all students are different, yet there will be certain strategies you will go back to again and again.

During the PATINS Access to Education Conference 2018 in November, I entered a session where the topic of accommodations was being discussed for students with learning differences such as dyslexia. The presenters were speaking on the importance of providing text to speech software, audiobooks, and other tools that “level the playing field” for certain students.  

Someone commented that in her classroom, she was reluctant to allow the use of tools that others do not have, because “it’s not fair.” The presenter quickly pointed out that what is unfair is to deny accommodations for a student who needs them, because they are not available to the whole class. Rick Lavoie has said, fairness means that everyone gets what they need, not that everyone gets the same thing. Or, as the presenter said, “Would you take away a student’s eyeglasses because others have perfect vision?”

Making accommodations so that all students have access to content and opportunities for growth is, in effect, changing individual learning environments. So, if you create each student’s work environment according to how each student learns, you are providing appropriate accommodations. Also, you are building universally designed instruction. This is a natural flow. To keep yourself from getting swamped, think of some accommodations you can beneficially provide to everyone.


For example, when you give an assignment, make it very explicit. Tell how many pages are required. Demonstrate how to extract the pros and cons of a viewpoint. If using specific vocabulary words is required, hand out a separate list of the words to everyone, so all students can check them off as they go. Show examples and visual aids of what you expect. Allow students to ask questions and clarify until everyone understands gets it. If a student returns to you to revisit the instructions, this is no time to say “I told you once.” Everyone should understand the assignment before they begin and as they move forward.

Which leads to the matter of drafts, or revisions of writing assignments. Thinking back to my school days, turning in a couple of drafts for teacher suggestions and re-writes was offered for “term papers” in high school. This would also be helpful on everyday assignments because it will help improve grades for strugglers, and it will help students get in a habit of checking over their own work. This is a learned skill, best taught early.

Allow extra time for in-class assignments. For everyone. Once you know your students, and know which ones do not need extra time, it might be appropriate to pair that student with one who needs more support. Even if your school does not implement a Peer-Buddy System, teachers can improvise one informally during specific classes. Until the teacher and students get the hang of this, the teacher will need to closely monitor the process. Expect such pairings to be advantageous for both students, for it can increase awareness of difference and sameness, tolerance and helpfulness, confidence and trust. Win/Win!

Everything suggested here will take time. Sometimes, if a task is not a standard, or not required, the time factor may seem unjustifiable. However, we are changing learning environments to accommodate students with dyslexia and we are long overdue.

Any of the PATINS Specialists can help you build a learning environment using Universal Design. Also, we post relevant information on the PATINS/ICAM Dyslexia Resources Page, and the IDOE continues to share guidance on their own Dyslexia Resources Page. Joe Risch, who is the new Reading Specialist with Training in Dyslexia for the state, gives some great answers to need-to-know questions. You are covered in a blanket of support. Happy New Year!




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Dec
27

A New Year, A New Classroom?

Traditional & UDL Classroom Comparison From a traditional classroom to one that is more universally designed.
For many people, the end of the year is laden with traditions. After all, traditions are inherently part of the many cultures that exist around the world, especially when it comes to holidays and celebrations. They are present in a variety of our routines, activities, and schedules at home, work, and school.

Some traditions evolve over the years, reflecting the change in the times, the environment, or the family, while others remain the same from one year to the next. I like to call the latter, anchor traditions. I believe that our desire to observe these traditions not only stems from the definition that they bring to us as a people, but is deeply rooted in the comfort and familiar expectations that accompany each one.

Furthermore, I believe that it’s within this comfort and familiarity that many traditions, good and bad, persist in our schools and classrooms. It’s natural to cling to what we know and what has always been done, but when does our personal comfort begin to impede the learning experience for our students?

I’d argue that more often than not holding onto what we know to be true in a zone of comfort, holds us back from doing the job we truly want to do as educators. That it keeps us in the mindset of teaching the way we were taught, of putting our academic to-do lists before our students more immediate needs, of being resistant to new ideas, of overlooking the value that each student brings to the classroom, of forgetting why we became teachers in the first place.

In fact, as I reflect upon my own teaching and experience, I can admit that I allowed myself to retreat to my personal comfort zone, teaching the way I was taught and projecting onto my students what I wanted for them without asking them what they wanted for themselves.

Had I known then what I know now, there are steps that I would have taken to shift the focus from my traditional, teacher-centered methods solely created to manage my classroom to a student-centered classroom driven by my students’ individual wants and needs.

But how?

I would have started with relationship building. Not the type of relationship building that happens those first few days of school (and includes the obligatory beginning of the year “get-to-know me” poster activity), but real relationship building. The type that takes time, energy, and sometimes a lot of effort and persistence. The type that begins with allowing every student to enter the classroom with a clean slate and without preconceived notions.

I would have asked my students to share how they prefer to learn, what they believed their strengths and weaknesses to be, what their fears were and always given them multiple ways to respond - verbally, in writing, with pictures, etc.

I would have asked my students to tell me what they wanted to learn that year and worked to incorporate their interests into the daily lessons and activities.

I would have asked my students how they were doing and truly listened without judgement.

I would have worked hard to make sure my students knew that I sincerely cared about them regardless of their behavior and even in the worst of times.

Relationship building can be a game changer and is key when it comes to creating a student-centered environment. And though it may be difficult to foster new relationships and leave behind those all too comfortable traditional methods, all it really takes to head in a new direction focused on students is to take the first step. The upcoming new year and semester offers the perfect opportunity to take this step, so will you?

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Dec
20

The Gift of Growth

We welcome a guest blogger this holiday week, Julie Bryant, who is a teacher for the blind and low vision serving in Dubois, Spencer, Perry and Pike Counties. I love Julie’s style: she’s direct, funny and a fierce advocate for her students. I turned her loose to choose a topic, and I’m not surprised that she’s chosen to share stories of her students and their achievements:

Julie Bryant and her husband Bill.
When Bev asked me to participate in the PATINS weekly blog I decided with Thanksgiving just behind us and Christmas quickly approaching I felt that it was important to talk about the blessings that being a BLV teacher has afforded me. I am blessed to meet my students when they first enter preschool and remain with them until they graduate high school and if I’m lucky, beyond. I have students that still call me when they have a question, concern, or just need some advice after moving on to college or the workforce. Watching these students grow and blossom is the greatest gift. 


As BLV teachers when our students succeed or fail we feel those joys and sorrows right along with our students and their parents. The technology that we now have for our students has come a long way over the last 10 years that I have been in this position. 

Technology has helped my blind and low vision students feel more like their peers and given them access to more information, books, and careers. My blind students have BrailleTouch devices, MacBooks, iPads, and iPhones that have allowed them to be more independent. 

One of my students in high school wants to be a lawyer and if his ability to argue his case with me daily about anything and everything is any indication of his abilities, I know he will be amazing. He gives Sunday sermons at a small country church once a month (I’ve said for years he should be a preacher!), as he seems to inspire others. He would eventually like to get into politics (ugh), but at least I know he will be an honest and upstanding politician! He is an inspiration not because he is blind, but because he doesn’t see himself as different and gets upset when people treat him with disrespect because he is blind. 

I have a student with low vision who is attending IU. She is part of the IU singing Hoosiers and has an amazing voice. She is also studying to be a psychologist. Being part of this exclusive group was a goal she worked hard to attain and she has a work ethic second to none.

I have tried to impress upon my students that they can do or be anything they want, but they have to put in the work to achieve those goals. Some think I am pretty tough, but if being tough helps my students succeed then I will continue to push my students.
 


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Sandy Stabenfeldt
Thank you Julie for sharing! We are very proud of the work you are doing!
Thursday, 20 December 2018 15:27
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Dec
13

Building Blocks: Virtual vs Real

My oldest grandson, Dean, has taken a real interest in blocks. It’s kind of funny, because as a toddler he really didn’t show that much interest in playing with them. However, at the age of 8 and in the third grade it finally captivated him.

Don’t get me wrong, he has played with a Lego here and there, but it really took off this past Autumn. I couldn’t help but wonder what prompted the interest.

Looking back, over the past year he has been very involved with the video software Minecraft. If you’re not familiar, it is a virtual world where a player or gamer (I’m not sure of the correct term) creates a virtual world out of blocks and a variety of objects and things one can collect.

For his birthday last April, he was all about Minecraft, including a desire to own a Minecraft chest. My wife, Rita (aka Mimi) had been checking Pinterest and YouTube and came up with the idea that I should make him one.

Being the procrastinator that I am, I started the project the week before his birthday. I took ownership of the process and completed the chest.   We filled it with Minecraft little figurines.  Dean was very surprised and grateful… not so much for what was in the chest, but that Pappy Pa and Mimi created it just for him.

Dean MC Box

Shortly after his birthday, I asked Dean for a little instruction on Minecraft.   He gave me a tutorial then showed me videos on YouTube where gamers show off their abilities.

This past summer I can’t tell you how many times I observed Dean and his brother Logan watching Minecraft YouTube videos…it seemed endless.

I had mentioned Legos earlier - here at the Bond house, we had a somewhat small collection. Just the right size however for Dean to start “creating” things that resembled Minecraft components.  With Thanksgiving and Christmas just around the corner, Rita and I decided to bulk up our Lego collection for the holidays. You know just to give the kids something to do.

Thanksgiving Day we pulled out a box of Legos with over 1500 pieces! All the kid’s eyes lit up especially Dean’s. It was fun to watch all the grandkids AND my son-in-law build their individual creations.

After about an hour or so the interest level subsided, except for Dean’s. He continued to amass several replicas of what he had created in Minecraft. He was as consumed with building with Legos as he was building in the virtual game, and it lasted for hours.

I am not a gamer. I have a Wii but still can’t virtual bowl for squat, so I don’t go to a bowling alley for that reason. However, to watch Dean over the past months translate the virtual reality of his creation into the real world of constructing what he has imagined, has been fascinating and rewarding.

We put a lot of technology into the hands of children. I wonder how many can transfer their virtual experiences into real life experiences?
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Sandy Stabenfeldt
Jeff, What a great idea and what a great blog posting! Thank you for sharing!
Friday, 14 December 2018 12:22
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Dec
07

Never Give Up

This week I have invited a Guest Blogger to share with us. His name is Collin Clarke. Before I share his story in his own words, allow me to tell you how I came across Collin.

I was first introduced to Collin through an A&E TV Special entitled “Born This Way” earlier this year. 

The things I learned about Collin after watching that TV special are:
  • Collin is a fit young man
  • Collin is a bodybuilder. (Men’s Health Magazine sought him out to be featured on this Health and Fitness episode)
  • Collin is from Evansville, IN
  • Collin has Down Syndrome. In Collin’s words: “God made me like this for a reason”
  • Collin has a supportive family and set of friends. Father Carter Clarke said the family has always pushed Collin to succeed. Sometimes that has meant pushing those around him to accept his “no limits” attitude. “We are very blessed with Collin. He doesn’t see any barriers in life. We’ve always tried to avoid putting limits on him. If he wanted to do something, we were always all for it”.
  • Collin’s personality drew me in, kept me glued to the TV and inspired me to never give up on anything I want to do, want to be, want to accomplish.
Now, here’s Collin himself to tell you his story. Enjoy the read and remember to …

Never Give Up.

My name is Collin Clarke, I am 25 years old and I am a bodybuilder. I became a bodybuilder in 2015 after watching John Cena and other bodybuilders like Arnold Schwarzenegger. I was over 200 pounds. I competed at 137 pounds after 7 months of hard training and diet.

Collin Before and After Bodybuilding in 2015. Bodybuilding changed my life emotionally and physically. It feels so good to be healthy and to make good changes in my diet and be more active.


I try to inspire others to make changes to become healthier. I have many friends and family who support me and help me when the diet gets hard or I am tired or need a reminder that I am strong.
Collin's Family and Friend 2016. I believe in never giving up and listening to my heart and give it everything I got.


I am inspired by many people. People with disabilities, people in the military, family and friends who want me to be my best.

I love being a role model for young kids, to let them know they can do anything or be anything with heart and passion and believing in themselves. I love when parents come up to me and say because of you my child wants to be like you.

I want to keep bodybuilding and getting better. I look for positive in every day and want others to do the same - believe in their ability and to not get distracted by a disability (label).

I have an extra chromosome, a big heart and will keep dreaming and believing and I will never give up!


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Sandy Stabenfeldt
What a fantastic guest speaker and blog entry. We are very proud of Collin here in Evansville! Thank you so much for sharing wit... Read More
Friday, 07 December 2018 11:16
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Nov
29

This Blog Post is Full of Curse Words

This Blog Post is Full Of Curse Words Icon for various forms of AAC with the large black font reading
About once a month I have to answer a really important question:

“Why is that word on his talker?”

“That word,” is our euphemism for any number of words: body parts (slang and clinical), fart sounds, curse words, words that are culturally irrelevant, childish, or inappropriate for a child [of his age/place where he is/supposed cognitive level]. And someone, somewhere, decided to program it on this child’s Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) device as if encouraging the child to use inappropriate language.

I get it. When I imagined the magical moment of helping a student find her voice with the fancy new Sound Generating Device, I wasn’t expecting her first two-word phrase on her device to be “poop butt” repeated over and over again for the next three days, either.

I get it, I really do! We’re professionals trying to create engaging and enriching environments for our learners and the literacy activity has been derailed because we taught him how to make plurals on his talker and now he loves pluralizing the word “as.”

We admit we’re impressed, but we can’t let that slide.

In moments of “enriched language” that flusters me I take a deep breath and remember:

I am not the language police.

A larger-than-anticipated part of my job has been talking about cuss words. And promoting cuss words. And explaining the functional importance of having access to cuss words. And listening to and programming cuss words into communication devices. And explaining why adults can't delete cuss words and "adult vocabulary" from a kid's voice. And listing all culturally relevant cuss words. And finding good visuals for cuss words.

If my professors could see me now.

So what happens if she talks out of turn, pressing the buttons on her communication app? The same thing that happens to all the other students talking out, of course.

What happens when she won’t stop saying “poop butt”? The same thing you would do for any other child who says it. We don’t duct tape kids mouths, and we don’t take talkers away.

What happens when she uses swear words in class? The same thing that you do for any other student who cusses in class. We can’t forcibly remove words from a speaking child’s vocabulary. We teach, we consider the variables, and we provide natural consequences. We don’t delete words from the communication device.

It is work worth doing, with clear expectations, communication between school and family (and sometimes with the office door closed and the volume down really low as you check to make sure “#$!@” is pronounced correctly). The communication device is a voice, not a school textbook or a representation of just the words you hope or anticipate they’ll use today. It’s their access to their human right to communicate, and sometimes communication is colorful, shocking, or uncomfortable.

Do you agree or disagree with me? Let me know in the comments below, with any language you like.*

*natural consequences apply

The icon AAC in my title image is from ARASAAC, a no-cost Creative Commons license resource for symbols and icons to represent all words (even “those words”).
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6 Comments
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Jessica Conrad
Thank you Alyssa! I agree it can be so hard to change minds. We need to have patience, compassion, humor, and allies in all corner... Read More
Thursday, 29 November 2018 21:47
Jessica Conrad
haha, I think we could compile a small autobiography/dictionary at this point!
Monday, 03 December 2018 11:26
Jessica Conrad
I'm glad! I hope he enjoys the expanded and functional vocabulary!
Monday, 03 December 2018 11:27
  6 Comments
Nov
26

Fantastical Beasts

This weekend I went to see Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald with my daughter and husband. I freely admit to being a Harry Potter fan and was eager to share this experience with them. The trailer says, “Gellert Grindelwald has escaped imprisonment and has begun gathering followers to his cause of elevating wizards above all non-magical beings. The only one capable of putting a stop to him is the wizard he once called his closest friend, Albus Dumbledore. However, Dumbledore will need to seek help from the wizard who had thwarted Grindelwald once before, his former student Newt Scamander.”

What a statement of our interconnectedness! In our work, I can see Grindelwald as a person having low expectations for students who struggle to learn the same content as peers or who have limited ways to communicate what they know. Dumbledore is the supportive person who looks at the strengths of others, even if that person is a bit misled. Scamander is the one who can and did break through the barriers and go on to demonstrate his value to a society that sees him differently. The shows of strength were spectacular. Each of us can be imprisoned when another person wants to stop our contribution to society. Each of us can be supported by both friend and foe. The way support shows up is dependent on one’s reaction and resolution to either giving or getting the support.

So having said that, we as a group, are our best support system. Even if we disagree, have a different perspective, we can all see the merit of high expectations. This system of support is what works. I can do more work with another person than I can alone and I can succeed in unexpected ways when presented with options I have not considered.

Aren’t we all Fantastical Beasts?
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