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.