Sunday, November 5, 2017

Teaching Gratefulness in Special Ed

Fall! Everyone's favorite season, right?! I love fall for millions of reasons, including sweater weather, chai lattes, TV shows coming out, the World Series, and gorgeous trees - but I also LOVE teaching gratefulness to my class.

There is SO much research that shows us how crucial gratitude is in creating and maintaining happiness and joy in our everyday lives (here's one from Psych Today and one from Harvard Health). We know this. And while gratitude is something we should be practicing regularly to keep us grounded, humble, and - well - HAPPY, November really is the perfect month to teach this to our kiddos.

By November, back to school craziness is (hopefully) starting to settle, and you can begin some new routines, like adding gratefulness practice into your daily routine. And, of course, it nicely ties in with Thanksgiving!

So here's a round-up of some simple, easy to differentiate and easy implement ideas on how to begin incorporating this into your daily routine this month! (The Amazon links are affiliate links!)


A lesser known Dr. Seuss book about gratitude, such a great read, and familiar for our students!

Focuses on being thankful for relationships with your parents.

This is one of my all time favorite books! Gives gratitude a very applicable face for kids.

TPT Freebies

12 Days of Gratitude - an awesome resource to get started on gratitude and get your class excited for the holiday season.

I love this freebie because it also focuses on needs vs. wants, which is an important piece when introducing what we're grateful for!

A more comprehensive freebie with more writing opportunities for older or more academic-based students.

YouTube Videos

Because who doesn't love Kid President?

A read aloud of "The Gratitude Jar". 

Kind of a goofy cartoon, but has a great message and older characters to appeal to upper elementary students and above!


I love this idea from Teach Beside Me because there's so many ways you could modify or differentiate it for your specific class! 

SO CUTE! Getting kids outside and exploring all the things that we can and should be thankful for really opens up the minds of our kids. And who doesn't love a Scavenger Hunt?! (by This Little Home of Mine)

Imagine what amazing skills our students could develop if we took the time to teach them the value of gratitude at young ages?! What are you planning on doing to teach this mindset this season?


Thursday, October 19, 2017

Easy Behavior Strategies

Hi! BEHAVIOR. Coming off of a very rough week, I am relying on these strategies more than ever!

Sometimes behavior plans can be super complex, and it can be so tedious to implement them with fidelity! Here are a few ideas that are pretty quick and simple, and can still deliver positive results with your students!

Teacher vs. Students

(Please ignore the filthy whiteboard!) SIMPLE AND EFFECTIVE! Come up with ONE behavior you're targeting and phrase it positively (ex: "only use nice words" NOT "no cursing"). Make it clear, not something like "be safe". Determine a time frame (ex: reading workshop, free time, 1 hour), determine the incentive (ex: one starburst, YouTube break, extra free time). GO! During this time, add tallies to the chart for students every time they exhibit the positive behavior, add tallies to the teacher side every time they exhibit the opposite, the negative behavior. At the end of the allotted time frame, determine who wins!

Picture Rings

My students are obsessed with these! Print out a variety of pictures of preferred items (basketball players, movie characters, sports teams, etc.) and laminate them. Pass out a picture when students show positive behavior during a time they typically struggle (for me, it's transition times!). If my students are safe, respectful, and showing effort during transitions, they can earn a picture for their ring.

Sometimes its nice to have different behavioral strategies for different times throughout the day. This helps lessen satiation, keeps students engaged, and helps with motivation.

What easy behavior strategies do you use daily in your classroom?


Sunday, October 8, 2017

Understanding Attachment

Okay... so what's "attachment"? Well, it's how you attach to, or connect with relationally, other people. It all begins with your caregivers, who are generally from the start, your parents. Research says that your attachment style is solidified by the time you are 2-3 years old, and that this style stays with you for the remainder of your life. Can it change? Absolutely - but it's not easy. Changing an unhealthy attachment style can take years of very hard work. 

What's healthy attachment? What it comes down to, is that a person you love (let's say, your mother) can disappoint you or hurt you, but you can still love them dearly despite your negative feelings towards them. The healthy attachment is there. It means seeking out the individual you have healthy attachment towards when you need something (ex: searching for your dad at the park after you fall down and hurt yourself rather than running to a stranger for comfort). 

Okay... so what's unhealthy attachment? Why does it matter that I know this as a teacher? Unhealthy attachment styles can show up in a variety of ways. Depending on what source you read (I have learned about attachment styles and disorders from Bowlby and Ainsworth, who coined the term "attachment theory"), there are 3 types of unhealthy attachment. This matters to you as an educator because you're likely trying to build relationships with your students. If you have a child who has struggled greatly in her ability to form healthy bonds with her parents, she's likely going to struggle in creating a relationship with you and the rest of her educational team. It's just behavior science. There's not magical intervention to fix this (yet!), but knowing about the dynamics of attachment and what she may be facing can be helpful in how you go about forming a trusting relationship with her. 

On to unhealthy attachment styles - in a nutshell:

Anxious Attachment - As the title states, this is a pretty anxious kiddo. They are continually showing inward and outward signs of anxiety in relation to their caregiver. Where are they? Can I call them? This child might be really suspicious of their caregiver, but then also super clingy towards them. Overall, their caregiver is unpredictable or inconsistent. Sometimes they are able to support, attend to, and deeply parent their child, while other times they cannot. 

Avoidance Attachment - This child learned early in life that they should ignore the innate urge to rely on their caregiver in times of need, because their needs are so often not met (or made worse) by their caregiver. This is a child who is consistently overly independent and trying to fix problems by themselves, acting like a little adult. This child in class is always taking problems into their own hands and never asking you for help. 

Disorganized Attachment - This child falls into neither category: they're not clingy to their caregiver due to anxiety and they're not trying to take matters into their own hands. They have no strategy when it comes to attaching and forming relationships. Typically, our students who fall into this category have experienced complex trauma. These students are mostly operating in fight or flight mode, as they're so unsure of what each moment could actually bring - because of their past experiences. Perhaps they have experienced their caregiver neglecting and/or abusing them, and then in turn watched someone neglect and/or abuse their caregiver. They have no way of making sense that their scary person could have their own scary person. Who can they trust? How can they make sense of safety in their world? 

Now I understand this is outrageously hard to read. Whether you're familiar with these terms or not, it's heartbreaking to read. How can we best help and serve these students?!

Well, first its good to remember that this is not easy. And it won't be. 

But what CAN you do? Be consistent. Be safe. Be predictable. Every day, my teacher greets me with a smile and a handshake, even if I hit her yesterday. There is always a bean bag in the corner I can sit in if I feel overwhelmed. My teacher always listens to what I have to say. Every time _____ happens, this is the consequence. 

Attachment is tricky. But you CAN be a safe landing for kids who once lived in chaos (think children in foster care, children living in group homes/residential treatment facilities, children who have been adopted or lived in large orphanages for a portion of their childhood) or children who are currently living in challenging homes. And their parents aren't necessarily terrible people. Many of them had childhoods that mirror the ones that your students are living. Be aware and be watchful, but also be gentle. Do a lot of listening and checking in. Offer resources. &, don't do it alone! Keep a team around this child and family - social worker, school psychologist, behavior team members. 

And, take care of yourself! Working with kids in trauma can be traumatic for those around them. This article about vicarious trauma is super eye opening. You got this - just make sure there's lots of self care happening to keep the ship afloat. 



Sunday, September 17, 2017

Using Ice Cubes to Help the De-Escalation Process

I don't know about you, but some days it feels like big emotions rule my classroom. My students struggle greatly with emotional regulation, and one seemingly small scenario can create a day of mayhem in a moment's notice. 

While some students can regulate quickly, other students can take hours to get back to their baseline. Researching and studying Cognitive Behavioral Therapy has been such a wealth of knowledge for me as a teacher of students with significant emotional disabilities. Their strategies range in complexity, and I have found that some of their smaller, more simple exercises are not only easy to implement but incredibly effective.

Three strategies I use on the daily in my classroom include one material only: ice cubes! Find a way to get access to ice cubes because these strategies WORK.

1.) Chewing ice
Simple as that. I give my students full ice cubes, 2-3, in a cup. I have them sit in the calm corner and just chew on ice. This releases some anger (the crunching), plus the cold sensation allows their mind to focus on that feeling rather than perseverating on the emotion that caused them to escalate.

2.) Ice cube in your hand
Again, simple. I place one ice cube in the child's hand and tell them to hold it as long as they can tolerate it. I have some students that do NOT like this exercise, while others understand it and are more willing to participate. This exercise promotes mindfulness, as it pulls the child into the present moment as they focus (intentionally or unintentionally, your mind just does this!) on the very cold sensation and the melting process. 

3.) Ice cube in between your eyes
Equally simple but a little more "strange" compared to the other two. I really only use this strategy if a child is in crisis (we're talking extreme behaviors) and is willing to let me do it. I just take an ice cube and place it in between their eyes. Brain chemistry, body reactions, temperature response... all of those change during this very simple process. I have seen kids calm HUGELY in SECONDS after this strategy! Seriously amazing. But... really make sure your student is okay with this before attempting!

A few extra ideas? Baby wipes that are kept in the fridge for a child to wipe their face off & an ice pack wrapped in paper towel on the back of their neck. 

What do you think? Are you headed to buy ice trays now?! I hope so :)

Did you try some of these? Let me know in the comments how they worked for your students!


Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Yoga, Movement, & Go Noodle in the Classroom

All kids need movement, our kids CRAVE movement. Allowing movement breaks is a proven proactive behavior management tool - get AHEAD of your kids and structure movement into your day!

Some of my favorite ways to incorporate movement are through yoga and GoNoodle. I interchange both throughout my day. Why? GoNoodle is a really fun, interactive way to give students a movement outlet. The buy-in is built in, I allow for choice (each child gets to choose one GoNoodle per day), and it gives both a brain break and a movement opportunity. Yoga on the other hand - also a brain and movement break, but it explicitly teaches mindfulness as well. I reiterate to my students daily that yoga and breathing exercises can go with them everywhere they go! 

How Do I Get Started with Yoga?
I love to start each school year off with a book that explains yoga to kids in a friendly manner. This year I used the book I am Yoga by Susan Verde. It's kid friendly and opens up doors for questions and conversation. 

I have also completed the 15 Day Yoga Challenge with my class, run by The Teachers Passport. She provides a yoga pose of the day with a matching affirmation, as well as really helpful visuals. This is a great intro to poses and mantras! Starting small with one pose per day is a great way for your students to build understanding in confidence in what yoga is. 

We have a 10 minute block in our schedule each afternoon to practice yoga poses and breathing from our Calm Classroom book. I schedule this after our lunch and recess block because its a time my students often need extra support in regulating. We use lights off and "calm spray" (AKA water and essential oil in a spray bottle!) to set the mood of relaxation. With repeated practice, it works!

What About GoNoodle?

GoNoodle really is THE BEST. I just love this (free) resource. When you first sign up, all the channels and videos can be overwhelming. For our class, we created a routine and stuck to it. It has been instrumental in helping us organize brain/movement breaks and tame transition time. 

When creating my schedule, I ensured that we did a GoNoodle before and a GoNoodle after each transition. Sound like overkill? Maybe. Does it work? YES! If my students are headed to PE at 9:45, and 9:40 we do a GoNoodle and when it ends, the class knows to line up at the door to head out. When the class returns from PE, they know they go right to their seats and wait for a GoNoodle. These times in our schedule can be NUTS (transitions = epic chaos), and this routine has really motivated and helped my students manage these times. 

At the beginning of each school year, I review the channels with the students. The first week, I pick each GoNoodle and vary the channels, energy types, duration, etc. This reminds students of all the options GoNoodle has to offer. After that week, I create a popsicle stick with each students name on it and put it into a cup. When it's time for a GoNoodle, I choose a student and they get to pick the activity we do! I make sure there is an opportunity for each child to pick an activity every day. This also increases buy in, as my students love the element of choice!

This could also be tied to a behavior system, homework system, morning work turn in - whatever! There are endless opportunities to create meaningful routines in your classroom.

My last tip? Create a system for physical space and boundaries on your classroom floor. GoNoodle and yoga activities require space - and often our students aren't the most savvy at identifying personal boundaries! Personally, I use SitSpots in my classroom. 

Each student has their own SitSpot that gives them a visual for space. This has greatly helped decrease my students moonwalking/dabbing/mountain posing into their peers and causing chaos!

Time to get your kids moving!


Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Behavior Intervention Plans for EBD Classrooms

Behavior Intervention Plans (BIPs) are both incredibly helpful and totally daunting! Here are a few of my favorite strategies in creating plans that are doable and effective.

Collaborative Problem Solving
If you've followed me on social media for any amount of time, this might sound like a broken record. BUT - I seriously love (LOVE) the Collaborative Problem Solving (CPS) method (Dr. Greene has recently renamed his method Collaborative and Proactive Solutions). It was created by one of my favorite behaviorists (nerd status, I know), Dr. Ross Greene. You can read more about it here (and please do), or watch a really impacting TEDx talk about it here. The heart of CPS is this: Kids Do Well If They Can. Dr. Greene's method shows us that challenging behavior stems from lagging skills rather than children misbehaving because they choose to. A huge part of the approach is the "Plan B", which requires teachers and students to collaborate together when coming up with an alternative to their challenging behaviors. While some of our students require and excessive amount of prompting and assistance through this process, it can be so powerful for students to take ownership and partnership in creating an intervention plan for themselves. I have found that often times, our students really surprise us with their insight. 

Forced Choice Reinforcement Surveys
Reinforcement surveys are VERY useful tools in finding out what activities, types of attention, and items are actually reinforcing for our students. We often see these surveys used for children with intellectual disabilities and autism. This is my favorite survey to use for children who are older and/or have emotional disabilities. 

This survey ends up ranking which order these reinforcers fall for each student: adult approval, competitive approval, peer approval, independent rewards, or consumable rewards. This information can be hugely important in deciding what student privileges, rewards, and breaks can contain to help shape their behavior positively. You can find my favorite reinforcement survey (that I showed above!) here

Get a Team Behind You
Sometimes, us special educators can really feel on an island. We are trying to do EVERYTHING, from data collection to IEP writing to curriculum adapting to inclusion facilitating. When it comes to challenging behavior, you REALLY need another set of eyes. There are so many factors that can come into play when a child exhibits challenging behaviors that you will never be able to see by yourself. Having a second hand (think counselor, social worker, OT, SLP, behavior interventionist... someone!) to take data during times you can't (like when you're facilitating a lesson!) will be incredible useful. You may not even realize that YOU could be a trigger for some of the behaviors (...I say this because it's happened in my classroom!). Don't be afraid to ask for a second hand. 

What are the ways that you support your students with challenging behavior?


Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Special Education Teachers - We Aren't Saints!

If you're a special education teacher, I bet you'd be a millionaire if you were paid for every time someone called you a saint, or a hero, or a thousand other well-meaning compliments.

Let me set the scene: You're at a wedding. You start mingling with a few people during cocktail hour, and eventually someone asks, "What do you do for a living?" You start out simple. "I'm a teacher." Of course they get a big smile and say, "Oh that's so nice. What grade?" Then it gets complicated. "Well, I teach special education so I have kindergartners through 3rd graders." Then the obsessive compliments come into play. "Oh my, special education, that's AMAZING. You must be so, so patient. So what types of children are they?" Here we go. "Well, I teach at a residential treatment center for children who are wards of the state and have behavior disorders." I hate and love this part. A mix of "WHAT??! WHY??!!" and "That is GOD'S WORK. YOU ARE A HERO. HERE IS MY WALLET." (Not really, but that is something I could get behind.)

I know this doesn't sound bad. Someone is praising you for your hard work. But I know I don't just speak for myself when I say that somehow these compliments, although well meaning, don't sit well. There are a million reasons us sped teachers feel funny about these praises, and if you are a special educator yourself, you already know what I mean. If you're not, I could see how this might be strange. 

The thing about being a special education teacher is that as challenging and utterly exhausting as it can be, it is beyond fulfilling. I know that I don't get paid "what I should", but I don't even care anymore (IF BETSY DEVOS IS READING THIS, I WILL STILL TAKE A LARGE RAISE. THANKS.). Our students successes, the really big ones and the super tiny meaningful ones, are what keep us coming every day. Their resiliency and perseverance is like a really incredible motivational speech multiple times per day. They are hysterical, sometimes even on purpose. 

So how do you kindly respond to these well meaning people at cocktail hour? I asked a few of my special education teacher friends what their "go-to" responses are.

1.) "I'm just lucky to work with my littles. They are the best people I know, and I'm the blessed one to get the opportunity to work with them." -- Nancy, The Puzzle Classroom 

2.) "It's definitely not a job for everyone, and sitting in a cubicle is not for me. I love that every day is so different, and not only do I get the chance to make a difference in my student's lives, but their families, too!" -- Fiona, Adulting Made Easy

3.) "When you have the calling to do something "out of the box" for your job, you know you're supposed to do it. For me, it was teaching tough kids. It's the only career that feels right." -- Sophie

4.) "I truly love what I do and care for my kids. This job isn't for everyone, but I love making a connection with them! They let me into their world and that's where all the learning happens! They see the world so differently and they are extremely smart in so many different ways. We teach each other in more ways than you can imagine and I enjoy having this privilege!" -- Michelle, Miss Hey Miss

5.) "I love celebrating the small milestones and that helping students expand their communication skills is very inspiring." -- Rose, ABA Speech

6.) "My career choice is truly one of the most selfish choices I've ever made. Kids with special needs loved me and knew the type of person I was before I did. My students have taught me just as much as I have ever taught them. I will never forget some of the moments that students have shown me my own character, determination, and empathy. Teaching kids with special needs is not for everyone but that doesn't make me better in any way just because it is for me." -- Kelsey, Tools for Busy Hands

7.) "My job is more about the positives than the challenges." -- Jenn

8.) "This is just part of why I was put on this planet- to do this job! It is my passion and I wouldn't change it." -- Olivia, Spectacular in Special Ed

9.) "Thank you."-- Lisa

10.) "I learn more and get more out of my students every day than they do from me. I'm very lucky to be apart of something that is so special and life giving to me. That's why I feel really lucky, because I know not everyone has that with their career." -- Yours Truly

What do you think? What are your "go-to" responses?