Friday, November 8, 2013

The Perfect Play

This video says it all:

You Tube video, at:

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Which Wolf Are You Feeding?

There is a Native American tale about two wolves that I think every person should know.  It will help guide you as a teacher, a student, a friend, a daughter/son, a mother/father/, a leader, a follower, and it moments by yourself.

A Native American Cherokee Story – Two Wolves

One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people.
He said, “My son, the battle is between two wolves inside us all.
“One is Evil – It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.
“The other is Good – It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.”
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: “Which wolf wins?”
The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

Saturday, November 2, 2013


pilgrim |ˈpilgrəm|
a person who journeys to a sacred place for religious reasons.
• (usu. Pilgrim )a member of a group of English Puritans fleeing religious persecution who sailed in the Mayflower and founded the colony of Plymouth, Massachusetts, in 1620.
• a person who travels on long journeys.
verb ( pilgrims, pilgriming, pilgrimed ) [ no obj. ] archaic
travel or wander like a pilgrim.
pilgrimize |-ˌmīz|verb( archaic)

ORIGIN Middle English: from Provençal pelegrin, from Latin peregrinus ‘foreign’ (see peregrine) .

Aren't we all pilgrims?  We are all on a journey of some sort.  A journey towards love.  A journey toward acceptance.  A journey toward knowledge. Each of us can define our life by our journeys.  Some are full of goodness, success, and joy.  For others, they are pilgrim journeys of strife, struggle, and hardtimes.  For most of us, it is a blend of good and bad, easy and difficult.  But for each of us, the journey is the most important part, not the destination.  

Enya wrote a song, Pilgrim, that you may find a map, source of hope, or evidence of camaraderie in our journey.  Embrace the pilgrim in you!

Pilgrim, how you journey
On the road you chose
To find out why the winds die
And where the stories go.
All days come from one day
That much you must know,
You cannot change what's over
But only where you go.
One way leads to diamonds,
One way leads to gold,
Another leads you only
To everything you're told.
In your heart you wonder
Which of these is true;
The road that leads to nowhere,
The road that leads to you.
Will you find the answer
In all you say and do?
Will you find the answer
In you?
Each heart is a pilgrim,
Each one wants to know
The reason why the winds die
And where the stories go.
Pilgrim, in your journey
You may travel far,
For pilgrim it's a long way
To find out who you are...
Pilgrim, it's a long way
To find out who you are...
Pilgrim, it's a long way
To find out who you are...

Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Reason I Jump, by Naoki Higashida

I recently was given a copy of the new release and bestseller: Reasons I Jump.

It is a quick but enlightening and thought provoking book that I highly recommend.  A young man with autism is the author and he answers questions about how his life has been as an individual with autism.  I realize that these are his opinions but they are a great starting pint for some discussions.

One fact I found fascinating is that the Japanese use three characters to write autism: "self", "shut", and "illness."

Please note, i in no way receive any benefit nor do the authors know I am writing about the book but I think everyone who has a student or child with autism should at least read this book.  It will only take you and afternoon but one afternoon of your time could build a bridge between you and someone you care about.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Making a Living

What do you do for a living?

This is an icebreaker, form of introduction, status determiner, sense of camaraderie, or a way to kill an awkward moment but is it a good question?

Here is one problem I see with this question; it only addresses a very small part of our lives.  Let me break it down in mathematical terms, there are 24 hours in a day and only 1/3, or 8 are spent at work for only 260/352 days for approximately 40 years of a life average of 80 years (I rounded up slightly to make it easier to compute).  Therefore, our working lives are:

1/3 of each day * 260 days * 40 years =
4699.2 days of a 28,480 day life time
or 16.5% of a lifetime

I was shocked by this math!  I thought the answer to that question was one to aspire towards.  IEPs are designed to answer this question at the age of 14 with the work prior and after focused on helping the student secure "a living"  All the hours the IEP teams I have been a part of should count for more of a person's life than 16.5%.  It is time that I ask a better question,

How do we design a life?

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Brotherly Love

A child with a disability is a blessing, a challenge, a student, a child, a comedian, a source of stress, and often, a sibling.  This sibling shows us what true brotherly love looks like in his outward gift to his brother.

10-year-old Gives Gift of Running to Brother

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Testing, Assessment, Accountability, Oh My!

Testing, assessment, accountability, oh my!

Testing, assessment, accountability, oh my! (Hey it's a big year for the "Wizard of Oz", I had to go there.)

I don't know how things are in your local schools but in mine, we are now required to assess students in reading, writing, math, science, and social studies at the beginning, middle and end-of-the year, as well as unit tests, performance assessments, and formative assessment.  In short, we are testing students almost every single week of the year on at least one skill set or content area.

This sounds like accountability and data collection at its best.  The only problem, the testing takes up the very valuable and limited instructional time.  Schools have definitive times and calendars.  Unlike a corporate position where they ask for you to do more and the lucky (read this facetiously) employees get to work additional hours, schools have a dismissal bell that rings at the same time daily.  The buses collect students and they are gone.  Even if I, as a teacher, decided to stay and work late, there is no one there to teach.  I missed my chance.

Does this mean we should stop testing or assessments?  Of course not!  What I am suggesting is balance.

Let's put it in a way all can understand.  You get a scale and weigh a 10 pound bag of seed.  It weighs, 10 pounds.  The next day, you weigh the bag again.  What does it weigh?  10 pounds.  If you weigh it each day, it will weigh 10 pounds and then, over time, it may weigh less as the seeds begin to fall apart and become dust from drying out in the process of sitting on a scale daily.

However, if you weigh the 10 pound bag of seed the first day and then, maybe you plant some in dirt, water them, feed them, nurture them, and then after this love, attention, and focused devotion to helping them become their best, you reap their fruit and seeds and weigh them again, how much will it weigh?  10 pounds?  No way!  It will weigh 10 times 10, or maybe even more.

You see, it is through planting seeds of knowledge, nurturing inquiry, and giving love attention and focus to the students that the results change, not by placing them on a scale.

So I say to all legislators and policy-makers, please, consider the process of learning as well as the measurement.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

What, I have to teach 5 components?

Yes, there are 5 components to a balanced literacy program and yes, all children should receive instruction in all of them.

At one time I was a doctoral candidate (no, I didn't complete my program but that is a different post all together) and I was required to write a meta-analysis on a topic of teaching for any population I chose. Teaching students with significant disabilities is my passion and drive each day so, I decided to study the research on teaching reading skills to students within this population.  I gave a wide berth to the research allowing 20 years and any school-age, 3-21.   I did a computer search and even went and read the table of contents for years of journals at the library to include as many articles as I possibly could.

You see, I didn't just want to do the assignment but wanted, desperately, to learn how to teach more; More effectively, more efficiently, more students, more content, more success, just more.  I read each article with a critical eye and made notes to any instructional strategies and content so I could compare them to my current practice and be, well, more.

At that time (about 8 years ago), the research was clear, students with significant disabilities are taught reading by being given a series of flash cards which they review and review until they reach the desired level of mastery and then additional cards are provided.  This is a common system for students and for homework.  I have flashcards the students take home as we learn a word through a variety of curriculums. However........

The found research was also clear, this is the only practice that was used in the research except for one article.  You see, flash cards can only get them so far.  In one study that I read, students were given sight words off warning labels.  This sounds like a really good idea.  However, the words ingest, vomit, and induce were taught directly but the word "not" wasn't.  There is a very serious implication to a student reading a label as "Induce vomiting" and skipping the word they don't know to the sentence "Do not induce vomiting."  This is not just poor teaching, this is serious!

I am not saying "no more flash cards," but rather, "what else do we have happening in our rooms?"  I know that I have colleagues for whom their reading instruction is far more rigorous and inclusive of all 5 components of reading.  We need to be louder about what we do so that researchers can find and report on the many good things teachers do every day.

Flash cards teach sight words for fluency and vocabulary but what else so we do to teach phonemic awareness, phonics, and comprehension development?  I know that I use a range of curriculum, both formal and informal.  Students participate in a combination of Reading Mastery, Edmark, Reading Milestones, Wilson, FrogStreet, leveled reading, teacher created activities, and computer assisted programs to work on their current skill needs in each of the 5 areas of reading daily.

What do you do in your rooms?  What practices have you found to assist your students in becoming readers?  Do you have a particular structure to make sure all components are taught daily?

I want your ideas!  I still want to be more.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

If Only...

This summer break I have spent reading and working on my house as so many teachers in America so I haven't posted as much as I would like but do I do have another quote that goes out to all my colleagues.  My own thoughts will be coming soon.  Happy Summer!
"If a doctor, lawyer, or dentist had 30 people in his office at one time, all of whom had different needs, and some of whom didn't want to be there and were causing trouble, and the doctor, lawyer or dentist, without assistance, had to treat them all with professional excellence for nine months, then he (she) might have some conception of the classroom teachers job."

Donald D. Quinn

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Goethe Said It Best

My philosophy of life in 2 sentences, thank you Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Treat a man as he is and you make him worse than he is.  Treat a man as he has the potential to become and you make him better than he is.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Labels, Diagnoses, and Definitions

There are campaigns to remove the "R Word" from common language.  This word, for those who are not certain is, "retarded."  When I started in my career, it was a commonly used term.  It was medical or diagnostic when referring to a student's learning difficulties.  The grief parents endured once their child was diagnosed as "retarded" was the same as the grief that parents today go through when their child is diagnosed "severely delayed," "cognitively impaired," "developmentally delayed," "highly impacted by autism," or any of the numerous other diagnoses that say to a parent, your child is not "normal."  The word retarded was not a problem when used medically, the problem was, it became a derogatory word to indicate that someone was an idiot, useless, not worthy, beyond stupid, horrible, or any other negative thing.

Please understand, I am not asking that we keep the word in our vocabulary any more than I am advocating for any other derogatory word to refer to people or communities in a way that places one person higher than another.  We all have weaknesses things we see about ourself each time we look in the mirror and hope no one else sees it.  We all also have gifts, and if we let them, this is what people will see.  But that is another post, another time.

The real problem with the word "retarded" is that, even if we use other terms or phrases, people will still hear "retarded."  If I say to a parent that their student is Intellectually Disabled, they aren't hearing a different story.  Telling your friends that your child was diagnosed "severely delayed," doesn't mean they think it is okay or that the grief they feel for you is any less.

As I see it, one of the problems with the word "retarded" is that we simply don't understand it.  We really don't understand any of these phrases, terms, or diagnoses.  I had a professor during my undergraduate degree in Special Education who challenged us to define the, then prominently used diagnosis, Mental Retardation.  It was fascinating how it was used in books, articles, research, the medical community, the education system, the federal laws, and households and yet, no common definition existed.  It was one of the most memorable assignments and activities I have ever participated in, still.  States and local education units are still trying to do this for all the different labels we use to determine eligibility for services and supports.  You see, people can't be placed perfectly in boxes.  They don't fit labels perfectly.  It is not an exact science.  People are dynamic individuals, whether they are 6 months or 6 years or 60.

So why figure it out?  Because the definition a person has for the diagnosis, label, or category of service   drives the grief, celebration, inclusion, and education of that person.  If the teacher and the parents can talk honestly about what that child's "label" means to them now and in the future, they can then, and only then, work as a true team to support, encourage, and educate that child.  I am not perfect, but I try to have this conversation with each parent, teacher, and paraprofessional that works with a child.  I have more work to do in this area, but I am trying.

To that end, here is my attempt at a definition in regards to the identification and education of children with the diagnosis of what is now referred to as Intellectual Disability.

Intellectual Disability is an impairment in functioning in a social, academic, home, communal and vocational environment due to a neuro-deficit that may be caused by a variety of physical problems or traumas.  Intellectual Disability is a changing, or dynamic, condition and therefore, the settings the individual is in should not limit or restrict growth or exposure to ideas.  Any program or training for the individual should be written for their current needs with the belief that they can and will meet or exceed expectations.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Thank You

Thank you.  Thank you to each parent who suspended judgment and gave me a chance.  Thanks to the teachers who welcomed the students.  Thank you to administration for giving me a chance to do what I love.  Thank you to the paraprofessionals who let me try things and then, try new ones.  I always knew they were there to support me if my idea failed, and to run with an idea that worked.  Thank you to my team for the blood, sweat, and tears we shared.  Thank you to IDEIA for letting me teach these amazing students.

But most of all, thank you to each child who tried.  That is all any teacher can ask of you and you each did, not once, but day after day, after day.  I love you all.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Soaring to New Heights

I tried something new this week, as the school year ended and we reflected on all the growth the students made, I also wanted to look forward, and up.

I had my students design their own goals for themselves and the coming year.  They each choose their own goals and lead themselves forward.  We wrote the goals on balloons filled with helium and let them go, to new heights.

As I watched each balloon, I also let go. Now each of the children I love can soar, to their own height.

Friday, May 24, 2013

That’s What It's All About

As a Special Education teacher I spend my days planning, teaching, and advocating for a future.  Not my future, the future of my students.  We all talk about, “one day when they are older” or “when they go to  high school” but do we really think about what we want.  I know, you are saying, yes, I think about the students job and living arrangement.  Their social group and how their family will support them.   But do we consider the little things, the moments that we all remember from our high school days but see as small moments.  I have to say, that I forgot the little things. 

Or at least I did until a young man, whom I have been fortunate enough to have in my life the past 12 years reminded me what really mattered.  He is an amazing young man who happens to use an augmentative communication device and wheelchair.  But please, remember, he is a young man.  He has crushes on girls, passions, and hopes just like everyone.  One of his hopes was fulfilled by a cousin who saw what I didn’t;  the little things matter.

reproduced with permission from their mom's and the young woman

Yes, I am talking about prom.  He went to prom, complete with two beautiful dates who danced with him and enjoyed it along side him.  His younger brother fit his chair with a camera and he shared the expeience later with his family in film as using the talker is more tedious.  At one point, as the juniors and seniors all circled around while individuals danced in and out of the circle, the young man’s classmates made room and had him join the center for his few seconds of dance solo.  Yes, one night of prom matters, and to a young junior, it is a highlight.  Prom wasn’t a single night.  No, it was a lifetime of memory.  I will always be grateful that he was my teacher as to how to plan what matters most in a person’s life.  I will carry this lesson with me the next time I start a sentence with “One day….”

Thanks, all three of you!!!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Do As I Say AND As I Do

Today, I was haunted by my own words.

Let me set the stage…

I am a firm believer in learning everyday and growing as a person.  I believe this so much that I try to model it for others.  This year, I have challenged myself to a physical completion that is 50% physical, 50% mental.  The mental part, for me, is believing that yes, I can do it.  I have told people I am doing this competition so I will follow through and have been overwhelmed by the support.  I even have a student who wants to come watch me. 

Today as I was chatting with his mom, we talked about how my training is going and I said that I am glad I am challenging myself but that I hope I can do it.  That’s when it happened…

“Would you let my son say ‘I hope’?”

Caught busted!  No, my students need to know they can and so should I.

“You’re right, I will.”

Thank you so much to that family for reminding me that I need to model not only challenging yourself, but believing in yourself.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Ripple Effect

I was in this great coffee shop today in a small historic town.  My husband and I ordered our drinks and then sought a table.  We passed a gentleman who uses a wheelchair and had a Dynavox attached with a mount.  My husband and I were thrilled to see him out in the community for we are both aware of how many individuals with physical disabilities become home bodies after high school for a variety of reasons.

My husband and I enjoyed our drinks and talked for a bit.  Then the true magic occurred.

The gentleman I spoke of backed up to the service counter and started talking to one of the employees, (without his Dynavox), and the employee talked back to him as a peer.  I wish I could express in words the magnitude of this conversation.  Ask an individual  who has a significant physical impairment or loves someone whose physical impairment is such to require a wheelchair and talker and they will tell you, this is not something experienced every day.  For some, it is only experienced within their own family, and for some, not even their whole family.

So often, individuals who are physically impacted, as is this gentleman, are spoken to as though they are eternally 2 years old.  The tone, voice pitch, and word choice, while meant to include the individual, are often degrading and insulting.  These are your peers, not your children.

In this coffee shop, they know that and for that, I'm eternally grateful. Maybe they are the pebble that dropped and the rings of knowledge will spread.

Monday, January 21, 2013


I have found myself questioning my future and what I want this week.  I just didn’t know where to start.  Until now.

Today was a school holiday and I was able to watch the Inauguration in real-time.  I watched because I love this country and our capital city.  I watched because I feel that it is the right thing to do as a citizen.  I watched because God needed me to listen.

What I found was my future.  In the few moments that it took Kelly Clarkson to sing a beautifulrendition of My Country Tis of Thee, it was suddenly clear.  As I watched the flags wave, I remembered a summer quite a few years ago when I worked on a special project at the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP).  I left with clarity, a clarity I lost but found again today.  My Mission Statement for a lack of better term for who I am and who I will become.  Today, I take a great risk.  I am sharing it with you.
printed from:

I am a teacher.  I am destined for leadership.  I believe in this country and all it can and will be.  I have unique talents, gifts and insights that can lead others to a reality that we can only hope for at this moment. 

I have a passion for teaching students that have significant and intellectual disabilities.  I am drawn for so many reasons.  Their courage; but also, what they represent to the education of all children.  You see, teaching those who appear to be the most "un-teachable" or most “challenging” is a testament not only to who we are as a society but what is truly possible.  After all, if the child you think can not learn, does, then imagine what will be achieved by the child you think is brilliant.  If a method of teaching or curriculum works with the child that others feel will be a “burden to society” their entire lives, imagine what the child you think is our next great mind could be become. And yet, imagining that future is almost impossible as it takes so many of us outside the limits of what we believe humans could ever do no matter the circumstances.  I however, do believe in that vision.  I can see it in my heart and know that it is a reality, not a dream.  A reality we simply haven’t yet reached.   I will be a catalyst to reaching it.  I do have leadership within me.

This week I was asked what I am called to do that “requires passion, vision, hard work, proverbial wisdom, and sacrificial love.”  My first reaction was teaching. Then I questioned it.  Did I say teaching simply because it was what occupied most of my day?  Was I called to it? Maybe I am just not enough.

I was wrong, I was listening to others judgment not my heart.  The inauguration for all its pageantry and beauty reminded me that teaching is my passion. But a larger class than I had considered.  My passion reaches far beyond teaching my class.  It is about teaching by example, by words, by hope.

I am called to teach with passion, vision, hard work, proverbial wisdom, and sacrificial love?  YES!  But, for the first time, I realize, that the teaching I am being called to, is the teaching of our society.  I will be a leader.

No, I am a leader.  I just took my first step.