Seeking Game-Changers

Screen Shot 2014-10-18 at 10.28.07 PMThis morning Shelley Burgess asked on #SatchatWC (Saturday Morning Chat – West Coast) how we are game-changers, as well as who we look up to as game-changers. It was one of those conversations that re-inspires teaching. As I carefully worded my replies, I was becoming more conscious of how I speak about my students, putting their learning first, rather than just talking about what I do. Twitter chats are great practice for this. I was reminded that I not only look to these chats for encouragement, but also to learn how to challenge the status quo.

Conversations about being inspired educators and supporting public education are great, but as a special educator I also hunger for the opportunity to discuss the specific skill set that is required for teaching learners basic skills, like communication and activities of daily living (ADLs). There are specific laws and regulations that apply just to special education. There are different conversations we need to have with parents and things we need to know about the healthcare system. There’s a whole other world of acronyms.

Where is the community of teachers of learners with multiple disabilities?

My dilemma today is how can I be a game-changer if my professional community is not actively engaging on Twitter or other online platforms? I’ve found a handful of blogs and many Twitter handles advertising various Apps for autism, communication, and social stories. I am not finding actual special educators who are in the classroom, teaching students with significant disabilities. I find it hard to understand how the leadership of the special education’s professional organization, the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC), is not active on Twitter. I also find it strange that I have come across very few professors of special education.

Working with students that make up a very small percentage of the total student population, less than 1% usually, can often leave teachers of students with multiple disabilities feeling isolated. I would think that many others would be looking online for opportunities to connect.

Anybody out there?

Please comment if you are!

6 Goals for the New School Year from a Special Ed Teacher

Reading Lesson

On Labor Day weekend, I sat down with excitement and anxiety to set some goals for the new school. In typical beginning of school craziness, I am just now sharing them on my new blog! Last year I switched sites within my school, so I spent a lot of time just trying to figure out the school culture and not step on toes as I advocated for my students. On top of that, I was stressed out by all the new mandates coming from up above because of the Common Core Learning Standards and the new Teacher Evaluation system (APPR). As I poured over my end of the year notes and planned a strategy for the new school year, I decided there are 6 whole-class goals I’d like to set in order keep me from getting distracted this year by outside noise. Since I teach a self-contained class of 6th, 7th, and 8th graders, I’m lucky to have most of my same students for a second year, so that we can jump right in.

6 Goals for the 2014-15 School Year:

1.) Worry Less about Teacher Evaluations

At the beginning of last school year when we were told the Danielson Framework for Teaching would be the rubric for the observation portion of our annual evaluations, I tried to figure out how I could show I’m highly effective with my population of students, even though the rubric was not intended for use in special education settings. Although I think I had constructive conversations with my administrators, ultimately I focused far too much energy on what Charlotte Danielson, who has spent almost no time in a classroom teaching, thought I should be doing. I lost sight of how I had been trained to teach my learners with multiple disabilities. After reading Diane Ravitch’s Reign of Error this summer and blogging about it on ThinkInclusive.us, I realized just how far I had gotten from meeting my students’ actual needs. I won’t do that again.

2.) Take More Field Trips

In my fixation on the Common Core and trying to show everyone what I already knew, that my students could learn, I left no room for field trips. I was upset at the end of the year when I only managed to fit in one bus trip to the NY Hall of Science and one walking trip to a nearby park. I couldn’t believe that new demands and a new school site had knocked me off my game. In previous years, I scheduled trips into the community almost every week. These experiences were invaluable for my students who would not normally go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the American Museum of Natural History, the Highline park or bowling. For students who use wheelchairs and live uptown, getting to these locations can be quite a challenge for families. I know that families were grateful that their children got these experiences and it helped to solidify our relationships. Taking full advantage of teaching in New York City is one of my favorite parts of this job.

3.) Improve Systems for 1:1 Learning

I’m always looking for ways to provide more one-on-one instruction for my students. In a class with 12 students with multiple disabilities, where often the ratio is 2 children to 1 adult, its hard to provide the direct learning experiences that my students need, since they can complete very few tasks without adult assistance. I don’t have a specific strategy for this yet, but I hope new ideas will emerge as we start off the year. Last year, we were successful in the morning periods to split into small groups and have one small group have 1:1 workstations. I hope to extend this time or use this structure later in the day as well. Eventually, I would like to see each student have an even amount of 1:1 time that is with me, not just paraprofessionals, but establishing routines need to happen first.

4.) Use More Technology

Building on goal #3, I’m hoping technology will help me establish more routines and activities that will provide more individualized and 1-on-1 instruction. One goal I met over the summer was securing more iPads for my classroom! We have one original iPad that is several years old now that came from our school, so it doesn’t have all the great, new accessibility features. Thanks to DonorsChoose.org, my friends, family and a very generous donor who found me on Twitter, we have three new iPads for our classroom! I want to be cautious implementing technology, just for the sake of using technology, but I think four iPads will be a manageable number. I’m hoping my paraprofessionals will be as excited as me and be able to takeover some of the upkeep of the equipment. I’ve already seen how excited my students become over videos and music, I often joke that I should just leave the classroom and broadcast myself on the SmartBoard all day, if I really want everyone’s attention.

5.) Look for Inclusion Opportunities

One of the challenges of teaching a self-contained is that we lack peer models, especially for communication. Now that I’m more comfortable in my new school, I’m looking forward to creating more opportunities for my students to be with general education students.

6.) Have less Stressful IEPs

I’m really hoping that now that all team members know each other better, we can have a smoother process for creating coherent, student-centered IEPs. I never dreaded IEPs like I did this past year; they seemed to be a time drain and never quite came out to be what the student needed. Being the new member of a team can be quite a challenge. Not everyone approaches IEPs with the same mindset and people can become quite defensive about their work. With constant turnover in NYC schools, I know that sticking around means a lot, the fact that I’m here to stay should hopefully move us in a more collaborative direction. Having a second year with families also makes for more solid education plans because we have had a year of dialogue before sitting down in a meeting.

What are your goals for the school year? Any suggestions for me on how I can achieve these goals?

Why aren’t teachers tweeting in NYC?

 

Class Trip to MOMA

We are a very big school district in New York City, so it’s hard to feel connected to all teachers across the city. When we do connect it’s often around the feeling of being a little fish in a big pond and the policies unilaterally passed down that make us feel that way. I’m excited to get to know more of my NYC colleagues via Twitter and through blogging. There is an opportunity here to break outside of the traditional, large-scale meetings that districts typically send two or three teacher representatives to. (In NYC, our district is broken into regional districts and various support networks.)

What surprises me is that in a city with 88,000 teachers, I have only encountered a handful who are on Twitter for professional purposes. I often find myself scratching my head, asking, “where is everybody?” At the same time, I appreciate the intimacy of those who do tweet in NYC, there’s a level of trust and sincerity between teachers who really want to learn, see their students succeed and watch the city they love improve along with its children.

I hope that NYC only gets better as more educators join Twitter. But I have to admit I’m nervous, as we grow, can I be sure conversations will be kept collegial? I see some of the vitrol on Facebook and I’m glad that more pessimistic teachers don’t take the time to learn how to tweet. I’ve seen how easy it is for NYC teachers to blast the city, students, families and the UFT rudely via Facebook. It only makes teachers look negative and unprofessional to outsiders. I have heard enough unconstructive conversations during work hours from those who have been at it too long or those who didn’t research what they were getting into; I don’t need to hear it after work too.

I’ve taught in District 75, the city’s special education district, for several years now and my favorite part of professional development outside of my school is talking to other educators. I simply love hearing how other schools with similar populations and resources do it. I’m excited to build a network where we can continue these discussions outside of school, on our own terms as teachers.

So who’s in? Are you an NYC teacher ready to jump into Twitter?

Here’s a few tips to get started:

http://www.edudemic.com/guides/guide-to-twitter/