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!

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!

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.


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?


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?


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?


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?


Monday, July 2, 2018

10 Unconventional Musts for the Special Education Classroom

Hey teachers! There are posts everywhere that share the "must-haves" for our classrooms, but I have a few "musts" that are more unconventional! Without these items, I simply could not survive day-to-day in my classroom. Shopping for your classroom is often the unfortunate reality for teachers. While these items have been hugely helpful in my classrooms over the years, never feel pressured that you MUST have these items to provide the best instruction to your students - all you need for that is YOU!

Essential Oils & Diffuser

Essential oils are said to promote productivity, boosted immune systems, relaxation, focus, and more. Why not try it out in the classroom? My students LOVE our diffuser, and I truly believe the benefits as I've watched oils transform my classroom before my very eyes!

Magic Eraser

Ever been looking at your small group table only to see some unidentified sticky substance? Ew. (And I know we've all been there.) Or how about spending HOURS laminating task cards, only to have it virtually impossible to get them clean from dry erase markers? Insert Magic Erasers! They literally are MAGIC. They take off everything from grime to PERMANENT marker!

Typing Stand

These are THE BEST solution for center instructions - or their true purpose - a typing stand! I use these every day to display instructions or guidelines that students need at small group tables. They are also great for rotations - displaying the "name" of the center (think: "Go to to the Math Center!" and having that displayed on the typing stand).

Industrial 3 Hole Punch

There's nothing worse than spending weeks writing a detailed IEP and BIP to print it out and spend 30 minutes hole punching it to add to a student binder. What about having copies of prompting guides or curriculum that you NEED condensed into a binder? These industrial 3 hole punches can take up to 40 sheets of paper - literally a time saver.

Non-Stick Scissors

These scissors are a little more mainstream for a "must have" list - but they really are just THAT revolutionary! These scissors will cut through anything, like stickers or sticky-back Velcro without getting that horrible gummy coating. Long are your days of reluctantly asking your para to use Goo Gone on your "Velcro scissors" - thank God!

Skin Tone Crayons

Between coloring goals and endless classroom crafts, we are always going through crayons like crazy! When coloring, we are often asking children to color pictures of people or create self-portraits, but what happens if you don't have the correct color to match every students unique skin color? Multicultural crayons are a great way to start the year off having every color available so every child feels included and ready to participate safely and comfortably.

Cordless Hot Glue Gun

Say it with me: cinderblock. Our worst nightmare! While I believe walls in the classroom should be fairly clear of distraction, there are some items that really must be hung, especially in the younger grades. Cinderblock walls tend to hate any kind of tape, and I have been in a fight with cinderblock since my first year of teaching while trying to hang up an alphabet line. Glue guns are the best - hot glue really does help items stick to evil cinderblock. Having a cordless hot glue gun is even a better perl - you're not limited to a short cord!

Plastic Tool Chest

Worried about losing picture icons? Need a place to store edible reinforcers? Trying to organize all of your themed mini-erasers? Want all of your desk/office supplies in their own spot? These plastic tool chests are amazing for organizing everything you need! On TeachersPayTeachers you can find labels that are perfect for sticking on each drawer for the common versions of these tool chests! Here and here are two of my favorites.

Painters Tape

This is one of the most used item in my classroom - who would have thought? Painters tape won't pull paint off of your classroom walls (every custodians worst nightmare), and it's great for adding lines to the floor for boundary boxes or visuals for lining up. It doesn't leave as much residue as using duct tape, and it's blue which makes it pretty easy for visually seeing it!

Wireless Doorbell

These were all the rage last school year, and once I tried it out, I understood why! This is such a simple way to notify your class of transition times like clean up, center rotations, line up, etc. Just clip the button portion to your pocket or lanyard, and you can choose from TONS (I'm talking around 50!) of chimes to notify your students. Saves your voice and makes attention-getting super simple!

What are your must-haves for the classroom that may not always get the limelight?


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Monday, June 11, 2018

Top 10 YouTube Channels for Special Education Classrooms

YouTube is one of my most favorite interactive resources to enhance my classroom instruction! Here are my Top 10 YouTube Channels for Special Education Classrooms (in no particular order!). I have also linked some of my favorite videos from each channel.

10. National Geographic Kids
I love this channel for learning about animals AND cultures. They have playlists of videos about animal types (wild cats, birds, etc.), longer documentary-style videos about specific animals, and really a amazing video series called "Are We There Yet?" that feature kids visiting different countries around the world.

9.) Art for Kids Hub

This is probably the most visited YouTube channel in my classroom! I love the drawing tutorials that are featured, you can find one for almost everything! What's awesome is the artist almost always has one of his children featured in the video, drawing beside him, which is encouraging because their drawings aren't perfect and are very relatable. I love using the videos as an anticipatory set before learning a new concept, or as a free time choice.

8.) Numberock Math Songs
Numberock has the BEST math songs across the spectrum from addition through 4-5 grade math! I love how age appropriate they are while still targeting very specific math skills. My students always look forward to them.

7.) Mystery Doug

This has been such a fun find for our classroom. We love watching Mystery Doug videos during our snack time before the bus arrives! Doug answers a phone call from a child who asks him a question, usually science focused, like "Why is the sky blue?" or "Why are tornadoes hard to predict?" He answers them thoroughly but in really kid-friendly terms.

6.) Mindful Kids
This YouTube channel is perfect for when students enter the classroom, during work times, or a rest/mindful time. The video features calming nature scenes that are still engaging, with quiet, relaxing music. 

5.) Harry Kindergarten

This is a channel you probably already know, it's so popular! Harry Kindergarten has a video for EVERYTHING, and they're always super engaging. I love his sight word videos and his character focused videos. They're great for brain breaks or enhancing a lesson.

4.) Scratch Garden

Like Harry Kindergarten, Scratch Garden has videos for everything! I like how they're silly yet still academic, and that kids across grade levels will engage with them because they're not overly babyish.

3.) Pancake Manor

This was my FAVORITE YouTube channel when I taught K-2 life skills. My students LOVED using their music choice boards to make a choice for the video they watched, and we used the one linked above almost every day as a movement break. The characters are super cute and engaging.

2.) HaveFunTeaching

This is a great channel for phonics instruction! Sometimes we have students above K-1 grade working on letters and letter sounds, and these videos are so age appropriate though it's a lower level skill. They have a letter song for every letter that incorporates movement, perfect for our kids!

1.) Howard B Wigglebottom

Howard has his own line of books and a website (, and his own YouTube channel! I love Howard B Wigglebottom videos to reinforce social skills and behavior topics. So cute and engaging for all of our learners.

What YouTube channels would you add? Happy watching!