Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Miracle on 34th Street

I love Christmas movies.  I start planning my evening movie schedule from Thanksgiving until Christmas eve beginning with Miracle on 34th Street and ending with It's A Wonderful Life. I am taken but the beauty of these stories every year.  They talk about miracles both physical pnes and those that happen in our hearts.  They remind us, miracles are real.  I watch small miracles each and every day.

The students in my classroom are so often viewed through the lens of what is missing, a struggle, or different. But simply looking from a different angle you can see perseverance, success, bravery and, a miracle.  You see, we all forget how amazing that moment was when we first stood on our feet, took a step and walked. We forget what it was like to say a word and have the listener know what we said.  I don't remember the first word I read, the first time I wrote my name, or the first time I counted to 100.  But I remember the first time a young man spoke an original sentence, the first word spoken by a young lady with an assistive technology device, the first time so many different students wrote their own name without an adult, the meeting in which the parent cried because the child exceeded their greatest hope.  You see, anything really is possible.  The magic is in believing that it can happen.

In Miracle on 34th Street it was not until the young girl played by Natalie Woods believes that her greatest wish comes true.  "Faith is believing in something when common sense tells you not to."

I hope this season you find your faith and, in turn the magic of a miracle.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Those Who Can

A small gift to all the teachers in the world.

Those who can - make failure bear fruit,
bring fruit to seed and plant seeds
for tomorrow.

Those who can - turn injury to endurance,
endurance to dreams and give dreams

Those who can - shape hate to awareness,
awareness to grace and crown grace
with compassion.

Those who can - massage fear to faith,
bend faith to courage and sculpt
courage into wings.

Those who can - subdue chaos with meaning,
define meaning as light and translate
light to vision.

Those who can - give knowledge reason,
fashion reason into tools, use tools as keys
so that doors become opportunities.

Those who can - give charity character,
invest character with strength and
free strength to ministry.

Those who can - define love by their acts,
spin their acts to hope and with hope
give children a reason to celebrate.

Those who can - teach.

Written by Gavin Kayner and published in Teaching K-8 March 1993
as true today as then

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Matters of Faith

I love Christmas.  I love everything about it.  Twinkling lights, trees covered with ornaments from my childhood, my career, and the ones I share with my husband, Christmas music on the radios and at every store, Santa Claus, fancy dresses, and candles.

Candles are one of the most symbolic symbols of the season for me.  In New England, you will find a candle in every window, lighting the way to home.  At the stores you can find candles to give as a gift to everyone from good friends to colleagues.  My home is scented by candles from the day of Thanksgiving until every last decoration is packed away.  All of this culminates with the most amazing candle moment, the Christmas Eve candlelight service.

When I was young, about 6 years old, I was going to sing in the church children’s choir on Christmas Eve for the candlelight service and my mom made me the most beautiful navy blue velvet dress.  I loved the dress and knew that I was wearing the dress that everyone else would notice.  It shimmered and made me feel grown up, or at least like I was 8.

But then, they gave me a candle to hold while I sang.  I couldn’t believe the magic and the science of that burning flame.  Each face was highlighted by a single glow and yet, in that glow there was a magic puddle of wax.  As I examined the candle and sang to my church, I also poured the melted wax down the front of my blue velvet dress, all while my mom watched.  We laugh about it today and she talks about the candle and my singing more than my ruining the dress.  She does because it was Christmas Eve, the day a small child came to bring us a gift from God. 

My faith is important and has shaped many memories such as that night.  My faith helps guide me and listen to my heart.  I passionately believe that all people should be able to choose their faith and how they celebrate.  But have we made religion accessible to individuals with disabilities?

I am watching one family try to figure out how to have their son’s Bar Mitvah when he is still struggling with communicating in English.  I watched a family struggle to find a church where their daughter would be able to wander through the sanctuary during the service.  I was blessed with the invitation to witness the baptism of one of my students, but he wasn’t able to really speak about the event in a meaningful way later as the communication had not yet been taught.

Where do we but faith in the list of things a child needs to learn?

Have you found a way to include your child with a disability in your family’s faith in a meaningful way?  I would love to know how to help families and children in their spiritual journey.  And maybe, someday, they will tell us about their favorite holiday symbol.

Monday, October 8, 2012


I am a teacher but not a parent.  I have had the luxury of learning from children and parents through our conversations, shared moments and by observing and have noticed a few things.

When you have a child with a disability, you can't just go to a neighborhood bar-b-que and leave with insight as to how to be a better parent, stop tantrum, or hide vegetables in their dinner.  In fact, the very act of going to the bar-b-que is a stress.  How will my child react?  Will they have any of the 5 foods my child is currently eating?  What if they play a song on the radio that causes a tantrum?  How will I change their diaper at someone else's house?  Will there be any people at the party that haven't met my child?

I don’t have the answers.  I don’t have a quick and handy phrase you can say to those who don’t understand.  But maybe, parenting has more similarities than we originally thought.

Children can try your patience, make you laugh, keep you up at night, occupy your heart and worries, make you dream, hope, and believe.  They can capture us with a smile, a breath, a tiny moment.  They can also push us to a point of tears and frustration and we try to give them comfort and love only to have them still crying and upset.  You hear of parents who are so stressed and frustrated that they hurt their own child in ways we can not fathom or ignore them to avoid hurting them.  We also hear of parents who make sacrifices of food, water, safety, and security; sacrifices that most of us will never be faced with, for the love of their child.

A child with a disability is no different in that regard.  They will challenge their parents in ways that aren't found in popular parenting books.  These parents will laugh and cry, celebrate and worry, just as all parents around them.  

Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Royal Child

One of my favorite parables was told by the minister in an episode of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman entitled "Just One Lullaby."  In this episode there is a town debate on the use or prohibition of corporal punishment.  The minister, Timothy, shares a story that I constantly call to mind.  I will try to do it justice:

There once was a town that was very sad.  The children had a very sad school house with few books to share.  There were no parks or places to play.  The streets were dirty.  The villagers were sad and worked so hard in the fields to grow enough to eat that they were rarely at home as a family.  The way they spoke to each other was sad and cold.

One day, the king of the whole kingdom came to visit.  He told the members of the village that he had secretly replaced one of their babies with his own.  The villagers were shocked and afraid.  They each worried, what would the king do if he saw the way that his child was living.

The villagers cleaned the streets and school.  They bought books, toys, and paints. They spoke to their children with love and made time each night to eat as a family.  The children thrived and grew into happy, loving adults.  These adults worked, loved, and started their own families.  The village was no longer sad, but instead, it was a wonderful place to be.  It was a kind, loving, beautiful village.  You see, the children grew up not knowing that one was royalty.  They only knew that they were loved and safe.

Many years later, the king returned and enjoyed getting to know each of the adults that the children had become.  One elderly lady asked of the king, "Your Majesty, please, tell me if my son is your prince.  He is so wonderful I just feel he must be."

The king replied, "They are all royalty."

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Strength, Courage and Wisdom = Hope

I have been absent from my blog for a while.  I would like to apologize but I can’t.  I can’t because I have been doing something for which no one should ever apologize.  I stepped back and took a look at who I what and what I believe.  You see, this was my response to the political climate of today.

I have my own beliefs and they have been formed in part by my experiences and in part by my education.  How much was education?  A third?  A half? A majority?  I don’t know.  But I do know that I am a teacher.  I spend 175 days a year with children; children that aren’t mine by blood, just by passion and commitment.  Was I making the right decisions for each and every one of them?  Was I making my beliefs the right answer or was I tolerant of free thought.  

What I decided is that I am committed to teaching, leadership, and the belief that our future is good.  Children will grow up to be the great and wonderful people that we hope they become.  I teach because I do value each and every person that I meet.  Each belief a person holds is right for them, shaped by their experiences, and their education.  If I want heard, I need to continue to listen.  I may not agree with everyone but that is not an argument, just a mark of what makes us each individuals.  I am not saying that crimes such as the shooting at the Aurora Theater, genocide in Sudan, or the death of our foreign ambassadors is acceptable.  It isn’t. But beliefs such as what the immigration policy should be, who should be manufacturing our products and at what rate, how we should spend our tax dollars, and whether or not each military maneuver was effective can not be decided by one person.  Each person’s view matters.
Yes, out future is hopeful. I count my blessings that I am able to be a part of that future, in a very small way.

As to my personal future,  it is this blog and public education leadership.  I may not have a leadership job title, but leadership is more than what is written on your door.  I think I am ready.  To that end, I seek your ideas, questions and struggles.  You will help guide me along with the sage advise I say as I go to sleep each night:

Grant me the strength to endure
That which I cannot change,
The courage to change
That which I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.

(my personal adaption of the Serenity Prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr)

Sunday, August 5, 2012

(Un)Fair Advantage

Oscar Pistorius, this is a name that will forever remain important.  Oscar, a young an from South Africa was the first amputee to run in the Olympics.  Not just the Paralympics, but the one that is called the Olympics and is actually broadcast in prime time on a station you can find (enough ranting, back to Oscar).

Oscar is often referred to as the "fastest man on no legs."  But this was the very source of controversy.  The prosthesis legs he wears at first disqualified him for the Olympics as an "Unfair Advantage."  Oscar appealed and his expert witnesses proved that his Cheetah Prosthetics were not an advantage.
Really?!?  Do we really think they are an advantage?  Are we afraid that other runners training as Olympic hopefuls are going to have their legs amputated so they can have the benefit of a prothetic?  Really?!?  I don't think so.  I doubt that his mother, when told that her 11 month old infant would have part of his legs cut off, she said, "great, now he can get faster ones."  No, they are not an advantage.  When he steps in a puddle on mud and doesn't know, that is not an advantage.  When he, as a 18 month old had to not only learn to walk but to put on his legs correctly so he wouldn't get sores or infections, it was not an advantage.

Bu the most remarkable thing about Oscar, his attitude.  He was grateful to run.  Grateful that he made it through the semi-finals.  Grateful to be an Olympian.  And his attitude endeared him to the men he ran with.  One even wanted to trade name tags with him at the conclusion of the race, a symbol of admiration and respect that goes beyond words.

Oscar Pistorius
Remember that name, remember that man, and remember,

All things are Possible!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Olympic Inclusion

Like a great portion of the population, I look forward to the Olympics.  My Friday was planned so I could be home to watch the Opening Ceremony and the pageantry, excitement, unity, and stories that come with it.  I love every minute from the choreography, the music, and the uniforms for each country.  It is a fun tradition that draws me in each year.

This year, there was a surprise.  This year, I saw an inclusive ceremony.  There were individuals with disabilities throughout the night.  They were members of the performance, volunteers, and people.  People who happened to have disabilities.  I first realized what I was seeing when the Kaos Signing Choir for Deaf and Hearing Children 

Choir performs national anthem at Olympic Opening Ceremony
Copied from: http://www.haringeyindependent.co.uk/news/topstories/9845298.Choir_performs_national_anthem_at_Olympic_Opening_Ceremony/

It was a beautiful performance.  Then, as I watched the dancing and music throughout the ages, I noticed that there were additional individuals with disabilities participating.  They were dancing, singing, and a truly included part of the ceremony.  There was nothing giving away that they were different, separate, or disabled in the choreography or placement of them in regards to the television cameras and other participants.  No, it was simply people performing--all people who volunteered.

This is not the end of inclusion for this Olympics.  Athletes who would only have been participating in the Para Olympics are participating in both this year. Oscar Pistorius and Natalia Partyka are a testament not only to their own strength but to who we can become when we look toward each other's strengths, rather than our perceived weaknesses or short comings.

Thank you Olympics for inspiring us all in some way.  You gave me a glimpse of the future I believe in, thank you.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Student Teacher

I had the extreme privilege of having a student teacher this semester.  He is an incredible addition to the special education field and I look forward to working together as peers in the future.  But what this experience gave me was a chance to reflect.  After all, in the beginning of the learning, a student teacher mimic, or reflects that which they observed you do until they begin to grow into their own professional personality.  This experience taught me many new things and confirmed others.  Here are the 4 that impacted me the most.

  • Teaching is a craft from the moment students arrive until they leave.  There are so many ways to approach a skill as just as many ways to teach it.
  • This is the most difficult job to teach while it is one of the easiest to enjoy.  
  • Students are resilient.  Forgive yourself on the day that you make a mistake, miss a teaching moment, or simply aren't your best.  They will still learn.
  • You can't teach compassion, risk taking, or creativity.  You can make it safe to feel compassion, take a risk, or think creatively.

And on a personal note:

  • I am way harder on myself than anyone else.
  • I love my job and am grateful that I get to do something I am passionate about every day.
  • Laughing and celebrating with my students is still my favorite part of the day.
I am going to miss team teaching with such a great professional but most of all, I am eternally grateful that he gave me the chance to learn more about me as a person, professional, and friend.  I hope I taught him as much as he taught me.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Kids Today...

We are bombarded with information about kids today.  Unfortunately it is usually not positive statements that follow the conversational starter: "Kids today..."

I came across a story that changes that,

in a BIG way.

This is real kids, doing really great things, for ALL members of their school community.  I followed up on this video by scanning the local newspapers and came across an article written by Tina Griego.  I love that the biggest concern his classmates had was that he would believe it was votes driven by pity rather than sincere votes of love that helped him win.

I tell you, kids today....

are amazing.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Proud to Be "Goof"

Twelve years ago I had the privilege of teaching a young man with Down Syndrome who taught me so many things about teaching.  This young man was only in kindergarten when I met him and he instantly stole my heart.  He was funny, active, athletic, and STUBBORN!!!  This young man could out-wait everyone in his life when given directions he wasn't fond of following.  We instantly connected as, I hate to admit it, am also incredibly stubborn.  We were kindred spirits and able to quickly move from behavior management to learning and having fun together.

As he became more comfortable, he started to say more than "ugh" and "no."  Everything he said was a repeat of what you said to him.  Even if I said things like, "I am a pretty girl," he would repeat with "I am a pretty girl."  He didn't even seem to realize what he was saying.  I just wanted him to keep talking.

Then, one day, it happened.  This young man was walking across the amphitheater making funny shadows as he walked and I said to him, "You are a goof."  He turned around, looked me straight in the eye (which was a victory in itself) and said, "No, you are the goof."

It was a real-time, honest, original sentence.  I was so excited that I wanted to hear it again and replied with the not-quite-mature-but-engaging "No, you sir, are the goof."  At which point he walked to me, said, "you are goof," and ran ahead with a giggle.

From that day on, this young man did two things:

Spoke conversationally with his own ideas, requests, and initiation 


Called me "Goof" as though that is my name.  

Needless to say, my principal at the time heard the story as I was sharing his celebration and she also adopted the name for me.  The young man's mom could only call me "Goof" or he would correct her.  Within a month, that was my name.  One I wore proudly as it was the result of one amazing moment as a teacher.  A few years later, I moved to a new state and received this beautiful gift that I still treasure.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Mrs. G Wiz

Starting a blog is in many ways simple thanks to great platforms like Blogger.  For me, the most difficult challenge, choosing a name.  I wanted one that was short enough to be remembered but also described me in some way.  My students have called me "Mrs. G" for the last 16 years or their own variations of it.  (Yes, for two years and entire school called me "Goof" but that is a story for another day.)  One of my student's families gave me the full name"Mrs. G Wiz" two years ago.  They held a special dinner to thank the teachers that worked with their children and the theme was Super Heroes.  All of us teachers arrived to discover our super hero identity.  I was named "Mrs. G Wiz" complete with a yellow cape.  As the mom lovingly read my me super hero skills, I knew...

Wiz was not for my intelligence or insight.  No, it was for my skill in...drum roll please...

Toilet Training!  
(You now see why I received a yellow cape)

Toilet training, in my experience has been the most frustrating few weeks, months, and in some cases, years for the parents and families I have worked with through the years.  The pull-up, diaper, and changing bag are the items no one wants with them everyday of their life.  Individuals with disabilities are no different.  Often, when i meet with an incoming family, their first concern is related to toilet training.  Needless to say, after 19 years I have developed a program for students in my program who still need to become independent in the bathroom.  All children are different so I have to modify it a bit for each student but there is a basic plan I begin from and it has been successful, so far.  I thought I would share it in hopes of refining it further with your experiences. 

Toilet Training Program for Children with Special Needs

Toilet training is one of the most critical elements to a student’s independence and yet, is also a frustrating thing to teach for the child and the parent/teacher.  Here is an approach that I have used with good success.  Not all children are the same so the amount of time it takes can vary but it will happen…have faith.

Things you need to know (how to find the answers is described below):

1.    What are the biggest daily motivators for the child
2.    What the child would like most to earn as a “big kid”
3.    What are the times that the child’s body needs to use the restroom usually
4.    How long can a child wait?

Biggest Motivators (Questions 1 & 2):

You probably already know what your child/student enjoys most but in this case it needs to be motivators that you can withhold until they are earned.   If the motivator is an iTouch for example but they are using one of the communication apps such as Proloquo2Go, this is not a good motivator for toilet training.  It can be as small as a high five and as big as time on the computer.  This is very personal.  You may, for some children need to provide a menu of reinforcers they can choose from if they are not consistently motivated by one thing.  Again, this needs to be a list of things you can withhold.

Time Issues (Questions 3 & 4):

To determine what time the child’s body naturally needs to use the restroom and how long they can go between visits, you need to collect data.  Don’t worry, this is very easy.  Each day, write down the times you took the child to the bathroom and whether or not they went at all.  Also, write down any time that the child goes to the bathroom in their pants.  This is far easier to be accurate if you have the child in regular pants as it is very hard to know when they have an accident in a pull-up.  However, sometimes, you have to use a pull-up.  I understand and appreciate this, it is just not my recommendation. 

After 2-3 weeks, you will see a pattern of times that you will note as naturally the time to use the restroom.  It may be a window of time but the closest you can narrow it, the easier for you in the long run.

The Plan:

Step 1:  Create Schedule for visiting the restroom using the data above.

Step 2: Find a new home for the reinforcers that only adults can reach.  This is their new “home” so you are now the one who can provide the item/time reinforcers when it is earned but also put it away when it is lost. 

Step 3:  Put a schedule of the month somewhere in or near the restroom along with stickers.  This is now the goal for the “big kid” reinforcer.  Depending on the size or cost of the reinforce, you can create an amount of stickers the child needs to earn to get it.  I usually start with 20.  The child earns a sticker for a perfect day using the restroom.  Only for a perfect day.  If the child has an accident in their pants, write a sad face on the day right away so they see that it is a sad choice.  Then proceed with the rest of the day following the rest of these steps.  Please note, if the big reinforce is getting close, you need to make sure you can honor it within 48 hours of the child earning it.  For instance, 20 stickers=a trip to a restaurant.  You need to go once the child earns it, even if they have made other poor choices as they DID earn this one.  It is most powerful if they can only get the reinforcer when they earn it but I understand that birthday parties, family get-togethers, play groups may choose the same thing.  That is okay, just make sure when the child earns it to restate that to them throughout the time you are there.

Step 4:  Assume success.  If the daily reinforcer is access to a computer, tv, or other electronic device, a toy, room, or materials like markers or crayons,  they should have it until they lose it.  Again, only use reinforcers that are not also communication devices.  If it is a piece of candy, sticker, marshmallow, high five, etc., they only earn that once they use the toilet successfully.

Step 5:  Take the child to the bathroom.  Upon entering, review the calendar and what they are trying to earn.  For example: “Look, you can go to Red Robin if you earn 20 stickers.  Here are the stickers you need to earn.  You have to go in the potty all day to get your sticker.  Boys/Girls who go potty in their pants do not get Red Robin (make a sad face).  Boys/Girls who go potty in the toilet can earn Red Robin (make a happy face).  Let’s see if you can use the potty.”

Step 6:  Try to be as quiet and inconspicuous as possible while the child is on the toilet.  Most children will try to engage the adult through talking, pointing to things, trying to play but if you can, ignore as much as possible so the child gets the message that on the toilet, they have job to concentrate on.  Wait 3-5 minutes (longer if the child has Cerebral Palsy as they need time for their body to listen and react). 

Step 7:  No luck.  Remind the child about their “big kid” reward on the way out and that they need to be big and keep their pants clean and dry.

Step 8:  The child uses the toilet—HOORAY!   This is big, make it a big deal.  For example, I am famous for my “Potty dance.”  If the child has a daily reinforce such as candy, stickers, high five, etc.  get it to them immediately.  If it is an access reinforce such as computer, TV, etc.  Tell them, “You can go play ______ because you were so big and went potty in the toilet.”

Step 9:  The Accident.  Yep, they will still have some accidents.  At the moment of the accident, they have now lost any access reinforce such as computer, TV, etc.  Tell them so but briefly and concisely.  Example, “So sad.  You peed in your pants so no more computer.   I am putting it away.”  Then go right to the restroom.  To the extent possible, the child needs to undress and dress themselves.  They also should sit on the toilet for a minute or two.  Some children will then go again.  Just remind them that they peed/pooped in their pants first so that is sad.  Also, write a sad face on the “big kid” calendar.

Step 10:  Get right back on schedule.  The next time the child visits the restroom dry and clean AND uses the toilet, they get back any access reinforce or daily reinforce.  The idea is, when you are big, you get big stuff.  When you are not, you don’t.

Step 11:  Accidents while sleeping, one extended car or plane trips, or extended bus trips such as field trips do not count against the child.  In fact, these are the times I support the use of a pull-up as the child has no control of the situation.

Step 12:  Tomorrow is another day.  Each day, start fresh.  At the beginning, you may have accidents every day but the time of the accidents will get alter and later until they disappear.

Some of my favorite daily reinforcers:

Access to movies and/or TV
Computer access
Access to a trampoline/back yard
Access to marker instead of only crayons
High fives
A song and dance together
Juice instead of water
Getting to be first in line, at games, etc.
Small food items if the child is only motivated by edible things

Some of my favorite “big kid” reinforcers:

Going to buy “Big kid” underwear together that is fun designs
Baskin Robbins or another frozen treat
A lunch date to Subway –as a teacher, taking the kiddo to lunch is VERY powerful and motivating
A trip to the local indoor pool
A movie at the theater or a 3D movie
A trip to a favorite activity place such as indoor jumping, a favorite kid-friendly restaurant that includes video games or things we can do together, bowling, swimming, a museum.  (For one student, going to see the dinosaurs at the museum was worth 50 days meeting his goal!)

Good luck, have patience, and believe that anything is possible.  IT IS!!!


Tuesday, March 27, 2012


“Transition” is the word that I have often heard said as an explicative as well as through tears. It is a simple word really.

 Transition: noun --the process or a period of changing from one state or condition to another.

However, “transitioning” is not so simple.  A parent of any child worries from the minute they first hold that small miracle until, well, forever.  This is true for all parents.  But when they child’s still being alive is a miracle, when the worries are about tube feedings, immune deficiencies, upcoming surgeries, and seemingly insurmountable communication delays, the worries are magnified. 

How can the next school or teacher possibly know everything they need to know for my child?  Will they learn how to use their communication device?  How to tell the difference between the in pain cry and the tired and sick cry?  Will they know how important it is that they get 10 minutes of sensory input before being asked to sit?  Will the teacher or school communicate with me?  How will they?  Will I know what my child is doing during the day?   How will I know if my child is getting their needs met?   Will the IEP be followed or changed?

This cycle of questioning starts at the beginning of the year of transition and continues until the next year and into the fall.  The teachers such as myself ask very similar questions as we are also attached to the child we have taught, laughed with, calmed, cried with, and loved.  Knowing the professionals at the next site always makes it easier as the questions are answered, and yet, for me at least, I still know that my class will change.  Each child brings their own personality and those personalities combine to create that class

As I prepare for the changes, the families, students, and next school or teacher are also preparing.  I watch the families I have spent hours and many emails talking to struggle and wish that I could ease their fears.  What I have learned is, the professionals receiving the child are all good and wonderful people with various levels of experience and various philosophies but they are good people.  They will love the child as I have, but in their own way.  The thing that the parents and I can do is make certain the current setting a welcome place for visiting and collaborating.

I recently had an Eligibility (Triennial) IEP for a student who I have been fortunate enough to work with for the past 6 and ¾ years.  The special education teacher and speech pathologist for the middle school came to the meeting.  Additionally the teacher and I had collaborated on ideas for the goals prior to the meeting.  We were a team and so, the transition was in some ways, already completed.  It was a small step but it gave everyone who has worked with this student this year the chance to ask questions, think trough possible concerns, and, most importantly, begin talking to each other.

Did this stop the parents’ questions?  Of course not! Their child hasn’t stopped growing, changing, trying new things.  There will always be questions, but at least now they have someone to ask for answers.  It is a small thing, but something.

In the end though, I am still going to cry after the last day of school.  Tears of joy.  Tears of hope.  And selfish tears that I will not have this student with me each day.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Spring Fever

Spring is here and for teachers this means increases in chatter, student distractions, planning placements for next year, transitions (that is a post of its own), and...


The Scream by Edvard Munch
Tiny little chemical messengers within the bodies of these small children have now created chaos and interesting changes to our classroom.  No longer can the kids in the “clubhouse” be a co-ed group.  Googly-eyed stares, blushing cheeks, and frequent visits to check the mirror have taken over.  

How is it that warm weather can create this?  Do the hormones build and travel faster when the sun warms the body?  Does the increased vitamin D from the sun make the hormones go crazy?  Somebody, please tell me.  Also, can I counteract these effects if I keep the classroom at 60 degrees or less?  I’ll wear a sweater and coat all day if it can keep these small little children from becoming teenagers too quickly.  Really, I will!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Lost Kids!?!

The goal I have for all my students is that they are “lost” in a group of their peers.  No, don’t panic!  I don’t actually want to lose them.  What I am talking about is the moment that their social skills, behaviors, and actions are so age appropriate that you no longer see:

child… child… student with a disability… child

or worse yet:

child…child…    ….   ….   … student with a disability and para

I am referring to the moment that the student is a peer, a friend, a playmate.  It is the greatest moment for me as a special education teacher.  But it has also caused moments of panic as the paraprofessional, teacher, or parent suddenly couldn’t find the student.  For a brief moment, the fear that they are lost over takes our heart.  The next minute, we realize that our every hope for that child is met, at least for the moment. 

This past weekend was an example of that.  Some of my students went to a Special Olympics basketball tournament.  I was home sick in bed and missed it but a parent kept me in the loop through texting and these photos.  It was then that I saw that “lost” moment.  All the kids are playing well.  You can’t tell who has the disability and who is the peer partner.   

You only see kids, playing basketball, and winning second place.  (Okay, that was just bragging but after all, they are my kids, I should get to brag.)

Yes, last weekend, my kids were “lost” and it was a great victory!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

What is that?

Periodically I am asked by a general education teacher to talk to their class about disabilities or a specific disability.  I always enjoy these opportunities as I get to hear what the students are wondering and the ways that they develop an understanding and compassion.  Last Friday was one of those days.

I have a young man in a primary grade with Down Syndrome.    He is a charismatic, funny, adorable young man who is also popular.  As he grows older, his peers wonder why.  Why does he talk different?  Why is he so short?   Will he grow?  Why doesn't he read and write well when he works so hard?

The teacher and I talked about a variety of messages we wanted to teach to the students but we both agreed that they needed to learn about what Down Syndrome is and what it isn't.  The teacher set the stage by talking to the class about how to be a friend even when you are not alike.  Then, I met with the class the following day to explain Down Syndrome.  I am always nervous.  Will I make it sound scary or confusing?  Will the students have more questions and concerns when I leave than when I came?  What questions will the ask that I don't know how to answer in a way that a 7 or 8 year old can understand?

I decided that I would talk about chromosomes.  First I talked about how there are little, teeny, tiny parts of the body that decided if you will be a boy or girl?  Blonde, brunette, or red-head?  Tall or short? I told them they are called chromosomes but the most special thing about them is that they are all twins.  Then I drew little sticks that were "holding hands" with their twin.  That set the stage to tell them about what makes people who have Down Syndrome so amazing.  They have a set of triplets at the 21st row.  The students thought this was amazing and found it to be a great explanation.  We then talked about the messages those triplets gave about being a little smaller, having shorter fingers, a flatter nose, and a larger tongue.

The class and teacher then participated in an experiment to find to what it was like to have Down Syndrome with a larger tongue.  I found this idea at another great bloggers site http://elliesgift.blogspot.com.  You simply get the large marshmallows and cut them in half.  The students, teachers, or anyone else who wishes to participate pushes the marshmallow onto the roof of their mouth and then tries to talk.  Instantly the participant has a Down Syndrome accent.  It is a simple but dramatic experiment and helps others to understand the struggle that individuals with Down Syndrome have to even talk to a friend or family member.

We talked as a group about how frustrating it was to try to talk.  Then I talked about how I don't know if I would keep trying if it was that frustrating but that the young man with Down Syndrome was far braver than I am.  The class agreed that it takes courage to struggle but still try (see Home of the Brave to read more on this).   I watched as each student and adult in the room looked again at those around them with an appreciation for who they were, rather than who they weren't.  A great day teaching.  A great day learning.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Retarded--the Most Misused Word

Retarded, this is word that brings many negative and ugly connotations.  It is misused to such an extent that there are many campaigns to eliminate its use including Spread the Word to End the Word.

But a mom of a beautiful young girl says it best in her blog, Herding Cats.  I thank her for her advocacy of not only her daughter but all of the people who happen to be cognitively delayed.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

When No Isn't No

"No."  Two letters make a big word.  It is a word that indicates refusal, disinterest, or a different opinion. 


Small children learn the word quickly and use it at every opportunity to assert their independence.  It is a word parents use to protect a crawling child from danger.


It can clarify a statement to determine if it was dissent or confirmation


In my class, I have a student who says "no" every time an adult speaks to him.  For him, "no" means..."Give me a minute to think." or  "I don't know what you are saying, could you say it another way?" or "Help me know if saying yes is safe."  Dor this young man, no isn't a refusal but rather a word he uses to protect himself from the unknown.  His limited receptive language has caused him to agree to things he was not very happy about so he is cautious and anxious about agreeing until he understands.  His limited expressive language and articulation struggles leave him with the simple but eloquent, no.  Given time to process, he is usually happy to comply and grins with the success of both protecting himself from the unknown and pleasing the adult.
Confidence is a great thing!(Shared with permission from the child's parents)

This young man reminds me every time he declares "no" that processing and think time is not only critical, it is the only way to give the student the feeling of safety and security that we all want for each of our students and children.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Ring in the New Year

As the year comes to a close, I find myself reflecting.  2011 brought continued budget cuts and with that, increased class sizes, fewer people for services such as special education, Reading Recovery, Title 1, gifted and talented programs, and school readiness.  Additionally, we all wait in fear that our music and arts programs will be cut.  We struggle daily to still meet high standards and complete stacks and piles of paperwork.

Will 2012 be more of the same?  Failed attempts to raise funds? Exhausted teachers?  Decreased confidence in the public school system?  I don't think so.

I think 2012 will bring the healing of our spirits and confidence.  We will realize that, although tired, we survived all the bad news of 2012.  We can handle more than we thought, and with grace.  The exhaustion, anger, and frustration will give way to hope, confidence, and renewed joy of the job.  I already feel my spirits lifting and look forward to returning to school.