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Rethink Benefits is a global behavior health technology company that provides Fortune 100 companies with the first and only global caregiver support system, offering 24/7 virtual caregiver teleconsultations with expert behavioral clinicians, and online evidenced-based training and support for families who have children of all ages with learning, social, or behavioral challenges, or developmental disabilities. Rethink has also recently launched the Neurodiversity Inclusion Center, which offers e-learning modules and a clinical support system to focus on the training of managers and colleagues of the neuro diverse community.

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7 Tips for Achieving Equity in Special Education

by Dr. Kurt Hulett

The issue and importance of equality has been a common fixture in the American vernacular for the past sixty plus years.  As a whole, working towards equality for all people, regardless of unalterable characteristics, is a valid and worthy pursuit.  For special education, however, equality falls short of what is needed and desired for children with disabilities – both legally and morally.  As a community of people passionate about serving these children, we need to move from a paradigm focused on equality and one that works toward equity. 

Why equity? Why now?

People often confuse the two terms as synonyms, when in fact they are both quite different things with very different intended outcomes.  Both equality and equity aim to ensure basic fairness.  With equality, the end goal is simple fairness – everyone has the same starting point and is treated exactly the same.  With equity, however, the presumption is that not all people begin from the same place – so each person is given what they need to be successful, based on their unique abilities and needs.

It makes sense that equality would have been the focus over the past four decades given the Supreme Court’s establishment of the Rowley standard of 1982, which enshrined the term ‘de minimis’ education in reference to what was required from school districts serving students with disabilities. In Rowley the Court ruled that the law’s intent was not to enable students with disabilities to achieve their full potentials, but rather to give them equal and sufficient access to a free and appropriate public education (FAPE). Ever since this decision, too many schools simply complied with paperwork requirements and provided cookie-cutter services which were anything but truly individualized.  The presence alone of a disability did not mandate special education services.

However, the very nature of special education is that no child is starting from the same place.   With the Supreme Court’s unanimous 8-0, Endrew F. decision (2017) on the books and a new standard established which requires schools to demonstrate ‘meaningful progress’ and ‘appropriately ambitious’ goals for students with disabilities, it is time we move from focusing on equality to truly one of ensuring equity. 

Here are eight tips schools can put into place to ensure equity is a driving force and desired outcome for all children receiving special education services. 

Tip 1:  Principal Leadership 

Principals must take an active role in the individualized education program (IEP) process, and a leadership role within the school relative to special education.  The principal is one of the key culture determinants in the school environment and can communicate volumes to the school community by demonstrating an active interest in special education.  Principals play an enormous role in the authorization of resources and supports in the public school environment and need to exercise their full authority to ensure every child receives every resource necessary to truly be successful and grow.  Although IEP meetings are comprised of many members, the principal always retains a special role of significance and has a unique ability to impact the education of each child in the building.  A principal can move a school from equality to equity by ensuring the proper resources and services are available for each child.

Tip 2:  Develop Truly Individualized and Quality IEP’s  

The IEP is the heart of the special education enterprise and ensures the legal and educational rights of every child.  Educators must put quality time, thought, and care into the development of each child’s IEP.   The quality of the IEP document is in direct correlation to the quality of the education and services being provided to a child.   For reasons of convenience and efficiency, some schools condone the copy and pasting of content, services, and goals from one IEP to the next.  This approach not only violates the law, but significantly reduces the quality of the final product.  Remember, the present level of academic achievement (PLAAFP) must drive the IEP and be aligned to the goals.  At a minimum, ensuring the PLAAFP and the goals are aligned will go a long way to ensuring a quality program.  Without a strong, personalized IEP that is uniquely crafted for a child based on her needs, it is extremely difficult to ever truly create educational equity.

Tip 3:  Use Online and Blended Learning Options

Regardless of disability or setting, if a child has significant academic deficits, personalized learning can and will help.  Whether before school, during an intervention period, during small group instruction, or in an after-school tutorial, all students with deficits can benefit greatly from truly personalized learning with diagnostic assessment elements.  In order to catch up with their own-age peers, students with disabilities often need more supports and intervention approaches.  We need to move beyond only considering the curriculum provided as one-size-fits all, and begin to customize and extend learning for those that truly need it. One way to achieve this is by taking advantage of the growth of educational technologies that enable us to provide truly personalized learning supports. 

Tip 4:  Let Data Drive Instruction and Intervention 

The heart of special education is rooted in the cyclical process of assess, intervene, instruct, and re-assess.  If we are to truly provide children with equity in education, we must engage in proactive, high-leverage, research-based best practices and avoid reactionary, ‘de minimis’ practices that fall short of maximizing a child’s true learning capacity. Today there is certainly no lack of data available to assist us in this endeavor. The boom in the EdTech industry has created solutions that allow schools to garner copious amounts of student data.  Whether academic or behavioral, tracking performance, evaluating the effectiveness of interventions, making adjustments, and differentiating instruction are made easier by diagnostic learning tools that allow schools to make data-driven instructional decisions.

Tip 5:  Thorough and Individualized Lesson Planning

Lesson planning is no fun – but every great teacher does it – and does it well.  Preparation is the key to success in special education, and whether a resource, inclusion, or functional skills classroom, it is imperative that the teacher plans individualized instruction for each child.  All too often we provide a one-size-fits-all lesson – even within special education.  We need to remember our instructional cycle and apply it individually and with great forethought. Ensuring equal access and equality of instruction that teaches one learning objective to the whole is meeting the bottom floor of expectation.  Truly pouring over instructional data, planning creative activities, differentiating instruction based on need and performance, providing formative re-direction and scaffolding, and enthusiastically engaging each child in the learning process is a major component of providing educational equity.   

Tip 6:  Establish High Standards for Each Child

Just because a child has a disability doesn’t mean they can’t be pushed or reach great achievements.  All too often, we candle or pacify students when they begin to struggle.  It is okay for a child with a disability to struggle and work their way through a problem.  Children normally rise only as high as we ask.  Although this sounds like a soft recommendation, there is plenty of hard science in education that underscores the importance of high expectations and teaching children to have a growth mindset.  A part of ensuring equity, is ensuring a positive belief in oneself and one’s abilities.  We must go beyond just academic instruction and consider the whole child.  For a child to truly receive educational equity, she must understand she is capable and worthy of high achievement.

Tip 7:  Motivation and Enthusiasm

One cannot over-emphasize the power of enthusiasm and positive thinking with children.  All students thrive with positive feedback and encouraging words.  No matter how difficult a child or situation may be or become, stay positive and enthusiastic.  The power of positivity has no limitations in the special education world.  Re-set yourself every morning and come into the school and classroom with an outwardly positive and enthusiastic demeanor.  So often, we focus myopically on the academic needs of children with disabilities.  The education of the whole child demands that we help to inspire and motivate children to live, learn, and achieve at their maximum capacity.

Conclusion

Moving a field from a mindset of equality toward one of true equity is not easy, nor will it happen overnight.  That said, significant strides forward can be achieved by following some or all of the tips I outlined above.

We are truly at a turning point in the history of special education.  The Endrew F. decision serves as a line of demarcation and a determining factor as we move forward.  It is time for all educators to move away from terms such as ‘de minimis’ education, compliance, and equality and towards a present and future that includes the vernacular of maximization, personalization, and equity. 

No field in the child services industry has ever been more successful at advocating for and achieving change than special education.  In the 1970’s the field of special education came together as one to enact one of the largest and most impactful  legislative changes for children in the history of America – the creation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.   Today, it is once again time for change.  The gauntlet has been thrown down, and it is time for the field of special education to collectively step forward.

Dr. Kurt Hulett

Want to learn more? Join us for the next webinar in our Special Education Expert Webinar Series: Beyond Compliance:  Ensuring Individual  Success in Special Education. This free webinar will be presented by Dr. Kurt Hulett on March 21, 2019 at 1:00 pm EST. Participants will explore best practices in special education and discover what educators can do to ensure every child is receiving a well-crafted, appropriately ambitious, and reasonably implemented educational program.  Register now.

Find out out about our comprehensive, evidence-based solutions for Special Education at www.rethinked.com.

5 Ways to Ensure Social Emotional Learning (SEL) Success

by David Adams and Emily Paige of The Urban Assembly

There is a mismatch between what educators say and what they do around Social Emotional Learning (SEL) in America. According to the 2017 CASEL report, Ready to Lead, 98% of principals believe that students should be taught social emotional skills, but only 35% had a plan to do so. Of those who were implementing a plan, only 25% were doing so in a way that met high-quality benchmarks. This gap is particularly evident in high schools, where the support for a schoolwide approach to developing social emotional skills and competencies drops to 25%, as compared to 41% in elementary schools.

These trends persist despite research that demonstrates that students who have had exposure to a high quality of social-emotional development  improve academically, increase pro-social behaviors and attitudes, and are less likely to experience mental health issues, engage in risky behaviors, or be involved in the criminal justice system. Based on the experiences of the Urban Assembly Network and principals at Urban Assembly schools, here are the top five ways to ensure high quality Social Emotional Learning in your school.

1. Appoint an SEL Instructional Lead.

In order to ensure a long term impact on students,  social emotional programming needs a person, or people, for whom the quality of implementation is a key component of their responsibilities.  For example, at the Urban Assembly School for Media Studies,  Principal Bridgette Muscarella creates time and space for her instructional lead to manage her SEL team. This in turn gives the SEL team the opportunity to focus on the quality of direct instruction, integration of social emotional concepts into content areas, and organization of professional development for staff around social emotional concepts. This approach creates accountability for the work and ensures that there is ownership of the school’s stated goals in this area.  

2. Identify opportunities for ongoing professional development around SEL.

Creating a feedback loop is among the most powerful drivers of learning for students and adults. If you want your school to impact student social emotional development, professional development time must be dedicated to the topic. For example, at the Urban Assembly Unison School, Principal Emily Paige has worked to ensure that teachers have the opportunity to plan lessons around SEL and incorporate strategies like cultural relevance into their approach on a monthly basis. 

3. Ensure that all staff are equipped to support social emotional  development.

High quality Social Emotional Learning transforms the lives of children, and by extension, the schools and communities where they live and learn. Social Emotional Learning is more than a class or an assessment; it’s the process by which every student and adult in school, at home, and in the community develops the skills, attitudes, and values that form the foundation for how individuals relate to others and themselves, how they solve problems, and how they make good decisions. In order to see the investments of this work pay off, every adult in the school must have the tools to support the social emotional development of their students. For example, at the Urban Assembly School for Collaborative Healthcare every staff member in the building, including Principal Candace Hugee, teaches an advisory block where students are directly taught the social emotional skills vital to pursuing a career in healthcare. 

4. Explicitly teach Social Emotional skills to your staff and students.

In order to transfer learning from the classroom to the real world, students need to know the concept they need to learn (the vocabulary) , the skill attached to the concept (the behavior or thought process), when to use it (context for application), and have enough practice that they can perform the skill under conditions of stress or emotionality (fluency). The same is true for social emotional skills. Just as important, students need to see adults they trust modeling these concepts on a consistent basis.  This process allows students to integrate the skills into contexts different from those in which they were first learned. For example, at the Urban Assembly School of Business for Young Women, Principal Patricia Minaya has maintained a space for every freshman girl to learn the social emotional skills foundational to their future success in business. This space allows for the young women in her school to develop a common vocabulary, to give feedback to others as they practice their skills, and to recognize and deploy these skills in the workplace and the community.

5. Assess what your students are learning.

Learning requires change: a change in mental models, a change in thoughts, or a change in behaviors. Without change there is no learning, and without assessment we cannot identify change. Schools need to prioritize the assessment of student social emotional development. For example, at the Urban Assembly Academy for Future Leaders, Principal Joseph Gates has created the conditions by which students have an opportunity to self assess their social emotional development, compare that with their teacher’s assessment, and then set goals around Social Emotional Learning that will make them better leaders. Students track their goals over time so that the change is visible to themselves and their teachers alike. 


Like cooking a complex dish or running a marathon, if you feel like transforming the lives of students through high quality social emotional learning should be easy, then you’re probably not doing it correctly. And yet, when we consider the impact on the lives of our students, it’s clear we must make that commitment. And when we see the examples of those who have committed themselves and their schools to this pursuit of high-quality and impactful SEL, we know it can be done. It’s time to do it! How will you start?

Want to learn more? Join us for the next webinar in our SEL Expert Webinar Series: The Keys to Success in SEL Implementation. This free webinar will be presented by David Adams, M.Ed, Director of Social Emotional Learning at The Urban Assembly on February 14, 2019 at 1:00 pm EST. Participants in this webinar session will learn how to organize their schools and districts around social, emotional, and academic development. Register now.

Find out out what makes Rethink Ed the first choice in Social and Emotional Learning at https://www.rethinked.com/sel.

Creating a Morning Routine: What Do Values Have To Do With It?

Let’s talk about morning routines. If you’ve ever researched self-development or productivity, you’ve undoubtedly come across tons of resources about morning routines and the different activities that people engage in to help jump start their day. While there is no one size fits all method to morning routines, the clear message that spans these websites, books, and articles is the idea that having a routine can help you immensely in your quest to meet your goals.

Though goal setting and achievement are important, I want to challenge you to go a bit deeper and look at the values that are driving these goals. Examining our values is important because often they become so ingrained that we are not aware of them though they play a big part in our decision making. Taking the time to be clear about our values and to work our values into our daily lives can help us to live happier lives.morning-routine

Try these steps to help you create a morning routine that works well with YOUR values:

Step 1. Examine your Values

    • Reflect on what is most important to you and make a list of these values. For additional support, check out our values resources and practice activities.

Step 2. Create Goals and Identify Steps to Meet Them

    • Now that you have some clarity around your values, create 1-2 goals that are aligned with these values to be top priorities your morning routine.
    • Think about what steps you will need to help you meet your goals. Are you interested in fostering more positive relationships with your family? Perhaps you can take some time in the morning to write short notes of appreciation to share with loved ones.

Step 3. Create a Morning Routine Using Your Goals

    • Think realistically about how much time you can devote to a morning routine and then prescribe time allotments for your value-driven activities. For example, you may decide to spend 30 minutes doing yoga if healthy living is a key value.

Step 4. Act and Reassess

    • Start with a routine with 1-2 goals and reassess your progress at the end of the week. Make changes if needed.

Infusing your values within your morning routine provides an opportunity to wake up living a value-driven life. Let us know how it goes if you implement these steps this week.

Authored by: Tia Navelene Barnes, Ph.D.

tia-barnesTia Navelene Barnes, Ph.D., is a social emotional learning researcher. As a former educator of students with emotional and behavioral disorders (EBD), Dr. Barnes’ research interests focus on creating environments where students with emotional and behavioral challenges can thrive. Dr. Barnes received her doctorate in August 2013 from the University of Florida where she majored in special education with an emphasis on emotional and/or behavioral disorders and minored in research and evaluation methodology. She then worked at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence where her work focused on classroom environment for students with EBD and examining social emotional learning through a culturally responsive lens. She has published work in several journals including Infant and Child Development, the Journal of School Violence, Aggression and Violent Behavior, and Education and Treatment of Children. She loves engaging with educators and feels that supporting educators is key to supporting student success.

Strategies To Support Best Practices in Coaching

Effective coaching encourages collaborative, reflective practice. It supports teachers in improving their capacity to reflect and apply their learning to their work with students, promotes the implementation of learning and improves teachers’ ability to use data to inform practice (Annenberg Foundation for Education Reform, 2004). Ongoing and job-embedded professional development is key when teachers identify areas of focus for support. The University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning provides a framework for coaches and teachers, which aides in identifying a starting point for adult learning. It is referred to as “The Big Four,” which includes:

  • Classroom Management
  • Content
  • Instruction
  • Assessment for Learning (Knight, 2009a)

When teachers identify where to start and the instructional strategy they are willing to try, coaching should then continue to support the teacher through data and continuous progress monitoring.  Providing support requires explaining current research in the area of focus as well as modeling research-validated instructional strategies for the teacher.  Here are some strategies for translating research into practice:

  • Clarify: read, write, talk
  • Synthesize
  • Break it down
  • See it through teachers’ (and students’) eyes

Collaborative Exploration of Data (Knight, 2007).

As reflection is integral to successful coaching, take some time to reflect on your overall coaching experience:

  • What did you learn and how will you use it in your continued professional practice?
  • What was challenging?
  • What would you do differently in the future or to expand your personal growth?

 

References:

Knight, J. (2007.) Instructional coaching: A partnership approach to improving instruction. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Knight, J. (2009a). The big four: A framework for instructional excellence. Manuscript in preparation.

Knight, J. ( 2009b) Partnership learning: Scientifically proven strategies for fostering dialogue during workshops and presentations. Manuscript in preparation.

Knowles, M.S. (1980) The Modern Practice of Adult Education: From Andragogy to Pedagogy.

Knowles, M. (1990) The adult learner. A neglected species, 4th Edition. Houston: Gulf Publishing.

“Do What You Think Like”

By: Steven Tobias, Psy.D. 

What do Character Education, Mindfulness, religion, emotional intelligence, Weight Watchers, and your mother all have in common?  They all want you to think before you act, which is actually hard to do.   

As human beings, we tend to do what we “feel” like.  When we act based solely on our emotions, we are using our reptilian brains, and then we shouldn’t be surprised when we respond like an alligator, chameleon, or snake in a highly charged emotional situation. Unfortunately, we have a strong tendency to respond reflexively with “fight or flight” triggered by primitive parts of the brain.   Thinking seems to be a fragile ability, which is why we have to strengthen it.

So, what can we do?  First, soothe the beast.  Take care of yourself.  Have fun.  Be with others you love.  Do meaningful and rewarding activities.  This reduces the stress that feeds the tyrannosaurus inside you.  Yes, you are too busy with work, needs of your family, home, and distraction of screens (but that’s for another blog).  Get your calendar  (I’ll wait)…  Put “ME” time on the calendar.  Do it now, or you will never “find” the time.  You can decide later what to do, but make sure it is what you want and is pleasurable.

The above is a prerequisite for thinking.  The more stressed you are and focused on others, the harder it is to think.  Now that your life is back in balance, let’s work on thinking.

  1. Reflect: What is going on? How do I and others feel? This stimulates your deliberate human brain to control your impulsive reptilian brain.
  2. Consider: What is your goal? This will give you direction and purpose.
  3. Decide: What can you do? What else?  What have you done before?  The more solutions you can brainstorm, the better chance of success.  Then, set a deliberate plan:  who is involved, what are you going to do, when are you going to do it, where are your going to do it, and how are you going to do it?  By the way, the “why” is so that you can get what you want.

This is doing what you think like, not what you feel like, and is more likely to get you what you want emotionally, socially, and materially.

Want to learn more? Join us for the next webinar in our SEL Expert Webinar Series presented by Steven Tobias, Psy.D. This webinar will teach how to be aware of and control emotions that lead us to poor decision making, how to set deliberate goals for oneself, and how to follow through with actions that are consistent with what one really wants.  The trick is to “think” while feeling, and this is harder than one might think.

By: Steven Tobias, Psy.D. 
Steven Tobias, Psy.D., is the director of the Center for Child and Family Development in Morristown, New Jersey. He has over thirty years of experience working with children, parents, families, and schools. Dr. Tobias feels a strong commitment to children’s social and emotional development and provides consultation to schools as a way of reaching many children, including those who are underserved in terms of their social and emotional needs. He has coauthored several books with Dr. Maurice Elias, including Emotionally Intelligent Parenting and Raising Emotionally Intelligent Teenagers. He has given lectures throughout the United States on topics related to parenting and children’s emotional development. Dr. Tobias lives in New Jersey. Maurice J. Elias, Ph.D Professor of Psychology at Rutgers., and Steven E. Tobias, Psy.D Director for Center of Child and Family development are the authors of several books including: Boost Emotional Intelligence in Students and Emotionally Intelligent Parenting.

What You Need to Know About Mental Health & Bullying Awareness

The school year is in full swing with curriculum, homework, and special events. In the midst of focusing on academics and sporting events, a major component that should not be overlooked is student’s mental health.  Even though there is a growing awareness of mental health, there is still ignorance and misunderstanding surrounding mental health and social factors that can affect it. One of the many social factors that can affect a student’s mental health is bullying.

Bullying is considered repeated aggressive behavior with intent to harm another person which involves a power imbalance (Hase, Goldberg, Smith, Stuck & Campain, 2015). For youth, this traditional form of bullying is commonly displayed in the school setting. However, with the booming digital world, bullying is not only limited to the school setting but has expanded to the cyberworld. Cyberbullying is defined as bullying using electronic venues (Hase et al., 2015) and has made bullying easier as by using digital sources such as social media, e-mail, websites, and text messaging, makes it easier to intentionally harm others even if they would not normally do so in a traditional setting.

For young people, bullying is a major health problem for all those involved. Mental health problems may be associated with deficits in their social, academic, and physical achievements (Murshid, 2017). They are at a higher risk of mental health problems during childhood (Landstedt & Persson, 2014) such as:

  • Psychosomatic symptoms
  • Depression
  • Attempted or actual suicide

Even though bullying commonly occurs during childhood, the impact can last well into adulthood. Victims of childhood bullying and youth who bullied have a higher risk of developing mental health problems later in life (Murshid, 2017). Mental health functioning should be assessed as early as possible and over time for youth involved in bullying as early intervention is necessary to minimize mental health issues later in life.

Currently mental health education is not a mandatory aspect of all schools, however teachers and administrators can work to promote awareness with their students. Mental health and bullying awareness are important issues for all educators as they are often the first line of defense for their students at school. As the world continued to gain a better understanding of mental health and social factors that can affect it such as bullying, teachers and students should be provided with ways to recognize signs of bullying and mental health problems, and there should be opportunities around the awareness and management of these signs.

References

Murshid, N. (2017). Bullying victimization and mental health outcomes of adolescents in Myanmar, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. Children and Youth Services Review76, 163-169. doi: 10.1016/j.childyouth.2017.03.003

Landstedt, E., & Persson, S. (2014). Bullying, cyberbullying, and mental health in young people. Scandinavian Journal of Public Health42(4), 393-399. doi: 10.1177/1403494814525004

Hase, C., Goldberg, S., Smith, D., Stuck, A., & Campain, J. (2015). Impacts of traditional bullying and cyberbullying on the mental health of middle school and high school students. Psychology in The Schools52(6), 607-617. doi: 10.1002/pits.21841

Stressed Out? SEL Tips to Manage Stress before it Manages You

By Christina Cipriano, Ph.D.

Teacher attrition costs the United States roughly $2.2 billion dollars annually; an estimated half a million teachers either move or leave the profession each year.

Why? Because they are stressed out. In fact, in a report by the American Federation of Teachers put out last month, educators in the US aren’t just more stressed out than ever before, teachers are stressed out more than the average employee working outside of education. Hostile work conditions with colleagues, high pressure demands of high stakes testing, diminished autonomy, and inadequate planning time are cited as key reasons why this generation of teachers’ psychosocial health is on the decline and they are leaving the profession.

How can we expect our students to want to learn if their teacher’s don’t want to be there?

Stress is our body’s way of responding to events that threaten or challenge us. When we encounter stress, our bodies react by redirecting blood flow to our muscles, increasing our blood pressure and heart rate, and elevating our adrenaline circulation and cortisol levels. What makes matters worse, prolonged stress can lead to diminished physical and mental well-being, increasing your likelihood of illness and life dissatisfaction, circumstances which ironically increase your likelihood of being stressed! Research teaches us that individuals are more likely to feel stress when experiencing negative emotions, navigating uncontrollable, unpredictable, ambiguous situations, and when confronted with simultaneous task demands.

Contemporary teaching is by definition, therefore, a stressful endeavor!

What if there was a way to reduce teacher stress, while also improve behavioral and academic outcomes for students school-wide? There is, it’s called SEL, and there is mounting empirical evidence to support the claim that SEL provides teachers with the strategies, culture, and collaboration they need in their school day to reduce their stress and optimize their teaching.

So you have too many demands on your plate? You can’t possibly get all you grades and evaluations in on time? What are you going to do about it? Think again- there’s always a way to dissolve the threat by making that stress a challenge to overcome!

SEL teaches us to turn a threat or stressful situation into a challenge. Appraising the cause of your stress as a challenge works to reduce your stress by changing how your brain is processing the event. When we phrase a threat as a challenge, this reappraisal opens up pathways for increased neural connectivity and message sending to promote your effective problem solving to meet the challenge. It’s not simply will power, its science!

I’ll show my principal that I can get this done by tomorrow well. It will take up my time this evening but my other demands are not as time sensitive and I can show myself that I can push myself to achieve when I put my mind to it! The reality is that when we switch our mindset to view a stress as a problem we can solve we promote the achievement of solving the problem!

Note that not all stress is bad. Research suggests that we have an optimal range of stress which is productive, rather than detrimental, to our health, well-being, and happiness. Some stress is actually healthy for promoting our productivity and happiness. How? We need that adrenaline and cortisol release to drive our productive behaviors and our satisfaction with experiences.

The SEL evidence-base provides insights into how to manage stress before it manages you.

5 Things You Didn’t Know About Mental Health and School Psychologists

By Kristen Cain, M.A., LSSP

WHAT DO SCHOOL PSYCHOLOGISTS DO?

According to the National Association of School Psychology (NASP), “school psychologists provide direct support and interventions to students, consult with teachers, families, and other school-employed mental health professionals (i.e., school counselors, school social workers) to improve support strategies; work with school administrators to improve school wide practices and policies; and collaborate with community providers to coordinate needed services”.

WHAT ROLE DO SCHOOL PSYCHOLOGISTS PLAY IN SCHOOLS?

School psychologists play an important role by helping schools to successfully promote positive behavior and mental health. Here are 5 ways that school psychologists help to promote positive behavior and mental health:

  • Improving student’s communication and social skills:
    • School psychologists work to improve communication and social skills by providing teachers and students with strategies and resources they need to be successful in the school and community settings. Research has shown that children’s developmental competence is integral to their academic competence (Masten et al., 2005).
  • Assessing student’s emotional and behavioral needs:
    • According to the Department of Health and Human Services an estimated 15 million of our nation’s young people can currently be diagnosed with a mental health disorder. There is a great need for these student’s to be assessed and provided with the best social-emotional services in the education setting based on their needs. School psychologists work with students and their families to identify and address learning and behavior problems that interfere with school success. School-based behavioral consultation has been shown to yield positive results such as remediating academic and behavior problems for children and reducing referrals for psychoeducational assessments (MacLeod, Jones, Somer, & Havey, 2001).
  • Promoting problem solving anger management, and conflict resolution:
    • School psychologists work with students in individual and group settings to help provide emotional/behavior services to help improve student’s outcomes.
  • Reinforce positive coping skills and resilience:
    • School psychologists work with students and their families to support students’ social, emotional, and behavioral health and research has shown that students who receive this type of support achieve better academically in school (Bierman et al., 2010; Durlak, Weissberg, Dymnicki, Taylor, & Schellinger, 2011; Fleming et al., 2005).
  • Make referrals and coordinate services with community-based providers:
    • School psychologists work with parents and administrators to respond to crises by providing leadership, direct services, and coordination with needed community services and research has revealed that school staff rate the crisis intervention services provided by school psychologists as very important (Watkins, Crosby, & Pearson, 2007). These referrals are often made to community services agencies, related to mental health needs.

School psychologists have extensive training in assessment, progress monitoring, instruction, child development and psychology, consultation, counseling, crisis response, program evaluation, and data collection and analysis. Their training is specific to applying this expertise within the school context, both general education and special education, and includes extensive knowledge in school systems and law (NASP 2010a, 2010b).

Learn how Rethink Ed supports School Psychologists at www.rethinked.com.

Empowering Paraprofessionals in the Classroom

The first few weeks after Labor Day usually indicates a return to school and the end of summer for families nationwide. Those first few weeks of school are usually dedicated to setting expectations, drilling down routines, and planning curriculum for the current cohort of students. While this is certainly an important part of school culture, do schools spend enough time building relationships amongst staff members?

In 2007, the U.S. Department of Education stated that 91% of schools employ instructional paraprofessionals and half of those paraprofessionals work in special education. Over the decades, the surge of paraprofessionals in schools allowed for greater 1:1 support for teachers and students. However, often the paraprofessional/teacher relationship becomes hierarchical and the paraprofessionals are assigned menial tasks. This is often to the detriment of students and teachers. Here are three simple ways teachers can better include paraprofessionals throughout the day:

  • Receive feedback:

Paraprofessionals are a great avenue for self-reflection. They are an extra set of eyes, hands, and sanity! Make a point to ask for feedback daily. Listen to their thoughts on methods for teaching a lesson, addressing behavior, or arranging the classroom.  Remember they are a part of the classroom culture and it is important to make them feel seen and heard.

  • Assign roles:

It is essential to assign roles and create a plan of action for each paraprofessional. By creating a schedule, paraprofessionals understand their roles and expectations and can better prepare for each day. Be courteous and do not have a paraprofessional complete a task that you would not do yourself. They are an important part of the classroom and deserve to be treated with respect.

  • Share teaching opportunities:

Paraprofessionals are qualified educators so allow them to take ownership during academic time. Allow paraprofessionals to lead calendar time, an academic station, or a fun cooking activity. It is important that students see paraprofessionals as academic leaders in the classroom so give them the space to take on that role.  While students are working in independent stations, during PLC time, or after school, sit with the paraprofessional and provide any additional training and support.  Show teaching videos, provide resources, or discuss research-based practices and create a paraprofessional toolkit that empowers independence. Then, allow the paraprofessional to practice the skill in the classroom and provide follow up support.

We know that relationships are an important component of learning for our students but let’s not forget our staff members as well. The Council for Exceptional Children (2012) found that the relationship between paraprofessionals and teachers is an essential component to classroom culture and the success of students. So, empower your paraprofessional, share the teaching space, and watch your students flourish over the year!

3 Tips for Increasing Parental Engagement This School Year

It’s September and schools are back in session!  For educators, it is that magical time of year when anything seems possible.  You’re refreshed and ready to make this year the best ever.  You want all your students to have a successful year!  And you know that a key component to any educational program is parental engagement, especially for children with special needs.  But with the demands of today’s parents, getting appropriate parental engagement can be a challenge, and this is compounded for the parents of children with special needs.

Before we discuss ways to encourage parental engagement, let’s first look at what we mean by parental engagement. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) defines parental engagement in schools as parents and school staff working together to support and improve the learning, development, and health of children and adolescents. Schools and parents have the responsibility for educating our children (retrieved from CDC)

There are many benefits to parental engagement across the board, but particularly for students with special needs including:

  • Increased parental involvement and collaboration in the development of their child’s Individualized Educational Program (IEP)
  • Greater confidence and ability on the part of the parent to educate their own child
  • Better understanding on the part of the educator as to the special needs of each student
  • Higher student success due to the generalization of skills and consistency between home and school

Unfortunately, barriers to parental engagement do exist.  Some of these barriers are due to: cultural or language differences, special education law that can be difficult to understand, lack of time, past negative experiences, and lack of training on the part of the educator to effectively facilitate engagement.

What can you do to eliminate the barriers and make it easier for parents to engage? Here are three keys to increasing parental engagement.

Treat Parents as Partners.

Do you respect the role the parent has in the education of their child with special needs?  Do you actively invite parents to meet ahead of the IEP to set goals together?  Do you accommodate their schedules and consider their cultural contributions or differences?  Do you think about how to improve parent participation in the decision-making process?  These are just a few questions that can help you think about parents as partners in their child’s education.

Here are a few ways to help your parents’ partner with you:

  • Consider your message before the IEP happens. Did you invite them to listen to you and others tell them about their child or did you invite them to participatein the meeting and share their knowledge of their child?
  • Wait for the parents outside the meeting room prior to the IEP and walk in together as a team. That will be much less intimidating for the parents than walking into a room full of “experts” sitting and staring.
  • Understand that some cultures interact with educators and other school professionals differently. A parent may be agreeing with the proposed goals because they want to be polite and respectful.
  • Invite parents to ask questions and give them a platform to suggest goals they have for their child.
  • Take time toeducate the parents. Explain any special education jargon, provide them with resources, and connect them with other support programs such as translation services, if needed.
  • Let the parents know you are genuinely interested in what they have to say.
  • Create tool kits that provide parents with activities and resources to extend the learning into the home. The tool kits may also include tips and strategies for teaching their child or websites they can go to for additional activities or information.
  • Work with the parents to set realistic parent participation goals. They are the parent, not the teacher. Remember, the goal is quality, not quantity of involvement.

Create an Effective Communication System.

The goal of an effective communication system is to bridge the gap between home and school by providing a way to share concerns, successes, behavioral challenges, stressors, and changes.

There are many ways to implement such a system.  Choose the method that is simple and works best for you and the parent. The easier the system, the more it will be used.  And again, remember, quality of communication is more important than the quantity of communication.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Connect at the beginning of the year and ask parents what information they want. Perhaps you can come up with a checklist together, that’s easy to use and sends home meaningful information. The same goes the other way too. For example, create a checklist for things you want to know from home such as changes in sleep patterns, nutrition, or family relations.
  • Use a notebook that goes back and forth from home to school in the child’s backpack. You can report IEP progress or write anecdotes about the child’s day, etc. and the parent can write back questions or concerns. This can happen on a daily basis.
  • Many teachers use texts or email to communicate (check with the parents first for the most preferred method). They may find this less intrusive and intimidating than a phone call and allows the parents to think and respond on their schedule. If a phone call is necessary, perhaps send a text to say, “Can we set up a time to chat on the phone?”  This allows the parent to choose a time that works for them.
  • Schedule home visits, if appropriate.  This may help parents who lack transportation or have other circumstances that keep them from coming to school.

Create a Welcoming Climate.

Welcome your parents into your classroom in many ways and for many purposes.  The more you know your parents, the easier it is to work with them as partners.  Inviting parents into your classroom also provides an opportunity for family networking, bringing families together with other parents to share resources, empathy, and support.

Some ways to help parents to feel welcome in the classroom include:

  • Volunteering for special events and holiday parties, field trips, family and friends’ breakfasts, guest speakers, photo shares, parent presentations, etc.
  • Providing ways for parents to volunteer without having to come into the classroom, such as organizing and preparing materials that require cutting, collating, or stapling.
  • Volunteering to read to or with students or provide one-on-one assistance to students in the library or media center.
  • Inviting parents to attend presentations or view displays by the students or to school assemblies when appropriate.

So, as you set up for another successful school year, I encourage you to think about your parents as partners. You are the educator! You’re good at it! But reaching out to your students’ parents as partners will help you help your students and make your job a little bit easier!