Year-round Thankfulness Strategies to Help All Students Thrive

by Dr. Sara Totten

“Remember when you wanted what you currently have. Remember to be thankful for what you’ve worked hard to have right now.”

I have the above quote posted on my mirror at home as a daily reminder to give thanks for every day. I was 17 when I found out I was pregnant and left home not long after. I never imagined that as an adult I’d have a doctorate degree and be able to financially support not only myself, but also to help support my daughter in college. I remember WIC appointments, section eight housing applications, finding daycare that would take the voucher assistance I received and trying to balance school, work, and the amazing little girl I was blessed to start and end each day with.

Though I did well in school, I don’t remember feeling a strong sense of belonging–particularly as a pregnant high school senior–until I started college. I had a professor who was a single parent. I remember meeting with her and the many encouraging words she gifted to me: words about survival, success, and hope. In class, she shared the stories of the youth she had worked with at a correctional facility. She shared compassion and commitment to understand each youth’s story. And, she shared the hope she had for each youth’s healing.

What I was given was an educator that not only cared about my success in her class, but cared about me as an individual, as she had for so many others. She had the ability to understand the perspective of another, and demonstrate empathy without judgement, no matter the mistake or action encountered. And though she didn’t formally teach my college class Social Emotional Learning (SEL), she modeled the definition everyday.

As Social Emotional Learning (SEL) becomes a core component of school, I am reminded that SEL is not just about the instruction or content. In the November (2018) report for CASEL “Respected: Perspectives of Youth on High School and Social Emotional Learning,” 42% of youth self-identified having felt lonely at some point in their school career; 52% identified feeling comfortable (in the school environment) and taking risks in school, and about a quarter of students did not endorse feeling comfortable being themselves. In addition, student ratings of self-efficacy dropped significantly in middle and high school, particularly among females (West, Fricke, Pier, 2018).

Adults play a key role in improving student outcomes in both achievement and behavior through the relationships they create with students. Morris (2016) discussed the need for educators to hold an “unconditional belief that all students possess an ability to succeed…Schools are modeling this kind of love every day, when they believe that the children they teach are worth it. (p.61).” The statement is especially true for adult relationships with our most disenfranchised students.

As educators, we can implement thankfulness strategies to create environments and relationships where all students can thrive. I offer the following three tips for implementing Thankful to Thriving all year long:

1.Handwritten Thank You’s
Acknowledge something specific a student has done. I have handwritten thank you’s to students who haven’t always spoken up or shared their perspective, to encourage and appreciate them for being willing to share their voice. 

2. Recognize and Build Leadership
Invest time in learning about students’ strengths. I have seen students with some of the most challenging behavior show strong mentorship skills for younger students. I recently observed a 2nd grader who has had referrals for physical aggression shine as a mentor for a Kindergarten social skills group. I worked with another student a while back who was exhibiting some bullying behaviors, so we assigned him a younger student to support during lunch. Without direction, he began checking in with her at recess. He felt success and importance in his role and the bullying behaviors ceased.

3. Take Personal Interest
Learn names and correct pronunciations. Find out what students have a personal interest in and ask questions. I work with a food service director who stresses with her staff the importance of learning each student’s name and how valuable connection is to school culture. Asking students about their after school events, jobs, or other interest areas has gone a long way to build relationships. 


What we model matters; the relationships we build with staff, students, and families matter. I am thankful for every child and every adult that has ever shared their story with me. I am thankful for the opportunities that I have to give back what was provided to me. Most of all, I am thankful for the shared humanity we can all gift to one another every day, every year and having the opportunity to create environments where all students can thrive.


References

DePaoli, J.L, Atwell, M.N., Bridgeland, J.M., & Shriver, T.P. (2018). Respected: Perspectives of  youth on high school & social and emotional learning. A Report for CASEL.

Morris, M.W. (2016). Pushout: The criminalization of black girls in schools. The New Press: New York.

West, M.R., Fricke, H., Pier, L. (2018). Trends in student social-emotional learning: Evidence  from the CORE districts. Policy Analysis for California Education.


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.



5 Things a Student with Autism Wishes His Teachers Had Known

by James Sinclair

If students are like flowers, then students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are a unique and extraordinary part of the garden that is a school. At first, we may seem out of place – our differences stand out and you can’t take your eyes off us. However, you will quickly come to realize that what makes us special can ultimately better the bouquet.

From those who tried to force off my thorns, to those who simply left me to wilt, I definitely had my fair share of ill-prepared teachers while growing up as a student with Autism. After sitting down to write this article, I realized that there were many things I wished my teachers had known when I was in school. So here are 5 tips to help you help your students with ASD grow and thrive.

1. Don’t stifle our creativity 

Yes, people with ASD can be great at math. We can be awesome with programming and we might even be good at everything else your iPhone has an app for. But, we’re also more creative than we are often given credit for – as demonstrated by recent studies into ‘the paradox of creativity in autism’ (Best, Arora, et al.). Despite this, there is a huge misconception that all students with ASD are built for stats and science, and this can often result in many of them being steered away from subjects in which they might have excelled.

For myself, this occurred during school when I was removed from art classes due to becoming visibly distressed at the lack of precise definition in the lessons.  Instead of providing me individualized support and accommodation, I was excluded from this essential outlet to explore my creativity during the school day. As such, it wasn’t till I created my blog that I realized that not only could I be imaginative but, as it turns out, I wasn’t half bad at it. The lesson here isn’t that all children with ASD should become bloggers though; it’s that we shouldn’t be stereotyped into fields that are purely based on facts and figures.

2. Be definitive (but not too definitive)

People with ASD aren’t mind-readers and can struggle with interpreting and understanding actions. Of course, this isn’t any great secret, which is why many tips for teaching students with Autism will encourage you to be as definitive as possible when giving instructions.

Now, I’m not going to say this is bad (because it’s not), but it’s often the case that when many see the phrase “be definitive” they will rely on using examples to teach. This is a problem for people with ASD as, due to our practical minds, we will often only take the outcome away and overlook the nuance and process, limiting the creation of a holistic understanding that drives new knowledge acquisition.

Educators can avoid this shortfall by working at a 1-on-1 level with a student with ASD, coaching them through a task from start to finish. Ensuring that actions are understood over repeated is crucial here and, while it may seem time consuming at first, it’s no different from the old ‘teach a man to fish’ saying –  your options are either to give us your full attention and sit down with us once, or give us fleeting support and prepare to sit with us again and again.

3. Promote a growth mindset

Imagine that you’re asked to complete a puzzle with 8 pieces. When you finish, the examiner says “Well done. You’re really smart,” and then offers you the option of doing another 8-piece test or one with 16 pieces. According to multiple studies (Dweck, 2006), you’re more likely to go for the 8 piece again in order to avoid the possibility of embarrassing yourself in front of the examiner who gave you praise. On the other hand, if that examiner had said “Wow, that looked tough, but you got there in the end,” (or something along those lines), it’s more likely that you would take on the 16-piece puzzle.

This is the difference between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset – something which is incredibly important to consider when teaching people who are very literal, such as students with Autism.

This was certainly the case for me growing up. After I was told that I was a ‘math whiz’ in my early years, I stopped trying to learn new things and thought I would always remain the best (which gave me a nasty shock when I changed schools). Ensuring that people with ASD always know there is room to improve is instrumental in guaranteeing that we do so.

4. Don’t label us as “bad kids”

One of the classic misconceptions surrounding students with ASD is that when we have a meltdown and become disruptive, we are intentionally causing trouble for ourselves and those around us. This is well and truly, positively and precisely, unfathomably wrong (and I still don’t think I have stressed that enough).

In reality, a meltdown is when our minds have become overloaded/overwhelmed and, instead of knowing that this is the moment to take a break, our bodies instead shutdown and ‘reboot’ in our most natural state: the fight or flight mode. As most are aware, this can cause quite a disturbance and be very upsetting for all those around. However, it’s not more upsetting for anyone than the person with Autism themselves.

When this does happen, it shouldn’t be seen as an opportunity to punish or scold the actions of your student with ASD, but to step up, offer support, and identify intervention strategies for that student in the future.

Take a moment to consider if the meltdown was:

  • Caused from not understanding a question.
  • Due to learning too many different things at one time.
  • Triggered by something in the room causing a sensory disturbance and making it impossible to focus.

Either way, the one constant is that throwing us out of the classroom won’t help. That’s why, when dealing with a meltdown, always remember to tackle the cause and not just the response.

 5. Teach us to embrace Autism

I spent most of my early childhood keeping my Autism a secret, locked away with the fact that I often wore pyjamas under my school clothes and that I was still watching (and loving) Dora the Explorer until the age of 16. This need to hide the real me meant that I was far too busy disguising my Autism to learn, and it often resulted in me pretending to be sick or purposefully disconnecting from my peers.

Of course, teaching a child with Autism to avoid this by embracing their condition is not quite as simple as a motivational speech – after all, Autistic or not, what adolescent is 100% comfortable with their identity? But small tricks like giving students with Autism a safe space to recharge our batteries and lending an ear when we seem upset can often be enough to hold us over until we find our own way. Compared to the previous 4 tips, this may not seem like much. However, just like teaching students without ASD, teaching someone with Autism is about giving us the tools to succeed and then helping us find independence.

Though students with ASD often come to school possessing their own unique tools of success, they can often suppress them in pursuit of fitting in.  This means that to help a student with Autism reach their full potential, we need educators who will look beyond simple book learning; who will guide us while we learn to see our sometimes obsessive personalities as unparalleled concentration, our often irregular approaches as inventive problem-solving, and any and all of our other differences as the strengths they truly are.


References

  • Dweck, Carol S., Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Random House, 2006.
  • Best, C., Arora, S., Porter, F. et al. J Autism Dev Disord (2015) 45: 4064. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-015-2518-2

James Sinclair is an avid autism advocate who, when he’s not playing the latest Pokémon game, is busy finding the positive in every diagnosis. As an advocate, James has had previous speaking opportunities at The British Parliament and at Cambridge University and his writing has been featured in Reader’s Digest, Metro Newspaper and his self-founded site: Autistic & Unapologetic.

Writing for Resilience: The Impact of the Positive Purpose Essay on Students

by Dr. Maurice Elias

The Power of Purpose

When students enter the schoolhouse door without a sense of positive purpose, it is difficult for them to connect their varied learning experiences and other opportunities into a coherent whole that shapes their lives.  They lack a strong reason to learn, take on challenges, or behave well. An enduring sense of purpose typically emerges in adulthood, but having a primary goal, a moral compass, a focus on something other than, and larger than, oneself, and actions that align with these beliefs, start to become particularly important in middle school.

Stanford University psychologist William Damon views purpose as a “stable and generalized intention to accomplish something that is at once meaningful to the self and of positive consequence to the world beyond the self.”

Not surprisingly, positive purpose is connected to social-emotional learning skills.  For example, here are links with social awareness:

  • Finding your special task –  what it is that allows you to excel?
  • Recognizing your feelings and using them as a guide to your actions
  • Recognizing and encouraging the achievements of yourself and also of others, for large and small accomplishments, as they contribute to purpose.

Getting Started with a Positive Purpose Essay

Writing an essay about positive purpose is an important way to build social awareness, as well as provide direction and energy for learning.  But students usually can’t just start writing. Here are some steps to get them ready:

  1. Look at the positive purpose of well-known individuals, via non-fiction books, biographies, documentaries, social studies, current events.
  2. Learn about, reflect on, and write about the positive purpose of a personally-known individual – interview a local hero, community leader, member of the clergy, first responder, family member, educator or other staff member in the school. 
  3. Write about one’s own positive purpose.

Use a Prompt to Guide Writing

You can use a standard essay writing prompt for your students’ grade level, adapted to positive purpose as the subject of the essay.  Here is an example from middle school in Jersey City, NJ:

In your classes and in your life you may have learned about and encountered people with a strong sense of purpose. Similarly, you might feel your own sense of purpose. In a five-paragraph essay that includes an introduction, three body paragraphs, and conclusion, please respond to the following:

  •           What is your definition of purpose?
  •           What might be your purpose? Why?
  •           How would someone know that is your purpose in life? 

From an essay written by an 8th grader from a high-poverty, low-achieving school based on the prompt above, here is the introduction and definition of purpose:

The purpose of human life is to serve, and to show compassion and the will to help others,” said Albert Schweitzer. I believe I was made to  entertain, inspire creativity and guide others.

I think the definition of purpose means reason to do something, like when you say what’s your purpose for choosing a certain career, and you state  your reasons. This is why I strongly am convinced that I was made to guide  and entertain others because, having a strong passion for art and Broadway plays… A purpose of doing something can lead you into realizing what you want to grow up to be, as you recognize what you like to do.

Here is how she responded to the last prompt:

Others would realize what my purpose in life is by knowing what my career and life goals are or, who I admire to be one day. I admire to be like Steve Jobs because I believe without mistakes you can never grow to be an exemplary person and, even though Steve Jobs failed many times he became one of the most successful men in our generation.

Try It With Your Students

Her essay—and those of her peers in Grades 6-8—opened her teachers’ eyes about the depth of her thinking, aspirations, and abilities. By articulating their sense of purpose, students became more aware of their own potential, and their own assets.

Try it with your students.  Have them share drafts of their essays with classmates, get several rounds of feedback, and then practice reading them with clarity and pride in class, at assemblies, or at parent or community meetings.  Students can also communicate their positive purposes by creating artistic or musical renderings, along with brief write-ups.  I am sure your students can find creative ways of communicating their sense of purpose, and in doing so, they will become more resilient.

Join me in the October 30th webinar to learn more about purpose, as well as Laws of Life, and Students Taking Action Together—activities you can use with students to engage them in ways that skills-focused training typically does not.


Maurice J. Elias, Ph.D., is a professor and former director of clinical training in the Department of Psychology, Rutgers University. He is also director of the Rutgers Social-Emotional and Character Development Lab (www.secdlab.org), academic director of the Collaborative Center for Community-Based Research and Service (engage.rutgers.edu) and founding member of the Leadership Team for the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL). Dr. Elias lectures nationally and internationally and devotes his research and writing to the area of social-emotional and character development in children, schools, and families. He is a licensed psychologist and writes a blog on social-emotional and character development for the George Lucas Educational Foundation at www.edutopia.org. He lives in New Jersey with his wife, Ellen, near their children and grandchildren. 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.  

Effective Reinforcement Strategies for Children with Autism

by Tranika Jefferson, BCBA, LBA

Many teachers have used “First ___, then ____” statements in planning lessons for teaching with their students with autism. For example:

  • First complete the math problem, then you can use the iPad.
  • First match the objects, then you can listen to music.

As adults, we also use “First ___, then ____” statements in our everyday lives. For example:

  • First exercise, then you can get on social media.
  • First finish your work project, then you can watch your favorite TV show.

Essentially, this method of using “First ___, then ____” statements is a behavioral analytic strategy called the Premack principle. The Premack principle was originated in David Premack’s (1965) research with animals and is defined as “A principle that states that making the opportunity to engage in a high probability behavior contingent on the occurrence of a low frequency behavior will function as reinforcement for the low frequency behavior” (Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 2007, p. 271).

The Premack principle can be used to increase desired behaviors by allowing engagement of a preferred or liked activity contingent on them displaying the disliked or not preferred behavior. For a student that spends much more time playing with toy cars than learning site words, a contingency based on the Premack principle might be, “When you state your site words (low frequency behavior), you can play with your toy cars (high probability behavior).”

A child with autism may engage in certain preferred behaviors in high frequency such as:

  • Self-stimulation 
  • Perseverative interest
  • Repetitive behaviors

Therefore, they may disengage in behaviors and activities that may be asked of them. Teachers can be successful in motivating students with autism to attempt tasks that were previously less preferred or difficult if they plan their instruction to follow a disliked activity with a liked activity as the Premack principle states. 

A few tips to successfully use the Premack principle are:

  • Find a “then” (high probability behavior/activity) that is reinforcing for the student. If the high probability behavior/activity does not increase the low-frequency behavior, then find a “then” that does. 
  • Always and immediately (as soon as possible) provide the “then” (high probability behavior/activity). The high probability behavior/activity will be reinforcement for the low probability behavior only if it is followed after the low probability behavior.

References: Cooper, J., Heron, T., & Heward, W. (2007). Applied Behavior Analysis (2nd ed.). Columbus: Pearson.


Tranika Jefferson is a Board Certified Behavior and Licensed Behavior Analyst who holds an advanced degree in Juvenile Forensic Justice. Tranika is a Professional Services  Consultant with Rethink Ed. She delivers on-site and virtual training and coaching/mentoring sessions on Rethink’s web-based platform to teachers, paraprofessionals, support staff, and district leadership. She is also a doctoral candidate in Applied Behavior Analysis.

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.


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.

Back to School: Rethink Ed Update 2018

Summer 2018 has been a busy few months for Rethink Ed! We are excited to share some of our latest updates!

  1. We’ve updated the look and feel of the Rethink Ed platform!

  • – Administrators: We’ve created a way for you to easily access an instant snapshot of overall teacher usage and student performance so you can achieve accountability and transparency across the district.
  • – Educators: We’ve simplified data collection, added an incident tracking feature, and created a way for you to easily search and find lessons!

*We will have guided tours and trainings available to assist you and your staff. If you have any additional questions about the new Rethink Ed UI or want more information on Rethink Ed register for our upcoming webinar: 5 Rethink Ed Platform Updates You’ll Want to Try

2. We’ve partnered with ERB, Educational Records Bureau, to launch Rethink SEL, a groundbreaking SEL Solution with Embedded Assessment to improve culture and climate in schools. It is the first comprehensive social and emotional learning solution that includes an integrated assessment, on-demand professional development, and a multi-tiered curriculum for all learners. Learn more here: http://bit.ly/2rcicKo

3. We’ve teamed up with AASA, The School Superintendents Association, to pioneer the first SEL Superintendent Convening, Educating the Total Child through Social Emotional Learning, in ChicagoOct. 19-20. During this event, school system leaders will convene in Chicago and discuss the needs of the whole child–including social and emotional development. Learn more here: http://bit.ly/2MzsLAC

4. We’ve developed a Social and Emotional Learning Administrator Toolkit.

“Rethink is an SEL PK-12 program solution to schools and the only company that I believe has figured out social emotional learning.” -Joseph Erardi, Jr. PhD (Former Superintendent, Newton, CT)

We are excited to share with you a preview of our SEL Administer Tool Kit presented by the former Newtown School Superintendent, Dr. Joseph Erardi. Watch and learn how SEL can help educators and school leaders manage crisis and support Social Emotional Learning.

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What’s the big deal with SEL?

By Christina Cipriano, PhD

Social and Emotional Learning, or SEL, refers to interrelated sets of cognitive, affective, and behavioral competencies that underscore the way we understand, use, and manage emotions to learn. Emotions drive how we think, pay attention, make decisions, manage our time, and countless other processes that impact how students and teachers show up in the classroom.

The Rethink Ed SEL for ALL Learners platform is a school-based social and emotional learning (SEL) program for enhancing the psychosocial health and well-being of teachers and students while creating an optimal learning environment that promotes academic, social, and personal effectiveness. Psychosocial health and well-being refers to the knowledge and skills needed to promote mental health, emotion regulation, and prosocial behaviors—knowledge and skills that are necessary for optimal development.

Educators, parents, and legislators acknowledge the need for schools to address the social and emotional needs of students in order to provide a rich learning environment. In fact, a systematic process for promoting SEL is the common element among schools that report an increase in academic achievement, improved relationship quality between teachers and students, and a decrease in problem behaviors.

Ideal SEL curricula are those that address the full spectrum of children’s needs by cultivating a caring, supportive, and empowering learning environments that foster the development of all learners in the school. Rethink Ed SEL was designed specifically to meet these criteria.

VB MAPP + Rethink Ed = Student Success!

Rethink Ed understands the importance of quality assessments in delivering effective instruction. To assist with summative evaluation, Rethink Ed has integrated the VB MAPP (Verbal Behavioral Milestones and Placement Program) into the Rethink Ed platform. This integration allows educators to complete the VB MAPP within Rethink Ed, store data in one location, and allow seamless matriculation across grade levels. Lastly, VB MAPP is fully aligned to the Rethink Ed curriculum.

VB MAPP is important for educators because it provides a baseline level of performance, a direction for intervention, a system for tracking skill acquisition, a tool for outcome measures and other language research projects, and a framework for curriculum planning. Rethink is very excited to offer this feature for 2018! Contact info@rethinked.com to learn more!

Seven Strategies to Make Professional Learning Effective

Teachers become teachers because they are motivated to help children learn! Every teacher can tell you that they have plenty of opportunity to hone their craft and improve their practice. For some it is learning new content to teach, for others it is developing better classroom management support, for many it is learning the new rapidly developing techniques and technologies.

However, every educator can also tell stories of the useless professional learning sessions they sat through that weren’t related to their scope of practice. Recent research shows that current professional learning practices in schools are time consuming, not budget friendly, and are ineffective. Teachers want to learn and schools are providing professional learning opportunities, the process needs to shift into effectiveness.

Here are 7 Strategies, provided by the Learning Policy Institute, to make professional learning effective and meaningful. Quality Professional Learning:

  1. Is content focused: PD that focuses on teaching strategies associated with specific curriculum content supports teacher learning within teachers’ classroom contexts. This element includes an intentional focus on discipline-specific curriculum development and pedagogies in areas such as mathematics, science, or literacy.
  2. Incorporates active learning:  Active learning engages teachers directly in designing and trying out teaching strategies, providing them an opportunity to engage in the same style of learning they are designing for their students. Such PD uses authentic artifacts, interactive activities, and other strategies to provide deeply embedded, highly contextualized professional learning. This approach moves away from traditional learning models and environments that are lecture based and have no direct connection to teachers’ classrooms and students.
  3. Supports collaboration: High-quality PD creates space for teachers to share ideas and collaborate in their learning, often in job-embedded contexts. By working collaboratively, teachers can create communities that positively change the culture and instruction of their entire grade level, department, school and/or district.
  4. Uses models of effective practice: Curricular models and modeling of instruction provide teachers with a clear vision of what best practices look like. Teachers may view models that include lesson plans, unit plans, sample student work, observations of peer teachers, and video or written cases of teaching.
  5. Provides coaching and expert support: Coaching and expert support involve the sharing of expertise about content and evidence-based practices, focused directly on teachers’ individual needs.
  6. Offers feedback and reflection: High-quality professional learning frequently provides built-in time for teachers to think about, receive input on, and make changes to their practice by facilitating reflection and soliciting feedback. Feedback and reflection both help teachers to thoughtfully move toward the expert visions of practice.
  7. Is of sustained duration: Effective PD provides teachers with adequate time to learn, practice, implement, and reflect upon new strategies that facilitate changes in their practice

Do a little self-check and ask yourself: Does your professional learning incorporate all of these practices? What could you do to move the needle on your professional learning? Every teacher wants to get better, and these strategies can make that happen!