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....

...at 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
(http://www.educationnews.org/can_teacher_education_close_the_.htm ),
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 Wednesday.....so 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.