Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A Gifted Idea!

We all like to brag on our kids.  All of our kids are gifted.

Superman just came up with a gifted idea (well he actually applied a trick he saw in speech class) and we need to find a way to market it.  Mama needs a new pair of shoes!

Superman is prone to very loud protests when not happy.  They border on what you all would call temper tantrums.  And they are LOUD! OK,  in reality they ARE full on temper tantrums.  As with most children with autism, feelings are intense and when in them they believe to their core that the feeling they are in is going to last FOREVER.  So when it is a feeling of discomfort, they can get pretty wound up and desperate.

We have been working on finding ways to express one's discomfort a bit more appropriately and we are starting with the volume.  We have been in this stage for a while.  For years.   But my little genius of a Superman was able to apply a strategy he observed in speech class as a solution.

Let me set the scene.  He was upset about something.  He was escalating.  He was getting really loud and I reminded him about finding a way to tell me all about it and how he was feeling in a quieter way.  

He didn't bite.  

He escalated.

It lasted about 15 minutes and I kept saying let's find a way to talk about it without you yelling, that I really wanted to hear all about it and I wanted to help him understand the feelings and then to find a solution.  He stopped and said he had an idea and went to his art table.  He was busy and quiet for a bit.  He then came in the room where I was with the item pictured below over his head.

A thought bubble!  Genius, right?  I believe he has seen a thought bubble used while in his speech and language class through the Superflex program.  I think they have one to express when they are not comfortable with something another is doing, but I am ever so proud that Superman was able to broaden this concept's use.

He said that he could share his feelings this way and that wasn't loud.  Thank you wonderful speech teacher and Michelle Garcia Winner for helping kiddos with social thinking difficulties.  Our family embraces and uses Superflex and the Unthinkables daily in our home.

OK, the wording is a bit clumsy, but he did it!  He then thought it would be a good idea to make more of these feelings though bubbles for other kids to use.  He generalized!  He has always been fascinated by cartoons and comics with dialogue and thought bubbles and now he realizes what a helpful tool they could be for others like him.

That's right Superman.  Make your first money doing something to benefit society.  
Good karma, no?
I am so proud, I could bust.  But more than that, I am in awe of his giftedness and generosity of spirit in that he wants to help others communicate their feelings by making more thought bubbles specific to others' needs.  He is starting to take another person's perspective!  This is huge!!!!

Yours are this gifted, too.

Monday, January 25, 2010

It's the Same Sorry Story

I read a lot of teacher blogs.  

I love reading teacher blogs.  

I don't feel so alone when I read teacher blogs. 

Because the same pathetic sorry stuff is going on in every school district.  

Because the same innovative, smart thinking, kick ass teaching and problem solving is going on in classrooms.  

Because we all have the same complaint.

And that is (drum roll.....) Administration is the biggest problem we all rage against every day.  

I am really trying hard to figure out why that is so.  Do stupid, thoughtless, uncaring decisions really have to be made?  Where do they originate?  

Not school boards.  In general, they are uninformed and have no idea how to hold administrators accountable.  They actually believe everything administrators report to them at school board meetings.

Not communities.  Parents want what is best for their kids.  Some don't have any idea what they should expect from their district, some have unreasonable expectations, most have no idea how difficult a teacher's job is.  Tax payers don't want their taxes to go up so because of how district administrators present budget issues, they target teacher salaries instead of digging deeper.  How many community members know how many employees, other than teachers, it takes to run a district?  How many of them know that many of those positions are unrelated and unnecessary to student learning?

Why do so many administrators succumb to management by intimidation?  Why? 

It seems that administrative teams are full of people in great need of control and power.  Not all administrators suck.  I am related to a phenomenal administrator who keeps kids as her priority, who is fair, has high expectations for her teachers, is empathic,  and has innovative ideas on which she actually follows through.  Imagine.  I have actually worked with a few like her.  It makes all the difference.

We teachers spend an inordinate amount of time in the world of injustices.  We see many students suffering through any number of injustices (societal, familial).  We live with daily injustices (curricular mandates, budget cuts,  hostile work environments, lack of time to think and plan, poor administrative leadership) with mind boggling resiliency.  This wears us out.  It makes us less effective.

I cannot figure out why it has to be this way.  

It is really quite simple.  
  • Let good teachers teach.  
  • Get rid of poor teachers.  
  • Give teachers more time, and less bullshit busy work.  
  • Quit acting like we are a bunch of renegade, irreverent  and lazy stupes who need to be led through intimidation and bullying.  
  • We do know what we are doing.  And guess what?  We want every single one of our kiddos to be effective learners.  
  • You know what else?  You don't have to beat us up when kids don't learn.  We have already done a great job of that ourselves.  

I will continue my quest, dear readers.  I am determined to figure this out for us all.  

Until then, dear teachers, keep on doing the great work you do every minute of every day.  YOU are what keeps so many kids going in their worlds of injustices. 

 I am clapping  and woo-hooing now.  Can you hear it?

Friday, January 22, 2010

Changing of the Guard

Today is  ST/RT's  last day in my room.  She took a job within the district in another area of specialty.  Ironically, this position will be cut at the end of the year and she knew that when she took it.   ???

In the last few days I have heard more horror stories about her practice and the mess I will return to next fall.  I cannot understand why the principal let all this unfold as it has.  There are just so many things I don't get about being a member of the Dark Side.  Kids have been hurt significantly.

So I have been pondering, as I am want to do, and I decided not to paint anyone in a completely negative light. So I emailed RT with congrats on the new job and wished her well, thanked her for working with the kids.  I get back the following.

"Thanks.  I am glad things have worked out for you."  HUH???

But here is what galls me most about the whole ordeal.  The district interviewed teachers to finish off the year in my room.  They choose one, she accepts, and then she calls Sped Director to decline.  OK.  That stuff happens.  But the Sped Director NEVER told anyone else!!!  So RT and principal are waiting for new hire to show up yesterday to go over details and to pass the baton.  No show.  They call.  She says she notified Sped Director days ago that she was not going to take the position.


Are you kidding me?????

So now a last minute sub will have to be called in to the mess.

Oh yeah.  That's great for kids.

Kids First!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Be A Part Of It All

As promised in yesterday's post, today's entry is all about my beliefs regarding special education teachers building rapport with regular education kiddos.

Before you all start yelling at me that there are not enough hours in the day, I agree.  But should you try some of this stuff, I really think you will find yourself less isolated and in that will gain some perspective and support where you least expected it.

I think all teachers feel isolated.  More so now than ever.  We are all operating under a very heavy blanket of responsibilities.  Most often, the new responsibilities pull us further and further away from collegiality and co-teaching, and warm fuzzy teacher-to-teacher time.  Don't you just love time with your best teacher pals??  

It has been my experience that special education teachers are more likely to feel even more isolated.  Face it, in most schools there are only a few of us and we each have an area of specialty which is pretty specific in nature making exposure to a variety if kiddos less likely.  

Those of us lucky enough to collaboratively co-teach as we include our special ed kiddos can get a quick fix of collegiality.  Those of us not able to use an inclusive model with our kiddos are limited to the same handful of kids and adults every day.  We don't get out much. When you read the following, please know that I know and understand that some of you will not be able to do any of this due to your job responsibilities and the population you work with.  I am suggesting these things to those of us in resource programs who have a bit more flexibility in our day.

So, here are a list of things I have done to stay connected with the larger body.

  • Volunteer to help out the teachers in charge of the talent show, music shows, extra curriculars.  In doing so, you don't have the responsibility of running anything, but you get to be involved and from there you are seen as a legit adult by reg ed kiddos and as a really helpful gal by your reg ed colleagues.  
  • Depending on your contract, consider picking up a paid duty like lunch or recess.  I took on a lunch duty two days a week. I got to know all the kiddos and took time to build rapport with them.  From there I was able to match my kids with some of them within the classrooms as well as during unstructured time.  I was able to help reg ed peers see my students as possible friends, as real people, as contributing members of our school.  I also reaped the benefits of the reg ed kiddos seeing me as a reliable adult with actual credibility.  I became a real part of the school and all my cherubs were also seen as such.
  • As much as I hate committees.  Do not avoid them!  Your perspective and expertise is needed on  these committees.  You represent a vital interest.
  • Go to the teacher's lounge and hang out.  I resent how many administrators and college professors tell you to stay out of them because they are cesspools of negativity.  It is all in the way you handle yourself in the lounge.  I have found great solace and support in the lounge, not to mention great treats.  Great ideas have been born in the teachers' lounge.  Therapeutic conversations have taken place in the teachers' lounge.  Solutions to classroom problems have been found in these lounges.  And yes, great venting has happened in the lounge and I celebrate that!  We are human after all.
  • Bring treats for the lounge.  Every once in a while throw a few bags of fun size candy bars on the tables with a note expressing your support and thanks for all the help your cherubs get from them.  Let them know you realize your kiddos present unique challenges and you admire and appreciate the clever things reg ed teachers do for them.
  • Make sure to spend time in art, music, band, and phy ed.  Make your presence known and make sure these teachers know you are available to them. Remember that they get ALL the kids in the school and often times with no supports the classroom teachers get.
  • Station yourself in busy hallways at the beginning and end of the school day.  Help out with crowd control wherever you can.  Be visible.  Talk to reg ed kids, comment on their clothes, smiles, acts of kindness.  Be silly, have fun, share a laugh.  
  • I started a very involved all school reading contest one year.  It was fabulous.  It only worked because I had a very flexible schedule that year and a lighter case load.  That is one of my fondest memories.  
I have always worked hard at being an involved and integral part of every school in which I work.  My students have benefitted right along with me.    I also believe the whole school benefitted from our involvement.

Don't let your work world get too small.  Don't underestimate your value to the whole school. You will quickly slide right into burnout.  And that is a really bad place to be.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Mediating Hotheads

I was going through one of the many piles of very valuable stuff I have collected over the years and moved around from home to home and school to school.  I probably have 50 or more such piles squirreled away all over my dwelling.  I love the idea of being organized and having a catalogue with way cool labeling all in one location, but my brain does not work this way.  I used to loath that about myself, but I have way more interesting things to loath about myself, so I put this one away.


In EBDland, one must learn the art of effective mediation when two or more of her EBD cherubs go at it.  Sometimes these mediations include regular education peers.  Very tricky.  Tricky because sometimes the reg ed peers are scared shitless to come into EBDland and are not convinced you can control EBD Hotheads enough to keep them from beating them up.  (Bookmark this as I have something to say on this later.  Don't let me forget. It has to do with rapport)

OK.  It seems that most kiddos do better in the heat of the moment if they have a visual to focus on.  Most of us like to know our story is being recorded and really heard.  And every disagreement is really just a story of misunderstanding and such a teachable moment.

People!  We need to capitalize on teachable moments in EBDland... test scores and curriculum be damned!

So I turn mediation into a story telling of sorts.  We go through the story detail by detail, action by action.  How do I make this visual without being just a bunch of words on a the board?  Yuck!  Who likes that?

We sit around the table.  I strategically assign seats. I sit at the table also.  You all know where to sit.  And you know to have all objects off the table (scissors, pens, pencils, anything that can turn into a weapon).  Teacher brings to table commercially made laminated cut outs of kids.  You want them to be about 6 inches tall or larger, to be different from one another, and to have blank space on them.

Let each kiddo choose a cutout kid to represent themselves.  Use a dry erase or vis a visa marker to write names on each cutout.  Now each hothead feels represented.  It's pretty funny how they identify with their cut out representative.  Goofy, really.

Teacher also has on hand the following laminated cutouts.  A sunburst, a foot,  hand, thought bubble and speech bubble.  The sunbursts are used for recording the incident(s).  The feet are for recording movement.  The hands for hands on actions. The thought bubbles are great because that is where you recored what the person was thinking when they took the action they took.  Clever, huh?  The speech bubbles are for recording what one hothead says to another as well as what others say including adults.

Establish rules before you being the story telling.  They are as follows.
1.  I am the boss.  When I say stop, you must stop.  I decide who talks when and I am the only one to write on the cutouts.
2.  Everyone will get many chances to add to the story.
3. We will tell the story bit by bit and only move on when we all agree.
4.  We will be respectful and honest.

So, let the mediating begin.

Choose a person to start.  Use your best teacher instinct here. Sometimes it is best to start with the most upset person... because even though they are upset, if they can just let a bit out, they start to calm down and focus.  Sometimes you want to start with the calmest of the hotheads.  But the glory is YOU get to decide.  Trust your instincts.

You then manipulate the cutouts and record the events and the story gets told in sequential order.    But here is where it gets good.  As the story unfolds, you take advantage of every moment by color commentating, checking for understanding, helping kids understand how they represented themselves and communicated and how they interpreted what the other hothead was doing.  Here is where you can figure out where they misunderstood and help them make better choices.

Here are some examples.

Hotheads are brought to you from recess.  Both angry.  One banging around and swearing, the other pushing all the buttons necessary to keep the drama going.  EA that brought them in says that Hothead 1 shoved Hothead 2 in line and that prompted Hothead 2 to shove Hothead 1 right back which then caused a domino effect of kids bumping into each other and the line coming undone.
Check for injuries first.  Ask for a reg ed student that was effected by the bumping in line to join you.  See the teachable moment coming here?  Empathy!

Each hothead and peer from line chooses their cutout, you label them, state the rules and let the story unfold.

Hothead 1 says he was just standing in line minding his own business when he gets bumped from behind and he knows it was Hothead 2 shoving him on purpose.  STOP!  Remind Hothead 2 to not interrupt because you know he wants to deny the whole thing, right?   You take a sunburst and record, that Hothead 1 got shoved.  Ask every one if they agree that Hothead 1 felt he was shoved.  It doesn't matter who or how, just agree that Hothead 1 felt like someone shoved him.  Place that sunburst under the kid cutouts.  

Here you might insert (over the cutout of the appropriate kiddo) a thought or speech bubble as way of exploring what each person was thinking or saying.  Remember you want to catch and explore the thinking errors.  This is where you can ask if everyone understands why the person thought what they thought. I love this part because lots of AHA! moments happen here.

Choose another person to say what happened next.  Let's say that Hothead 2 says that Hothead 1 turned around and shoved him really hard and started swearing at him.  STOP!

Record that on the hand print cutout.  That was an hands on action.  Place that below the starburst, but drag the cutout of Hothead 1 next to it and restate.  Ask for agreement.  But here is where you can talk about impulse control, taking a breath before reacting, not reacting with physical aggression.... Use a foot if anyone ran away or charged another.

And so you continue to unfold the story and you will be amazed how quickly the kids focus on the visual story.  They have power to tell it from their perspective, but have to listen to others' perspectives as the story is recorded.  They often see their own thinking errors and great discussions happen!  Really.  They do. They learn that their perspective and experience is not the only one happening in any incident.  They learn that all bumps are not intentional.  This is huge for kids who are repeatedly subjected to physical abuses in their homes. Those bumps are always intentional and they don't know that bumps can happen accidentally.  Go figure. Who knew?

You keep your reg ed pal involved and he/she is usually really good at interpreting what went down and the hotheads usually listen and trust reg ed's perspective.  I know.  Hard to believe.  But it's true.

By the end you usually have a clearly told story that is played out on the table for all to see.  Misinterpretations are cleared up and I have yet to have the anger continue or the problem to remain unresolved.  There have been times when we have had to do the story on the floor as it goes on for several feet.

The most important elements include making sure everyone is heard, constant checking for understanding and agreement, recording it all and showing the action to reaction relationship and how often times our reactions to an action are inappropriate because we don't understand the initial action.  Make sure to take time to ask how someone's body language looked and why it was interpreted that way.  Often times our EBD cherubs don't realize the messages they are sending the world by the faces they make and the way they move in their environment.  This is your chance to help them see the light!

Everyone feels heard and fairly represented, apologies happen without you prompting and peace is restored.

For a bit anyway.

Ok, thanks for reminding of the bookmark I mentioned earlier.  It is crucial that we in special education are visible to ALL kiddos.  If we can build relationships with reg ed kiddos that interact with our EBD kiddos, we can help our EBD kiddos so much more effectively.  Tomorrow's post will be all about how to do that.

If you try this, let me know how it works for you.  This works with all ages.  No lie!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Speaking Gigs and Ramblings

Aunt Sally and her effects are alive and well.

My favorite art teacher pal and I have two presentation gigs!

Yep. TWO!

One is in a few weeks to a local woman's group of 70.  70!

The other is to a special education conference on inclusion at a nearby university.

We are thrilled and just know that through these two engagements we will be able to score more gigs.  Well, we are so very engaging and irresistible.  Our wit is contagious.  Our message is profound.

This gives me hope.  I have been in a free fall.  No direction, no clue where to even start figuring it out.

I just heard from my dear friend yearbook picture taking mom that some really stupid (STUPID!) things are going on in our neighborhood early childhood room.  She could only stand to be in there 5 minutes before she ran out of there pulling large clumps of hair from her head.  Really.  The teacher (and I use that term very loosely) was trying to get the wee ones in various stages of delayed development and sensory issues to sit still.  OMFG.  And this is how she was doing it...."If you sit still, then you get a marshmallow".  Dear  GOD.  The choking possibilities!  The fact that this is the stupidest way to get wee ones to sit still...and hey, why do they even have to sit still?  Really.  Don't they have bigger issues that we should be tending to?

I don't even know where to start.  Do the teachers not stay current with best practice and research?  Don't universities stay current in what they teach to young teachers in training?  Don't the special education administrators stay current, observe and guide?

Well, the answer to all the above is NO.  Who is current?  Most of the parents of special needs kids.  Although some are chasing ridiculous promises of cures that are proven time and again to not work, we are an informed group.  We are a desperate group, so I forgive us.  But I do not forgive stupid people in schools messing with our kids.  And while I am ever grateful for Public Law 94-142 and IDEA, if we have no checks and balances by qualified, current and smart people of what quality is it? In so many cases special ed services are glorified baby sitting.  I will stop now.  My blood pressure is going up.

And  I know all special ed teachers are not subpar. I, for example, am suburb!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Superman's Teachers Are Amazing!

Mondays are hard on Superman.  He catastrophizes anything remotely uncomfortable or out of the ordinary.  He will point out to me that it is his Autism.  At which point I point out that if he is aware enough that his reaction is Autism based, he can control it a bit better.  He hates that response.

Well, today was ugly as we prepared for school. He complained the whole time, hid under a quilt on the sofa while eating his highly nutritious and homemade (NOT) pop tart.  He went on and on about how long the day is and all you do is sit, sit, sit sit and listen to boring stuff all day.  Well, since I know that is not true I can just nod and say that I am sorry he feels that way about school.  I just listen and gently keep him moving forward through our routine.

When I got to school I dropped him off at his classroom door, chatted with his teacher... heads up, Mr Grump is in the house.... and leave.  I then stop off at the AUT room to give his AUT teacher a heads up. She volunteers to do lots of social stories with him later.

This is what brings me to today's topic.  Excellent teachers.  Superman has been blessed to have been placed in the care of two of the most fabulous teachers on the planet. No, in our galaxy. No, in the universe. 

And here is why.

They care.  And you can tell.  They live to teach.  They are devoted to helping Superman feel good and be productive and find his way, and learn more than just academics, and make friends, and learn to cope.  And they do it humanely.

And they celebrate all Superman's accomplishments as if they are their very own.  And they smile a lot.  And they support me.  

And they never give up pushing and pulling and prodding Superman to do more and do it better.

I love these teachers.  Superman does too.  

So, here is to all the gifted, devoted teachers of the world!  You make the world a better place.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Crispy Critter

It's Sunday.  Ho hum.  I hate Sundays, but less so now that I am not teaching.


I better explore that.  I LOVE teaching.  I LOVE working with kids.  But the reality is, I am FRIED.  Crispy Critter, am I.  

How does one become fried?  Yeah, yeah, yeah.  We have all read about keeping balance, managing stress. Yadda, yadda.  
Some of us are better at this than others and I have boiled it down to 3 reasons.

1. Temperament
2. Work environment (this includes colleagues, school climate, administrative support and involvement)
3. Healthy personal life


When I look at my very well thought out, profoundly insightful and 100% correct list of factors that determine burnout, I feel that number 1 is probably the best indicator.

This makes sense, no?  Let's just use me as an example.  I am very intense about everything I do. Every. Single. Thing.  I am just as intense about job related issues when I am employed in a minimum wage job as I am as a teacher.  Really.  Ask Hub.  Annoying. So very annoying to those I live with.
I react emotionally to everything. ALL OF IT.  And my reactions are big.  Many I keep to myself, but they are big in my head and heart even if not expressed.  I can pick up on the minute nuances of all the moods of every person in a room, a meeting, the grocery store! for God's sake.  I swear I can pick up on the emotional state of women across the oceans.  If I sit still when these waves hit me, I can actually see (in my mind's eye) the woman/women whose feelings I am feeling.  Creepy. Imagine being me.
No, I am not psychic.

But when my students feel joy, frustration, pain, loneliness... I feel it.  No.  I really feel it.  Like every cell in my body reacts.  It's like I am them. This is why I am fried.  18 years of this. 

But this is exactly what makes me especially good at what I do.  And we all agree I am unusually good at what I do.  I feel it.  I get it.  I can empathize, sympathize and understand.  It is what allows me to take just the right human action needed to get my kids through stuff others can't.  And even though I feel it as if I were them, I can dissociate enough to problem solve objectively.

No point system, no behavior rating sheet, no token economy, no recipe management system can beat that.  None.

On to number 2.  Work environment.  Colleagues, school and district climate need no further exploration.  Administrative support is crucial.  Support means that they get what a day in the life of you is all about.  They know how to guide you, manage the school's issues, handle parents for you, and most importantly........ drum roll......... they need to respect you as THE EXPERT of your domain.

Now, number 3.  Let's not even go there today. It's Sunday, for God's sake and the day will only turn ugly if I start examining my personal life.

So it's off to baking cookies with Superman.  The peanut butter ones with a big kiss in the middle.  Health food, you know?   Protein, fiber, antioxidants.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

What Was I Thinking?

As you know, I was at my school for the last two days getting Miss Mae up and running.  I have to admit, I am still in a fog of smug euphoria about it all.

Anyway, as I was leaving yesterday, I bumped into my principal.  She looked harried.  She was carrying a large soda and was running late from one meeting and heading into another.  She was kind enough to give me a huge hug.  That hug assuaged my paranoia for a bit.

She was off to a budget meeting.  Yuck.  There is no money and I have no doubt her boss was going to tell her she was going to have to run her school on even less cash next year.  May I remind you here that her boss is the assistant superintendent who leads by intimidation and bullying.  I am just sure he will be ever so helpful in guiding her through squeezing more blood from her turnip.  NOT.

She had been in a meeting earlier this week with the assistant superintendent of pupil services (yes, we have several assistant superintendents in a medium sized school district.  Hmmmm) to discuss how she thinks special ed services and such are meeting her needs.  Well, they are not. Go figure.  But none of her concerns are any different than they have been for the last two years.  Nothing changes.  Nothing ever will.

So the way I see it, my principal spent two half days in meetings either expressing her concerns which will not be taken seriously or hearing that she will have much less money next year than she got this year.

Remember that I thought of becoming a special education administrator because I assumed I would have a bit more power to make meaningful changes, to make things better.  Does anything I just wrote about lead you to believe administrators at that level have any power to make meaningful changes?  What an idiot am I.  It is best I am now floundering without cause or direction than continuing my delusional pursuit of fixing all that is wrong by becoming an administrator.

I saw one of my EAs yesterday and she dragged me under the staircase to tell me about an incident with my hardest won kiddo.  The one that has pulled at me since he was in first grade.  He is now a fifth grader.  Evidently he had a huge melt down and needed to be restrained...the exact wrong thing to do to him as it sends him into a bigger panic due to abuses inflicted upon him before he was even verbal..  Anyway. He basically hates my replacement and she doesn't particularly care for him. Luckily my EA, who loves him as much as I, took over and did the restraining and cooing sweet nothings into his ear to calm him.  He tried to bite my replacement and called her every vile name in the book.  I have a stomach ache even telling you all this... and I don't even have all the details.

What galls me most, and I am tearing up now just writing about it, is that in the end my replacement referred to her Dubuque Management System and made him sit knee to knee with her, look her in the eye and tell her he was sorry.  Fucking unbelievable!  He can't look anyone in the eye.  It actually hurts him.  This is nothing short of abuse.  And I promise to blog about each and every stupid recipe, cookie cutter approach to EBDland methodology that is on the market.

For those of you wondering what the Dubuque Management System is, here is a quick summary. The Dubuque Management System uses a set of eleven social skills for elementary students (never mind that there are more than 11 social skills and that kids are individuals). Through a scripted behavioral program (gotta love a good script!), students are taught social skills (completely out of context) in one on one situations. A rating scale is included that can be filled in by the student, teacher, and parent to evaluate the present level of each skill. This could be used as a pretest and post test to more efficiently evaluate individual progress. And you all know how I love a good point sheet! (dripping sarcasm here)

If I can sway just one of you to become an independent thinker, not rely on these depersonalizing approaches to EBD kids, I will have served a purpose.

So stay with me this month.

Geez.  I sure am glad I have a place to vent.

Friday, January 8, 2010

It's Just So Right

Just got back from working on Miss Mae again.  We got her up and running!  She is far more delicate than Aunt Sally, but the students were enthralled and loved weaving on her today.

So the best thing I ever did continues.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

What To Do, What To Do.

Rough day here.  How about you?

I spent a few hours in my building in the art room helping my best art teacher pal get her loom up and running.  It was fraught with difficulties and challenges and we quit after a whole 2 1/2 hours (which I find admirable) because we were both getting cranky.  I don't think we were cranky due to Miss Mae the loom.  My favorite art teacher pal is on the South Beach diet and pissed off her pants don't fit and I had neglected to eat anything yet. Now how did that happen?

Let me set the stage.  The emotional stage.  Get inside my head and heart so you can help me out.  Cuz I need someone to help me out.  And don't tarry.

You all know I am a new grandmother, but my grandson lives way too far away.  So I keep getting photos, which I love, but many of them have the OTHER grandmother in them as she snuggles that sweet baby neck.  So that has me in a sad mood.  

You all know that I have not had an easy go of not being in my room this year.  It has laid down all sorts of complicated and conflicting emotions.  It has not helped any that my principal has not handled things as an experienced principal would have.  It has not helped that RT doesn't even want me in the building or that my EAs are scared to engage in much discussion with me for fear of RT.  It has not helped that I realized in an ugly way that becoming an administrator in the program I chose and in this time was not going to happen.

Add to that Movie Man has turned impossibly ugly in that 12 year old kind of way and that Superman has determined that since he has Autism he can scream when he is angry.  And I swear he is going out of his way to be angry.

I entered the fall filled with so many delusional fantasies about what my leave of absence would be like it is embarrassing.  I should have known better.  I have moved enough in my life to know that whatever voids made due to our absences are filled in quickly. Humans adapt and they continue on being busy with whatever they are busy with and you may be fondly remembered, but you are not part of their immediate reality, so you begin to disappear.  And no matter how many times I go through this, it still hurts and feels rejecting, and personal.  

What I learned today is that I melt at the sight of a sweet first grade face earnestly listening to the teacher.  A naughty little quirky kid still tickles me.  I understand best practice teaching methods and strategies.  I felt at home in that art classroom.  I love schools. The smells, the rhythms, the sounds and the sights.  I really love schools.

I also learned that I don't think I can go back to my old room, my old kids, my old school. I can't quite say why.  I don't know.  Right now it is all visceral, in the gut. 

But if I don't, who am I and what am I meant to do?  How do I even begin to figure it out?

 I know I am not done with education and public schools. I know I need to look outside of my identity  box, but I don't know which end is up.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

100 Things About Me

OK, I spent hours of my last two days reading my favorite blogs and exploring others.  Although I enjoy reading 100 things about by favorite bloggers, it never occurred to me that any of my readers would be the least bit interested in that many factoids about me.

So I pondered it.  I realized that I benefitted in others' lists as I felt a more personal connection and certainly better understood their perspectives which makes reading their blogs more meaningful.

So, here goes....

100 Things About Me

1.  I am in my early 50s.
2.  I am round.
3.  Three sons
4.  Three c-sections
5.  I love to learn.
6.  Learning issues in early grade school.
7.  Most common teacher comment on my report cards was that I did not apply myself.
8.  My third grade teacher told my father I was not college material.
9.  Married my first husband at the age of 19.
10. We were young and dumb,  Divorced when I was 25.
11. We have one son, Foodie
12. I was a single parent through my 4 year teacher ed program.
13. My favorite college is Blackburn in Carlinville, Il.  Check it out.
14. Married again at the age of 30.
15. We have two sons, Movie Man and Superman
16. One dog.
17. One cat.
18. As I get older I have less tolerance for people in general.
19. I am living at my 27th address, or maybe it's my 29th.
20. Moved twice in high school, once in my senior year.
21. I have no clue who I am.
22. Favorite colors are red, orange and purple.
23. Am a kick ass EBD teacher.
24. I worry a lot.
25. Very liberal.
26. Very opinionated.
27. My edit button is usually broken.
28. I am really sick of public education administrators.
29. I have compassion fatigue.
30. Used to be an excellent baker and cook.
31. Lost those skills when Superman was diagnosed with Autism.
32. Love to drive.
33. Oldest of three girls.
34. Wish I looked like Diane Keaton.
35. Favorite cake is authentic Red Velvet.
36. Not a fan of dark chocolate.
37. No tolerance for token economies, level systems, or point systems...and the teachers who use them.
38. Worry my daughter-in-law dislikes me.
39. Am a grandmother.
40. Made much cash while single parent full time student by baking holiday cookies for rich women.
41. Know how to castrate pigs.
42. Have a lot of mother guilt.
43. Experience periods of self-loathing every single day.
44. Love being alone for long periods of time.
45. If I could not read every day I would be suicidal.
46. Beginning knitter.
47. Hope to knit for social activism.
48. Make bead and wire wall art.
49. Watch all the Housewives shows in horrified fascination.
50. Love Nurse Jackie.
51. Can't watch TV without doing something with my hands.
52. Passion for problem-solving.
53. Want to get an Ed.D, but afraid I am not smart enough.
54. Do not enjoy being a parent.
55. Love to sleep.
56. Phobic of the dentist.
57. Have not been to the dentist in 4 years.
58. But I get my yearly mammogram.
59. Pandora Radio user.
60. Believe we need to provide more play at school, not less.
61. Coke, not Pepsi.
62. Think Cookie Monster not eating cookies any more is ridiculous.
63. Upset my grandson lives so far away.
64. Fear he won't ever really know me.
65. Pop corn lover (NOT microwave)
66. Love the idea of exercising.
67. Horrible speller.
68. Feel invisible.
69. Rarely feel heard.
70. Never feel understood.
71. Hell, I don't even understand myself.
72. Love to give specially chosen gifts to dear ones.
73. Don't feel I fit in.
74. Everyone, except me, knows something crucial secret about life.
75. Wish I was a better writer.
76. Just had a panic attack.
77. Love Sharpie markers.
78. Loathe taking care of details.
79. Favorite day is Friday.
80. Hate Sundays.
81. Horrible at remembering names.
82. Want to run for my local school board.
83. Wish I was as cool as Michelle Obama.
84. Want to retire in a boat house on Puget Sound.
85. I have many regrets.
86. Good at reading affect.
87. Grow african violets (have over 20)
88. Hate to dress up because I always look hideous.
89. Refuse to wear pantyhose.
90. Am a free and independent thinker.
91. Have a strong work ethic.
92. Fantasize about winning the lottery.
93. Cut my own hair.
94. Wish I was not fair skinned.
95. Don't cry easily.
96. Wish I cried more easily.
97. Hate my house.
98. Feel grateful I have a house.
99. Express gratitude every day.
100. Afraid I have bored you.

So, after reading this list to myself, I am even more clueless about who I am.
Guess I better work on that.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Become a Color Commentator

I have been itching to explore something with you.  It is a concept that I bumped into when Superman was in his early stages of Autism recovery. I was obsessed with finding strategies that might help him be more comfy in the light of our world.  I knew that ABA based strategies were not the answer.  A smart, smart woman by the name of Viv Hazel made an offhand comment about how we have to be our kiddos' frontal lobe.  We have to interpret for them until they can do it on their own. So I began my exploration and experimentation.  Here is what I ended up with.

Kiddos with Autism (and, I found by trial and error, EBD kiddos) need someone to help them interpret what is going on (rather than consequencing them)  They have weak filters.  They have no way of understanding social cause and effect and many have trouble interpreting other sorts of cause and effect. 

Pay attention here!  This is why you rarely see an EBD kiddo no longer need EBD services.  This is why kids with Autism who only receive ABA based therapy can say some superficial things by rote, but lack connection or spontaneity. Shaping behaviors with points and level systems may help make some minor short term changes in negative behaviors, but they generally cause those same behaviors to come back with a vengeance once the systems are removed. 

What I have found to be the most effective strategy is to be an interpreter and commentator.  It's a full time job.  You have to be ever-vigilant.  There is no down time. It's like helping someone learn a second language and we all know that emersion is the best way.  So be ready to talk nonstop.  (I love that part!)

So, what you do is provide constant commentary about what is going on.  Include what affect you are noticing from the kiddo you are helping.  It has to be as straight forward factual as possible.

Here is how it works.  And it really works!  That's the beauty of it.

When a kiddo is happily coloring, you comment on that.  "I notice how you like to color.  You look really relaxed.  Your face is relaxed and I see your body is calm.  You are really focused on your coloring.

When a kiddos are playing a board game you make constant comments on all the affect you observe.  "This group of friends is happy to be together.  Joey, you are smiling.  Sammy, you seem really excited because you are bouncing in your seat.  Jack, you seem tense right now. I guess you didn't like what happened on your last turn."

Lunch duty as I am watching kids file through the lunch line-  "Hey Kimmy!  You look like you had a good morning by the smile on your face.
 Jake, you are pushing (note I did not say to stop pushing) the people in front of you.  You must be hungry! Most kiddos will self correct when you just make a comment about what you see. 

 If they don't, you can help them along by saying to the person who got pushed, "Tim, you just got pushed.  You are frowning so you are probably annoyed by being pushed, huh?"  At this point Jake will usually self correct.  If not, then correct the pushing by saying, "Jake, you just pushed Tim.  Did you know that? What can we do to make Tim feel better about being in line in front of you?"    Jake will usually offer a suggestion and follow through.  At that point you say to Tim, "You look like you feel better.  Your face doesn't look so tense.  Jake you have calmed down in line.  Look, you are almost there!"

As I teach, I am constantly providing commentary.  Constantly telling the kiddos what I see and what others see and how they are responding.  I use no judgement or scolding.  Just constant commentary.

This strategy works amazingly fast.  You will note a difference within minutes and if you keep up with it you will see lasting changes.  LASTING changes.  Changes made because connections were made. As opposed to temporary changes that are only in response to token economies, point systems or negative consequences.  

What is so hard for so many to understand that kids with behavioral issues... no matter the root causes... are doing what they do because they have not connected the dots?  These dot connections are the only way to make lasting change in behaviors and motivations.  

It is our job to help kids connect.  Give them constant nonjudgemental feedback and commentary, and I promise you will see wonderful changes.  It is very important that you make commentary in peaceful situations as well as more tense situations.  Without that, how are the kids going to truly see the difference?

Just try it.  Let me know what happens.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Consideration Still in the Works

I had a lovely lunch yesterday with a great teacher friend who has supportively ridden in my roller coaster car.  We discussed all angles of the new quandary.  My replacement has taken a new position within the district and leaves at semester.  The position was posted, and let me tell you, seeing that posting was really emotional for me.

For two reasons.

 First, it was posted as a one semester only.  Which means they really are holding that job for me for the fall.  They are operating on the belief that I will be surely be back in the fall.  That is the intent.  Sort of.  But as time goes on, I am less and less attached to that job.  Time lessens the grief, the loss.  Time allows for the psyche to adjust. Then posting closed on December 23 at 4:00.  No takers.  Surprise, surprise, surprise.

Second, my students will go through yet another teacher.  So by the end of the year they will have had 2 EBD teachers this year, three EBD teachers in the last 2 years.  That would not be so bad, as kids are very resilient, but the teaching styles are so extreme opposite that will impede any gains on the EBD playing field.  They have gone from psycho-educational approach with heart and celebration to extreme structure, behavior modification, token economies and point systems with no celebration to who knows what is next?  
Those of us in the field know that those sorts of changes at that rate will further exacerbate negative behaviors.  

Which brings me to GUILT.  Yes, I feel horrible guilt about all of this.  I am disappointed in myself for not being able to stay in the game and for thinking I could become and administrator and change the world.  Stupid, stupid girl.  So, because of my thinking errors, students are facing some difficult adjustments.  This makes me no better than all the administrators I have no respect for.

Back to lunch date with great friend.... I casually said that I was considering going back.  She just looked at me a second and said, "That never occurred to me.  Why would you do that?" 
 Interesting, don't you think?

I bumped into another teacher at the grocery store who is friends with Replacement Teacher (RT).  I mentioned I heard RT was leaving at semester.  This teacher's response was one of complete support for RT.  RT wants to be a guidance counselor.  She has waited a long time for this.  I do actually agree that she should have jumped on this opportunity.  Then the teacher said she felt the kids were in a really good place and would be fine.

Now this perception was interesting. I had four very interesting chats with teacher friends over break.  Every one of them mentioned the frustration they were feeling with the lack of effectiveness of RT.  They asked me for specific advice regarding specific student and behaviors.  They are feeling very unsupported.  Interestingly enough, I found out the grocery store teacher has no EBD students in her room this year... so how would she even know?

Lesson learned... actually lesson learning.  I have yet to fully internalize it.  Anyway, lesson here is that we all have unique perceptions.  We put our own spins on those perceptions.  If I ever do become a leader, I must remember that.  And really, who am I to call somebody out for their perceptions?


 I didn't really mean that last line.  In my areas of expertise (which, honestly, is practically in everything) I am queen and my perceptions and spins rule.

So, longer story shorter, when I really ponder the option of going back to my job in two weeks, I feel sick.  I feel overwhelmed.  My gut is screaming, "NO!"

I need to be available for my kids, my parents as my father goes through a winter of chemo, my grandson who is way too far away.
And I need to be there for me.  I need to take time to make a solid plan based on walking my talk in education. 
This is very uncomfortable for me.

So, I wait to hear form Harvard regarding their new doctoral program...wouldn't that be fun to say, "Yeah, I am in a Harvard doctoral education leadership program"?

So, for today I need to find a therapist for myself as well as one for Movie Man.  I need to exercise (nothing too strenuous, people) and sneak in a yummy nap.

Tomorrow I will address an education issue I have been pondering for a bit.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

And With All Due Respect...

Here is to all my teacher friends and colleagues who are feeling really blue right now as they figure out how in the world they will rise and shine, get their own wee ones ready for the day, pack a lunch for themselves, find pants that fit after all that holiday cheer, and find their way back to their classrooms in time for the first bell.

May they find their rooms magically straightened up and organized.  
May all their students enter ready to learn (OK that is totally unrealistic) and in a  compliant state for at least the morning.  
May all your lesson plans be in place and quite inspired and inspiring.  
May your administrators have filled their prescriptions for "gonna be nice and use compassion in all decisions" pills.  
May lunch break come soon enough.  
May you get to pee AM and PM.  
May you return to the warmth of your home with an empty school work bag and find the hubby has put dinner in the crock pot before he left. 
 May you sleep well knowing you have done good work.  (Hey, you showed up, didn't you?)

Here's to you, fine people!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

News Flash!

My replacement has taken a different job!  She leaves mid January.  
This brings quite the dilemma to my door.  Shall I offer to go back to my cozy room and set things right, or wait until my leave is over?  

Hmmmm.  When I mentioned this to family, they all gasped and looked horrified.  The following are some of the more frequently expressed comments from my loved ones.

Are you kidding?  
You still haven't recovered from the last two years!  
You are not!
That job about killed you!
You work for such a screwed up district, how can you even consider going back?
You don't have a chance of working things out there.  Your administration doesn't like you.
There is more to these decisions than money. (this from Hub after I said the money is good and I miss it)

In the midst of this news I have this great discussion with Foodie and the mother of his child (the most beautiful baby on earth) about some great income generating foodie ideas and think if I went back to work I could just give them all the money I earn so they could start up and be self sufficient.  More gasps from the family.  This sent me into a funk.  I want to be able to be that kind of parent. I don't need to research and make my kid submit a business plan.  Foodie and the mother of my grandchild have detailed plans about all sorts of foodie possibilities.  She has a degree in finance and squirrels away money like nobody I have ever known.  These comments killed my buzz and made me realize that I am surrounded by family from a very different cloth.  Where is the bolt of fabric I really came from?

Anyway, I come back from Vermont and see that the posting for my position closed at 4:00 December 23.  I have not found anyone who knows if someone within the district snagged it or not.  I am losing sleep.

So I ask myself.  Am I ready to go back?  I get a stomach ache when I think about it.
Will I ever be ready to go back?
I received all my school board information and will have the opportunity to run in a year.  Could run now, but the deadlines are too close and I would have to officially resign.  And that brings up another point.

Why am I still nervous about officially resigning?  Grief, dear readers, grief.

So, as of January 4th I will be seeking out a good therapist who will listen, take the time to know me and understand me, and not let me get away with any shit.  I am smart in therapy and it takes a real sharpie to make me face the realities of myself and not allow my spin of the day to distract him/her.

And if that is not enough to consider... Harvard is developing a new Ed.L.D program that is free and lasts three years, and is all about school reform!  I am so interested and am hoping for more information soon.  I may have missed the deadlines, but that fantasy is keeping me going for now.

I don't sit with no plan easily.  Maybe I just need to allow myself that.