“We need to worry less about compliance and checking boxes and more about meeting the needs of children during this turbulent time.”
On April 15, 2020, Rethink Ed brought together several of the nation’s leading experts in special education. The panel discussed the state of our field during the COVID-19 crisis and delved into issues facing special educators during this unprecedented time. I volleyed the panelists’ questions on everything from how we might begin to address ESY’s to the SEL implications of supporting students with disabilities through remote learning.
The advice given ran the gambit from covering the newly created CASE principles to how we should check in on the emotional wellness of students we cannot see. The panelists shared a wealth of technical information and several heartwarming suggestions for navigating this crisis together as a family of educators. Several common threads emerged during the panel discussion, but perhaps the most important is that we are all working tirelessly to support one another and the people we serve. The other consistent and compelling messages are as follows:
First, make sure each child is safe and secure. Academic needs should take a backseat to the health and well-being of each child, both physically and emotionally.
Children need predictable and structured schedules and learning environments during this time. Consistency of schedule and routine helps children to feel safe and secure.
Educators must be vigilant in checking on their students’ social and emotional well-being. Without having children physically present in class, the traditional cues are gone and thus harder to track each student’s emotional health.
Communication with parents is critical. Rely on input and guidance from them to understand their needs and level of comfort with home instruction. By reaching out often, we can collaborate with parents as true partners. Using these communication channels, we can avoid overwhelming parents as well as missing any new and pressing needs.
Worry less about compliance and focus on the needs of each child. IDEA did not anticipate nor plan for COVID-19 and a few timelines and checkpoints may be missed along the way. Instead of worrying about checked boxes, ensure that each child is progressing on their goals and that they are healthy and safe during this time.
Problem-solving is critical. IDEA was not built for COVID-19 and it is taking significant amounts of critical-thinking and problem-solving skills to (remotely) meet the needs of each child.
Take care of your teachers and staff. It is extremely easy during a time like this for teachers to become stressed and overwhelmed. We need to check in with teachers and staff often to make sure we are all taking care of one another.
Dr. Hulett is a leading special education advocate and educational consultant based in Central Texas. He works extensively on behalf of children and families engaged in the IEP and Section 504 process. He is well-known for his ability to navigate difficult situations and secure the educational services, goals, and desired outcomes for the parents and students he serves. In addition, he trains principals and administrators in the utilization of both best practices and legal approaches to special education management. Dr. Hulett is the author of the best-selling text “Legal Aspects of Special Education.” He is committed to helping all stakeholders meet the needs of students with disabilities.
“Know your POWER so that your INFLUENCE can live up to it.”
I came up with this quote in 2016 after seeing some of my most troubled students lives transformed through Social-Emotional Learning (SEL). But it wasn’t just SEL that transformed their lives; it was me knowing my power and understanding that that same power had influence — influence to change the narrative of “troubled youth” by changing my perspective first.
Being around students that had major trauma and who lived in high poverty conditions made me first understand that they are not all the same. I took the time to get to know each and every student in my program. I learned about their families, their strengths, their weakness, their mistakes and their fears. One of my students told me I just had to remember his name and he would respect me. He then explained that his teachers would never say his name correctly and that he was named after his deceased father. That was his trigger to act out, and I would have never found that out if I didn’t ask. Taking the time to build these relationships allowed me to know how I would relate and interact with students as well as plan proactive strategies before negative patterned behaviors could arise.
For so long we’ve labeled our “at-risk” students and put them into a box before getting to know them. To bring about new solutions that would help me connect with students, I had to first shift my own personal paradigm.
In his book Start with Why, Simon Sineck writes, “If we are starting with the wrong questions, if we don’t understand the cause, then even the right answers could steer us wrong.” I had to understand the “WHY.”
WHY was a student behaving this way?
WHY is this so hard for this student?
After I understood some of their patterns, I started to ask my students what was their WHY. This is what made me realize that many students didn’t know their WHY: WHY they came to school, WHY they wanted to graduate, WHY they wanted to do better. So guess what? They would miss school, they didn’t get good grades, and they didn’t want to do better.
When students facing challenging behaviors don’t have a WHY, it can be difficult to make room for social-emotional skills to form.
I have a former student that didn’t voice her opinions while class was in session, but always wanted to talk about the topic after class. I started to realize that she had great ideas but wasn’t confident enough to speak up. She was too worried about what her peers thought of her. Many students feel the same way, but some respond by acting out because they think it’s the cool thing to do and they want attention from their peers.
One of the best places to target a child with behavior challenges is when you can interact with them one-on-one. When a student is sent to in-school suspension or a Restorative Practice Center, it can become a great space to conduct real intervention and incorporate Social and Emotional Learning. This can only happen if this space has structure and the teacher has control over the space.
Students typically come into these environments upset due to being kicked out of class. Positive attention skills, such as cultivating a warm and engaging style when students enter, can shift the mood of a child. Using active listening techniques to hear a student’s side of the story instead of automatically assuming that they are wrong allows a student to open up. In this way you can began to build a rapport with the child.
Research shows us that punishment does not change negative behaviors, however a respectful consequence along with a “teaching” component implemented consistently can change behavior. When we first acknowledge the positive behaviors that students have, it begins a dialog.
Once you establish a good rapport it’s time for some self-reflection. This allows a student to understand how to make responsible decisions in the future that will keep them from being kicked out of class. Coming up with solutions together to replace the negative behaviors will give the student a voice and allow them to feel an ownership of the decision process. This is not only encouraging for students thinking and expression of ideas, but also for their autonomy and self-direction.
Once you have guided them to a solution, then it’s time to set goals while promoting intrinsic motivation. Giving students who struggle with behavior challenges incentives is not the best solution, but allowing them to feel internal satisfaction for good behavior is a very effective way to ensure consistent growth.
Fostering Social-Emotional Skills through intervention first starts with the educator and the tone that’s set for intervention. So just like the quotation I included in the beginning, we all have power. Understanding how your power can influence your most challenging students will help produce amazing stories of resilience.
Kristen Hopkins is an author, educator, social-entrepreneur, motivational speaker and community impact strategist with over a decade of experience in producing research-based community empowerment programs. Kristen began her work with the award-winning company, Dangers of the Mind (DOM), in 2014 when she published a book of the same title. She later decided to expand DOM into a consultancy and lifestyle brand with a mission to reach, teach and empower future pioneers by helping them recognize and harness their intrinsic power. Since its inception, Kristen has educated over 2500 youth in the United States, Ghana, and Haiti through Dangers of the Mind and she has reached even more participants via DOM’s digital programming including a podcast, virtual coaching, Danger Zone Power Calls, the clothing line, a collective of brand ambassadors and more. Kristen is committed to being the voice advocating for at-promised youth and looks to continue her research, teaching and advocacy work for Social-Emotional responsive resources.
By implementing a Universal Design for Learning (UDL) that supports all learners, we can create a place where all learners actively engage in their learning experiences. Whether you’re exploring how to foster engagement so all learners can be invested, or you’re seeking ways to present information that support learner independence, developing opportunities for action and expression that support learner initiation and connection will create a pathway to success for you and your students.
Enhancing social connections within the context of learning can help you create the emotional “hook” for a learner. Here are some practical ideas for how to enhance learner engagement across various developmental stages, as outlined in the Social Emotional Learning – Knowledge and Skills (SEE-KS) Quick Reference Guide. Consider incorporating some of these ideas informed by UDL and Social Emotional Learning (SEL) into your educational practice.
Part A of SEE-KS encourages educators to create opportunities that foster engagement to support learner investment. One practical idea is to provide provide access to and directly reference concrete objects within you classroom. For example, use bins of materials for specific activities and denote the steps toward completion of three tasks within the evidence-based practice of a structured work system (Photo A). The drawers may contain items such as a learner’s favorite color markers, a photo of a peer to ask to join in the task, or an invitation to be delivered to a peer. Objects such as these will provide the learner with just the right supports to engage in a learning opportunity. Remember — it’s not about first work, then play. Rather, infusing your learner’s high interests into an activity will result in increased enthusiasm and participation.
We can also consider linking meaningful topics and materials to a task with a connection to daily life. For example, in Photo B two learners are intentionally paired together based on their interests. They are using an app as a map reference to provide them with information needed to complete a project. One learner has a higher interest in coloring, while the other shows a strong desire to use technology to engage in learning new information. Being proactive and intentional in the planning of this lesson provides both learners a meaningful and engaging experience in which they are both able to contribute to each other’s learning.
Let’s also consider the idea that learners increase their vocabulary as they become better readers and reflect on how we tend to focus on teaching nouns to less advanced learners. What if we consider also teaching verbs and pairing these actions with peers? In this way we can ensure that the learning involves an engaging social interaction. For example, in Photo C the learner is reading the word ‘hug’ while looking at images of peers, creating a real-life application of a social request.
As educators, it’s important for us to ask ourselves this question: how can we create optimal learning experiences that foster opportunities for learners to access, engage and connect in their learning? One of the ways we know works is through infusing UDL and Social and Emotional Learning practices into our classrooms. In this way, we can focus on ensuring learning strategies that promote access, engagement and expression of learning across all stages of development.
Jennifer C. Townsend, M.Ed., is an Educational Consultant with expertise in social emotional learning differences. She co-wrote Social Emotional Engagement Knowledge and Skills (SEE-KS) to support this success. She has extensive experience working in collaboration with school districts to build capacity for educating students with autism spectrum disorder and related disabilities within the public and private school settings using best practices paired with appreciative inquiry coaching and universal designs for learning. Jen has a Master’s in Education from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland and a postgraduate certification in Autism Spectrum Disorder from Johns Hopkins University and a Director of Special Education and Pupil Services certification from the University of Wisconsin Eau Claire, and is an adjunct faculty member at Carroll University School of Education in Waukesha, WI. She is a licensed educator in the state of Wisconsin as a Special Educator and Director of Special Education and Pupil Services. Jen Townsend is an active member in the field of education and believes that together we can go beyond just making a difference; we can be the difference.
At the very least I can distinguish fear from worry and anxiety, often confusing people and preventing important remedies. Fear and worry are both instinctive, not requiring any active thinking while anxiety, both ruminative (past-oriented) and anticipatory (future-oriented) involve a composition of brain/body imbalance, trapped energy, avoidance, pessimistic world view schema, and much more.
I believe my fear is primal, like encountering a bear in the woods. Like many in education, we feel a growing sense of helplessness compounding our fear. We witness daily, students struggling with their own pressures without the internal or external resources to manage them. Substance abuse, bullying, and suicide are just a few of the seismic threats schools lack the time or preparation to handle.
How we prevent and intervene with both children and adults at risk of stress blossoming into debilitation is a conversation occurring at the highest levels. Even in the face of evaporating funding, money is being made available for violence prevention, trauma-informed care, and the adoption of Social and Emotional Learning (SEL). Yet even with funding, schools haven’t yet been guided in how prevention (i.e. climate, anti-bullying, SEL) can reduce the risk of mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression.
It’s unclear to many what Social and Emotional Learning is intended to produce and how it supports schools in creating physically and emotionally safe learning environments. Appreciating how SEL extends well beyond skills development, has developmental milestones, and is paradigm-driven, can help if we recognize mental health issues as complex and not simply symptom-driven.
Understanding how trauma, violence, mental health, and substance abuse, are rooted in a low tolerance for distress, a lack of self-reflection, and poor ego development, will make the goals of SEL clearer, saving schools tremendous time, money and energy, but also saving lives. SEL goes well beyond skills development; it’s about how we overcome challenges through growing our resiliency to adapt.
When inundated with chronic or acute stress, lacking both the internal resources and external supports to endure, our physical and/or psychological health is placed at risk. Behavioral problems may manifest for those who blame the world and mental health issues for those who blame themselves. For educators, distress may divest adults of their professional energy. Engagement is impacted—a national problem evidenced by our challenges in recruitment and retention of educators.
To solve any problem we must do two things. Firstly, we must understand why the problem exists, so that we are creating a solution that doesn’t recycle old problems. Secondly, we must emphasize process as much as outcome, so the ‘how’ becomes just as important as the ‘what’. I am a firm believer that attending to processes over outcomes or content is the path toward individual and systemic health. Whether it’s reframing anxiety from symptoms to self-generated angst or bringing cohesion to fragmented systems, my role is illuminating process as the key to transformation.
Maintaining a process focus becomes increasingly difficult when others seemingly operate under some different standard of authenticity. I should still maintain my integrity regardless of others, but the high stakes and glaringly disparate views make this increasingly challenging. With the holidays approaching, I suspect this will be a source of concern for many who don’t share similar views with all family members.
Having and sharing different views is the essence of learning and the basis of a democratic society, so why is this so difficult for so many? Perhaps it’s the same reason why history teachers are reluctant to discuss modern politics in class— because they don’t want to risk the potential fallout in their community or add the stress of unproductive conflict. When we lack trust in exploring differences however, the fabric of our entire community begins to unravel.
Constructive differencing is a core element of Social and Emotional
Learning, valuable for both academic and relational success. This particular competency
requires the ability to self-reflect a somewhat stable identity, and exhibit
sufficient empathy to learn from others. Through conflict resolution, we
develop intimacy with others who are different, even more deeply than with
those who are more similar to ourselves. But when our values differ greatly,
informing how we think, believe, and perceive the world, can we still explore
our differences with curiosity? Is intimacy still possible?
If I can’t remain neutral, how can I expect others who aren’t devoted to unconditional positive regard and non-judgment to refrain from taking sides? Or worse, if we become further entrenched as a society in advocating for our own position while denigrating the other side, might we devolve as a society? The stress of unresolved differences can harm the mental health of an individual or a system, generating tension many experience as anger.
When we are perpetually angry, we don’t think as clearly, aren’t as receptive to other’s perspectives, and may lose our desire for empathy. If we operate under this duress, we employ protective mechanisms that insulate us from others while growing tension that harms our health. A child who lacks the resiliency to tolerate distress, another integral SEL tool that diverts energy from wellness into self-protection, may become a victim or perpetrator.
A sharp decline in wellness can bring us into survival mode, where mental health problems flourish. Our isolation, lack of attention to needs, and hyper-vigilance deplete our system and compromise our health. And this is why I personally take emotional depletion seriously. Knowing the signs of problems and the processes that generate health or dis-ease, are the best prevention tools.
As a society and the nurturers of future generations, we have to find a way to bridge our differences through a process that values differences, even with different values. With the risk of academic decline, addictions, violence and mental health problems, it becomes critical that psychosocial emotional learning becomes part of the fabric of the school, well beyond the skills embedded in a curriculum.
If we can reframe our view of Social and Emotional Learning as a foundation to strengthen psychological health, growing resiliency to support us during times of duress, we will limit the extremes of regression that cause more serious mental health problems. We can learn to recognize the signs that students are struggling through our own improved self-reflective practices.
While this may at first glance seem like extra work, even a
burden that distracts from the purpose of teaching, you may soon value the
prosocial elements that enhance concentration, attention, and motivation to
If we can embody the principles of SEL, we can strengthen
our own resilience and the integrity of our system. And more systems engaged
with this important work will filter into society. The work isn’t easy and
resources are limited, but if we are to balance learning to make a living and
learning to live, we have to begin with a shared picture of what we are doing
and how we plan to do it.
Dr. Jared Scherz is a licensed clinical psychologist, author, and consultant, working with educators for nearly 30 years. From elementary school counselor to founder of the first personal growth and professional platform in education, Dr. Scherz focuses on the intersection of individual wellness and organizational health. Dr. Scherz is a pioneer in psychosocial emotional learning, integrating educator wellness and SEL into a new paradigm. Dr. Scherz believes that self-reflective practitioners are the keys to cultivating environments for academic and psychosocial emotional learning to flourish.
At TeacherCoach, we develop educational ecosystems, bringing a new revenue stream into the school district, making schools the hub of wellness in their community Through the first ever Learning Engagement System (LES), districts can meet the wants of the individual and the needs of the organization.
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
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:
Look at the positive purpose of well-known individuals, via non-fiction books, biographies, documentaries, social studies, current events.
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.
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:
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.
Educators and parents/guardians alike have a sense that school-family partnerships are important. In fact, parent and guardian engagement is a top predictor of a child’s school success.1 Yet I hear from numerous schools who are deeply engaged in implementing research-based Social and Emotional Learning that they are struggling to create authentic relationships with families. They list off the events they host – Meet the Teacher Night, Math Night, and Muffins for Moms/Donuts for Dads – but still feel a gap. “We see only a few well-known faces attending meetings and we can’t seem to attract the others to come.”
But what if our focus on Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) could be the glue that bonds educators and families together? What if we didn’t create more events or extra newsletters, but reframed our way of viewing the relationship and, as a result, our practical approaches to it?
We all – families and educators alike – share a goal of learning. And thanks to the work of Carol Dweck on growth and learning mindset, we are becoming increasingly aware that in order to support learning, we have to be learners ourselves.2 Educators and parents/guardians have endless learning opportunities at the ready to explore and understand their students’ temperaments, what they are working on cognitively, physically, socially and emotionally, and how we can support and promote that learning. The key is to be aware of and find the right tools required to harness these opportunities.
While teachers bring extensive professional knowledge of content and pedagogy to the conversation, parents/guardians bring a deep knowledge of their family and neighborhood context and their individual child: who they are, where their strengths lie, and how they are growing and changing. Everyone involved needs to be engaged in promoting the most critical skills for success in school and life: social and emotional skills. So therein lies an opportunity to learn from one another about strategies for supporting a student’s development.
If learning is our common ground and core focus, and relationships will ensure that learning takes place, then it makes sense to take a look at the best practices around creating learning communities. Shirley M. Hord, expert researcher on school change, in her book on Professional Learning Communities cites five key attributes of professional learning communities in schools.3 Examining these attributes and pairing them with tools and structures from our school-based Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) initiatives can lead to highly practical, everyday approaches for developing collaborations with families that we know will benefit students.
Here are 5 tips for using SEL Practices to foster strong school-to-home collaborations
1. Supportive and Shared Leadership
What does shared leadership mean in relation to creating a caring school community and promoting students’ social and emotional development? It may mean that the power hierarchy that exists in schools – principals at the top in a building, other administrators, then educators, paraprofessionals, and finally parents and caregivers – is not as important as the collaborative relationships that can co-create a shared vision.
The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) encourages school initiatives to create an SEL leadership team to ask questions like how can our school feel like a safer, more connected community?4 So how can those meetings take place at times and in locations where families can bring their valuable voices to that table? Consider whether someone’s home or a community hall, church or other public gathering place would be a better location. To enable parents and caregivers of younger children to participate, try recruiting older siblings to provide childcare for younger ones. And during the meeting itself, utilize SEL tools like cooperative games, pair shares, or listening exercises for promoting perspective-taking, empathy and active listening to learn from others.
2. Collective Creativity
How can we identify and understand the assets, strengths, and expertise our students’ parents and guardians bring to the conversation? It could be as simple as sending home a flyer and asking a few good questions. We know parents and guardians are experts on their own children and family cultures. Many, in addition, may bring skills from their own interests or professional expertise that can be a valuable resource in improvement conversations.
It’s also essential to adopt norms and learning agreements – like constructive language that never places blame – that encourage people to bring open minds and hearts to the discussion so that all parties can contribute honestly to a bigger vision for learning. When placed upon the principal and teachers’ shoulders, creating a safe, caring school community can feel like a monumental task. But when family members feel empowered to add their voices, substantive contributions and energies to the effort, educators will be surprised at how much can be accomplished. Have SEL tools at the ready to use on communication, listening, and collaboration like setting learning agreements, holding challenging and constructive conversations on race and bias, and how to assert a differing opinion in a constructive manner.
3. Shared Values and Vision
With each new school year, there is a fresh opportunity to look at the learning from the last year and add to your vision of what it means to offer the best education for students. Schools I’ve worked with not only create a “Hopes and Dreams for the school year” poster with their students, they create a banner that encourages parents and guardians, teachers, and support staff like bus drivers and lunch volunteers to share what their hopes and dreams are. And with that reflection, how can those hopes and dreams be revisited and inform conversations through the year as our measure of success? Use your SEL tools to hold a conversation about hopes and dreams and how they might be reached through your work together. Positive rules (what to do, what not to do) emerge in SEL programs out of those hopes and dreams. Consider how can you discuss school rules and family rules — similarities and differences — and how all might work to understand the differences and support and reinforce the commonalities.
4. Supportive People and Environmental Conditions
Trust is the firm foundation upon which an authentic partnership is built. In order to develop a relationship with parents and guardians, we need to have a number of contacts with them throughout the year – not just one or two. It can be useful and practical to think in terms of touchpoints; they don’t have to be long or involved.
How we can create regular, periodic opportunities to smile, exchange words of greeting, and appreciation for one another’s roles? If one teacher feels responsible for making regular touchpoints happen, then it can feel like a great burden. But what if the expectation is that all are responsible for a monthly touchpoint? What if parents stuck around at drop off or pick up time to share an appreciation once a month or a teacher stopped by a swim meet or soccer practice for a friendly chat with their student’s parent/guardian? These short interactions might seem trivial, but they can go a long way toward building an environment of trust and support that is conducive to positive school-to-home collaborations.
5. Shared Personal Practice
Each individual – parent, teacher, principal – must be engaged in their own learning and be willing to share and discuss their trials and errors, their successes and flat-out-failures in order to grow individually and together. This means that there are numerous opportunities to build a sense of trust, to build a sense of caring, to build a sense of “we are all figuring this out together” kind of collaboration. How can you use the SEL practice of setting a positive, measure-able goal – creating a small experiment – to try something new? Share that goal with other parents and teachers and then, return and reflect on how it went — the strengths to build upon and the areas to change.
If we are in the process of improving our ability to teach and learn by focusing on caring relationships, then we have to examine how parents, caregivers and family members are given the chance to be a vital part of that mix. It may take some forethought, a new set of expectations, and some uncertainty along the way, but the rewards will be plentiful. Students will experience the most powerful form of Social and Emotional Learning possible through the adults in their lives modeling collaboration and effective communication. I can’t imagine a more worthwhile process.
References 1. Henderson, A.T., & Berla, N. (1994). A New Generation of Evidence; The Family is Critical to Student Achievement. National Committee for Citizens in Education. 2. Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York: Random House. 3. Hord, Shirley M. (1997). Professional Learning Communities: Communities of Continuous Inquiry and Improvement. Southwest Educational Development Laboratory and American Institutes of Research. 4. Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL). (2019). Guide to Schoolwide SEL. Chicago, IL: CASEL.
She serves as a regular expert contributor to the Webby Award-winning site, NBC Universal’s Parent Toolkit. She writes and offers expertise for numerous publications including The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Parent Magazine and Edutopia. She serves on the Tauck Family Foundation’s Advisory Committee along with members from Child Trends, Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, and Harvard’s School of Education. She consults with schools, conducts research and creates tools on parenting and SEL with partners at the University of Pittsburgh, Montana State University, and the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning.
She frequently speaks at conferences, offers coaching, and conducts workshops in Ohio and nationally. Past roles were with the Ohio Department of Education, the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning, the Center for Peace Education and the Corporation for National and Community Service. She has her master’s degree in Instructional Leadership with a focus on social and emotional development and lives with her husband and eleven-year-old son in Columbus, Ohio.
Students with neurodiverse conditions such as autism spectrum disorder, developmental delays, ADHD and social anxiety have tremendous strengths that could benefit any employer. As educators, our end goal for ALL students includes having them learn, practice, and model employability skills. We also want employers and coworkers to see our students with neurodiverse conditions as capable young adults with their own unique strengths first, and as individuals who may benefit from accommodation and support second.
What has been amazing to see from an educational leadership role is how much employers benefit from employing my students with neurodiversity and how their perceptions of what these students can and cannot do changes significantly over time. In short, employers typically stop seeing these young adults as having a disability and start focusing on their other characteristics like their honesty, humility, work ethic, supportiveness, and caring.
article will cover recommendations for school districts to consider when it
comes to supporting students with neurodiversity.
Communicating the Benefits
When setting up employment and volunteer opportunities for students who are neurodiverse, it’s a good idea to set and reinforce expectations with employers ahead of time. To help employers see students as young adults with many strengths, educational leaders can reach out to their local area service clubs (like the Optimists Club, Rotary Club, Lions Club, or the Chamber of Commerce). Local business leaders are members of these organizations, which are looking to do good in their community. They thrive on connections with other organizations whose mission is to do the same – like our school districts. Connect with these organizations and present information about the goals for your students at one of their meetings. When doing so, you can share the following talking points with potential employers regarding employing neurodiverse individuals and individuals with disabilities:
Adults and young adults do NOT want to be known as disabled OR for others to see them as disabled; rather, they want to be known as abled – a coworker who has strengths and wants to contribute to the team.
When employers hire these students, the morale of the workplace increases because:
Coworkers see how hard our students work and what strengths they bring to the workplace, and they often want to emulate these characteristics themselves.
When coworkers see how little our students complain while overcoming the obstacles in their lives, it provides them with the motivation to improve their own outlook.
Coworkers often serve as mentors to our students, giving them added value and leadership experience as an employee through guiding someone new to the organization who is learning the company’s expectations.
Employers gain the benefit of watching our students’ skills grow while having these same skills benefit their organization; in short, everybody wins.
If employers have this information ahead of time, then the choice to employ our students who have barriers in their learning, behavior, or abilities becomes an easy one. Employers need to understand that this is NOT charity work on their behalf and that our students do NOT need pity or sympathy. Rather, our students need mentors and opportunities: our local businesses can supply these and so much more.
Promoting Employability Skills at School
We can also strengthen our students’ employability skills during the school day. One way is by emphasizing to all students that going to school and attending classes is their full-time job. You could even post these expectations for all students in every classroom. You should also align these expectations to the schools’ Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) school-wide system.
These expectations might include:
Showing up to class on time
Following the school’s dress code, including:
Wearing clean clothes.
Wearing appropriate clothes.
Avoiding specific items.
Following proper hygiene etiquette .
Showing respect to and having proper social behaviors with the adults they interact with.
Giving your best attitude and effort each day.
Not only should you promote these expectations, but also remind all students of the connection between these behaviors and employability skills that they will need to consistently demonstrate for future employment.
You can also prepare students with neurodiverse conditions to transition into the workplace by conducting mock interviews and having them construct resumes. In mock interviews students who are neurodiverse can practice social expectations that are required during a job interview and receive constructive feedback from a variety of adults on what they did well and what they could improve. Educator leaders can either have other educators help in these mock interviews or invite community members and business representatives in to assist in this process.
The stage in the hiring process where students with autism and other neurodiverse students get tripped up is often during the interview. Students may struggle with the give and take of a social exchange, may not always pick up on social cues, and can encounter challenges in fully sharing all of their talents and strengths. Students who are neurodiverse need to practice these skills and to fully understand the expected behaviors that employers are wanting and needing to see during the interview process.
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.
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.
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
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
Use Online and Blended Learning Options
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
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.
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.
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.
Motivation and Enthusiasm
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
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 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.
Learn more out about our comprehensive, evidence-based solutions for Special Education at www.rethinked.com.
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
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?
David Adams is Director of Social Emotional Learning at The Urban Assembly and serves on the CASEL Board. He previously served as the Social-Emotional Learning Coordinator for District 75 where he shaped the District’s approach to social-emotional learning for students with severe cognitive and behavioral challenges. He has worked internationally in schools in England, standing up and evaluating programs of positive behavioral supports and Social-Emotional Learning as a research intern at Yale University’s Health, Emotion and Behavior Lab, and published multiple academic papers around the relationship of social-emotional competence, and student academic and behavioral outcomes.
Let’s talk about morning routines. If you’ve ever researched self-development or productivity, you’ve undoubtedly come across tons of resources about morning routines and the different activities that people engage in to help jump start their day. While there is no one size fits all method to morning routines, the clear message that spans these websites, books, and articles is the idea that having a routine can help you immensely in your quest to meet your goals.
Though goal setting and achievement are important, I want to challenge you to go a bit deeper and look at the values that are driving these goals. Examining our values is important because often they become so ingrained that we are not aware of them though they play a big part in our decision making. Taking the time to be clear about our values and to work our values into our daily lives can help us to live happier lives.
Try these steps to help you create a morning routine that works well with YOUR values:
Step 1. Examine your Values
Reflect on what is most important to you and make a list of these values. For additional support, check out our values resources and practice activities.
Step 2. Create Goals and Identify Steps to Meet Them
Now that you have some clarity around your values, create 1-2 goals that are aligned with these values to be top priorities your morning routine.
Think about what steps you will need to help you meet your goals. Are you interested in fostering more positive relationships with your family? Perhaps you can take some time in the morning to write short notes of appreciation to share with loved ones.
Step 3. Create a Morning Routine Using Your Goals
Think realistically about how much time you can devote to a morning routine and then prescribe time allotments for your value-driven activities. For example, you may decide to spend 30 minutes doing yoga if healthy living is a key value.
Step 4. Act and Reassess
Start with a routine with 1-2 goals and reassess your progress at the end of the week. Make changes if needed.
Infusing your values within your morning routine provides an opportunity to wake up living a value-driven life. Let us know how it goes if you implement these steps this week.
Tia Navelene Barnes, Ph.D., is a social emotional learning researcher. As a former educator of students with emotional and behavioral disorders (EBD), Dr. Barnes’ research interests focus on creating environments where students with emotional and behavioral challenges can thrive. Dr. Barnes received her doctorate in August 2013 from the University of Florida where she majored in special education with an emphasis on emotional and/or behavioral disorders and minored in research and evaluation methodology. She then worked at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence where her work focused on classroom environment for students with EBD and examining social emotional learning through a culturally responsive lens. She has published work in several journals including Infant and Child Development, the Journal of School Violence, Aggression and Violent Behavior, and Education and Treatment of Children. She loves engaging with educators and feels that supporting educators is key to supporting student success.