Sunday, September 6, 2009

EBDland Magic

Thus far I have spent my blog time posting all that is wrong with special education. Well, not ALL...that list could go on infinitely. So you all don't get the idea that I only complain and that my practice is nothing special, I dedicate this post to some special education magic.

About 2 years ago, my dear friend and building art teacher (DF) suggested we try weaving with my students. We had set up a small table loom for one of my most significant offenders earlier and he took to it. DF saw a district offering of a floor loom and nabbed it. It came in a million and one unidentifiable pieces and we decided we needed to write a grant.

Let me insert here that I knew nothing about weaving and was just sort of humoring DF. I am, however, a weak knitter, a crafter, come from a family of crocheters, knitters, needleworkers, and weavers. I know first hand that there is something quite soothing about using one's hands to produce. So my formal information gathering began.

In order to write a grant you need to justify your request and it needs to be based in some sort of truth/research. Where to start? I revisited Brain Gym philosophy and techniques and even contacted them. I contacted weaving guilds all over the US asking for testimonials about what weaving does for the weaver. Amazing responses and offers followed. DF and I decided we were on to something and continued to write the grant. We had a bit of help from my sis (fiber arts prof at a nearby university) and wrote a kick ass grant all based on rhythmic repetitive movement providing a sense of well-being, a way to self regulate, if you will. Rag rugs would be our product.

Well, we got the 1400 dollar grant. When I opened the envelope, I said, "Shit. Now we gotta do this?!" No lie. Where the hell are we going to find a loom with this budget???

Meanwhile as we were grant writers in waiting, we received a gift of about 100 fitted white sheets from a very smart opportunist who saved them from a landfill knowing DF loved these sorts of finds. These sheets play a very important part in this whole story as we saw their arrival as affirmation that we should move ahead. These would be our first rags for rugs.

Long story short...we found a loom about 70 miles away, drove up, rescued it from a lonely unproductive life, paid $475.00 for it, named it (Aunt Sally) and brought her to EBDland (my room). She is a 100 year old floor loom and has a presence you cannot ignore. The
kids responded in awe and respect. Aunt Sally was magic before she was even ready to use. All sorts of acts of aggression happen in EBDlands across the country. Rooms and property are destroyed regularly. Well, not once has Aunt Sally been touched in an act of aggression. She is sacred without us even suggesting to the kids that they cannot hurt her.

OK, we get her up and going. We put the sheets in dye baths, used our newly acquired rag cutter (this is an amazing little tool!) and balled yards of dyed sheet strips. Did you know that you can get about 70 yards of a continuous 1-2 inch strip out of a double bed fitted sheet? Yes, we had math lessons imbedded in this!

Aunt Sally ready to go in EBDland

Sis came over, helped us load the loom and we were off. DF got a sub for a full day so she could teach every EBDland resident how to weave and care for Aunt Sally. These kids were to be the experts. They in turn were to teach other nonEBDland residents how to weave. Reaching out is a basic component of this project. Having our kids seen as experts at making something beautiful rather than experts in destruction is significant. Helping our kids redefine themselves as such was key.

Remember, we were hoping against all hope that weaving would help our kids self regulate. That was still just a theory at this point. We knew we did not want the weaving to be used as a reward or punishment, but always offered as a tool of self regulation. As you all know I do not run a behavior mod based program, but we still struggled at times with allowing kids to weave when the math was not done....but guess what? Weaving first got the math done..and done well! Using Aunt Sally must always be initiated by the student.

At the end of the first year, the kids had woven 40 rag rugs. 40 beautiful rag rugs. All designed by the kids. We laid all the rugs out on the EBDland floor, and the kids invited adults they felt connected to and wanted to show gratitude. Watching those adults walk through the rugs commenting and praising and selecting the one for themselves was priceless. The kids were artists, crafters, gift givers! Magic!

What we saw and continue to see with Aunt Sally is that she is used as a self regulation tool. The kids come to her upset, agitated, frustrated, sad or unmedicated. They sit on her bench, touch the beam, run their hands over the rug being woven and begin to pass the shuttles back and forth, pull the beater bar toward themselves and soon they get into their own unique weaving rhythms. I can tell without looking who is at the loom by the rhythm I hear. Faces relax, heart beats regulate, breathing steadies. After about 15-20 minutes the students get up when ready and get on with the day. Magic. When a kiddo is at the loom and another angry one walks in, they invariably offer Aunt Sally and make room for the new entrant. Magic. The kids have NEVER argued about a rug design, a rug, or the quality of craftsmanship. Magic.

Other district EBD teachers are collaborating with art teachers and writing grants for looms. We have presented at luncheons and at staff development workshops. We have steady sheet donations, lots of visitors and a school community that values Aunt Sally. It is pure joy to see my kids demonstrating to whole art classes how to use Aunt Sally. DF regularly brings her classes in for demonstrations and my kids never fail to shine. Magic.

You will hear more about Aunt Sally. There is so much more to tell.


  1. Great story of how something in education actually works. It is such a wonderful thing that you had the boldness, insight and creativity of mind and spirit to take on this project for the students.

  2. What an inspiring story. You are truly a great teacher working with students that are a challenge to teach. As a teacher myself I truly appreciate what you are doing with your students. Great Job!!

  3. Aunt Sally is awesome! The artist and the teacher in me equally LOVE this idea. We have two emotional support classes in my building, and this sounds much more soothing that jumping on a trampoline or watching TV. And they get to create something! I bet the rugs are beautiful.


Although I am dangerously opinionated, I am a flexible thinker and welcome your thoughts.