Friday, October 12, 2018

10 Behavior Books for Teachers


There are SO many professional development focused books out there that it can be so difficult to know which ones are worth it to find at the library or buy on Amazon. Never fear! Here are the 10 behavior focused books that I would recommend to ANY teacher looking to better understand effective strategies to support student behavior. 



10.) More Creative Coping Skills for Children by Jessica Kingsley Publishers
This book has stories, craft ideas, meditations, games, and more all focused on developing healthy coping skills. It's categorized into each area (ex: anxiety, anger, depression) so it's incredibly user friendly and very easy to apply!


9.) Conscious Discipline by Dr. Becky Bailey
I love everything CD does, especially for elementary aged students! There is so much in the CD framework which you can really dig into on their website, but I love this book for learning. Bailey includes the "why" behind each component of the CD model and how to implement these concepts into your classroom. 



8.) Teaching Children to Care by Ruth Sidney Charney
This book is such a gift - there's no focus on discipline, but how to ethically set up proactive classroom routines and procedures so that students focus on the results of actions and process them effectively for real behavioral change. 


7.) Positive Discipline in the Classroom by Jane Nelson and Lynn Lott
I love the immediacy of this book - strategies and ideas that you can read and immediately implement! Makes it such a tangibly useful book that focuses on positives rather than punitive strategies that we all know don't actually work.


6.) Lost at School by Dr. Ross Greene
If you have followed me for any length of time, you know my deep love of this book and author! The concepts in this book completely shaped my classroom and allowed me to move away from punitive means of punishment and focus on problem solving and teaching missing skills. The best part of the book is the back - tangible check lists and question banks to help you get started in really getting to the root of challenging behavior. 


5.) Solving Thorny Behavior Problems by Caltha Crowe
This book breaks down common frustrating behavioral issues by using 5 named strategies. I love how this book focuses on collaborating with the student or group of students to solve the problems! I found this to be especially helpful for problems that affect the whole class. 


4.) Better than Carrots or Sticks by Dominique Smith, Douglas Fisher, and Nancy Frey
Restorative Practices is such a buzz word these days, but it's for good reason. This is one of the best books I have found to effectively explain these practices AND offer practical and applicable ways to introduce them into your school foundation. It's a super easy and quick read and would be an awesome whole school read. 

3.) Pushout by Monique Morris
This book completely changed my teaching. This book explores girls in juvenile detention centers - the stories of the girls, how they ended up incarcerated, and how school systems have perpetuated this cycle through the misunderstanding of black girls. Truly a book you MUST read and one you'll never, ever forget about. 


2.) Responsive School Discipline by Chip Wood
This is a great book for school leaders - it goes through simple school wide systems (really simple and ones that appear to often be over managed and over thought) that could proactively stop so many chronic behavior problems. I also love that part of the book focused on parent/family involvement, and ultimately buy-in, in the process of developing these systems.

1.) Fostering Resilient Learners by Kristin Souers
This book focuses on very tangible ways to create trauma-sensitive environments that help educators better understand the impacts of childhood trauma on student success, as well as create school environments that support students who have experienced trauma. The book is totally rooted in research and each chapter includes exercises and reflections so you can be really active while reading. The content is applicable for literally any age group. This is one of the best books I read to prepare me for teaching in a residential treatment facility.

What books would you add?

Love,
Allie

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Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Classroom Pets


For 5 years of teaching, I had the joy of having a rabbit in my classroom! I purchased Leonard the Rabbit for the soul purpose of being a classroom pet, and through the generosity of others, was able to upkeep all of his needs throughout the years. Why classroom pets you ask?

Having Leonard was such a gift to my special education classroom! Not only were my students motivated by spending time with Leonard, they were able to learn tangible skills and practice empathy through his presence on a daily basis. How?

Every week, a student was assigned the Leonard Helper which gave them some core duties: refresh his water bottle each morning, refresh his hay, give him a scoop of pellets, bring fruits and veggies back from the cafeteria for his afternoon snack, and clean his litter box 2x/week. This was easily the most complex and needed job in our classroom, so it was such a coveted job to get! No matter the prompting needs or levels of independence of the student, every child in my class would rotate into this job throughout our job rotations, unless they personally opted out. 

In our classroom, loud volume and unsafe environmental factors were frequently occurring, which often makes people wonder how I kept Leonard safe for so many years. I strategically placed Leonard's cage on a table in the back corner of the classroom. This made him out of the way, which was essential for behavior concerns as well as the fact that he can be distracting when eating or thumping around in his cage :) This location made it highly unlikely that it he would be unsafe. Additionally, if there was a classroom wide behavior that was affecting us, I would put Leonard in his travel carrier and move him to the principals office. We had an understanding that this would be the best for Leonard, and allow students to see how some behaviors affect even our classroom pet. This was previously addressed with my class, noting that he would not be able to stay in the classroom if it was unsafe or too loud for him, but that we'll try again tomorrow and he can return to the classroom then. 

On days when students were safe (no classroom wide unsafe situations), Leonard would be let out of his cage at the end of the day and would hop around on the rug. This was a HUGE motivator for the kids and easily their favorite part of most days.

I funded most of Leonard's supplies (litter, food, hay, toys, cage, water bottle, litter box, etc.) from the grant Pets in the Classroom and through projects from Donors Choose. Leonard stayed in the classroom every night and over the weekends by himself, which was never an issue. On longer weekends or breaks, I would pop in and check on him if I was in town, Leonard would either come home with me, or lovely colleagues or volunteers would care for Leonard. It takes a village!

Why a rabbit? I wanted my students to really experience responsibility and caring for someone/something tangibly, so I looked for a pet that would allow for this, as well as a therapeutic experience. Many of my students would pet Leonard while anxious, read to him, and use him to ease their big emotions. I don't believe this would be the same experience with every pet. If you're not ready for a rabbit or can't have one because of fur, don't fret! Fish, frogs, iguanas, lizards, guinea pigs, (and so much more) are REALLY fun to have in the classroom and can be awesome experiences for kids, too!

Do you have a classroom pet? Comment below and tell us about it!

Love, 
Allie

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Behavior Quotes to Live By




Working in the land of emotional behavior disorders is magical, frustrating, overwhelming, important, exhausting, tedious, and so worth it. This blog post is dedicated to 5 quotes that are hugely important in the field and will hopefully help you stay in the right mindset about our kids and what they need from us to be successful.

If you've been following me on any outlet of social media for any length of time, you not only know that I love the philosophies of Dr. Greene, but that this is my ultimate framework for working alongside our students exhibiting challenging behaviors. Kids do well IF THEY CAN, not kids do well if they want to. We must find out what our students lagging skills are, and teach our students the missing pieces to their puzzle.

And you also probably know how much I respect Dr. Perry! I love this quote because it reminds us that no matter what points kids earn, what level system you employ, or how many behavioral tickets you pass out - it's the relationships you form with students that change them and help build the foundation for behavior change.

I find this quote so crucial because it reminds us of the importance of our students seeing us as real people (and knowing our likes, pet peeves, hobbies, family life, what we think is funny, our pets, etc!), and us knowing our students for who they are, that helps us form important bonds that create the need for positive behavior, not the need for compliance! Grab the amazing book where this quote is from here.

Would it be a set of quotes from me without at least TWO from Dr. Greene? Let's be honest ;) This quote speaks to me so much because behavior science is all about the function and the missing skills. Why are they jumping off the desk? It's not because they want to annoy us, though it may feel that way! Have you read Dr. Greene's book Lost at School yet? Check it out here.

The last quote I want to share is from my favorite blogger and podcaster, Angela Watson. In our worlds and our everyday lives in the classroom, hard moments are going to happen. Kids are going to have very challenging moments. They will say unloving and disrespectful things to us. We will occasionally respond in really ugly ways to our students - because we are human. We will watch other adults reinforce our students behaviors and/or treat them in ways that are utterly disgusting. We will have really hard times. BUT - we need to exhibit that 'rational detachment' that is often so hard to do, so we can move on. We CAN let moments go. We can! Instead of focusing on the hard incidents, we can proactively work towards them not happening again to that same magnitude, then change our focus to the positive things that occurred during the day, and we can start fresh tomorrow. Our students and ourselves deserve a fresh, new day each morning.

Love,
Allie


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Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Building Self-Esteem in Students




In all of our special education classrooms we have some students that greatly struggle with exhibiting challenging behaviors. Over the years I realized that one of the symptoms, and sometimes even the cause of, challenging behavior can be low self-esteem. Always getting consequences for exhibiting behaviors they have a hard time controlling definitely takes its toll on a kiddo!
Self-esteem building can come in many forms, and I have found 3 easy to implement ways to help boost your kiddos self-esteem every day.

1.) Daily Affirmations

Every morning, I invited my students to use our affirmation cards to find one that they needed for the day as a healthy reminder. At first, they needed a lot of prompting to find one that they really needed. Between our morning check-ins and reflecting back on yesterday’s challenging moments, a paraprofessional or I were usually able to problem solve with the student to find an affirmation that fit, and eventually the students can choose one independently. We color a picture of our affirmations for a 5 minutes, and then during our morning meeting, we announce our daily affirmation during check-in.

2.) Modeling

Modeling positive self-talk is a huge way to help students understand what it is, that it’s not just something silly, and when to use it. Frequently, when I would make a mistake (either on purpose to model this or an honest mistake), I would model positive self talk. For example, if I forgot to submit attendance and the secretary had to remind me, I would admit that I forgot and say out loud, “I’m going to forgive myself for forgetting to do that. I’m going to set an alarm so I don’t forget again tomorrow. I know I’m still a smart person and that everyone makes mistakes.” I also would model this behavior during instances that I watched students frequently get down on themselves over. Another example of this is when we would play basketball during recess, I would inevitably miss a shot (or 12 – haha!), and model saying, “That’s okay, I’m still a good athlete. I just need to keep practicing. I’m also really fast, so once I get better at dribbling, I’m going to be hard to catch!”

3. ) Real time responses

When students have exhibited a challenging behavior or are having a difficult moment, I ensure that after every restorative/debrief conversation, I infuse some elements of positive self talk. I always ask students what emotion they’re feeling, and how they feel about themselves. We find a positive affirmation that can help them feel a little better about themselves, and if they aren’t willing to say the affirmation in that moment, I say it to them. I also remind them of their morning affirmation and how they is still true about them, no matter the situation.


Self-esteem building is not an easy task with students, as we all know the adolescent years are impossibly hard even without the layers of having learning and emotional challenges. Intentionally adding self-esteem activities into daily routines really helped my students internalize these mantras. How do you help your students build confidence and self-love?

Love,
Allie


Monday, August 13, 2018

Creating a Calm Down Corner



Teaching in a therapeutic day school for children with a primary disability of EBD, a calm corner was an essential part of my classroom - BUT - I would dare to say that its an essential part of any classroom (general education self contained, PE class, every single classroom!). Why? Creating a space that is dedicated for children to sort out big, often uncomfortable emotions is essential in building their social emotional knowledge and their self determination skills. 

What is a calm corner for?
A calm corner is a self-referred calm down area in the classroom where students can relax and sort out big emotions (anger, jealousy, frustration, sadness...). The calm corner has calming tools in it, like a bean bag chair, a few stuffed animals, hand fidgets, visuals for breathing exercises, calm down jars,  books, or any other items that would assist your student population in calming down. This has always been a self-referred spot in my classroom because I like that it allows student feelings to be validated. Occasionally I will prompt a student with, "Have you tried using the calm corner?", but this isn't an area that I would send children to.

What if a child is having an emotional moment that's intruding instruction? Can I send them?
It is completely up to teacher discretion if you would want to use the calm corner in this way, but I found that to be really confusing, and using the calm corner for two separate purposes. If a child is intruding instruction, I used the "time out" strategy from Responsive Classroom - but we called it a "break and reset". Time-out often has really negative connotations for kids, and I found it was better to rename it so they would have greater buy-in with the difference between a "break and reset" and a "time-out". I also made sure that our "break and reset" area was in a different space than the calm corner to avoid students conflating the two spaces. 

Don't your students destroy the calm corner?
Actually, no! On occasion, I had students rip items off of the wall or throw fidgets. The simple response is to have them put everything back the way they found it, and have a conversation with them about why that's not acceptable. I have found that if students are taught the importance of the calm corner and why we treat it respectfully, they are much less likely to destroy it.

Do students waste time in the calm corner or use it when it's not necessary?
At the beginning, yes. We do go over what the consequences are of wasting time in the calm corner: someone might really need it when you're using it unnecessarily, you're going to have to make up your missed work. Any time someone is in the calm corner, they aren't able to fully participate in the lesson going on around them because they do not have all of their materials. With each situation being different, I personally never had a blanket policy of how students were to make up missed work while they were sorting out their emotions in the calm corner, but in one way or another, all work is made up. It was fairly rare that I had a student abuse the calm corner, but when it did happen, I found their natural consequences taught the student themselves about why that's an unwise choice. 

How can I encourage general education/fine arts/PE teachers to create a calm corner in their rooms?
Getting teacher buy-in isn't always easy, but I do believe that showing them the benefits can be encouraging, plus helping them in gathering the materials they need to make one successful. It can be as simple as a bathroom rug and a pillow with a bookcase to help make it more of a "corner". Showing them how this can really help make their classes run smoother and make students feel safer can make a pretty encouraging case!

Do you have a classroom calm corner?

Love,
Allie

Friday, August 10, 2018

3 Tips Before The First Day




Back to school season has arrived! Are you ready to meet your kiddos and for your name to be called/shirt to be tugged 8 million times per day? Back to school might be chaotic, but it's also so magical. Here's 3 tips to prepare yourself, your students, and their families for Day 1!

1.) Mail a Letter

Once you have your class list, mail your students a letter! Everyone on Earth loves to get snail mail, especially a child. Addressing a handwritten note (or postcard!) to their name is such a great, simple way to begin relationship building (or reconnect if you have students for multiple years!). I always add a photo of myself either using a photo postcard, or just slipping a selfie into the envelope. For our students who struggle with transition or who need repeated practice to remember names and faces, this can ease anxiety and build familiarity before day 1.

2.) Call Home

One routine I started my second year of teaching was calling my students families before school started to introduce myself. This gives you a chance to do 3 things: 1- ensure that your first interaction with families over the phone is a positive one (that may not always be the case in the future, and maybe was never the case in the past). 2 - Allows you to ask questions like how to pronounce the student's first or last name, or if there are any cultural considerations you need to be aware of before the first day. 3 - Allows families to ask YOU questions. Often families don't have that platform until much later in the year!

3.) Don't Stress Over Decor

Because we live in the time of Pinterest, feeling the stress of decor is so real! When you don't know your students yet, its fine - and best practice - to wait to decorate the classroom! Add some nice touches like a rug, plants, and necessary visuals, but hold off on the posters, etc. until you know your class. As we know, so many of our students become easily over stimulated and distracted by unnecessary visual clutter. Your beginning of the year activities you create together can be some of the decorations you add in the room - takes the stress off of the decorating process, and makes the classroom more of a community! Win-win.

What are your back to school tips?

Love,
Allie

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Morning Meeting in Special Education

Morning meeting has evolved over the years in my classrooms, but I have always found it to be the most important part of our day!

Morning meeting is NOT the same as morning circle, where you might check the weather and do a calendar based routine. Morning meeting focuses on centering the day and community building! There are many routines that teachers use for morning meeting based on specific formats, and all of them I'm sure have a very specific place and work for many teacher styles and classroom populations. Across my 9 years in the classroom, I have found a recipe of 5 steps that works for me
1.) Classroom Song
2.) Check-in
3.) Morning Message
4.) Greeting
5.) Share
6.) Read Aloud

1.) Classroom Song
At the beginning of the school year, I create a menu of songs for the class to vote on to determine what our classroom song will be. Some of our choices were Fight Song by Rachel Platten, The Power of Yet by Janelle Monet, Lean on Me by Bill Withers, Count on Me by Bruno Mars, and What I Am by Will.I.Am. Once the song was chosen, we listened to the song (and often watched the music video on the Smart Board) every morning. Music helps create a sense of community - all of the students know the same song, plus creates a special ritual that students can rely on everyday.

2.) Check-In
Next is checking in. Over the years I have had students check-in with feelings verbally, using pictures, using communication devices, or check in with their "zone" using the Zones of Regulation program. Regardless of communication style, I always gave students a menu of facial expressions that depict common emotions to help them determine how they're feeling. Many students like to talk a LOT about what they did that morning, how their night went, or why they're feeling a certain way. Your time constraints and classroom size will determine how much you want to do this, but you can also encourage students to write you a note about their feelings if you don't have the time for each child to have an extensive check in. This ritual helps your students understand that feelings are important, that you care, and builds empathy among the class. It's also a great way for you to have an idea of where each student is coming from each morning.

3.) Morning Message
This is a common practice in many classrooms, and I love it! There's many ways to run your morning message. Over the years I have had students copy our morning message into a notebook, use the information to fill in a daily page, or just simply listen to a classmate or me read it aloud. The morning message gives students some information about the day (like what's for lunch/snack, if they have a specials class that day, etc) and notifies of any changes. I have found that this routine really eases students with anxiety about the day. 

4.) Greeting
Greetings can be so fun, and help all students get comfortable speaking to each other. There are so many ways to facilitate greeting - from something simple ("Fist bump 3 people"), to something more complicated ("Look to the classmate on your right, say hello, and say an adjective that describes them that begins with the first letter of their name."). During this time, I have found it really important to stay away from gender-based greeting ideas (ex: "Find a girl in the classroom and give her a high five", "Say hello using manners by calling one another Mr and Miss"), as it may be exclusionary to students who are unsure of which pronouns and gender names they identify with. This can also be a great time to teach students how to say "Hello" or an informal greeting in a different language. I have had students that knew greetings in languages other than English that they want to share with the class!

5.) Share
This is always my favorite part of morning meeting! Share is when a question is posed and students get a chance to answer it. Depending on the size of your class, you can have students turn and talk to a classmate, or share their response out loud with the class. Questions can be things like, "What is your favorite pizza topping?", "What is one thing you would change if you were the President?", "What is your least favorite breakfast food?" On Mondays, I always have students share what they did over the weekend, and on Fridays we share our most memorable moment from the week. A fun idea would be to do "pow wows" on Fridays - a "pow" being a not so great moment from the week, a "wow" being a great moment from the week.

6.) Read Aloud
Once students are engaged and (hopefully) feeling settled, I love doing a read aloud! 


All of morning meeting steps can be modified to meet a wide range of learners - asking yes/no questions for share, recording the morning message on a Big Mac for students to press so the class can hear, having a student hit a switch to begin the classroom song, making the read aloud an opportunity for choice making, etc. 

How will you make morning meeting accessible in your classroom?

Love, 
Allie