6 Amazon Musts to Survive the Rest of the School Year

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Guys... our jobs are really hard. I'm thanking my lucky stars on the daily that my job is also equally rewarding. I've taught in this high stress field for 8 years and have determined these 6 items to be my absolute necessities! A mix of teacher needs and student needs... go grab them on Amazon today!

Gone are the days of obnoxious callouses and embarassingly tired hands from endless cutting! This paper trimmer is an actual life saver. It also has a small lock on the blade in case your students get their hands on it - it's a little tricky to figure out so you'll have time to grab it out of their grip before chaos ensues :)

Mindfulness Strategies for Special Education Teachers & Students

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Mindfulness is the state of awareness of the present moment. What does this do for you? Minimize a feeling of overwhelm, assist in feeling grounded, Calm big emotions, and create an overall feeling of gratitude and happiness.

I can’t think of one teacher that doesn’t need to practice mindfulness - man, our brains are always in overdrive! 

For teachers... let’s think about breathing and focus. There are some awesome apps that you can tune into on your lunch hour or prep period to help focus and ground you in the present moment. Two that I love are Headspace and Calm. If possible, taking a walk outside just to pay attention to the sounds, smells and sights can help take away some of the endless bouncing thoughts about which kids you’re worried about or how you’re going to finally organize your data binders. 


Meaningful Ways to Teach Gratefulness in Your Special Education Classroom

Sunday, November 5, 2017
Fall! Everyone's favorite season, right?! I love fall for millions of reasons, including sweater weather, chai lattes, TV shows coming out, the World Series, and gorgeous trees - but I also LOVE teaching gratefulness to my class.

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

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

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

2 Management Ideas You Need in Your Special Education Classroom

Thursday, October 19, 2017

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

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

Teacher vs. Students


How to Support Children in the Classroom with Attachment Disorders

Sunday, October 8, 2017
Okay... so what's "attachment"? Well, it's how you attach to, or connect with relationally, other people. It all begins with your caregivers, who are generally from the start, your parents. Research says that your attachment style is solidified by the time you are 2-3 years old, and that this style stays with you for the remainder of your life. Can it change? Absolutely - but it's not easy. Changing an unhealthy attachment style can take years of very hard work. 

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

3 Unique Ways Ice Cubes Can Help the De-Escalation Process

Sunday, September 17, 2017
I don't know about you, but some days it feels like big emotions rule my classroom. My students struggle greatly with emotional regulation, and one seemingly small scenario can create a day of mayhem in a moment's notice. 

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

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

Effective Ways to Incorporate Yoga and Movement in the Classroom

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

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

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

How to Write The Best Behavior Intervention Plans for EBD Classrooms

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

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

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

The Truth About Special Educators: We Aren't Saints!

Wednesday, August 9, 2017
If you're a special education teacher, I bet you'd be a millionaire if you were paid for every time someone called you a saint, or a hero, or a thousand other well-meaning compliments.

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

How to Transform Your Students into Leaders

Sunday, July 9, 2017
I first discovered the language of "Leader vs. Boss" when looking up social skills concepts on the topic of bossiness. I found TONS of articles related to the business world on how corporate psychologists work with CEOs and business owners to help foster their skills so they are seen as a LEADER and not a boss. I mean honestly, it makes a difference.

In my classroom I have a crowd of BOSSES. Last school year it drove me CRAZY. The kiddos that had leadership skills were constantly telling their peers what to do or how to behave, rather then being examples of positive behavior. I am so excited to introduce this concept on the FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL. 

Why the first day? Like I said, this behavior drove me crazy last year. Absolutely nuts. Plus, I am certain that many instances of bossiness created space for problem behaviors to manifest. So really, this needs to be tackled right away. I am ready to teach this skill immediately so we can confidently refer to anchor charts throughout the year to help shape behaviors and remind each student about the expectation of leadership. 

7 Days of Behavior Necessities: Day 6, Seating Hacks

Friday, May 26, 2017

Yaaaay Day 6! Seating hacks... I would die without all the accommodations we can provide for our kiddos seats!

One of my favorite hacks is raising a desk as a standing desk. With old school desks you can just as your custodian to raise it up a few notches, and viola! A standing desk. This is so helpful for kids who just don't like sitting. I have a few!

I also love any type of cushion. It gives kids special buy-in to stay in their seat, and of course gives movement and sensory input for our wiggle-worms. These even work in middle school! Don't blow them up all the way, so there is extra room for kids to move. Oh, and beware of scissors and pencils. There's always one kid who takes a pencil and pops the cushion, ruining it for everyone. Wah-wah.

7 Days of Behavioral Necessities: Day 5: Visuals

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Is your classroom covered in visuals?! I hope so! And if not, here's a few compelling reasons why mine is, and why it works!

Visuals matter. Many of my students have super slow processing. Giving them verbal directives and prompts can be so overwhelming to them, and visuals really help. I use visuals in social stories and behavior cues to help remind them of what their expectations and options are across the day.

Visuals additionally HUGELY help with expressive communication. All of my students are VERY verbal. None of them require speech therapy for speech, it's mainly for language concerns. So, communication of basic needs is NOT a concern for my current class. But - we cannot discount the need for visuals for our students to communicate! Visuals for sharing emotions have been so imperative for my students who are unable or reluctant to communicate when they are dysregulated. 

7 Days of Behavior Necessities: Day 4, Noise Cancelling Headphones

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

You made it to Day 4! Noise cancelling headphones are an absolute MUST in my special education classroom. While they don't cancel out all sound, they do definitely help with blocking out extra, possibly distracting sound. 

My students, as I've stated in many posts, have really challenging behavior. Now this poses a challenge for each child in their own bodies, but also with their peers. If a peer is having a loud reaction to something, it can often bother/set them off. Having these headphones on hand is so helpful!

These headphones are also so helpful for teaching students to focus! When my class is doing independent work, students are often distracted by any noise going on in the room. My students now know that they can grab these headphones to help block out sound and focus on their work.

7 Days of Behavior Necessities: Day 3, Timer

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

You made it to day 3! I love timers. They keep me on track, they are great visuals, they are an awesome skill to begin teaching kids, they help with anxiety, and they can eventually be transferred to a student responsibility!

I use timers for EVERYTHING. I make sure they're always visible to the class because many of my students have high anxiety and always want to know how long they have left for free time, before I pass out snack, etc.

Timers have also been really useful for behavior plans. For one of my students, if he can be safe with his language, body, and space for 5 minutes (using a timer!) he adds a puzzle piece to his picture puzzle. If he is not being safe he is asked to pause the timer until he is safe again, when he starts the timer back up. His picture puzzle has 4 pieces, so if he was showing ideal behavior, he could have a 5 minute break every 20 minutes. Now, this kiddo is in a really restrictive setting so we know he really never gets a break every 20 minutes because he has to pause the timer quite a bit :) BUT - giving students ownership over their behavior plans really increases buy-in!!


7 Days of Behavior Necessities: Day 2, Gum

Monday, May 22, 2017

Gum! I know, I know... many people think I am insane for allowing my students to chew gum. I'll tell you... once you go gum, you never go back!

My kids have very, very challenging behavior. Along with this many of them have very severe ADHD and with that comes pretty dysregulated sensory systems. I have also noticed that many of my students have predictable behaviors that start with verbal outbursts. Insert gum.

In order for gum to actually work in my classroom, there needed to be very explicit rules and immediate consequences.

1.) Never let me see the gum.
2.) You may have 2 pieces per day.
3.) No gum can exit the classroom
4.) If you abuse it, you lose it.


7 Days of Behavior Necessities: Day 1, Hand Lap Counter

Sunday, May 21, 2017

I am frequently asked about what I use in the classroom to keep it running. My students are super unique and there are SO many things I could not live without! For this blog series, I'll be sharing 7 TANGIBLE items that I could not run my classroom without!

Today I want to share with you something I have been using for years... a hand lap counter! These are designed for counting laps for sports (like PE class or if you're running around a track at your gym), but they are seriously perfect for data collection!

Most recently, I pulled out my lap counter to get a baseline for how many times my student blurted out. This helped me write his IEP goal, as I cannot just say I want him to "stop blurting out". Though.... that would be ideal ;) I held on to the counter ALL day and every single time my kiddo blurted, I pressed the silver lever. At the end of the day, I could mark down how many "blurts" I recorded. After 3 days, I averaged the numbers, and viola!


How You Can Use Interactive and Engaging Materials to Teach Emotional Literacy

Sunday, April 30, 2017

I have been filing away ideas for this bundle for what feels like forever, and I have finally gotten all of the resources together to make it a real product!

I designed this product with my students in mind, but knowing that with extension activities and differentiation, this product could work for a very wide variety of classrooms and students.

Clip Cards
The clip cards are perfect for identifying emotion words and pictures! I created two sets so students don't start memorizing (ugh) and begin to really comprehend the words and the picture. This will help in writing reflections, journaling, etc. I also love that these can be used with dry erase markers, paper clips or clothespins! I do recommend laminating... if your students are anything like mine (mini-destructors). 


17 Teacher Approved Picture Books Featuring Characters of Color

Saturday, April 15, 2017

I'm here to report that picture books featuring characters of color ARE out there, and I have 17 of them to share with you! I received these books in a Donors Choose grant last week, and they are already a hit with my kids. It is so critical to have a variety of books with characters that resemble the children in your classroom. All students need to have books with characters that share their skin color, dress, and language. The tricky part is that this avenue of kid lit is not as broad as we want it to be. 

Here is the list of the beautiful, diverse picture books I added to our library, with Amazon (affiliate) links if they look like items you want to add to your cart :)


How to Manage Power & Control Behaviors Effectively

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Ah, the joys of the very combative and controlling student! Many of our kiddos with emotional disabilities display these behaviors. Here's a few tips I've learned along the way to help manage these students so you can stop the disruption and keep teaching.

Stay calm.
I know, you're thinking, "DUH." But it needs to be said. You are the teacher & the "tone setter". If you are becoming agitated and your voice, face, and body are showing it... all bets are off. Take a deep breath, and honestly - SMILE. There is surprisingly a lot of research that states that it is really hard to stay angry if you're smiling. Not only will it help YOU to relax and calm yourself, but it sets the tone visually for the class. Even if you're NOT calm, you need to fake it 'til you make it with this student. 

5 Practical Suggestions for Managing The Student Who Steals

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Ah, the stealing student. It's so tough. The kid takes everything. From exciting things like toys and manipulatives to "weird stuff" like broken pencils and random office supplies. What do you even do?

In the ED/BD world we see this a lot. It's an unfortuante problem because it's one that cannot be ignored. In the "real world" (isn't school the real world too? I've never really understood that phrase, and here I am using it!), you get fined or arrested for this. It's a behavior that needs to stop now. Here are 5 suggestions to help deal with the kiddo taking stuff.


3 Things Teachers Need to Know About Betsy DeVos

Thursday, January 19, 2017
Okay teachers, it's time for some REAL TALK. "Controversial" is a pretty familiar word these days, especially when referring to Mr. Trump's Presidency. Betsy DeVos is possibly our next Secretary of Education, and as educators, we need to understand that her lack of knowledge regarding basic education competencies will drastically impact every area of our classrooms. Here are 3 things you need to know about Betsy DeVos.

1.) She is an avid proponent of school choice. 

What's school choice? Allowing children that attend "failing schools" to choose a new school to attend. It doesn't sound so bad, and quite honestly, it sounds pretty great. When school choice is actually being played out, it's a whole different story. When you move children from school to school, it never addresses the actual concerns that deemed their original school "failing" in the first place. School choice, in essence, is a bandaid. Additionally, not every school that a family could choose to send their child to is being held to the same special education standards. Many children with IEPs are left in the shadows because the other school options are not "equipped" to service them. School choice leaves children with special needs (arguably our most vulnerable students) out to dry. Check out a fabulous and informative post regarding school choice here, by The Designer Teacher. 


6 Unique Ways to Rock Donors Choose

Friday, January 6, 2017

By now you've prooooobably heard of Donors Choose. It is an incredible crowd-funding website that hosts projects posted by public schools teachers/service providers. Anyone can visit the website and make a donation to a specific project so the classroom can get their requested materials funded. Umm, amazing!

Donors Choose has completely transformed the way that I fill my classroom, and ultimately, the way I teach. My first year of teaching I was in an extremely underfunded school on the southside of Chicago. I taught middle schoolers with moderate to severe intellectual disabilities. I had ten desks and ten pencils, several text books from the 1980s, and a whiteboard. That was literally it. I had no idea what I was going to do with them, and was told by my administration that I needed to use the materials I had, and none would be purchased. WHAT?! By the end of the year, it was filled with materials from places like Lakeshore Learning - I'm talking math manipulatives, reading series, brightly colored supplies for each child, sensory tools, snack foods, flexible seating options... I really have no idea what I would have done without the generosity of others. Teaching is hard enough when you have what you need, no less when you are buying everything from paper reams to Kleenex boxes with every paycheck.

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