Tomorrow Is Too Long to Wait for Inclusion

Inclusion Is All About Supports

Thaysa-Dan-Habib; an elementary school girl is sitting at her desk using a communication device with her classmates around her and a support teacher behind her. everyone is smiling

If you are not willing to differentiate instruction for the wide range of learners that you have, including students with autism, then you are in the wrong profession.

-Holly Prud’homme (General Education Teacher at Mape Wood Elementary in New Hampshire)

Are some students too hard to include in general education?

It has been my experience that the reason inclusive education fails is never because of the student; it fails because of lack of support or not the right kind of support. The following video, “Thaysa” made by Dan Habib  (Including SamuelWho Cares about Kelsey? and Intelligent Lives), is the perfect example of how a student with significant support needs is given what she requires to be successful in general education.

Is this example going to be the model for everyone? Of course not. The model is the willingness to try and listen to what each student is telling us. Inevitably, there are going to be students (and families) who don’t want to be included in general education. That is okay. Why would we want to force someone with a disability to do something that they don’t want to do? The point is that inclusive education should never be a fixed equation. You are X. Therefore you are put in X classroom with X amount of supports. When we reduce special education to a formula, we are not serving the unique needs of our students.

Inclusion Is a Mindset

Say it with me. Inclusion is a mindset. 

Now that you have said it, watch the video below. It is about 14 minutes long, and it highlights what Thaysa’s school has in place for her to be successful. Then, after you watch it, check out Dan’s other films. You won’t regret it.

Thaysa from Dan Habib on Vimeo.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally posted in 2012 and has been updated with a new featured image, formatting, and new post content. 

Mix Applesauce with Medicine to Create Inclusive Classroom Communities

jars of homemade applesauce

By Alex Dunn

Inclusion is not a place, but rather a philosophy that all students deserve to experience successful academic and social participation side-by-side with peers. 

What does successful inclusion look like?  Recently Nicole Eredics on her Inclusive Class Blog asked this question and found this wonderful visual from The Parent Leadership Support Group of Georgia, which was posted on their Facebook page, as a response.

From our four year Smart Inclusion research project, I would like to propose some small changes to this great image in order to recognize that in order to create inclusive classroom communities, we need to acknowledge that no two students are alike and that changes need to be made to existing learning environments to reach and teach every student; “barriers to learning are not, in fact, inherent in the capacities of learners, but instead arise in learners’ interactions with inflexible educational materials and methods.  (CAST Teaching Every Student in the Digital Age: Universal Design for Learning, Preface p. iv).

For those like me in the trenches, in schools every day, it is important to ask the question: How can we make a difference to the students and educators we serve and really achieve inclusive classroom communities?  A recent Twitter exchange with Jeannette Van Houten (@jvanhoutensped) and Tim Villegas (@think_inclusive) made me reflect on what we tried to do in our schools at Upper Canada District School Board in Ontario Canada over the past four years.

Educators told us that in order to achieve inclusive classroom communities they, with their students, needed to become proficient across three continuums – inclusion, curriculum, and technology.  In a way, I equate the integration of all three continuums to applesauce and medicine.  Although the technology (e.g., iPads, SMART Technology, Nintendo, Laptops etc) and other classroom manipulatives (e.g., Lego, Wikki Stix etc)  have been the all-important applesauce, I think all those involved with Smart Inclusion research would agree the key to the success for both educators and students has been the way the applesauce of technology has been combined with the medicine of bringing research-based pedagogy (e.g., Universal Design for Learning (UDL), Differentiated Instruction (DI), Aided Language Stimulation, Student, Environments, Tasks, and Tools (SETT) and Participation Models) into practice.  In short, educators cast a UDL net attempting to catch all students but sometimes, despite our best efforts, some students fall through the net and sit on the outside of education looking in which is completely unacceptable.  Pat Mirenda and David Beukleman’s Participation Model (PM) (really Differentiated Instruction with a twist) has provided us a way of catching all students that fall through the net.  As Jeannette Van Houten suggests “failure is a way to move to success”.  The Activity Standards Inventory (ASI), from the PM does just that.  Here is a link to a case study of one of our Smart Inclusion students and how we applied the Participation Model to help identify barriers to participation and subsequent intervention, including the use of technology.

A special thank you to the staff, students and parents at UCDSB for giving their nights and weekends and for sharing their work and that of their children, so that children worldwide can experience the same successful academic and social participation.  This groundbreaking research we have undertaken has been replicated in other school Districts in Ontario and Alberta, Canada.  Many other Districts, educators, parents, and students, worldwide have joined us on our journey to ensure that ALL really means ALL and that we are truly welcoming everyone, all the time, everywhere” (Pat Mirenda).

Photo Credit: Andrew Seaman/Flickr

Alex DunnAs Speech-Language Pathologist at the Upper Canada District School Board and president of Inclusioneers, Alex Dunn has presented across the USA, Canada, Germany, England, Spain, exploring technology (SMART Technology, iDevices, Assistive Technology) and theory as part of Universal Design for Learning Toolkit to ensure ALL students, achieve the goal of meaningful educational, social participation.  Recently Alex Dunn was named SMART Exemplary Educator of the Year for Canada for 2012 and appointed as an Officer for Special Education Technology Special Interest Group for the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE).  You can find her on Twitter @SmartInclusion or visit the Smart Inclusion Wikispaces Page

Frequently Asked Questions about IEPs

parents shaking the hand of a teacher in a classroom

By Amanda Morin,

There’s a lot to know when your child has an Individualized Education Program (IEP). From the legal to the logistical, here’s a look at five common questions parents have about IEPs and, more importantly, some answers to help.

  1. I don’t think everybody uses IEP the same way. What exactly is an IEP?

IEP stands for an individualized education program, which is the blueprint for your child’s special education experience.  But sometimes people also use “IEP” to refer to the legal written document that that contains all the information about your child’s program. Technically, that document is an IEP plan.

People may also use IEP to refer to the team who helps puts the program into place (“she’s on my child’s IEP”) or the meetings held to review the program, (“we have an IEP this afternoon”). But those references are shorthand for “IEP team” or “IEP meeting.”

  1. I heard my child’s IEP is supposed to be standards-based. What does that mean and how do I know if it is?

Each state has standards that lay out what students are expected to learn in math, reading, science and other subjects by the end of each year. A standards-based IEP means the program aligns your child’s learning needs and goals with the academic standards for your state.

Schools haven’t always tied IEPs to grade-level standards. But a 2015 guidance letter from the U.S. Department of Education made it clear that all IEPs must be tied to state academic standards.  If your child’s IEP isn’t tied to state standards, it violates her legal right to a free and appropriate education (FAPE).

You may wonder how your child will meet grade-level standards if she’s behind. Every IEP has a few key parts:

  • Your child’s present level of performance
  • Annual goals for your child
  • Special education supports and services to help him reach the goals
  • Accommodations and modifications to help your child progress
  • Measurements for your child’s progress toward goals

In a standards-based IEP, those are all aligned with state academic standards. If, for example, your child has dyslexia, her present level of reading performance will be measured by what grade level she’s reading at.

Her annual goals will be written to meet standards for her grade. And any services, supports, and accommodations she receives are intended to get her to meet those grade-level standards. She may not reach that goal, but it’s important that her educational experience is aiming to get her there.

  1. I keep hearing about “smart goals.” What makes a goal “smart?”?

SMART isn’t referring to whether or not a goal is clever or not, although SMART goals are very well-written. SMART stands for the key components of a well-written goal:

  • Specific: This means the goal is specific in naming the skill or subject area and how your child will achieve the targeted goal.
  • Measurable: This means the goal states the way your child’s progress will be measured. That can be done using standardized tests, curriculum-based measurements or screening.
  • Attainable: This means the goal represents progress that may be ambitious, but still realistic for your child.
  • Results-oriented: This means the goal clearly lays out what your child will do to accomplish it and explains what she’ll be able to do once the goal is met.
  • Time-bound: This means the goal includes a time frame in which your child will achieve it, given appropriate supports and services. It also explains when and how often progress will be measured.
  1. We just had an IEP meeting and I feel good about the accommodations for my child, but how will I know if they’re working?

You can begin by talking to each teacher to make sure he understands the accommodations and when to use them. Ask him to give you an example of how it would look in a normal class period to see if you’re on the same page.  And check with your child to see if she knows what her accommodations are when they’ll be used and how she can access them.

If you’re not comfortable that the teachers or your child are using the accommodations appropriately (or at all!), ask that an IEP team member makes it a priority to follow up. After that, you can keep track of your child’s progress in general and special education via homework, progress reports and by how she’s acting and reacting to school. If it’s not going as well as you expected, it’s a good idea to revisit the accommodations.

  1. What do I do if I don’t agree with a decision the rest of the team makes during the meeting?

You don’t have to agree to the entire plan, but you need to make that clear in writing. In most states, there isn’t a section for you to sign and approve the IEP because the federal law doesn’t require a parent to sign. When the very first IEP is finalized, you do have to sign to provide permission to provide services, but after that, the law doesn’t require your signature.

Once the IEP plan is completed, the school will send you a prior written notice explaining what actions were taken and the decisions that were made. When you get the prior written notice, it will provide a date on which the new IEP will begin.

If you disagree with any of the services or background information, it’s best to write a letter explaining what you disagree with or the services you are declining. You may want to call another meeting to discuss the issue again. If the team still doesn’t agree, you have to decide if you want to pursue the issue through due process.

There’s a lot to learn about IEPs, and it can be tricky to track. With a better understanding of how the program works, what the IEP plan should include, an understanding of your legal rights and the school’s responsibilities, you’re off to a good start!

Photo Credit: Innovation_School/Flickr

a-morin-headshot-2Amanda Morin is a parent advocate and former teacher. She worked in classrooms and as an early intervention specialist for 10 years. Since 2007, she has been working as an education writer and, more recently, as a parent advocate to empower parents and affirm the pivotal role they play in their child’s education.
During her years as an early childhood educator, she taught kindergarten and worked with infants, toddlers and preschoolers with disabilities. She provided education and training to parents of children with disabilities and led multidisciplinary teams in developing and implementing Individual Family Service Plans.
Morin received a bachelor’s degree in education from the University of Maine and special education advocacy training from the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates.
She is the author of three books: The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education, The Everything Kids’ Learning Activities Book and On-the-Go Fun for Kids: More Than 250 Activities to Keep Little Ones Busy and Happy—Anytime, Anywhere!
She also writes for

This Special Education Elephant Is Staring Straight at You

The Special Education Elephant Is Staring Straight At You

By Debbie

I love elephants. I collect elephants of all sizes and materials. I love reading about elephants. These elephants are different. There are many elephants in the room. Poverty. Hunger. Class warfare. Racism. And an odd bit of segregation we still practice in the United States. It’s called Special Education.

I was curious about how Special Ed came to be, and, as always, I asked Ira Socol, who I ask about anything related to the history of education and Special Ed in particular. As I suspected, Special Ed began in earnest in the 60s. Ira explained to me that as we were working on racial desegregation that also included removing segregated populations of mentally and physically disabled from institutions and moving them to schools. Along with that, we closed down many schools for the deaf and blind, although some still exist and are quite good.

Essentially, then, Special Ed was started with the best of intentions. However, like many benevolent actions, it was not thought out all the way through. Once mentally and physically disabled students were moved to schools; it stopped there. People didn’t consider integrating the classrooms. Disabled children were still primarily kept segregated from the rest of the school population. In Chicago in the 1970s schools were built solely for physically disabled students. Ironically, the local communities complained that their able-bodied kids were being kept out of these special schools. Chicago Public Schools (CPS) caved into this pressure, and residents were given access to these schools. These able-bodied kids were never placed in classrooms with their physically disabled peers. Thus, even in schools built with the intention of educating the physically disabled, separate and unequal continues. The conventional wisdom is that if a kid is in a wheelchair or even just using a walker or orthopedic devices they are somehow not smart enough to be in gifted programs with able-bodied peers. Physically disabled does not equal mentally disabled, yet it seems that is how bureaucrats think.

People who think that Corey H was a boon to Special Ed are sorely mistaken. Laws calling for Least Restrictive Environment are open to subjective interpretation. Doing what is appropriate is also open to interpretation. These laws protect the school districts much more so than help any children, as I mentioned in my post, Kid O Talks Back. Eventually:

I decided to try to make them do the right thing through due process. The law says that the schools must do what is appropriate. However, that is very loosely defined, giving schools a lot of wiggle room. The least appropriate is still appropriate. I had heard of the Corey H case and thought, aha, I have something to grab onto. I had even located the psychologist who had evaluated him. She wanted nothing to do with me. “I’ve retired,” she explained. I asked her if she had a student who’d be interested. She made a less than half-hearted promise to find someone for me. Then I discovered who the attorney was. She headed up the advocacy organization I had been in contact with. “She won’t talk to you,” the advocacy person said to me.

This was devastating for me. I quickly stopped pursuing due process because I had no money for an attorney, and I realized that the attorney for CPS was going to make several meals out of me. June 2010, my husband and I spent several hundred dollars on an initial consultation with one of the top Special Ed attorneys in Chicago. As we were leaving, he lamented that not enough people in our position could afford attorneys to help their kids. We barely could afford the consultation ourselves. These school districts count on this to keep from providing services and placement that a special needs child deserves. I’ve had two people now tell me that they hear similar stories too often. School districts like CPS probably rarely have to pay up or otherwise do the right thing.

Mentally and physically disabled children are warehoused every day. They are kept secluded for the most part. One woman on Twitter told me she has a gifted child and a special needs child. Naturally, she wants the best for both kids. However, if it were a choice for resources for her gifted child or her special needs child, she would prefer that the resources would go to the special needs child. While it would be a shame for programs to be cut for her gifted child, that child would have an easier time doing without. Budgets slashed for special needs children, however, is much more devastating. For these children to succeed, they need more not less. Most people do not see it this way. This woman told me that fellow parents of gifted children had told her that helping special needs children is a waste of resources.

The meta message is that special needs children are somehow lesser beings. They deserve less because they are less. Who is to say who will give more to society if given a chance? AG Baggs, an autistic woman, asserts in her video, In My Language “Only when the many shapes of personhood are recognized will justice and human rights be possible.”

Recognizing the “many shapes of personhood” begins at home, begins at school, and begins in our community. The best way to restore dignity to special needs children is to desegregate schools. Abolish Special Education. Make all classrooms multi-age. Let the children who are inclined to mentor do just that. Let the kids who are inclined to care for younger kids or special needs kids do just that.  I am not talking about things that adults are needed for.  I am talking about modeling care, love, and mutual respect, and most importantly, treating both special needs children and adults with dignity.

Special needs kids grow up to be special needs adults. We need to find a way to allow them to be part of the community.  As I wrote in my blog post, Landscaper! There’s a Weed in My Sod: Why We Need Inclusion in Classrooms and Community:

None of us are weeds to be disposed of. We all form an intricate part of the educational ecosystem. We all have our loud humanity that demands attention. And care. And understanding.

We need to stop averting our gaze from the Special Ed elephant in the room. We need to squarely face our fears and judgments of people, who, on the surface, seem different from us. If we do not do this, then we will continue to harm portions of the population who deserve to have their humanity honored. We need to embrace the Special Ed elephant. We need to help the Special Ed elephant dissolve peacefully away.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in 2012 and has been updated with a new featured image and formatting.

A version of this article was originally published at Educollab. You can find Debbie on Twitter @MissShuganah.

Donald Trump Is Bad for Students with Disabilities and America

donald trump in greenville, south carolina

Where does Trump stand on educating students with disabilities or disabled people in general?

If Trump’s mocking of a reporter with a disability in November of 2015 or the title of his book (Crippled America) is any indication, one can only infer the lack of respect he has for disabled individuals.

If that is not bad enough, he consistently and unrelentingly disrespects people from a whole host of backgrounds. Here is a meticulously compiled list of insults that he has made (and this is just from Twitter).

Maybe Trump is not that bad… Yes. He is.

Perhaps you are thinking along the same lines as Ben Carson…that Trump’s demagoguery is just “all political stuff” or he will suddenly stop all this hateful rhetoric when he becomes the Republican nominee. Don’t count on it. Trump has tapped into the bitterness of some of the most heinous and repulsive segments in our society and it is all playing out for us to see.

Carson decided recently to endorse the Donald after a series of conversations with each of the GOP contenders. Initially, Carson was hesitant to support Trump, given the noxious tone of his campaign, which included a few ad hominem attacks on the retired neurosurgeon.

But it appears Carson’s reservations melted away after learning that Trump doesn’t really believe all those terrible things he says – about Mexicans, about Muslims, about disabled people, about women. It’s all part of the show, you see. If Trump were indeed as dumb and venomous as he lets on, well that wouldn’t be presidential material. Luckily, though, it’s just par for the course, a little red meat for the racists and jingoists in the base. – SALON (March 14th, 2016)

This (in my opinion) is what makes Donald Trump so dangerous. Now is not the time (nor is there ever) to throw decency out the window.

What does this have to do with education or students with disabilities?

For those of us who care about education and the ramifications of Trump becoming president on special education and other disability rights legislation there is cause for concern.  Though Trump has not explicitly stated that he would cut the Department of Education (DOE), it stands to reason that he would make is sufficiently harder for the Department to conduct any oversight. The DOE houses the Office of Special Education Programs (one of the chief organizations that has control on how states implement the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act). Trump has also been a vocal advocate of getting rid of Common Core and giving control back to the local school boards but does not clarify what he exactly means since many (if not all) decisions about curriculum are already based at the state and local level. The truth is that the impact of a Trump administration is largely unknown and simply conjecture. This does not mean that Americans should just roll the dice and see how things shake out. This is especially true for those of us who advocate for full and authentic inclusion and believe that deep down we are fighting for civil rights.

We do know where some of the other candidates stand on the issues regarding disability.

Notably, the Clinton and Sanders campaign were one of the first ones to fill out the PwDsVote 2016 Campaign Questionnaire which was designed for people with disabilities and their loved ones  to know where candidates stand on the issues.

The questionnaire asked all of the presidential candidates on both sides of the aisle to comment on 16 disability questions. Former Sec. of State Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders responded by addressing all of the questions, and have significantly different views on the issues. Dr. Ben Carson and Gov. John Kasich filled out parts of the questionnaire, and also have significantly different views. Despite numerous requests in person and by phone and email, the campaigns of Senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio and Republican front-runner Donald Trump have not yet filled out the questionnaire.” – The Respect Ability Report (February 29th, 2016)

You can read the results released by RespectAbility here.

Bottom Line: Donald Trump is bad for the disabled and for America

It is not typical for our website to be for or against a particular political candidate but this is a singularly unique time in our history. We would hate to be silent on this issue when it is this important. We will leave you with some thoughts from Senator Elizabeth Warren.

There’s a history of demagogues calling those they disagree with “terrorists” and using that as justification for…

Posted by Elizabeth Warren on Monday, March 14, 2016


Thanks for your time and attention.

Photo Credit: Jamelle Bouie/Flickr

Things I Wish I Knew My First Year Of Teaching Special Education

a picture of the front of a circa 1930's school building in Pasadena, CA

Nothing prepares you for that first day of teaching.

I can still remember calling my wife during my lunch break (hey…I taught in California then…breaks were mandated) almost in tears…saying “I have absolutely NO idea what I am doing”.

But approximately two thousand instructional days later…I can say with some amount of certainty…it gets easier.

When people find out that I teach special education, I usually get the obligatory comment of “you must be a very patient person”. To which I never have found a good response. This remark while well-meaning assumes a couple things…1) that special education kids require a lot of patience…to which I would say…any teaching position that necessitates interaction with kids requires a lot of patience and 2) people who work in special education have a superhuman ability to work with “those kids”. Okay…this is probably too harsh…and getting off topic. Here are a sundry list of things that I wish I knew my first year teaching special education (in no particular order).

I wish I knew that…

  • I needed to keep an extra set of clothes in the classroom…for myself. You never know what kind of fluid or edible material you might find flying around
  • you should always look to the student’s interest first to try to gain their attention and to provide motivation to access their curriculum
  • you should always presume competence with your students…it is the least dangerous assumption
  • it is possible to be a self-contained special education classroom teacher AND be an inclusive education advocate and not feel guilty about it
  • most general education teachers do not have a clue what you really do or that you are a REAL teacher (it is your job to educate them on everything you can bring to their classroom and the school)
  • all behavior serves a function…even if you think it doesn’t…it does
  • it is okay to not know exactly what you are doing that first year…it goes by so fast…you need help…just ask for it
  • the best resources are your fellow teachers in your local school…everyone has had a first year/first day…we all can relate and we want to help
  • it is extraordinarily hard work (50% of new sped teachers [drop] out [of teaching] in 5 years…75% out in 7-10 years) …harder than you can imagine
  • I would see things that would bring tears of joy to my eyes and things that would break my heart
  • I would care so deeply about the students and their families that I would spend much of my free time working out problems that we had in the classroom
  • teachers often get the short end of the stick when it comes to resources and training
  • you have to advocate for yourself to get the support you need…don’t be afraid to be the “squeaky wheel”
  • you also have to know when you have been beaten by the system…regroup, plan and fight another day
  • I needed to expect the best but prepare for the worst
  • it is sometimes difficult to “manage” your paraprofessionals when you are half their age
  • some of your best friends will be the people who work in your classroom
  • there is most likely not a curriculum…you will have to come up with one on your own
  • there is more freedom than you think in education…you just have to look for it
  • your students are children first…don’t focus on their disability…use that knowledge to help understand them but realize that they are people with hopes, dream, wants and needs
  • inclusion is belonging…create environments of acceptance so that all students are valued
  • simply because a student acts out in a self-contained environment…it should not preclude them from being included with their typical peers
  • a student can earn their way out of general education classes but should never have to earn their way in (Lou Brown)
  • you need to talk to the parents first before you draft goals and objectives…the Individualized Education Program (IEP) is a team sport
  • I would spend a lot of my own money on my classroom
  • systematic teaching, applied behavior analysis and focusing on communication skills…works
  • I would constantly be “borrowing” things from my house to bring to school
  • the student’s parent was their first teacher
  • there is no silver bullet…so don’t be afraid to try new things
  • it is exhausting…but exhilarating
  • I would have developed my Personal Learning Network (PLN) earlier (like Twitter #spedchat – #iechat – #edchat and Facebook Groups)
  • you should join a professional organization (TASH and Council for Exceptional Children, to further your education) and sign up to receive Education Week and ACSD newsletters
  • you should never…ever give up
  • I would still love this job after a decade in the classroom

There are obviously more things that I could type…but this post is already getting a little too long. What would your advice be for new teachers in special education?  Are you one of the statistical anomalies…how many years have you been teaching in special education?

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in 2013 and has been updated with a new featured image and information. The school pictured is the actual school the author first worked at in Pasadena, California.

Photo Credit: Tony Hoffarth/Flickr

Promises Every Special Educator Should Make to Their Students’ Parents

a close up of a small child with his head on top of his hands sitting down intently looking at his teacher. the word promise is overlaid on top of the image five times

Editor’s Note: This post was written in 2012 and has been updated with a few small changes to the original posting including a new featured image as well as an eleventh promise. 

Promises are important.

Being an educator can be a lot of fun, but it is serious business. Everyday, we hold the precious lives of children in our hands. We have the opportunity to build them up or tear them down. In addition to this, we have the responsibility to communicate with the families of our students in a kind and respectful manner. These promises are intended to be a reminder that while we are not perfect, we should be held to a higher standard of behavior. I certainly have not kept all of these promises one hundred percent, but they are constantly on my mind and it is the kind of educator that I strive to be. I hope that you find these useful to mull over and come up with your own list to inform your teaching career.

11 Promises

1. I promise to stop calling parents who have high expectations and advocate for their children “high maintenance” and I will equally try to discourage the term “high profile” if due process is involved.

2. I promise to presume competence (always assume that your child can learn and is interested in learning) even if they are unable to communicate to me what they know (yet!)

3. I promise to never use the “R” word and to speak up against it when I hear it used in private or public.

4. I promise to ask your input on the educational goals for your child BEFORE the IEP meeting and realize that without your collaboration we have no team.

5. I promise to remember that YOU were your child’s first teacher and YOU are THE expert on your child.

6. I promise to not say “what are they going to get out of this?” or “they’re not ready” as an excuse for not including your child in general education.

7. I promise to never assume I know what goes on at your home or blame your child’s challenging behavior at school because of your parenting skills.

8. I promise to Always Be Communicating (ABC) with you about your child (especially the positive things).

9. I promise to keep an open mind and realize that what works with one child does not necessarily work with every child.

10. I promise to always have high expectations for your child and never give up on them…or you.

11. I promise to keep telling your child the reasons why I love to be their teacher.

Full Disclosure: This post was inspired by the wonderful “Apology” post from the flappiness is… blog (Check it out…after you read this of course). 

If you agree with these promises or you would like to add some of your own…make a comment, share this with someone you know, or print it out and put it up in your classroom (if you have one). Thanks for your time and attention.

Photo Credit: US Department of Education/Flickr


When Helping Students Holds Them Back

When Helping Students Holds Them Back
A version of the post was originally posted at Why Haven’t They Done That Yet?

By Michael Ryan Hunsaker, Ph.D.

What I have come to notice in my time in special education is that we love to be helpful. In fact, we sometimes get a little too enthusiastic in our helpfulness. I saw a tweet today that really drew my attention. This is totally taken out of context, but that is how I read it:

If You Love Them, Set Them Free

This struck me because we often hold students back and deny them certain rights by nature of our “helping”. We choose to help people by doing things for them. We choose to help people by telling or dictating to them what they should be thinking or saying. We squash their creativity, we belittle them, and we condescend. In the course of our helping, we are actively holding them back. We are preventing them from growing as people.

The help I am specifically referring to is the provision of special education services, particularly in self-contained classrooms. We often look at our assessments and fear that our students will fail in general education classrooms unless they score 100% correct on every benchmark, and even if they do they must do it quickly and with automaticity. These students have to have perfect behavior, all of the time, even when stressed or when things are difficult. Anxiety and depression have to dissipate. They must show perfect attending, even when the teacher is not speaking and other students are being disruptive. Being a normal kid is not good enough. Perfection or bust!

Inclusion in General Education Full Time Is the Goal

The perspective that students must be perfect in order to be in general education worries me. I have seen the potential in students that other teachers did not. I spoke with the parents about this potential and some were terrified of taking any chances with their child’s education. This is a commendable worry for a parent, but as I see it, moving students into more inclusive placements full time is the goal. In fact, it is something every child is entitled to.

My perspective comes from growing up with an autistic twin brother. Kyle had a host of adaptive functioning problems. Kyle had uncontrollable obsessive and compulsive behaviors. Kyle could be aggressive if he lost his temper. Kyle had a need to pace and stim. Kyle was nonverbal (although he used a computer to communicate). And yet, none of that ever held him back. My parents did not ever let the narrative of a broken little kid enter into the picture when it came to Kyle. And quite frankly, neither did Kyle.

Kyle’s Placement in More Restrictive Environments Prepared Him for Inclusion in General Education

My thought processes always seem to come back to Kyle. When Kyle was little, he needed a lot of help. A preschool that specialized in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) was there to teach him the basics of attending and social skills, as well as how to cope with his urge to become physically aggressive with the teachers for disciplining other students. Elementary and middle school was there to help Kyle learn basic study skills and get the hang of communicating with others using his augmentative communication devices. In high school and post-secondary, Kyle needed training in job skills and to get out into the community. Academically, Kyle didn’t need help. In fact, in his first grade teacher wrote in the notes of Kyle’s IEP something to the effect: Kyle doesn’t test at all, but there is so much in him. We just need to keep teaching him new things and who knows where Kyle will end.

When Kyle was going to enter the fourth grade, the decision was made to hold him back into third grade again. But, he was to continue to receive spelling and math in general education. The rationale was that if he could spell, he could read (Kyle could spell any multi-syllabic term or random word perfectly on the first try). Kyle was held back to repeat the third grade because fourth grade is when school becomes more about abstract and higher-order thinking and Kyle was not quite ready. However, when Kyle reached fifth grade, the decision was made (by Kyle himself…he let mom know what he wanted) that Kyle needed to embrace the challenges of general education. More clearly, Kyle told mom he wanted normal school. So my mother gave him access (she put her foot down and made it happen). Fifth grade was good. Sixth grade was hard, and Kyle really came into his own in seventh grade. It did not matter that Kyle was non-verbal, it did not matter that Kyle was unable to write with a pencil or pen, it did not matter that Kyle walked down the halls with his ears plugged and his backpack and laptop bags swinging loosely off his arms. Kyle was determined to succeed in “normal” school. And he did.

Kyle Had Success Despite the Lack of Support

Interestingly, once Kyle entered the mainstream he never looked back. There was no resource support for him. We would have loved for there to be, but he was not performing at a low enough level to qualify under the discrepancy model (to be fair, he would not have qualified under any model, students with A’s and B’s do not receive resource support services). My mother sat down with Kyle for hours after school to help re-teach and act as a scribe for Kyle’s homework. Kyle got good grades in general education classes. He was happy. He made friends. In short, he thrived. All this was done in the 1980’s and 1990’s, long before we had the support we celebrate for autistic students today. In fact, my mother had to be rather blunt and stubborn with the school district to make sure Kyle had access to general education. It was unprecedented, and in many ways still is to some extent. So, on top of all of his accomplishments, Kyle was a pioneer. He did not let his challenges hold him back and my mother made sure that low academic expectations did not exist to hold Kyle back either.

Often time, what I find is that students that have been in special education classes (self-contained classrooms) since the beginning of their educational career are often closer to accessing the general education curriculum than students that only receive resource services. Specifically, students in resource can be 1.5-2 years behind their peers academically; whereas students in self-contained classrooms can sometimes be at grade level or only 0.5-1 year behind their general education peers. That says to me that those students approximately 1 year behind in their academics need resource services, not special classrooms. Anything more is too restrictive an environment than the students deserve. Even if the student has behavioral challenges to overcome it can often be solved by inclusion in a general education classroom.

Here Are Six Ways That I Can Achieve My Goal of My Students Moving into More Inclusive Settings.

1) I look at the student’s placement scores, irrespective to diagnosis, placement, behavioral history, and social skills

When I see a student is academically successful (within 1-1.5 years of grade level), it means I need to start planning for a paraeducator to assist with any potential behavioral issues in an inclusion setting. Based upon my experience in the resource setting, 1-1.5 years behind grade level is not enough to place a student in a self-contained classroom for academics. If a student tests within those levels, I can act as a resource teacher for them to provide a reteach, but they need to be out in a general education classroom to receive their core instruction.

2) I look at the behavioral history of the student

I usually try to talk with the previous year’s teacher to see what really sticks out in their mind. I have observed that students will have a lot of narratives written in their files as well as IEP goals written focused on behavior that are not at all that prevalent. Then, I get into data collection mode. I break out my Behavioral First Aid Kit, and start collecting data like crazy. If I see it, I write it down.

3) I specifically assess any sensory needs

It is important that I address the sensory needs of the student. These needs can be typical to students on the autism spectrum or sensory integration disorder. The need for fidgets, a pen to twiddle, or thera-putty to help ease the stress for students and can be vitally important for them to function in the general education classroom.

4) I look at the classroom management system and students in general education

I want my kids to succeed. So, I will make sure that my students get access to the teacher with the best management skills and teaching practices possible.

5) After all of these steps… I finally dig into the IEP and memorize their psychological/cognitive profile as well as any diagnoses

This just helps inform me how to better process my notes from my data collection steps. It also helps me identify potential issues that I may have overlooked. I do not do this step earlier because I would rather not bias my data collection.

6) I collect as much data as I can on my student’s performance in the general education classroom

The only difference between this and the earlier data collection step is that I focus on how much support each student needs. Do they need behavioral support? Do they need help with assignments (beyond what their elbow buddy provides)? Do they need a gentle nudge to remain focused? These collect this data daily for two weeks and then I fade back to random ten to fifteen minute data collection period cycled across days weekly and then every other week. These data collection sessions continue until the student is transitioned out of the self-contained classroom and into a general education.

Using a Self-Contained Setting to Determine If a Student Is Ready for General Education Is Doing It Wrong

I feel the more typical method of evaluating behavior in the self-contained classroom, to determine if the students are ready for general education, is often unfair. What I mean by unfair is that oftentimes the students that act out in the special education classroom due to boredom are being deprived the very challenges that they need to better themselves. In this way I feel I am giving students the chance to succeed when presented with a challenge, and I am collecting data that will serve useful to provide strategies the students may need when the going gets tough. I have adopted this approach because it is both fast and efficient. My goal is to get students into the mainstream as fast as possible because the longer they are in an inclusive setting, the more data I can collect and the greater number of strategies I can devise to help them achieve success. Providing too much support with a self-contained placement or even paraeducator support is not helping students achieve independence. Sometimes the best thing to do is let our students fly on their own.

Photo Credit: gem fountain/Flickr

MRHMichael Ryan Hunsaker is a neuroscientist applying his skills to Special Education. He blogs about his curiosity and excitement at WHY HAVEN’T THEY DONE THAT YET? Follow him on Twitter @mrhunsaker.

10 Behavior Management Strategies: A Special Educator’s Manifesto

Nicole Dempsey

A version of this post was originally published here.

By Nicole Dempsey

If I could go back in time, what behaviour management advice would I give to myself as a newly qualified teacher (NQT)?

As I see it, behaviour management, is the thing that sets the school teacher apart from the many other imparters of information. The rest—tutors, lecturers, instructors and so on—rarely, if ever, experience the same combination of circumstantial factors that a teacher finds in the classroom. She is significantly outnumbered by students who have not been given the choice to be there or not (although, one would hope, they might be persuaded to opt in to their education!) What’s more, they’re active, chatty, and eager to play—in other words, they’re children. It does seem like the odds are stacked against the teacher from the start!

I’m confident that many perceive the main thing that teachers do to be… teaching! In reality, no teaching will be effective until behaviour is adequately managed. This doesn’t even mean bad behaviour, just human behaviour, and again, the behaviour of human children! Effective behaviour management is crucial, and it would be much more straightforward, especially for those new to the profession, if there were a widely-acknowledged and 100% effective way of doing it… but that doesn’t seem to be the case.

Previously, when I’ve blogged about behaviour management, I’ve focused on the importance of the behaviour management policy to ensure social inclusion for the most vulnerable learners, and I stand by the importance of those policies. In the UK, Ofsted (Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills) assesses schools in various domains. In Ofsted’s assessments of school policies on behaviour, there is little notable difference between the policies of schools rated good/outstanding and those rated inadequate/requires improvement (RI). There are pockets of exceptional behaviour management in failing schools and examples of ineffective behaviour management—or, at least, practice that is open to debate—in those deemed to be successful. Clearly, it is neither the behaviour management policy nor the judgement of Ofsted that is the be-all and end-all of effective management in our classrooms.

Things are about to get personal.

…because it is personal. Of all the aspects of being a teacher—pedagogy, management and teamwork, pastoral—none is affected by individual personality so much as behaviour management.Behaviour Management Style While a strong policy and a school with high overall ratings (according to Ofsted… not necessarily my favourite measure of success!) are an essential basis, there will always be diversity and disparity in how staff approach day-to-day needs in the classroom. In my opinion, this isn’t a problem. Surely the students deserve and benefit from having varied experiences across the school day. And, just like an isolated Ofsted outcome or school policy is not “the answer,” neither is homogeneity of approach. Our students will move on to live in a diverse and complex society. Any school has its share of the “don’t smile ‘til Christmas” crew, the matey and jovial types, and everything in between. Does effective behaviour management exist at one point on that spectrum and nowhere else? I don’t believe it does. So, assuming a strong policy and shared values, are the issues and complexities of behaviour management actually the issues and complexities of striking a balance between expectation and your own personality, personal values and interpretation of that expectation? A delicate balancing act between consistency and individuality? Between parity and variety? Every teacher has to find this balance—your own personal behaviour management sweet spot in which learning can take place. And this is the great skill of a school teacher, the thing that sets it apart from other, similar roles. But it’s also the thing that makes it really, really hard.

This brings me back to my original question: If I could go back in time, what advice would I give to my NQT self when it comes to behaviour management?

Somewhere in the overlapping space between the context, the shared values of society, and my own personality, I was able to find my own style of managing my classroom. This isn’t about a piece of policy or an idea I hold in my mind… this is about managing behaviour when faced with the stark reality of a room full of children. It is how I meet expectation whilst staying true to my own identity and values. It’s how I strive to strike a balance between consistency and variety for the students I teach. It’s what I wish I could tell my NQT self because it’s what I tell myself now, every day. I need the reminder, because I don’t necessarily achieve it… on a good day, I hope I get close!

I’ve developed my own “Behaviour Management Top Ten.” But even the most important strategies and reminders represent my aspiration for each day and not what I am able to accomplish. It’s the rule book I’ve given myself, the way I set the scene for learning in my classroom, and the self-administered mental admonishment I give myself when I get it wrong. These are the guidelines that exist in the space between expectation and my personality. My list won’t work for everyone but I think each teacher will have his or her own version (and I’d love to hear them!). Not “behaviour management in the black box,” but “behaviour management in my black box.”

Here is advice to my former self as an NQT and the list that captures my current approach to behaviour management:

My Behaviour Management Strategies Top Ten

  1. Be crystal clear.
    Lead with the student’s name. Ensure that you’ve got his or her attention before you start imparting wisdom or giving instructions. Don’t use sarcasm, idiom, rhetoric or other non-literal language… say what you mean. Don’t use “please” unless it’s a plea; use “thank you” for expectations. Explain why you’re doing something. If you can’t think of a reason why, then don’t do it.
  2. Draw your line and stick to it.
    Children make mistakes in the grey area between the line you have drawn and the line you enforce. Once you’ve said something is going to happen, it has to happen, so be careful about what you say! No idle, excessive, or unrealistic “threats” you don’t intend to carry out—only clear, fair, real, causes and effects. If you say “no talking” and then allow a bit of whispering as long as they’re getting on with their work, and then on another day say “no talking” and actually want them not to talk at all… how are they supposed to know the difference? If they talk in the second instance, the error is yours, not theirs. If they’re allowed to talk a bit, say so! If they’re not, enforce it. If you create a grey area between the instruction and the reality of the situation they will make mistakes within that uncertain space. And it will be your fault. What’s more, you’ve made yourself unreliable.
  3. Know when not to stick to it.
    I’m reminded of a kid I used to teach who was in year 8 at the time. He was the archetypal class clown—nothing bothered him, and he was a right old pain in the neck. Without the support of a strong behaviour management superstructure within that school, I had exhausted everything in my repertoire. I tried keeping him back at the end of the lesson. He was not bothered. I gave detentions. He was not bothered. And then I informed him that I would ring home and speak to his dad. In an instant the tone of the situation had changed. He was crying, he was on his knees with hands clasped, imploring me—voice catching on each sob—not to ring his father. He’d behave himself. He was sorry. I didn’t know what his father might do if caught in the wrong mood. In that instant, every interaction I’d ever had with that child flashed across my mind: I thought of the cocky swagger as he showed off a black eye or bruised lip and the claims that we should see the state of the other boy. I thought of all the times he showed that nothing could bother or hurt him. He seemed to be untouchable and devoid of remorse or self-care. Despite all this, he had the most amazing attendance… he never missed an opportunity to be in school, no matter how badly it seemed to be going.
    I had drawn my line.
    I did not stick to it.
  4. Don’t get into a dialogue.
    If the student has some say in what is happening, it’s appropriate to have a conversation about it. If the student has no say, there is no need to talk it over. If you, as the adult, have decided that things need to happen a certain way (silence in a test, safety in the classroom, non-optional tasks/homework, treatment of the other students, et cetera), then allowing a dialogue gives them the false impression that they have some control. It’s undermining your own position of authority, and it’s creating a grey area in which mistakes are easy for students to make. That isn’t fair.
  5. Never back a child into a corner.
    The get-out clause. No matter what’s happened, or how far a situation has escalated, there should always be a “way out” for the child. There should always be the opportunity for the student to make a positive choice to take back control and move on from the situation. This doesn’t mean the student is “getting away with it.” It means he or she will learn from it. Tell the student that the behaviour is unacceptable and that the resultant sanction isn’t going to go anywhere. But also provide options for moving forward in a positive way. Then, once the sanction has been completed, the slate is wiped clean.
  6. Give them a range of options (all of which are acceptable).
    Being in control isn’t the same as being controlling. You’ve got to be in control; they’re young, there are loads of them, and you’re responsible for their safety and well-being. But within this, they also need to learn to be autonomous, independent, and self-regulating. They can still have choice… genuine choice… if all the options are acceptable to you!
  7. Winning an argument with an angry and upset child is NOT winning.
    In spite of best endeavours, sometimes you will end up in a heated confrontation with a student; they’re only human and you’re only human. It will happen—hopefully very rarely. RemindBe-haviour Statements yourself: Who has the power and control in this situation? Who is the most vulnerable? Who is feeling the most distress and fear? Approaching this situation with kindness and compassion, putting the issue to one side for the moment, is not backing down or giving in. The best outcome is the one where the child has learnt something valuable that’s going to serve him or her well in adulthood. The student does not need a lesson that people will be dominating and controlling but that people will be helpful and guide him or her to the right outcome. In a high-intensity situation, the rational thought processes are bypassed in favour of a more primal “fight or flight” mechanism, and no one is in the right frame of mind to learn at that point. De-escalate the situation. Be the reassuring, safe, trustworthy adult. Deal with the problematic behaviour when your message might actually be heard. And when it does and you still have the trust and respect of that child—then you have won.
  8. They can only be as trustworthy as you trust them to be.
    Children learn in the gap between what they can already do and the opportunities they have to try something new. So take risks! The bigger the risk, the bigger the learning opportunity, and even though there will be times that it all goes wrong, that in itself is part of the learning process (for you as well as the student!). Send the naughty kid on an errand, give the least able a position of responsibility, give the notorious bully a caring role. And then, be there when they’ve proven that they’re better than anyone, even they, ever thought they could be… or dust them down and set them off again.
  9. Remember that you’re pretending.
    The moment you lose your temper is the moment you lose control, and for their safety and your own sanity, you must be in control (not controlling!). Give the response that teaches them how their actions can make those around them feel: Are you angry? Or are you disappointed? Annoyed? Inconvenienced? Emotionally hurt?
  10. THE GOLDEN RULE: Unconditional Positive Regard.
    When they’re problematic, make mistakes, don’t know something or don’t approach something in the way that they should, you are the person who is there to pull them through. You’re the adult. You chose to be there. You work for them. On that basis, is there or should there be anything they can do that changes your commitment? If you aren’t there for them… why are you there? Show them how you want them to behave. Be their champion!

This is the advice I would give to my NQT self because it is the advice I give to myself now, every day. My personal behaviour management manifesto for fairness.

What’s yours?

Editor’s Note: We kept the author’s spelling of “behaviour” for the article but intentionally changed the spelling to “behavior management strategies” for the title so we could promote these ideas to an American audience. 

Nicole Dempsey is the Individual Needs Coordinator (INCo) at Dixons Trinity Academy; an outstanding mainstream secondary free school in Bradford, northern England.
At DTA, all systems have been designed to meet the needs of all students as an intrinsic part of the main offer by being flexible and responsive to the needs of each individual child. All children deserve access to highly qualified subject specialist teachers. The  level of individualisation and responsiveness afforded to the least able and most vulnerable students is the entitlement of all of our students.
Whatever it takes for as long as it takes. When they need it and because they need it.

15 Things I’ve Learned in 15 Years as a Special Education Teacher

15 Things I’ve Learned in 15 Years as a Special Education Teacher

As a special education teacher, you’ve chosen a two-for-one career. Like every educator, you have state and federal requirements to meet and document, but in your other role as the Individualized Education Program (IEP) manager, you guide one-of-a-kind students toward their individual goals. There is no doubt you’re in for a challenge in this dual role, and it will keep you on your feet.  I’ve learned to save time and energy where I don’t need to spend it so I can use it where it really counts.

In my fifteen years as a special educator, I’ve learned an infinite number of lessons. I know you don’t have fifteen years to read an article, though!  So, here are the 15 most important tools and tips that will help you make it through the day, the school year, and even your next IEP meeting.

  1. Find the right tools – Given your many responsibilities, your survival depends on organization and efficiency. The right tools can shave hours from your workday. My favorites improve both communication and follow-through. They include Google Calendar, Gmail with Boomerang, 3×3 stickies, manila folders, and a small file cabinet.
  1. Use a note-taking template – Documentation is critical, but you can easy to overlook it. Pre-filled templates save time when you’re collecting data. Start with your students’ names, add their benchmarks/goals, leave space for the date, and include a “What Happened” column. Coding your entries will speed your data-mining later. Example: A for academic, B for behavior, C for conversation.
  1. Learn the lingo – Special education abounds with acronyms. But more important is the way you think and talk about your students and families and how they think and talk about themselves. Whether you use person-first language, identity-first language, or something else, be aware of your language. Learn the lingo your students and their families use, and be thoughtful of your own terminology.
  1. Adopt asset-based thinking (ABT) – Some people call this looking on the bright side, but this takes another step into acting on it. Leadership expert Dan Rockwell says that “ABT is more than pie-in-the-sky pretending. It’s a decision to identify and maximize what’s good, right, powerful, and effective.” This frees up more of your think-time for creative problem solving. And I promise, you’ll sleep better at night, too!
  1. Celebrate the small wins – Let’s face it—typical instruction and typical results don’t always fit your students. You have to look for incremental changes and see how they can add up to truly monumental growth. Remember Lao Tzu’s saying: “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” There are few places you’ll experience this truth more than your special education classroom.
  1. All behavior tells a story – Ask yourself what a student is communicating though a behavior. Immediately, you’ll see a change in how you listen to students, and better listening translates to better teaching. Instead of trying to change or eliminate a behavior, stop and listen to the story being told through it or the message hiding in it. You may be surprised by what you find.
  1. Feed the wolf you want to grow – You make more decisions each day than most people on the planet. This includes opportunities to decide which behavior to ignore and which warrants attention. Feed the one you want to grow. If a behavior isn’t causing harm to self or others, try ignoring it. Yes, it’s awkward at first, but doing so will save you valuable relationship capital in the long run.
  1. You haven’t known me long enough to be this mad at me – When you receive anger and criticism, you might want to quit. Don’t. Instead, ask yourself if you know this person well enough for them to be so angered by your opinion. The answer is likely no, you haven’t, which means there’s more to their problem than whatever you did or didn’t do. When you realize it’s not your fault, it will be easier shed the negativity and keep going.
  1. Assume good intentions – All the best strategies in the world don’t work if you get too caught up in special education politics. Assuming good intentions helps you “focus on the issue… [and] take [a]different perspective when it comes to conflict.” Practice looking at things from someone else’s perspective. You’ll see that it helps the dynamic and flow of your next interaction with that person.
  1. Parents are people too – Special education is uniquely litigious. Even with your best intentions, relationships can still break down. To survive these heart-breaking moments, remind yourself that parents are people, too. Look for areas of commonality when you seem to clash with a parent. Here’s one: They love their children and want the best for them, just like you do.
  1. Conflict resolution (CR) is a necessary skill… learn it! – You already know about assuming good intentions, depersonalizing, and finding common ground, but don’t stop there! The field of conflict resolution offers you a treasure trove of resources to help navigate your job in special education. Here’s a list of CR blogs to get you started.
  1. Practice self-care – No matter how much you love caring for others, don’t leave yourself out. Given your important role, you cannot afford to do your job if you aren’t able to do it well. Part of taking care of your students means paying attention to yourself, too.
  1. You’re a teacher, not a savior – Remember the proverb about giving a man a fish? It’s directed at you. If they’re to develop their own abilities, the children in your class need an excellent instructor, not a knight in shining armor. Concentrate your efforts on teaching, and you’ll honor your students and their families. After all, learning is the reason they come to you each day.
  1. Build trust One key to career success is building trust with those you serve. In special education, this is easier said than done. However, there are many tools at your disposal. Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain is one of them. It’s a great place to start to learn about trusting relationships, why they matter, and how you can create them with dependent learners.
  1. Nurture your team, carefully – Your job is largely about collaboration. Be it the core IEP team or a cadre of support professionals, these are your Make sure the relationships work for you. As you do with students, nurture the positive interactions between team members and try to ignore the rest. This will help you to build the team and make for a more successful year.

For more from Dawn Addis find her blogging and tweeting to inspire at and @daddiseducator.

Do you have any tips to add? Tell us about them in the comments section below!

Photo Credit: Ana_Cotta/Flickr

Dawn Addis_Head ShotDawn Addis is a passionate, fifteen-year educator, with a masters in Special Education. She has taught elementary, middle, and high school. Currently, Dawn is a district-level Teacher on Special Assignment for English Learner and Intervention programs. Dawn’s mission is to share the delight of lifelong learning with students of all ages. Finding her posting and pinning to inspire at and on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest.

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