Wednesday, November 28, 2018

3 Time Management Hacks for Special Educators THAT WORK

Our time is so precious and there's simply never enough of it! So, how do we get a hold of it?

1.) Determine where your time is being spent.
Have you ever read the book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People? While I am personally not one to consistently dive into the "self-help" genre, this book is essential for anyone and everyone. Stephen Covey lays out some really important habits that those who are truly effective embody. One of my greatest takeaways was his Time Management Grid. 
What in your day fits into each of the 4 quadrants? Where are you spending the bulk of your time? I created a grid for special educators to show the generic overall events and expectations in our field, and where they might fit into the time management grid. 

Most people spend the majority of their time in quadrants 1 (urgent/important) and 3 (urgent/not important) because these items take the longest and feel the most pressing. But - we often forget about the hugely important quadrant 2 (important/not urgent) which can help us manage the time we spend in the 1 & 3 quadrants. The more time we spend planning, relationship building, and providing self-care, the less time we might have with student crises and guardian concerns! 

2.) Find a to-do list that supports time management.
I have found that a standard to-do list (AKA writing down everything on a post-it note) isn't enough to actually determine what needs to be done in a day. You're going to have items across all 4 quadrants in your face at once, which makes it so difficult to determine what takes priority and what needs to be done first.

To no surprise to those who know me, I was gifted this sloth to-do list from a teacher friend and it has become my favorite note-pad I have ever owned! Not only do I love looking at the cute sloth graphics every time I'm checking off a task, but I love how I can organize my priorities (or my quadrants!) on paper. You can grab this to-do list here

1.) Take control over quadrant 4.
Quadrant 4 - ohhh, quadrant 4. This is when I am cleaning my kitchen even though it's already clean, or complaining to my coworker about admin issues for 40 minutes after school. It's not urgent, and it's not important. SOME quadrant 4 tasks are crucial for brain breaks (like chatting with a colleague over coffee in the teachers lounge during your prep period, or scrolling Instagram during your lunch), but some are total time wasters that end up making you exceptionally more stressed. What to do?!

I find that the most crucial time suck for me, and for most teachers I chat with, are cell phones. It is so easy to spend an hour on Facebook or Instagram, or reading articles and taking quizzes on Buzzfeed. While that can be a fun decompressor, it's a good idea to set a time limit so you can stay on track throughout the day.

The best part about a phone time limit? It's an option on iPhones! Here's how:
In the Settings app, click on "Screen Time".

Here's the good stuff! You can set a specific time where you will be prompted into "downtime" where your apps will be unavailable unless you "snooze" it, limits on apps (for instance, only allowing 1 hour per day for Facebook), and then the option for specific apps (like texting and calling) to be available regardless. 

With this feature, you can also now track how much time you are already spending on social media, your email, games, etc. You can see your baseline, and create a goal to decrease use until you're at a certain time limit that feels right to you. Is the data-loving special educator in you squealing yet?!

What do you think? What time management hacks do you use? Share them with us below!


Monday, November 19, 2018

All About the Emotional Disability Category

Disability categories ebb and flow and change regularly. At one time, we called students as Emotionally Disturbed, or having a Behavior Disorder, and nowadays we refer to this label as Emotional Disability or having an Emotional Behavior Disorder. Some people may refer to this as a student having ED or an EBD. Does it really matter what words we use? Yes, it does. Language matters. There is always a reason why language changes when referring to populations of people, and there is a specific reason why this language changed. There is no longer a defined difference in having an emotional disability or a behavior disorder, it is now considered one in the same. 

How does a student get identified as having an emotional disability?
According to IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), a child must exhibit at least one of the following to a marked degree and it must adversely affect their educational performance:
  • struggles with learning and it cannot be explained by intellectual, sensory or health factors
  • struggles to build and/or maintain meaningful interpersonal relationships with peers and teachers
  • given normal or typical circumstances, the child exhibits unmatched behavior or feelings
  • a general pervasive mood of unhappiness or depression
  • a tendency to develop physical symptoms and/or fears associated with personal or school problems

What about diagnoses like conduct disorder, oppositional defiance disorder, and bipolar disorder?
Special education law covers the 13 disability categories. This is the only eligibility that a school can categorize a student. A school evaluation team makes this decision together around a table alongside the child's guardians (who are technically on the team!). Diagnoses like conduct disorder, ODD, bipolar, depression, etc. are clinical diagnoses and can only be made by specific clinical medical professionals. Just because a child has a clinical diagnoses and comes in with paperwork, this doesn't necessarily mean that the child qualifies for an IEP. The school evaluation team will have to follow their process in order to determine if they are eligible under one of the 13 disability categories, which could potentially be emotional disability. Some students qualify for OHI (Other Health Impairment), a 504 Plan, but only a school eval team can actually made that decision. Here is a great breakdown of the difference between a clinical diagnosis and school identification.

What classrooms are students with emotional disabilities placed in?
Every district is different in what continuum of services they provide in each school building. When a student becomes eligible for special education services, they might stay in their general education classroom and be serviced in a push-in, pull-out, co-taught, resource, or consultative model, while some students will need more intensive services and might receive instruction in a self-contained classroom for some or all of the day, or a therapeutic school. All students, by law, are deserving of access to their Least Restrictive Environment every day. Since each child with an emotional disability is different, their needs are taken into consideration in their IEP to determine what educational model and minute allocation will be best so their needs can effectively be met.

What are some additional resources about this disability category?
There are tons of great professional development books and professional organizations that give valuable and meaningful information about students with emotional disabilities. I love the Council for Children with Behavior Disorders (CCBD) which is a division of Council for Exceptional Children (CEC). If you're looking for statistics and facts, here is a comprehensive article from EdWeek that lays it all out for us. 

Do you service students with emotional disabilities? Comment about your experience below!


Friday, November 9, 2018

5 Ways to Teach Size of the Problem

Making mountains out of molehills can be some of our biggest battles as teachers in behavior focused special education settings. Situations as small as a student getting the wrong pencil can start an enormous battle when we are working alongside children with limited coping and problem solving skills. Teaching students to determine and accept the size of the situations they face is a crucial step in the process of problem solving on a daily (hourly!) basis. Here are 5 steps (and a few tried-and-true support products!) to help you figure out how to best tackle this essential skill!

5.) Focused Practice
Students need ample time to practice this skill in non-crisis situations. As we know, teaching skills during the apex of crisis is essentially a lost cause, and these skills should be focused on when students are at their baseline. I love scenario based practice using frequently experienced situations as a guide. Having your students problem solve through common situations when they're ready to learn is an important way to build their skills so they can see clearer when they face those uncomfortable situations in the future. 

I created a set of 100 scenarios that I used every day during our morning meeting time. I projected these and together, as a group, we talked them out. This allowed students to role-play, problem solve, and think through situations that they faced all of the time! I wrote these scenarios with my students in our therapeutic behavior setting in mind. You can grab them here!
Size of the Problem - 100 Digital Scenarios

4.) Independent practice
I hear teachers all the time sharing that their days are too full, their students only see them for academic resource, or their stuck using a scripted curriculum that does not include Size of the Problem as a focus. What to do?! Get creative! Classrooms always need early finisher activities because in every classroom, students move at different paces in their learning. I love using worksheets and clip cards that are simple in nature that students can engage in more independently. Students can then be pulled for a few minutes daily to just chat with their teacher, counselor, paraprofessional (whoever!) about their activity so it can be debriefed and then further solidified. Working on this skill minimally is better than not working on it at all, right?

I created these clip cards to be used independently in work stations or during center rotations at school. These would be perfect for early finisher bins and can be used with clothespins, paper clips, or dry erase markers! You can grab them here
Size of the Problem | Task Cards | Behavior Task Cards
I also created these simple puzzles that could work perfectly as early finishers, too! They are very little prep - just laminate, cut them out, and use forever! To make them more "errorless", puzzles can be printed on colored paper to designate the size of the problem which would in turn make the activity still meaningful, but more able to be completed independently. Grab them here!
Size of the Problem Puzzles

3.) Debriefing
After a problem or a crisis, having a restorative conversation/debrief with adults that were involved is such an integral part in relationship building/maintaining and moving forward. I would engage students in discussing about and writing about what size their problem was, and if they responded with a reaction that matched the size of their problem. Ensuring that we always debriefed using that language helped students tremendously in building this skill and their emotional understanding of how they tend to naturally respond to life's problems.

2.) Centers
If you have more immediate control over your classroom programming, add in a center of direct instruction weekly (or more!) on this skill area. Having direct instruction from a teacher, paraprofessional, or therapist is an ideal way to hone in on lagging skills and address the needs of each individual student. 

As I ran centers in this skill area, I liked using my Size of the Problem activity pack. It has interactive worksheets (highlighting different colors, cut and paste, coloring glyphs, spinner games), writing prompts, sorting activities, and more. Not only does each activity specifically target this skill, but it keeps the topic engaging and different with the variety of activities it includes. You can grab it here!
Size of the Problem Activities
1.)  Common language across settings
How many times have you watched a related service provider, PE teacher, or parent use totally different language than each other to address a behavior concern? It is so crucial that we keep everyone on the same page on language, because it matters for student progress! If some people use language of "What size is this problem?" while other people say, "That's not a big deal!" while other people say "Don't cry over split milk!" The student is going to struggle to not only make sense of their own behavior, but struggle to generalize the skills across multiple settings. Keep everyone on the same page! Have regular means of communication to ensure that all staff and stakeholders are using common language, as well as creating a culture of gentle reminders so that everyone feels comfortable reminding each other about the agreed upon language involved. 

All of the materials that I have shared on this blog post are also available in a bundle! You can grab all of these products at a reduced price if you snag them in bundle form. Check it out here!
Size of the Problem Resources - Comprehensive Bundle

How do you address this crucial skill with your students? Comment below!


Monday, October 29, 2018

5 Suggestions for Students that Cheat

As a teacher, discovering that students have or are cheating on assignments and tests is so frustrating. How will we ever know what they actually can do if they're cheating?! Here's 5 suggestions to tackle this important and common issue in our classrooms. 

5.) Make assignments meaningful
Research, and quite honestly common sense, tells us that we are more invested in our work when it is meaningful to us and we are invested in it. Is that the case with your students? Take some time and look over the homework, assignments, and assessments you are giving to your students: are they all multiple choice, repetitive sheets that require no emotional investment? If a child who loves art is asked to draw their response to a book chapter, don't you think they're more likely to do the assignment themselves, do it well, and be proud to show it off tomorrow?

4.) Teach about honesty and integrity
If students are taught about, and praised for, honesty and integrity directly, they then have the background knowledge and the concept of these loaded words in their repertoire. Us adults often assume that children know and understand these big words, and understand the repercussions of not acting as such, and not every student actually has that understanding without direct instruction. If you make it explicit, and teach it in the way you'd teach any skill, you can at least count on their understanding if it's not shown in your setting.

3.)  Stop obsessing over test scores
When kids are pressured, they cheat! Plain and simple. Stress does incredible things to the brain, including making a child who could ace a test in their sleep feel like they have no idea what's going on. When we make test scores and grades the "end all, be all" of school, kids result to cheating to help them get a leg up. 

2.) Honor student learning styles
Knowing student learning styles is one thing, and if you're a special educator, you're likely a master at this! But, often our students with IEPs aren't by our side under our direct instruction all day, as we want to our students to flourish in less restrictive environments, too. Help all of the providers on your student's team understand their learning preferences and HONOR THEM. If a child does not respond well to multiple choice tests, work with the teacher testing them to accommodate this for the child. Kids are WAY more likely to sneak a peek of their neighbors work if their learning styles aren't taken into consideration.
1.) Don't freak out
Cheating is a slippery slope and not one we want to go down, but when you freak out, things just continue sliding. Cheating is a behavior like any other behavior you would address, and has a root cause. Find it! Is the student acting on impulse? Lacking confidence? Not responding to the format of the task? Not invested? All of that? What is it?! Have a conversation with the child in a way that shows care as the driving force, and with some problem solving, I am confident that it's a behavior that can be addressed quickly.

How do you address cheating in your setting? Comment below!


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?


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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!


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.


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