Friday, December 19, 2014

December School Applications: The agony of determining what is best

This December my husband and I are frantically trying to find the perfect school for our daughter for next fall. With school officials constantly reminding us of the importance of getting our applications in early, other parents excitedly talking about where their children will be going in the fall, and the ever looming question "will this school set her on the perfect path for the rest of her life?" we are feeling a bit of stress.


We are looking for the perfect preschool. There is something wrong when I can commiserate with parents of students applying to college and my daughter is only three. I still am unsure why I am looking for preschools in December when my t

hree year old daughter will not start until next September, but no matter. It must be done. Applications are due, spots will fill up, and waiting lists will get longer and longer. December is the time to act.

This has left my husband and I having long conversations about what we want out of a preschool for our daughter and what the true purpose of a preschool is. Unfortunately, the three most important factors in our decision are location, hours, and price. We have to find something that fits into our current commute since we'll also have to manage to take her sister to daycare as well. We also need a full day program since we both work, and we'd like to not spend her college tuition right now. 

I'm quickly finding that the best programs, or at least the ones I'd like to enroll my daughter in- the ones that are the most child center and developmentally appropriate- are half day programs. This is tough because there is no way we can put her in a half day program, but there is a good reason these child centered programs are only half day. Preschoolers probably shouldn't be in a preschool setting for more than half a day. I don't want to hear about the full day of academic learning they are doing because God bless them, they are three and four. They need a few hours a day to run around like banshees in the backyard. But that isn't an option for my daughter.

So that leaves us trying to determine how we want our daughter to spend 8+ hours a day, five days a week when she is four years old. Do we want a play-based program? Montessori? And if we want Montessori, do we want AMS or AMI? (Schools throw these acronyms out with pride, boasting of which one they are, but really I have no idea what the difference is.) Do we want a program that promises our daughter will be reading when she leaves them? (No, we don't) Do we want a program that promises to teach  morals? Social skills? Prepare our child for academic success in her future? All things preschool websites boast they can do.

After some deep conversations we've realized these are what we want in a preschool:
1) We want to send our daughter to a place where she is excited to go everyday. This is setting the groundwork for her school career, and we want her to love it. We want her to love her teachers, and we want them to love her. We know she'll have days she doesn't want to go, but we don't want a situation where she starts to associate school with pressure, whether that pressure is to do well academically or to behave perfectly. That time will come (sadly, in kindergarten, when the crunch is on.)
Box play. Note both children inside. What you don't see is the stack of clothing I was trying to put inside the box before it became a bear den.

2) We are not worried about academics. Maybe it's because I work in kindergarten and so I understand where students are when they enter kindergarten, and how quickly they learn, but I'm not concerned about her learning to read in preschool. I am not worried about her going into kindergarten behind her peers, and if she does enter behind I am not concerned about her ability to catch up. There's time for that.

3) We do want her prepared for the social norms and expectations of kindergarten. I want her to know how to sit on the carpet and listen to a story. I want her to know how to line up, listen to the teacher, follow directions, and share toys. If she can do all of those things when she enters kindergarten then she will be ready to learn the academics she needs.

4) We want her to be a kid while she enjoys her last few years before elementary school starts. Since I am not able to pick her up at noon every day, bring her home for lunch and give her time to have independent exploitative play I want her to have the closest thing to that. I want her to have lots of time for unstructured play, whether inside or outside. Opportunities to pretend a box is a boat, a castle, or an animal den. Opportunities to see what happens when she runs as fast as she can and falls down in the grass. Opportunities to "read" a stack of books to herself and giggle at the pictures without an adult trying to teach her something about the text.

5) I do not want to have to bring my daughter to an interview, and then wait to hear whether or not she's been accepted. She's three. She changes every day. Today she might decide she is Elsa the Snow Queen, tomorrow she is Piglet from Winnie the Pooh yelling that I stepped on her imaginary best friend Christopher Robin. She's silly, outgoing, shy, serious, friendly, stubborn, and reserved on any given day. Sometimes she can dress herself and some days she throws herself on the floor in protest as though picking up one pair of pants would be the death of her. She is three. I don't want to be looking in the mail for an acceptance letter. She has the rest of her life for interviews. Why start now?

Giving a detailed explanation of the randomness of the age appropriate art work. It's beautiful. That's all it has to be.

This list is hard to find. At least it is hard to find in full day programs in the general vicinity of our daily commute. It's hard to predict whether or not she'll love the school. So much will depend on her teacher and the relationship she builds with that teacher. That's something we can't have control of, and that's scary. It's surprisingly hard to figure out which preschools focus on academics. They are all trying to sell themselves to us, and so many of them believe all parents want their children reading before kindergarten. We politely sat and listened to a four year old decode consonant vowel consonant (cvc) words in isolation. With no books around her and just a stack of flash cards she timidly "read" the words. We were supposed to be impressed, but I just felt sad. I don't need my daughter reading words yet. That will come.

All of this leads to the question- if this is what I want for my own kid, what do I want when I think about other people's kids? One of my former co-teachers wrote about this topic earlier this week.  What do we want from preschools? What should we want? What skills do we want our little ones to come to kindergarten prepared with, and what skills should we developmentally expect of them? I usually think it's wonderful when I see students had full day preschool, but I've never stopped to think about what that means before. Were they in an enriching environment where teachers responded to their wonders and excitement, or were they in a high pressured preschool where they were expected to act older than they were?

Yet I'm looking at preschool from two very different perspectives. As a parent I am soley interested in my own daughter. I know her anxieties and her personality. I want to find the school that's right for her. I don't have any judgement about people who put their children in high academic preschools, because when I wear my parent hat I can step back and see that it's their choice and I can make my own choice. When I wear my educator hat I'm thinking more about closing the achievement gap and fighting to get every kid the opportunities they need to succeed in life. Why are those two views end up with contradictory answers?

This also makes me think about the head start programs at all of the schools where I've worked. I would put my daughter into one in a heart beat. In fact, I'd like to slip her in and see if anyone protests. They all seem very play based and child focused. Perhaps because they are not day care centers in disguise, and they are not trying to teach kids to read to please parents paying a high tuition. Why can't I find a preschool like that for my own daughter?

One of my former co-teachers wrote about this topic earlier this week. 

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

You Can't Catch Me! Following student motivation in kindergarten

Last Friday I sat down with my kindergarten remediation author group. My plan was to re-read our Mrs. Wishy Washy at the beach book and then move on to reading an actually published book. (What was I thinking?) As I gathered the group I quickly realized that my plans were not the right course of action. The kindergarten classes had just finished reading different gingerbread man stories and had baked their own men, only to have them escape. They'd made wanted posters for their men and hunted them down. This was so exciting that they couldn't stop talking about it. I hadn't been at school that Thursday so they couldn't wait to fill me in on everything I'd missed. Listening to their excitement of retelling what happened to the gingerbread men I threw away my lesson plans for the day and decided that instead we'd write another story like our Mrs. Wishy Washy book, but this time about the gingerbread men. 

That day I grabbed some construction paper and together we hand wrote the words to our story (and read, and re-read the words while they each took turns pointing). The next time we met I had pre-printed pages for us to include in our book. Each student could dictate what the gingerbread men ran away from. I gave out the page to the first student, scribed where her tasty convict escaped from, and went on to the next student. When I turned back I saw that she was furiously writing. She wasn't just writing strings of letters either, she was saying her words slowly and trying to record the exact sounds she heard. I hadn't told the group to write, I'd only told them to draw. Keep in mind this is considered a remediation group. This is a group of students identified as being below the expected benchmark in concepts of print, so much so that they are in need of daily intervention. And yet, without being prompted this student was applying everything she'd been taught. Happily. With purpose. When the others realized what she was doing they added words to their pages as well. Suddenly my quick activity designed to merely to create a text we could use the next day to practice reading together turned into a writing lesson.

When they were finished and we read the story together they spontaneously high-fived each other out of excitement and pride. Another reminder to me of how powerful it can be to follow the students' lead. My previous plans would have worked just fine, but our fast twenty minutes would not have been packed with nearly as much literacy practice if I'd stuck with my original plan.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Tapping into student interest to increase motivation

 I spend a significant part of my day working with students in intervention groups. From kindergartners learning concepts of print to fourth graders working on improving their reading fluency and decoding, I'm usually with a group of students who have been designated as needing extra support. Now that the year is in full swing all of these groups have gotten into a comfortable pattern. We know and trust each other and we know what to expect from one another. This means I can start go take risks as a teacher, and they are comfortable taking risks as a learner.

With all of these groups, where I have just 20 to 30 minutes a day to work on their essential skills, I've discovered that the key to making the most of our time is following their lead and selecting activities and books that respond to the group interest. Choosing high interest activities certainly isn't a novel teacher strategy, but it is one that I think is easy to forget when we get busy, especially when we are working with intervention groups. There is so much we want to teach and so little time to get it done that we can stock our lesson plans with excellent activities and learning objectives that overlook the target audience- the kids.

In my fourth grade reading group I realized that they were very interested in re-told stories, or folktales. For whatever reason these stories with morals had them excited to debate the greater meaning of the story in a way I wasn't getting from realistic fiction. They started asking me for more re-told stories, which was shocking. These are fourth grade students who, well, are not the kids you'd think would ask for more books to read.

In following their lead and looking for more re-told stories I also found two more high interest activities, making posters and readers' theater. Having them work with a partner to make a poster for their story map on the book proved to be motivating, and kept them on task. It was the same story map I could have given them to complete on a work sheet, but now that they had to work with a partner they were talking about the story with someone else. They were debating their answers and going back into the text to support their thinking. And somehow working with a partner kept them more on task than when they do independent work. Plus, there is a strange magic of getting to use markers instead of a pencil that somehow encourages work out of the otherwise inclined. 

After they completed their story maps we started reading the reader's theater version of the story. Two of the students are working on their fluency, so readers theater is a great way to get them to practice "reading like they are talking." 
Yesterday we had our first read-through. The student who needs the most work on fluency was the most engaged and excited about this. He even modeled how to read lines for his friends who weren't using as much emotion as he would like. He was far more willing and eager to re-read lines of text when he saw it as practicing for a play than when I ask him to re-read for fluency during a typical reading lesson. He even sang a two page song for us, all by himself. I saw more reading strategies and independent engagement with the text from him when he was singing that song than when I do during a typical read. 

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Tomorrow's post- current high engagement in kindergarten. 

Friday, December 12, 2014

Teaching and Respect

This year I am our school's local screening chair, which basically means I am the special education teacher tapped to sit at the special education meetings that involve determining whether or not a child is or continues to be eligible for special education. It's far from glamorous and involves a lot of paperwork, a careful following of the legal process for finding a student eligible for special education, and scheduling meetings. A lot of scheduling. (Which sounds far easier than it is in reality.)

This is a new role for me and I have a huge learning curve. I like learning new things and usually I thrive on being new at a role and learning all of the ins and outs of a process and the theories behind it. This role is hard. Perhaps because there isn't a lot of theory to learn, but there is a lot of dotting the eyes and crossing the t's. I am enjoying the learning process, but I do find it frustrating that this role is so time consuming and takes away from time with kids.

What I find the most striking about this is that many people act like this is a promotion. The "oh, you are just a teacher" people seem to react with a whole new level of respect when I describe what I do now. Perhaps this is the respect I've been waiting for all these years when I've secretly fumed at cocktail parties from getting the pat on the head and the "A teacher? That's so cute!" comments. But now I'm still fuming. 

I'm not sure how being surrounded by the tedium of paperwork is possibly considered more prestigious than working with kids. Teaching a child to read- that's meaningful and important. Teaching a child learning to speak English, from an underprivileged  background and who is struggling to learn how to read? That's essential. I think of it like being an ER doctor. Every second of the day should be devoted to getting into working with these kids and teaching. That's when the details should matter. That is when everything is on the line. These students have to be successful and it is our job to get them there. 

It's hard for me to reconcile the i dotting and t crossing details of the legal paperwork when there are kids out there not getting reading instruction because I am doing the paperwork. It does not take theory or years of practice and training to put together a packet of documents. I do other tasks besides putting together paperwork, I shouldn't be totally diminishing the role... but it still shouldn't be seen as more prestigious than teaching kids. It kills me that it is.

Why is it that in the teaching profession the more time one is paid to spend with adults the more respect we give them? 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

What does an ability to read do for us anyway?

In my previous post I wrote about reading and students with intellectual disabilities- if they are considered illiterate unless they get to a fourth grade reading level what and how should we be teaching them? Are we wasting their time with reading instruction? What scares me about that question is that if we decide that yes, we are wasting their time and stop teaching reading in a quality way is the scary question of what if we are wrong? My year teaching students in an intellectual disabilities classroom showed me that some children may fit the profile of a student with an intellectual disability at one point in their lives, but when given the right instruction and opportunity for growth they prove that they are capable of more. So if we decide that a student won't reach a fourth grade reading level are we trying to use a crystal ball that we don't actually have? Are we limiting a child's future?

A commenter on my previous post wrote, "And keeping in mind that plenty of intellectually disabled students who do reach a mid-grade reading level still end up in jobs that don't require reading, for a variety of reasons."

This of course is true, but got me thinking about why we teach reading. Why is reading important to these students if they are going to be functionally illiterate? Does an ability to read play a role in their lives beyond employment? 

I'd like to think it does. It should. There is of course the need to read bus schedules, informational signs giving directions, recipes, directions, and letters. But I think there is more to an ability to read as well. If someone feels comfortable in their reading ability I imagine they feel more confident. They have access to written information without relying on others. They have access to part of their environment they would not otherwise have. There is also an ability to read for pleasure. With social media becoming an integral part of people's personal lives the ability to read becomes tied into the ability to communicate with others. Friends connect over Facebook. If one isn't able to read and correctly comprehend a Facebook status, how much will social interactions be limited? An inability to use social media creates yet another barrier from the rest of the world.

The idea of teaching reading so that our students can use Facebook and whatever other social media platform is out there seems absurd. But I don't think it is. If I want my students to be able to connect with the world around them, access opportunities, advocate for themselves, and live a fulfilling life, then the ability to read- even if they are not using it for employment- is key.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Reading and Long Term Goals

Sometimes someone says something to us that brings everything we are doing into a new perspective, making us re-think our approach and what we've been working toward.

I spend 90 minutes a day in one of the classrooms for students with intellectual disabilities, teaching guided reading and writing groups. It's my favorite time of the day. I get 45 minutes with each group to do a reading/writing/word study combination lesson. I can tie all of those elements together, draw connections between them, and really push the skills and (hopefully) the love of literacy because we have the time to get deep into what we're doing.

Yesterday someone said, "These kids are still going to be illiterate. First grade, second grade reading level? It doesn't matter. These kids need to be on a fourth grade level to be considered literate."

It sounds harsh, and at first I was taken aback. But it's the truth. If we don't get these kids to a fourth grade level before they leave our school system then we haven't given them the ability to read.



That stopped me in my tracks. What do I want for these kids? Will we get to that fourth grade level by high school? Am I pushing hard enough to get them there? If they are in fourth grade and reading on a kindergarten level what do we need to do? Is it time to work in survival literacy skills, or is there still a chance to produce literate adults?

My gut is to push. To start thinking long term- what do we need to put in place now to get to that fourth grade level long term? Is what I'm doing enough? Is it time to change the path and re-think my approach? But by pushing am I overlooking needed survival skills they will need in their future? Is reading essential to their lives?

Friday, December 5, 2014

Teacher Pay- Thoughts on the recent Freakonomics Podcast

Last week's Freakonomics podcast was titled, "Is America's Education Problem Really Just a Teacher Problem?"   Yeah. I know. I almost didn't listen to it. I was too worried it would send me into a massive temper tantrum that would ruin the rest of my day. But I got myself prepared to listen and finally hit play.

And I didn't disagree.

In fact, the beginning of it, when it discusses the importance of good teachers, actually inspired me. It made me proud to be a teacher. It laid out all the reasons why teachers are essential to our society, the impact great teachers have on students, and why it should be a more respected profession in our country (and historically why it isn't). And since, of course, it's an economic podcast- why teachers should be paid more.

Paying teachers more is almost always something that is said off hand. I hear it all the time, "Wow, you are a teacher. You all don't get paid enough," "You all deserve much more than we pay you," as though just saying the simple phrase makes up for not paying us as much as what teachers in other countries make. It's similar to saying to my three year old, "Wow, look at that beautiful picture you drew. We could put it in a museum!" Easy to say, easy to sound sincere, but we don't actually plan to take any action to support our words.

It's not about the money, really. It is about what the money represents. We pay more for things we value. In other countries, the podcast discusses, teacher pay is similar to what lawyers make. In those countries (that also have higher test scores) teachers are more respected members of the community. Being a teacher is competitive. Students in the top ten percent of their high school class become teachers. That's not something that is true in America.

But it should be. This job is too important for it to not be competitive to become a teacher.There is too much at stake for our students for us not to be giving them the best and the brightest teachers to work with them.

Increasing teacher pay draws more competition to the field. I bet if you look at the highest performing school districts in our country you would also find that they pay their teachers more than the under performing districts. It isn't that teachers suddenly work harder when they are paid more, it's that a higher salary draws better candidates.

I went to a competitive college where there was barely a teacher education program. I heard time and time again, "Why are you here if you are just going to become a teacher?" That's heart breaking. Many of my peers later became teachers, and became excellent ones. But the atmosphere at the school where everyone was destined to become doctors, lawyers, accountants and CEOs was fairly hostile to anyone entering the field.

There is more to the podcast than just teacher pay. It's worth a listen.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Teaching "Make it Match" - Writing our own big books to teach voice/print correspondence

 Every morning I start my day by working with a group of kindergarten students who need extra support in understanding concepts of print. We want them to understand the difference between letters, words, and sentences, and know that reading is composed of recognizing the different sets of letters sitting next to each other make a word that match a word you can say verbally, and that this set of letters makes the exact same word every time. The is the is the. On every page. Some children pick up on this skill very quickly, and others need a bit more direct instruction. This group is focused working on pointing to words with correct one to one correspondence when they ready (correctly pointing to the words on the page and having it match what they say out loud.) 

I love this group because it primarily means we get to really interact with books- read them, write them, illustrate them, and read them again- over and over- to practice the skill. And most importantly we have to absolutely LOVE the books so that we are inspired to pay attention and point to the words. Which means we have to do a lot of giggling while we read.

I just happened to pull the group for the first time when their classrooms were reading a Mrs. Wishy Washy book. I had come up with a fairly boring activity where they told me what they liked, I wrote it on a sentence strip, cut it up so each word was its own piece, and then had them glue the words in order on their paper. Every kid said they liked Mrs. Wishy Washy, or an animal from a Mrs. Wishy Washy book. Which basically gave me permission to run with it. (You may not know this, but I am a bit obsessed with that crazy washing woman.)

One of them began to giggle during the lesson- what if Mrs. Wishy Washy went to the beach?? Why not? I thought. This group of kids that needs extra practice to point to the words on the page can still create their own Mrs. Wishy Washy text.

So we did. 

In our book that crazy woman went to the beach and tried to wash the sand, a shark, a whale, and a crab. (The children were convinced that she was then eaten by the shark but we left that out of our actual text. If you squint closely you may infer that element of the story from the pictures). 

I wrote the words on sentence strips and then we cut it up and each child was able to glue the words down in\order to make a page of the book. The words on index cards make it clear where the words are on the page, which provides support for when the students are pointing to each word when they read. Then we read, and re-read our pages. There was lots of giggling (the sand? She tried to wash the sand?) 

Now that they've all read it a few times and they are pointing to each word without me prompting them they are ready to point to words without the index cards. So yesterday I printed out the saying, "Wishy washy, wishy washy, splash, splash, splash" and each child could glue the words to the page and illustrate yet another picture of what Mrs. Wishy Washy was doing at the beach (more giggling). 

Then we read, and re-read the words, pointing the whole time. I can see the difference in their ability now that I've taken away the support of the index cards. We'll use this as our mentor text for the next week, practicing reading the words on the page in our scaffolded book, and then taking that skill and applying it to other books we read.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Redskin Name Debate

I want to preface this by saying I am not a football fan and until now I have put zero thought into the Redskin name debate. I understand both sides but I haven't taken time to form an opinion. I felt like it wasn't my fight. Until now.

Before Thanksgiving I was doing a lesson on the pilgrims and American Indians in a self-contained classroom for students with intellectual disabilities. We were gathered around the Smartboard and looking at images depicting the first Thanksgiving. When a picture of Squanto came up on the screen one boy jumped up with excitement.

"That's a redskin!" he declared confidently, in a voice he reserved for times when he was absolutely sure of a fact he could teach the class.

It took me a moment to catch up with him. Redskin? Squanto? Squanto didn't play football- Oh.


It took a few rounds of explaining we don't call American Indians redskins before he accepted my explanation. I finally broke out, "Martin Luther King told us not to call people redskins," which he accepted because he takes Martin Luther King very, very seriously.

The poor kid. You can see the confusion. He sees the image of the Washington Redskins everywhere. It's all over his friends' shirts at school. He's allowed to call that image Redskins. Everyone else does. And then he infers that if the football logo is called Redskin then the picture of Squanto is also a redskin. Frankly this is the type of thinking that we're excited to see from him. That's a great application of what he knows to what he is learning. Except that now I have to tell him that what he said is actually a racial slur and not great thinking. And somehow I have to get him to understand that it is OK to call one picture of a football team Redskins, but it is absolutely not OK to call pictures of American Indians redskins.

He looked deflated, embarrassed and confused when he sat back down after my Martin Luther King explanation. I felt the same way. All this time I haven't put any thought into the growing debate around the football team's name. It took a fourth grade boy to show me just how absurd the name is in 2014. As a society we're better than that. I can't explain to a class full of hopeful students that we aren't.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Monday Morning: Moments to get up for.

It's Monday morning after Thanksgiving break. Hard to get out of bed and back into the swing of school after the holiday. Yet there are a few moments from last week that stuck with me and make me excited to be getting back to the kids:

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"How many sentences do you have?" one of my co-teachers asked a student. "Two? Then you need two periods."
The student nodded energetically and then neatly wrote ".." at the end of her writing. Two periods, exactly.

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I was watching a kindergarten student write what he was thankful for. Since I was trying to assess his ability of being able to say a word slowly, isolate the sounds, and record it on the page, I was holding myself back from helping him. He very earnestly said "bideo-games. bbbb-iiii-ddddd-o games." and then carefully wrote a bedo. Pretty good for a kindergartner, especially if you think you've been playing bideo games all your life, and not video games.

~~ ~~
Another kindergarten student got up from the carpet in the middle of a lesson and went to his backpack. He pulled out his winter scarf and carefully arranged it around his neck. The kindergarten aid quickly came over to him and requested that he put it away since we were inside and he didn't need it. He looked at her, hurt and confused. "But you have one!" he said. At that moment I realized that all three teachers in the classroom- the classroom teacher, the aid, and I- all had on decorate scarves. In fact the majority of the teachers at our school had scarves on that day. No wonder my friend thought it was totally appropriate to wear one too. If the teachers wear them as fashion accessories, why can't a five year old boy?

~~ ~~
After a fourth grade guided reading group where we read an African folktale I was sending the kids back to class. I was quite a few steps behind the two boys and they had forgotten my presence.
"The hen totally died at the end," one said. "See, it says she's gone."
"That doesn't mean they cooked her!" the other said with desperation. "Maybe she escaped."
"But the book means to not be greedy," the first argued back. "So if you are greedy you get cooked."
"But it said, 'traded a full belly for freedom'" the second tried again, "so maybe at the end she escaped and got her freedom and was hungry now."
"She got eaten," the first said as they rounded the corner and I couldn't hear their debate anymore.

If I'd tried to lead that discussion the boys would have stared at me as though I had three heads. Apparently when I'm not around they can get pretty passionate about their reading.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Communicating with Our Students

My school has started a new initiative to look at how we set and discuss goals with our students. We spent time exploring John Hattie's Visible Learning website and are basing our next steps off his work. Hattie notes that what he calls "student reported grades", or as the website describes, "strategy involves the teacher finding out what are the student’s expectations and pushing the learner to exceed these expectations. Once a student has performed at a level that is beyond their own expectations, he or she gains confidence in his or her learning ability." To keep it simply we're calling it goal setting in our building.

I immediately decided I wanted to start goal setting with my fourth grade reading group. There are four students in the group, all of whom speak English as their second language. They are all reading about a year below grade level, and we are using the Leveled Literacy Intervention (LLI) for our guided reading work. We meet four times a week, so we're doing about as much reading as we can.

On Thursday I gave the four of them a sheet which asked them to identify what they do well as readers and then what they want to get better at. On the back of the sheet I had a list of reading strategies for both decoding and comprehension so really all they needed to do was read the list and copy something.

When I introduced this they looked at me like I had three heads. One student immediately wrote "being lazy" under the question that asked him to say what he was good at as a reader. At least he was honest? Realizing this wasn't going as I thought it would we went over the list of reading strategies together and talked about what they each do as readers. They still sat and stared at me. I hadn't planned for this to take more than five minutes and now I was watching that my thirty minute reading block wash away. I made one of those teacher decisions that you can't take back once it is out there. I told them I didn't care if it took the whole reading block- we were going to fill out this sheet.

Finally one after another picked up the pencil and begrudgingly started to write. They wrote, and at least two of them were honest, although not detailed. None of them identified strengths that I would have given them, and none of them identified the same areas of improvement that I would have identified for them. One just copied randomly from the list (OK, that's what I would have done as a kid) and the other absolutely refused. "I'm not good at anything with reading" he kept saying as though this was a fact I couldn't argue with. "And I have to get better at all of it."
The others watched my face as he said this and I could tell he was speaking for all of them. Why bother to identify what they were good at if they didn't feel good at any of it?

The whole incident forced me to reflect on the group and my teaching. What kind of teacher was I being if these kids couldn't even tell me what their strengths were in reading? We get through the lessons, I push fast, I take a running record on at least one of them each time, I take data for their IEP goals and I note their progress. I could tell you about each one of their strengths and weaknesses, but apparently I hadn't told them. Or if I had, they hadn't believed me. On paper I was being a great teacher, but in reality these fourth graders showed up every day to get a new book, but were they really improving their reading? If they are improving their reading but don't realize how they are doing it, does it even matter?

I immediately changed the feedback I was giving them as readers. In the time I managed to salvage from the end of the group I explained exactly what I noticed on their running records. I labeled their strengths, and made them record those strengths on their goal papers. Then I tried to be clear with what I wanted them to do on their next read.

Next week I am determined to spend more time giving them specific feedback about their reading. I want them to own their reading skills, and I want them to feel like making progress in reading is achievable. I want them to understand the individual steps needed to get to the next step and be able to articulate how they will get there. I want them to feel ownership of their work, and to take pride in the work they do in reading each day.

We can do hard things, even when reading is one of them.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

It's Not About Us (Even when it feels like it is)

On Friday I sat beside one of my kinder friends in a whole school assembly. This wasn't an ideal situation because my friend doesn't do well with changes in routine, large crowds or loud noises, which is exactly what a whole school assembly is. So I sat beside him on the floor of the gym, armed with his sticker chart to give frequent reinforcement for his good behavior.
It was going well. In fact, so well that I let myself have a moment where I thought, "wow, this is going really well, I'm so proud of how far my friend has come," which of course is the wrong thought to have. Ever. 
Immediately as those thoughts entered my mind my friend decided to lay down across the gym floor. We were sitting right up front so he just pushed some head start preschoolers out of the way and spread out. 
"Sit up" I hissed. 
"I'm bored of sitting," he whispered back.
"You can sit up or go stand against the wall," I whispered firmly (or as firmly as one can whisper)
"No." he said.

It's not about us
Let me remind you that we are in front of the ENTIRE SCHOOL. The principals are up in front talking and I am standing up in front of everyone whispering to a kindergartner. I'm sure my face was bright red. All I could think was, "I can't believe this is happening. Everyone in this gym is going to think I am a terrible teacher who can't handle kids. No one will ever listen to my recommendations on working with challenging behaviors again." 

I stopped thinking about the kid and just thought about myself. How I, the adult, needed to save face. How I wasn't going to let some five year old hurt my reputation in the school.

In twelve years of teaching I have learned one thing for sure- the minute we stop thinking about the child and start thinking about ourselves is the minute we stop being productive teachers.

Of course the kid didn't comply. His classroom teacher came over, whispered something in his ear, and he stood up and walked to the side of the gym. I followed, red faced, feeling like a failure. 

His teacher looked at me and explained, "I did exactly what you told me to do. I told him I had a job for him to do. Making up jobs was your idea."  Oh. Yeah. Offering jobs. I did recommend that. That does work for this kiddo. And yet I'd been so aware of my own embarrassment that I'd forgotten any strategies I had to work with this kid. I'd stopped making it about him and started making it about myself. Making it about myself only made the situation worse, almost like a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

I am still MORTIFIED by having the little episode play out in front of the whole school, but I am an adult and can get past embarrassment. It happens. It was an excellent reminder to me that being worried what others think of me only limits my effectiveness as a teacher. 

Saturday, November 1, 2014

The Power of Wait Time

My understanding of teaching improved drastically the year I spent teaching a self contained class for students with intellectual disabilities. I learned so much about the basics of how we as humans learn new concepts, how teachers can break down concepts into the smallest steps to help students learn, and ways to think about re-teaching when you think you have already exhausted every concept and yet your students still are not making progress. But one of the most important lessons I learned that year was about biting my tongue, standing back and simply waiting.

So many of the students in the intellectual disabilities program needed to be taught to do tasks independently. Independence was our gold standard. It did not matter if the student could do a task 100 times with you right there. If they could not do it by themselves it did not count. So we kept track of every time we helped a student. We counted every time we prompted a student to sit down. We made made mental tally marks of every time we gestured for a student to follow directions or verbally reminded a student to do the work. Once you start making note of every time you are prompting your students you quickly become painfully aware of just how much you are aiding your students when they do not even need you. Often I'd find that if I just bit my tongue and waited a moment before I jumped in and correct a student the student would do the task independently. It was just up to me to stand back.

Every day in an elementary school starts with a teacher who has a long to-do list for the day. We cram so much into every single moment that we spend our seven hour days constantly feeling behind. And because of that feeling we are constantly on top of our students, reminding them what the directions are, telling them to hurry up, repeating ourselves, and quickening the pace. We do not have time to wait. Plus we are in charge. When you are in charge we often want to show we are in charge by filling silence with orders. We talk. We talk a lot. We talk constantly throughout the day. It's in our job description. Or is it?

Our rapid pace often limits our students. We are so busy talking that we do not give them time to follow through with the directions on their own, so we often do not even know what they can do. Will they follow directions if we do not remind them what the directions are? Will they give us an answer to our question if we wait in uncomfortable silence while they process their thoughts? If we say nothing else will they line up on their own? Most of the time we don't know. We never give our students time to find out. We keep our pace fast in our lessons. We expect students to do what we say when we say it, and we expect them to answer questions as soon as we ask them. We forget to give wait time. We don't give them time to process the directions, think about their answers, or figure out what to do next. 

Not only is our fast pace keeping us from seeing what our students can do independently, but we are creating learned helplessness. Students begin to know that they do not have to listen to the directions the first time because we will repeat it. Mrs. L gave a direction? I know she'll repeat it in a minute so I can keep talking to my friend. (If you don't believe me think about how we act in staff development meetings. After directions are given there is always a low hum as teachers clarify the directions with the people at their table. We don't always listen either.) 

Our children who are learning to speak English, or who have difficulty with receptive or expressive language, are the ones who benefit from wait time the most. Yet often we don't give it to those students because we are working so hard to close the achievement gap that we want to make every moment count. We repeat, remind, and restate over and over again because we want to keep our pace going. We have things to teach, assessments to give. We have over a year's growth of progress to make.

Our constant reminders and nagging of children with processing delays or who are learning English can also start to cause behavior problems. Once children start to feel like they do not belong in a classroom, once they feel the teacher is exasperated with them, or feel that the teacher is "always on their back" they will start to resent school. They will see themselves as someone who is often in trouble. Once a student sees themselves as one of the bad kids it is hard for them to turn that around. And who wants to work hard in school, or even come to school when you don't think your teacher cares for you? 

Giving students wait time- giving a direction and then standing back quietly to see who will follow it- asking a question and giving students time to formulate an answer before moving on- allows students to process information. They will either use peer models (a great life strategy), think through their auditory memory to find the directions and then follow them, or get off task, at which point it is time to intervene. 

When we interrupt a student's processing time- whether it is because of a processing delay or because a student is learning English- we are starting the student's processing clock over again. If a student takes five seconds to process a direction and we interrupt at the three second mark by repeating the direction then we have just started the clock again. Now the student needs five more seconds to process what we said when we repeated the direction, but we've added the stress factor of the student knowing he should really already have figured out the direction. 

So we can stand back and watch. We can stay quiet and see who follows directions, who lags behind but eventually follows, who is confused and needs a reminder, and who is not interested in following directions but understands them perfectly. By waiting, even when it is uncomfortable, we learn about our students. We gain information about how they learn, what they like, how they process information and what supports they need. We take away the crutch of the teacher prompt and take a step closer to independence. Sometimes we teach students more from being quiet than from jumping in.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Kindergarten Mindset- We are here to learn

His big five year old eyes looked up at me with nervousness as we sat down to work.
"I can't write my name," he said. "I don't know it."

"That's OK," I tried to sound reassuring. "That's why we are here. To learn."

He nodded like he didn't really believe but wasn't going to argue with an adult. He knew all his friends could write their names. He knew they knew the names of the letters. Throughout his day his frustration with not being able to do what his friends showed in those big eyes. He knew.

We worked hard, those mornings, working on forming the letters and learning their names. With our dry erase markers we formed and re-formed each letter. Write, erase, try again.

Then one day he sat down confidently. "I'm learning," he explained to me. "It's OK. I'm learning." 
Without another comment he wrote his name, stopped himself when he made a mistake, erased it and re-did his letters. Over and over again, he confidently caught his own mistakes, not letting himself get frustrated by the imperfection. "I'm learning," he repeated. 

My school focuses on using Carol Dweck's research in her book Mindset in all of our practice.
It drives how we plan lessons, how we talk to parents, and how we interact and talk with kids. We make a conscious effort not to label what kids do as smart, but to label their hard work, effort and problem solving skills. By reinforcing what students are actually doing we are changing how our students approach their school work.

My little friend went from seeing himself as behind to seeing himself as a learner. He gave himself permission to learn- to make mistakes, to be behind, to keep working. He took ownership of his work. It didn't come from us telling him to work harder or giving him pep talks about how he should get his head in the game. It all came from simply repeatedly noticing his hard work as he did it and labeling it. In his classroom no one is using the words, "that's smart". Instead the students around him are also being praised for using strategies, not giving up on difficult tasks, and for using problem solving skills to find an answer. He noticed. He picked up on the idea that we are in school to learn. It is OK to not be the smartest or learn something the fastest. What matters is that you learn.

My friend may have a hard road ahead of him. It may take him longer to learn concepts that will come quicker to his friends. I hope he can hang on to this idea that learning is a process throughout his school career. If so, his determination and dedication are going to take him far.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Three Kid Myths We Use to Judge Each Other

OK, I'll admit it- before I was a parent myself I was a really good parent.

Now? With two kids? Whoa- I'm lucky if I'm in the mediocre range, especially when I compare myself to the magical mother I was going to be before I had kids. From raising my daughter and reflecting on my own judgements I've realized that as a teacher I was operating under some misconceptions about childhood, despite all of my training, education, and constant reading on child development.

Myth One: It's easy to tell a spoiled child. Kids who cry when you tell them no are spoiled. They are obviously accustomed to getting their way.

Ha! Little did I know, kids are not necessarily spoiled just because they cry or argue when they are told no. My husband and I frequently exclaim in frustration, "Little Lipstick, have we EVER let you have what you want after you talk to us like that?" And every time she yells, "NO! BUT I WANT ITTTTTTT"
It's become a ritual in our house. You want cupcakes for breakfast? OK, let's start our daily 'you cry, we ignore you' routine. (Even as I type this I'm preparing for judgement- those of you reading are thinking, clearly there is something wrong. They must give in once. They are giving her negative attention which keeps the argument going, etc, etc. I am working really hard on trusting you to not be doing that. Otherwise I would write pages defending our parenting. Stay with me here and don't judge.) 

As adults when we stub our toe and it hurts like hell we often call out, swear, or hold our breath. We react. Even though swearing didn't change the pain the first time we ever stubbed our toe we still react that way now. It still hurts, and we swear even though we know that will not make it feel any better. We know swearing doesn't change anything. We aren't trying to manipulate the situation by yelling. We are expressing ourselves.

That's true for kids. My daughter is sad she cannot have a cupcake for breakfast. She knows she cannot have a cupcake and she knows we are not going to change our minds, but she is sad so she is expressing it. (She has just now started using the words sad, scared, and nervous and we are getting wonderful I statements like, "I am nervous about going to daycare" and "I am sad about my cupcake", which has put a significant decrease in tantrums.)

I watch a lot of the kindergarten students get upset when told "no". We often think, "Oh, only child syndrome" or "must get their way all the time at home." But I'd like to take back that judgement now. As a parent of a child who has BIG emotions, I know now that it isn't because she always gets her way, it is just because she is stubbing her toe. She is expressing her feelings and getting it out. I'd rather she didn't, but I can't control everything.

Which leads us to...
Myth 2: Parents can control their kids as though they are puppets. 

2) Unless there is a special, secret formula out there that if we follow will give us the perfect child, we are not in 100% control of our children. They each have their own temperaments and personalities. We control how we react to situations and we can set consequences and structure, but we are not the architects of our children's worlds. We can't be. The neighbor's dog, the mean friend on the playground, the bank teller who gives our kid a lollipop even though we ask them not to- these are all elements of our children's worlds. This world we can't control shapes our children. They develop their own opinions- quite separately of ours- about what they like and don't like, what they are scared of, what makes them happy and what makes them sad. We can help them through all of those emotions, we can control how we react to their emotions, but we cannot give our children emotions.

Myth 3: Kids need structure at home like they have in school 

Structure at home? Ha! Structure at school is easy. We have bell schedules, lunch schedules, art and PE schedules. We have routines. Even when there are breaks in the routines we prepare for it ahead of time (field trips get planned months in advance, we talk about it for weeks ahead of time. And fire drills get practiced so many times that they become routine even when they are a surprise.)
Structure at home is totally different. You can have set bedtime and wake up times, and bedtime routines and morning routines and meal routines, but it's not school. There aren't bells and chimes throughout the day. It has to be more flexible. In fact, it should be more flexible. Children need to know how to roll with change. They need down time to explore. They need to figure out what to do when they are bored.

There are many great ways to put routines and structures into a family's day, but it will never be as structured as school. And that is OK. Kids need to breath.

Do you have other misconceptions you've found about how we make quick judgments about kids?

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Judge, Judge, and Judge Some More. Is there anything about parenting that doesn't get judged?

This weekend I was waiting for my Starbucks order, chatting happily with my three year old (who, let's admit it, was happy because she was chomping on a large Starbucks pumpkin cookie), when I out of the corner of my eye I caught sight of a little girl about to eat popcorn off the floor of Target. Without even thinking (because this is what teachers and moms of toddlers do) I stopped her. "Oh honey, don't eat that!" I exclaimed, and she cried, because that is what kids do when a stranger stops them from doing something they really want to do.

Her mother turned around and gave me a dirty look. Then without saying anything she pushed the cart away from me in a huff.

OK. So we shouldn't talk to kids we don't know. But if it was my daughter (and next time it probably will be my daughter) and I didn't see it (because even the best parent can't watch their child 100% of the time) I would want a stranger to stop her from eating off the floor at Target. Her being momentarily upset that a stranger had talked to her is better than her eating off the floor. And even better, it will (hopefully) stop her from eating off the floor from Target in the future.

At first I was put off by the other mom's dirty look. I was only trying to help. Then I realized she probably felt like I was judging her as a parent. I wasn't. It was the opposite. She had three kids with her- good grief, I know how hard it is to shop with two kids- I can't imagine with three. My thought was not, "OMG, this women is a terrible mother. Her daughter is about to eat off the floor." I thought, "Oops, that little girl is about to eat off the floor. Better stop her because her mom looks busy."

But there is no way that mom would know that. We live in a culture of judgement, especially when it comes to parenting. I'm a member of a couple on-line parenting groups, and I am frequently horrified by the amount of judging that goes on. Off statements like, "I would never..." "If my child ever did something like that..." "It may be hard, but it's my kid so I'm going to do...." are constantly coming out. They are easy statements to think and even easier to type. The internet has given a platform to our judginess. We read so much judgement out there that it's easy to think that we are fighting each other every day. A trip to Target should not be a chance to showcase our parenting for the entire world, as we desperately hold our breath hoping that today our child will not have a meltdown because then everyone would know what terrible parents we really are.

The older my daughter gets the more acutely aware of how much I unfairly judged parents of students I taught. It was especially bad when she was an infant because just being a new parent gave me the license to say, "As a parent I would..."

Ha! I had a baby who could not talk back, throw a tantrum, hit, kick, or blow snot all over me on purpose.

As my very independent, strong-willed and sensitive daughter gets older I am realizing just how hard parenting can be and just how wrong my misconceptions of parenting have been. My next few posts are going to be a series of the myths of childhood that we use to judge one another. Stay tuned...

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Beginning of the Beginning

I'm not sure how it's happened that the first week and a half of school has happened and I haven't had a chance to blog. Keeping up with my three year old and my six month old paired with the beginning of the year exhaustion has left me with lots of blog posts running through my head and very little time to sit down and put them on paper. This year I'm running our local screening and working with a variety of students and classes throughout the building but I do not have my own caseload. I love working with different students in different grades, but my heart, especially this time of year, belongs to kindergarten.

If you are not a kindergarten teacher it is impossible to fully grasp the monster that is the first month of kindergarten. These teachers are taking babies- children who until a few weeks ago spent a blissful five years with their families, in day cares or preschools, napping in the afternoon, eating delicious snacks, playing games, and giggling with friends. Suddenly they are in a class with twenty plus other kids also competing for the adult's attention. They are expected to do whatever this adult says even if it makes no sense to them whatsoever, and they can't just wander around and play with whatever they see. If they want to speak they have to raise their hand, if they go anywhere it has to be in a line where they have to stand behind some kid who walks too slow and somehow not step on his feet. They have to walk in this line over and over again to practice for this thing called a fire drill- which is crazy because there is no fire but all the adults act like there is one and get really grouchy if they talk- even if they are simply pointing out that there is no fire. While practicing the fire drill they can actually see the playground and breath the fresh air but they cannot go running freely towards the slide. Even though it is RIGHT there. If they do the adults get crazy mad. They have to eat on a schedule. They can't nap. They have to stay in one room unless an adult says otherwise. They can't tell the teacher about their brand new shoes or their baby brother's birthday next week or that they don't like the color orange whenever the thought pops into their head. There are bells and signals and songs and books and directions and directions and directions. Their little worlds are completely turned upside down. Let's not forget that some of them barely speak English and are doing all of these crazy new rituals in a foreign language.

In a month the kindergarten classrooms will be smooth running machines. They will look like what we think school should look like. But the first few weeks? Those babies are having their worlds rocked. For those of us who get to pop in and out of the classrooms to help it's cute and entertaining. For their teachers- well, I hope they are all enjoying large glasses of wine and being pampered at home every evening. They are introducing students to their school careers, patiently and kindly setting the tone for their school journey. It's messy, exhausting and extremely important. Every one of those teachers should be given a full body massage at the end of September.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

How We Talk About Kids

I'm trying to recreate a document I saw in the very beginning of my teaching career. It listed negative comments teachers frequently say about kids and rephrased it in a more positive manner. Reading over it one felt like it was a list of very obvious phrases that we should not have to be reminded to use or not use, but it was helpful to have in writing. I want to find it or recreate it to give to new teachers who are struggling with how to positively phrase a child's actions and characteristics in meetings. I've been Googling around trying to find something, somewhere that will have it- there have to be examples out there in the great wide internet that can give better phrases than I can come up with. I've typed in "positive talk about kids", "discussing children positively" "positive language for discussing students" and a great many other searches that use some variation of that language.
I've found-


Many articles have popped up on how we talk to children, but I haven't found anything on how we talk about our students. Don't get me wrong, I'm a huge advocate of using positive language with students, but we should not stop there. We shouldn't be using very positive language with our class and then going into the teachers' lounge and saying, "OMG that kid is driving me nuts! What is wrong with her?" or coming to meetings to discuss whether or not a student has special needs and saying, "He's so lazy. I just can't get him to do anything."

Even the phrase "He's super low" places an unnecessary judgement on the child. Anyone in the room who hasn't met the student yet immediately applies his or her preconceived notions on what 'low' means to this child and starts to mentally categorize the student. This can change how other people view the child when they meet him, and how they assess him.

Instead of wide reaching statements we can be specific with what we notice by looking at the students behaviors.
"He benefits from directions being repeated."
 "She often requires lessons to be retaught in order to fully grasp the concept."
"She needs reminders to keep her hands to herself during whole group lessons."
"He has difficulty remembering to raise his hand during lessons."

I need your help. What phrases do you often hear used negatively about kids (He's lazy, she's a hot mess, he drives me crazy...) and what are ways we can phrase it more positively?

Saturday, August 9, 2014

August Dreams

The other night I woke up in a cold sweat. I had to take a moment to get myself together and realize it was just a dream. In real life I was not responsible for developing a year long word study curriculum based entirely off of the songs from Frozen. 

In the dream I was working hard on blend sorts- between the Fr blend to Sn (Do you want to build a snowman?) 

The back to school August dreams have begun.

(Although if I did this I could probably make a ton of money on Teachers pay Teachers.)

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Mommy Moments

As a teacher I get to experience both worlds- being a working and stay at home mom. I'm constantly torn between which is better. The guilt I feel for leaving my kids vs loving my job vs the stimulation they get in daycare vs quality time at home. 
The first three days this week felt idiolistic. Peaceful. Moments of almost three year old tantrums, but we lived. I really felt like I hit my stride. We can do this! Maybe I should stay home. Going back is going to be sooooo hard. 

And then...

7am- baby wakes up. Husband is already up with toddler. I love him. Baby is covered in pee because her diaper leaked. Quick bath for baby. 
8:00- husband has to leave. I hate him. How dare he go to work and leave me out numbered? It's ok- I can do this. Toddler sweetly eating breakfast.
9:00- toddler still eating breakfast. Omg she is the slowest eater ever. Baby fussy and needs a nap. Toddler doesn't want to be left alone. Must wash applesauce out of her hair before we can all go up. How does she possibly get so dirty from one meal?! Baby crying. Past her nap time.
Shamelessly hand toddler iPad so I can put her sister down for a nap. Ask toddler if she needs to potty first. Toddler, of course, says no. Demand that toddler sit on potty to at least try before I give her the iPad. Toddler cries on potty, baby crying louder. Toddler refuses to pee. I remind her that if she has an accident she loses her iPad privledges (she has a track record of hanging accidents during iPad play). Start putting baby down for nap. Baby closes her eyes, relaxes body- toddler screams, "I tinkled on the rug!!" Lots of crying. From mommy, toddler, and baby. 
Ignoring screaming baby haul toddler to toilet. Clean toddler, clean rug. Remove iPad. 
Return to putting baby down for a nap. Her body relaxes, I'm walking out the door-
Toddler comes to door, "Is she asleep yet?" 
Baby wakes up. Crying. 
Send toddler downstairs to build castle out of couch cushions. 

Let baby fuss (maybe she'll go back down? Nope, wide awake). Return to trying to nap baby. Her body relaxes, eyes close-
Phone rings. Toddler comes running upstairs- "mommy!! The phone is ringing!"
Toddler's voice wakes up baby.  
10:30 Give up on napping baby. Make more coffee. 
Sidewalk chalk turns into request for painting. Why not? I must have spiked my coffee. 

Feeling like great mom- we paint- everyone is happy- such peace! I just have to make it to nap time. Of course, before that is lunch- oh poop, we have nothing to eat for lunch. Like, just a heal of bread and peanut butter. But we ate the other heal yesterday. A good mommy would go to the store. 
We clean up, negotiate the leaving the house wardrobe. I even remember the reusable bags. I've so got this. 
I forgot wearable baby carrier. 
I'll just put the baby in one of the reusable bags.
Trader Joe's carts are not big enough to put a Graco SnugRide into the back basket. Well, now one is. If you push hard you can really wedge it in there. Of course now there are no room for actual groceries.
Luckily they have those cute "customer in training" carts. Perfect. Toddler ends up pushing all the groceries into my ankles the entire trip. But we have groceries. People keep smiling at us with the sweet, "bless your heart" look. Oh dear Lord, my daughter has yellow paint stripes in her hair. How did I miss that? Is that what she meant when she said, "Now I am prettiful?" It's ok. My shorts are covered in spit up. We make a nice pair. 

Trader Joes nicely gives my daughter about ten stickers and offers to help us to the car. Which I accept. Not ashamed. Plus I need help getting the car seat in wedged from the now bent shopping cart. Are you supposed to tip? I can't get to my wallet while holding the baby and toddler. Hopefully he'll take the baby's spit up on his shoes as thanks enough. Why do people get so freaked out by regurgitated breast milk? 
Back in car baby is screaming, toddler is carefully placing all ten stickers all over herself. 
Upon parking the car I find:
1) I am taking two spaces and I'm not going to put the screaming baby back in the car to fix it.
2) toddler is hysterical because if she moves all her stickers may fall off. 
They do. So the entire walk back to our house they are reapplied. I hate those stickers. 

It's only noon. Lunch and then nap. Please Lord, help me cherish the moment when my toddler looked at me and said, "thank you for cleaning up my tinkle" to help me through the rest of the summer. And help me remember the cleaning of the tinkle when I'm in long IEP meetings in October.  
Post nap baseball. I do love this age.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The Squeaky Wheel part two: Thoughtfully Planning

Yesterday I wrote about the pitfalls of over committing yourself as a special education teacher. We end up hurting ourselves, our colleagues and our students when we give ourselves schedules we can't meet, even though our over promising comes out of good intentions. Sadly good intentions don't teach kids to read.

Here are ways to thoughtfully plan out your schedule in the beginning of the year to prevent overbooking.

1) Look at your schedule with all of your co teachers together. Bring them all to the table to go over your caseload. Look at who has the most needs and when those will occur. When everyone comes to the table together it's surprising how you can find creative solutions to sticky problems.

2)  As a team determine a contingency plan for when you are pulled in different directions. Will someone take your reading groups? How will you let your teachers know that you are dealing with a behavior crisis? Is everyone at the table comfortable with the contingency plan? Make sure you come to an agreement now so you don't have people feeling resentful later in the year.

3. Look at the students on your caseload who are likely to need extra help or crisis intervention. What can you do to be proactive about their behaviors? Do they benefit from check in/check out time with an adult? Can you schedule a daily walk with them before their most difficult period? Think about how you can be proactive with managing their needs to help decrease the need for reactive intervention. It can be hard to find time during academic blocks but remember that if you schedule in quality time you won't have to deal with changing up your schedule for crisis management. 

4. How can your team share responsibilities? Collaborate with the general education teachers so that you truly share students. If you are constantly talking and sharing responsibilities you will be able to cover for each other. Can you split a reading group so that if one of you is pulled you know the other teacher will still read with them. 

5. Decide what will be non-negotiable times with students- identify a sacred time when you are working with students on academics and cannot be interrupted. Talk to your team and determine what can be done if there is a behavior crisis during those times. Identify other people who can step in until you are finished. Put the plan for the student in writing and ask team to look at it ahead of time so they understand the  student's needs.   

6. Schedule yourself lunch. We are all tempted to forget our own lunch break or to schedule over it. Often lunch is the only planning we get during the day! You need that time to clear your head, catch up on emails, prepare for an iep, and plan lessons. Make sure you protect your lunch time. We make mistakes and drop the ball when we don't have time to breath.

7. Be willing to tell your team when something isn't working. If you are finding yourself having trouble getting to meet with certain students make sure you share your concerns! Your team can help you find new way to look at it or help divide the work load so that every student gets what they need.

Remember that we are human! We are awesome special education teachers but we can only do so much. Don't let the kids lose out because we can't recognize our own limits now. 

Sunday, August 3, 2014

The Squeaky Wheel: How do you spread out your special education resources? (Part 1)

I One of the greatest challenges that faces any special education team, particularly those using an inclusion model, is how to distribute your resources to best support the students. What works one year won't always work the next as the make up of the classes changes. Every beginning of the year catches us with the same frustrating dilemma- we can't possibly be everywhere we are needed all the time. Until someone invents cloning we have to figure out where we are needed the most- and what "most" means.

Every special education teacher I have ever worked with always starts out the year over promising. We can't help it. We didn't get into this field for it to be easy- we got into it to help kids. So we want to be actively helping kids as much as possible. Before the kids have even walked in the door we've often created schedules for ourselves that include "eating" lunch while walking between classrooms (very professional behavior, choking on a sandwich while trying to chase down a coworker) and doing paperwork at night. It's easy in August to think there is no problem with doing our paperwork after school. We've just spent a summer full of relaxing and our big hearts feel ready to committ to late nights. We are teachers- we are ready to feel the burn! Bring it on in the name of the kids! I don't need a bathroom break anyway!

By starting off the year over-promising we not only set ourselves up for failure but we create future staffing problems for kids. It usually only takes about two weeks for us to find ourselves not making it to classrooms on time, running late to reading groups, skipping social skills groups, or forgetting about meetings. We aren't lazy or forgetful people. Our hearts want to be everywhere at once but instead we end up nowhere.We become frustrated with ourselves, frustrated with the kids that are interfering with our schedules, and we frustrate our co teachers. Everyone loses, especially the kids we are supposed to be working with. They aren't getting the planned support they need. All the planning in the world isn't going to improve a child's academic skills if the plans aren't being put into place.

And where do we go when we aren't meeting with our reading groups? We are putting out fires. We are often dealing with behaviors. We are working with the kids who are loudly getting our attention.

There are two problems here. One is that there are kids who need our help who aren't getting it, and the other is that we aren't giving ourselves time to proactively deal with behaviors. We are so busy putting out fires that we haven't left time for fire prevention. In both of these situations kids lose. 

So how do we plan out our time so we don't let down kids, our coworkers and ourselves?

The first step is simply to be aware that this is an actual problem. It doesn't have to be the nature of the job. 

This intro itself ended up being much longer than I intended, so stay tuned for part two with