Professor Herbst- CAS site down

Hi Professor Herbst,

I have been trying to access the dashboard CAS site to take the final exam for over an hour now and the site seems to be down. I tried to email you via my personal email account, but am not sure I have your correct email. I am using this as a way to get in touch with you!

I will keep trying to get on the site, if I cannot get on-is there any other way to take the exam?

Let me know- my personal email is maggielstaub@gmail.com.

Thank you!

Maggie

Education by Design: How can schools design its space to reach all types of learners?

I came across this fantastic and inspiring article about schools changing their design, layout and functionality to meet the needs of their students. I think as teachers, we try very hard to differentiate our curriculum, access the right materials and ensure the right supports are in place for out students, but I wonder how we can also think more about the layout of our school and classrooms.

Article here: http://neatoday.org/2017/02/21/school-design/

The article highlights a few schools that have taken an innovative approach to renovating or designing their schools, showcasing new ways of engaging their students and also making eco-friendly and energy efficient choices.

Can you imagine retractable walls to separate groups, but open it up when you need more space? Or foldable furniture the kids can use? How about lego walls and dry erase boards in the hallways? These school are doing it!

When thinking about special education and exceptional students, I can only imagine the possible advantages to some of these designs. Flexible seating could support student’s OT needs and give them the sensory feedback they require to stay focused. Height- adjustable tables and chairs could support the comfort of any child, and carpeted reading steps would be great for students in need of core support.

Schools are starting to knock down walls to create a more open and communal feeling. They are creating ways for children to interact with the space: “At Discovery, the walls, floors and ceilings thematically communicate the progress students make from one grade to the next. The first floor design scheme centers on earth ecosystems. Terrestrial shapes systematically orient kindergarten students as Backyard Adventurers. Upon entering first grade, students become Forest Trailblazers then Ocean Navigators in grade two…When students start school, they sign their name on magnetic disc attached to the entry wall and watch over the years as their disc moves down the wall. ‘This approach gives students a grade-level identity while also engaging them as they interact with the building,’ says Russo.” the school’s principal.

While this article focuses on certain schools and their new designs, I thought a lot about how teachers think about the layout of their classrooms. Especially when they are setting up and unpacking from the summer. As a teacher, we often think about accessibility, the flow, and making the centers in our room organized and perfectly labeled. But once our kids walk in those doors, what do we do with the environment to adapt to them? I have put bands on their chairs, sensory cushions on their seats, velcro under the tables… but the space itself is so small- I feel limited in options. However, I think perhaps we should stop every so often and look at our space.

Does the layout support all my students-or can I move the tables, desks, shelves?

Is the environment rich in text to support literacy development?

Are the walls reflective of their work? Is there too much on the walls and its over stimulating?

These are just some of the questions I am asking myself right now and I plan to do some serious restructuring tomorrow with their desks. I can’t fit another table, but the kids seems to be a but crammed. I will try to see if there is a better set up and I KNOW I can  find a better space for their folders….

On a final note, I am reminded of a time a few years ago when I read somewhere once that the fluorescent lighting can be harsh and draining to some learners. The following year, one of my students with autism asked if he could wear sunglasses to school. I felt awful and tried to get maintenance to switch out the bulbs. Unfortunately they couldn’t, so I draped sheer curtains over the lights that I bought for about $10 at Ikea and I could tell he was much happier. It was not easy, but it was such a simple adaptation for him that improved his experience and made him happier and that is all I wanted for him!

Maybe we don’t have the funds or work at a school thats willing to completely restructure everything, but we are teachers and are creative enough to find ways to make the space work for all of our learners! I can’t wait for some spring cleaning!

Teacher Language: metaphors and more

The most influential mentor teacher I had always stressed to me how important teacher language is. When I first started, she gave me a copy of “The Power of Our Words” by Paula Denton and told me to read it cover to cover every summer. I did and it changed my teaching world! Now I follow her tradition of giving a copy of the book to any teacher that I mentor. The book reminds you how incredibly important our words are as teachers. What we say to our students holds such heavy weight, even if it’s only a few words or not even directed to them. I totally live by the saying “Actions speak louder than words” but for teachers, they both speak loud! Anyone who knows me as a teacher knows this about me and I have become the “teacher language” coach at my school. I often get questions about how to handle behavior issues or talking one on one with a student who doesn’t talk much or doesn’t give feedback. I typically stand by these few principals that have been tried and true for me: keep it direct, keep it brief, have faith in the student’s abilities, focus on the actions, and know when to be silent.

I noticed that this rings true when talking to parents as well. While I find talking to parents to be a lot more challenging, especially private school parents, I notice the more I follow those principles the stronger the relationship. I truly value building relationships with my students’ parents and I have kept many of these relationships going even long after their kids leave my classroom. I have been given a lot of positive feedback from parents and admin that I have a way of being honest, but supportive to families during especially difficult conversations. On the inside, my nerves are going 1,000 MPH, but I apparently present a very calm and nurturing demeanor.

My passion for wanting to become a learning specialist came from this, when our school’s current learning specialist asked me if I would ever consider this type of role. She had attended my parent conferences for over 2 years and said I have a really good way of explaining things to parents in a way that is honest, supportive and makes sense to them. I truly cannot take credit for this, I credit the teachers who I have heard the BEST metaphors or ways for explaining certain things to parents and kids in a way they can better understand their child.

I thought I would share just a few of the most useful metaphors and tips when talking to kids about parents regarding special education, learning disabilities, specialists etc…

-When referring to our school’s psychologist…..parents are often afraid of how they will tell their child that they are seeing the school’s psychologist. They often ask, how do I explain what they do?  I tell them they can call her the”feelings doctor”!

-When explaining executive functions….I used the metaphor as it is our “air-traffic control system”.

-A psychologist….When kids are being evaluated and the parents need a way to explain why or what they do, I suggest calling them a “brain detective” and that they try to solve a mystery or crack the code to give us clues on how we can teach them better.

-For a Star Wars fan: body control (or even emotional regulation)  can be described as “the force” and remind them how Luke Skywalker had to try extra hard to control the “force” with his mind. He had to stop and think about it, concentrate on his power…for the kids…it’s the power of control.

-When talking about Occupational Therapy, I use a computer to explain it’s purpose and goals. An occupational therapist helps children with their daily tasks, how they function through the day. The daily tasks can be anything from getting dressed, brushing teeth, to playing and writing. Just like a computer has a processor and commands to run smoothly, we have parts of our internal commands that helps us go through the day smoothly. When a computer has too many applications running, or isn’t updated or doesn’t have a strong internet connection, it can run slow or freeze when too many things are going on. It can be the same for kids, they may need stronger fine motor muscles or emotional regulation strategies to “process” parts of the day better and “run smoother”. Occupational therapy can help us enhance our performance of day to day tasks.

-Fine motor skills: the control of small movements in the hands and fingers, but also the face and mouth. When kids have difficulty with their pencil grip or gripping objects and they experience frustration, I often refer to how it feels when we play the Carnival Crane Claw game and trying to catch a prize! It’s hard to control and the grip is weak and it’s so frustrating when the prize slips off!

-I have heard a lot of metaphors for dyslexia, but here are a few that have stuck with me (given to me by students with dyslexia!): “It is like when you are trying to write and there is a fog over the page.” “It can be like a scrambled deck of cards when every one else is organized by suits.” “It’s like looking at the world like a blender, things  and images scramble all around you!”

These are just a few examples and in no way am I an expert at talking to kids or parents either. However, it is something I really care about and it is important to me that I am a good resource for parents, especially those with children who have learning disabilities or challenges. I strive to educate parents on the important things they should know about their child, while also comforting them or just being available to them. I only hope to continue to get better and better at this and when I become a parent, I know it will mean even more to me.

 

 

Troubling Trends: Ken Robinson Ted Talk and Catherine Steiner-Adair

tedtalk

Image by Ken Robinson

TED TALK- Watch Here

Earlier last week, my school had a guest speaker talk with us about childhood and family relationships in the digital age. Catherine Steiner-Adair shared a perspective that while technology has made major positive contributions to society, it is also causing  major problems. With the shocking statistic that the average adult checks their smartphones from 60-150 times a day, she explained the strain that technology poses on children and their families. What struck me the most was her saying that children now face a time where they are being interrupted by technology and we are sending them the message that our phones are more important than what they have to say. Not only that- what happened to fostering creativity through boredom? Asking us to remember the times growing up when we would come up with some silly plays or build creations out of ordinary things because we were bored and needed to entertain ourselves. She also asked us to think about WAITING time. Waiting time used to give people time to think, decompress, internalize parts of our day. People now fill every free second with stimulus, checking our phones and leaving little to no time to just think! Finally, she also claims that all of us had the chance to develop our brains through creativity, resourcefulness, and authentic communication- kids today are not getting that chance. They are being entertained and stimulated almost all day through technology, without developing self-soothing or self-entertaining skills. They require immediate feedback and lack the ability to focus on something for a long period of time. She concluded with thanking us teachers, who truly listen to them and create authentic communication and foster a social learning environment because for many, school is the only place it happens for them.

While this wasn’t her focus, she did ask, “Isn’t it interesting that the prevalence of ADHD has risen at almost the same rate as technology usage in the household and school?”

Coincidentally this morning I went on my typical Sunday morning TED Talk binge and came across Ken Robinson, who discusses troubling trends in education. At one point, he basically asked the SAME question. He states, “kids are being medicated [for ADHD] as routinely as getting their tonsils taken out…our children are living in the most intensely stimulating period on the history of the earth.” I had to stop there for a moment because I felt like I was listening to Catherine’s conference all over again. So instead of changing our platform for how we educate children, we are medicating them to confine to the education system created and designed during a completely different time? “We are penalizing them for getting distracted,” Robinson states. “It’s interesting to me that it is not a coincidence totally, that the instances of ADHD has risen in parallel with the growth of standardized testing…these kids are giving quite dangerous drugs, to get them focused and calm them down.” When he puts it like this, I am shocked and scared for children. This feels bigger than I can wrap my head around; what is the solution? There has to be one…because we can’t keep teaching this way. Maybe we should stop trying to fix these kids and fix education. I know it is not something that can be changed overnight, but perhaps I just found a passion for change.

 

 

Resilience: Gifts of the Exceptionally Minded

I chose the title “Exceptionally Mindful” for this blog because over and over again I hear friends say to me, “I could never be a teacher, I don’t know how you do it.” To be honest, I don’t know how most of them work with adults all day but that is a whole other point…

While people often say that the best teachers are the most patient, I agree to a degree but I also feel like we have to be….exceptionally mindful. Our words hold so much weight to them and even after teaching for almost 9 years now, I still go home and think about whether I handled a situation right or said the right things.

Especially working with students who are struggling learners, I am even more mindful about what I say and how I act. School is already a challenging place for them, so I want to make sure that I create a relationship where at least they enjoy or feel good about facing that challenge with me.

I recently fell into the black hole of TED Talks, and stumbled on this one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bxkBqFbbAP0

Scott Sonnon, who is a five time world martial arts champion was sharing about his experiences growing up with a learning disability. It was crushing to hear about the verbal abuse he endured and it went as far as him being institutionalized. It made me wonder, IF he had been treated better, or his teachers were more supportive, would he have been as successful? Or was it that he was so resilient, that he finally found his gift and he became so incredibly successful. There are SO MANY successful and famous people who have learning disabilities, there is no doubt that every one has a gift. Did they become resilient because they have had to work harder to compensate for their disability- or is resilience innate and they are the ones who pushed through against all odds and made it out stronger?

As teachers, can we teach resilience? Can we measure it? Can we assess it? We may feel confident in our abilities to support our students, but they move on from us and won’t always endure the most supportive learning environment. Our words can be SO powerful, how can we best use them so our students leave us ready to face the world? I am getting a head of myself, but what truly has ignited my passion to become a learning specialist is the feedback I have been given by some of the families I have worked with. Last year I received a note that read, “Mrs. Staub, I know this year was not easy for you because of my son. We weren’t easy on you either. While some of the things you have shared with us were difficult for us to hear, it was only because you were able to put them in the most beautiful, nurturing but truthful words. You touched our family and while it will be hard for us to move on, we are so grateful we are now able to give him the support he needs thanks to you.” I am crying again as I type this, but yeah…our words matter.

Mindfulness in the Classroom

A blur flashes past me and then there was the crash. The pile of rest mats fall all over my student who for the 100th time, has thrown his body across the room. I know I shouldn’t react the way I feel inside, so I bite my tongue and close my eyes. All of the strategies I have tried with this student flood my mind. The visual cues, the charts, the fidgets, sensory chairs, gum, weighted pads, you name it. I think about being told to “work on my classroom management” when seeking support from my administrators. I think about the endless hours reading articles and books for new ideas and approaches to help this student. It was in this moment of pure frustration that I knew I needed to take care of myself.

I called all the kids to the carpet and just closed my eyes. I sat on the floor with them, hands on my knees and sat there still. The kids started to giggle and whisper to one another, while I tried to tune them out. I took three, loud, deep breaths and the same kid who threw himself across the room shouts, “oh!!!!! I know what she is doing! She is meditating!” I opened my eyes slowly, expecting to explain what I was doing and give a whole spiel about how it can help calm our bodies. However, I was shocked to see that almost the entire class was mirroring my performance. “They clearly need this,” I thought. And so did I.

I spent the entire month researching and trying meditation and mindfulness activities with my students. I started to incorporate it in our schedule for at least 2-3 minutes every day. They LOVED it and I loved it even more. I didn’t realize until I had the moment to stop, that I was on the go, go, go every day with this student. It was the year I also had THAT class, the one that you never forget and I don’t believe I even slept that year.

Did this “fix” my student? Of course not. He was impulsive, easily frustrated and lacked social navigational skills. But what it did do was give him the space to be MINDFUL and PRESENT. It allowed his body to stop, even though some days it was really difficult for him to do so. I found peace in giving him that space, whether it was  for him finding his internal calm or creating the calm around him. Three years later, he has now been diagnosed with severe ADHD, is on medication and I have heard he is doing very well in school. While at the time I didn’t have the support of his parents or my own administrators when I was seeking an evaluation for my student, I know that I had at least fostered 2-5 minutes of peace and calm in his day, and in mine!

I still try to do this with my students as much as possible. They don’t always engage, but I want there to always be the opportunity for them. When I shared this with my colleagues they all agreed that they often focus so much on trying to find ways to manage their students, or find ways to support them academically. They admitted that their modifications and support systems are typically ones that are either mandated on their IEP, or strategies to foster their independence. We want them to be successful and think that a “free time” or a “choice time” is a break for them, however it is one of the most social parts of their day. We know that young children of all types of abilities need to move their bodies, be engaged and need social time. But we often forget how much they also mentally need nourishment.

Much research has been done that proves that meditation improves our well-being, and I found this article to be very helpful in describing the ways that which it can affect myself and my students.

How Meditation Can Help Students :

-increased focus

-improved memory

-reduce anxiety and stress

-reduce fatigue

-boost immune system

Below are more resources I found to be the most helpful in incorporating this into my classroom of diverse learners!

*GoNoodle.com: Great site for yoga, meditation, and mindfulness videos that the kids can easily follow along with! Create a mascot for your class and motivate your students to build stronger “mind muscles”!

*This was on of the first articles I read that really motivated me to try it with my class: https://acestoohigh.com/2016/01/19/mind-powers-meditation-matters-for-special-education-students/

*Great overview of the different types of mindfulness activities you can do with kids: http://annakaharris.com/mindfulness-for-children/

*Great book for the kids! Mindful Monkey, Happy Panda by Lauren Alderfer