Rethink Ed Spotlight Educator of the Month: Ola Minxhozi

Position: Therapist, Team-Leader

District: Regional Center for Autism, Tirana

Ola Minxhozi is a therapist and team leader at the Regional Center for Autism in Tirana, Albania. Over the course of two years, she and her team have integrated Rethink Ed into their teaching practices and its use has helped them in a variety of ways.

Rethink Ed has helped them address problem behaviors, streamline the data collection process, and easily track progress. She described the training process as gradually introducing different features of the platform while setting aside time for individual exploration of Rethink Ed. “It was helpful for each one of us to use Rethink Ed’s materials and watch videos on how to use the program,” Ms. Minxhozi said. She also pinpointed the model student on the platform as a very helpful tool as it allowed staff to do trial runs with various aspects of Rethink Ed without altering any real data.

To Ms. Minxhozi, one of the most valuable aspects of Rethink Ed is its recognition that each student learns differently and has strengths and weaknesses specific to them; therefore, the program allows the instructor to assess the student’s abilities first and then recommends lessons that are appropriate for the student’s skill level. For additional support, “the learning plan gives other suggestions, helpful hints, and error correction only to better help the student in the process of learning.” Rethink Ed also allows the staff to save time when preparing for lessons by providing relevant materials and instructional videos with each lesson.

Ms. Minxhozi also highlighted the behavior support the platform offers as a feature from which she and her team have greatly benefitted. She recalled a particular student who would consistently run away from work area; guided by Rethink Ed’s steps for intervention, she was able to identify the functions of the behavior, which were to escape and to get the teacher’s attention. She chose from suggested behavior replacements that would work best for the student and reported that four weeks later, the problem behavior had significantly reduced.

“Working with children with special needs or children in autism spectrum disorder is as beautiful as it is challenging,” said Ms. Minxhozi. She cites “finding the best ways to help students to develop their abilities and potential” as the most challenging part of their jobs and by making a wide range of comprehensive resources easily accessible, Rethink Ed has helped make that process easier. At the Regional Center for Autism in Tirana, they are excited to continue incorporating Rethink Ed into their daily teaching practices and benefiting from all the helpful tools the platform offers.

5 Ways to Prevent Bullying Through Peer Advocacy

By: Maria Wilcox, MA, BCBA

October is National Bullying Prevention Month, which is a campaign that aims to prevent bullying and encourage acceptance across communities.

According to Pacer.Org, all studies conducted on the connection between bullying and developmental disabilities found that children with disabilities were two to three times more likely to be bullied than their non-disabled peers.

Peers are more likely to see bullying than adults are and are more likely to have a greater impact on telling a bully to stop than an adult doing the same. PACER Teens Against Bullying

A unique model used in a variety of schools are Peer Advocates. This is a student or group of students who look out for other students who may be bullied, excluded, or otherwise isolated by speaking up for them, advocating for them, and making sure they are included and kept from harm.

Here are five ways to use peer advocates in your own school and activities:

  1. Sit with individuals likely to be bullied or experiencing bullying at lunch.
  2. Invite them to all school activities, such as sports events and include them with your friend group.
  3. If you see bullying happening to an individual, get them away from the situation.
  4. Listen and give advice as a friend.
  5. Use peer advocates in every aspect of the school community and culture from in-class, to lunch, to assemblies, and more. The more you include those likely to be bullied, the more peers will come to accept.

There are no simple solutions to bullying but awareness and change in culture seem to be most effective in providing safe and secure learning environments. Please check out the following resources for more information on peer advocacy, bullying prevention, and school culture change.

Keeping Students with Disabilities Safe from Bullying

Peer Advocacy

Bullying and Harassment of Students with Disabilities

Bullying Interventions

By: Christina Whalen, PhD, BCBA-D
Director of Research

School-wide bullying programs can decrease bullying incidents by about 25% or more (McCallion & Feder, 2013). There are four primary roles in bullying incidents – the bully, the followers, the target, and the bystanders. The bully or bullies are the students that are engaging in the bullying behaviors and the followers are the students who go along with the bullies or support the bullying behaviors. The target is the student or students who are being bullied and the bystanders, which are most students, are the ones who are nearby when the incident occurs or are aware of the bullying incidents but not directly involved.

Research shows that the most effective way to stop a bully is when a bystander intervenes. This can decrease bullying incidents by about 50% (Davis & Nixon, 2010). Bystanders should not confront the bully; rather, they should interact with the target in a positive way and remove the target from the situation. For instance, if a bystander observes a student being bullied in the cafeteria, they can give a compliment to the target like, “Nice goal today in soccer; that was great!” While ignoring the bully, they can engage the target and invite the target to come sit with them and their friends in the cafeteria.

Social-emotional learning (SEL) programs have also been shown to decrease bullying incidents. These programs target positive social behaviors that build the necessary skills and coping mechanisms to handle challenges more effectively and ethically. The gold standard for SEL programs is the CASEL (Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning) model which suggests teaching self-awareness, self-management, responsible decision making, relationship skills, and social awareness. Building these skills can improve academic performance and school climate and can reduce behavioral challenges and bullying incidents.

Bullying is not a problem that is specific to school settings. A general shift in our thinking and attitudes is essential to minimize these incidents. Schools should teach staff, parents, administration, and their students how to prevent and respond to bullying. Parents and community members should be aware of red flags that their child is being bullied or is bullying someone and should work with their schools to minimize these incidents. Decreasing bullying not only helps the students who are targets, but also improves the learning environment for all students and helps the student who is engaging in bullying to more effectively manage their behaviors. A more positive school climate also decreases stress and improves staff job satisfaction.

The Effects of Bullying

By: Christina Whalen, PhD, BCBA-D, Director of Research

Any student can be the target of bullying. One out of 5 students report being a victim of bullying at some point (National Educational Statistics, 2016). Students who are bullied have increased school avoidance, decreases in grades, and difficulties with learning. These students often suffer from sleep difficulties, headaches and stomachaches, and mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. Students who are frequently bullied are two times more likely to have suicidal ideation or attempts (Gini & Espelage, 2014). Students who are bullies also have long-term issues such as academic problems, substance use, behavioral issues, and problems with the law. They are less likely to obtain meaningful employment and often struggle with independence and relationships as adults.

There are many reasons why a student might be the victim of bullying. The research on race, ethnicity, and national origin are still not clear, but there are some studies that report this to be a reason for bullying. For instance, Davis & Nixon, 2010, reported that about 16% of students reported this as a reason for bullying. Common reasons for bullying include looks and body shape. In 2010, Davis & Nixon reported that about 55% students reported looks as the primary reason for bullying and about 37% reported body shape as the primary reason. About 1/3 of overweight girls and ¼ of overweight boys reported being teased or bullied about their weight (Puhl, Luedick, & Heuer, 2011).

The students who are at highest risk for being targets are LGBTQ students and students with disabilities. In a National School Climate Survey in 2013, about 74% of students reported being verbally bullied and about 36% reported being physically bullied due to their sexual orientation. More than half of the LGBTQ students in this study reported that they felt unsafe at school and about 30% of them missed at least 1 day of school in the past month due to feeling unsafe or uncomfortable at school. Almost half of the students reported that they were targets of cyberbullying.

A student with a developmental disability is 2-3 times more likely to be a target of bullying than their peers (Marshall, Kendall, Banks, & Gover, 2009). Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act state that bullying based on disability can be considered harassment and is illegal (U.S. Department of Education, 2016).

Some students with disabilities are more commonly targeted including those with Autism Spectrum Disorders and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Some warning indicators that a student is being bullied include increased school absences, decrease in academic performance, increased anxiety, sleep or eating issues, and increased social isolation.

Some indicators that a student is being a bully include a decreased sensitivity to others such as laughing when someone gets hurt or fails at something, a strong desire for popularity, secretiveness, and increased behavioral challenges.

Not all bullying occurs at school but the incidents can certainly have a negative impact on students’ academic and social interactions at school. For instance, cyberbullying can seriously affect the interactions of students at school, even though it typically happens outside of school time. Cyberbullying is the harassment or threatening of another person through online communication such as social media, texting, or video. Bullying can take place through rumors, comments, photos, or fake profiles. Like other types of bullying, students who are cyberbullied are more likely to miss school, have decreases in academic performance, have increased anxiety and depression, and isolate themselves more from other people.

About 16-21% of students in middle and high school report being targets of cyberbullying according to the National Center for Education Statistics and Bureau of Justice Statistics (2015) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2015). If a student appears to be a target of cyberbullying, encourage the student to not respond to it and block the person that is bothering them. Talk to their parents about the issue and be sure to let the student know that you are doing so. For students who appear to be cyberbullying other students, be sure to talk to them about the long-term consequences of inappropriate online behaviors and postings for their own future. Try to get them to understand how their behavior really impacts other students- not only the target student, but other students as well; speak to the student’s parents about your concerns but be sure to notify the student about these conversations or have them involved in the discussion.

What We Don’t Say: A SEL Approach to Helping Your Students Understand “Take a Knee”

By Christina Cipriano, Ph.D. and Lori Nathanson, Ph.D.

Even if you are not a football fan, it’s likely you’ve seen images from the NFL in the past few weeks. The action captured occurred before kickoff; players and coaches across the country have “taken a knee” or linked arms in solidarity during the national anthem. These powerful photos elicit a wide range of emotional responses that may contribute to conflict in our schools, homes, workplace, and on social media.

But they don’t have to end with conflict. Controversy can provide an opportunity to be constructive if we look through a social and emotional learning lens. Social awareness –the ability to take another person’s perspective and feel empathy– is a core competency of SEL. This competency is critical for creating and maintaining supportive relationships. It requires understanding social norms (how do I act in this situation or place?), as well as an understanding and appreciation that people have different backgrounds, cultures, and experiences and they may be different from one’s own background, culture, and experiences. This issue, these photos, and our emotional responses offer an opportunity to develop social awareness.

Have you heard (or said) the proverb, “A picture says a thousand words?” Explore with your students the kinds of emotions we can identify in these photos as well as the emotions these photos elicit in the viewer. Photos may show intense emotions, vehement disagreements, and sometimes violence, but for this purpose, let’s focus in on the individuals in these photos and what types of emotions we see expressed.

Consider this task. Give each of your students an index card. On one side of the card, ask students to identify one person in the photo and write down how they think that person feels in the moment captured. They can use emotion words, note body language, draw pictures or phrases to indicate how they perceive the person feels.

Next, direct your students to turn over the index card and write how they feel when they see the image of the athlete taking a knee. Again, students can use emotion words, draw pictures, or write phrases to express how they feel about the image.

• Are your students younger? Do the activity as a group or in small directed groups with larger pieces of paper. Use emojis or have them draw their own!

• Have more time? Have students trade their index card with another student. Review each partner’s responses and decide which perspective (Self or Photo) it represents. Take 3 minutes to review and decide which perspective each side represents. Have students discuss with their partner what went into making their decision. What did they notice that was the same? What words or interpretations did they have that were different?

• Are your students older? Have them work individually, collect the index cards from your class, shuffle them, and redistribute them back out to the class. Have your students read aloud the perceptions on the index cards.

Take it one step further. Combine all the reactions to make a word cloud or word wall; have each student place their reactions or those of their classmates up on the wall. Note, these will be mixed now that they are no longer the ones owning their perspective. As a group, decide if there are any emotions or descriptions that are missing and add them on index cards to the wall. Doing so will enable your students to recognize and identify the feelings and perspectives of self and others during group discussion.

Lastly, debrief with your students. In the activity, we focused on how the people in the photos felt or our reactions to the photos, but let’s take a minute to assess how we feel after spending time looking and analyzing the possible perspectives of those in the photographs, ourselves, and our classmates. Close your eyes if you are comfortable and sense what’s going on in your minds and bodies. Are thoughts swirling or calm? Does your body feel hot or cold or in between? Is your heart racing or steady? By moving your students to a debrief scenario, you will increase their social awareness, which promotes their ability to prevent, manage, and resolve interpersonal conflicts in constructive ways.

When faced with controversy, teach our students to see and feel what we don’t say; empower a future generation of empathetic thinkers. Share with us how you applied social awareness skills to support students with processing the “take a knee” controversy, or other powerful images and moments in history.

Run, Forrest, Run… Towards Inclusion!

Could inclusive education mean the end of bullying for kids with disabilities?

By Katherine DeCotiis Wiedemann, M.A., BCBA

Kids with disabilities being bullied is nothing new; we’ve seen it portrayed in popular culture for decades. Who could ever forget Forrest Gump being chased by a truck-full of mean-spirited kids, trying desperately to outrun them despite his bulky metal leg-braces? Special needs aren’t always as visible as they were in that scene, but the victimization of people with differences has arguably been around as long as the institution of education. In all realms of life, bullies usually target people who are more passive, anxious, quiet, sensitive, or unusual in some way (Hoover 2003). Unfortunately, in schools, this demographic often includes children who are classified and receive special education services. Many typical features of American schools may have historically exacerbated this divide between the disabled and the non-disabled, particularly the physical and curricular labeling and segregation of children with disabilities, the non-participation of special needs students in mainstream educational and extracurricular activities, and a general lack of understanding and interaction between the two groups.

When Dan Habib’s infant son Samuel was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, a ticker of chilling questions scrolled through his brain like a hurricane warning on the nightly news. Would he ever walk? Would he be able to talk? Have a job? Drive a car? Fall in love? Perhaps the most painful unknown was how his peers would treat him. Would he be the target of ridicule in his neighborhood, on the soccer team, in his grade-school classroom? With fear looming heavily, threatening to swallow them whole, Habib and his wife made a choice and never looked back. They committed to including Samuel in every facet of their lives, regardless of what the scope of his disability turned out to be. And they didn’t stop there – eventually, the arms of their crusade reached their friends, members of their community and eventually the school district Samuel entered as a preschooler. The Habibs became diehard advocates for inclusive education, and as a direct result, Samuel flourished. He was placed in general education classes with supports and modifications. A specially made wheelchair and a culture of acceptance allowed him to play baseball on a regular team in elementary school. He scored a role in the school play and read his lines from his augmentative communication device. He went to middle school dances and made the honor roll. By all accounts, Samuel belonged. And he wasn’t the only one who benefitted.

Sadly, not every kid with special needs is as warmly accepted and included as Samuel. Statistics illustrate that in the United States, children with disabilities are two to three times more likely to be bullied than their nondisabled peers. In one study, nearly 60% of students with special needs reported having been bullied at some point in their lives, compared to only 25% of students in general. Another more recent study indicates that children with disabilities are victimized by bullying at a much higher rate over time than their nondisabled peers. The researchers attributed their findings to the fact that many students with special needs never learn or have the ability to practice the social skills needed to combat bullying as they age. So how can we teach kids with special needs to advocate for themselves? And perhaps even more importantly: how do we go about teaching kids without special needs, acceptance and kindness?

The answer to both questions might be found, at least partially, in inclusive education. The benefits of inclusion for kids with disabilities have been documented in 40 years’ worth of research – higher test scores, increased social interaction, exposure to peer models, access to the general curriculum, and higher levels of motivation. In fact, in those 40 years, no study has ever been published comparing segregation and inclusion that came out in favor of segregation (Jackson 2008). But how does inclusion affect gen-ed kids? Studies are starting to emerge, and it appears that inclusion may have even more of a positive impact on nondisabled peers than on those with disabilities. Kids in integrated classes have daily opportunities to learn and practice tolerance, respect, and kindness. Regular exposure to differences de-stigmatizes kids with special needs and creates a culture of diversity and acceptance. Additionally, gen-ed kids can guide and teach their peers, which fosters within them a sense of accountability and purpose. They are likely to exhibit more developed values and ethics later in life. Of Samuel’s effect on his nondisabled peers, his father notes, “He’s had a tremendous impact on his peers. His peers now see disability as part of the natural diversity of our world (NPR 2014).” Perhaps the most unexpected benefit of inclusion for nondisabled peers lies in the realm of academics; data indicates that general education kids in integrated classrooms perform better on tests and have greater academic outcomes.

It is becoming widely accepted in education that “far-reaching and sustainable bullying prevention is intricately connected to and predicated upon the promotion of equity and inclusion (Safe@School 2013).” Creating a culture of inclusion in schools is not an overnight job, but a quick Google search will demonstrate just how much information is available to those who are willing to consider making the change. There are detailed guides which illustrate the core concepts and features of inclusive education, and outline the steps to take to get there. It may not be an easy task, but in the words of Dan Habib, “If we know it’s going to yield better outcomes for kids with disabilities, it’s the only way to go forward (NPR 2014).”

Today, Samuel Habib is a 17-year-old junior at Concord High School in New Hampshire. In May of this year, he was the keynote presenter at the 5th annual self-advocacy conference hosted by the University of New Hampshire, where he spoke about his experience with inclusive education and previewed his first short documentary as a filmmaker. For more information on inclusion and Samuel’s journey, please visit www.includingsamuel.com.

REFERENCES

Habib, D. (2014, April 22). Dan Habib: Disabling Segregation [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=izkN5vLbnw8

Hoover, J., & Stenhjem, P. (2003, December). Bullying and Teasing of Youth with Disabilities: Creating Positive School Environments for Effective Inclusion. Examining Current Challenges in Secondary Education and Transition, Vol. 2 (Issue 3).

Katz, J., & Mirenda, P. (2002). Including Students with Developmental Disabilities in General Education Classrooms: Educational Benefits. International Journal of Special Education, Vol. 17 (Issue 2), pp. 14-24.

Preventing Bullying, Promoting Equity and Inclusion. (2013). Retrieved from https://www.safeatschool.ca/plm/parents-and-guardians-partners-in-prevention/preventing-bullying-promoting-equity-and-inclusion

Reilly, D. (2017, January 05). The Bullying Culture: What You Must Know. Retrieved from http://www.lifezette.com/momzette/bullying-culture-what-you-must-know/

Staff, N. (2014, April 27). Learning With Disabilities: One Effort To Shake Up The Classroom. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/2014/04/27/307467382/learning-with-disabilities-one-effort-to-shake-up-the-classroom

Spotlight Educator of the Month: Alyssa Dobson

Position: ALE 18 and Beyond

District: North East Independent School District (NEISD)

Alyssa Dobson, SPED Teacher, North East Independent School District (NEISD)

Alyssa Dobson is a Special Education teacher at Churchill High School in North East Independent School District (San Antonio, TX). As an educator who works specifically with older students, eighteen years old and above, the transition curriculum on the Rethink Ed platform has become a particularly valuable asset. She has a myriad of lesson plans and resources at her disposal, designed to help her students develop and master skills pertaining to the home, community, and work, to name just a few areas the platform addresses.

When asked to describe the aspect of Rethink Ed that’s most beneficial to her, Alyssa highlighted the easy accessibility of lesson materials. “In special education, it can become very hectic and it helps to look up a lesson and have those materials readily available,” she said. She touches upon an issue that many educators face when constructing lesson plans for their students. For special educators, the individualized nature of every student’s learning plan can make finding materials overwhelming; Rethink Ed has significantly simplified this process, allowing teachers to save time while lesson planning.

Rethink Ed in the Classroom

Alyssa is not alone in her excitement about Rethink Ed and the convenience of having a wide range of teaching tools available in one place. Her district, which is in its fifth year of implementation with Rethink Ed, shares in her enthusiasm, having expanded its use of the platform from a small group of teachers to over 600. Rethink Ed has successfully helped NEISD’s educators build IEPs, set goals and objectives, and collect meaningful data that allow them to track progress and make data-based decisions about their students.

For a more in-depth study on Rethink Ed’s success with North East Independent School District (NEISD), please click here.