Tomorrow Is Too Long to Wait for Inclusion

What Do Successful Teachers Do with the First Hour of Their Work Day?

teachers; a numberless clock mounted on a plain brick wall

By Megan Gross

Inspired by a recent Fast Company article on the habits of successful business folks during their first hour of work, we asked our colleagues about their morning routines. Although the colleagues we surveyed work in different schools and states, their morning activities reflect on the skills essential to the role of a successful teacher: communication, collaboration, and preparation.

What do successful teachers (inclusion, special/general education or other educators) do during their first hour of work?

1) Review calendar & schedule for the day

One of our colleagues starts the day by asking, “Is there anything special or potentially difficult happening today?” as she reviews her calendar. She looks for schedule changes, such as assemblies, fire drills, or special events on campus, and if there are any paraprofessionals who called in sick. With this information, a student’s visual schedule can be updated to reflect the day’s activities, adjustments to staffing can be made, or time can be allotted to orient a sub. Several of our colleagues also have staff communication binders and these are updated every morning to include class-specific or school-wide activities, changes in the schedule, absences, or other information to assist paraprofessionals and inclusion teachers in keeping everyone in the loop.

2) Check email

Unlike the technology and business gurus profiled in the Fast Company article, teachers make a point of checking emails before the school bell rings. Some teachers quickly scan their email looking for anything that might affect the daily schedule, information from parents, and flag emails to respond to later in the day. Others find this is the only quiet time in the day to thoughtfully respond to a parent, remind a teacher about accommodations, or send out invitations to IEP meetings. For many, the mind is the freshest in the morning, making email response one of the most logical places to start.

3) Check-in with teachers or paraprofessionals

Many of our inclusion teacher colleagues are running between classrooms for the majority of the school day, so they take advantage of the time before the bell rings to talk with colleagues. Some may meet with their paraprofessionals about the upcoming school day while other teachers discuss student needs or classroom supports with general education teachers. These morning check-ins may be the only time staff interact with each other, besides passing in the hallway, before the school day is done, so teachers make an effort to talk to staff and build community one “Good morning” at a time.

4) Finish prepping a modification or paperwork

Inclusion teachers often allow time in the morning, before students arrive, to finish up a small project from the night before. Accomplishing one small task before students arrive helps one of our colleagues “dive in” to the school day and also prevents her from staying at work all night. A small task might include completing IEP data sheets or paperwork, creating modified curriculum resource for a student, or the occasional mad dash to the copy machine.

5) Morning Joe

No. Not the MSNBC show. Overwhelmingly…Coffee was a huge part of an educators morning routine. Whether it was brewed at home, taken from the staff lounge or picked up at a drive-thru on the way to school, teachers love their “black gold.” We don’t know what your morning routine is for your first hour of the day, but it is of vital importance that you have some of that time carved out for yourself just to breathe, relax, and meditate on the day at hand. Sometimes, that is the difference between a productive day and a day where you feel like you are running behind.

Photo Credit: Lee Haywood/Flickr

Megan Gross is a special education teacher and inclusion specialist in California. She has facilitated inclusive education in K-12 classrooms. Megan is the co-author of The Inclusion Toolbox: Strategies and Techniques for All Teachers and ParaEducate, a resource book for paraprofessionals and special education teachers. She currently teaches high school and is the co-advisor of her campus’ Best Buddies club. Megan lives in San Diego with her husband and two children. Follow Megan on Twitter (@MegNGross).

The Biggest Barriers to Inclusive Education


Rainbow of Colored Pencils

Inclusive education does away with the practice of segregating students with learning and/or physical challenges from the rest of the student body. While the practice of inclusion places extra demands on students and facility logistics, there are numerous benefits to all students, both disabled and non-disabled.

Teachers in inclusive classrooms must incorporate a variety of teaching methods in order to best reach students of varying learning abilities. This has benefits even for those students who would be placed in a traditional classroom, as this increases their engagement in the learning process. Even gifted and accelerated learners benefit from an environment that stresses responsiveness from all students.

Perhaps most importantly, inclusive classrooms encourage open and frank dialogue about differences as well as a respect for those with different abilities, cultural backgrounds and needs.

Despite the benefits, there still are many barriers to the implementation of inclusive education. A UNESCO article, “Inclusive Education,” outlined many of them, including:

Attitudes: Societal norms often are the biggest barrier to inclusion. Old attitudes die hard, and many still resist the accommodation of students with disabilities and learning issues, as well as those from minority cultures. Prejudices against those with differences can lead to discrimination, which inhibits the educational process. The challenges of inclusive education might be blamed on the students’ challenges instead of the shortcomings of the educational system.

Physical Barriers: In some districts, students with physical disabilities are expected to attend schools that are inaccessible to them. In economically-deprived school systems, especially those in rural areas, dilapidated and poorly-cared-for buildings can restrict accessibility. Some of these facilities are not safe or healthy for any students. Many schools don’t have the facilities to properly accommodate students with special needs, and local governments lack either the funds or the resolve to provide financial help. Environmental barriers can include doors, passageways, stairs and ramps, and recreational areas. These can create a barrier for some students to simply enter the school building or classroom.

Curriculum: A rigid curriculum that does not allow for experimentation or the use of different teaching methods can be an enormous barrier to inclusion. Study plans that don’t recognize different styles of learning hinder the school experience for all students, even those not traditionally recognized as having physical or mental challenges.

Teachers: Teachers who are not trained or who are unwilling or unenthusiastic about working with differently-abled students are a drawback to successful inclusion. Training often falls short of real effectiveness, and instructors already straining under large workloads may resent the added duties of coming up with different approaches for the same lessons.

Language and communication: Many students are expected to learn while being taught in a language that is new and in some cases unfamiliar to them. This is obviously a significant barrier to successful learning. Too often, these students face discrimination and low expectations.

Socio-economic factors: Areas that are traditionally poor and those with higher-than-average unemployment rates tend to have schools that reflect that environment, such as run-down facilities, students who are unable to afford basic necessities and other barriers to the learning process. Violence, poor health services and other social factors make create barriers even for traditional learners, and these challenges make inclusion all but impossible.

Funding: Adequate funding is a necessity for inclusion and yet it is rare. Schools often lack adequate facilities, qualified and properly-trained teachers and other staff members, educational materials and general support. Sadly, lack of resources is pervasive throughout many educational systems.

Organization of the Education System: Centralized education systems are rarely conducive to positive change and initiative. Decisions come from the school system’s high-level authorities whose initiatives focus on employee compliance more than quality learning. The top levels of the organization may have little or no idea about the realities teachers face on a daily basis.

Policies as Barriers: Many policy makers don’t understand or believe in inclusive education, and these leaders can stonewall efforts to make school policies more inclusive. This can exclude whole groups of learners from the mainstream educational system, thereby preventing them from enjoying the same opportunities for education and employment afforded to traditional students.

Overcoming the many barriers to inclusive education will require additional funding, but even more importantly, it requires the change of old and outdated attitudes. Studies support what many classroom teachers know by experience: that the benefits inclusion provides to all students easily justifies the effort.

Photo Credit: Nicolas Buffler/Flickr

Philip Murphy Headshot

Philip Murphy works at Bisk Education with the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania and their department offering Online Teaching Degrees. You can read his tweets by checking out @burgseo.

12 Ways to Think More Inclusively

12 Ways to Think More Inclusively

Embarking on self-improvement requires no celebratory facades. Many people treat a new year or turning a year older as reasons to set goals. Honestly though the reason does not matter. The desire to change for the better proves much more important. Becoming a more inclusive-minded person stands one way to improve. Who better than Think Inclusive then to help you think more inclusive?! Enjoy these 12 ways to think more inclusively.

The following lists only 12 ways to think more inclusive and does not intend to act as a “Top Ways” or “Best Ways” list. Items go in no particular order.

Acknowledge the Individual, Not the Diagnosis

A person becomes forever linked with their diagnosis but remember the person and diagnosis remain two separate entities. So you taught or tutored one autistic student before. That does not mean what spelled success with that one student will work with your next autistic student. Adjust your approach to the individual learner.

Tune into The Inclusive Class Podcast

Parent and teacher Nicole Eredics along with her co-host Terri Mauro produce a great weekly podcast on inclusion. Through their weekly dialogues you will continue to grow your knowledge. Make sure to take time and visit their show archive.

Work as a Team

Author and motivational speaker Brian King recently appeared on The G.I.M.P. (Gifted, Intelligent, Motivating, People) Show Podcast, a podcast for the special needs community hosted by Handicap This Productions’ Tim Wambach and Mike Berkson. During the appearance Brian King dished great insights on how parents can approach teachers to best facilitate teamwork. He also explained how both parents and teachers can learn from a student’s own resourcefulness. Listen by clicking the above link.

Read Books

Read books and not only textbooks! Spending time with memoirs by authors with disabilities can spark ideas. Getting perspective from a person with a disability that lived what you currently experience may cause you to stumble upon an idea otherwise gone unexplored. Plus you can always try to contact the author to get his or her advice on your specific situation. How many reply may surprise you!

Maintain Expectation Levels

While speaking about authors, one specifically shared some great thoughts on inclusion in the following Youtube video.

The way John W. Quinn (Someone Like Me: An Unlikely Story of Challenge and Triumph Over Cerebral Palsy) defines inclusion addresses a huge misconception. Inclusion involves lowering standards. If anything, that proves detrimental to the process! An interview I did with intervention specialist Kelsey Kimmel for The Mobility Resource demonstrated this in an educational setting. During the interview Kimmel described how by maintaining expectation levels, her students felt challenged, leaving them to reach new milestones academically.

Gain Experience

Can you find a better teacher than experience? Positioning yourself in situations to gain said experience will make you more inclusive-minded. Allow me to give you a personal example. I volunteer weekly at the Euclid Adult Activities Center, a Cuyahoga County Board of Developmental Disabilities facility. Through my interactions with their clients there I gain experience working with individuals with intellectual disabilities. Simply put I know how to interact with such individuals now where before I admittedly would feel unsure.

Implement Multiple Mediums into Lesson Plans

Even individuals without IEPs learn differently. Some prefer visuals while others thrive off audio cues and others by writing. Combining multiple channels into one lesson makes lessons more inclusive for all.

Learn How Each Student Learns Best

A tip intervention specialist Anshawn Ivery mentioned when I interviewed him for The Mobility Resource will assist in formulating the most effective lesson plans. At the start to each school year he meets with his students to learn about them, asking questions like “What do you hope to get out of this class?” and “How do you learn best?” He suggested doing this for all students, not just ones with IEPs.

Encourage Common Interests

Inclusion starts with integrating students with disabilities into the general education classroom. However inclusion excels after a belonging environment emerges. Common interests help to lay a foundation for this. Seek extra-curricular activities which can bring common interests to the forefront. As a result you will find whatever differences exist between the student and her peers will fade to the background.

Hang Anti-Bullying Messages Around the Classroom

A belonging environment means a bully-free environment. Back when I interviewed anti-bullying speaker Tony Bartoli for Think Inclusive he advised hanging student made anti-bullying posters around the classroom. Such posters provide dual purpose. First they allow students to consume the anti-bullying message. Secondly, the posters constantly remind students to treat peers with respect.

Practice Social Situations

Many people take with ease the ability to navigate different social situations, albeit in the cafeteria at lunch or moving around the hallways before or after school. Certain disabilities can make what many take with ease extra challenging. Rehearsing such situations works to make these situations easier for everyone. Louisiana Autism Spectrum and Related Disorders (LASARD) Project coordinator Julie D. Riley delved into the rehearsal strategy in the Think Inclusive piece I wrote based off an interview with her.

Become a Think Inclusive Member

If you enjoy the Think Inclusive website, know the experience gets even better by becoming a Think Inclusive member! Membership perks include exclusive content from our sponsor Brookes Publishing Company, a 30-minute consultation with our founder Tim Villegas (either by Skype, phone, or email), ad-free browsing, complete access to the Think Inclusive archives (three years and counting), and a curated online newsletter. Membership perks will only grow too. For instance, sometime this year Kids Included Together (KIT) will start providing membership exclusive content too. Click here to learn more about becoming a Think Inclusive member.

Anti-Bullying from the Educator’s Perspective

No Bullying

Often times anti-bullying efforts focus on students but educators and parents can also play a role in stopping bullying or better yet, preventing bullying. To find out exactly how educators and parents may do this, Think Inclusive recently chatted with anti-bullying speaker Tony Bartoli. Between his personal experience and a decade on the speaking circuit, Bartoli contains many strategies to confront the issue.

Today, Think Inclusive presents anti-bullying strategies for educators to implement. Come back Monday to read Bartoli’s suggested strategies parents could utilize.

Physical Bullying

Emotionalism can help a teacher differentiate between horseplay and bullying.

Recognizing Bullying

A major hurdle to stopping or preventing bullying remains recognizing bullying behavior. Certain instances could get mistaken as horseplay. Asked what signs indicate a bullying situation, Tony Bartoli first discussed defining bullying. “What is bullying? I do a talk about the verbal, the emotional, the cyberbullying especially, and the physical.”

He noted though, “Most definitions agree that bullying is repetitive in the way it is done.” Besides the repetitive nature Bartoli said “I think if they see the raising of the tone in voice or the emotionalism that is involved.” Also he mentioned size. “Look for students that are bigger, say it’s a group of bigger students ganging up on a smaller student.”

Moving to bullying in general, classroom demeanor possibly reveals victims. “In the classroom teachers can be able to tell by slipping grades or isolation. A student, maybe they like to sit close up front in the class, now they want to sit closer to the back or the corner or a student who doesn’t want to get involved in the class.”

Taking Action

Anti-bullying requires action. However, sometimes a teacher might feel helpless. Stated Bartoli “I think it is important for teachers to work to move away from ‘our hands are tied’ concern.” Standardized testing could feed into a teacher’s helpless sentiments.

“This is where you get our whole ‘hands are tied’ kind of thing, because they have to teach ‘x’ amount of material too. They’re concerned about the state exams. Their (students) got to pass the written exams.” Squeezing the anti-bullying topic into the curriculum might prove worthwhile still, because unaddressed, bullying can lead to suicide.

Incorporating anti-bullying messages into the classroom doesn’t require extravagant measures. Bartoli recommends, “Create a classroom atmosphere on preventing bullying.” He expanded on how to do so. “I think to have teachers to have something in the classroom upfront about bullying that students see. Make something visual or at least mention it from time to time.”

Promoting Anti-Bullying

Over the years educators demonstrate to Bartoli the ways they promote a bully-free environment. “Teachers show me what they’ve been doing in their classrooms. Whether it’s defining bullying and having it across the front of the classroom or they have a couple of posters out there that they made or that students made about bullying, what it is, and how it affects students.”

Another way teachers can promote anti-bullying revolves around a trend Bartoli noticed the past few years, students showing eagerness to stop/prevent bullying. He advises educators encourage such attitudes. “Teachers foster that creativity in students and encourage students that ‘I’d like to see you start something, some kind of leadership or bullying awareness club.’”

Emailing Tony Bartoli ( to inquire about his speaking services stands one way interested students can begin taking a stand. Bartoli possesses a real life story which engages. Bullies found Bartoli an easy target growing up because Bartoli walks differently due to cerebral palsy. His story provides students currently bullied the ability to relate and draws sympathy out from the bullies.

Learn more about Tony Bartoli by visiting Check back Monday for Bartoli’s suggested anti-bullying strategies parents can utilize.

*Photo above courtesy of Wikimedia Commons user Pluscassandra

What Is The Best Way To Partner With Your Child’s Special Educator?


By Janelle Espling

A version of this article was originally published on Janelle Espling’s blog.

Since your child has started getting services, you have probably had your fair share of educators come into your life, and sometimes into your home.  In Individual Education Plan (IEP) meetings and IFSP meetings, we often say that we work together as a team to help your child.  However, many times there is a disparity between the parent and the teacher.  Working with your child’s teacher will help them reach their maximum potential.  The biggest tip I can give you is that you need to communicate.  Communicate often!  Communicate at least weekly or even daily.

Here are 10 Ways To Build A Partnership With Your Child’s Special Education Teacher

  1. Communicate the highs and lows. If your child had a rough night, tell your teacher.  This has the possibility of impacting their day at school. If they had a great weekend, tell the teacher.  You could even send pictures to the teacher of fun things that happened over the weekend so your child could share their experience at school.
  2. Inform your teacher of things that your child loves and hates. For example, if Finding Nemo scares your child, let the teacher know so she won’t use a Nemo sticker as a reward. The teacher needs to know what your child has adverse reactions to. If your child loves Spongebob, your teacher can use that  in the classroom to make rewards meaningful, and lessons engaging.
  3. Discuss new skills and new behaviors. When your child has a new skill, jot down a note for your teacher.  Sometimes students will not generalize skills from one environment to another.  Therefore, it is important to maintain a flow of communication.  When you see new behaviors at home, you may also want to tell the teacher to see if your child is doing these behaviors at school as well. Keep the dialogue open to work cohesively together as a team.
  4. Say thank you. Teaching is a joy for me!  The best teacher is still human. It means the world to know that the effort I make is noticed and appreciated.  I don’t teach for a thank you.  I teach because I love kids and God has called me to teach.  But a thank you sure does lift my spirit on a tough day.
  5. Offer to help. Many teachers spend their own money on their classroom supplies.  If you can help in any way, it will be much appreciated.  It doesn’t have to be much- a box of Lysol wipes, holiday stickers from the dollar store, etc.  If you have some extra time, ask your teacher if she has crafts to be assembled or packets to staple. If you have means to help, you will BLESS the socks off your teacher.
  6. Ask for specific ways you can help your child academically. If you are struggling with a particular academic task at home, call the teacher or write a note to try and make a plan together.  Often times teachers use specific methods to teaching a new skill.  Your teacher can guide you through these methods.
  7. Ask if there are new skills they are doing at school. Many students will not naturally generalize skills from school to home (and vise versa). This means that they may do certain skills in one environment but do not show that ability in another environment.  You might be amazed at how independent your child is at school, that if given an opportunity and guidance, could do the same things at home.
  8. Ask if there are rewards your child will work for at school. Many times teachers use a variety of rewards- this could be fruit snacks, playing with trains, or iPad time.  If it works at school, you could also use similar rewards at home. You can use these tangible items or activities to reward positive behavior.
  9. Ask how you can enhance your child’s language skills at home. If your child uses a device at school, ask if you can use it at home.  Then make sure you use it.  If your child is using pictures at school, incorporate using pictures at home.  You can even have siblings use pictures or signs to communicate, to model effective use of these communication methods.  If your child is working on new vocabulary words, or specific articulation exercises, work on these things at home as well. The more exposures, the better.
  10. Ask how to build social skills. A school environment is very different than a home environment.  Your child is likely to have different types of social interactions at school than home.  Your educator may be working on board games and learning the concept of losing.  Your child might be learning how to ask a friend to play with them.  Specifically ask how you can build social skills at home.

These tips are very simple, but based on my experience, and the experiences of many of colleagues, parents that use these tips are rare.  One last word of advice, if your teacher writes notes, initial or comment so that he/she knows you read the note.  The teacher will probably be more inclined to write notes if I know the parents are reading.So send emails, write notes, be kind, and consider your child’s educator as someone on your team to help your child.  I believe with all my heart that God specifically places people into our lives with intention, not by fate or by chance.  Take advantage of the expertise of the people that love and support your child.  We are all in this together.  When educators and parents work together to support the child, we can effectively support the child and make a maximum impact.

How do you build a partnership with your child’s teacher? Share with us your thoughts in the comments section below!

Photo Credit:  Aidan Jones

janelle esplingJanelle Espling is passionate about serving children with special needs and providing support for their families. As a special education teacher for children with moderate to severe disabilities, bringing hope and transformation has been her life mission for more than a decade.
Janelle’s message of hope has touched the hearts of audiences around the world as a dynamic and versatile keynote speaker and workshop presenter. Janelle is the Author of the book, “Autism is not the End: A Christian Family Survival Guide for Autism.” Currently, she serves on staff at Relevant Church in Riverside, California, alongside her husband, Scott.

9 Ways Teachers Can Move Inclusive Education Forward

teachers forward 2

By Elizabeth Stein

A version of this article was originally published at MiddleWeb.

I am all for change. In fact, I completely embrace it. I marvel at the fact that it is only when change occurs that improvements may be made to make some part of our world a better place. It is the essence of change to allow us to become a better version of ourselves.

Yet, change doesn’t just happen. It must be sparked, followed through upon, and updated by human actions to make it successful. Inclusive education is a good example. Inclusion is one of those evolving changes that can both empower and frustrate us.

I am personally empowered by the potential that inclusive education can initiate. When implemented with integrity, inclusion can energize educators, students, and parents, leading to individual triumphs that also can build successful communities of learners.

That’s the potential. But I am also frustrated by the treadmill that many districts walk on when it comes to improving the inclusive practices in their schools. This treadmill approach creates a situation for inclusion to produce wonders in some classrooms, but not in others. If inclusion is going to work for all students, across all schools, more consistent follow through and updating need to be in place.

Let’s put the issue into historical perspective

For a comprehensive description of the history of inclusive education in the United States, check out this article. Take a minute now to journey through past decades. Be prepared to be amazed that this evolving and necessary change to improve the education for all students began over 35 years ago!

Laws were created to protect the rights of all children, and we find that inclusion is accepted and expected for the most part. Yet I can’t help but wonder if inclusion is as effective as it should be. I believe that meaningful change occurs when the drivers of change move with strategic baby steps forward. But when you look around and see you are in the same place you were 10 years earlier, then you have to wonder whether we’re really committed to ever reaching the place where we have the most effective inclusion classrooms possible.

In the over 20 years that I have been a special education teacher, I cannot look back and recall one workshop—one faculty meeting—or one conference day that was devoted to the topic of teacher collaboration in inclusion classrooms.  Master schedules are set each year to incorporate so many important factors in the educational life of our schools —but never have I seen attention placed on ensuring that co-teachers have common planning time in their schedules.

When I speak with colleagues near and far, I get mixed stories of successes and frustrations. But all of these stories share a common theme: Inclusion works simply for those teachers who are lucky enough to be paired with open-minded educators who want to work together successfully because they put the best interest of the students first. The attitude and mindset of these successful educators move beyond the possibility that there may not ever be enough professional development–or time–or resources. These collaborative teachers don’t let that stop them. They make it work because they work together. They make it work because they make the time to tap into one another’s expertise.

So how can we bring more teachers on-board?

So how can we do we get more teachers to make inclusion work? Here’s my off-the- top-of-my-head list of do’s and don’ts that can help us move inclusion forward.

1. To general education teachers: share your plans—do not expect your co-teacher to just come to class and see what the lesson is about at the same time the students find out! Share your plans ahead of time, so that the special education teacher can be proactive with best practices and accommodations for strategic, meaningful learning for all of your students.

2. To special education teachers: get savvy with the content—do your homework– while holding on to the fact that you must insert your expert knowledge in the process of learning.

3. To general education teachers: expect that in your inclusion classroom you will need to implement instruction differently and collaboratively—you do not have to teach each class the same way for all students.

4. To special education teachers: take the necessary baby steps to bring awareness of best practices that work well for all students—see the CAST website for surefire approaches to meeting the needs of ALL students.

5. To general education teachers: remember that the special education teacher is there to teach WITH you to benefit the students—he or she is not there to make your life easier. So it’s not about the special education teacher grading papers to take a bit of the load off for you (although that’s part of the plan). He or she is not there to teach the class so you can take a break (that’s never part of the plan). He or she is there to share, to learn, and to teach alongside you—together as one. Here’s a must read by Anne Beninghof about how co-teaching is not about taking turns—but about teaching collaboratively. Read it and then discuss your thoughts with your co-teacher.

6. To all teachers: Do not sit around waiting for the professional development come to you—create it!  Start a collaborative workshop. Begin a book study group, just speak up with the students’ needs as your guiding light.

Some book ideas: Any book by Anne Beninghofany book by Marilyn Friend. And here’s a new one that I just ordered and am so excited to read and share with colleagues: Design and Deliver: Planning and Teaching Using Universal Design for Learning, by Loui Lord Nelson.

7. To general education teachers: You must adopt a “we” mindset as you speak to the class. You are teaching with another teacher in the room. Be mindful of your language. Are you territorial? Notice whether or not you are sending welcoming messages to your co-teacher and your students about how you really feel about co-teaching.

8. To all teachers: Keep an open mind, don’t take anything the other teacher does personally, and embrace the talents that each of you bring to the classroom—it’s all for the students!

9. To all teachers: Remember that one person cannot do it alone. We need each other. If one co-teacher is striving for successful implementation, but the other teacher is stuck in a world of “all about me” then, well—you know how this story will end.

And so  we see that although professional development, administrative support, and common planning time are all very important and necessary—what really matters is how the two teachers in the room are approaching the experience. It all comes down to the mindsets, attitudes, and willingness to work together—no matter what!

So what are you doing to make inclusive education work? What would you add to my list of do’s and don’ts? Tell us what you think in the comments section below!

Photo Adapted from Nomadic Lass

Elizabeth Stein is a 20-year teaching veteran, specializing in literacy and special education, with experience in both upper elementary and middle school. She’s currently a middle grades teacher and new-teacher mentor in Long Island NY’s Smithtown Central School District. Elizabeth is National Board Certified in Literacy and a contributor to Education Week and other publications. Her first book Comprehension Lessons for RTI (Grades 3-5), is published by Scholastic (June 2013). Follow her on Twitter @elizabethlstein.

The Real Problem With Public Education And How We Can Fix It (I Think)


Wow. The weight of that title is now sinking into my brain… Am I really qualified to delve into this subject?

Well…maybe. The following is more of a summation of things I tend to agree with rather than things that are original in any way.

The Exodus.

Teachers are getting fed up and leaving the profession. They are even quitting their jobs via YouTube.

I don’t blame them… Teachers are under-appreciated, underpaid and not given enough support. They are asked to do more with less every year…and it just keeps getting worse.

So why is public education in such a downward spiral?

The Assumptions.

Some think it is because of policies like…

…differentiation (which is just a fancy word for throwing students of all academic levels into a single class to preserve the precious self-esteem of those at lower levels), do not care to realize that in the effort of preserving the pride of the few they cripple the education of all.

Rather than having to prepare to teach a single class (which is difficult enough), a teacher is given several classes thrown into one and is expected to determine the level of each student and then to create lessons tailored to each student. While this might sound like a wonderful idea to some, the reality is that teachers have neither the time nor the resources to meet these demands. So rather than having the somewhat customized education that students used to receive when divided into classes by ability, the more-able and less-able are educated at the level of the average, so that the less-able are still left behind and the more-able are brought down to average.

“Policies” such as differentiation (which is not a policy but a framework) should not be to blame as the author of this piece suggests. Proclaiming this myth (that it is only a ploy to build up students self-esteem) as one of the reasons why the teaching profession has gone awry is not only false but undermines over a decades worth of research that indicates it increases the achievement of all learners. See this article:

There are SO many other reasons why public education is in shambles…that have nothing to do with what gets characterized as the enemy (Common Core. Differentiated Instruction. Universal Design for Learning. “Letting” Students with special needs in general education classrooms. Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports. Free Lunch. Lack of prayer in schools. Lack of spanking… I could go on and on).

Still others think that the problem is simply a matter of the quality of our teachers.

…there are more than a few teachers who shouldn’t be teaching. Just ask their peers. In survey after survey, teachers themselves say that not all of their colleagues should be teaching and that some have tenure who shouldn’t. The data bear this out, too. It’s clear that some teachers are substantially more effective than others. They should be celebrated and learned from. But a small subset of them are startlingly bad, and they should be doing something else for a living.

Read more:

The Real Problem.

Here are some reasons why we are in the mess that we are. Namely that educational decisions are not made at the local level (who knows best what should happen at their school…the local staff or the state/federal government). As a culture we value celebrity over an honest day’s work (we ask for little buy-in from our students and families). Our communities are disintegrating  because of the lack of family and parental involvement in school. We try and regulate the quality of teachers by “pay for performance” instead of doing the hard work at the front end by not letting incompetence roll through teacher training. And we are underfunded because there are little or no checks on how school districts spend their money on resources other than salaries for teachers. On top of all of this…the expectation that high-stakes testing will raise the achievement of our students but NOT produce more instances of cheating is laughable (especially when tying salary to how well teacher’s student do on standardized tests).

As you can see…the real problem is robust. It is a juggernaut of  rules and regulations that even Charles Xavier would not be able to reform (see what I did there comic nerds?).

Okay…so what are some solutions.

Fix It!

We have let go of local control of our school districts…we need to get it back. I love the statement on Diane Ravitch’s website about taking education reform in your own hands…

What we need to improve education in this country is a strong, highly respected education profession; a rich curriculum in the arts and sciences, available in every school for every child; assessments that gauge what students know and can do, instead of mindless test prepping for bubble tests. And a government that is prepared to change the economic and social conditions that interfere with children’s readiness to learn. We need high-quality early childhood education. We need parent education programs. We need social workers and guidance counselors in the school. Children need physical education every day. And schools should have classes small enough for students to get the attention they need when they need it.

We cannot improve education by quick fixes. We will not fix education by turning public schools over to entrepreneurs. We will not improve it by driving out experienced professionals and replacing them with enthusiastic amateurs. We will not make our schools better by closing them and firing teachers and entire staffs. No high-performing nation in the world follows such strategies. We cannot be satisfied with the status quo, which is not good enough for our children, nor can we satisfied with the Bush-Obama-Duncan “reforms” that have never been proven to work anywhere.

As this excellent piece from the Atlantic suggests…there is a public education revolution coming. Will we be ready to take action?

Thanks for your time and attention.

This post drew heavily from this source:

Photo Credit: frasercgraham




The Five Secrets To Being A Special Education Teacher And Still Love Your Job

Do you want to know the secrets to working in Special Education and still love your job? Read on…

If you are reading this…it probably means that there is still hope for you. Perhaps, you are young and not yet jaded by the persistent thumb of the public education system pressed firmly on your back. Perhaps, you are an optimist, who tries to see the silver lining in everything. Or perhaps, you have already figured out the secrets to working in a job that has little pay, little respect and little support. Here my five secrets to being a special education teacher and still absolutely love it.

1. Understand that it is not about YOU.

We did not enter into a career in education to become millionaires… In fact, the only people that are really making money in this industry are the test makers (I don’t know that for sure…just venting a little). So…if you did not do it for the money…why are you a special education teacher? I know it was not JUST because teachers have the summer off! How many of us work Extended School Year (ESY), plan and dream about the following school year during the summer?

We do what we do because we love to work with kids. We do what we do because we enjoy people (or at least I hope we do). When we realize that it is not really about US… and what we can do for other people, our kiddos, our paraprofessionals, our co-teachers, and fellow staff… we can let go of trying to make our situation perfect for us. Being a teacher is a collaborative profession…which brings me to the next secret.

2. Realize you are not alone.

There are approximately 3.9 million teachers (including public and private) in the United States. Whether they are special education teachers or not…each one of them has a stake in education as a whole and has an interest in making it better. It can be easy to feel isolated especially if you are special education teacher in a small district. Perhaps you feel alienated by the school staff. You are a vital part of your school community even if you don’t think you are. Know that there are thousands of teachers…just like you…who are struggling do to the same thing.

3. Develop your Personal Learning Network (PLN).

Are you on Facebook? No? Go get an account… I can wait…

Are you on Twitter? No? Really? Okay…I can spare a minute…

Are you on Linkedin? Okay…now this may take some time.

These three social media outlets are VITAL to establishing your learning community. I understand that this requires you to be somewhat tech savvy…but guess what folks. Technology is a huge part of the shift in education. If we do not get on board with technology we are going to be left out in the dust. For more information on how to manage your digital life you can check out my previous post —>> here. The big point here is to connect with people who are interested in the same things and then read, watch and do.

4. Have high expectations for yourself and your students.

Nothing irks me more than hearing a teacher say, “they are never going to get anything out of that!” or “so-and-so should have never been placed in (insert LRE placement here)…they should have been in (insert more restrictive placement) all along!”

Have some respect for your students that they can learn and will learn when given the correct supports. It is too easy to place the blame on someone else for why a student is in your classroom. Believe that you CAN teach any student! You are a special education teacher for a reason…you want to help realize a student’s potential. If you don’t know how to do it…there are ways to figure it out. Don’t give up on your student or yourself. You will become a better person and a better teacher for it. Where there is a will there is a way.

5. Make friends with General Education Teachers and then collaborate with them.

Okay…this is really the silver bullet. If you are Special Education Teacher and you sit alone in your classroom during your lunch and planning period….you are missing out on the richness of developing relationships within the school community. Once I opened up myself to know and befriend other teachers who did not teach my kiddos…I saw a whole other world. Sometimes it is easy to segregate ourselves from our school staff and then when we don’t feel included or are not invited to things we point the finger at them.

Something that has transformed my teaching is to collaborate with general education teachers on lessons that my class and their class can do together. This way…it is not just about integrating special needs students and typical students…it is about designing lessons so that EVERYONE can participate and get something meaningful out of it. No longer can we use the excuse… “well…they won’t get anything out if this.” They WILL because we can set it up for our kids to be successful.

If we apply these secrets to our education practice…I promise you will love your job. In fact…you may even want to start a blog to write about it. It happened to me.

Thanks for your time and attention.

Photo Credit: D. Sharon Pruitt

4 Online Tools for Special Needs Educators To Use

For many new special education teachers, finding effective material to help students learn is difficult. Even experienced teachers find it difficult to find up-to-date material on the subject on occasion, especially when working with children with very specific needs. While the student you’re teaching and their special needs will help guide your lesson plan, there…

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Open Letter To The School Boards Of America: Support Teachers…Don’t Cut Them

To Whom It May Concern: All across our country this Spring, school boards are looking at millions of dollars they need to trim from their school district budgets. I don’t envy your position…it seems like an insurmountable task. How do you provide the necessary supports for schools when revenues are dwindling or simply not there?…

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