Monday, December 27, 2010

Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper

Last night, I finished reading Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper, a book recommended to me at least 3 times in the last month.

A summary and Q&A with the author can be found here.

As I sometimes do, I want to share my feelings about this book, as it pertains to special needs. 

First, I have to acknowledge that this book is fiction.  And I was caught in the first chapter by a spunky 11 year old who has cerebral palsy and has never spoken a word.  I love her.  I know her.  I talk to her every single day. And yet, she told me so much in this book that I didn't know, that I should've known.

Second, I was unaware that this book was written for "younger readers" as I was reading it on my Kindle.  How awesome.  What a great way for students to understand differences in their classmates!

As much as I liked this book and feel it's a great read and a great step in the process of getting kids and adults alike to accept others and their similarities and differences, there are some things I think are lacking.

The author uses words like "handicapped" and "retard."  I know this is jargon and can possibly help kids relate, but I would have liked to see more discussion of how the 'r-word' is misused and hurts both a person and a family.  Words matter.  And a larger dialogue about these words could've made a difference.

I also would've liked more information about what happens in "H-5."  Melody makes it seem as though she can do anything she wants, play around, watch movies, and have free time in H-5 with the other kids with special needs.  The teacher in H-5 is never represented as a real teacher, nor is he/she ever seen as responsible for Melody's education, IEP, communication, goals, social situations, inclusion classes, aide assistance, or anything else.  The H-5 teacher is simply present.  Doing what?

I often find that "normal kids" wonder what happens in "that" room.  It would've been nice to have more description of the teacher, the classroom, the other students, the education that can and does take place in the classrooms like H-5.

And where was the principal? The Speech Therapist?  The Physical Therapist?  The Occupational Therapist?  The School Psychologist?  Melody's private speech therapist? The county communication specialist?   How could they have gone so long without getting Melody a communication device?  Why would it have taken so long to get her into Inclusion classes?  And why in the world would any of the teachers let Claire and Molly speak to or about Melody in the ways they did? 

So, there again, while I feel like this is a great book and a great way for kids to relate to their classmates with special needs, I'm not sure the author, who has the most extensive and impressive biography I've read in a long time, really did her homework on special education.  This is not an accurate portrayal of life in a public school setting under PL94-142. 

Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper= 4 out of 5 stars.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Apps That are Right for Us!

We've had the iPads for one full week now and have had some time to review some Apps.

Here is the beginning of a list of Apps that are right for us (kids with mild-moderate-intensive special needs, grades k-3):
Cookie Doodle

1. Cookie Doodle- AWESOME!  You choose your cookie and get to "measure" the ingredients, mix, bake, and decorate your own cookies.  Great for following directions, making choices, positional concepts, color identification, shapes, and FUN!  We love this and plan to use it year round!

Word Magic
2. Word Magic- Look at the visual image, and choose the beginning sound from 4 letters. Choose beginning sounds, medial sounds, or ending sounds.  This App keeps track of correct and incorrect responses for easy data collection.
My Very First App

3. My Very First App- This is in the Eric Carle style and uses his illustrations to, first, match pictures with colors and color words.  Next, play a simple game of memory with the same illustrations.  Each illustration is named aloud as it is turned over pairing auditory and visual learning.  Change the memory game from "easy" to "medium" to "hard."
Alphabet Tracing

 4. Alphabet Tracing- For each letter, a train, caterpillar, or animal models the direction in which to write the letter; no pencil or stylus needed.
Telling Time App

5. Telling Time App- Uses a real watch and gives four choices to receptively tell the time.  This could provide an alternative to our traditional file folder tasks.
ABC- Magnetic Alphabet

6. ABC- Magnetic Alphabet- It's a magnet board on the iPad.  Digital letter magnets are movable and allow you to easily make words.

7. Speak it! Text to Speech- We are going to trial this as a communication device for one student who wants to type everything.  Simply type and touch "speak it."  This App has four choices of "voice" and has the ability to save frequently used words, phrases, or sentences. Imagine carrying an iPad or an iPhone rather than a $7400 speech device??? 
Monkey Preschool Lunchbox

8. Monkey Preschool Lunchbox- Great for listening and receptive language!  Each question in the "game" asks for a different concept.  Examples- "Which fruit is different?"  "Point to the food that is a fruit."  "Which word begins with the letter C?"
Thomas Game Pack

9. Thomas Game Pack- Nothing seems to motivate more than Thomas the Tank Engine.  This game pack offers 3 different games- Memory, Puzzles, and Navigating the Train Tracks.  I can't barely pry their fingers away from Thomas.

10. Sentence Builder- This App offers a visual and choices in how to build a sentence that appropriately fits the picture.  Great for receptive language, modeling appropriate parts of speech, and modeling complete sentence structure. 

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Wow! What a Week!!!

WOW!  What a week!  I am still trying to recover (on Sunday morning!).

First, I would like to thank Mrs. Harwood, Mrs. Hearns, and Mrs. Oswald for making my school year!  The three of you and your families could not be more special to me.  Words cannot even begin to express how much this day or this award, or knowing all of you, means to me.

Mrs. Hearns, me, Mrs. Oswald, Mrs. Harwood
Imagine this. It's Thursday afternoon and I have gotten out of the LAMP training, at BW, early.  I am sitting in my sister's office at Berea high school with my best friend, Miss K.  Mr. Martin sends a text, "We are having a staff meeting at 4:10 today.  You and Effie need to come back."

What?  Are you joking?  What's going on?  Is someone sick?  Is someone pregnant?  Is Mr. Martin leaving Hilton?  Are there going to be more cuts?  Dave was at a meeting this morning, I wonder what happened?

Then I get texts from Mrs. Robinson and Mrs. Vajda telling me about this mystery staff meeting too!  And no one knows what's going on!

A few hours later, Miss K and I were on our way back to Hilton School.

"No one else would ever have to come back!  I can't believe Dave is making us come back!  This must be really important," I said to Effie.

In the car, Miss K told me to try this new lip gloss she had, said it tasted so good.  I put it on. "Tastes like lip gloss," I said. Then she sprayed me with perfume.  Strange enough, this is not out of the ordinary for us.

When we get to Hilton School, Mr. Martin is waiting for us at the front door tapping his wrist.
"It's not 4:10 yet," I said. "You're waiting for us?"

That's when I looked at Effie. She was smiling.  Dave was smiling.  Weird big smiles.

"What's going on?" I said, as we walked quickly to the Media Center and Mr. Martin pushed Miss K in first.

"No, seriously, what's going on?" I asked.

And then I looked in the room, and everyone was staring at me at the door. And I immediately saw Adam, Marina, and Alex.  And Adam came right up to give me a hug.

And the next thing I know, two women from the Plain Dealer are announcing to the group that I am the winner of the Crystal Apple nominated by Mrs. Harwood, but also nominated by Mrs. Hearns, and Mrs. Oswald.

The next ten minutes are somewhat of a blur as Mrs. Harwood read her nomination letter.  I was crying and, Thank God I have a copy now to reread.

The new Superintendent, Mr. Prebles, was there and our curriculum director, Ms. Calevich, our teachers, all my special education aides, The Harwood Family, the Hearns Family, and the Oswald Family.

We found out that Mrs. Harwood, Mr. Martin, and I get to go to a special banquet in May and that's when they present the actual Crystal Apple.  Only 12 teachers a year receive this special honor and the applications go through quite a process before a teacher is chosen.  A story will run in the Plain Dealer on December 19th!  And Mr. Jansik from the Brecksville Magazine and Broadview Journal was there too!

Wow. What a week!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Wow! A Crystal Apple!?!?!?!

December 9th, 2010

Dear Miss Kolis,

Congratulations! You have been selected as a winner of the prestigious Plain Dealer Crystal Apple Award sponsored by Bryant & Stratton College for the 2010-2011 school year. As an award winner, you join a very select group of educators in Northeast Ohio who have been recognized for outstanding efforts and accomplishments in education. We, at the Plain Dealer and Bryant & Stratton College, are proud to be part of this recognition process.

The recognition process begins today and includes a plan to inform more than one million readers of Ohio's largest newspaper of this honor when we publish an announcement about your accomplishment within The Plain Dealer on Sunday, December 19, 2010. Then at the end of the school year, you will join the other 2010-2011 Crystal Apple Award winners at a special banquet where you will be presented with the actual Crystal Apple Award. The Crystal Apple itself is intended to be a constant reminder to you of this special day and the special place you hold in the heart of Erin Harwood.

What makes the Crystal Apple Award so special is that educators are nominated by the people best qualified to observe their abilities... students, co-workers, administrators, family, parents, and friends. All of the nomination letters received each context period are narrowed down at The Plain Dealer and then are forwarded to a team of educators throughout Northeast Ohio who make the final selection.

Please accept my congratulations on behalf of all of us at The Plain Dealer and Bryant & Stratton College and our best wishes for your continued success.

Sincerely yours,

Terrance C. Z. Egger
November 19, 2010

On behalf of my son, Alex Harwood, I would like to nominate Miss Morgan Kolis, Special Education Teacher at Hilton Elementary School (K-3) in the Brecksville-Broadview Heights School District, for the Plain Dealer's Crystal Apple Award. Alex, age 9, is in third grade at Hilton Elementary and has autism. Morgan Kolis entered our lives three years ago when Alex transitioned to the public schools for kindergarten. Morgan embodies everything you would want in an educator: passion, dedication, strong work ethic, open-mindedness, creativeness, collaborative, and a superior communicator. Yet, Morgan's deservedness goes beyond these desirable traits and she truly has inspired not only my son, but our family and other families whose lives she has also touched. From an individual and global perspective, Morgan has tackled the challenges of educating children with special needs and finding and supporting ways to improve their overall lives. She not only looks at the individual academic needs but the needs of the "whole" child, and explores ways to incorporate various therapeutic interventions and technologies to further enrich the educational experiences of her students.

Morgan's work day does not end at 4:00pm nor does her school year end in June. In the summer, she organizes a "Room 5 Reunion" with a pool party at her home or a trip to Handels Ice Cream to bring the families, teachers, and staff together. Morgan also takes time out of her weekend and summer schedule to meet with Alex's home tutors to discuss curriculum, programming, and IEP goals to ensure carryover and generalization of all skills learned at home and at school.

Morgan has embraced technology and alternative interventions to meet the specific, individual needs of each of her students. When Alex struggled with handwriting and the use of a computer mouse, Morgan wrote a grant proposal and was awarded a computer "touch screen" to help him better explore technology, adapt his communication methods, and keep pace with his peers. After purchasing our own augmentative communication device for Alex (who is non-verbal), Morgan worked collaboratively and enthusiastically with our private speech therapist to train herself on the equipment so that she could incorporate use of the device into Alex's academic and social settings at school. This was despite the fact that the device was not part of Alex's IEP at the time nor was it recommended for Alex by outside agencies contracted by the district.

Beyond her day to day teaching responsibilities, Morgan embraces the individual philanthropic causes of all her students. Every year, she organizes a team of teachers, aides, administrators, and others to join our family team for the Autism Speaks Walk Now for Autism. Not only does she "walk" in support of Alex and others with autism, she raises money through on-line campaigns and has organized fundraising events such as Spotlight on Special Needs where supporters walk as one group, in the dark, shining their flashlights through the community.

As you can see, Morgan Kolis holds a very special place in our heart. It is difficult raising a special needs child but, when someone comes along who is so devoted to your child and it gives you strength and inspiration that there is a better life ahead for him. I cannot think of a more deserving candidate for the Crystal Apple Award and I encourage the committee to reward this extraordinary educator.


Erin Harwood

November 20, 2010

There are so many ways to look at a child’s success in school.  Is your child a social butterfly, a book worm or maybe a busy bee somewhere in between?  What about the child that is still growing into their wings?  That is the child that needs to be shown how to find their own unique way of flying.  Our daughter Marina is one of those children.  She is a 3rd grader at Hilton Elementary School in Brecksville- Broadview Heights School District.  She is also a child with autism  -  a child that has made so much progress thanks to all the wonderful staff and classmates at Hilton.  But among the supportive and nurturing staff is a special education teacher that has been Marina’s biggest champion  -  Morgan Kolis; she is an amazing special education teacher. 
With guidance and determination, Morgan has helped Marina achieve so many levels of success.  She has helped teach her to read, write and work on math problems.  More importantly, she has given her confidence to fit inside a world that sometimes makes her feel like an outsider.

Morgan has opened up a whole new world of being with friends, enjoying music, art and coping with uncertain day-to-day situations.  She has made school a place to have fun, be happy, and reach all the academic and social goals that all families have for their children.

By fostering an environment of acceptance and patience at school, Morgan goes beyond the academic challenges faced by children with special needs; she encourages staff and students to understand all the differences and similarities in children.  Encouraging kids and parents to use new technology to improve and make academics fun, she has created blogs and websites to share information.   Morgan spends much of her own time writing grants to get equipment for her resource room and creating extra academic aides for other teachers and families to use.   

Our daughter loves school, which she often calls “Miss Kolis school”.  She is doing well academically, is making friends and most of all has a brighter future thanks to Morgan Kolis.

Maria Hearns

Monday, December 6, 2010

Room 5 Meets the iPad

It's hard not to be so overly excited about this that I burst.

I almost feel spoiled rotten over the fact that we have two new iPads in our classroom, and then I remember that I wrote a grant for them, and that the money did not come from the district, but from a very generous organization.

Thank you again, BBH Schools Foundation, for supporting Room 5 at Hilton School.

But it's hard not to feel spoiled, and blessed.

We are truly blessed.

Today, I kept that in mind as I was introducing our two new iPads to the students.

Here are our iPad Rules:
1. Be careful.
2. Be careful.
3. Use hands [not feet, not mouths].
4. Share.
5. Be careful.

And away they went...

Saturday, December 4, 2010

I Can, I Learn, iPad!

Today I set out in the hopes of buying two iPads.

These two iPads were to be paid for with grant money generously provided by the BBH Schools Foundation.  This is the 3rd time in 4 years that the Foundation has chosen one of my grants, and I am honored that they agree to support items for my classroom year after year.

So, I set out, Christmas carols blaring.  I heard my favorite Christmas carol by a group called Straight No Chaser and I'm thinking "life couldn't be better."

I get to Crocker Park before the Apple Store opened and decided to do a little Christmas shopping in Barnes & Noble.  And I find an Educator's table where I get free coffee, a free kids' DVD, a free B&N tote, AND 25% off my purchases! 

Life is good!

And then I realized it.

I forgot my credit card. I had little cash.

Little cash = no iPads.

OOOOOOOOooooooh nooooooooOOOOOOOO.

Before I start to cry, I think to myself, "wait, I can solve this problem."  Where's the nearest bank?

I go to the bank. I take out the cash because, after all, I had just deposited the check from the Foundation.

And I get to the Apple Store just in time to have a nice, cute saleman named Alan helping me with my purchase.  I tell him the deal, ask lots of questions, and get ready to buy!  I feel like bells and whistles should be going off with this purchase.

And then, the second wrench in my day.

As I give him the paper for my tax exemption, he says he has to go ask his manager a question.  I play around with the display as I wait...

He comes back.

"Do you have your teaching license with you, by chance?" he says.

"Um, no.  That's not just something you carry around. Why?" I respond.

"How were you planning to pay for this?" he asks.


"We would need your teaching license to give you the tax exemption," he says. "See, we can't prove that you are buying this for school and not for your personal use, so we would need to see your teaching license number."

"I have a union card. Can that count?"

"Can you just run home and get it?" he says.

Um, no dude, I think, I just drove 25 minutes to get here.  And I'm lazy when it comes to anything but doing my work for kids.  Seriously, I'm lazy.

So, to make an even longer story slightly shorter, I PAID FOR THE TAX ON TWO IPADS! 

Then I also paid for a cleaner and a case.  But only ONE case because I did not have enough cash for two of them (because I forgot my credit card, remember?).

So, what started as an entirely blessed and amazing day turned into something that gave me an 8 hour headache...

But, I got to spend the rest of tonight uninstalling and re-installing my iTunes, then searching Apps, then buying Apps, and then syncing iPads. 

And now I cannot wait to share the iPads!  I cannot wait to share with my students and my aides!

And I plan to share the rest of the process here as well.

I am so blessed; bad day or not. :)

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Yikes! I Don't Know What I'm Doing!

After seven years, one quarter, and 4ish weeks of being a teacher, I still have days when I think to myself, "Yikes, I don't know what I am doing!"  These thoughts generally occur to me and send me into a state of panic on the last day of a break, such as today.  I know I'll have the same feeling on Jan. 2nd, and the last day of spring break, and again on the last day of next summer.

When we've had more than 3 days off, I tend to think I have no idea what I am doing.  I forget about the previous 7 years, 1 quarter, and 4 weeks, and start to panic.  I stare at my lesson plan template for a Monday and think "I have no idea what we are going to do tomorrow."

I start to breathe a little faster.  And I close my eyes and imagine the resources I have in my room so I can think of something to put into the lesson plans.  My head says "Am I really responsible for 8 little kids and their education?  What do I know?"  And I sit with my eyes closed and my fingers on the keyboard.

Three years ago, I used to walk into my principal's office after each break and, I would tell her "I don't know what I'm doing."

She would stare at me, then laugh a little.

"What?  Yes you do.  Go back to your room."  This was her response after the third time I did this.

Hahahahahaha... That was exactly the answer I needed.

Yes I do.  I know what I'm doing.  I know what we are doing next, and even though I teach something different at this time every single year to every single kid, I know exactly where we are headed.  And I know it, inherently now.

You see, there were years when I would pull out the content standard books.  And there were years when I would have the books and the website pulled up at the same time so I could reference the content standard as quick as possible.  And then I could check it off.  I would sit with old lesson plans of each student and check off where we'd been and where we were headed.  I would keep each IEP next to me to make sure I included goals and objectives each day so I could instruct and then assess regularly to keep data.  I would keep a chart for each student of both IEP objectives and then content standards to make sure each student was introduced and instructed on each standard...

But now, after the panic settled, and I remembered what my former principal used to tell me, I could breathe again.

I know exactly where we've been and exactly where we are going.

And if you asked me about any 1 of those 8 students, I could tell you, without having to look it up.  I could tell you about his or her data.  I could tell you about his or her likes and dislikes, his triggers, her favorite foods, his best friend, her new "stim" and all her former "stims."  I could tell you how many times I've tried to teach her how to count coins in how many different ways. I can tell you what meds she's on and what he eats for breakfast every day.  I can tell you how long he's been working on the Dolch Primer Sight Word List.  I can likely tell you what joke he may tell during circle time or what icon she may click first 99 out of 100 times on the computer.

But I have to remind myself that I know these things.  I have to write blogs to be able to reflect on these facts.  I have to remember these things when I hear those comments about being "status quo" or "mediocre."

Because at least 4 times a year, I forget that I know, and I question myself.

Please believe that I still look things up once in a while and still reference IEPs and content standards, but often, it's to confirm things I already know.

And today I can confirm something I already knew, that I was meant to be a teacher.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Let's Talk about RtI...

So, let's talk about RtI.

Response to Intervention.

I'm just not sure what the mystery is all about.

I'm not sure where this "new" RtI started, but, let's just say, it's NOT NEW!

This is not new.

I've been a teacher for 8 years, and I know that this is not new.

We've always asked for data when you've brought a student to "team" to "ask for help."

But let's be honest, teachers that bring students to the "team" never want to ask for help. They want to get the student qualified for special education to get the student OUT of their classroom.

And before, we called it IBA or IAT (Intervention-Based Assistance) or (Intervention Assistance Team).

So, there is really only one main difference:

1. RtI says "We don't care anymore WHY your student is struggling.  We want to know HOW to help." 

10 more things you need to know about RtI (Response to Intervention):

1. RtI is a REGULAR ED. INITIATIVE.  Regular ed. teachers should be the ones doing the Tier One interventions.  This is called DIFFERENTIATION and is only different with a student needing to go through the RtI process because you have taken BASELINE data and should be PROGRESS MONITORING.

2. RtI wants to actually see your DATA and know what RESEARCH BASED INTERVENTION you did.

3. The RtI Team should never be the "gateway" to special education testing.  There is NO TEST that is going to say your child IS special ed. or IS NOT special ed.  There is NO TEST for SLD!!!!!!!!!!!!!

4. The school psych., the special ed. teacher, the principal, the reading intervention teacher, and the speech therapist are NOT the enemy that hold the key to getting a student qualified as SLD and thus getting them out of the regular classroom.

5.  RtI actually encourages teachers to ask other teachers for help. "Hmmm, I'm out of ideas and this kid is still struggling. What can I do next?"  AND ASKING THIS QUESTION DOES NOT MAKE YOU A BAD TEACHER!!!  It makes you a smart one.

6.  In my opinion, the goal of RtI is not to qualify LESS students.  It's to qualify the students who really have learning disabilities or other real needs.

7.  Teachers, all teachers, need help/training/assistance to teach ALL learners.  We need to help each other learn how to DIFFERENTIATE because it doesn't come inherently in everyone's teaching "toolbox."

8.  The RtI paperwork and process should always revolve around the student.

9.  There are endless resources explaining all this and more.  Plus resources that provide the research based interventions that you need.  My favorites are Intervention Central and the Florida Center for Reading Research.

10.  There has to be a paper trail or e-data trail about the process.  If there is not paperwork or e-data, the next teacher will have to start over.  No one wants that.  Define your paperwork for Tier One, Tier Two, Tier Three, Team Meeting Notes, etc. and keep it all in a central and defined place.

(The hard part of all of this- Getting people to understand the shift... buy in... and DO IT!)

Sunday, November 14, 2010

5 Reasons I Love This Job THIS WEEK.

It's no secret, I had a rough week.  The special ed. coordinator found me in the hallway and gave me a hug (for goodness sake!).

But, inspired by a great blog, What Ed Said and the blogger's series of 10 Things, I'd like to make a list of:

5 Reasons I Love My Job as a Special Educator THIS WEEK!

1. Music Therapy.  This week, I plopped myself down in our Music Therapy session for 30 minutes, I saw 7 little bodies completely engaged, following directions, and excited about what would come next.  It's amazing what a little music can do.

2. The unfiltered voices of my students.  The fact that my students say aloud what the rest of the world is thinking is something that we work to make socially appropriate.  But, there are so many times that the unfiltered comments of my students and my strange sense of humor go hand in hand... like on Tuesday when I was prompting a student to fill in a graphic organizer about this bird he had made.

"What do you want to name him?" I said.

"Pee pee" my student answered.

Yep, this student would.

And while I politely explained to him that this bird would be hanging in the hallway near his homeroom and although it might seem really funny to name him Pee Pee, his homeroom teacher AND his mother might not find it so funny.

And then I turned my head and laughed. Hard. Because a bird named Pee pee?  That's funny.

3.  This week, I taught 3 third graders, 1 second grader, and a Kindergartener with autism, cognitive disabilities, and other assorted genetic disorders how to use the website Wordle.  I thought this would be a fun way to play with words and help us make them more visual.  I used some resources like 46 (now 48) Interesting Ways to Use Wordle in Your Classroom and away we went.  We made locker tags and spelling word clouds and fun posters for our 21st Century learners bulletin board and, Who was the Most Engaged?  My non-verbal Kindergartener with autism.  Coolest.  Kid.  Ever.

4.  On Friday when it seemed there was a gray cloud hanging over Hilton School (although the sun was shining brightly on the sunny West Side), my principal walked into my classroom around 2pm.

This is not uncommon as he does walk throughs regularly and sometimes comes in to discuss things with me during the day.  He looked slightly disheveled as I asked "What's up?"  (Yes, we are pretty comfortable in Room 5 with our regular visitors.)

"Can I please work with one of your students Miss Kolis?"

Um, okay.

Turns out, boss was having a hard day too.  And, where did he come for happiness?  ROOM 5!!!  Our Room!  Our room inspires happiness!

And as I sent him to the reading carpet with a third grader, I kept an ear out to see how it was going.  Every other page of that Arthur book, my little sweetie looked up at him and said "You da best pwincipal." 

Needless to say, he left with a smile.

And last, but certainly NOT least...

5.  While making a Wordle about a third grade student, she needed some prompts to answer questions about herself so that we could type the words in.  I would start the sentence and she would finish it.  "Susie likes to eat..."   "... cupcakes."  "Susie likes to eat cupcakes and... "  "...cookies."  "Susie likes to read about..."  "... Dora."  "Susie lives in..."  "... Broadview Heights."  "Susie's best friend is... "  "... Miss Kolis."

Wait.  Really?  That was so awesome!  She said I was her best friend.  That was the cutest thing I have ever heard!  Here's my third grader who I push every single day to work, work, work.  Math, reading, writing, spelling, appropriate social skills, and no you may not sit on my lap anymore because when you go to 4th grade, they will think I am crazy for that.... and you said I'm your best friend.  I.  love.  you.

I love this job.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

My 2010 EduBlog Award Noms

The 2010 Edublog Awards Nominations -

This is the first time I am trying this... to nominate people for Edublog Awards...

It's hard because I believe that competition in education should be kept to a minimum.  Shouldn't we all just be out to help each other?  But, in the blogging world, I don't think you ever write to win an award.  I think you write to reflect, to share, to vent, to collaborate...

And, it's always nice to get recognized for doing something well.

Here are my 2010 noms-

Best individual blog - What Ed Said

Best individual tweeter - Aviva Dunsiger- @Grade1

Best group blog - Irresistible Ideas for Play Based Learning

Best resource sharing blog - Free Technology for Teachers

Most influential blog post - Special Educators- Do We Do Too Much?

Best teacher blog - Teacher Tom

Best librarian / library blog - Cybrary Man's Educational Web Sites

Best school administrator blog - Taste of Tech

Best educational wiki - 21st Century Concepts

Best educational use of a social network - @techieteacher Jeremy Brown

Best use of a PLN - @tgwynn Tim Gwynn

Saturday, October 23, 2010

TGIS- Thank God it's Saturday.

Today is Saturday and Thank God it is.

I will preface what I am about to write by saying this- I really love my job.  I feel like it is not a job, it is actually a calling.  I know that many people would argue that "good teachers" can be made and I believe that as well.  But I actually believe that I was born and meant to be doing this job...

...right now.

But after a week like this week, I wonder... is there more for me?

How long will I be able to continue to do this job? 

I've heard the warnings and the stories- "special ed. teachers burn out quickly."  I've heard 5 years, 10 years, 15 years... And I always believed that those people were a little weak. I mean, this is the best job in the world.  These kids... these kids are amazing.  They make me smile and they say funny things, and every success is worth celebrating!  And I mean cheering, clapping, and yelling horraaaaaay type celebrating...

But what about all the other stuff?

I keep hearing business people (and other "non-teachers") say that it must be nice to work 6 hours a day, 5 days a week, with summers off.

Riiiiiight.  You'd think it would be nice.

But I've already written a big blog about what I do, how hard I work, how much I work, how I don't take days off... So, I won't do that again.

But, I will say... THIS JOB IS HARD.

Staff meetings are hard.  PLCs (Professional Learning Communities) are worthwhile, but hard.  They're hard when you feel like no one in the room can possibly understand what you do.  Sure, they all do grades, they all grade papers (though maybe they would have less grading to do if they stopped giving so many papers), they all deal with behaviors and challenges and lots of kids and parents.  But can they really understand? 

Can they really understand that in 39 days of school, one parent has written me 33 emails, 25+ handwritten notes, and called 5+ times?  And our district has a policy of responding within 24 hours. 

There's communication. With parents.  With service providers like OT, PT, SLP, Therapeutic horseback riding instructors, and Music Therapists.  With special education coordinators.  With specialists.  With outside/private therapists.  With home program coordinators.  With SST3 staff.   With homeroom teachers and principals and special education aides.

And that's just the beginning.

There's paperwork.  Not grading the papers you hand out, but actual legal documents that must be completed within a time frame. IEPs. IEP progress reports. Report Cards. Doctors' forms about ADHD. ETRs. MFE reports. Alternate Assessments.

You get the point.

So how long can you go on like this?

I turned down a date last week because I didn't have the time to go...

How do I separate my calling from my life?

How do I refresh and recharge?  And will I need to refresh and recharge every 39 days this year???

And I just need to know... do you get tired... exhausted...

And do you feel guilty for feeling this way?

Because I do.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

REBELS Day!?!??!! Ideas for Positive Educational Reform

Today, Sunday, October 17th, has been named "REBELS" day by blogger Tom Whitby.

REBELS stands for Reforms from Educational Bloggers Links of Educational Suggestions... A day for teachers/ bloggers to share ideas for positive educational reform.

A great idea. And I'm jumping on board.

Here are some of my ideas for Positive Educational Reform (although slightly uncreative in list format):

1. Pay teachers based on merit. What? NO!  Pay teachers based on a different kind of scale.  How many trainings did you receive that year?  How many educational books did you read?  How often did you participate in a collaborative group?  How often did you volunteer to lead a committee or facilitate a group discussion?  Were you willing to participate in PSO (Parent-School Organization) or PTA activities?  Did you make yourself available to parents via phone, email, text message, twitter, blogging, a website?  Did you integrate technology this year?  How? For what purpose?  WHAT IF WE WERE PAID BASED ON OUR DESIRE TO LEARN? OUR DESIRE TO PARTICIPATE IN OUR SCHOOL COMMUNITY?  HELPING OURSELVES LEARN WHILE HELPING OUR STUDENTS LEARN?

2. Inclusion. Real inclusion. Not the theory or the "idea" but actual INCLUSION.  INCLUDE every student because ALL students can learn.  Real Inclusion should include at least TWO teachers in the classroom!!!  Co-teaching, co-planning, co-workers!  Two heads are better than one when it comes to finding the best ways for students to learn.

3.  Teach EVERY teacher to DIFFERENTIATE. Again, because ALL students can learn and it shouldn't be the job of JUST the special ed. teacher to figure out how to teach ALL students.

4. Initiatives starting from the GROUND UP.  Teachers and aides are the ones in the classrooms yet mandates come from those people who spend the day in offices on the hill.  Why not ask a teacher?

5. Formative Assessments.  USE your assessment to DRIVE your instruction.

Those are my ideas for positive educational reform.  Simple list but incredibly complicated to complete.

But as a teacher, I just have hope.

Yes, there's teacher bashing. Yes, there's union bashing.  Yes, I get emails from parents who don't trust me or who question my teaching methods or who question everything that is done in my classroom.

But I have hope.  For my students.

Last 2 ideas for Positive Educational Reform:

* Have hope, for every student.

* Get your passion back.  Be passionate about learning.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Nature Sculptures!

This week was pretty exhausting, but very worthwhile.

For my class this week, we borrowed an activity from the website Irresistible Ideas for Play Based Learning.

After reading the book Fall Leaves Fall, we had a discussion of what falls to the ground during the Fall months.

We provided the students with nuts, acorns, sticks, and pine cones.  We threw in some sea shells for fun and for sensory input.

We were nervous about the glue gun, but used one that said "low temp."  Only one student was afraid ("No glue! No glue!) and no one even came close to getting burned!

Here are some pictures that will hopefully inspire others as well!