Sunday, June 12, 2011

Reflections of This School Year

There were lots of things I did this school year that I LOVED!

Then, there were other things...

And it's important to reflect on what went well and what didn't go so well to be able to become better. A better teacher.  A better learner.  A better me.

First, I'll start by showing you this- My 2010-2011 School Year Goals. Yes, it's true, I sort of wrote an "IEP" for myself.  

I set goals for myself and hoped to accomplish them by the end of the school year.  I found myself opening this document, reading it, and closing it, opening, reading, and closing, etc., etc., etc. 

I found myself changing priorities over the school year. 

I found that, the only person who was accountable for this list, was me.  IS me.  

And the only person who can make me any better, or any worse, is me.

So, how did I do?

  1. Increase parent/family/community communication and engagement
Well, let's see.  I did update our classroom blog page weekly and you can see it at  This was good, but way too easy.  I did not manage to print the Weekly Newsletter for the one family who does not have a computer.  Honestly, I did not believe they would be interested in the newsletter, and that was probably just irresponsible of me. 

I did manage to get a Swim Party together at my house and 10 of my current and former students along with their parents and siblings attended.  This was a great move and really helped parents to get to know each other.  It was also something that the kids remembered all year long and asked about for this summer.  

I also sent group emails to parents and maintained "Friday Folders" that went home weekly with all of the papers, handouts, and extras from the classroom.  This is the best way for us to do this with all of the other folders and books that go home every day from the other classrooms.

I did not manage to plan monthly outings and I did not have a monthly door decorator.  I also did not schedule any "mystery readers" nor did we manage to have third grade e-portfolios ready for "student-led parent teacher conferences."

On the this goal, I would this "Not Yet Mastered."

    2.  Integrate more technology.

Thankfully, we have the resources here, and I have the passion for this goal to be possible.  But did we do it? 

My first objective was to check into to set up some e-portfolios for my 3 third grade students.  Done!  We set them up, chose our backgrounds, learned how to manage text, paragraphs, photos, icons, and took our spelling tests here weekly.  We added some of our best work and lots of photos.  And we'll pass these on to our fourth grade teachers to see our work!

These 3 e-portfolios were going so well that we added our second graders as well.  I set up 2 more sites on for my 2 second grade students.  We will get to continue working on them next school year.

I set up our BoardMaker activity pads and got good use out of them for the 2 quarters of school... until we discovered, wrote a grant for, and received our iPads... 

We learned and relearned all of the computer vocabulary that we had worked on last year and know the parts of a computer and now, an iPad.

We were also able to integrate web sites for literacy such as Wordle, Glogster, and VoiceThread this year with all of our students, K-3, in Room 5.

We used the Flip Camera all year and the end of the year video was a success!

Goal 2 was definitely successful!

    3.  Integrate more functional skills.

This is a tricky one.  I always find it difficult to balance academic work, behavioral and social skills work, and functional skills (like hand washing, setting the table, pouring milk, becoming independent with daily tasks).  

There are only so many hours in the day.  And I STRONGLY believe that our kids with moderate/intensive special needs (or whatever you may call them), should be learning things that are "standards-based" just like all the other kids in the school.  They need to learn to read because they CAN read.  And what about addition, subtraction, telling time, counting coins, graphing, multiplication, etc.  But then, identifying feelings in yourself and others, sharing, turn-taking, self-calming, learning intrinsic motivation, making friends, sustaining play, playing cooperatively, etc., etc., etc. are all important too.  And then when do I teach setting the table, washing your hands, folding towels, sorting laundry by color, sorting silverware in the silverware tray, reading food labels, identifying safety signs, and all the other important stuff?

So, this year, I tried to find a better balance with some collaboration and help from the Speech and Language Pathologist too.  

Some of the functional skills that various students, or all 7 students, worked on were folding towels, setting the table, using calculators, telling time, using a computer, keyboarding, counting coins, passing food during holiday celebrations, taking turns, playing board games, playing outside games, frosting cupcakes, following recipes, identifying feelings in self and others, self-calming strategies, learning phone number and address, identifying emergencies, calling 911, and talking to police officers, firefighters, and paramedics.

I think we did well here, but would like to improve even more next year.  We are going to make our "Police Officers, Firefighters, Paramedics, and Emergencies" Unit even bigger and practice using a special phone from the Broadview Heights Fire Dept. to practice calling 911 in the event of an emergency.  This is a concern as our students get older and we want to begin helping to bridge the gap between emergency service personnel and kids with special needs.

    4.  Improve classroom structure and organization.

I only had a few objectives here and need to change them again for the next school year.  Our classroom has to change each year based on the needs of our students and changes year after year.  In an ideal world, we would get a bigger classroom.  We'd have various one to one teacher stations, independent stations, a play/leisure area, a gross motor area, a place for the OT, a place for the SLP to come in for therapy, a space for our computers, and more!  But, we work with what we have, so we'll need to make changes again.  This year, our room will have a "pirate ship" as a self-calming space for one of our incoming students.

    5.  Establish a better PLN to collaborate, contribute, LISTEN

Wow. What a year it has been for the "PLN" and "PLC" movement.  I didn't have to do much here other than read my twitter page, read blogs, write in my own blog, and listen to my own school district.  We are building PLCs for next year in our own district and thus, collaboration!  
Plus, #edchat and #spedchat whenever I can participate.

Plus, the Reform Symposium from last summer and the one coming up at the end of July.

Plus, my twitter friends, my blog readers, my favorite blog posters, those who comment and RT... 

This one was easy.  Mastered and Continuing.

So, in terms of "my own IEP," I think I did well.  

Another successful year.

Did you set goals for yourself this year?  Did you accomplish them?  Did you forget about them?  Did you have time to work on them?

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Reflections on 3 students over 4 years... Success!

Monday, June 6th will start the very last week I have as the teacher of the three most energetic, loving, gentle, funny, lovable, smart, and amazing little kids I have ever known.

Because I teach special education, I can't use their names.  But will refer to them as students M, H, and O. (A, B, and C or 1, 2, and 3 just seems too impersonal).  And please forgive me if I give too many details or not enough.  I am already crying while typing...

A little background first-  Four years ago this week, my principal (now retired), another special ed. teacher, and I were sitting at a table discussing the future of special education at our school.  A new "unit" would be started at our school and who would be teaching it?  It was for kids with more intense special needs, and I was running the resource room for kids with LD and other more mild/moderate disabilities.  The other teacher was doing more inclusion and a bit of resource room as well for mild/moderate kids too. 

Suddenly, like a lightning bolt from God, I blurted out, "What if I do it?"

The principal stared at me, and I have no idea what she was thinking at that moment, even to this day.  The other special ed. teacher looked pleased. 

"No, seriously, what if I do it?  Then, she could take my job now, and you could hire or move a 50% person to do the rest."

"Let's think on this," our principal said.  And we left it alone for the remainder of the day.

The next day I went to her.  "I want to take it.  I called the state to see if I could teach in this room.  I can."

I had no idea how these two conversations would change my life for the next four years... And how much I believe that this idea really did come right from God.

Enter today, June 4th.  I'm preparing for my last week with my first 3 students in this "unit."  Other kids have been in the "unit" which we refer to as only "Room 5," but none as long as these three.

They came to me as Kindergarteners, students M, H, and O, and they will leave for fourth grade as my greatest accomplishments in life, the people I am most proud of, the ones who've changed my life like no one else ever could.

Student M.  She came into Kindergarten and I had no idea what to expect.  She was a bubbly, bouncing, happy, angry, smart, sweet, little girl who had one thing on her mind- SUGAR.  My little Student M would run, sprint, push through students or adults, go into other classrooms, scale walls, jump from tables and chairs, or climb up cabinets to get to cupcakes, donuts, or candy.  We would chase after her and needed the help of a behavior/autism specialist who actually told us "I have never seen a student like this."  After we had exhausted her ideas, we did our own FBA with the help of our own school psychologist.

Today, in third grade, my beautiful little Student M still loves her chocolate.  She loves those cookies and ice cream.  But you know what, I have had a bowl of Hershey's Kisses on my desk for over two weeks, and she has not taken even one!  She has asked with full sentences if she could have one, maybe once a day, BUT she has NEVER taken one!


In Kindergarten, Student M would run from adults when they asked her to complete undesirable activities.  She would run to another room, she would run down the hallway, she might even run out the door.  The principal even had to make the difficult decision to put an inside lock on the gym door that led to the parking lot so that my precious little Student M would not run out and get hit by a car.  The lock would at least slow her down.

Today, in third grade, Student M is able to play outside, on the grass island in the middle of the parking lot with us with only the words "Stay on grass please."  No worries of running off, getting hit by car, going anywhere.


And today, in third grade, Student M is learning multiplication.  I never imagined... Four years ago, I never imagined... Comprehending chapter books, using the computer independently, typing, using the iPad, reading independently, following directions, participating in conversations...


These are just a SMALL, SMALL portion of the successes and progress that she's made.  She's amazing. A-mazing.

And she's changed my world. Forever.

Student H.  Wow. 

Student H came to me in Kindergarten with limited interests and lots of self-stims.  He'd trialed lots of "programs" and had lots of tutors and his mom told us then "He hates balls.  He hates sports."  During Kindergarten, when his class did the "Alphabet Chant" and hand movements, Student H would stand and flap his hands and vocalize.  He rarely used any expressive words.  He rarely did anything independently.  He didn't play anything reciprocally and would've preferred to flip cards all day long.  He never protested anything.  He didn't appear to attend to much, and I wasn't quite sure if he was learning anything I was trying to teach him.

Today, in third grade, Student H can give expressive answers that are understood!  He can use his talker to give his responses too!  He can complete up to 20 minutes of work independently that includes using a calculator to solve addition and subtraction problems.  He can read independently and answer comprehension questions.  He can comprehend chapter books on a third grade reading level when read aloud to him.  He can laugh at the funny parts.  He LOVES sports.  He plays basketball and could spend hours throwing and catching a ball outside.  He plays with Play-Doh, Moon Sand, and in the sand table. He uses the iPad and selects the games he likes. He pushes things away that he doesn't like.  He types, spells, labels objects, uses an e-portfolio, counts coins, tells time to the hour and half hour...

Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

Success!  Success!  Success!

There is no limit to what my Student H is going to be able to do.  He has become my inspiration.  Just when I question a kid... I'll remember Student H... and BELIEVE... because they can ALL learn and they are ALL learning, even if it doesn't always appear that way.

And last, but never least-

Student O.

This kiddo and I had a rare connection from the day he walked into my world.  He was "my guy" and I was "his best teacher" and he would spend every day for the next four years telling me so.  "You my best teacher," he would say, my heart melting.

In Kindergarten, this guy was a little angry.  Writing was hard so he would throw his pencil across the room.  He didn't like his aide so he would throw his shoes at her.  Reading was unnecessary to him unless the cards had pictures of Winnie the Pooh or Dora the Explorer on them.  Math was out of the question.  Playing outside was not a choice.  Sharing toys was an outlandish request.  Student O did what he wanted when he wanted, and then he turned on the charm.  "I so sorry Kolis.  I not do it again.  You my best teacher."

In first grade, my guy refused to use the bathroom at school to have bowel movements.  He would get stomach aches and refuse to go into the bathroom.  "It dirty Kolis."  "I no use the bathroom."  "I no sick."

In second grade, we had to do extensive lessons on personal space vs. social space, touching other kids, asking for hugs, and being more socially appropriate.  "I hug you Kolis."

Today, in third grade, my guy, Student O, is adding, subtracting, counting coins, writing complete sentences, typing, maintaining his own e-portfolio, telling time to the hour, half hour, and quarter hours, measuring, using measurement tools, giving oral presentations to the class, and is still included with general ed. peers for science and social studies.  He reads, he practices sight words, he comprehends chapter books.  HE USES SARCASM and tells jokes!  He maintains friendships with other kids with disabilities AND general ed. peers.  He plays outside and runs outside and even uses bubbles! 

He is "my best guy" and I am "his best Kolis."

Success, Success, Success, Success....

I'm not sure how, at the end of this week, I will be able to pass them on to the fourth grade, to the next district building, to the Central School.  I'm not sure how I will be able to pass their materials on to another teacher, another IEP team, another "case manager." 

I'm not sure that I will be able to say "goodbye."

I know that change is good, and I know that Student M, Student H, and Student O are ready...

But I'm not sure that I am...