Unpacking Executive Functioning Skills

Tuesday, December 17, 2019
Everyone talks about executive functioning skills, but they often seem elusive, really abstract, and like a catch-all term. So, what ARE they and how do we target them if they are areas of need for our students?!


Thank You Notes for Donors Made Easy

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

As special educators, we know so many of us spend hours of our time crafting perfectly worded DonorsChoose.org projects, GoFundMe requests, and grant applications. Our students need so many specialized materials like sensory tools, leveled book sets, orthopedic equipment, communication supports, seating accommodations... the list goes on. Our schools (sometimes) fund what they can, but it's hard with many of our school budgets that just don't meet the needs. 

During my years in the classroom I was a DonorsChoose.org QUEEN - I am talking thousands and thousands of dollars of projects funded for my classrooms. I became so well versed in writing projects and maintaining the requirements like a well oiled machine. You can check out some of my tips here. One of the most time consuming parts of the projects is creating thank you notes for donors. It's so necessary, but it can be hard to find the time and find the right way to accommodate thank you notes so they're authentically from your students.

I created some simple and engaging thank you notes for my students to complete so we could send meaningful yet quick thank yous out to the amazing individuals who donated to our classroom.

3 Ways to Support Students That Elope

Monday, October 14, 2019

Ah, elopement. No, I don't mean secretly getting married - that actually sounds intriguing! I mean students who run away - from the area, from the setting, from the classroom, from the building. It's one of those behaviors we generally cannot ignore, and is incredibly disruptive to student learning.

For the sake of this blog post, we are calling it eloping or elopement - a more respectful way to discuss this behavior. After all that's what it is - a behavior. I also encourage you to refrain from calling a student "a runner" - something I hear so many education teams using (Unless you're referring to a kiddo on the cross country team!!).  As someone who formerly described students in this way - I get it. But I know better now, so I have replaced that term with saying "a student who tends to elope when _________."

Did you catch what I did there? "A student who tends to elope when _________." That when? That's the secret sauce! And, the perfect intro into 3 ways you can support students that elope.


10 Simple Ways to Support Students with Anxiety

Monday, August 19, 2019

1.) Stay Structured
Anxiety can stem from just about anything, but it's so common for a child to feel anxiety about their daily schedule. Always having a daily schedule posted (and maybe an individual version for any students that need it) with visuals and written words can be a huge source of comfort.

2.) Designated calm spaces
Calm corners aren't just for kids who have short fuses. Having a universal space for any student in your classroom to retreat to when they're feeling big emotions can make your classroom feel so much safer.


Top 10 Sensory Tools for Elementary Students

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Whether you have a designated calm corner in your classroom or not (though I think you should!), having sensory tools in your classroom is a must! Sensory tools aren't just for your heavy hitters, students with diagnosed disabilities, or the wiggly ones - they're for everybody! They can help students when they're dysregulated, give students tools to use to keep their attention, offer a helpful break from academics, and more. I think we can all agree that every student needs access to those opportunities! Here are my top 10 sensory tools to have available to your students (in no particular order!)


5 Organization Favorites for Special Ed Classrooms

Sunday, June 23, 2019

If you're a special educator, you know organization is ESSENTIAL before you lose your data sheets and can't find a signed document. Here's my 5 favorite organizational tools that can help keep any teacher organized.

1.) Paper organizer

I have used these for their original purpose, to organize paper by color (great way to keep Astrobrights or construction paper organized!), and I have used it as classroom mailboxes! Add a little tab off the side of each section with a student name, and you have an easy solution for passing out papers and organizing student folders. Easily fits on a table top!


5 Words to Avoid When Helping Students De-Escalate

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

De-escalation is such a HARD process - and the language we use can become the reasons why a student calms, or a student escalates further. De-escalation language should always be non-judgmental and the adult should try to listen more than they talk. So if you are talking, here's 5 words to avoid to help the process.

1.) "But..."

Whenever we use the word "but" in a sentence, we're going against what our conversation partner is saying. In de-escalation, it's all about affirming and listening, not trying to argue your point. Instead of interjecting what you want to say, try taking a deep breath and turning on your listening ears.


How to Effectively Teach Multiple Grade Levels In One Special Education Classroom

Monday, May 6, 2019

Teaching special education has its own set of super unique challenges, between behaviors, social skills training, communication needs, and planning for inclusion, we often have a huge disparity in academic skill sets AND multiple grade levels in one classroom. Is there really any way to target ALL of the needs and requirements sitting in front of you? Well the answer is, yes.

One of my most frequently asked questions is, "How do you teach all of the standards to all of the grade levels in a multiage special education classroom?!" It feels impossible, but with the right set up, YOU CAN DO IT!


How to Use Calm Books to Assist in De-Escalation

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

If you're a regular around here, you know how much I love a good calm corner in a classroom. Having a designated safe space to sort out big emotions is so crucial in school! But in reality, it's hard to actually encourage the de-escalation process - there's often little adults can do. Outside of setting up meaningful environmental supports and co-regulating with students, adults should be remember that one crucial piece they control is to give space and time for students to de-escalate. Barking directives or forcing verbal processing while a student is in crisis ("in their downstairs brain") will only likely agitate the child, and you won't get the results you're looking for. So - how CAN we encourage de-escalation?

Research also tells us that in order to de-escalate, we need to focus on the present moment and sloooowww down. While escalated, we can't complete "think sheets" or start sharing what's making us so overwhelmed with emotion. But what we can do, are simple calming tasks. Meeting kids in their downstairs brain (I keep saying that - read this quick and informative piece on this language and why it's not only important to know, but good words to use to explain our brains to kids!) is the best way to help turn brains from chaotic to calm.

10 Cute AND Affordable Teacher Outfits from Amazon

Monday, April 29, 2019

Teacher clothes can be hard to find - especially for special education teachers who often find ourselves in the most interesting situations within a moments notice! Here's 10 items to make functional, yet professional and cute outfits happen! All of these items can be found on Amazon - they're affordable, and if you're a Prime member, they'll get to you in 2 days! Wahoo!

Daily Ritual Gray Joggers

While these are pretty casual, tuck in a button down shirt and add some cute flats and you've dressed them up! These are great pants for teachers always on the floor building block towers or for classrooms where physical management is common. Currently, these pants are $22.00.


How to Effectively Debrief Behavioral Situations with Think Sheets

Thursday, April 25, 2019

When big incidents occur in our classrooms, honestly, we just want them to stop. Am I right, or am I right?! Sometimes just the thought of rehashing the eruption that had just occurred would make me want to fake sick and head on home! Being well versed in de-escalation is important, and in restorative conversations, but holding space for those conversations in ways that are productive and problem solving in nature can take a LOT of practice with certain students, and often for ourselves. 

These conversations are imperative to helping students process their responses to situations they perceived as upsetting, scary, or frustrating so they can understand how their responses affected others, and how they can work to have safer and more expected responses to those situations in the future.

I have found that using structured think sheets can take some of the overwhelm out of the very needed restorative conversation. 

5 Myths About Students with ODD (Oppositional Defiance Disorder)

Sunday, April 14, 2019
What's Oppositional Defiance Disorder (ODD)? According to the DSM-5, ODD is "a pattern of angry/irritable mood, argumentative/defiant behavior, or vindictiveness lasting at least 6 months as evidenced by at least four symptoms from any of the following categories, and exhibited during interaction with at least one individual who is not a sibling." To read more about the symptoms and categories, check out the DSM-5 definition. So let's get to it - let's bust some common myths so we can better understand the needs of the students we serve. 

1.) Every student who has ODD also has an IEP. 
Well, false. ODD isn't one of the 13 disability categories, so we can't say that every child with ODD has an IEP. 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. Check out my blog post about emotional disabilities.

5 Helpful Behavior Books for Teacher Growth

Monday, March 18, 2019

1.) Self Reg by Dr. Stuart Shanker
I LOVE this book - it taught me so much about how our brains work during certain elements of the dysregulation and self-regulation cycle, as well as the real difference between self control and self regulation. While I'm not crazy about the push for using "self-reg" as it's own system created by the author, I do love how it's all rooted in psych research and brain based learning theories. So good, and helpful to learn the science behind students behavior.


Using Choice Boards as an Easy Proactive Behavior Intervention

Saturday, March 16, 2019
Coping Tools Choice Board - EDITABLE!

Just the concept of choice making ALONE is evidence based - Shogren et. al, 2004 tells us that implementing choices throughout the school day is consistently effective in reducing the frequency of problem behaviors, and additionally promotes self determination most specifically in students with identified disabilities. So yeah, let's give our kiddos choices, shall we?

5 Practical Alternatives to Suspension that REALLY WORK

Wednesday, March 13, 2019
Suspensions often feel like the only answer to certain behaviors. When schools do not have an overall climate of positive behavior supports, trauma informed practices, and ethical behavior practices - as a literal framework of the school - suspension absolutely can feel like one of the only solutions. While it can be hard for a single educator to overhaul an entire school climate in order to reduce suspensions, it's not impossible. The prerequisite to suspension alternatives must be a school climate that supports them. Without all the gears turning, it can be a consistent uphill battle to put these alternatives into practice. Before we get started on the alternatives, here are some frameworks to consider as a school to help build a culture of positive behavior and ethical practices for student growth.

Why Real Photos Can Be Your Key to Student Growth

Saturday, March 2, 2019
Real photos matter - because they work. 

I love clip art, too! It's easy to find pictures of children depicting a variety of behaviors and emotions, and typically they're really clear and easy to identify (if you invest in quality clip art!). But what about our concrete thinkers - kids who need explicit instruction and plans for generalizing our lessons into REAL life?

Photos can be so beneficial for our kids. It's a primary source of sorts, which we all know is best practice with our lessons. So, what do we do with these photos?!

A Peek Inside the Ultimate Behavior Bundle

Expected and Unexpected Behavior Activities
This is one of my favorite resources I've ever created, and very well loved among my former students and teachers around the world who have purchased and used these materials. You can check it out on TeachersPayTeachers here!

Let's take a peek inside!

5 Simple Ways to Have the Most Effective IEP Meetings

Thursday, February 7, 2019

IEP meetings can be super daunting - for both teachers AND guardians. We as educators spend so much time crafting effective (seeming) IEPs with our students best interests at heart - but the meetings don't always go as smoothly as we'd like. Here's 5 considerations when planning for these important and often stressful meetings.

1.) Plan with the family 
Family members (guardians, parents, etc) are an integral part of the IEP process, they even have a spot in the IEP for "guardian concerns". I feel a common mistake is using that box DURING the meeting - it can be really overwhelming for a family member to be asked in the middle of a meeting where an already written IEP is being presented, "Any concerns?"

Some school districts allow teachers to send home drafts of an IEP, while some do not. Either way - get family involved!! Two ways I have done this are hosting an unofficial pre-meeting. During this short meeting, it's guardian focused. I gave them the opportunity to share barriers their see at home, and anything they'd like to see their child completing. This allowed me to ask follow-up questions and the guardians knew that I was taking their considerations seriously and making them an integral part of the team. Another idea is sending home a simple (KEYWORD: SIMPLE!!!) questionnaire asking what their child's biggest barriers are at home and any tasks they'd like to see their child completing - essentially, any questions I would ask in that unofficial pre-meeting.

Listening to home concerns, implementing that into the IEP, and during the meeting pointing out where you addressed that concern is a HUGE way to create a fluid sense of communication, build trust, and ultimately ensure carryover is an important way that we can support our students holistically in our IEP writing.


What is Co-Regulation and Why is it So Important?

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Self-regulation is such a buzz word lately, but what about CO-regulation? Arguably, it's the first step to actually teaching self-regulation. If you haven't been co-regulating with your students and you're finding that they struggle to employ self-regulation strategies, this might be the missing piece!

So what's self regulation?

Self-regulation is the "conscious control of  thoughts, feelings, and behaviors" (McClellan and Tominey, 2014). I mean, that's a LOT to ask of kids, especially those who have experienced childhood trauma which has disrupted their brain pathways, and/or have diagnosed disabilities. As an adult who did not experience childhood trauma and is neurotypical, I struggle with self-regulation. It's important to remember that it's a skill we're constantly developing, and that it's tricky.

So when we hope children will begin to self-regulate, we often want them to independently ask for a break where they'll start using appropriate coping skills like deep breathing, stretches, coloring, or journaling. We teach them when they're at their baseline, they can exhibit the skills when they're calm, but when things get real, they often can't reach for the skills they've been practicing, and they continue to escalate. What now?!

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