Mar 01

What Teachers Want: A Call To Arm

By Meredith Swain | What Teachers Want

There are many facets to the current debate over gun control, but a lot of focus has fallen on two extremes. One extreme is a call to ban all guns. On the opposite side, there is a call for teachers to be armed. As a teacher, I find the idea of arming teachers to be ludicrous for many reasons.

I was called to teach. I was not called to arms.

My job as a teacher is much more than just knowing content and how to deliver it to a teenage audience. I’m also a counselor, cheerleader, parent and confidant to hundreds of students every year. I call them “my kids” for a reason. I love them. I want to nurture them into kind, open-minded, knowledgeable individuals, and of course– to protect them.  Would I defend them if a gun were pointed at them? Yes.

But I was called to teach. I was not called to arms.

To quote my friend and colleague, Rebecca Field, who wrote “An open letter from a furious Henrico teacher,” “At the end of my teaching contract, it says that I will perform ‘other duties to be assigned.’ I do not interpret these words ‘as bleeding to death on the floor of my classroom.’” Nor is it in my contract that I have to protect my students with a gun. Would I be able to use a gun on a student I know? No.

I was called to teach. I was not called to arms.

Financially, arming and educating teachers how to operate a gun is impossible. State and federal funding for schools is and always has been low. Many schools can’t afford to give teachers basic classroom supplies, to send teachers to state required professional development, or to give them a step in their pay each year. If schools can’t even buy their teachers whiteboard markers, how would they afford to buy each teacher a gun? Lock boxes? Ammunition? If schools can’t even pay for teachers’ continuing education in the content they teach, how would they afford gun safety training? If schools can’t even give teachers the next step up in their pay, how would they afford to offer teachers a bonus for being armed? It would cost billions of dollars that do not exist, and even if they did, those taxpayer dollars be better spent on mental health services and social-emotional learning in the classroom. Or on books that teach students compassion. Or on making smaller class sizes so teachers have more time to get to know their students.

We were called to teach. We were not called to arms.

We, teachers, call to be armed with more counselors, social workers, school psychologists, and nurses in our schools. We call to be armed with community support to make our schools educational, cultural, and healthy environments. We call to be armed with the knowledge that our students are safe from violence while they are in our buildings.

We were called to teach. We were not called to arms.

Neither banning all guns nor arming teachers are solutions to making our schools safe from gun violence. The Second Amendment can’t be entirely undone. Guns won’t simply disappear. However, the answer is definitely not more guns, especially in our schools. The answer is to empower teachers to use tools of teaching, not war.

Again, I say, we were called to teach. We were not called to arms.

 

 

Feb 27

What Teachers Want: Are You Serious?

By Emily McLeod | building community , What Teachers Want

In the wake of yet another school shooting, the government and members of the media are beating a familiar drum: more guns, not less, will  put a stop to our decades-long national epidemic of mass shootings in schools. The President of the United States has been aggressively putting forward the idea that our nation needs armed teachers to  prevent school shootings. The notion of transforming our educators into a paramilitary strike-force of academic achievement is completely absurd for many reasons. Chief among these is that it is simply impractical to expect a teacher to become a trained marksman and learn to adequately respond in an active shooter situation.  Then there’s the funding required for such a proposal. Not to mention that putting more guns in schools creates a culture and environment that does nothing to address the struggles of children at risk.

Not My Job!

Being a teacher requires us to wear many hats: nurse, counselor, social worker, caretaker, parent… nowhere in our training or toolbox of skills does that ever include shooter.

There are many field experiences, trainings, and degrees required to become a teacher. Those most powerful and effective learning experiences are on the job, hands on learning.  Soldiers and police officers undergo intense training as well. According to an FBI study done of active school shooter situations from the years 2000-2013, “law enforcement suffered casualties in 21 of the 45 incidents where they engaged the shooter to end the threat.” So this means that almost 50% of professionally trained law enforcement died!  HALF. Even with all of their training.

So we want to consider that a teacher who takes a one day gun safety class is now qualified to react and protect themselves and students from an intruder intent on doing the most damage?  How would teachers stand a reasonable chance of survival, when half of our trained law enforcement perishes while attempting the same task?

There is not a lesson plan that can adequately prepare teachers for an active shooter.  Can you imagine the consequences, the outrage if a teacher accidently shot and killed a student in the process? Is this a risk that our society is willing to accept?

Who is Paying?

Incentivizing teachers to become trained to carry weapons requires funding. Where would that money come from? If money is available for schools and to give to teachers, how about a higher salary or incentives for more logical things like additional endorsements and social emotional trainings?

The federal government just cut taxes and passed a budget resolution to increase spending, creating a large spending gap.

How does arming teachers fit in to this proposal?  You would need guns, training, liability insurance.  Just for starters.

In 2016, in Fairfax County, Virginia, a meal tax was proposed to raise money for the county. This proposal was defeated. The tax would have generated roughly 99 million dollars of tax revenue for the county, 70% of which was designated to go to Fairfax County Public Schools, primarily as an increase in teacher salaries.

Funding for public school resources, universal PreK, and teacher salaries is not a priority, but guns are. It is hard to take the call to arms seriously when those asking for it are against investing in our children and the things that they need to thrive.

Environment

The biggest need in our schools is for a more positive, empathetic, and proactive mindset that focuses on strengths and solutions. Children that come from difficult home lives and who are predisposed to risk factors need to mentored, loved, and seen. This can only happen when we all get on board and take action. Children who need help and support are not difficult to pick out, so why do they continue to slip through the cracks?

What Now?

Research has shown that early intervention is critical for children exposed to adverse conditions. Harvard University conducted a study about The Toxic Stress of Early Childhood Adversity fining that toxic stress affects children’s metal and physical health for a lifetime. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) conducted a study on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) and gave an ACE score based on the answers to questions relating to trauma. “There are 10 types of childhood trauma measured in the ACE Study. Five are personal — physical abuse, verbal abuse, sexual abuse, physical neglect, and emotional neglect. Five are related to other family members: a parent who’s an alcoholic, a mother who’s a victim of domestic violence, a family member in jail, a family member diagnosed with a mental illness, and the disappearance of a parent through divorce, death, or abandonment.” The CDC’s Adverse Childhood Experiences Study uncovered a stunning link between childhood trauma and the chronic diseases people develop as adults, as well as social and emotional struggles. Is this not where we should focus the conversation, resources, and outrage? What can we do to PREVENT, ANTICIPATE, and CHANGE the inevitable struggle of at risk children?

Since we know the consequences of adverse childhood experiences are inevitable, let’s invest in what we need to support children! How will guns in schools help with any of these things?

 

https://acestoohigh.com/got-your-ace-score/

https://developingchild.harvard.edu/resources/inbrief-the-impact-of-early-adversity-on-childrens-development/

https://www.fbi.gov/news/stories/2014/september/fbi-releases-study-on-active-shooter-incidents/pdfs/a-study-of-active-shooter-incidents-in-the-u.s.-between-2000-and-2013

 

 

Feb 23

What Does It Mean To Be Kindergarten Ready?

By Tracy McElhattan, Ph.D. | teaching

When it comes to young children going to school, we talk a lot about “readiness.” But what does that even mean?

I’ll just get down to it.

Very broadly speaking, “readiness” refers to skills and factors that contribute to a child’s success upon school entry. These skills reflect individual development across the following domains: health and physical development; social/emotional development; cognition, knowledge, and approaches to learning; and communication and language skills.

I want to make one thing crystal clear:

 Children are not innately “ready” or “not ready” for school.

 “Readiness” is a complex subject, influenced by many interrelated factors:

  1. Early life experiences: exposure to early education, home literacy environment, economic security, attention to health needs.
  2. The child’s individual differences: cultural and linguistic variation, developmental differences and the understanding of such differences, presence of a disability
  3. Expectations placed on the child by the school: the only legal requirement is reaching the correct chronological age, but the National Goals Panel suggests 10 critical keys to ensure that schools are ready for young children:
    1. Smooth transition between home and school
    2. Continuity of care between early care and education and elementary schools
    3. Help children learn and make sense of their complex world
    4. Be committed to the success of every child
    5. Be committed to the success of every teacher and every adult who interacts with children during the school day
    6. Introduce/expand approaches that have been shown to raise achievement
    7. Be a learning organization that alter practices if they do not benefit children
    8. Serve children in their communities
    9. Take responsibility for results
    10. Exhibit strong leadership

As you can see, in order to improve “readiness” we have a lot of collective work to do. Children and families need improved economic conditions, better health care for children and families, a commitment to understanding of individual differences, and environments that are responsive to the needs of children and families within their own community (just to name a few).

Hopefully you noticed that “readiness” is much greater and more complex than a checklist of skills and developmental milestones. The burden of readiness should not rest upon the frail shoulders of our nation’s preschoolers.  Idealistic? Maybe. Utopian? Maybe. But….

As adults we should carry the load and create the necessary changes- to ensure our youngest can have the greatest opportunity for success as they develop at their own pace.

  •  What can you do to improve factors for readiness in your classroom, school, or community?
  • How can you push the conversation about readiness towards a more comprehensive view?
  • How can you release young children from the burden of fitting in to a certain predetermined mold?
  • How responsive is your teaching? Do you take responsibility for results? Do you alter teaching practices when needed?
  • Do you seek out learning opportunities?
  • How can you exhibit leadership?
Feb 18

What Has Changed Since We Were Kids

By Jen Newton | building community

I am finding myself rageful lately.  The politics in this country no longer reflect dialogue I’m even remotely familiar with and each day we experience a new tragedy or outrage that we no longer even seem to notice.

As we reel and stumble to make sense of our public health crisis of mass shootings by white men, I keep hearing the question, “what has changed since we were kids?”

Everything.

No, I’m not talking about “family values” or about God in the lives of Americans or about women in the workplace.  In terms of money and national values, though, much has changed.

Politics

The wealth gap in the US is widening annually – currently bigger than ever.

Voter suppression and gerrymandering have had a huge impact on who is elected into office.

Citizens United and campaign finance laws have contributed to the movement toward kleptocracy.

To name a few . . . little things add up and become big things.  Our legislative branch has ground to a halt, adversarial, vindictive, ineffective, and unaccountable.

Education

NCLB created necessary, but deeply flawed, accountability measures for districts, teachers, and states.  These high stakes measures, in my opinion, changed the face of education in our country.

More and more kids and families living in poverty means more needs to meet in schools.  Intense demands to make ends meet creates stress in families.

State and federal budgets have consistently demonstrated a lack of commitment in public education resulting in teachers and administrators forced to do much much much more with far less.

To name a few . . . little things add up and become big things.  Our dialogue has diminished to a blame game, all or nothing, you’re with me or you’re against me.

So what?

We have a disconnect between policy and practice in public education.  We have underresourced, overstretched teachers and administrators.  And teachers are as variable as the rest of us – some literally save lives, some do damage, some fall somewhere in between.  We have learners and their families with vast needs, some we cannot even begin to comprehend.  We have refugee children in our classrooms – literally escaping war zones.  Are we trauma informed enough for that?  We have huge challenges and far too few solutions.

I don’t claim to have the answers but I do know there is no one answer and there is no one blame.  It’s not JUST access to weapons of war (although that is a big one, and one we can easily change . . . with our votes).  It’s not JUST parents who don’t care or don’t discipline or don’t go to church or don’t teach manners (this narrative needs to be silenced, it is not productive or accurate, support families always).  It’s not JUST teachers who are stretched too thin (another narrative that is played out, support teachers always).  It’s not JUST poverty.  It’s not JUST white supremacy or bullying or video games.

Every child is a unique being experiencing the world in his unique way.  Your interactions make a mark.  Every.  Single.  Time.  You never know what someone carries away from their experience with you.  Show compassion.  Empathy.  Give the benefit of the doubt.  Focus on strengths.  See the good in others.  FIND good in others.  When you feel yourself making a judgement about someone else’s choices, reframe that judgement into a strengths-based statement.  “Fourth graders should know how to walk quietly down the hall by now” could be reframed into “We all need reminders some days, let’s talk about how we move through our school building.”  Simple switches that lift and teach.

Action Steps

Embrace mistakes.  Teach from mistakes.  Forgive mistakes.  See the humanity in others, empathize, care.  Less talking, more listening.  Seek to understand.  Vote.  March.  Participate.  Engage, and listen.

What’s changed since we were kids, I think, is that we’re the adults now.  And there’s no assault weapons ban, there’s student loan debt, and wages are stagnant, health insurance premiums are stupid expensive, and the shrinking middle class can’t keep up.  Americans are stressed to the max and desperate people do desperate things in small and big ways.

Also I don’t think it was all rainbows and butterflies when we were kids.  But time has a way of fuzzing the edges and filtering the blemishes.  And there wasn’t easy access to weapons of war.

I am reframing my rage into care, my anger into empathy.  What about you?  What can you commit to do for our nation, your community, your family?  It will take every last one of us and I’m with you.

Feb 12

Every Classroom, Every Day: Rethinking Inclusion

By Abby Beals | inclusion , teaching

 What is Special Education?

When I began my undergraduate studies in Elementary and Special Education, I hoped to gain a deeper understanding of how to support students with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) within the general education classroom. I viewed the work of special education as a fund of knowledge that I would utilize as a teacher within the general education classroom in order to best meet the learning needs of all my students. However, as I began my field experiences, I realized that to many, special education was not a series of supports or a teaching methodology, but rather a room where students could be placed and sent. Special education was often thought of as the room at the end of hall, designed so that general education teachers could avoid “challenges” and “additional work” in their classroom.

As a result of these experiences, I believe we need to rethink how we define special education and inclusion. The implementation of special education services does not fall on one teacher, in one classroom; rather it is the work of every teacher, in every classroom, every day, for every child. Special education is individualized services and supports. It is a collaborative effort by educators, parents and guardians, administration, and specialists  to provide each student with necessary services, such as speech and language services, occupational therapy, and physical therapy. It is the implementation of supports, such as academic differentiation, assistive technology, and universal design, which allow all students access to academic and social opportunities in a variety of settings. When we consider special education as a set of supports, instead of a room or profession, we can begin to truly teach our students and create inclusive environments.

Resource Rooms, Self-Contained Classrooms, & Inclusion

As stated in IDEA, students with IEPs are to be taught in the least restrictive environment, the setting in which their academic and social needs are best met. Therefore, schools have created resource rooms and self-contained classrooms as a place for students with IEPs to receive instruction. However, I find these rooms are often overused or resorted to simply because they exist. This is not to say that these classrooms do not benefit some children, and for a very few students these rooms may provide the best and least restrictive learning environment. However, these settings are not what define special education. These settings cannot be the only place in which a student receives individualized accommodations.

I am a firm believer in meaningful inclusion. Conversely to how resource rooms provide students with additional supports in an alternative environment, inclusion works to provide students with support and accommodations within the general education classroom. Benefits to promoting inclusion are the social opportunities students have to collaborate with peers and access to general education curriculum.

However, right now, we are not doing our best work. In my field experiences, I have often seen “inclusion” as students with IEPs sitting on their own, not being accommodated to participate in whole group instruction or collaborative work, not being supported as a member of the classroom community. General education teachers either do not feel it is their responsibility to teach these children, or they simply do not know how to teach them. However, if we want to see students grow in academic and social skills, we need to shift our thinking to all teachers becoming special educators.

Teachers who have focused on and studied special education are essential to our school community.  They maintain a deep knowledge of how to accommodate learners, but their work should not be done alone. General education teachers must embrace that we are here to teach all children. Just as we differentiate and enrich learning for students in the general education classroom, we, too, should be implementing accommodations and providing differentiation to students with different needs.

Implementing Inclusion

As we go forth in our movement for inclusion, it is imperative that we begin to redefine and deepen our understanding of what special education is. Special education is not the room at the end of the hall, where we can send children with IEPs when we do not know how to support them. Additionally, those with titles and degrees in special education are not the only ones who teach students with differing needs. The work of special education must occur in every classroom, every day. If we are truly working to build students up as lifelong learners and active community members, we all must be willing to collaborate to implement a continuum of services across our school community, so that all students have equitable access to both academic and social opportunities for personal growth.

 

Feb 07

Reimagining Quality of Life for Adults with Significant Needs: Finding Holland

By Katie Miles | building community , teaching

Since the tender age of ten, I have been contemplating what will happen to my brother, CJ, when my parents pass away. When I was four, CJ was diagnosed with Autism. And, similarly to how Emily Perl Kingsley felt in her poem, Welcome to Holland, my family dynamic was altered for the better. While some moments were frustrating (aka when he would jump out of the moving car, mimic crying babies, or climb the tallest of trees), when I took a step back I realized that there were times when I, too, did things that were frustrating (aka my middle school years – sorry mom). And from this new perspective, I began to recognize CJ’s many strengths, as he composed beautiful art and memorized the producers of every Disney movie. While living with CJ has fueled my passion for creating my non-profit housing program, “Finding Holland,” I am continuously driven to advocate for equitable housing for all individuals across the spectrum of Autism as well as moderate to severe disabilities.

The Problem

What resources are available when it comes providing long term supports for adults with special needs? While there are transitional and day programs out there, there is little attention focused on future housing arrangements and equitable employment opportunities that are suitable for individuals with moderate to severe Autism. These individuals have numerous strengths and abilities, and they deserve a dignified quality of life. Unfortunately, housing facilities that uplift their abilities while meeting their individualized needs are not readily available throughout the U.S.

My Vision

My house, “Finding Holland,” will work to build a strong community among its members with a state-of-the-art,  integrative wellness center and residential facility for people of ALL abilities. There will be a vision, positive atmosphere, and leadership team focused on supporting people with Autism and creating an “enviable life” with them. A staff of life coaches, occupational therapists, speech therapists, physical therapists, special educators, and therapeutic recreational specialists will provide accommodations to each individual in order for them to participate as independently as possible. Finding Holland will allow individuals to set personal goals, establish daily routines, and discover a “work-life” balance that supports individuals in living their fullest life.

In the realm of education, we have made progress in providing students with equitable access to deeper learning. About half a century ago, most individuals with moderate to severe special needs were institutionalized throughout their adult lives once they “aged out” of the school system. Families, guardians, and professionals call this “falling off the cliff.” However, in my opinion, we have not made sufficient progress in providing equitable housing and work resources following school. In my classroom and in the home I create, I am working to teach individuals how to take care of themselves, express themselves, and develop their communication, in order to have a voice in determining their own quality of life.

The spectrum of Autism is wide and not fully understood, and therefore, there aren’t a lot of resources available for this specific population post high-school. Yes, there are day recreational programs and work programs, but absolutely nothing considered to be a standard, “traditional job.”  Additionally, in terms of residential living, the majority of these programs are private, which requires significant financial resources. Following the transition from high school, the amount of supports available are limited and accommodations within work and residential life often don’t meet the specific needs of the individual. I’ve only seen programs that provide factory work, work programs, and government funded programs with an emphasis on working. We need to mix that up and provide social recreation, interaction, and a work-life balance.

Yes, maybe, right now this is all just a vision, but we need to advocate, collaborate, and use our voices to create equitable housing access for people of all abilities! Together, we will find Holland.

Feb 02

Behavior is Communication

By Jen Newton | building community , teaching

I’m a big believer that words matter.  Words are powerful and, despite that “sticks and stones” rubbish, words can certainly hurt us.  Therefore, when talking about “behavior management,” by the way, I continue to put quotes around it in an effort to communicate that, while those words sometimes provoke a common understanding for educational professionals and parents, “behavior management” does not effectively articulate the charge teachers have in developing classroom communities.

Behavior is communication.

Maybe we should call behavior management courses behavior communication courses instead.  Children are communicating with us through their behavior.  They are telling us they are tired, disengaged, distracted, hungry, sad, so excited they may burst, worried, scared, confused, overwhelmed, frustrated, and more.  Kids, like adults, experience the full range of human emotions and the full range of human coping mechanisms for those emotions.

What if we moved from managing behaviors to listening?

A basic tenet of “behavior management” is identifying the function of the behavior.  This is actually trickier than it sounds.  We often make assumptions that the function of the behavior is that the child is “lazy” so avoids her work, or the child is “manipulative,” “defiant,” or “hyperactive.”  Once we put those frames on a child, they are difficult/impossible to shake off.  Children pick up on these labels too. They often internalize them and then take on the identify of being that “difficult” or “hyper” child. It also puts the responsibility of classroom engagement and “behaving” on the learner rather than on the teacher.  Remember, it is the teacher’s job to gain the cooperation of her learners.

Kids really do not wake up in the morning thinking they want to ruin your day.  They don’t.  I know it’s tempting to believe some do.  But even they don’t.  We have to move away from expecting kids to come to school ready to learn and start enticing them to learn, motivating them to learn, engaging them to learn, incentivizing them to learn.  We have to understand that some children come to school hungry or lacking sleep, and that we have to figure out ways to meet these needs. YES!  We know and acknowledge that teachers have tough jobs (FYI: Parent blaming/shaming is not allowed – we also must believe all parents are doing the best they can with their current reality.  Remember, there are things you do not know). When we put the responsibility “to behave” on the learner, we set them up to fail.  When we listen to their communication and meet their needs appropriately, we free them up to focus on learning.

Importantly, though, kids do not typically show the behaviors we want to see for someone they don’t like or trust – or from someone they know doesn’t like them.  By listening to what the child is communicating with their behavior, we are able to more meaningfully determine the function of the behavior, and even more importantly, more meaningfully replace it.  The purpose of managing behavior should ultimately be to extinguish the unwanted behavior by replacing it with a preferred way of meeting the same need.

Huh?

Let’s take a common example.  Teacher is providing whole group instruction.  Kai is talking to his seat mate.  Teacher moves closer to Kai and he stops talking.  Kai goes to sharpen his pencil, teacher asks him to sit.  Kai asks to go to the bathroom.  Kai gets a tissue.  Kai rummages through his desk.  Kai is “off task.”  If the teacher clips Kai down on the behavior chart, takes five minutes of his recess (why do we restrict kids movement as punishment?  That’s control, pure and simple – it is NOT teaching), or moves him to an “island” (a desk in the corner of the room away from peers), the teacher is not giving Kai any strategies for next time he is feeling restless during whole group instruction.

So what is Kai’s behavior communicating?

We generally separate behavioral communication into two big categories of escape and attention.  Kai appears to be communicating a need to escape from the task at hand.  We don’t know WHY he needs to escape but we won’t understand why by clipping him down or restricting his freedom.  What if we listened to his communication and gave him a break?  What if we said, “Hey, Kai, do you need to take a break so you can come back ready to learn?”  Maybe we even have some acceptable brain/body breaks already identified that he can self select when he feels himself becoming restless.  What if we replaced his disruptive behavior with an acceptable option that still meets his need to move?

Would that be managing behavior?  What are you currently doing in your classroom to understand the function of behavior?

 

Jan 30

Things I Know

By Logan Headrick | teaching

  • All students have the right to be a part of their community in whatever ways they are capable. Each of them, regardless of ability, are able to be contributing members of their community and society. It is our job to figure out how and to harness their strengths in ways that allow them do so. If you feel the student has too many physical or cognitive challenges to contribute in some way, you’re doing it wrong. Think harder!
  • All students have the right to learn. Often when we see someone with abilities other  than what we are familiar with, we assume the person is not capable. Instead, we should be thinking of how can we change the environment, adapt the materials, and/or create a communication system so they can be successful and capable. We must create this environment for them… then watch them flourish! 
  • Regardless of one’s cognitive ability or ability to communicate in a “typical” way, all students are watching and listening.  Students sense emotions and respond to your facial expressions, gestures, and tone of voice. They are all much more perceptive than you may think. We must be  positive role models here! Too often I hear people talking about the student in front of them, sometimes even negatively. They can hear you! Even if they do not receptively understand all the words you are saying, I guarantee they can sense that you are not speaking nicely about them!
  • Although I do not work in an inclusive setting in a “typical” sense (there’s those quotation marks again. What is typical anyway?), all students should be included in all experiences and lessons throughout the day. If you feel they cannot or will not understand, it is your job to differentiate what you are teaching in order to have the experience be meaningful for all. Don’t worry, I know that typing this sentence is way easier than putting it into practice! It’s hard work, but it is necessary work!
  • All students should have access to an appropriate education in the least restrictive environment. In my experience, those who need the most support tend to be placed in a separate school where the requirement for being a teacher is typically a bachelors degree with no specific need for a background in education. Now, I am not saying these teachers cannot meet the complex needs of  students through training, professional development, and coaching. They can. I’ve seen it, but this is not always the case. The challenge, however, is that not all schools provide or invest in the training and support needed in order to develop the teachers’ skills so they can meet the significant needs of the students in their classrooms. This cycle ends up placing students with the most complex needs into an environment with ill equipped teachers who are not knowledgeable of the ways in which the students can be successful and access their environment.
  • Often when out in the community, people notice our students have differing abilities and are incredibly sweet and supportive. While this is wonderful and we are grateful to have the opportunity to show others in the community that our students are amazing, smart, capable, worthy – the community members tend to look to us  to speak for the student. For example: a student has a communication modality and we are out to lunch ordering food. A waiter could be very nice and greet the student but then look to the teacher to order. This is a prime teachable moment for the student, for the teacher, and for the community member who maybe has never encountered someone using an alternative communication system. MODEL! Teach the student. Teach the waiter. Allow the student to choose what they want. Can you imagine how powerful it could be to finally be able to communicate  in a way that is intelligible  and have them actually bring you exactly what you chose to eat for lunch that day instead of what someone said you had to eat?! Think of how empowering and motivating that would be!
  • Behavior is communication. When a student hits, bites, pulls hair, punches, kicks, they are not bad kids trying to be mean! The underlying factor to any behavior, no matter how extreme, is communication. Too often I hear people refer to students as bad, mean, aggressive… sometimes in front of the student! We all know when an infant is wet, hungry, or tired, they will cry.  When an infant does this, we try a snack, a nap, a diaper change, or a change of scenery. For students with complex needs, typically including communication deficits, we tend to deem them aggressive, bad, or mean when they display these behaviors. BUT their behavior is communication and it is our responsibility to figure out what they are communicating. What I do know is that “tantrums” (I am so not a fan of that word. It makes me cringe but let’s be real… have you used it before?) are the student trying to tell you something. Let’s put the pieces together and figure out what it is.  HINT: ABC data will help! Am I talking about the alphabet? Nope. I am talking about Antecedent Behavior Consequence. Let’s break down the environment, take some data, and figure out what this person is trying to tell us!

What do you think?  What do you know about students with complex needs that you want others to know?  Tell us!

Jan 25

Three Things You Can Do Tomorrow To Build Classroom Community

By Jen Newton | Uncategorized

Build relationships, you say.  Teach the behavior I want to see, you say.  Build community, you say.

Haven’t I been doing that??

Often, the draw to visible behavior management systems for teachers is the act of doing something.  Let’s take a common example in any classroom:  A learner is talking while the teacher is talking.  What are the teacher’s options in that moment?  I’ll brainstorm a few.  a)  She can stop teaching and wait patiently until the learner redirects him/herself back to the lesson.  b) She can call the learner by name and ask for their attention.  c)  She can move her body closer to that of the off-task learner in an attempt to bring their attention back to learning.  Okay, that’s three, and all three are assuming everyone else in the class is rapt with attention to the engaging and fascinating content presented.

So, maybe it’s not so easy.

If I have a visible behavior management system, though, I can ask the learner, in front of their peers, to move their clip/remove a marble/write their name on the board/stand by the wall at recess/anything I want.  It’s a system, it’s fast, children respond, this is effective, right?  Peer shame is an excellent motivator, right?

No.  It’s not.

I do understand, however, the draw to do something about the off task, defiant, non-compliant behaviors all kids (and adults!) demonstrate sometimes (or often!).  We should be prepared for it because they are natural responses to our American educational model.  I remember when a former student/first year teacher texted me while setting up her room two days before her very first group of incredibly lucky four-year-olds started school.  She said something along the lines of, “Jen, I need a system, right? Like red light/green light, or, like, some teachers have cars, should I have cars, or I saw someone had an actual stop light but someone was laminating bugs but I don’t know how that one worked, and I don’t know what system I need.”  I asked her to catch her breath, slow down, talk to me about this “system” needed.  And it all tumbling out about how there have to be consequences and she knows she took two behavior courses and she didn’t realize she never even learned a system and now she was about to have her own class of real life preschoolers and no system!!

I do understand the very strong pull and the courage NOT having a visible system requires.

So, let’s identify three things you can incorporate into your day tomorrow.  Three small shifts, little changes, that make a big difference with learners.

  1. Greet each and every learner by name.  Ask a minimum of one question of the child beyond “how are you?”  Identify something on which to compliment the child, while trying to steer clear of physical appearance.  Start their school day off right.  By seeing each and every child, you acknowledge their strengths and their needs, consciously accept all they are, and commit to teaching them.
  2. Develop a system for identifying “braggables” about each learner in your class.  Then call 2-3 parent/caregiver after school 2-3 days a week and tell them something awesome about their kid.  Connecting caring adults with positive feedback, funny stories, brilliant writing, whatever the “braggable” is, goes a long way in building classroom community.  It also makes it a lot easier to have the difficult conversations if the need arises.  Building relationships with learners means building relationships with families.
  3. Build in time for kids to talk to each other and to you!  When we restrict their social interactions, we limit their ability to work productively in pairs, small groups, large groups because they use that precious time to catch up, rather than work.  My daughter’s parent/teacher conference report said “too social, especially at work time.”  My daughter’s response:  It’s the only time we get to talk!  Give them time and strategies for large group sharing, pair sharing, and small group chats.  I know it sounds counterintuitive but it really does make for smoother running classrooms.

 

What do you think?  What did I miss?  What works for you?  Tell us!

Jan 22

From Punishing to Teaching The Behavior We Want To See

By Jen Newton | building community , teaching

Ahh, “behavior management.”

Research shows that “behavior management” is one of the top challenges for teachers, one of the factors attributed to teacher attrition, and a top priority for school administrators.  But what does it mean, to manage behaviors?

It is a teacher’s job to gain the cooperation of his/her learners.  Think about those words . . . gain the cooperation of . . . What are our expectations of a well-managed classroom?  Cooperative learners?  Engaged learners?  Compliant children?

Many of the systems we find in classrooms (i.e., clip charts, color charts, marble jars) are contingent upon compliance.  But compliance with what?  We often inundate children with vague classroom rules (what does it really mean to “be respectful”?) without clear operationalized expectations for, say, getting clipped up or clipped down.  What is the tangible real difference in behavior between “good job” and “great job” on a clip chart?  Ask any kid.  They’ll tell you it’s the teacher’s call, and it usually depends on the teacher’s mood.

And that’s moving UP on the chart.  Let’s talk about moving down.

Commonly, moving down on the system relies on punishment – lose five minutes recess, “think time,” or call parent.  Consequences are good, you say?  But, how do these things TEACH the behavior we want to see in children?  A child is not sitting still in class, so taking away the one time of day that they can move freely (recess) will teach him/her to sit still?  And if we are clipping kids down and enforcing these consequences consistently, then are we actually managing behavior?  Because the consequences aren’t changing the child’s behavior and now we’re in a punishment cycle where we feel compelled to make the consequences stiffer rather than to consider the entire system is failing.  Let’s reconsider the system together.

These systems operate on some assumptions.

  1. All children come to school ready to learn.
    1. (Spoiler alert:  They don’t.)
  2. All children know what you want them to do and how to do it.
    1. (Spoiler alert:  They don’t.)
  3. Kids at whatever grade I teach “should know better by now.”
    1. (Spoiler alert:  They don’t.)
  4. Punishment is the only way to gain cooperation.
    1. (Spoiler alert:  It isn’t.  In fact, it’s a terrible way to gain cooperation.)

What if we dismissed all of these false assumptions and envisioned a classroom community built on trust and acceptance of individual children’s needs?  What would that even look like?  Let’s start by establishing new assumptions.

  1. All children come to school having already had experiences, both good and bad, for the day.
    1. (Pro tip:  Like adults!  Sometimes, I oversleep.  Sometimes, I spill my coffee.  Sometimes, we run out of hot water.  Sometimes, I’m grumpy.  All of the emotions we as adults experience that affect our day can also be experienced by children.  And their feelings matter as much as ours!)
  2. All children are capable of being taught our expectations.
    1. (Pro tip:  It’s our job to teach!  Some kids need more teaching on some things and less on others.  We still teach.  Behavior is like math.  Differentiated instruction is necessary for all kids to learn.)
  3. All children make mistakes and need the opportunity to try again.
    1. (Pro tip:  Like adults!  I know better than to speed on the highway . . . but, I still do it.  Sometimes, I need teaching too.  Mistakes are learning opportunities!)
  4. Punishment doesn’t work.  It also betrays trust and frustrates everyone.
    1. (Pro tip:  Even after I get a speeding ticket, I speed.  Oops)

So if we assume all kids are doing the best they can and that they need our help to realize their full potential, how would that change our approach to building classroom community?  What if we flip from managing behavior to creating community and developing strategies for meeting individual students where they are?