I believe…

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I’m passionate about education. Here’s why:

I believe all kids have the right to be educated.
I believe all kids have the right to be held to high standards.
I believe all kids are capable of succeeding.
I believe disability is created by context.
I believe inclusion is an intentional action.
I believe anything less is exclusion.
I believe exclusion is created by ignorance.
I believe disability is a form of diversity.
I believe emotions affect academics.
I believe needs must be met first.
I believe everyone learns in a different way.
I believe engagement leads to understanding.
I believe all student can demonstrate knowledge.
I believe in choice.
I believe education is the key to our future.
I believe education can end poverty.
I believe I can help teachers understand.
I believe teachers want to change.
I believe schools can do better.
I believe in inclusive education.
I believe we can make a difference.

Teachers are charged with producing the next generation of productive citizens. ELL, special Ed, 504, “average” learner, “slow” learner, Gifted, THEY ARE ALL OURS! The words “productive citizen” include every child that comes into your life.

This isn’t easy. But there is a framework to help teachers navigate this shift in mindset. Universal Design for Learning helps you adapt your classroom and content to meet the needs of all learners. Afterall, all learners are a part of our society. Why wouldn’t you want to prepare them? If you are interested in more check out CAST and keep checking my blog. There’s more to come!

Five Minute Friday

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writing
A writer was created within me when I was very young. I was told by a teacher to “share my story, put it on paper” and that’s what I’ve been doing ever since. I’m not a “good writer.” I can’t spell to save my life and grammar was never my thing. I constantly feel a need to defend my intelligence due to a lack of these skills and often get embarrassed by my stupid, careless mistakes. Never the less, I am a writer.

There’s something freeing about putting my thoughts on paper. Maybe it’s the therapy I need, or just the fact that it makes me feel like someone’s listening. I can’t explain why I choose to spend time writing a blog or in my journal instead of watching TV, reading a book or sometime even interacting with the people around me, but the fact is, I just do… That’s part of who I am.

The point of putting this on my educational blog, instead of in my journal, is that teachers can create writers. They can create in a student whatever they want. Early in my educational career a teacher encouraged me to write, and it’s something that has stayed with me. It’s a great reminder to me of the impact you, as a teacher, have on the lives of the children in your classroom.

My five minutes is almost up, so I’ll wrap-up with this, encourage your students. Tell them to write, read, explain, challenge and question everything around them. These skills carry through life. You can create stronger students, even writers.

This post was written in response to Lisa Jo Baker’s writing prompt “writer” for “Five Minute Friday.” You can check out Lisa Jo’s blog and all the other 5 minute Friday submissions here.

Equal vs. Fair- Changing Attitudes

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If you are looking to revamp your class in 2014, let me suggest that you start by changing attitudes. The best classrooms I’ve been in offer differentiated instruction for ALL students based on individual abilities. To accomplish this you may have to change the atmosphere of your class by adjusting the attitudes of your students’. (And maybe even yourself?)

We live in a society that promotes equality for all. Kids grow up expecting to be treated EXACTLY the same way as the students sitting next to them.

I’m not opposed to equality. Equality is the foundation of equal access. Equal access is mandated by NCLB and means that EVERY student, no matter his or her ability, should have equal access to high quality education.

But in today’s inclusive classrooms, providing equal access in the form of accommodations and modifications is often seen as “unfair”. The practice of students (GT, ESL, Special Ed. etc…) leaving the General Ed classroom to receive services is becoming less and less common. Instead ALL students are staying in the General Ed (mainstream) setting to be educated. This means students who have never been exposed to these differences and teachers who may have never taught to these differences are now seeing what it takes for some students to even ACCESS the General Ed curriculum.

Now whether or not you agree with this shift is a debate for another time. The point of this post is that inclusion is our reality. Agree or disagree, if you want to be a good teacher you must start thinking about how you can address the diverse needs in your classroom. The way to do this is with differentiated instruction.

Differentiated instruction in today’s classroom is no different than it has been for the last 20 or more years. Good teachers have always looked at ability as the base of individualizing instruction. The difference in today’s classroom is that the range of student abilities is sometimes wider and there are a greater number of students who need accommodations and/or modifications to have equal access the General Ed curriculum.

The diversity in one class can sometimes be overwhelming. I’ve talked with lots of great teachers (both new and experienced) who get frustrated and down on themselves because there are so many needs in their classes and they don’t know how to address them all.

I don’t have a magic answer. And to be honest there is no ONE answer. But the best place to start is with differentiating your instruction. That can also be overwhelming and in my opinion the first step is the hardest. The first step is to change attitudes.

Differentiation starts with an understanding of equal vs. fair. I found the following statement on Pinterest with a link to this site:www.msfultzcorner.com I don’t where it originated.

I would post this in my classroom and review it regularly.

EQUAL vs. FAIR

Equal means the same.
I will not be treating you exactly the same way.

Being fair means that I will do my best to give each student what he or she needs to be successful.

What you need and what someone else needs may be very different.

I will always try to be FAIR but this means things won’t always feel EQUAL.

Start teaching your students NOW that you are going to challenge everyone and that means they won’t always use the same materials, work on the exact same assignment or be assessed in exactly the same way. But that’s OK, because everyone will be working toward success.

Differentiation is a shift in the way you structure your class, plan your lessons and teach your students. You can’t make that shift without changing the attitudes around EQUAL vs. FAIR.

There are a lot of challenges in education. If you became a teacher because you thought you’d work an 8-4 job and have all summer off; I bet you feel stupid now. Don’t get overwhelmed. Take one challenge at a time. Change one thing that isn’t working for you and keep moving forward.

Happy New Year!

Below are some great websites to learn more about differentiated instruction.

http://www.differentiatedinstruction.net/

http://www.caroltomlinson.com/

http://www.paulakluth.com/

Causion-We are sometimes our own worst enemy.

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enemy Recently I experienced what I would consider to be a very embarrassing moment. Like all very embarrassing moments it led me to think about how we work with students. Let me set the scene. I work as an educational consultant and as such I periodically put on workshops for teachers. Now, there are many things I am not good at, we’ll look at one such thing in a moment, but public speaking is something I feel is a strength. So when I hold a workshop it generally goes well, participants are happy and I feel successful. Well, not this time.

I was conducting a workshop on differentiated instruction, one that I didn’t plan under normal circumstances. The workshop started off great. Then, during the first group break one of the participants pointed out to me that there were some misspelled words in my PowerPoint. I was HORRIFIED. I’m speaking to a room full of teachers and I’ve misspelled caution. (I spelled it causion-and honestly thought it was right. Don’t judge!). Now to make matters worse there are several other errors in slides to come. (These were just missed errors; caution is the only one I legitimately didn’t know was wrong). Ok, so I’m a horrible speller and grammar is not my thing (odd that I write a blog, right?) If you’ve read very many posts on this Blog it’s obvious I do my own editing.

It doesn’t bother me that I struggle with spelling. FYI- there is not a link between spelling ability and overall intelligence. But once I notice all these errors all I could think was “every teacher in this room thinks I’m an idiot”. No one said that of course, and I turned it into a joke and went on with the presentation. But something just didn’t sit right with me. MY opinion of how people saw me outweighed what was going on. Even though I had several people tell me this wasn’t a big deal, it totally dampened the rest of my day.

You may be wondering, “what does your spelling disability and insecurities have to do with teaching students”. Well here’s how it connected for me. How many times have you had a student say, “Mrs. Whoever hates me” or “Mr. Soandso thinks I’m stupid”? No matter how many times you tell them they are wrong it doesn’t change that student’s perception of what someone else thinks.

The point is sometimes we are our own worst critic. What we perceive other people think about us is linked back to how we feel about ourselves in that moment; this is why no one can change that opinion except you. So connecting this to students; teachers need to spend time getting to know and making a connection to their students so that later in the year if they are struggling they will trust you for help and not have a preconception of what you think of them. Below are some links and ideas for icebreakers and ways to get to know your students.

Remember, we all have strengths and weakness. It’s not about what we can’t do, but what we can overcome.

*Note-causion was misspelled in the title on purpose haha.

Learning Style Inventories
http://www.personal.psu.edu/bxb11/LSI/LSI.htm
http://sunburst.usd.edu/~bwjames/tut/learning-style/stylest.html

Student Interest Survey
http://www.union.k12.sc.us/ems/Teachers-Forms–Student%20Interest%20Survey.htm
http://www.livebinders.com/play/play?id=475167#anchor
Interest Inventory
student_survey

Every little bit counts-even the laundry!

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With my job I travel quite a bit. I was recently out-of-town for four nights. On the way home I started anticipating the disaster area my house would resemble. I walked through the front door and immediately notice the smell, looked at the sink and saw dishes with mold on them. I was grossed out to say the least! I set off cleaning the mess without stopping to notice the state of the rest of the house. If I had been a bit more observant I would have seen that ALL of the laundry was done. This is a big deal in my house where we tend to fill very traditional male/female roles. My husband had washed, dried, folded and put away all of our laundry. But I was so caught up on the dishes that I didn’t notice the laundry.

This is often the case in our classrooms. We get a kid in on day one who can’t read, write, do math, sit still, etc. As educators we are focused on the BIG picture. The massive number of standards we must meet. The BROAD skills we are required to cover. At semester we assess and find that they still can’t do these skills. Then at the end of the year we feel they still have not accomplished these major skills. But are we overlooking the small skills. Do we always take time to notice the narrow skills that aren’t always measured by the standards?

I’m challenging you; don’t miss the laundry because you’re focused on the dishes. ☺

Clearing the Air

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I spent this last week speaking to educators about accommodations and modifications. I gave the same presentations EIGHT times, but every time it was a little different. Even though every group was a little different, there were a few common questions that kept coming up. They were so common that it made me realize this is information that may not be clear for many people, so I’d like to clear a few things up.

First, please remember an accommodation is meant to level the playing field. Accommodations are designed to reduce or even eliminate the effects of a disability. A modification changes the field you’re playing on. This is a fundamental change in the curriculum, or here in Texas, this means you are changing or not expecting mastery of all the TEKS.

A student DOES NOT have to be in Special Education to receive accommodations. Glasses are an accommodation; however glasses do not qualify you for Special Ed. A student may be successful with mild accommodations without the need for Special Ed services. With that being said, most of our Special Ed students DO receive accommodations. So while needing an accommodation does not make you a Special Ed student, if you are a Special Ed student you likely need accommodations. Find out what those are EARLY so you can be prepared to design lessons that meet the needs of ALL the students in your class. You should be getting IEPs (Individual Education Plans) for all your Special Ed students. IF you aren’t find your Special Ed teacher and ask for them!

Paraprofessionals do NOT need to be the ones making the accommodations or modifications. Paraprofessionals are extremely valuable to students, teachers and class environments; however there are limitations to what they should do. As the teacher you should be thinking about the needs of your students while you design lessons and activities and make those accommodations/ modifications ahead of time. It’s all about “frontloading”. For more information about how to most effectively utilize your paraprofessionals look at this TEA approved document: Paraprofessional_2013

When thinking about the classroom setting for your Special Ed students please remember that the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) is, according to Texas guidance, the General Ed classroom. Please see the LRE guidance document. LRE-QA
Least Restrictive Environment is referring to the environment that restricts the student from the General Ed population in the smallest way. That is why the genera Ed classroom is the LRE and anytime you pull from there you are “restricting” the child’s environment. This does NOT mean that ALL students should be in the General Ed classroom all the time. In Fact the guidance document goes on to discuss the continuum of services that is required. But, according to TEA guidance, when you pull from the General Ed classroom you are moving into a more “restrictive” environment even if it is the most appropriate. LRE does NOT refer to the environment in which they are free to move about the room or be louder.

Special Ed students still need to be challenged. So when looking at accommodations, make sure you are still setting limits and pushing your students; EX: extended time does not mean until the END of time. Make sure they know the boundaries. Special Ed students CAN FAIL a class. They have to work just like everyone else. They may need a different approach, change in content or material, but there still has to be a standard. If you have questions about grading for a Special Ed student talk with your administrator, your district should have grading policies. For the most part, those will also apply to your Special Ed students. There may be rare instances when they are adjusted, but that should be discussed on a case by case base.

Bottom line, know your students. As educators we are here to help ALL kids be successful in academics, but also in life. That’s a big job, so take it one kid and one day at a time. Have a great school year.

Here’s to a Fresh Start!

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appleSummer is almost over. Some are anxious to get back to school, back to the routine that they so comfortably fall into. Teachers ready to teacher, parents ready for kids to learn and yes some kids are even ready to get back to the pace of the school day. But some, teachers/parents/kids, don’t look at the school year with great expectations. There are many barriers that could kill a successful school year before it even starts.

1. Transition: Not everyone transitions smoothly into the school year. I’m not just talking about student either. Let’s start with teachers. Some teachers don’t even look at their classroom until the first day of in service. While others are up there weeks in advance preparing their rooms. It all depends on what makes them most comfortable. Parents, consider transition with your students. Some students may need to go visit the school a few times before the first day. Have a calendar on the frig counting down the days. Also, consider starting the routine of getting up earlier a few days before the BIG FIRST DAY. Then sometimes the transition issues are all with the parent. A good example of this is my sister who is sending her son to preschool for the first time. This is causing her some anxiety. The same transition strategies can be effect for adults. Put the big day on a calendar and count down, go see the classroom or school ahead of time and talk to the teachers, practice the change in routine.

2. Teachers: Get to know your students ASAP. (I mean before they even set foot in your room!) Find out who is in Special Ed, 504, RTI, GT, ELL, etc… so you can start a plan for your classroom. Talk to the teachers from last year, pull their permanent file, do some digging. Remember, when thinking about accommodations and modifications, accommodations are meant to level the playing field and modifications change the game. Accommodations do NOT change content, only make it more accessible. Modifications DO change content and MUST be aligned with IEPs. The IEP team or ARD committee make these decisions.

3. Parents: Get to know your child’s teacher. Keep up with what’s going on in class. Make sure your child is doing their homework and getting the help they need. Be friendly to the teacher. Remember they have a WHOLE class of kids. If you have an issue, start by discussing it with the teacher first.

A new school year is a time for new beginnings. Start fresh, with a fresh outlook and a fresh attitude. Good luck and have a great year!

Teacher Trainings

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While students enjoyed the summer vacation many teachers spend days building their teaching skills. Summer is a time for professional development and growth for those of us in education. This is one reason why it is so frustrating to hear, “Teaching is easy, you get all summer off”. Teachers really don’t get ALL summer off.
But professional growth doesn’t stop when the kids enter the classroom. No, that’s when it just begins. Teachers get a new set of students every year and every group brings its own trials and rewards. So this year during the first week while kids are adjusting to teachers and schedules, teachers are also adjusting to kids. On day one teachers start to calculate and make an ever growing list of what they need to educate this diverse population of students. So as you embark on a new school year, let me say Good Luck! You do this for a reason and YOU make the difference.

Now, to offer what I can to help prepare for this new world of new students, here’s a list of some upcoming workshops offered through Region 15 Education Service Center that may help you grow, learn and teach.

9/20- For the new Special Ed teacher’s out there, this is a basic overview of PLAAFPs and IEPs. It is an introduction course designed to give you the knowledge needed to feel comfortable writing PLAAFPs and IEPs, but also to prepare you for the two day more intense workshop offered later in the semester.

9/25- MAKE AND TAKE!! All students need social skills not only to be successful in school, but to be successful in life. But with everything you are required to teach, how do you fit in social skills as well? This workshop will look at easy and effective ways to address social skills on a daily bases as well as specific strategies for your students with more challenging behaviors. You will get a chance to make and take everything needed to implement these strategies the very next day!
You will walk away with a cool down kit, visual timer, brain break games, reward cards, supplies for visual schedules, check in cards, social skills lesson plans and materials to teach the lessons.

10/21 Reading Accommodation Assessment: The PAR or Protocol for Accommodations in Reading is a FREE tool that helps assess the need for reading accommodations. Do students need accommodations? Do they need a text reader or an adult reader? How do I show students what they need? This FREE tool can help with all these questions. ANYONE can give this!! YOU DO NOT HAVE TO BE A DIAG OR READING SPECIALIST! This workshop will show you how to use this tool and provide an opportunity to practice.
You will get a bound copy of the PAR assessment that you can use to test with IMMEDIATELY!

11/19 20 Strategies for ANY student!! Teaching is no longer one size fits all. As more students are moved into inclusive settings, teachers face new challenges with how to address the needs of GT, Special Ed, ESL, ELL, slow learners and average performing students all at the same time! This workshop will look at 20 strategies that are effective for engaging and teaching ALL students in ANY classrooms. We will also look at how to imbed these strategies into your differentiated instruction.
You will walk away with Marcia Tate’s book, “Worksheets Don’t Grow Dendrites,” and the confidence to implement a new engaging strategy the VERY NEXT DAY!

To register or for more information click Region 15 ESC.
Have a Great Year!

Who says teachers don’t know how to ROCK?

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500 teachers, paraprofessionals, therapist, counselors administrators and parents attended the 15th annual Academy for Teachers of Young Children, July 10th-12th. This year’s academy was hosted by Region 15 ESC in San Angelo, TX. For two days participants had access to more than 30 different breakout sessions covering a variety of topics that support the development of young children.

It kicked off Wednesday with keynote presentations by Dr. Pam Shiller, who discussed social emotional development and school readiness; and Elizabeth Montero-Cefalo, who discussed conscious discipline and how the brain develops.

While the academy is geared for age’s birth to 5, much of the information was applicable to students of all ages. Attendees reported that the sessions were informative and fun. Presenters focused on supplying teachers with new ideas as well as inspiring and praising them for their work with children.

The conference wrapped up Friday with the last keynote speaker Nina Rodriguez.Drumming with Nina Her amazing presentations used music and rhythm to captivate and inspire. The diverse population of participates drummed in harmony, sang and danced. Even the most skeptical (that would be me) got involved and enjoyed the high energy, very engaging presentation.

NOTE: I wanted to post HILARIOUS video footage of teachers “getting down”, but I couldn’t get it to upload. So imagine 500 educations doing the Cumbia like it’s Saturday night at the club and you’ll get the idea :)

Special Ed-The equivalent of acronym Hell!

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There are so many things about Special Education that are tricky or hard to decipher. Laws that don’t always make sense, rules that only apply under certain circumstances and to make it worse, Special Educators often speak in their own language.

Have you ever heard one Special Ed teacher say to another, “I need to finish the FBA as part of the FIE. Then I can work on the BIP and PLAAFP. The student will qualify as LD and OHI. I’ll work on draft IEPs before the ARD”.

WHAT? It’s the equivalent of acronym hell! The link below will take you to a document that lists some of the most common acronyms and what they mean. I hope this helps you to have a better understanding of Special Ed and the crazy language we speak.

Special Ed acronyms