Using Student Strengths to Create Belonging

By Dr. Sara Totten

In my role as Director of Student Services, I recently observed in a classroom where a student, we’ll call him Lewis, demonstrated minimal eye contact, response (verbal or physical), or social interaction. Upon Lewis’s arrival to the classroom, I observed the educator working with him provide a number of visual, physical, and verbal prompts to guide his morning routine. The educator also performed a number of sensory activities with the student. As the morning progressed, Lewis transitioned to the snack table and remained in his seat for the duration of snack time. I then observed him verbally respond to the educator— the first verbalization of the morning!I

I am embarrassed to say I had at first assumed the student was non-verbal because I hadn’t witnessed any verbal communication during the arrival activities. I realized the implication of my initial assumption that the student did not yet have verbal language. Gut punch!

The experience was a reminder of how easily we, as educators, return to what we think we know. There is a natural desire in all of us to categorize and label; this is often how we make sense of the world. We take from what are often limited exposures or observations to form our schema. But, there are dangers in assumptions, particularly when any of those assumptions create conscious or unconscious limitations for our students and lead to environments where our students may not feel they belong.

All students want and deserve to feel a sense of belonging in the classroom. To truly create a sense of belonging, students need to be seen. In an effort to create opportunities for belonging, educators must take time to get to know student strengths, interests, and preferences in a meaningful way. The more educators can build on student strengths, create student engagement, and hold high expectations for all learners the more students will feel a sense of belonging. To do so, educators might utilize the following:

  • Student interest inventories or strengths-based assessments
  • Time to observe students in their environments, paying attention to communication, play, and overall interactions.
  • Identify Antecedent, Behavior, Consequence (ABC) when students are performing well. Specifically, what about the environment created the behavior you wanted to see, and what about the immediate action after the behavior reinforced it?
  • Increase opportunities for connections (i.e. morning meeting, free or structured play, etc)
  • Explore students’ interests in lesson plans
  • Create multiple ways for students to express ideas
  • Identify and provide avenues and opportunities to meet potential sensory needs

It is vital that educators constantly reflect upon their own assumptions. McCollum (2016) identifies a simple yet effective notion, that of “presum[ing] intellect.” If we assume all students have high capacity and intelligence for learning, we change the assumption that comes with a label. We shift from deficit thinking, to strengths-based thinking. We own that it’s on us as educators to create the environments where all our students can flourish.


Dr. Sara Totten is currently the Director of Student Services for the DeForest Area School District, a suburb of Madison, Wisconsin. She earned her doctorate in educational leadership at Edgewood College in Madison studying principal perspectives of disproportionate placement of African American students in special education programs.

Sara is currently the interim president-elect and has previously served the Social and Awards and Legislative representative roles on the Wisconsin Council for Administrators of Special Services. She also serves on the Wisconsin School Administrators Alliance (SAA) and participated on the research and development committee to revise the SAA Evidence-Based Agenda this past year. In addition to her role as director, Sara has taught a number of courses for Lakeland University’s Master Counseling program.


The Forgotten Service Providers: Rethinking Paraprofessional Collaboration

by John Peterson

In delivering special education programming, it is becoming more and more common to support our students with disabilities within the general education classroom. No one will argue that students with disabilities, including those who have autism, don’t benefit from being around their general education peers and the high expectations that come with the general education curriculum. School districts often assign Paraprofessionals as the staff members that support students with autism in the general education classroom. Here is where our service delivery model often falls short for our students with autism: school districts are not training their Paraprofessionals in the skills that they need to model, support, and redirect students when they need assistance. The problem does not lie with the Paraprofessionals but with the decision-makers within a school district.

There are many skilled and passionate Paraprofessionals that serve within public education. The problem that these well-intentioned service providers face is that they are often thrown into the general education classroom without the following supports:

  • Time to review and discuss the IEPs of students that they are supporting.
  • Time to shadow someone else supporting the students that they will eventually support.
  • Formal training in communication and sensory-related supports.

All of these professional supports are essential for the success of our students with autism within the general education setting. Those who are in leadership positions should think through how they can support their Paraprofessionals in these three areas. However, for the purposes of this discussion, we are focusing only on the last bullet point: providing Paraprofessionals with formal training in communication and sensory-related supports when supporting our students with autism.

Whether a student with autism is nonverbal and requires an augmentative alternative communication device, or is verbal and struggles with reading social cues from others, he or she will often work with a Speech and Language Pathologist on communicative strategies to help overcome barriers that they may face on a day to day basis in the general education classroom. Although it is easy for an educational leader to assign a Paraprofessional to another task while students with autism are being supported by a Speech and Language Pathologist, there are several benefits of having the Paraprofessionals who work with students with autism sit in on their specially-designed instruction for communication.

The main benefit that a Paraprofessional experiences by working directly with a Speech and Language Pathologist is that they can identify what the strategies of focus are. Not only can they see the strategies that the Speech and Language Pathologist is focusing in on, but the Speech and Language Pathologist can actually have the Paraprofessional participate in the specially designed instruction. In turn, the Paraprofessional can model and reinforce these communicative strategies, supports, and accommodations in the general education classroom.

In short, this is a train the trainer model. The real growth in communication for a student with autism most likely will not occur in the 60 minutes that they spend with the Speech and Language Pathologist each week. Rather, it will occur when these strategies and interventions are implemented and reinforced by the Paraprofessional in naturally occurring environments in the general education classroom.

This train the trainer model can also be applied to a Paraprofessional working directly with an Occupational Therapist as they are providing sensory supports, accommodations, and strategies to a student with autism. The Paraprofessional almost becomes an extension of the Occupational Therapist in the general education classroom, guiding the student to the appropriate supports to help them become emotionally regulated while minimizing instructional time lost.

Besides becoming an extension of the Occupational Therapist and Speech and Language Pathologist in the general education classroom, another benefit to having Paraprofessionals sit in on communication and sensory-related instruction is empowering them to give the IEP team members feedback on the implementation of the strategies, accommodations, and supports that are being used by the student. They can share which ones are impactful and helping mitigate the student’s barriers and point out some potential adjustments and/or changes to the strategies and accommodations that are not having the desired effect. This not only strengthens the strategies being implemented, but makes the Paraprofessionals feel like valued team members whose voice is being respected and heard. In short, their feedback matters to the student with autism, the Speech and Language Pathologist, and the Occupational Therapist, and they see the impact of their feedback.

Paraprofessionals do NOT have to sit in on every minute or every session (for that matter) that a student with autism has with a Speech and Language Pathologist and/or Occupational Therapist. Often times, it helps to frontload a Paraprofessional’s time with these service providers, especially when new strategies and/or supports are being taught. From that point on, the team members can decide the appropriate frequency and amount of time for the Paraprofessional to work directly with the Speech and Language Pathologist and Occupational Therapist.

When working with Paraprofessionals to effectively support students with autism, educational leaders should take the following points into consideration:

  • Paraprofessionals can also be trained in supporting students with autism through a variety of web-based trainings in addition to working directly with service providers like Speech and Language Pathologists and Occupational Therapists.
  • Paraprofessionals can be provided with professional learning opportunities that connect them with other Paraprofessionals within your school district so they can learn from one another and serve as a sounding board.
  • Paraprofessionals can be a great source of feedback for a student’s special educational programming and for helping plan future professional learning opportunities in special education.

There is a financial investment that comes with providing time for Paraprofessionals to receive training on how to support students with autism directly from Speech and Language Pathologists and Occupational Therapists as well as receiving other professional learning opportunities. However, the benefits truly outweigh the costs, and our students with autism can make significant growth when we make this investment in professional learning for our Paraprofessionals.


John Peterson serves as the Director of Special Education for the Hamilton School District in Sussex, Wisconsin and has served as a special education administrator for a total of 15 years. John has previously served as the president of the Wisconsin Council of Administrators of Special Services (WCASS) and has been in leadership roles on their board of directors since 2006. John also helps mentor aspiring special education administrators by serving as a University Supervisor for Cardinal Stritch University (Milwaukee, WI) and has presented on a variety of special education-related topics at both state and national conferences.


For information on Rethink Ed’s professional training for educators and paraprofessionals, including our Basic ABA and Advanced ABA on-demand training series, visit www.rethinked.com.

It’s About Progress, Not Perfection: Celebrating the History of Special Education and Autism Advocacy

by Dr. Kurt Hulett

Special education, as we know it today, was born out of conflict and has continued to serve as a lightning rod for controversy and litigation since the early 1970s.  In the history of the United States few areas in the pantheon of education have drawn any where near the amount of debate, litigation, and scrutiny as special education over the past 45 years.

There was much fighting involved in the passage of P.L. 94-142 (1975) and quite a bit of conflict over the PARC v. PA (1971) and Mills v. Board of Education (1971) cases – all of which played major roles in the building of the foundations of the field of special education as we know it today.  This comes as no surprise in that all great strides in civil rights in America have only occurred after great struggle and conflict.

Today, however, as we celebrate Autism Awareness Month, we will take a moment to step away from controversy and celebrate the incredible journey of special education in America, and in particular, celebrate the advocates, adults and children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), their teachers, families and everyone else who has worked tirelessly to advance the field of special education.

Promoting Awareness

Discussing both the field of special education as a whole and ASD in particular makes a lot of sense.  The incidence rate of ASD has skyrocketed over the past half-century, and it is in large part due to the hard work of advocates for children with ASD that has driven the awareness necessary to help identify and assess these young people, and the presence of a very powerful law (IDEA) that has required the appropriate identification and evaluation of all children suspected of having disabilities.

According to Wright (2017):

The prevalence of autism in the United States has risen steadily since researchers first began tracking it in 2000. The rise in the rate has sparked fears of an autism ‘epidemic.’ But experts say the bulk of the increase stems from a growing awareness of autism and changes to the condition’s diagnostic criteria.

Although some argue environmental factors have contributed to the growth in incidence among students with ASD, it is highly likely that ASD has always existed at current levels and that we have only begun to fully and appropriately identify and assess individuals with ASD. The growth in the number of students being identified with ASD has been exponential, which is in direct proportion to the efforts and success of ASD advocates in promoting public awareness. This increase in incidence is emblematic of the success advocates for children with ASD have had in working on behalf of them.

Advocating Legally

Whether it be success with litigation or the 1990s addition of Autism as an eligibility category under IDEA, advocates of students with ASD have had tremendous success in advancing the rights and opportunities for children with ASD. They have been among the most successful groups working on behalf of students with disabilities. In fact, a recent review of litigation indicates that Autism-related court cases are more than 10 times as prevalent as those related to other areas of disability (in relation to FAPE-based IDEA complaints).

The most important recent Supreme Court case that impacts all of special education, Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District (2017), was steered to the High Court by parents, attorneys and advocates of children with Autism.

Prior to Endrew F. standards for Free and Appropriate Public Education  (FAPE) were guided by the Rowley (1982) decision, which established the “merely more than de minimis” standard for providing education to students with disabilities. However, in Endrew F., parents of a son with ASD successfully argued that his school had not set appropriately ambitious goals and that he had not made meaningful progress.  Endrew F.’s parents were able to demonstrate that in a private placement he made both academic and behavioral progress after years of little progress in public school.  The court ruled unanimously in their favor, thus establishing new standards which require schools to demonstrate ‘meaningful progress’ and ‘appropriately ambitious’ goals for students with disabilities. In this way, the Endrew F. case serves as a lasting and powerful symbol of the importance of the ASD community and the impact they have had on the broader field of special education.

How can we get involved?

Autism Awareness month is a great time to think about how we can get more involved. Here are some ways we can support the individuals with ASD as well as the overall movement to promote Autism Awareness:

  1.  Advocacy:  We cannot let up on the advocacy front.  We must continue to support and fund organizations that advocate on behalf of individuals with ASD.  The law, including both legislation and litigation, is always evolving and we, the special education community, must remain steadfast in ensuring the right cases move through the system and that IDEA and other laws are reauthorized and funded appropriately.

  2. Training and Awareness in Schools:  Although awareness and prevalence are growing rapidly in the schools, we still have a long way to go to educate all members of the school and surrounding communities about ASD and the best practices for supporting these individuals.  We must continuously promote inclusive environments and fund the training of staff and personnel at every level of the educational enterprise.

  3. Funding of IDEA:  As it is a tremendously underfunded mandate, we must urge Congress to meet the original promise to fund the law at a minimum of 40%.  The lack of funding at the federal level creates very difficult scenarios at the local levels.  Schools and communities want to do right by students with ASD; however, they need the supports, services, and funding to do so.

  4. Research on Best Practices in the Schools:  Tremendous progress has been made in the area of research and best practices. However, we must keep pushing forward to find new and better ways of supporting and helping individuals with ASD.  In particular, we need continued focus and research on interventions and methodologies that can be utilized in schools to reach and teach these students – both academically and socially.

  5. Innovation:  We need to support research in areas of innovation.  For example, Virtual Reality is demonstrating exciting advances and applications for children with ASD.  We need to continue to push the technological boundaries and push for continued innovation in research, science, and applied technologies.

  6. Focus on Inclusion in All Settings:  At the end of the day, one of our primary goals must be the successful integration of all individuals with ASD into the mainstream of society.  We must invest funding and research efforts into new approaches and methodologies for advancing this cause.

In Conlcusion

As we dedicate the month of April to promoting Autism Awareness and inclusion, let’s also remember to celebrate the many individuals in the broad field of special education who fight on in courthouses, halls of state houses, boards of education, IEP meetings and everywhere else on behalf of all students with disabilities, and in particular those who continue to successfully  advocate on behalf of students with ASD. It is time to acknowledge the tremendous success of these advocates and to say, on behalf of children with ASD, “Thank you!”


Dr. Kurt Hulett is a former school Principal and a current writer, special education consultant, and advocate whose goal is to bring educators and stakeholders from all strata together to work for the benefit of all children. He is also a member of the Center for Special Education Advocacy and hosts the Kurt’s Kitchen Table EdTalk video podcast. Dr. Hulett is the author of Legal Aspects of Special Education and is currently working on an education reform book entitled Miles to Equality, due out in 2020.

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.

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.