General Education Partners

Special education teachers must collaborate with general education teachers in order to program effectively for students. Collaboration and communication are key.

The purpose of special education is to provide specialized instruction to students in the area of his or her disability. Too many times the resource room is used as tutoring for the completion of work from the general education classroom. This work can and should be used to enhance this instruction, but should not be the only service students receive. For example, if a child is found to have a learning disability in the area of reading comprehension, specialized instruction in comprehension should be provided. If work from the general education classroom enhances this instruction, it should be incorporated, but it should not be the ONLY instruction the child receives from the special education teacher.

Collaboration between gen ed and special ed teachers is the only way to ensure this balance of instruction occurs. Special education teachers can facilitate this collaboration by beginning the school year with the following:

  1. Share information about each student with general education teachers including the classroom teacher and any elective teachers. This information must include accommodations and modifications. Gen ed teachers are responsible for implementing the accommodations and modifications. The special education teacher is a resource for questions and suggestions.
  2. Determine a schedule that aligns with minutes on the student’s IEP. What are the best times to pull the student out for instruction and what are the best times to push in for instructional support?
  3. Determine supports the student will need to transition from classroom to classroom. Can the student transition alone or does the student need adult assistance? Ensure that if a child enters back to the gen ed classroom at a time that is not conducive to the general education teacher stopping a lesson and looping the student in, that the student has materials to complete independently until he or she can join in the lesson.
  4. Discuss the role of paraprofessionals. If a paraprofessional will join the general education classroom to support students, what role will he or she play? What are some classroom norms of which the para should be aware? If the general education teacher has questions or concerns about the para, how should those be addressed?
  5. Discuss “what-if” scenarios. If a child has disruptive behavior, discuss the student’s behavior intervention plan. How should the teacher react to behavior? What is the plan if the teacher needs assistance? Does the gen ed teacher have the tools needed to support the student when special education staff is not present?
  6. Collaborate on programming. Determine what activities and materials from the general education classroom will be incorporated in the special education classroom. Share information with the gen ed teacher about specialized instruction that will occur in the special education classroom.
  7. Determine dates and times to collaborate as the year progresses. Apprise general education teachers that they are part of the student’s IEP team and if concerns arise, how to address those concerns with the IEP team.

Begin the year by opening the lines of communication. When general education teachers and special education teachers communicate and collaborate effectively, students reap the benefits.

So Impulsive!

A few months ago, I took Sophie to Casey’s to get brownie bites. I was in a hurry, trying to get to one of her brother’s games on time. Then…a disaster hit! There were no brownie bites at the store. I told Soph to choose something else because I didn’t want to be late to the game. She looked around the store. One minute…two minutes…three minutes. She saw everything they had to offer – twice. As the minutes went by, my patience faded. Sophie insisted we go to another Casey’s store. I told her she had ten seconds to make a choice. I started the countdown. Her demands that we go to another store became louder. I continued to count. Her frustration continued to build. Tears came with louder demands. I walked out of the store without buying her anything and as she finally followed me she was literally kicking and screaming.

This chart explains exactly what happened in Casey’s that day. Sophie has ADHD, which leaves her with little to no pause before she reacts. A thought enters her mind and she acts on it or she is triggered and this produces a big emotional response.

Reaction to stimuli occurs instantly and naturally in the brain of a person with ADHD. The best way to curb this instant reaction is to be proactive. In the story above, I could have prompted Sophie before going into the store by saying, “We are in a hurry so if this store doesn’t have brownie bites, let’s think of something else you can choose.” Proactively prompting with a timer is also helpful. I might say, “We are running behind so you will have three minutes to choose something. If you don’t choose something by the time the timer goes off, we will have to leave without a snack.” This only works if it is presented before the child begins to escalate. Waiting to insert an intervention until after escalation has begun, most often, does not work.

Teaching a pause before reacting is also a great intervention. This skill is part of executive functioning. Executive functioning skills include: paying attention, organizing and planning, initiating and focusing on tasks, regulating emotions and self-monitoring.

Smart but Scattered is a great resource with tons of tips to teach your child executive functioning skills. These skills help our kids learn how to pause before reacting.

Sophie continues to struggle with the pause and I continue to attempt to stay far enough ahead of her that I can be proactive. I know that if she is tired, her routine is off or she hasn’t had her medication; there is very little chance that she will have the ability to pause. I also know that her behavior is not personal and if she could control her behavior, she would.

Earlier this month, Soph became upset with me because I would not allow her to shoot off all of her fireworks at once. Instead of yelling, she refused to speak to me (which was nice for a change) and stormed off into the house. Later that night, I came out of the shower to find the heart below on my bed. She processed the situation by herself and took it upon herself to make amends. This is progress. Having the ability to recognize the problem may, one day, lead to her ability to prevent an issue from occurring at all!

What is Your Teacher Temperature?

It takes me 40 minutes to drive to work and I love it. I am obsessed with listening to podcasts. Ed Mylett is an entrepreneur who I listen to and love. He motivates people to become better. Better parents, better businessmen, better humans. This post is based off of his podcast, “Changing Your Identity.”

Every person has a thermostat and it is set where we feel comfortable. My hottest teacher temperature (when I was at the top of my teaching game) were my years in a classroom with students who have autism or intellectual disability. During those years, my teacher temperature was at least 95. I was on fire. I knew that I was doing exactly what I was meant to do. I loved problem-solving; working to figure out why students refused to enter the gym or how to teach students using methods outside of the box. I loved creating materials. I loved working with students and the relationships I had with their families.

Looking back, I know why my thermostat was set so high.

  • I was hungry to learn. I was taking classes, reading articles and talking to other professionals.
  • I was surrounded by amazing humans. The paraprofessionals and general education teachers who I worked with made me better. They questioned my methods and pushed me to create a better environment. They supported my interventions and believed in the work we were doing.
  • We had fun! Every day in my classroom wasn’t a blast, but most of the time, we had fun. We created a family and the kids felt safe and loved. We laughed…a lot.
  • I loved what I was doing and believed in the students and adults with whom I worked.

95 was comfortable. In fact, it felt great. My thermostat stayed at that level because I worked incredibly hard. When I became too tired to keep my temperature at a 95, I felt awful. I couldn’t keep up the pace I needed to feel successful in that classroom and my temperature dropped. I knew that to get back to a 95, I needed to make a change.

When we become comfortable at a certain temperature, changing that number is difficult. In our homes, when the thermostat is set at 72, but it is really hot outside, the temperature may rise to 75. The thermostat will work really hard until the temperature comes back down. Changing the setting on our thermostats requires persistent work to make a permanent change. Perhaps this is a change in grade level or subject area. It could mean moving from a teacher to a consultant. This could also be a change in routine, mindset, style or location. Maybe learning a new technique or curriculum could spark that change. Something that is for sure…being stagnant will move your temperature in the wrong direction. We must keep growing and pushing ourselves to be better humans.

I wonder how many teachers feel that their thermostat is set at 95. I know many of these teachers. They are the teachers who make their profession an art. They radiate the love they feel for kids. I’ve been taught by these teachers and my kids have been taught by these teachers. They are invaluable.

My question to you is, where is your thermostat set? What is your teaching temperature? Everyone gets stuck. Over the years, lesson plans stop changing and every new initiative is a hassle. If you are a teacher who feels stuck…if your thermostat has decreased throughout the years because your temperature dropped, I challenge you to do something to change it. Read a book. Find a Facebook group of teachers with similar interests to share ideas. Find new and inspired ways to run your classroom. Be determined that at the end of this school year, every child is going to be sad to leave your classroom. Increase your teacher temperature!

Finding Kansas

The DSM no long uses the term “Asperger’s syndrome” for students on the autism spectrum who may have more language or a high level of academic competency. The new term used is “high functioning autism.” I find this to be misleading. The ability to complete algebra in the 3rd grade does not make society easier to maneuver.

At times it seems that students with high functioning autism struggle more in the school setting than students with classic autism. Many public schools have programs with highly qualified teachers trained specifically to work with students who have classic autism. A student with high functioning autism is more likely enrolled in typical math and English classes. Teachers in these classes tend to have more training related to the subject area. Even many special education teachers who work in resource settings do not have the necessary training to work with a student who has high functioning autism.

In the book, Finding Kansas, Aaron Likens describes his life as a person with Asperger’s syndrome (high functioning autism). Aaron portrays his school experiences as miserable. He remembers talking to his kindergarten teacher about math during recess and being directed to play with the kids or he would lose his recess.

As he became older, social situations were completely beyond his understanding. With a perfect auditory memory, many tasks teachers asked of him seemed pointless, as he did not need to practice to learn math facts or state capitals. By the fourth grade Aaron was homeschooled and at age 16 he earned his GED; receiving the 3rd highest score in the state.

Aaron states that he was much more attached to objects than people. He comments that objects are predictable and will “do what I tell them to do.” People, on the other hand, are unpredictable. People do not follow a set of rules. People cannot be commanded to talk about subjects we like. We cannot predict if a person’s voice will be loud or soft.

Board games, however, do follow rules and provide consistency. Aaron describes his “game theory.” He states that he is a different person when he plays a game. “In the “real” world there are few set rules except laws, and all other rules are determined by the individual. But in a game those elements are tossed out. My overthinking and critical attitude toward others is bypassed, because within a game all participants are playing by the same rules.”

How many times have we (as teachers) had the student who gets incredibly frustrated because, “Joey isn’t following the rules”? For a student with high functioning autism, who is trying to diligently to follow the rules, watching another student break that rule is beyond frustrating! I also think of the craving for consistency and routine of students on the spectrum. With so much unpredictability in the “real world”, it makes sense that creating schedules, following routines and providing a clear beginning and end to activities allows for increased success.

In Finding Kansas, Aaron Likens provides insight into the mind of a person with high functioning autism. I think it is a must-read for parents of children with high-functioning autism and, teachers; general and special education and administrators.

Take Aways…

The most challenging students I have ever worked with are those with high-functioning autism. They were always two steps ahead, which meant I had to be three steps ahead…and it was exhausting!

Just because a student has many words does not mean the student has a lot of language skills. These students struggle to express needs and feelings. They struggle to tell a person how to make a situation better and many times, this frustration manifests in negative behavior.

Students with high functioning autism (HFA) benefit from using visuals. Many times teachers switch to words instead of pictures – which is fine in many cases. However, when a student is escalated, pictures provide a faster cue because the brain does not need to translate the written word into visual form.

Students with high functioning autism typically do not pick up on cues. Tell the child/student exactly what is expected. Using a consequence map (in my blog “One of My Favorite Behavior Tools”) is extremely helpful. This provides rules to social situations.

Sensory issues may be a major factor in behavior of students with HFA. Different stimuli affect a student differently depending on the day.

Don’t assume because a child was able to handle a situation one day that he/she can handle it again on a different day. What a student (or any human) can handle depends on the student’s bus ride and what was served in the cafeteria for breakfast and how loud the other students were in the hallway. Never assume a student who displays negative behavior does it because he or she wants to – there is always a deeper purpose behind the behavior.

All Students Can Learn

When I was teaching, one of my greatest assets was believing that all students can learn. No matter a child’s IQ, no matter what type of narrative was presented with a new student; I believed each student could and would learn. Something I miss about teaching is the creativity that came with problem-solving. When a student struggled, my team and I would collaborate and think outside the box until we found interventions that worked.

In the video below, one of my favorite students is reading. As he is reading, you can tell he has memorized the words to the story. Watch, though, as he goes back to self-correct when he is not pointing at the correct word as he reads. At the end of the video, I ask him reading comprehension questions. These are not questions I had rehearsed with the student prior to this recording.

Beside him is a behavior tool that helped him monitor behavior. On the top of his folder are written rules: 1. Follow directions. 2. Ask before you leave. 3. Quiet voice. 4. Answer your own why and what questions. This was a student who continually asked, “What’s your name?” or “Why are you…” when he already knew the answer. We were teaching him to use conversational skills other than his rote/learned conversational questions. The bubbles on the bottom of the folder were “popped” when the student did not follow one of the rules. At the end of the day, if bubbles remained on his folder, a para or I blew and popped bubbles with him.

I realize this is not a positive behavior support. I know I was taking something away, instead of the student earning towards something. This student, however, cognitively understood this system much better and he learned to self-monitor (to a degree) using this system. This emphasizes my philosophy that if all else has been exhausted, use what works!!

One of my Favorite Behavior Tools!

Toni’s Contingency Map

The image above is called a contingency map. This is a method for helping students understand the consequence of choosing an action. To create the contingency map, first identify a behavior to support. Decide what the consequence will be if the student chooses to display the negative behavior. In the image above, I first define the situation. I then specify what the preferred choice is in green and the consequence for the preferred choice. In red, I specify the non-preferred choice and the consequence for the non-preferred choice.

For students who are not yet readers, or those who have difficulty processing words when they are escalated, pictures with words or pictures without words, may be used in each box.

I created the contingency map above for one of my students who ran away when the timer sounded to go inside for recess. The first box states the situation. The green box describes what the green (preferred choice) is: “I line up with my class.” The next green box displays the consequence for the preferred choice, “I can play outside again.” The first red box describes the non-preferred choice: “I run away” and the consequence for making the non-preferred choice: “I have to play inside for my next recess.”

How many teachers have students who love to work for the iPad as a reinforcer but the student has a huge behavior when it is time to put the iPad away? Instead of completely removing the iPad as a choice, teach the student that his actions will determine if he receives the iPad as a reinforcer. The contingency map above uses only pictures to describe what will happen. When using this, a teacher should define how long the student will lose the iPad (one hour, one day, one week?). It is important to remember that students may not have strong executive functioning skills. Because of this, losing the iPad for more than the rest of that day, may be too long of a time period for the student to remember and understand why the iPad was taken.

When I use a contingency map, I go over it with the student promptly before the student may display a behavior. If the student chooses to work for the iPad, I would go over the contingency map after it is earned. Say, “you earned the iPad. Remember, when the timer goes off, you need to put the iPad in the crate. When you do, you will get to work for the iPad again. If you choose to pinch when the timer goes off, you will lose the iPad for the rest of the day.” When the timer goes off and the student chooses to put the iPad in the crate, pull the map out again and point out that he made a green choice and now he can work for the iPad again.

If the student chooses to pinch, bring the map out and point to the red box that indicates he will not earn the iPad again for the rest of the day. This is not typically a good time to use any words. If the student moves on and asks to work for the iPad again, pull the map out and point to the red box indicating no iPad. The fewer words used, the less likely more behaviors will arise. I have also found that using the word “no” may cause the behavior to intensify. By pointing to the picture with the red on it, you are telling the student “no” without saying the word out loud.

Remind the student that whatever behavior he chooses, it is HIS CHOICE; this is very important. The more cavileer you act about the student making a non-preferred choice, the better this will work. You should provide no emotional reaction to a red choice. I have had students who would reach towards me, as if to pinch me and I would only respond with, “your choice” and point to the map. This takes your personal feelings about the student’s actions out of the equation. The student should believe that it doesn’t matter to you which choice he makes because the consequence for the action is already on paper.

A side note… any time you ask a student to end time with a preferred item, designate a specific place in the room where it belongs. When I first started this behavior tool, I would indicate that the student put the ipad/toy/fan/ect. in my hand when the timer sounded and once it was in my hand, I would turn the timer off. One Thomas the Train to the face made me change this practice! Designating a space in the classroom not only protects you from physical harm, it also detaches you from being the person taking something fun away from the student!

When I was teaching I also carried around a blank map that was laminated. When I anticipated a behavior brewing, I would either write in words using a dry erase marker or I would draw pictures in the boxes. Most students don’t care if your contingency map is publishable material. Use whatever you have to create this type of visual to distinguish choices and consequences.