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