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!

Love,
Allie




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!

Love,
Allie

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