What do Fingerprints, Snowflakes, and the Human Brain have in common?
May 24, 2022Disabilities
Here’s a quick challenge for you: What do fingerprints, snowflakes and the human brain have in common?
If you said that each is unique and different, you’d be correct!
No two sets of fingerprints are the same. Each person’s designs (even identical twins) fall into three main categories (with several subcategories) and have variations in them that help us distinguish one person from another. Even though some people’s fingerprints may look similar, there are ways of telling them apart on close inspection.
No two snowflakes are the same. Even though they all fall into one of eight main categories (and 40 subcategories), they end up with some differences when looking at them microscopically due to factors like temperature, humidity, and what they bump into on their way to the ground! No two human brains are the same. Even though they all have the same parts and functions, our DNA from each parent influences how our brains start out. Over time, our brain actually changes due to the experiences we have!
Since everyone's brain is different, we must all have different ways of learning, remembering, thinking, feeling, etc. What works for me might not work for you -- and what you struggle with, I might not have any trouble with! There is no "correct" brain or "normal" brain, because all brains are different.
"Over the course of years, every person develops a completely individual brain anatomy. With our study we were able to confirm that the structure of people’s brains is very individual. The combination of genetic and non-genetic influences clearly affects not only the functioning of the brain, but also its anatomy."
- Dr. Lutz Jancke, Professor of Psychology at the University of Zurich (Source: https://www.irishnews.com)
The scientific name that explains how our brains are all different is NEURODIVERSITY. The prefix "neuro" refers to the brain & nervous system, while the root word "diversity" means different!
Take 77 seconds to watch the first video entitled, "What is Neurodiversity?" on the left and think about what it is trying to teach you about each of our brains. Write down any questions or disagreements you may have with the video.
Next, spend less than five minutes watching the second video entitled, "We are all different." This video describes one way that someone can be neurodiverse. Cole tells us his main message towards the end of the video when he says that we don't need to try to find a cure for autism (or any neurodiversity). Instead, we all need to embrace our differences and appreciate the gifts and talents that we have, rather than focus on the challenges we deal with. Everyone is different, and that is awesome! So, how are you "different" from most of the people in your life?
Are there any challenges that you have that you don't think many others have?
Are there any ways that people think you are "weird" because of your differences?
Do you have any gifts or talents that are pretty unique to you?
What have others said to you about your unique abilities?
Some of the differences that you brainstormed above might be due to your genetics (the information passed down from your parents to you when you were born). Some of the differences above may be due to experiences that you've had or the way you've been raised (your environment). But each of these differences make you the person that you were meant to be.
Dealing With Self-Harm and Aggression
Self-harm and aggression are unfortunately common in people with disabilities, especially following an upsetting circumstance or situation. It can be incredibly frightening for both the person and their family. Read on to find some resources and next steps when dealing with self-harm and aggression.
Before we talk about how to handle situations when they arise, it’s important to understand a little background information, presented through several studies. It’s also important to remember that people with disabilities deserve to have control over their own bodies and should be respected above all else.
Prevalence: Self Injurious Behaviors (SIB) or self-harm is described as any behavior that is considered injurious to one’s self and is incredibly frightening for the person with the disability and their loved ones. It occurs in roughly 7%-23% of the disability population, particularly in those with an Intellectual Disability (ID), though the rates are much higher in populations of people with significant disabilities, reaching almost 73%.
Causes: There are many studied causes of SIB, but more research needs to be conducted in many areas in order to fully understand why SIB occurs and how to prevent it. Some causes that have been identified so far include sensory issues, lack of control or a feeling of a lack of control, feeling unable to express emotions of anger or frustration, and other factors such as exposure to dangerous bio-chemicals, history of abuse and certain genetic disabilities. It’s important to remember that there is always a cause to the SIB, and it’s no one’s fault when it occurs.
What can I do if my child is engaging in self-injurious behavior, self-harm or aggression towards others?
First of all, remain calm. It’s important to not match the level of anxiety, anger or frustration they are feeling. These are big emotions, and it’s ok for them to be feeling that way.
Protect yourself. If your child is being aggressive towards you or another person, it’s best to distance yourself from them until they can calm down. Things can be replaced, but people can not and you can not protect your child or others around them if you are injured. If you feel like you can not distance yourself safely, then it’s important to take a protective stance, like putting your hands in front of your face or using safe block techniques. The Crisis Prevention Institute (CPI) can help you learn safe block techniques as well as safe restraint techniques, if needed. Restraint should be an absolute last resort.
Protect the person. Using pillows, blankets or other soft items in between the person and what they are using to engage in SIB can be helpful in reduction of harm. For example, you can use a pillow to reduce harm if the person is engaging in head banging behaviors or you can put a blanket over their arms if they are engaging in picking, scratching or pinching.
Use soothing tones, voices or music. While you are intervening, it’s important to use soothing tones, voices or music to help them reduce their anxiety or help them calm down. You can remind them they are safe and that everything will be ok. You can put on some classical music (or music they like) or you can use a weighted blanket or vibrations to help reduce their sensory overload.
Distraction. If it is safe, you can distract them from the behavior by engaging in a fun activity like dancing, singing or art or you can put something in their hands that will help them focus their feelings on something other than the SIB. For example, you can put a vibrating ball in their hands to give them the feeling of movement and distract them from what might be overwhelming their senses. Do what’s best for your child. Each person is unique and what distracts one person might overwhelm another.
Research proven methods for reducing self-injurious behavior (SIB) in the future
Research has been done on the various interventions ranging from psychotherapy to diet and vitamins. Below are some methods shown to be helpful in reducing SIB long term.
Biochemical: Some people’s biochemistry can be regulated through diet and vitamins. Some research has shown that vitamin B6, calcium and a diet rich in fruits and vegetables and low in sugar can help reduce urges to engage in SIB.
Therapy: Like anyone, providing tools and coping strategies to help your child deal with big emotions and sensory overload can help them learn to advocate for what they need to calm down, communicate what they need or engage in self-soothing behaviors.
Communication: Increasing methods of communication can be very helpful in reducing SIB. For example, if your child is non-verbal or finds it difficult to express their emotions verbally when they are experiencing anxiety or frustration, you can use picture cards or a feelings chart to help them express their emotions. Once expressed, you can ask them what they need from you to help them feel better. You can provide them options like would it be helpful for me to stay with you or give you space right now?
Understanding the Functions of the Behavior: Functional Behavior Analysis (FBA) is a tool used to determine the function of the SIB. For example, if your child engages in SIB after being told no and then stops their SIB when they eventually receive a yes, then they have learned that in order to change your mind as the parent, they can engage in SIB. Another example could be that the SIB is helping them cope with an overstimulating situation like loud music or a new environment. By understanding the function of this behavior, we can more easily intervene. Many children will give you subtle signs that they are going to engage in SIB, by paying close attention to these subtle signs, you may even be able to intervene before the behavior occurs.
Medication: Medication should always be a last resort, after all interventions have been tried multiple times and have been proven ineffective. If you’re interested in exploring this route, you should speak to your child’s doctor about the best way to move forward that will still allow your child to enjoy their independence.
Always remember that there is no fault associated with self injurious behavior, self-harm or aggression. Finding out the root cause of the issue can help you better identify how to intervene in the moment. Stay calm and help them use their strategies or coping mechanisms. It’s also important to remember that learning new strategies is hard work and may not be successful the first time. Keep at it, the more time you invest in understanding your child, the easier these situations will become to handle and the less likely they will be to occur.
Healthy Relationships and Sexual Health for People with Disabilities
Having “The Talk” with your child can be overwhelming, scary and sometimes a little awkward. It’s often a topic parents try to avoid engaging in with their children and teens, but it’s crucial to ensuring your child can have healthy and safe relationships. People with disabilities have not traditionally been invited to participate in these conversations and can be taken advantage of if not armed with the information needed to make healthy decisions about their bodies and romantic relationships. Read on to find some tips and resources to help you have these conversations with your child or to learn more yourself about how to engage in healthy romantic relationships.
Assume nothing. People with disabilities can experience sexuality on the same spectrum as people without disabilities. We should never assume that just because someone has a disability that they are asexual or heterosexual. Sexuality is a spectrum, regardless of your cognitive or physical abilities. Always approach conversations with an open mind, ready to listen.
Start with Respect. Every person deserves to feel safe and respected in a relationship, so it’s important to start by defining what respect looks like and feels like. For example, every person has control over their own body. What they say goes. If they are uncomfortable in a situation, they have the right to say no and have the other person respect their decision. Similarly, it’s important to recognize that if the other person in the situation expresses discomfort or says no, it is their right and we must respect their decision without trying to persuade them to change their mind. This is important to practice even in the safest situations. Encourage family members to respect the word NO, even in seemingly harmless situations like asking for a hug or a kiss hello.
Understanding an Imbalance of Power. A real issue within the disability community is the issue of sexual abuse, domestic abuse and trafficking. Most instances of abuse start with an imbalance of power, whether that is in a caretaking situation, a friendship, a position of authority or a romantic relationships. Both parties have equal power and should respect the other person. Learning about how to identify an unsafe situation and then practicing the steps needed to leave that situation can help prevent dangerous situations from occurring or escalating.
Understanding Touch and Consent. Many people with disabilities have people touching them in order to get their daily needs met. For example, if you are blind, people might take your hand to lead you across the street or help you find something. If you require assistance with toileting, people are touching your body. It’s important to require caretakers to ask for consent before touching a person’s body. Think about when you are at the doctor’s office. The doctor tells you what they are going to do before they do it and tell you to tell them to stop if anything makes you uncomfortable. This is an important right to have and should be given to every person, regardless of their ability level. Practicing giving consent and discussing what types of touch are ok is important to ensuring healthy boundaries are in place.
Have an Open Dialogue. Dating and relationships, especially in the adolescent years, is confusing, heart breaking and full of emotion. It’s important to encourage an open dialogue where questions and scenarios can be talked about safely. Some people may have a hard time understanding why someone doesn’t want to be their friend or doesn’t want to date them and it’s important for them to have a safe space where they can air their frustration or hurt feelings and then talk about safe ways they can move on.
Get resources. Theses are some amazing resources written by people with disabilities about sexual and relationship health.
Improving Reading at Home
Literacy development is essential to future success. Improving literacy skills in your child can help them get ahead and can lead to success in math, science, history, career development, health and many other areas. For some students, literacy success might look different and may consist of more life-skills such as sign or number recognition. In other students, they may be preparing to enter college or the workforce and will need to read at an eighth grade level at least. Read on for some recommendations on improving literacy skills at all levels.
Life-skills literacy is defined as the ability to recognize and read important signs and numbers that will increase and promote safety or functional living. This includes reading a subway map, reading a picture recipe, recognizing bathroom signs, reading a grocery store price, recognizing important words and much more. Some resources for parents to use include:
Visual recipes: Picture recipes with steps for students to follow along. Most of these are free to download and print or use an iPad to view. It’s so important to include your student in the kitchen with you, especially if you want to prepare them for independent living.
Grocery shopping: Taking your student with you when you go to the grocery store can help them learn to match items with words. Creating a visual grocery shopping list can also help your student be more independent at the store.
Metro or bus map: Teaching your student how to ride public transportation can drastically increase their independence. Look for a free map on your metro’s resource page and practice riding the metro with your student. Help them learn how to put money on their card, how to swipe to enter and exit and how to look for which train or bus they should get on.
Community and safety signs: Recognizing important community and safety signs is crucial to maintaining a safe environment for your student. You can teach these while out in the community and then review them with flashcards. You can create online flashcards or physical cards using pictures you print out from google. Creating your own flash cards could be more beneficial as you can pick and choose (or even take your own pictures of) signs that are around your house or community. Think about adding police and fire stations, emergency phones, hospitals, bathroom signs, poison and other warning signs, traffic signs, crosswalk information, etc.
Frenalytics: Create picture based lessons that you and your student can do together to help learn about safety, travel, food and other important visual signs. You can sign up for free!
For students who are just beginning their reading journey or are working on sound, letter or word recognition, reading with them is extremely beneficial. When reading with them, choose books that have sight words or words that can be easily decodable (sounded out). You can read part of the page and then point to a word or two for them to read. When they are able to read full sentences, you can read one page and they can read the next page.
When listening to your child read, periodically ask them these three questions:
Did that look right?
Did that sound right?
Did that make sense?
Doing this will ensure that your child is not relying on you to tell them if they’ve made a mistake. By asking these questions when they have read the sentence correctly as well as when they have made a mistake will help them learn to self-correct. Self-correction is when a child is reading and realizes on their own that they’ve made a mistake, and they go back to reread the sentence in order to correct themselves.
Learning to Read vs. Reading to Learn
Once your student is able to decode basic words (usually past a 3rd grade reading level) and has a firm grasp on their sight words, they start to transition from learning how to read to reading to learn information. At this point, comprehension of what they’re reading becomes the most important task. When this occurs, the best way to improve performance is to provide frequent and varied access to books. Having your own library at home is great, but it’s not necessary. The public library has an abundance of resources for you and your student to enjoy. Library cards are free and most libraries do not have a limit on the number of books you can check out at once. Additionally, larger libraries have online access where you can download ebooks right to your phone, tablet or kindle. This is a huge time saver, especially if you have an avid reader at home. Also remember, no one is too old to read with their family members! Kids of all ages enjoy being read aloud to and they also enjoy reading aloud to their family members. Encourage family reading nights where you all read together and then talk about what you’re reading.
Looking for more resources? Reading Partners has a great comprehensive website of resources for parents!
Helping My Child Get Ahead During Breaks or School Closures
School breaks and closures can be a welcomed mental health break for many students, but too long of a break can lead to students falling behind. With many schools going back to remote learning for the month of January, snow days and upcoming breaks, we’ve put together a list of ways to help your child get ahead during school closures.
Create a Schedule: Help your child maintain structure by providing them with a daily schedule. For some students, this might look like a list of things to do with choice on when they do them. For other students, this might look like a detailed schedule with a timer, or anywhere in between. It’s important to remember to include time for breaks, snack, lunch, outside play time and other types of free time. Some activities you can include are reading time, computer based academic games, homework or school work, puzzles, study time, structured play time and family time.
Outside Time: If you are able to, allowing kids time to play outside is helpful for their energy levels and helps them improve their creativity and imagination by engaging in creative play. If you are able to join them, great! If not, allow them some free time outside. If they seem to be stuck on what to do, give them some goals like build a snowman, find 10 pinecones, find a four leaf clover or play fetch with the dog. Give them a minimum and maximum amount of time they can be outside and provide them with a timer if it is helpful.
Snacks and Lunch: Don’t forget to provide some brain food! Make it into another activity by asking for their help in preparing lunch. You can teach them how to make a sandwich or cut up fruit and vegetables. Providing them with a task list of steps they can take is helpful for many students. Try not to let them snack all day and help them make healthy choices if you are able.
Reading Time: Spending time in books is the number one way to increase reading ability. In fact, just 15 minutes a day can increase a child’s vocabulary ten fold and increase reading performance on standardized tests. If you don’t have access to books at home, you can find free e-books on your local library’s website, or better yet, make a field trip to the library and pick out some books to take home. There are also lots of great free reading websites such as Epic and FunBrain. Here is a great list of places you can find some free e-books!
Creativity and Art Time: If your child enjoys art, give them some simple projects to do! There are some really great activity sets you can purchase ahead of time for your child such as KiwiCo, Little Passports, and MEL’s Science Kits. Here is a list of even more kits available!
Find a Tutor: When school is out and you have to work, it can sometimes be helpful to find a tutor. Braintrust Tutors are an excellent source of Special Education Professionals that can help your student stay on track and even get ahead. They offer FREE consultations, so it’s easy to get started. Their platform will help you match with the perfect tutor for your child’s unique needs. Starting from their amazingly talented pool of vetted educators, you can use their extensive filters to narrow your options according to areas of difficulty, learning differences, location, and more! They will recommend their top three teachers who meet your needs, but you can search through other potential matches as well. Then schedule video interviews to find the right fit for your child. All before booking any sessions or making any commitments!
Help! My Child isn't Getting What They Need From Their IEP!
As parents, it can be extremely difficult to see your child struggling in school, or see them not receiving the services agreed upon in their IEP. But what can we do? It’s important to know all of your options.
Step 1: Contact the school in writing
If you notice your child is struggling, receive a report card with low grades, or notice behavior changes in your child, the first step is to reach out to the school. It’s best to do this in writing so you can keep a record. In your communication, include the following:
When you noticed your child struggling and the specific thing you noticed.
If possible, refer back to the IEP and direct the school’s attention to what is not going right.
Ask for a meeting with the IEP team and provide dates and times you are available.
Request a response within 48 hours.
Step 2: Have an IEP meeting
By requesting a meeting with the IEP team, you are requesting a formal meeting to go over the IEP and make any changes to the services, accommodations or goals. During the meeting you can make requests for additional services, or you can question the status of implementation of services perviously agreed upon. Some examples of things you can ask for include:
Additional accommodations (check out our non-exhaustive list of accommodations here).
Additional services such as speech, physical or occupational therapy, or additional service hours as either push in services or pull out services.
Push in services are when a Special Education teacher comes into the general education classroom to offer support, it can also mean the Special Education teacher is providing differentiated material to the students.
Pull out services are 1:1 or small group lessons conducted outside of the general education classroom. Be aware that there are limited hours in the school day so if your child is receiving pull out services, they are most likely missing out on their general education material, so this should only be done if truly needed.
Additional interventions such as reading or math supports, computer programs that provide additional practice or instruction, or after school tutoring or homework help.
Step 3: Have a mediation
A mediation occurs when the family doesn’t agree with the proposed services in the IEP. This includes when you ask for changes to the IEP and what is proposed is not enough. Mediation is a formal meeting between school leaders and the family to discuss the issues in the IEP that are not agreed upon. This is the school’s attempt to reduce litigation, much like you would have a mediation meeting prior to going to civil court to see if you can agree or compromise. It’s not necessary that you have an advocate during this meeting, but it can be extremely helpful, especially if you find yourself getting emotional. Be aware that advocates are not free, and they are the financial responsibility of the family. Additionally, when a parent employs the use of an advocate, the school puts communication restrictions in place and all communication must now go through the advocate, meaning communication between a parent and teacher can become complicated.
Step 4: Due Process
If an agreement can not be reached during mediation (you can have as many mediation meetings as you feel are necessary), then the next step is to move to due process. In order to file a due process complaint, you must provide, in writing, an explanation as to how the school violated IDEA. Check out this detailed article on due process complaints here.
It’s important to recognize that this process can often take many months, even up to a year. During this time, you child is not receiving the services that you want them to receive, thus falling further and further behind. It’s best to try to stay in frequent communication with your child’s IEP team. Just because you aren’t hearing anything from the teachers, doesn’t mean your child is being successful in school. By checking in on a bi-weekly or monthly basis, you can stay ahead of any issues happening in your child’s education. Below are some suggestions for keeping on top of your child’s performance.
Keep a consistent schedule of communication with your child’s IEP team. Email, text or call them every other week to ask how things are going. Additionally, many schools have online grading portals that allow parents to check their child’s performance on a regular basis. Make sure you have access to the grading portal and that you are checking in regularly.
Offer suggestions to the IEP team when you find things at home that are working for your child. For example, if you notice they have trouble focusing in the afternoon after lunch, suggest the school changes your child’s schedule so that the subjects that have the most difficulty with are happening in the morning instead of the afternoon.
Ask for things you can do at home to help your child be successful in school. Many schools have computer based interventions that your child can do at home. Here is a video with some helpful tips.
Ask your child’s IEP team about the upcoming lessons or topics and seek out additional resources such as library books, youtube videos or online resources to help prepare your child’s background knowledge on that topic.
Reach out to IEP&Me by emailing [email protected] if you need help!
The IEP Process and What to Expect
The IEP Process can be confusing and overwhelming, especially considering stay at home orders, virtual meetings, hybrid attendance and various school requirements such as MTSS or RTI. Here is a quick guide to help you process the initial first steps.
Formal Request for Evaluation: If you notice your child is struggling at school, be it academically or socially, your first step is to request an evaluation in writing. A good place to start with this letter can be found on the Center for Parent Information and Resources website. If the school expresses concern to the parent first, the school should conduct something called a “Child Study”. The name varies state by state, but the purpose is to avoid over-identification for Special Education services. The team will collect and analyze data on the child and determine if they think it’s in the best interest of the child to move forward with an evaluation.
You have the right to deny the request for evaluation from the school.
You have the right to submit any and all important pieces of data, such as a medical diagnosis, therapy notes, pieces of evidence from home such as handwriting samples, etc.
The school can not deny a parent’s formal request for evaluation (must be in writing).
Evaluation: An evaluation is performed by the School Psychiatrist. This evaluation can include speech therapy, occupational therapy, and/or physical therapy evaluations, cognitive testing (such as an IQ test) and academic testing (such as the Woodcock Johnson). Academic assessments may be given by another professional such as a Special Education teacher. It’s important to note that often parents will receive a diagnosis from their primary care provider, such as autism, ADHD, depression/anxiety or other medical needs. This medical diagnosis is separate from an educational evaluation. A diagnosis from a doctor DOES NOT automatically qualify a child for Special Education services, but it is a great starting point and should be included in the formal request for evaluation.
You have the right to review the evaluation once it is complete, ahead of the evaluation meeting.
You have the right to request specific evaluations.
You have the right to submit any relevant data.
Eligibility Determination: Once the evaluations are complete (this time table varies state to state, but usually is an average of 30-60 days after the request has been). The school will send the family a copy of the evaluation prior to the meeting. This is usually sent the day before. Schools do this to avoid any confrontation with parents prior to the meeting so the meeting can serve as a formal explanation of the evaluation. The School Psychiatrist will make recommendations on the report and will make a recommendation for eligibility, including a disability classification. Once the student is determined eligible, the team will move on to writing the IEP.
You have the right to disagree with the evaluation.
You have the right to request additional assessments.
You have the right to get an outside evaluation done by a Psychiatrist (this will most likely be done at the parent’s expense and may not be reimbursed by the school or by insurance). Here are some resources to get a low-cost evaluation completed.
You have the right to schedule a second meeting after you’ve had enough time to digest the information presented at the meeting and in the report.
IEP Meeting: Once eligibility has been determined, the Special Education teacher will begin to write the IEP. An IEP meeting will be scheduled (this usually takes about 30 days) and the entire team will be invited to attend the meeting. It’s important that you try to keep your schedule open and be communicative about what days and times are best for you. You can also have this meeting by phone or be present via video if your schedule does not allow an in person meeting. The school is legally allowed to move forward without the parent present if they have attempted to schedule at least 3 times with no response from the parent. The IEP is a legal document containing between 30 and 50 pages of IEP goals, accommodations, service hours and other important academic information. While the meeting may seem like a presentation of what has already been decided, remember the IEP is simply a proposed solution.
You have the right to say no to anything proposed in the IEP. You also have the right to ask for whatever you think your child might need to be successful. (Keep in mind that the school also has the right to deny your request).
You have the right to ask for accommodations you think your child might need to be successful.
You have the right to question IEP goals (they will be lengthy and can be confusing. Ask them to explain the goals in plain language and give examples of what your child will be working on in order to meet these goals).
You have the right to ask for specialized instruction in any subject.
The entire IEP process can take several months, but it’s important that you start the process as soon as you notice your child is struggling. The school may say they want to wait to see if your child is able to increase their performance on their own, but you always have the right to say you want to start the process immediately. Make sure you put all of your requests in writing and you keep a dated copy for your records.
IEP&Me is here to help you! If you have any questions or concerns. Please reach out to [email protected] if you want to chat!
How to Communicate Effectively with Your Child's Teacher
Communication is key! In order to ensure your child does not miss out on any important services, it’s important to keep your child’s teachers in the loop, but how do you balance between over and under communicating? Here are some tips to help you navigate.
When it comes to the IEP, always document! Keep a communication log and document communication you send and receive from the school. There are a few ways you can do this, depending on your comfort level.
Create an automatic filter and category within your email. HERE is a link detailing how to do this for Gmail. This will force any email with keywords you’ve pre-determined to automatically be categorized under a special category. For example, you can create a category called IEP and then create filter words such as IEP, your child’s name, the school name, etc. You can also automatically send any emails from a certain person to this category. (You can always remove them later if they do not pertain.)
Keep a paper log and document any phone calls you have with the school or teachers. Be sure to include the date, time and the key details from the conversation. Follow up with an email stating what you understood from the phone call, this way it will always be in writing.
Use IEP&Me’s contact log! Sign up to join the waiting list HERE. We are launching soon!
Start communication early, and continue it often. Introduce yourself to your child’s teacher in the beginning of the school year. You can even request a meeting with them. Share your child’s strengths and areas of growth, what types of accommodations are helpful, how to de-escalate them and when you are available for communication.
Provide your phone number and email on an index card and encourage them to put your number in their phone as “John’s Parent” or “Emily’s Mom”.
Ask them what type of communication they prefer, email, phone or text. Let them know what types of updates you’d like and ask them if this is possible. Follow up by sending the same amount of updates. For example, if you’re request a Friday email to let you know how things went and what to expect in the next week, you can email them on Thursday's letting them know what your child enjoyed that week and that they’re looking forward to next week’s lessons. Keep in mind that as students move up in grades, teachers are responsible for more and more students - so don’t expect something that the teacher couldn’t realistically do for every student.
Partner with the Teacher. Your child’s teacher wants your child to succeed, but not every teacher has been trained in everything. Offer resources like articles or trainings, blogs, books, etc. Keep things positive by reminding them what does work for your child. If things aren’t working or your child is not doing well in school, ask what they teacher has tried and then offer suggestions for what else they can try. Think outside the box.
Encourage Self-Advocacy from your Child. Explain your child’s disability to them and ask them what types of things help them when they are in school. Take note of what helps them at home and encourage them to ask their teacher for the same accommodations. Ask them specific questions about their day to avoid the typical one word answers.
What other tips do you have to increase effective communicating between parents and teachers? Let us know in the comments below!
The Case for the Classroom Library - Part One
Classroom libraries are all the rage, especially in districts where funding for books is available. But do they serve a purpose? The short answer is YES! In this article, you’ll find the research behind the importance of classroom libraries, how they should be organized and some resources for getting free or low-cost books and materials.
Classroom Libraries: The Research Behind Their Importance
There is an abundance of research behind the importance of a classroom library, and how they differ from a school or public library.
Equity of Access: Classroom libraries provide access to books for every student. Contrary to popular belief, many schools have had to scrap their school library due to funding constraints. While a classroom library is not an adequate replacement for a school library, since a school library has many other benefits beyond access to books, it is a start to providing equitable access to a large variety of books.
Classroom libraries allow students to have hands-on access to books they are interested in at any time. In lower grades, where students spend all of their time in 1 or 2 classrooms, students can have access to books during designated class time, recess or before or after school. In upper grades, when class time is limited and may not provide ample time to check out books, students can use lunch, free periods or before or after school to “book shop”.
Classroom libraries can provide access to books for students who don’t have access at home. For some students, school is there only opportunity to have access to books they want to read. Some students might have access to a public library and some may have their own books, but for those that don’t have this access, the classroom library is very important.
Classroom libraries can expand students’ horizons. The classroom library may be their first introduction to books written by authors of color or about characters experiencing the same issues they are experiencing in their daily life. This may be their first introduction to a specific genre, topic or author.
Increase Motivation and Reading Performance: Classroom libraries and their quick access provide opportunities for students to drastically improve their reading performance. Teaching students how to choose books, how to think critically about what they are reading, and how to reflect on their thoughts about their books will improve a students motivation to read, their vocabulary and increase their bank of reading strategies.
Checking Your Bias at the Door
Oct 14, 2021Teachers
Everyone has bias. Yes, even you. As teachers (or administrators) we are often in front of our students more than even their own families, so it’s important that we understand how to check our own bias at the classroom door. Here are some helpful tips for the start of the school year.
First - what exactly is a bias? Simply put, a bias is a prejudice either for or against something or someone. In Education, this bias (usually for against someone due to their race, sexual orientation, religion, gender or ability level) can have extremely negative consequences that can stick with a child for the remainder of their life. Usually, our bias is unconscious, meaning we don’t always recognize when we are being prejudice. However, even if we don’t “mean to” have a bias, we are still responsible for checking it.
STEP 1: ACKNOWLEDGE YOU HAVE BIAS.
Say it with me, everyone has a bias, whether we know it or not. As teachers, what we say and do has a profound impact on the children we serve, so it’s important to recognize our own bias and address it immediately. If you think you are an unbiased person, be reflective about your words and actions and ask yourself why you think the way you do about students or their families. Once you’ve acknowledged that you have a bias, it’s time to actively work on checking it at the door so you are not allowing your bias to influence the way you teach.
STEP 2: LEARN ABOUT YOUR BIAS.
A great resource for determining your unconscious bias is Harvard University’s Implicit Test. There are many tests available, and you should take as many as you can. Even in areas I thought I wouldn’t show a bias, my unconscious bias reared it’s ugly head, and I will address it.
STEP 3: EDUCATE YOURSELF
Once you’ve determine your biases, it’s time to educate yourself. Below are some resources I highly suggest!
Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools by Monique Morris
Beyond Awareness: Bringing Disability into Diversity in K-12 Schools & Communities by Diana Pastora Carson
STEP 4: BE REFLECTIVE, AND ENCOURAGE REFLECTION IN OTHERS
It can be extremely difficult to recognize your own bias, and even more difficult to be transparent about it. However, just because you’ve done the work, doesn’t mean you are an expert and it definitely doesn’t mean that people will listen to you. It’s important that you tread lightly when discussing bias with others. Should you have an open dialogue about it? Absolutely. Be sure to remain objective and use facts rather than opinions. By being a reflective role model, you can encourage others to be reflective as well, but you can’t force it. If you are bothered by someone’s unconscious bias, address it with them, but be prepared to walk away from the relationship if they are not willing to be reflective.
Stay tuned for more blogs about recognizing and addressing your unconscious bias!
Primary Organization (PK-5): Starting the Year Off Right
A Guide For Parents and Families
Organization skills are crucial to success in middle and high school, but proper organization starts in elementary school. As students progress in grades, they are expected to take on more and more responsibility, and parents are “kept in the loop” on fewer and fewer things. Read on to read some great tips for staying organized in the primary grades.
When I was a student in primary school, I struggled immensely with organization and remembering which books I needed to bring home for homework that night. I would often get home thinking I had reading homework, only to find out I brought home my math workbook and left my reading workbook at school. My mom came up with a genius idea that I’ve tried with lots of students with success, color coordination!
Keep everything for each subject color coded. For example, your math textbook, math notebook, math workbook and/or math folder should all be one color. Color code the section in your agenda with the same color, so when you look at the end of the day, you know to bring home your red books, or your yellow books.
We used colored tape, book socks and colored contact paper to help color code my textbooks and workbooks and then purchased corresponding paper folders that were the same color. Help your child organize all of their materials within the first week of school. Talk to your child’s teacher about helping them organize their desk if necessary.
Keeping a Clean Desk
During recess, snack break, lunch break, or the end of the day, encourage your child to clean out their desk. Go through any loose papers and put them where they belong. Sometimes it’s a good idea to have a “catch all” folder where they can store these papers until they can have time to organize. If there is no time available during the day, talk to your child’s teacher about providing some time for desk organization either at the beginning or end of each day.
Send your child to school with a small pack of wipes to wipe down their desk each day. This will help them keep their desks free of crumbs, pencil shavings, broken crayons, etc. If you tell them to wipe the inside of their desk every week, it will force them to take everything out and subsequently prompt them to organize everything.
Using a Planner/Agenda
Have your child use a planner or an agenda to write down their homework each day. You can color code each section of their agenda so they know to write down their math homework in the red math section and their reading homework in the yellow reading section. Ask your child’s teacher to double check their agenda to ensure they aren’t forgetting anything, at least until they’ve shown they have a good grasp on the routine.
When they are packing up, remind your child if they have math written down in the red section, they should take home all of their red books and folders. If they have a question, encourage them to advocate for themselves and ask their teacher what they will need to complete the assignment.
Create a Task Card
While your child is learning these new routines like writing down their homework and organizing their desk, create a task card for them to refer back to. Here is an example of a task card for how to use your agenda. I used Canva to create this. You can be more specific by taking pictures of your child’s actual agenda and giving them specific directions.
Download our PK-12 Organization Checklists HERE!
What are your organization tips? Comment below!
Secondary Organization (6-12): Starting the Year Off Right
A Guide For Parents and Families
Middle and high school are no joke! Students are transitioning classes, have multiple teachers, and are learning between 4 and 7 subjects at one time! Organization really starts to suffer at the start of middle school, and it makes so much sense! Read on to learn some simple ways to stay organized.
The Big Binder (TM)
Keeping important papers and information for your classes in one place is key! To do this, the best organization system I’ve found that works for most students is the Big Binder. Some schools may already require students use one central binder for all of their classes, especially if they are an AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) school. Regardless, being able to find everything you need by looking in one place is so helpful. However, purchasing a binder is only the first step.
Start the year off by purchasing TWO BIG BINDERS. One should be carried around with you all year long. The other should be kept at home and is where you will store the notes and materials that you are no longer using each day. For example, at the end of the first marking period, you’ll want to transfer all of your materials into your stay at home binder. This way your notes are there to refer back to, but won’t take up space in your binder for new material.
Most teachers forget to hole punch their materials, so purchasing a good, sturdy hole-punch, like this one, will be super helpful. These can get heavy to carry around, so one tip is to leave this at home and use it during your organization time.
You will need dividers. Purchase dividers with folders, like these, so you can temporarily store any papers that haven’t been hole-punched yet. Be sure to purchase enough so that each class can have a section in your binder.
Label each tab with the FULL name of the class, and put them in the order that you have class each day. For example, if your schedule is English 1st period, followed by Algebra, followed by Biology, label the tabs in that order for ease.
Grab a pencil case for your binder. In it, be sure to always have 2 pencils, 2 pens, a highlighter and an eraser.
Put everything you need for each class IN that section of your binder. If your teacher requires the use of a notebook, and plans to review your notebook for accuracy/completeness, then purchase a notebook with three holes to stick in your binder. Take it out of your binder during each class though, taking notes with those big rings gets mighty difficult. If your teacher requires a composition notebook, use a big rubber band to keep it in your binder. Otherwise, have hole-punched notebook paper available for each class.
Buying the essentials above is just the first step. Ongoing organization and work is needed to be sure you can stay on top of everything and maintain a sense of calm.
Spend 10-15 minutes each day going through your binder and backpack in search of any loose paper.
Hole-punch any paper and put it in the correct spot in your binder.
Go through each section and determine if anything can be taken out. (Don’t throw anything away!) Place notes and materials from old units into your stay at home binder. Be sure to keep this stay at home binder organized as well!
Review your notes. At the end of each day, go back and review and organize your notes. The more frequently you do this, the more it will become rote memory for you and you will able to do it quicker and quicker. Plus, when it comes time for a test, everything will be ready for studying.
Spend 5 minutes preparing for the next day by placing any homework right in the front of your section so you won’t forget to turn it in.
Using a Planner/Agenda
A planner or an agenda is a great way to ensure you know what you need to do each night when you get home. For many students, it’s difficult to remember what you need to do for each class at the end of the day, so it’s best to write it down! Keep your agenda on your desk and open to the current day and class period so you can write down any important information including:
Homework for that evening.
Long term project due dates.
Upcoming tests or quizzes.
Reminders for field trips, paperwork, sports try-outs, etc.
Try out Viinko! Viinko is an online agenda that helps your child learn time management and organization skills, and help your child stay on track. Plus, you can sign up for their coaching services and get specialized assistance.
Keep your eyes peeled for a longer blog about how best to use your agenda. Be sure to check it EVERY DAY. Communicate with your family that this is a strategy you want to try and ask them to help you remain accountable. A good agenda that I like to recommend for middle and high school students is here.
Download our PK-12 Organization Checklists HERE!
What are your organization tips? Comment below!