Thursday, December 22, 2005

All I Want For Xmas Is....

a good, uninterrupted 2 hour afternoon nap!! Heaven on earth!

Highlights of the week:

Making gingerbread houses with the kids.... milk cartons, graham crackers, and lots and lots of icing and candies!

Seeing the Polar Express with all the kids in our program. I still hear the bell?
Do you?

Dodging a metal chair as it soared through the air at me. The second time I wasn't as quick to move, and the welt/bruise on my arm is tender... but it's bright red color is quite festive!

Seeing one of my IA's face beam when she opened her Xmas gift from me: a blue faux croco leather watch. She never knows when to come in from outside recess, and now that problem is solved!!

Reading aloud the Twelve Days of Christmas, Arthur's Christmas, The Polar Express, and the Nutcracker Ballet to my tradition-starved class. We whisper/sang carols in the lunchroom today, and hummed JingleBells in line on the way back to the classroom!! Very subversive.

Exchanging sweets, pretty cards, and lovely sentiments with my dear friends and colleagues. It is a great time to show appreciation for everyone's support.

Joking around with the kids that I'll see them NEXT YEAR!!!

Finally, counting my blessings, one of which is the opportunity to blog and "meet" other bloggsers. Thank YOU blogging friends!

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Considering all I should be grateful for....

....Why am I not looking forward to tomorrow or the rest of the week ?

Well, there's that bruising, annoying cough thats dogged me for 3 weeks now...

My equally annoying, but also adorable adult son who now lives in our basement and goes to grad school.....

The prospect of keeping 7 Christmas-crazed ED kids calm for the next 4 days before Winter Break....

The challenge of finishing up all the shopping, all the food prep and planning, all the cleaning and organizing and packing associated with said Winter Break.....

The promise of weight gain, a migraine or two, and the depression that follows getting into a bathing suit (needed for the aforementioned Winter Break).....

The reality of 2 and a half days in a car with my hubby, my daughter, (heretofore referred to as Hokie because she has just gotten accepted, EARLY DECISION, to VaTech!!),also my annoying/adorable son and his girlfriend.... and my husband's IPOD song list.... do we have to hear Toby Keith AGAIN?!!?

Enough complaining for one night. It's time to chill in front of the TV with the hosts of QVC lulling me toward coma-like relaxation... then off to bed.

Good night all!

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Loving the Free Exchange of Ideas.....

Check out the most recent Carnival of Education here!!

The Education Wonks have done it again. And of course, the contributors are key to the Carnival's success! So many interesting and provocative ideas out there in the edusphere! Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

The Characteristics of an Effective ED Teacher.... continued

After a long break, I return to my late summer round up of ideas about teaching emotionally disabled children. You can check out the original list here, and subsequent postings, here and here... also, here

6. I enjoy interacting with students. My students sense my enjoyment.

It’s not enough that I like children. It’s not enough that I consider myself the proverbial “people person”. Working with kids is my mission in life, and I can’t think of anything more satisfying than the day-in day-out, shoulder to shoulder work I do with them.
But that alone is not enough.

It only counts if the children KNOW I enjoy working with them. It only matters if they get it that they are my first priority, the reason I’m in this business at all. Frankly, if they leave my class unsure of my interest in their achievement, be it academic or personal, I haven’t done my job.

While this is true of students in general, emotionally fragile children are all the more sensitive to the moods and views of a distant or uninterested teacher. Without the compensatory skills needed to negotiate other’s agendas, emotionally disabled students are likely to shut down or act up sooner, longer, and more intensely. ED students misread and make personal any negativity or lack of engagement.

When we wear our hearts on our sleeves, when it’s obvious to everyone around us that this is where we want to be, where we are meant to be, we’re smoothing our students’ path to achievement.

Let’s see. Care enough to notice what interests them. Ask about kids’ ideas, and listen….really listen to their answers. Smile. A lot. Frown too. Show disappointment and displeasure as a byproduct of passion and commitment. Have expectations; help kids meet them. Illuminate the way out, around and through hurdles. Take kids by the hand (figuratively or literally, depending on their age), and pronounce for all to hear that kids and their learning is your priority! Live each day true to that pronouncement.

Whew, that feels good!!

Monday, December 12, 2005

We miss you Ms. V

On a day like today, when one of the teachers in our room is absent, there is certainly potential for chaos and complaining! With fewer grownups available to meet the needs of these neediest kids, it’s sure to be an EXCEDRIN HEADACHE #14 kind of day.

Moreover, with less adult attention at the ready, academics often take a backseat to behavior management.

But today, despite missing Ms. V, the kids managed well, and we, the two other adults, were busy but not bonkers. The reasons, I am convinced, are the time and attention we have put into establishing and maintaining our classroom rules and routines. Despite the stark change left by an absent and well loved teacher, the kids (for the most part) were able to hold onto the security of our schedule, the consistency of our behavior support program, and the reliability of those teachers who were present.

There were glitches in the day. Right from the start, one of the girls complained of a sore throat and headache, but because of the absence of fever, no call home could be made. She spent much of the day on the bean bag, restless, whining, and generally uncooperative. (Poor thing, by the very end of the day her fever finally spiked… but too late for an early pickup.)

Our crisis counselor was absent too, (tis’ the season), and her sub isn’t a group favorite. Another change during a day of too much change….

Another one of our sweet things arrived at school all bluster and “bad-ass”. One on one required.

Our autistic student withdrew into a quiet, isolating shell. Although it made for an easier morning, it’s not best practice to let it go. We did let it go because of our staffing shortage. The good news is that we caught him up with his morning assignments by lunchtime.

Still, I choose to concentrate on the good stuff:

Lots of hugs!
Our littlest “pistol” actually went to the cafeteria with the group and behaved well!! A true accomplishment.
At least 2 tantrums appeared to be headed off…. These kids responded to our cueing and emotional supports so that they TALKED rather than exploded.

Yep,good stuff. But I sure will be glad to see Ms. V. tomorrow morn!

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Tough? I wonder.

Looking back, I see I haven't blogged since end of November.... so I guess I'm not so tough after all. Truly tough blogger/teachers don't let anything get in the way of frequent, thoughtful reflection. Hurrummph.

Seriously, I have a mammoth cold, the kind of cough that rattles the brain. Every free minute is spent sleeping.

Or shopping online for xmas gifts.

My little first grade girl asked me the other day if I could be sure and buy a Christmas present for everyone in the class.
"That way we'll be sure to have at least one present."

So sad, yes. But she is one wise little girl. It was our plan all along anyway.

We are in the throws of our study of Native Americans, a really fun unit that helps the children to contrast and compare several tribes, and also tribal life compared to their own lives. I love this kind of learning; these little kids show glimmers of deep thinking and enthusiasm for learning for learning's sake. Very powerful stuff.

This is the second year where the children will be using picture cards to set up data charts as a means for showing basic contrast and compare skills. Last year I spent hours creating these cool picture cards, mounted them on colored stock paper and then laminated them. And (of course) this year, our county has provided pre-made, even cooler picture cards, ready to use in just a matter of minutes.

Just my luck.

Another coughing fit. Time to stop. Must find the Nyquil.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

We've got to be tough...

ED teachers need to be multi-talented. We need to have unique expertise in behavior modification, superb "differentiation of instruction" skills, and the ability to build and maintain a therapeutic learning environment.

We need to be tough. We can't complain too loudly when we are exhausted from the physcial and emotional abuse we take each day. We know getting hurt is quite likely, which is why feeling worried or overly cautious feels like a betrayal to our chosen profession.(See previous post.) It's part of the job. Don't like it? You don't belong here.

We are expected to master content, just like our gen ed counterparts. NCLB's Highly Qualified rules apply to us too, thus burdoning us with double the requirements with no additional benefits (salary, perks, etc.).

Like I said, we have to be tough.

After 4 days off, I'm feeling my toughness returning. I'm rested (well, as rested as one can be after driving from one end of the state to the other in holiday traffic), and ready for the weeks ahead. Christmas Break is only a blink away, and then we'll be into 2006. How does time slip by so quickly? I lose my breath thinking about it.

But there's no time to wonder, to reflect, to ponder the implications of any of these issues. Tomorrow is another day, the start of another week, and I've got to get ready.

That's what good ED teachers do.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

At what cost? (And an update at end of post....)

Today one of our teachers was hit hard with a chair by an acting-out student. The kid "rammed" the legs of the metal chair into the teacher's chest.

Word of the attack spread quickly. Eyes widened, concern for our colleague grew. She's okay, we are quickly told. No lasting marks.

Then comes quiet acceptance.

It could just as easily have been any of us.

The reality of the dangers involved with working with emotionally unstable students hovers over us, ignored, unrecognized, dismissed... until something like this happens. Then we are pulled into a swirling frenzy of emotion: worry, resentment, then angry resignation.

What toll does this silent, pulsating sense of dread have on us? How does it affect our professional lives? What impact does this heightened stress have on our personal relationships? No doubt, our bodies feel the burden.

However noble this profession is, how many years am I shaving off my life because of my choice?

And at what point do we let ourselves talk about these important questions?

Finally, why does wondering out loud feel so much like betrayal?

Needless to say, I wrote the above post soon after the incident, and my feelings were raw. Yes, it might seem overly dramatic to some, (see comment 1) but Ms. Smlph validated it for me.... those of us who repress worry understand what it is to HAVE to face it.

My colleague went home that afternoon, and as the evening wore on, her adrenline wained, and she got teary. She also found an ugly bruise developing over the tender spot of impact.

No charges filed... it was a clinical decision made by the teacher and the social worker and psyc. Hospitalization is in the works instead. Truly a more effective response for this kid at this time.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Liar, liar...

My sweet Katrina evacuee has twinkly bright blue eyes, a spikey blonde flat top, and a mouth that curls up in a sweet bowtie of a smile.

And he lies like a rug.

Even when it doesn't even matter, his first instinct is to lie.

No, mam, it wasn't me that threw the mulch.
No, the noise you saw coming out of my mouth was not from me.

Yes, I wrote her a thank you note.

Well, when his thank you note ended up reading I HATE YOU, I slapped myself on the head for being so gullible. When he looked up at me with those eyes, with that smile, I WANTED to believe. BONK! When will I learn?

But here's how I've been getting to the truth faster, more expeditiously:

"Well, E., here we are, out in the hall again, trying to work out the problem. The faster we get to what's true, the sooner we'll be done with all this and back into our day. That's how it's been working since you've been here, right E?

He agrees with a nod.

"So, sweetie. This is your chance to tell the truth."

I can't believe it, but this simple invitation, couched with a reminder about the realities of our day, has been working.

He is learning it's not the end of the world when he lies. He is learning we don't hold unreasonable, revengeful grudges. He is learning that lying might not be his only recourse when he's feeling up against the wall.

He comes to us with so much "baggage", not the least of which is rooted in losing everything when the hurricane hit. Add some neurological issues, a mood disorder, a likely genetic predisposition, and it's lucky lying is about the worse thing we're dealing with right now.

"This is your chance to tell the truth."

Truth. It's a powerful thing.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Harden My Heart

So it's official. I'm a grizzled veteran.

The little boy I nurtured and challenged and adored for three years (kindergarten, first and second grade), has moved onto grade three, with a new teacher, she of youthful exuberance and immense talent. I have stepped out of the picture despite my deep connection to him, and made way for the new folks to build a strong relationship with him. I put aside the joys, the pain, the frustration with his abusive mother, and an ineffective child protective services bureaucracy. I smile at him from across the hall, and pretend I don't hear his terror filled cries.

I do all this because it is part of the cycle of life in a school. It's good for the kid, good for his new teachers, and ultimately, healthy for me.

Letting go of the child this year has been hard. But I'd let go of his mom a long time ago.

She's part pitbull, part abuse "survivor" herself, part mother who does indeed love her child. She is impulsive, needy, cruel, a dreamer of big dreams. She's creative, usually capable of torturing her young one without leaving marks, and sometimes unable to keep from whacking him senseless.

And everything and anything I did in support of her son had absolutely no lasting, true effect.

Even calling CPS and ultimately testifying against her at the trial.

I cut her loose in my mind and my heart sometime in the spring of last year. No more sleepless nights for me. No more wondering what she was planning. I closed her down, even as I continued to care for her child.

It's a matter of survival. Mine.

But when I tried to describe this process to my colleagues today, as the new, young teacher looked over at me incredulously, I realized it's the nearly 20 years of experience that let me do this. You don't shut yourself down if your heart is still tender and fresh.

So I have to admit it. I'm a little toughened up. I'm a bit cynical.

I'm a grizzled veteran.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

The Challenge of Switcheroo

Over the years, as I have had to plan for many ability levels, up to 3 grade levels at one time (this year, k-2), and only 2 adults to teach effectively... well, you can imagine that's been tough. One of my solutions has been SWITCHEROO: while my IA and I lead small learning groups, those kids who must wait their turn receiving our attention do something quiet at their desk....until....we.... switcheroo! The workers become the kids at their desks, and those kids move to the worktable for their intense worktime.

It can work. I've had great success with it over the years. But it requires close clock management, focused and well planned instruction, time for the kids to practice being quiet and independent at their desks, and patience from all involved.

We are definetly in the practice phase. At this point the whole thing seems well, stupid. How can we ever hope to manage all these kids, all these behavior problems, all these groups, all this curriculum... in the short time allowed by our cramped schedule?

It just feels nuts.

Here's hoping it goes alittle smoother tomorrow. More later.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

We need a hero.....

When all is said and done, what teachers need is a fierce advocate, a bulldog of sorts, to stand strong FOR our students and AGAINST hypocrisy, stupidity, inequity.

Well, we’ve got that at our school.

It’s so cool.

When the cafeteria staff humiliated a child and his teacher as she tried to get him his properly due free lunch, even after the staff had been specifically directed by the principal to honor the free status of the student, that principal made her unhappiness known to the cafeteria staff.

She stood up for kids, against the bureaucratic mess of a mega school system. She stood up for teachers who seek to preserve students’ dignity, even in the face of the bean counters.

She was public about her priorities. She was clear that she meant business.

And later in the week, preschool instructional assistant (IA) complained loudly about a waiver our autistic student got so that he and his peers could play on the fenced in playground area. Because this child is a serious flight risk, he needs to be in a secured area, and the younger kids’ playground fits the bill. We signed up for two 20 minute playtimes each day, and stick to this schedule out of respect for the preschool classes that use the playground on and off throughout the day. The preschool IA has had her class out on that playground during our designated playtime, and unkindly detailed her displeasure to our new, young, easily intimidated (wonderful) IA. Even when the preschool IA was reminded how and why our class had special permission to be on the playground, she continued to bluster and sputter.

When I was informed of the preschool IA’s comments, I went directly to her and asked her if she had been informed by the administration about our special waiver. I had an email copy of that meeting’s minutes, and knew that the IA had in fact, been notified of the waiver. She said that she had not heard anything from the administration about our kids’ special needs.

I believed she wasn’t being honest. I said thank you, and went to our AP.

The AP stood up tall and mightily for our kid and the equity of the special waiver.

Case closed.

In the span of a week, I’ve been dramatically reminded what my bosses stand for. These reminders buoy me, make me feel supported. It’s almost like all the crap we go through is really worth it. Someone is on our side.

Like I said, it’s so cool.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005


When two new little ones, a first grader and a kinder, arrive at your classroom doorstep just a day apart, and the kids you already call “yours” are having their own tough times, well, that’s when you pull yourself totally together and FOCUS.

1.You plan. Thoroughly, with great care and attention to every detail.

2.You rearrange the room to accommodate the need for an additional time-out desk.

3.You make sure you have a plentiful supply of gummy bears and skittles.

4.You update the crisis counselor, notify the office staff, and hope the cafeteria ladies don’t make his first lunch at his new school a nightmare…”What? You don’t have a lunch card? Then go hungry, little boy!!”

The planning paid off. The day went well, the new boy’s class work was completed satisfactorily, the routines and rules practiced in earnest.

Despite the fact I accidently broke a bookshelf while I was rearranging the room, the new set up worked well. (Yes, the bookshelf just fell in on itself as I went to gently push it 3 inches to the left. The particle board snapped slowly and the joints gave in. Very weird.)

The gummies and skittles are mostly for me.

The principal even went down to the cafeteria and notified the staff that this newbie would receive a free lunch today. You guessed it. They gave him a hard time as he came through the line. When he began to tantrum (“TEACHER, I AM SO MAD!”), they stood all the more resistant. Makes you wonder just who actually has the oppositional defiant disorder.

Anyway, my focus and preparation were truly impressive. Hmmm.


I am humiliated.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Welcome to our new kid!!

What does our new little cutie, an evacuee from Mississippi, bring to our class community?

Super manners!! Yes, Mam. No, Mam. Please Mam, shut the fuck up.

Insights into new cuisine!! We catch our own rabbits and cook ‘em up good!

Appreciation for the slow southern lifestyle!! I’m not doing any more work!! You can’t make me!

He’s been through a lot, and it took awhile to get him to our special program ---even though he came from a self contained, emotional disabilities program in Mississippi. His general ed teacher must have been wild with frustration as he had to stay there for several weeks before he got cleared to come here.

Another newbie arrives on Wednesday….. yikes, that’s tomorrow!! More to come!

Monday, October 31, 2005

Another committee is born.....

In response to the reauthorization of IDEA, our school is reorganizing the way we identify kids who may need special ed services. Today our school psychologist and social worker introduced the new plan of action. It puts a lot more teacher/expert remediation between the initial referral and a final eligibility for special ed.

No more Child Study Committee. Instead, a focused staff committee takes an initial inquiry by a teacher, helps to formulate a plan of intervention/remediation, assists in the implementation of that plan, reassesses frequently to determine the child’s responsiveness to the extra help, and only then can the referral move on to the official testing for learning problems.

The idea, we are told, is to make sure faulty teaching isn’t the cause for an increase in special education placements. For example, a child who isn’t reading will receive extra help in alternative (more direct, phonics based?) reading instruction BEFORE referral for special ed services.

I have read that this initiative might reduce the number of minority children identified as special ed.

The committee, called CARE (for Children At Risk for Education), will join the other school wide support committees that focus on supporting teachers and students who are not meeting the most basic, required levels of achievement: SBAT- Student Behavior Assessment Team, our various Professional Learning Community configurations (grade level teams, vertical teams-like k-3 or 4-6 teams, Emotional Disabilities Team). It’s meant to be another critical layer of support for our struggling students.

It sounds good. The federal requirements make it a necessity. And our caring, dedicated staff is committed to making it all work for the kids.

As a member of the SBAT team and 3 different Professional Learning Community groups, I won’t be joining the new committee. But I’ll cheer those staffers on, and hope the support services they provide will keep the numbers in our special ed program low.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Shouldn't we stop meeting like this?

Meetings out the whazzooo.

That's my reality. Tuesday and Wednesday mornings this week I came in 15 min. earlier than contract hours for school wide committee meetings that get me back to class just seconds before my kids arrive. So I actually come into school about an hour early just to get ready.

We have PLC meetings at the end of the day on Wednesdays, and I often have a collegial support meeting on Wed. or Thursday afternoon. Mondays twice a month take me out of my classroom for staff development (either school based, or county mandated).

I'm feeling kind of meetinged-out, and it's only October.

On the bright side.... we are getting alot done!! Kids are being studied and referred. Curricula are being aligned; policies are clarified. Plans of action are created and launched. Teachers are supported, AP's praised, others called on the carpet. Math supplies are now inventoried. Science materials shared. And that's just MY meetings. Imagine the energy quotient of all the meetings scheduled and held thoughout the building in a week's time.... in a month... per semester... through the year!

And tomorrow I'll be staying late to meet with my teammates and our principal on communication issues. Perhaps we'll decide more meetings are in order...

Sunday, October 23, 2005


I can't believe that a week has gone by without my posting. In my defense, I have been enjoying responding to others' blogs. It's the thinking, the mulling of ideas that counts, right?

Here's what's on my mind now: I have a little boy in my class, a physically beautiful tyke, elfish, huge eyes and long lush eyelashes.... with the personality of PeterPan meets the Tazmanian Devil. He hates, truly hates anything that smacks of traditional class work, and even play and learn activities are rebuffed when he figures out that we WANT him to do them. Power and control are his primary goals. It's been a challenge. Partly because he is so damn cute, he has gotten away with sooo much. He just doesn't believe we mean what we say and say what we mean. Not yet.

In fact, he is being exposed to very little in the way of the curriculum. Our curriculum at this point is to teach the joys and necessities of compliance.

Kids who comply with the routines and rules of the classroom do the fun stuff. Kids who don't, miss out. Kids who want to use scissors and the hole punch do so AFTER they do what they are supposed to do. You like to use my new pencils with virgin erasers? Then here are several math problems we have to do together first. You'd like to go visit your favorite counselor Mrs. D? You need to clean up first. EVERYTHING IS SET UP ON A CONTINGENCY. EVERYTHING. IT'S EXHAUSTING.

We are making progress. Everyone says so. It's slow. More of a one-step-forward-two-steps-back kind of progress. But it's hard.

Most people understand this. Teaching for mastery is tough. Addressing difficult behaviors, learning problems, and mental illnesses can be overwhelming. That's all understandable. People get that part of it.

It's the why we do it that stymies folks. And tonight, I am wondering the same thing. Is this my "Mr. Babylon" moment? I'm too tired to decide one way or the other.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Teaching To The Test ?

We all realize that, yes, we are teaching to the test. Our principal says so, in these exact words, with the regret of a caring professional who wishes it was different, but knows the realities. You gotta feel for her. After all, this is not her deal. Taking a stand against the mandates of our state and federal government would be career suicide. Instead, she tries to find a way to meld the testing expectations with building/maintaining an enriching learning environment. The question remains: does teaching to the test preclude enriching teaching?

I use to think yes. Now I am not so sure.

As a parent, I have seen my 17 year old easily pass the required SOL's [Standards of Learning]... ("They're easy, Mom"); still she enjoys the extensions and deeper study provided by her honors and AP courses. She and her top flight classmates continue to be challenged and even at times, delighted by her classwork.... and her teachers.

Her friends who don't excell academically, some spec ed and some "just not good at school" (her quote), spend much of their classtime learning what has come easy to my daughter: "essential knowledge" as filtered out by the state and county, HOW to take tests, and any gap information ( knowledge they missed in previous years). There is no time for broad, deep, thoughtful projects and activities.

The good news is they have a better chance to pass the test because of the focus on the tests.

And if you want more for your students than the opportunity to memorize what has been deemed essential by the test makers, that's also the bad news.

In my own special ed classroom, 5 first and second grade emotionally disabled students move slowly through the basic "essential" curriculum as they fight the emotional/behavioral challenges in their young lives. I no longer have to weed through the curriculum myself trying to find the most important aspects on which to concentrate. When so much of my time is spent on behavior management and therapeutic interactions, I have come to really appreciate the thick volumes of ESSENTIAL KNOWLEDGE my students are expected to learn. And that is a good thing.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

So what's different this year?

This is the second year in a new, county-wide program that organizes grade level teams into Professional Learning Communities.(Check out info about PLC's here.) As such, I have a year of collaboration with my general ed cohorts under my belt, and a perspective that includes the results of changing my teaching. I have seen the value of really focusing on our teaching objectives, and of the power of analyzing my teaching and my students'learning.

When I look carefully at how and what my students have learned (primarily through test item analysis, but also by taking the time and energy to look hard at kids' writing products and other performance assessments), I am forced to take responsibility: responsibility for the methods, materials, and assessment strategies I choose. It's no longer a mystery..... MOST gaps in their achievement are a reflection of my ability to meet their learning needs.

Moreover, a culture of sharing ideas and expertise has penetrated our teaching teams. While a generosity of spirit was common for some among our faculty, it's now an expectation.... a norm.... that we will break through the isolation of the classroom and borrow and share and build on others' ideas. Very cool.

Yes, my intentions were always honorable: student achievement was always my goal. It's just that now I am on a path that really takes me there. With "alittle help from my (teaching) friends".

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

A Rivoting Research Topic...

My unofficial research topic this year is not complicated, or nuanced: I am concentrating on the changes I observe in the achievement of my students when I focus, in an intentional, specific way on increasing that achievement.
Of course I could argue I’ve been working for student achievement each year, every year of my teaching career. After all, if not for student achievement, why are we here?

Well, I can point to things that have distracted me over the years:
1. a lack of understanding about learning disabilities and effective teaching strategies
2. a worry that watering down the basic curriculum was the only way to approach my students’ difficulty learning
3. an isolation (mostly self-imposed) from my general education peers that kept me from learning (deeply) about content and new ideas fostered by the county
4. an arrogance that let me believe my ability to help children with their emotional disabilities was enough

What is different about this year? That’s for tomorrow’s post. For now, I’m off to bed. Unofficial research is indeed exhausting…. 

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Add her name to my roll......

The younger siblings' behaviors escalated. The school's interventions were half-assed; in their defense, large group settings constrain effective response to inappropriate classroom behavior. But all teachers, not just teachers of emotionally disabled students, need to be able to understand and implement behavior programs. Truly differentiated instruction needs to be the norm in any classroom, not just in the special ed setting.

Long story short, the principal called me in yesterday to "ask for my help." But she admitted she intends "to make it happen no matter what". The younger sibling begins in my classroom in earnest tomorrow.

As the inclusion model has become the favored plan for special ed students (no matter the child's particular needs), self contained, small group classes have gone by the wayside. According to my principal, there were no small group, self contained special ed classes in any of the nearby elementary schools(except low, low functioning autism). So.... we are it.

Never mind that she could do well in a less restrictive environment; never mind that her placement in our class threatens the success of her brother (who is already here).

The full continuum of services envisioned by the crafters of the original spec ed law is just not out there. Counties just say, "We don't have that here, so the child has to receive services in a less than desired setting." To my mind, this borders on the criminal. It's definitely unethical. To make matters worse, most parents of spec ed kids are not great at advocating for their child. It was clearly up to me and the group of teachers who agree with me, to try and put the brakes on the immediate transfer of this child to our ED program. We bought ourselves a week of thoughtful discourse. And in the end, the principal pulled rank.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Could I Even Dare To Hope....?

It looks like... maybe... folks are ready to give care and thought to the decision about placing my current student's younger sibling. Today the general ed side implemented a behavior plan for her separate from our classroom, and tomorrow a local screening committee meeting will address many of the relevant issues. Administrators are investigating the various programs available at nearby schools, and I was allowed to meet for 45 minutes with the school psych to discuss the implications of her placement on my current student, her brother.

Everything is in place to foster a close consideration of the alternatives, those that are easy/convenient and those that are more complicated.

Thank God.

I still wonder if I am being played. All this preparation and signs of advocacy... But is it all for show? Will none of this really matter in the long run? Could her placement be a foregone conclusion? Does it really matter to the powers-that-be that moving my current kid up to an older age/grade group is absolutely inappropriate to meet his needs?

I continue to worry, but hope lives on.
More later.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

So We're Focusing On What's Right For Kids??

On Friday I tried to catch both my administrators to continue the sibling discussion. (See previous post.) This is a big deal, to me, and to the kids of course, and the situation certainly warrants thoughtful discourse. But it was hard to pin anyone down. I finally wrote a page long list of arguments to support NOT moving my kid. The AP took the list, read it and nodded her agreement. But we both know it's not up to her, or me, or maybe even the principal. Transportation services and a stupid rule limiting where kids can go to get spec ed services..... These might just win out, rather than what is clearly in the kids' best interest.

I am seriously considering keeping both kids. Our school psychologist was aghast, warning me that I'd be dealing with sibling issues all day long. I asked her to get with me on Monday to talk some sense into me. I'll listen. But if the county won't do what's right....We're left with several imperfect solutions.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Sacrificing one for the other....

So after having this ED/developmentally delayed kid since the last weeks of his kindergarten year, he is finally settled enough to begin to learn to read and do math....finally. He is benefitting from my unusually small group size, and the boys who for years have tortured him for being slow have moved to another classroom.

And now the principal is proposing with vigor that we move my kid out of my class and into the other primary ED class. The kid's little sister is creating chaos in her general ed first grade classroom, and she wants to place her right away into my classroom. An alternative placement. No IEP. Just slip her in. And the brother is yanked from a situation where he is finally succeeding....

This is the kind of sh*it that keeps me up at night. There is no really good answer.

In years past, I have had twins who needed self contained ED services, and one stayed with me, and the other went to the closest ED program nearby. That's how you meet kids' needs.

I'm told the county no longer does this.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Continued..... Characteristics of Effective ED Teachers..

Item #4) I create a learning environment that supports active, easily distracted students; I plan for reduced disruptions via my classroom arrangement, planned schedule, and active lesson delivery.

Successful learning environments are purposely designed to meet the needs of the students assigned to that space. It’s a matter of intention. With my ADHD, explosive, anxious, and/or unmotivated students, I can’t let much of anything in my classroom JUST HAPPEN.

I plan where each child will sit with care and thoughtfulness. It’s more than a question of who is sitting by whom.

• Explosive kids need easy pathways out of the room; put him at the back of the room and be ready for everything in his path to be knocked over or torn down.

• My anxious student needs to know I am close at hand, but the spot next to my desk (a conventional placement) is actually rather isolated. Better to move her near the meeting area through which I move several times an hour. Her desk is also by the workshop table, so an additional chair is within grabbing distance when she needs me RIGHT… THIS….. MINUTE!

• My autistic child periodically goes in spurts of talking to himself in fast jags. At these times he is disruptive and even alittle disturbing. He is highly distractable and is prone to getting up and running. So his desk is located against the wall, facing the wall, between two low shelves. His IA sits just behind him, in part to prevent his quick escape.

• My oppositional little one (a first grader who is not used to having to meet expectations… he’s usually the one who rules the roost) sits just inside the classroom. The second he enters we scoot him to his desk with the express purpose of getting him to start his morning work immediately. If we had to escort him across the room, past others’ desks, the block shelf, the lego buckets, and art table, he’d never get there! As the year goes on, as he demonstrates improved cooperation, we’ll move him further from the door.

At the elementary level, I am more in control of my schedule than middle and high school teachers. This year though, the administrators assigned each grade level an hour and a half language arts block to assure that specials and other activities do not dilute the powerful learning time dedicated to reading and writing instruction. It was a good move I think. I can still follow each learning activity with some desired, reinforcing activity like outside recess, play time at your desk, computer time, etc. When kids come to understand that the next fun things do not happen for them until the work is done, the work usually gets done. The variable is how long it takes for a child to come to believe we mean what we say and say what we mean. Again, it’s a matter of intention.

Finally, I stand with good teachers everywhere who choose their teaching activities with academic expectations (planned outcomes), and students’ strengths and weaknesses in mind.

• At this point in the year, I absolutely cannot give one of my first graders independent written work. His poor fine motor skills preclude his writing with any measure of success. The OT is working hard with this child, and we do our part in the classroom to help remediate his pencil/paper skills, but I’m no fool. Giving him an extended writing assignment is tantamount to inviting a tantrum. (We call that “setting him up”.) Better to teach and assess his learning alernatively. (For example, he pastes little number cards on his math paper to indicate his answer.)

And one last thought: By manipulating the classroom environment and lesson delivery to meet student needs, teachers are taking control of what is available to them. It’s a positive, productive path. As Theordore Roosevelt said, “ Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”

Sunday, September 25, 2005

An Open Letter To My Teaching Partners... The IAs.

Your presence in the classroom can be make it or break it. I know it on days you are not here, and I especially know it when a clueless substitute is here to "assist" us. I know it when I feel relaxed about you counseling one of our troubled students, and when another of our cuties hugs you tight. When you juggle our various roles with ease, when you share a great idea or thoughtful insight, it's very clear that INSTRUCTIONAL ASSISTANT is a misnomer. You are a teacher.

Case in point: To meet our students' need for differentiation and very small group instruction, you are asked to teach. (This is true for many elementary special ed IAs.) Even though I prepare the lesson plan, your intuitive approach to each child and ability to react on a dime, both instructionally and personally, make the difference between success and failure. Your assessment notes are invaluable; I must be able to trust your observations. I'm lucky that I do, that I can.

You handle behavior on the playground; you manage the complications of lunch time in the cafeteria (NO SMALL FEAT!). You are required to meet NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND standards, and MY standards are not so easy either. Even better, you set high standards for yourself.

I guess what I'm saying is that your expertise, your ability to connect and nurture and guide our students is absolutely critical to their success. I owe you a tremendous debt of gratitude, as does the school as a whole.

Thanks for all you do. This could be the best year yet.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Thank goodness for the grandmother....

Do you notice a pattern? Day one and two of the school year. Darlene is cooperative, engaging, interested in learning. Trying hard. A joy to have in the classroom.

Day three.... her alter ego appears, unbridled. She enters the room with a loud, intrusive "Awwrruuppp!" She head butts me, grabs my waist and pulls hard. All day, she is in and out of the classsroom and the crisis room, unable, really, to sustain any sense of calm or focus.

Day four.....she is compliant, willing to work hard, alittle sleepy, but productive and loving.

Day five.... another screaming morning, tears, anger, lots of wild storytelling, off task, disruptive. Then grandma shows up.

"I went to the doctor and got her meds. Her mom wouldn't go and get the new refill, and she's been giving Darlene what was left on and off since school began."

Which explains the ups and downs.

We saw these kinds of cyclic, crazed behavior shifts ALOT last year, and now I feel mad that it might have been about the medication all along.

When Darlene is "off", our school day is often horrific. She certainly doesn't learn a damn thing on those days or weeks.

Grandma got sick of trying to get Darlene's mom to get off her butt and take care of her responsibilities. So she took care of it herself, with love in her heart, and with respect for both the little girl and for us. Thank God for that.

I should not be made to babysit kids who are prescribed medication, and are left without by negligent parents. It would be different if her mother had doubts about medication overall, that kind of thing. No, it's laziness.

And sadly, it's a fairly common occurence.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

It's check out the Carnival....

Ms. Frizzle did a super job with the first day of school theme!

Sunday, September 11, 2005

"This place is so beautiful..."

As I settle in on the eve of our second week of school, I'm called to recall last Sunday's preparations. Ms. Frizzle's request for posts about the first day of school has me thinking.

I usually hit the sheets on the night before school starts with a lump in my throat and worries on my mind. You might have read the poem I wrote about it….

Twas the night before school's start,
in her head, in her home,
the teacher was worried
about the unknown.

The kids and their parents
might drive her to drink.
And what of the testing:
What will the state think?

Will they pass all the subtests?
Will they get AYP?
Will the children be able
to test ably?

But on this night, September 5, 2005, I found sleep easily.

My lesson plans were complete, balanced, leak proof. They reflected the necessary (state mandated) “essential knowledge”, and they met my “Mommy” test: would I want my own child to be doing this stuff?

I sleepily sighed with the anticipation of seeing my students again. Over the summer, memories of their attempts to bite me and kick me and hate me had faded. I rolled over, on this, the night before school starts, and remembered Darlene’s amazing smile, Jacob’s contagious giggle, and Fred’s heartfelt hugs. Even the prospect of the NEW KID’s wrath didn’t ruin my feelings of peaceful satisfaction mixed with excitement.

The fact that my instructional assistant had been hired at the twelfth hour didn’t upset me. We’d only spent a few hours together, but I could tell we were a good match. Moreover, I could tell she was ready for the kids, ready to open her heart and mind to the challenges ahead.

One of my students requires a one-on-one aide, and THAT person had yet to be hired. Even that didn’t get me down, as I finished my evening prayers, on this, the night before school starts.

In fact, I slept like a baby.

And when, at 8:35 on Tuesday morning, the school doors swung open, Fred was the first to greet me in the hall. He grabbed me around the waist, looked up, and tears welled in his eyes.

“What’s wrong, Bud?” I whispered.

“You’re so beautiful, Mrs. R. This school is so beautiful.”

Now, THAT’S a good way to start the year.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

They are making a place in my heart.....

Already, I can feel the tug on my heart as the kids make themselves at home there. Darlene is beyond proud of herself as she compares her behavior last year with the "grown up choices" she's been making here this week. When that annoying little Todd shot her with water from the fawcet, we saw Darlene take a deep breath, move her hands slowly from shoulder level down to her side, close her eyes, and visibly relax....A real centering moment. She turned and made eye contact with me, then stepped away.


Such a big big step!!

Last year she would have been in that kid's face, spouting threats in her most aggressive ghetto-talk! She would have been riled up for a long, long time, making her completely unavailable for the next lesson or two.

Boy, she has come a long way. Let's hope it's not just "honeymoon" behavior.

For now, we'll enjoy the ride, and commit to building the relationship we're going to need if she starts to cycle down again.

On another note, we are making use of interactive notebooks this year, even at this very young level. We are creating SOL (VA's state tests) related graphic organizers that give the kids lots of opportunity to draw their ideas about the vocabulary we are learning. These visual representations are meant to strengthen the connection kids' make to help them retain the new information. It's certainly an organized way to present and store material. So far, I'm liking it. (It's DAY TWO.)

Day Two. Here's to a fabulous Day Three!!

Monday, September 05, 2005

The Obligatory Night Before School Starts...

Twas the night before school's start,
in her head, in her home,
the teacher was worried
about the unknown.

The kids and their parents
might drive her to drink.
And what of the testing:
What will the state think?

Will they pass all the subtests?
Will they get AYP?
Will the children be able
to test ably?

And what of the content?
Will they love all they learn?
Will her strategies reach them?
For what will they yearn?

For stories of heroes?
For time with their friends?
For grades to uplift them?
A means to an end?

The teacher she rolled on her side,
breathed in deep;
She prayed that she'd pass in the night, in her sleep.

No, no.. that's not it. Too depressing...

She prayed for a year with rewards they could reap....

Sunday, September 04, 2005

More about the point sheet...

I tweaked my point sheets this year, mostly to include the new pictures I've found since the last edition. Because many of my kids are not readers yet, the picture cues give them the information they need to understand and buy into the point sheet. I use various sources of clip art (which is ever expanding, right?), but this year they were all from the excel program itself. I'm pleased with the pictures, but reserve the right to change them early on if they don't make sense to the kids. (smile)

Speaking of picture cues, I'm reading more and more research about how providing visual cues is one VERY EFFECTIVE way of helping kids make connections to their learning and aid retention. I often -always?- started my lessons with a stab at creating a connection between the new material and the child's previous knowledge, but it was very often in the form of a verbal question. With the new research, I plan to make the effort to include a cool picture/photo/visual respresentation to go along with my verbal connectors. Takes a little more time, yes, but I'm thinking my special ed kids need every extra chance I can provide to learn the material.

Finally, and in response to a question from reader Kevin, I want to talk a bit about the point sheet itself. It is a good general measure of behavior, and it can help paint a picture of how a particular behavior is playing out during the day. For example, the point sheet itself can clearly illustrate a pattern of behavior (loss of following direction points throughout the day is telling), and time sensitive behavior problems can be identified (like every day at 10:30 am the child loses the ability to concentrate--- medication issue?) The point sheet itself is not especially helpful for the kind of data collection that is detailed. Consequently, I'll use tally marks in the margins of the point sheet to count specific behaviors through out the day, etc. Not especially official looking, but it does the trick.

It takes discipline to go to the point sheet every 15-20 minutes or so. It's absolutely worth it, in my mind. Once school starts I will take a picture of one of the kid's point sheets and post it, comments and all. (Names will be changed to protect the not-so-innocent.)

On a personal note, I just picked up my hub and daughter from the airport after their whirlwind visit to Clemson for the Clemson vs Texas A&M football game last night. They toured the campus (daughter is a senior in high school and doing her college tour thing), and attended several A&M alum activities (Hub did his graduate work there early in our marriage.)Such an exciting time in our lives. We count our blessings everyday, and pray for those folks impacted by Katrina, and also for the heroes doing their best to provide help.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Bring it on.....

We've kicked back at least 3 candidates.... too inexperienced, too unusual, just too, too much.

So, there is still no IA hired for my autistic student in need of one-on-one. They promise me that a sub IA will be there for us on Tuesday, day one of the new school year.

I have to believe all will be well. If I don't I'm likely to have a miserable weekend. And I REALLY REALLY want to have a great last weekend of summer.

I have to admit that getting back to planning has been something of a joy!! I'm excited in a way I haven't been in years past. It's NCLB, I think. I am rising to its challenge. Dammit, I'm going to figure out a way to make this work!!!

It helps that my class is small. Also,the woman assigned to our class is experienced, dead set on completing her teaching certification, and really anxious to learn everything she can about teaching ED kids.

My new classroom arrangement is pretty cool, if I say so myself. I love the new-fangled HUGE metal easal the principal bought me. It's AWESOME!! Ahh, simple pleasures.

Finally, my energy level is high. I'm sleeping well, and life is good.
So bring on the new year!

Tuesday, August 30, 2005


Here is the next in a series of posts I've been writing about effective teachers of emotionally disabled students. We've made our way through #1 and 2 (see previous posts in August archives), and now address characteristic #3:

I maintain a consistent behavior management system, including making individualized arrangements for special behavior needs within my classroom.

This is obviously a two-parter; tonight I will tackle the "consistent behavior management system". Later, after the children become a big part of this blog again, I will address the individualization of behavior plans. For now....

Here is a copy of the parent letter I send home describing our classroom based behavior management system. My goal is to clearly explain how it all comes together in our classroom everyday. I also hope the plan might help some parents who feel the need to use a management program at home (and many ED children need similar structure and consistency out of school as well).

This detailed document has been a great source of comfort to many of my students' parents, as it helps to shine a bright light on the otherwise mysterious goings on of the schoolday. Parents tell me their child's doctor uses the information on the point sheet to help with medication issues, and we (parents and teachers) use the data to tweak the child's academic and social skills program overall.


Behavior Management Plan

Our Class Rules

At the start of the school year, children and teachers develop the classroom rules together. They are ultimately based on the following expectations that the classroom will be a productive, safe, caring community:

o We will be safe.
o We will treat each other respectfully.
o We will learn and progress academically.
o We will learn and progress socially.

Once children have participated in the development of the class rules, I design and present a series of lessons to teach, review, and reteach their value. Through class discussion, role play, art response and writing projects, the children become thoroughly familiar with the expectations. (We expect, however, to teach and reteach the rules on a daily basis because of the needs and age of our students.) In addition, our social skills instruction and character education program reinforce these appropriate school behaviors.

The nature of our program mandates that childrenÂ’s behaviors will be monitored/highlighted throughout the day. As a matter of assessment and parent communication, studentsÂ’ specific behaviors are evaluated frequently.

The Daily Point Sheet

In 20-30 minute increments, we note how students have demonstrated important classroom behaviors. The observed behaviors are a reflection of the class rules and the students' IEPs. Problem behaviors are clearly defined to insure complete and fair assessment. Because these behaviors often reflect a child's specific weaknesses, we provide the following supports:

o Social skills lesson (both planned and on-the-spot)
o Positive verbal feedback
o Positive non-verbal feedback
o Adapting activities to reduce anxiety or increase interest
o Redirection of student to other areas of focus
o Differential reinforcement of other behaviors (praising others as a means of highlighting expectations without pointedly saying that a specific child is off track---then, noticing and praising when the child makes the behavior change)
o Proximity prompts
o Positive "chill-out" time away from the group (for example, the beanbag or pillow area of the classroom)
o Visual prompts and reminders (schedules, feelings charts, and intensity ratings, etc)
o Scaffolding (providing needed support for each of the steps in a task)
o Earned activities, stickers or intermittent edible reinforcers
o Referral to talk with counselor for extra support in times of crisis

The point sheet provides a "look" at your student's day. We record points toward each goal for behaviors that are demonstrated during the time interval.

o 2 points indicates quick compliance or cooperation
o 1 point indicates that more than 2 or 3 prompts were necessary before completion
o 0 points indicate excessive resistance or outright non-compliance (often despite re-direction and other supports)

It is our experience that over time, students make some improvement in their target areas. Consequently, the daily point sheet is a vehicle for providing information to parents. It also plays a part in the reinforcement process. Most students want both the social and activity reinforcers that a good point sheet brings. The understanding that the day was a YES day ("I made my goal.") or a NO day ("I did not make my goal.) is important. (Required percentages are determined at the IEP meeting.) The YES or NO designation is a more neutral way to assess the day’s efforts. In addition, the understanding that “I can try again tomorrow” is often sustaining.

We design the point sheet system so that a child does not consistently fail. A pattern of failure indicates that the program is not working, and we will work together with parents to make adjustments.

Other Important Behavior Management Tools

In addition to the daily point sheet, we employ other behavior management tools that are grounded in the philosophy of logical consequences, including

o Behavior contracts
o A continuum of time-out consequences ( at the child's desk, at the desk by the door, at the counselor's time out desk, booth)
o Use of planned ignoring that encourages the extinction of inappropriate behaviors
o Extended time out (Detention can be a time out of the classroom for up to 30 minutes. When the problem behavior involves a matter of trust, i.e. leaving the assigned area without permission, or refusing to go to an assigned area, we call the detention a "trust time". If detention time extends into a child's lunch period, teachers will bring the child lunch before 1:00 at the very latest.)
o Administrative procedures (as outlined in the County-wide StudentÂ’s Rights and Responsibilities guidelines).

There are corrective measures that are NOT part of our behavior management program:

o Indiscriminant, revenge-driven punishment
o Inappropriately long time out that does not reflect the age or developmental level of the child
o Angry outbursts by teachers or staff
o Humiliating sarcasm, degrading comments, nagging

It is my goal to relay important behavior information to the parents in a
timely and professional manner. (email and phone number given)

I want ours to be a true partnership in the best interests of your child. I look forward to a busy and challenging new year! Thanks in advance for your support!

So there you go. There's nothing that matches transparent, conscise, and detailed information!

Monday, August 29, 2005

Day 1 of Teacher Workdays

I did a little grousing myself today, but only a very little. I don't think it qualifies me as a staff slacker. I guess it's all a matter of opinion though.

We had a 3 hour plus staff meeting this am, and only twice did I do some eye rolling. The best thing about the meeting was the successful way the administators made very clear our school priorities..... no wishy washiness.... no silly goals... just clear expectations and the offer of lots of support to get there.

Our 2 young AP's are dynamite, and coupled with the seasoned, caring personna of the principal, we could have the makings of a terrific leadership team. I feel very uplighted by the hard work I have seen them produce these last weeks as I have been in and out of the building.

It's still hard for me to accept that I have to go looking for the AP in charge of our special ed program. After 15 years of having the manager of this program right there in our office area, dedicated specifically to meeting the needs of our program, our kids, our staff, well, sharing leadership has been a real eye opener. I have to learn patience, practice tolerance and accept delayed gratification. This can only make me a better person in the long run, right?

Finally, I am not freaking out because I still have no IA, no intern, no teaching partner. Pickins' have been slim .... but we may have a great candidate on the line. I pray it all works out and soon I can go to bed at night grateful for a wonderful instructional assistant rather than pray that one comes my way.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Staff Dissenters.... Or Staff Slackers?

As a testament to the dedication of those involved in two of our most active school committees, teachers came together on 2 different days, unpaid, to get amped up for the new year. Our Behavior Support Committee met for several hours today, and last week (as I noted in a previous post) the PLC- Professional Learning Community- Task Force got together. Truly, hundreds of manhours have been logged in for the direct benefit of our students.

That said, an obstacle of massive proportion came up during both meetings. Perhaps you can help us with this:

What can be done about those staff members (not part of the task forces) who regularly ignore the positive efforts of large groups of their colleagues.

You know who I mean. The complainers. The eye rollers. The folks who refuse to work collaboratively because the culture of isolation feels safe and secure to them.

The slackers.

Now I'm as skeptical as the next person, and I hate administrative b.s., but when over a third of the staff dedicates itself to promoting change for improved student achievement, and then about a third more of the staff wades in slowly, but joins up as it begins to make sense..... What do we do about the others who are likely to pooh pooh just about any new idea?

Working to help that group "buy in" has been fairly fruitless.
It continues to be taboo to even specifically name those groups or individuals... As if identifying them is bad manners.

What to do? Any ideas?

Sunday, August 21, 2005

It's a love/hate thing.....

I love this time of year.

I can't wait. Tomorrow our building is opening up to teachers who want to come in early and get a head start on the new year. It will be GREAT to get all the school boxes out of my house and back in the classroom, and I especially look forward to setting up the room in a new, different, exciting way!!

I hate this time of year.

I've been waking up in the middle of the night, thoughts of my new school year rattling around in my head so loudly I can't get back to sleep.

Year 2 of the big change from designated special ed center into an inclusive school offers the chance to embrace more change(uggh). For example, our mailboxes are now located in a less convenient but more inclusive area. We now must park in less convenient, but more inclusive parking lot. Hopefully, the rewards will outweigh the problems. As an optimistic soul, I have to hold onto that.

Or I could just sit back and complain.


(More later.)

Friday, August 19, 2005

CHARACTERISTICS continued.....

The next in the series of posts expanding on my August 10th discourse about

#2. I deal directly with student emotions; I don’t shy away from taking issues on.

Imagine, if you will, a class of 8-12 emotionally disabled 6 year olds, ready at any moment to spring into action: VERBAL OUTBURSTS, INAPPROPRIATE LANGUAGE, PHYSICAL AGGRESSION, WITHDRAWL, DEFIANCE, WORK REFUSAL….etc. (I know, I know, it sounds like the typical gen ed middle school class...)

No wonder it’s tempting to create a classroom behavior management plan designed to assure quiet and compliance. By designing and supporting a learning environment that honors obedience, a settled feeling of apparent safety can develop.

Too bad that’s not what’s best of our ED students.

Our kids need us to model appropriate, healthy attitudes about feelings. We need to teach them to recognize and monitor their strong emotions, and provide them with a framework that guides them through times of crisis. We have to be fearless in our acceptance of their feelings even as we unequivocally reject violence, harassment, etc. When kids see that strong emotions can be confidently managed, a new world can open up to them.

We are often (but not always) the only people in their lives who address problems and crisis in a productive, head-on manner. We seek out teachable moments during the day to highlight problem solving strategies; we notice when moods shift, peer conflicts are bubbling up, or care and concern is demonstrated. We value how the social skills of our students improve, in much the same way as we value academic success. After all, the behavior/emotional concerns are what’s getting in the way of the child’s learning.

Moreover, we rely on the collegial support of our like-minded peers. Dealing with so much visceral negativity can be overwhelming. In order to do our jobs effectively, we must talk through and problem solve with our trusted colleagues. It’s too hard a job to do without that added support. Like our students, we have to come to understand and accept our own emotional reactions in our highly charged, emotional work environment.

For more information about emotional intelligence and the classroom environment, check out the following links:

Thursday, August 18, 2005

The Importance of an Emotional IQ....

It makes sense. If emotional problems negatively impact academic progress, then helping kids improve their social/emotional skills should boost academic progress.
Read about it here, and consider how this research might impact your classroom. Will it inspire teachers to commit to daily class meetings? I can only dream!

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

PLC.... it's a good thing!

Our Professional Learning Community Steering Committee had a super first meeting of the year today. The good will, dedication, and committment to improving student achievement spilled over! Of course, this committee draws the kind of teachers who are ready to work outside the box, do whatever it takes, etc. to make our school a better place. The nay-sayers won't even send a grade level rep to the committee, so in effect, we are preaching to the choir. Our charge is to organize things so that the average teacher reaps the benefits of PLC without being inundated with new responsibilities.

Our school system uses Blackboard, a blogging vehicle of sorts, and our PLC now has an interactive site for sharing relevant information. Also, the county wants each classroom teacher to set up a classroom site on this same Blackboard system.... by Back to School Night! For some of us, that's within the first weeks of school. Without any training, we have to get something up ASAP. Now, I don't mind, I like figuring this stuff out, but the technologically impaired are going to freak out!

Finally, we are preparing a reading/writing inservice to get us all on track at the start of the new year. We must be doing something right! We made AYP!!!YEEHA! And now, back to work so we meet the new higher standards for this year. Victory may be sweet, but it's short lived here in NCLB land!! No wait...I'll feel good about everyone's good work just alittle longer!

28th Carnival is up and running.... Ticklish Ears..... what a cute name....Thanks to David for his work putting it all together this week. He has a tough job following EdWonk!! But it sure is worth it. Read on!!

Monday, August 15, 2005

Trust me....

In a previous post I listed 14 “Charcteristics of Effective Teachers” found to be especially important as we seek to improve achievement among challenging student populations. Most of the research dealt with teaching students with challenging special needs (including those living in high poverty areas, and/or dealing with learning or emotional disabilities). At the urging of a few of my blogging colleagues, I now expand on these listed items, one at a time, to be completed over the next few weeks. I’ll start with number one:

1. I build positive (trusting) relationships with students due to my consistency and attention to their needs.

Let’s face it, talking about relationship building isn’t exactly popular in this, the era of testing/accountability/NCLB. The search for specific (scripted?) teaching strategies that directly and swiftly affect test scores takes center stage. As the stakes get higher, (NCLB deadline year 2007 looms large on the horizon), it’s unlikely school systems will be spending money on helping their teachers understand the value of being “trust-inspiring”.

Still, my 20 years teaching special needs students leaves me with this strong contention: despite the many and various obstacles of teaching challenging student populations, effective teaching is contingent on a teacher’s ability to present him/herself as predictable, consistent, and attentive to student needs.

I’m not alone in believing successful teaching of challenging populations requires a particular set of “teacher behaviors”. According to recent research
( ),
these behaviors include:

1. an “ability to establish connectedness and maintain relationships”; the authors call this the “third realm of knowledge” critical to teacher success.

2. an ability to “assume and cope with the fact that they and the children will have to operate in bureaucracies with irrational policies and insensitive people”. This means working through every obstacle to do what is necessary to meet children’s needs. Need 2 recesses a day because three quarters of the students are ADHD? Fight for it. We nagged and begged and cojoled higher ups for over 10 years to get a full time reading support teacher for our ED kids. We never gave up,and it finally came to fruition. It’s a matter of attitude and perspective.

3. a willingness to learn “how to prevent and de-escalate violence”. Again, it is a matter of meeting kids’ particular needs. Instead of spending a lot of time lamenting our culture of violence, and tsk-tsking the parenting or societal ills of our community, we invest in professional development that supports where our students are now.

Day to day, I show attention to my students’ needs by planning our daily schedule with great care: we have to be very, very predictable. As much as possible, we keep to the same activity rotations; reinforcing activities always follow hard work; we go outside if we say we’ll go outside; we have a detailed behavior plan and we stick to it. No surprises. No impulsive changes, no sudden shifts in priorities.

To this same end, I take great pains to manage how I interact and react to my students. My ability to manage myself—and it does take self discipline to be so darn consistent—directly affects my students’ “availability for learning”. My predictable, even-tempered approach to every aspect of our classroom life increases the likelihood of student achievement. After all, teachers who work with challenging populations know there is little chance that kids will learn when they are anxious or unsettled.

Teachers who are unable to manage themselves, who cannot call up the best of themselves in support of the best in their students, will not succeed. According to Martin Haberman, the author of the above referenced article (emphasis mine):
Without this ability to connect with children, how much the teacher knows about math or the seven parts of direct instruction becomes moot. Quitters and failers [teachers who leave the profession or do it poorly] do not leave teaching in poverty schools because they can’t divide fractions or do not know the characteristics of 13-year-olds. They leave because they don’t want to be with those children in those schools and the children make it equally clear they don’t want them to be their teachers.”

This is heady stuff. As Parker Palmer writes in To Know As We Are Known (1999),
“as a teacher I can no long take the easy way out, insisting that I am only responsible for conveying the facts of…. whatever the subject may be. Instead, I must take responsibilty for my mediator role, for the way my mode of teaching exerts a slow but steady formulative pressure on my students’ sense of self and world. I teach more than a body of knowledge or a set of skills. I teach a mode of relationship between the knower and the known, a way of being in the world. “

If Palmer’s ideas are just too soft and fuzzy for you, keep this in mind: relationship building does not preclude high standards and excellent teaching!

More about effective teaching strategies in later posts. For now, I offer up this from a paper I wrote in 1999: “With trust, antsy children often find a bit of quiet; angry children often find validation, sad children can find hope, and worried children see that grown-ups can be relied on. Trust is the cornerstone of teaching and learning success in our (emotional disabilities) special needs classrooms.”

Hands On Math Activities That Teach!

I promised to share some info I got at a recent inservice class on math activities for a differentiated classroom. It's great to learn that fun math games can and will advance real learning (rather than just keep kids busy!)

Here are the books and an example of the activities referenced during the class:

Nimble with Numbers- by Childs, choate, and Wickett, Dale Seymour Publications

PLACE VALUE PATHS- can be played as a large group or in pairs. Students draw three single digit cards from a pile, and makes one three digit number to be placed on a game board in sequencial order. Depending on how the cards are combined to make different three digit numbers, students have to strategize to place the number on the game board. (p.36)

Fundamentals- teaching mental computation strategies $26.95 each:

HAVE A HALF- on a bingo-like board game, children use their skill to divide whole numbers to 200 in half. (p.58,59 of the book) It feels like big fun, but requires thinking, that's for sure.

Also listed in the information packet as great resources for parents, but I didn't preview them: MATH TO KNOW, Great Source, isbn 0-669-47153-4
MATH AT HAND, Great Source, isbn 0-669-46922-x


I got spammed!

I'll be deleting these kinds of comments as soon as they appear....
What a pain in the ... neck.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

I'm back...

After a great long weekend with my family in VaBeach (again), I'm home and preparing myself for the upcoming busy season know as BACK TO SCHOOL. Part of the process is a matter of preparing myself mentally for the challenges ahead, and an effort to move my internal clock so that I can go to bed earlier and wake refreshed (by 5:30 am.) I do love summer where I sleep til 8-9 am, and go to bed after midnight.

I've never really been a night person, but lately I find I do some of my best writing from 11:00-1:00 at night. Blog writing, yes, but also my novel. The creative juices just flow as I sit up in bed with my laptop, my hubby asleep and snoring to my right, the tv on mute, but QVC shopping is on the screen in case I need a distraction. The house is silent, the dog is sighing in her sleep,and all is well with the world.

On that note I will close, and open again tomorrow with plans to write about some of the potentially effective and fun math games I learned about during an inservice I attended the first week of August. Until then, sweet dreams.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005


With the start of the new term, good teachers everywhere are carefully setting the tone for a successful, achievement-focused school year. General education and special educators alike will focus on providing a productive learning community, a place where high standards, challenging lessons, and positive energy create an optimum learning environment. In our special education program for children with emotional disabilities, teachers will be busy establishing themselves and their classrooms as predictably supportive, fair, and trust-worthy. My years of experience in an ED classroom bear out this important point: without a strong feeling of trust in the teacher, students’ academic and social- emotional goals will likely go unmet.

The negative school and life experiences faced by our students often squelch a “natural” love of learning; the risk-taking necessary for learning is often met with fear and its partner, anger. Building trust becomes all the more difficult when children spend so much of their time and effort in crisis. Many children with emotional disabilities need absolute consistency and structure, often precluding them from finding comfort and predictability in an even reasonably flexible general education setting. So we teachers are focusing much of our early efforts preparing and practicing the art of being predictable, caring, trust-inspiring.

Much of the new research about effective teaching includes the development of classroom routines and rules meant to ease transitions and allow for the best use of academic time. These efforts are doubly important in the ED setting where every direction and suggestion can be met with strong student opposition. When routines and expectations become normalized, opposition tends to decrease; compliance and cooperation can “sneak in”; learning becomes a more likely outcome.

With these issues in mind,I completed some research this spring on the kinds of skills/characteristics that effective ED teachers possess. Of course,this list could describe effective general education teachers as well. See what you think….

1. I build positive (trusting) relationships with students due to my consistency and attention to their needs.

2.I deal directly with student emotions; I don’t shy away from taking issues on.

3. I maintain a consistent behavior management system, including making individualized arrangements for special behavior needs within my classroom.

4. I create a learning environment that supports active, easily distracted students; I plan for reduced disruptions via my classroom arrangement, planned schedule, and active lesson delivery .

5. I differentiate instruction to meet individual needs, including teaching in small groups assigned according to academic or social skills .

6. I enjoy interacting with students. My students sense my enjoyment.

7. I “change up” my lessons “on the fly” as needed.

8. I support student’s positive self image by using positive, instructive praise, and creating successful/appropriately challenging learning experiences.

9. I engage in professional development, seek out classes/ workshops in areas of interest or weakness.

10. I know the subject matter in depth; I prepare in advance so I am ready with detailed, comprehensive plans that present material in the modality most advantageous to that particular lesson.

11. I am flexible and open to new ways to meet immediate needs.

12. I am consistent, predictable, and honest (trust-inspiring).

13. My rules and expectations are fair (trust-inspiring again).

Carnival Time!!

It's check out the Carnival of Education! Lots of great discourse! I love discourse! Think, think, think, share ideas! Thank you to Edwonk!

Thursday, August 04, 2005

A little sassy discourse.....

Provocative blogger Prof. Plum always gets me going as I read his sassy, relentlessly pointed posts... of course, that's his intention! I do love a good sassy post!

Anyway, he inspired me with his rant about the evils of whole language and ed schools who teach it.

He said," Education students in my undergraduate and graduate classes had already taken lots of “literacy” courses from my whole language colleagues. They were nice folks, these students, and they seemed intelligent enough–until you asked them questions such as, “You are a strong advocate of using whole language to teach reading. Of course, there are other ways, older ways of doing it, that involve systematic instruction on phonics–the sounds that go with the letters. Do you have any experimental research showing that kids learn to read better with whole language than they do when you teach them phonics?” Students were never able to cite any research. [Obviously, their whole language professors had not bothered to assign any such readings.] In fact, they were not interested in any research. [They had been trained to be both ignorant and arrogant.] They just knew that the bizarre theory of whole language (reading is a “psycholinguistic guessing game”) was sound and that the teaching methods of whole language were the best (“best practices”)."

The whole lang. vs. phonics-based instruction argument is old news here. No school in our county or any county in our vicinity tolerates a whole language only curriculum. Yes, some schools remain focused on ALSO providing a literature based program, but NO ONE forgoes phonics anymore.

Do they do phonics well? That's the question. Have they committed to a research based form of direct instruction? It seems to me that's where counties are falling down now.

Even if the ed schools are still professing the virtues of whole language on it's own, most school systems don't tolerate that.

Frankly, whole language at the expense of teaching explicit phonics is passe`. The state has mandated phonics based assessments for the primary grades to use (a test, I might add that was created by a woman who worked in my school during the tail end of the whole language phase), and now, THAT IS THAT.

BTW, parents had alot to do with the county making the switch. But mostly, it was the research. Kids just weren't learning to read well without the phonemic instruction. My 17 year old daughter still suffers some of the ill effects (guessing a word based on context and the first few sounds), but she is bright enough to leave that strategy behind and tackle the big AP English word phonemically....

We are doing better by our students now. I think this needs to be acknowledged. Of course, it ultimately depends on how our reading scores improve over the next few years.

Maybe then the word literacy won't have a negative connotation. (True literacy is a good thing.) Inviting kids into the joyful world of great children's literature is a good thing. It does not have to be either/ or, does it?

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Carnival Time Again!

The Carnival is up and running. Check it out over at The Education Wonks site, where many, varied and illuminating opinions reside.....

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Dreams CAN Come True!

How’s this for a rigorous assessment? A 45 minute group presentation which can include leading your audience in a class discussion. How’s this for in-depth research? Use 2 internet sources and 2 journals.

Now THAT’S troubling!

So goes the the recent The New York Times’ description of teacher prep activities.

Rest assured we’ll continue to hear more about this controversy. ( See more here and here.) Last week, new teacherblogger Ms. Smlph did her part to shine the unforgiving light of reality on the online courses she’d recently completed for liscensing purposes.

Look, the whole process of preparing teachers is screwed up. We drop inexperienced teachers into a classroom and ask them to do the same things 20 year veterans are expected to do. We offer them help, SOME of which is effective, but coaches and mentors and buddies are not enough to guide new practioners through the complexities of teaching for high student achievement. Furthermore, many new teachers have accepted all the responsibilities of teaching even as they haven’t yet finished all the required course work.

What we need is a program of extensive, focused internships whereby new teachers spend a year in partnership with master teachers.

I can hear the collective murmur: Keep dreaming!

At Virginia’s George Mason University, such an internship program exists.

Graduate students seeking ED/LD certification at GMU can apply for the opportunity to work in a Fairfax County classroom for emotionally disabled students. The county hires them as instructional assistants, and over the course of the year, they learn from the daily modeling and opportunities for practice. By mid-year, interns are planning and implementing lessons --with the guidance and support of their cooperating teacher. They implement behavior management plans, help create individual behavior plans, assist in the IEP process, practice parent and collegial interaction. They come to learn the ins and outs of curriculum, planning, lesson delivery, and effective assessment. They do it all with increasing responsibility over time. They have room to make mistakes ( that’s part of learning after all), but it’s always with the best interests of the students in mind. After all, the stakes are too high. Both for the interns, our future teachers, and for the students.

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Putting parent support on the line....

When Jenny D. asked us in the blogging world to come up with great ideas for school reform *absent money concerns*, the responses came quickly. And, I think, thoughtfully.(Check out her post and the comments!)

#The ideas about TEACHER QUALITY/SALARY seem right on to me. Teacher excellence IS the key to successful schools and improved student achievement.

#Even though most research does not prove out the value of SMALLER CLASS SIZE, teacher morale is tied to it. That’s reason enough to keep numbers down; it will keep good teachers in the profession.

#Planning time (that is, enough of it, and effective use of it) is critical to improved instruction. Bravo to Jenny D’s contributors who recognized the need for altered teacher schedules that address our need to plan collaboratively. In our ED setting, we need time to plan with both our gen ed colleagues and ED peers. Clearly, a nontraditional schedule of some sort would be necessary to provide these important planning opportunities.

And now my contribution:

Parent Participation Contracts: Some private schools have already adopted these as a way of setting expectations for parent support. These make particular sense for the ED program in which I teach. After all, the children in our classes have exited the general education setting because of their significant behavior problems. It is my feeling that as taxpayers pay out the increased funding for special education, so should they expect a minimum level of parent participation in support of their children’s success.

I am not talking about parent report cards where teachers judge parents based on a list of identified behaviors. That idea seems arbitrary and even silly.

I am thinking about a set of expectations (created by the IEP team, including the parent, at the end of the IEP meeting) that clearly identify what our ED kids’ parents can do to help the child improve/achieve.

For example:

“This IEP team identifies the following PARENT SUPPORT ACTIONS as necessary for the timely completion of the attached IEP goals:

1. On a daily basis, sign and discuss with your child his/her point sheet. Identify areas for celebration, and make a plan together about changing negative, inappropriate behavior.
2. If your doctor has prescribed medication for your child that affects school behavior/achievement, commit to giving that medication as prescribed. Agree to call the school if such medication is not given, and make a plan for providing your child with their needed medication in a timely manner. This may include coming to school during the day, or making arrangements for the school nurse to give the dose in question.
3. As part of the overall plan to address your child’s behavior/emotional needs, commit to some form of therapeutic support. (Family therapy, child’s individual or group therapy, etc.) It’s often too hard for anyone to parent an ED child without outside supports. Take advantage of support offered by our school’s clinical team and county programs.
4. Attend quarterly parent/teacher/clinical staff conferences to discuss and plan for your child’s progress. (One of these quarterly meetings will be the annual IEP meeting and is required by law.)
5. Attend at minimum 2 school functions per year. (Includes Open Houses, Back-to-School Nights, music concerts, PTA meetings, sports competitions, etc.)
6. Provide your child with the assistance he/she needs to complete homework requirements in a timely manner.


Professor JohnL (from EBDblog) has been thinking along the same lines, in response to a BBC report about parents being held accountable for their children’s school behavior. He asks some good, hard questions about such a plan, including which negative behaviors would parents be accountable for, and what would the consequences really be. If such a plan should become more than a sweet daydream (after all, what teacher hasn’t imagined “consequencing” a neglectful parent?), then there has to be some bite in it.
That’s fodder for another post…..

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Taking a second look.....

Okay, I've re-read that last post, and wondered if it qualifies as silly-positive, self congratulatory.....

Ms. Smlph pointed out that sometimes a super positive blog can be annoying. Not that I am paranoid. She wasn't necessarily talking about me. Yes, I am perpetually sunny. Otherwise I'd go f-fing crazy.
You would too if you had my job.

So anyway, the previous post was a good description of our June efforts. The proof will be in how the administration and the staff bring it all together in August.

There is still alot that could go wrong. The kicker/screamer could drag others down. The administration could renig on agreements made in earnest last spring.
We could get so mired in the day to day, we could lose sight of the lofty goals we set for ourselves.

We might start believing the crap some bloggers out there are saying about teachers. That we are just in it for the summers off and decent hours. That we are just a bunch of time card pushers. That we don't have the skill to teach beyond 4th grade. That we are nothing special; it's not a calling to choose teaching.

To those of my teaching/blogger colleagues who are starting their new year in the next few weeks, I tip my hat to you. I'll be spending most of August preparing myself and my classroom for our September start, but you, already in the trenches, will be on my mind. Is that too syrupy-sweet? Can't help it. I'm that kind of girl. Lucky.

Monday, July 25, 2005

The future is looking bright.....

I’m a very lucky girl!

I work with a group of educators (both in the gen ed setting, and with the emotional disabilities teachers) who are interested in creating a program-wide plan for improved student achievement. In that vein, we met at the beginning of June last school year, and came up with a definite list of NEEDS to support those goals. For the most part, we came to this with full-on enthusiasm (well, at least one of us came kicking and screaming, but that’s okay too!). We shared it with our immediate administrator, who appeared to fully support our efforts to get the training, practice and time we need to make it all happen. It definitely makes the arrival of the new school year even more exciting when you can look forward to that kind of support and commitment. Here’s what we decided:

1. We need to improve our skills for creating effective, research based lessons. We identified the support personnel who could help us (reading specialist, technology support, etc.)

2. We need direct instruction and support finding the available online resources already there and designed to improve instruction. Our county has a plethora of online materials, but many of the teachers and IA’s on our team don’t know how to find them.

3. We need training about differentiating instruction effectively. (Who doesn't?)

4. We want to be able to use the Alpha Smarts and computer lab within the first two weeks of school instead of getting hit or miss tech support that leaves us in the lurch.

5. We need 3 visual timers per classroom. (Originally introduced to us by the autism specialists, these timers provide a visual picture of how much time is left in a particular activity – time outs, for example, or time left to complete a lesson. Very handy!)

6. We intend to plan an extended ED team meeting during teacher prep days in August to explore 2 important areas—--First, in an effort to build trust/collegiality, we want to explore our different ways of communicating. Next, as a team,we want extended time to talk about our students, sharing valuable information not easily written down in notes for each other. We value teacher’s dialogue about and for their students.

We didn’t ask for the world, but we identified our needs, and expect to get as much on our list as is reasonable. Frankly, I consider every item on our list necessary and feasible, and am heartened by the verbal support we got from the higher ups.

Like I said, I’m a lucky girl!

Home again...

We are back from an all-too-quick vacation at the Beach. Except for some brief TV watching to check on the latest London bombing attempts, I ignored TV and internet activities. Well, except for a periodic check of my mail. I AM addicted.

I did some good writing though. My novel just might be going somewhere! I even took the plunge and shared the first chapter with my daughter. I've been steadfast about keeping all that I have written absolutely private, so this was a big step, done impulsively, and it was really okay. My next step, I think.... find a writer's group. Does that sound like a good idea?

Countdown to the new school year starts for me at the beginning of August. I have already begun to create some blog-like vehicles on Blackboard for my classroom and for our Professional Learning Community task force. The classroom "blog" is really more of an interactive newsletter, but I think it will support my goal to improve communication with my students' parents. At least for those with computer access.

Finally, I am looking forward to catching up with my blogging's been weird not checking in much on their goings on! Til tomorrow, when I hope to post an intelligent, education oriented piece, have a lovely Monday!

Thursday, July 14, 2005

No wonder they're ... Hot For Teacher!

This little teacher-lady sits atop my sink window, reminding me daily of "my inner disciplinarian"! My brother and his wife gave me this little trinket, and we all had a laugh.

"You don't really see me like that, do you?" I cried out.
Paul and Denise just smiled. And kept smiling.

"Well?" I pressed.

" Your boobs aren't as big," Paul offered sympathetically.