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Friday, June 19, 2015

#SELConference 2015 - Nashville

Today has been exhilarating, enlightening, emotional and just plain fun! Boy am I tired - in a good way!

Susie and I spent the day at the 2015 SEL Conference in Nashville presented by Alignment Nashville and other great sponsors. A keynote by the intense Dr. Jeff Duncan-Andrade started us off,  followed by over 50 different options for break-out sessions.

We had the privilege to present "Eight Ways to Change Climate, Develop Culture, & Build Community" to a group of nearly 50 enthusiastic attendees.We enjoyed the building of community, sharing our cultures and learning how to document and understand the climate within our schools and classrooms.

For those who attended our sessions and for anyone else who would like to have the materials and references we curated for session, I have placed links HERE for the presentation and HERE for the handout materials and resources. Please note the resources page in the handout has additional materials and references for your post-sessions experience.   As always, please feel free to engage in dialog with us. We look forward to exchanging ideas, successes, as well as constructive methods and strategies to continue the experience we have had today!

We have thoroughly enjoyed our day, made many new relationships and have expanded our knowledge of learning to have and share "audacious hope!" Thank you!


Sunday, January 4, 2015

New Calendar, New Year, So What?

This week I have been inundated with processes and procedures in resetting priorities. It has been through every media outlet and mechanism possible. I get it. There is a new number at the end of the date field. It is a new calendar (who has paper calendars?) and resolutions are supposed (really? who says?) to be made.

Even though the statistics vary as to how many of us will keep resolutions and thus either give up, fail, or forget; we are enticed to try. But why?

Can change(s) occur that quickly? Have you ever watched anyone push an elephant?  Only when the is mass and acceleration that exceeds the force you are trying to move can the elephant be moved.  (Even if the elephant doesn't want to move).  So why should I care about making changes or resolutions if I haven't thought carefully about whether the probability of success is even there?

I can declare "I will read more," but if I don't carve out the time or I don't substitute another activity for reading, then I haven't really considered all that will need to change before I can even remotely be successful at reading more.

Usually change occurs when a "force" is applied. Underline force. This is Newton's second law. Where F(orce) = M(ass) times (A)acceleration. I just believe there isn't enough force occurring in the mere changing of one digit at the end of the date to make the significant change the rest of the world seems to think I need to make.

The amount of force needed for change has to be greater than the amount of change wanted. Either I work out to get strong and be able to push more weight than I can now, or I search for a way to entice the elephant to want to move, either way, if I want acceleration on my goals, resolutions or changes, I will need to increase one or more of the attributes of mass or acceleration in order to increase the amount of force needed.

So instead of looking for new resolutions, new goals, new.... perhaps I need to start looking at the forces already working in my life.  If I wish to change my life's direction, what are the forces causing me to move in the direction I'm moving now and how can I redirect or refocus those forces? What force is causing me to not read sufficiently now? Am I too tired when I get home? How do I change that?

I must examine the processes and forces, list them, mind map them, look at their effects on what I believe to hold dear. I need to educate myself on what are those forces of change. Are they for certainty, purpose, or control? Have they been there and I'm just comfortable with them? Are they positive forces guiding me through my journey and thus I should possibly increase them?

Only when I do the work to see those forces of change at work in my life and learn what pieces of the Newton's equation to change or if to change it at all, can I begin to see any change become as easy as turning over the page on the calender.


Tuesday, December 30, 2014

10 Ways for Teachers to get ready to go back to school after Winter break

As a teacher I will start back to school for the second semester of the 2014-15 school year in January. The first day will be a planning day to reconnect with peers, colleagues, and get ready for the students.  Will I be ready? Will stress play a part on that first day when the students come back? 

As a former Sr. Software Project Manager my primary focus was mitigation of stress in the management of change. Change is a part of our daily lives and how we management it either helps us through the change or causes us to be stressful through the change. Here are my ten things to do as I prepare to go back to teaching and working on managing a stress free learning environment to start the rest of the school year. 

10 - Move my mindset to one of learning and growth. When I am in restoration mode I sometimes want to stay there. Over the break I've read great books, visited with family and friends, watched movies, enjoyed good foods, as well as found some new ideas to use in the classroom. I need to return to the proactive growth mindset. I want to be surprised at what my students have retained over the break. I don't want to show disappointment on any regression. I want to set everyone up for success an adjust plans to reteach if necessary. I may need to rekindle the students minds to remembering what we work so hard to learn before the break. If I am positive, they will be too.

9-Let the student's help return the classroom to a different theme. If I do all of the work on my planning day to take down the decorations, put away the holiday materials, then the students miss an opportunity of ownership in creating the next theme. As we put away the holiday decorations we also realize things come to an end and new beginnings take place. It's helpful to allow the students to be helpful and to participate in the space they occupy. They will have more respect for something they helped to create. Don't forget to update the classroom job list, too. Don't have one? Check out TeachHub's suggestions for creating classroom jobs.

8-You are not alone. If you haven't been to the classroom during the break, you may be overwhelmed at what is to be done. Take a break and help one of your colleagues, make it a time to work together on helping one another to clean, straighten up the room, or reorganize materials, keeping in mind that you are not alone and have great colleagues wanting to help with fresh new eyes and ideas. (Leave some for the students to do, see #9.)

7-Positive notes or emails home. I'm going to take time out the first week back to write positive notes and emails back to the parents to set the tone for the rest of the school year. We are so busy doing the teaching process we sometimes forget to include the parents in the exciting elements which happen in class. I have made a personalized version of a "positively note worthy" note pad made from 1/4 page cut outs. I can keep them on a small clipboard and write a quick note home while I'm working directly with the student in circle time, in one-on-one, or during my "walk-abouts." Parents enjoy getting communications on how well their child is doing in class and if they start getting them regularly it will change the relationship when the time comes for a more serious meeting or phone call.

6-Practice positive teacher language. After being with adult size friends and family members over the holidays we may relapse back to saying "good job" or "great work" rather than being specific in our language to students. Responsive Classroom has some great tips on reminding, reinforcing, and redirecting language to use a refresher before the students return to class. @responsiveclass and #RCChat are great Twitter resources and RC Facebook page is also helpful to bring us back to using positive teacher language.

5-The second half of the school is a great time to re-visit hopes and dreams, goals, and expectations with students, colleagues, data teams as well as parents. Be positive when working with students in setting or revisiting goals. Remember that failure is a part of learning - staying "in the failure" should not be an option. I was reminded during the football bowl games that we don't score every time the quarterback touches the ball. We must face set-backs, determine what is needed to move forward and keep trying until we get it done - one down at a time if needed.  As a special education teacher I see success measured by the minute, the hour, the day, the week, the month, etc. Encouraging students to keep trying and to continue to learn beyond their goal is integral in life's journey.

4. Remind and reinforce classroom rules and procedures. It has been a long time in the minds of some students since they were lining up, sharpening a pencil, raising their hands, waiting their re-visit the school rules, classroom rules, logical consequences and procedures to put everyone back on the same level. If you think you don't have the time to do this, remember that every time one of these routines are missed and a classroom management issue arises you are reducing the time of engagement. Taking the time to get it right is always less expensive than taking the time to do it over (and over and over).

3. Extend sharing time for the first few days. If you have a Morning Meeting where a limited number of students share each day, you may wish to extend the time allotted, or create other opportunities to share (at the end of the day during Closing Meeting) or remind the students that lunch and recess are great times to share with their friends about what they did, the gifts they received, and their holiday experiences. Everyone's story is important and each  of us want a time to share about our experiences with our friends (even we teachers like to share exciting things!).

2. Make a list and check it twice. A few days before you go back to your teacher's desk try to remember your passwords, key codes, etc. If you haven't used them in 10-14 days you may have difficulty getting into your computer, the secure areas of the school or even the teacher's lounge. Revisit the class schedule, the class roster, and other items just to bring them into your working memory. It will be easier to transition just in case there are new schedules, additional events or even just making sure things go smoothly when the students return on the first day.

1. Rest. As we get closer to going back to school our brains start to think about things we need to do. Our brains will tell us and remind us what we need to do or what we may have thought about doing - put those on the list - (see #2) but trying not to stress about those items will usually generate more stress pulling us into a vicious cycle. Staying up late and worrying doesn't resolve anything n any positive manner. My wife's normal school schedule is a 4:30 a.m. wake up call and arrival at school by 5:45 a.m. (it's her preference as the principal to get to school early to get her work done so she can be available to her staff throughout the day - 23 years an educator she has her work schedule down to where she can be the most successful.) I'm not as much of a morning person as her, but I realize that a good night's rest and leaving enough time to get to the classroom to handle any unforeseen issues allows me to control the stress and not allow the daily stress to control me. A good night's rest helps us think better, manage better and just "be" better.

My best wished for the rest of the 2014-14 school year and a personal Happy New Year to each and every educator. Education is a second career choice for me, but it is a passion where I cannot wait to get back into the learning "groove."  As I told one parent I met shopping during the holiday, "I can't wait to get back to school." She looked at me and said, "Me either!"

10 Things for parents to consider before children go back to school after Winter break

Going back to school after Winter break can add stress to a child, parent, and the daily routine, especially after the holidays. Family time, relatives, special celebrations are all fun and everyone gets excited, however the anticipation of going back to school offer stressful times if we wait until the night before school starts to get ready.  Here are my top ten actions to consider as a parent before your child goes back to school in January.

10 - Stay informed. Check the school's district, school, and classroom websites, calendar, Facebook or Twitter accounts for any last minute changes to schedules, routines, new initiatives, or other considerations which may begin during the start of the second semester of school. Some teachers will post items two or three days before school resumes to remind parents of any changes in schedule or events the first week back.

9- Prepare notes to send to the teacher. If there have been changes in the student's health or any event which will help the teacher to know about a life-changing or other "life-event" (birth of sibling, death of close relative, etc.) send a note to the teacher. Email can be overwhelming for teachers the first day or two back so a brief note to look at email or to call home would get the attention of the student's teacher right away.

8- Talk about returning to school. Be positive. Remember that unless the child is old enough to understand sarcasm, they will take adult comments about "having to" return to school as truth and feel differently about school. Let them tell you about the fun things they did before school ended. This will help to bring back the fondness and generate positive anticipation in returning to school in January.

7-Update the school on any changes in phone numbers (get a new phone for Christmas?), emergency contact information, address, or any other changes to be sure the second semester contact and inclement weather considerations are in place at the beginning of the January term.

6-Talk to your child about school attire. Remind the fashion conscious the cute outfit from grandma may not work for standard school attire where the rules are more restrictive and consistent which wouldn't allow some of the styles to be worn at school. Also, take the time to discuss and talk about what we see on the outside is should not to be used to judge what is on the inside. A good idea is to talk about and prepare for what your child is going to wear when they go back to school for the first few days and even get them to help you select specific clothes so they are not hiding in the laundry basket on the first morning back.

5- Talk with your child that it may be difficult. The first few days back to school are an adjustment to working on math, language arts, rather than other holiday activities. Also, remember homework may be on the schedule when school starts back in January. Early discussions can ease the surprise element of change and help us as parents and our children to set expectations before we get overwhelmed. Understanding and preparing for change helps to mitigate the challenges which come with change.

4-Our children love to share what happened over the holidays, but some things just shouldn't be shared. Some classes will have time to share about what happened on their winter holiday or about their most exciting gift. As parents, if we take the time to ask questions about the holiday we can get an idea of what our children remember and can give guidance on perhaps not discussing the relative who stumbled or mumbled - even though the family may have seen it as funny at the time, discussed in a school setting may not have the same hilarity.

3-Help your child remember things about school. Ask them to tell you about what they think their first day will be like: "What will be the first thing you do?" "When will you go to lunch?" "Will you have Art, Music or PE?" Ask them to revisit their hopes and dreams or goals they set at the beginning of the school year. Not too much emphasis, but a good discussion or a few probing questions will get the brain working and ready them when they walk in on the first day back. (For help on revisiting hopes and dreams in the new year.)

2-Cut back on the holiday treats. By the time the holidays are over with all of the unique family traditions the cafeteria breakfast and lunch programs are going to leave our taste buds calling out for spices, seasonings, and craving, shall I say it, "sweets." After the New Year's day food traditions, start going back to the same foods and schedules the students were eating during their regular school day. Having meals at regular times or with foods on regular days (My daughter still asks for macaroni & cheese Wednesdays and she has a child or her own now.) it will help each of us get back into our comfort routines.

1-Get to bed early. Video games for gifts, late nights with relatives, are all great to have when you can sleep in or nap the next day. But when the demands for school start back, ease back into getting the proper amount of rest. But don't wait until the night before to change the bedtime for children. For my kids we would start on January 1st to ease back the non-holiday bedtime by fifteen minutes or so earlier each night until we were back to the normal school bedtime. We would also make sure to use the same wake-up method that we used during school days. If you use an alarm start setting it now, not the night before.  (Wondering what to do if you wake up early and school isn't back in session? How about spending the time reading. Select a book to read or visit an online reading site.)

Helping your child to ease back into the school day routine will reduce the family stress, personal stress and provide comfort and routine to the child. If you are like my family, we enjoy the changes the holidays bring, but are so happy when we can get back into the comfort of the familiar. We just seem to relax after everything returns to "normal."


Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Tennessee Association for Assistive Technology (AT) has a great listing of resources for use of assistive technology for student with special needs.  AT websites and devices may help students to participate in classroom settings, communicate with teachers, parents and peers. Not all AT services and devices are created equally, so please investigate their uses and abilities as well as what the purpose should be in adding AT to a students tools by reading this article from Autism Society of Greater Tucson. 


Saturday, August 9, 2014

Beginning of School - New "nick name"

Friday was our first full day of school for 2014-15 school year. All of the students were apprehensive, excited, overly stimulated as well as cautious. There were new teachers, teachers in different classrooms, new schedules, just new stuff all around. Mr. Don's Scholars was no exception to the angst beginning to fill the room. We are a group of special needs students, so any extra anxiety is sometimes difficult for my students. 

As is customary, we have an activity where I use a mirror and we call it "Get To Know Me, Get To Know You". It involves observations about others and yourself, then thinking, talking, writing and finally drawing - each other. 

It was going well - the students would look at each other and write down the color of their buddy's shirt, the color of their eyes, the color of their hair, short or long; pants, skirt, or shorts; then they would write a sentence about their buddy. Next they would look in the mirror and do the same exercise about themselves. Finally we would compare and contrast our findings.

As the time progressed, I was helping one of my students with autism who has difficulty making eye contact. So we were practicing. She would look at my hair (short); she would look at my shirt (red); she would say "pants" - when I asked about the color of my eyes she looked directly into them. I was so pleased that she held the gaze as long as she did so I must have put a big smile on my face. Slowly her hand moved toward my face and she lightly touched my cheek, then proceeded to shout in a loud, cackling voice, "Chubby cheeks! Chubby Cheeks!" -- to which I laughed out loud, which in turn made her laugh and then say it even louder and more frequently.  Then all of the students were repeating the phrase and we were all laughing and enjoying the moment of bonding as a class. 

After returning from lunch, she looked at me directly again, then said very softly, "Chubby Cheeks." To which I replied in the same soft tone, "Yes. Chubby Cheeks with blue eyes." She pressed in a little closer and said ever so gently - "Ooo, bal-lu-u eyes. I have bar-row-n eyes." I nodded, we knuckled bumped and proceeded to write the word "blue" in the space for her buddy's eye color. 

"Chubby Cheeks" is ready for the year. It is going the be the best year ever!!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Organization is Key!

Each year I find myself struggling organize my students' schedules and to make reminders of who will be transitioning when. With eight full time students of different grade levels and four additional push-in students need differentiation, knowing who will be coming and going and where has been difficult to remember - especially when we are so engaged that we loose track of time and suddenly it's time to go to music and we still need everyone to go to the bathroom before we escort them to an outside classroom...Not this year!

This year I created a Google Account with calendar reminders to send text message reminders to me and my assistant. We then changed our notifications to be a different sound when those messages arrive.

With 5 minute warnings of what schedule is coming due, we can be more organized. We can also change the warning time to send the reminder as we move through this first few weeks so that we will have our students in the right place at the right time.

With the unlimited text packages for our mobile phones this seems to be a great way for us to use a reminder. Each week or each day we can delete those messages from our phones since they are coming from one specific account and not the other reminder messages I get from "Remind 101" or "Remember the Milk" (my wife sends me messages on RTM all the time!).

The additional benefit? Now I can set up the classroom calendar to be shared with parents, attached documents to share with parents, and even create a simple website (even with the student's helping me) to display work product, important images and other non-student specific items.

If organization is the key to my sanity, then I'm unlocked and ready for the 2014-15 school year!!