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What I Learned Lately (WILL 14/15 #1)
“Way Too Much Time to Think About Data, Part 1.”
For the past few years, I have been hearing the hype of the SBAC and PARCC assessments. I have been drowned by the controversy of the Common Core. Unfortunately, the conversation has turned from what is good for kids to what are your politics. First and foremost, I believe in teaching clear and rigorous standards. I believe in assessments that match the depth of knowledge of these standards. I also believe in alignment that will create patterns for all students. I believe that it is our jobs to facilitate these pieces relentlessly on behalf of our students. However, more than ever I believe that we must take back our profession and create the systems that will measure student learning. I know this will be extremely difficult and challenge us at a new level. The new math problem for us is: (A) x (E) x (Q) = (SS), Access x Equity x Quality = Student Success. We must relentless provide access to the standards, we must provide equitable supports to students in order to meet these standards and we must ensure there is quality instruction and assessments every day for every child.
Imagine a time when people speak matter-of-factly about our schools success and how dropout rates and the achievement gaps are at all-time low. This day is fast approaching. Our teachers are taking their students to new heights locally, national graduation rates are at an all-time high (http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/06/high-school-graduation-rate-hits-40-year-peak-in-the-us/276604/). In Tacoma, we will see another year of graduation increases. However, in order to continue our recent successes and maintain continuous improvement, schools in Tacoma and across the nation, must create assessments that support data systems that can be disaggregated and used to systematically measure student growth from year to year. A systemic approach to conducting data analysis for this purpose requires collaboration and purposeful conversations among teachers. A data system is a system that all teachers actively participate in and identifying data elements that measure students’ yearly progress in a building.
Often the most difficult part of grasping how to use a data system to drive instruction is the lack of understanding of the very terms used to define it. We often assume that we share definitions to many of terms that are used daily basis. For example, do we have common definitions for formative and summative? When we measure growth, are we measuring the same standards or different standards? It is lack of clarity about a common language that can lead to confusion, false positive results, and besieged attempts to find simple solutions for student learning. Although data systems at the building level can seem overwhelming, they are crucial to provide data that reports student achievement precisely and accurately. To accomplish this goal, our schools will need to foster a culture of professional collaboration, one that provides opportunities for teachers and school leaders to make meaning of key data points and to clear up misconceptions or misinterpretations. When our entire staffs are committed to examine data and use it to drive instruction, our schools will eliminate waste in the system by setting priorities and dedicating sufficient time and resources that “add value” to instruction and learning. I believe our efforts to create sustainable change in student achievement can be facilitated through a series of guiding principles:
How do we create data that is constant?
Creating sustainable systemic change requires us to have a clear vision of how the data from our instruction and assessments are not only connected, but more importantly, can’t be separated. Schools in our district and across the nation at minimum, and hopefully districts, must begin to design systems that are comprehensive (assess all students in a tiered model), efficient (minimizes the loss of instructional time) and constant (developing an assessment cycle that promotes professional conversations). The vision of the data system must be clear for all employees and students and address local, state and federal mandates. For example, does that data produced in alignment with School Board Policies and benchmarks? Does it align to state requirements for reporting? Does that data that is produced align with the reporting requirements of entering college? In addition, vision statements must address building the capacity (expertise to deliver and analyze the data) of those in the school system (see figure 1). For example, our schools will need to create capacity by providing time and professional development to staff that allows them to make meaning of the types of assessment that are currently being used and the data that these assessments produce. Without this clarity, the assessment system will cause confusion, frustration, and ultimately a sense of failure.
At the school level, aligning data with assessments is necessary to ensure that every student’s academic growth is measured in an effective and efficient manner. Today, we face the daunting challenge of gathering data that proves mastery of mandated academic standards. However, is there such a thing as too much data? At what point do you examine the number and the quality of assessments that we administer each year at each grade level? For the past few years I have been talking to educators across the world regarding the use of data. In an effort to gather data and monitor progress, some educators are administering mini-summative assessments and calling them formative assessments. For example, a classroom teacher may give a common unit exam at the end of the month. This data maybe recorded and put into a grade, however it is not formative data unless the teacher uses it adjust their upcoming instruction or reteach specific concepts based on the student data that was collected. Additionally, many will not use this data to drive interventions. Instead interventions are still based on a subject area, “math” versus specific math standards. For a classroom teacher it is critical to know the purpose of each assessment and to determine if it appropriate for an assessment to be considered summative. Questioning how this data is used to drive instruction can help us decide which assessments can be eliminated and which need to be added.
Collecting data throughout the year to measure progress is essential to developing a comprehensive data system. Similar to a Response to Intervention model (http://www.rti4success.org/), assessing students using a tiered approach allows educators to determine which students are meeting the standards, for which students more diagnostic information is needed, and how to monitor student learning progress. An assessment given 3-4 times a year for the purpose of progress monitoring is considered a Tier I assessment. The Nation Center for Response to Intervention (http://www.rti4success.org/screeningTools) provides numerous examples of Tiered I assessments and gives details on the strengths of each detail. For those students who are not making sufficient progress as indicated in the Tier I assessment, they should be administered a diagnostic assessment, or a Tier II assessment. A diagnostic assessment will provide more specific information on specific skill development (http://www.ststesting.com/dra.html). Finally, based on results from the Tier II assessments, brief assessments that measure specific standards, sub-skills, or learning targets should be administered. Assessments at this level would be considered Tier III assessments.
How do we create a data system that is efficient? Often in our desire to create data and monitor progress, we lose sight of the functionality of the system. As leaders, examining the balance between effective and efficient is a valuable endeavor that should occur regularly. Our must continue to examine the added value of any data and eliminate any waste. What is waste? Waste in today’s school systems is all those things that don’t provide information critical to improving student achievement. For every dollar spent on waste is a dollar that is not adding value. An “Assessment Matrix” needs to be defined at each of our schools and communicated to our staff, students and families. We must begin by eliminating any assessment that is redundant and that cannot be used to inform instruction. Start with a simple matrix to begin your analysis.
Content or subject area
Grade Level/s administered:
Standards Being Assessed:
Formative or Summative:
Purpose: Diagnose or monitor Progress:
Will the assessment be used for grading:
Common Core Standards - several
3 times a year
If assessments are not useful to inform instruction, then they are a waste of instructional time and serve as a potential loss of added value.
How do we create a data system that is constant? The need to examine data from year to year is critical to determining student growth. For years, researchers have examined longitudinal data with mixed results. In fact, longitudinal data often has weak correlations due to the variations in what is being assessed from year to year. Within a school there is an opportunity to create consistent data that is gathered constantly. Many of the Common Core Reading Standards are based on a learning progression, or skill levels and expectations that increase in sophistication from grade to grade.
The key for classroom teachers and building leaders is to not make assessment decisions in isolation. Create a data system with input from everyone on the staff, so that for comparison sake, students are using the same assessment. When determining student growth, use fewer tools that are as consistent as possible. For example, if there is a reading assessment that measures skills from K - 3rd grade (Dibbles), and another one that measures from K - 8th grade, such as a Diagnostic Assessment of Reading (DAR), select the tool that is not only the best quality but also provides accurate and precise data from student achievement from grade level to grade level. These assessments are especially helpful when students move from level to level (i.e. from elementary to middle and middle to high school). This type of constant data can give teachers an accurate picture of student skills in the beginning of each school year as well as identify abnormalities in a student’s data history. This can be done in our regional meetings as well as level meetings.
Fill in the Blank exercise:
In order to create a learning and instruction data system at ______ School, Principal ______ focused on making sure teachers were having effective conversations about ways to measure student academic growth and effectiveness of instructional strategies. ________ was often heard saying “teachers and administrators need to start by telling a story of “student growth”. ________ School implemented the following framework for collecting data and having conversations about student growth.
Prior to school starting each fall, ______would determine each staff members’ percentages of students who have met each respective standard for the upcoming school year, based on the previous year’s end scores. For example, using state testing data, _____ had ____% of her students met the previous year’s end of the year Main Idea Standard. At the end of the year, ______ had____% of her students meet the end of the year Main Idea Standard, for a growth of ____%. This data was needed to determine the baseline and helped measure student growth throughout the year. Like many schools, ______ School had previously started each year by giving the current year end of the course examination as a pre-assessment. With this data, decisions about which students were behind were made. However, these students had not had access to this curriculum, and therefore, in theory should not have been successful on these exams. The staff at _______ started having honest conversations about the number of students that arrive in their classrooms behind academically, which ones are on target for the grade level standards, and which students had already reached beyond their current grade level standards. As part of the transformation process, the______ Staff identified the following factors:
Grade level teams then determined specific and measureable instructional goals for the first 6 weeks of school for each classroom. _____ and ________ met with each staff member to review data, set classroom goals, and determine student interventions and enrichment activities. In week 7 of school, the administrative team members met with each staff to evaluate progress and to determine effectiveness (Effectiveness was measured by meeting 80% or more of the standards). During this time, teams revisited student interventions and established new goals based on the current data. In week 8, ________ met with district leaders to discuss trends in student growth, support needed, and areas of concern. The following questions and factors were considered:
1) Identify classroom, grade level, and school learning target themes.
2) Describe the trends for each of the respective classrooms, grade level teams, and the entire school.
3) Compare and Contrast these trends to last year’s trends.
4) Analyze what themes they saw
5) What instructional strategies can we expect teachers, grade level teams or the school to apply in an effort to address the learning target/s
6) Speculate what our data will look like at the end of the year
7) Predict our summative scores?
The cycle above was repeated every nine weeks. School ________met with each classroom teacher to identify what support was needed and to examine the agreed upon data. Together the team collected, guided, and monitored data in a systematic fashion.
Next, teachers at ________ began sorting and examining each class through a four-group flexible and fluid lens. The groups were based on those students who are working above standard, those students who have met standard, those students who “nearly missed” the standard, and those students who had “far misses”. For each group, teachers evaluated data on specific learning targets; identified supports and enrichment opportunities within the classroom and school; and developed (instructional) strategies to employ for each of the different groups. Then teachers would employ ongoing (daily) formative assessments (addressed more deeply in future modules) to address each group’s instructional/learning needs. In addition, teachers administered and examined mini-summative data to determine student growth (students meeting standard with 80% or more of the standards measured) and adjusted groupings. Finally teachers met with support teams (principal, ______, interventionist, counselor and ________) to discuss results and refine plans at a minimum of every 7 weeks. The following next steps were considered by the team:
1) Identify individual class strand themes.
2) Describe the trends for different leveled groups.
3) Compare and Contrast these trends to last year’s trends.
4) Analyze what themes you see.
5) What instructional strategies will you use for each group to address the strand data?
6) Speculate what your data will look like at the end of the year. Predict your summative scores.
Finally, ______ clearly articulated, which resources would be dedicated for staff. Instructional Coaches, Curriculum Leads, Counselors, Specialists and Principals, all understood their role in providing support to staff. Some examples of the supports that were considered include:
1) Collecting and organizing summative data (end of the course/year exams), and unit exams (teacher created and explicitly based on standards)
2) Help in the design and evaluation of daily formative assessments – stems and questions that are directly linked to a standard and match the cognitive demand
3) Extended learning opportunities for students – building based
4) Targeted and differentiated professional development workshops
5) Professional development learning communities
6) Coordination and alignment of district service
The foundation for an effective assessment system is one that is comprehensive, efficient and constant. By establishing this framework, educators are able to develop a high-functioning data system in which all stakeholders have faith. When done well, this framework serves as a lever for continuous student growth. I know we have a long ways to go and many of you have been screaming for this for a while. I also know that there will be others that just want to wait for the new assessments to address the challenge. It is not the tools we use which make us good or bad, but rather how will we use the tools. For me the summer has been filled with numbers and data, more to come…
Finally From Robert William, “The Call of the Wild”,
Have you gazed on naked grandeur where there's nothing else to gaze on,
Set pieces and drop-curtain scenes galore,
Big mountains heaved to heaven, which the blinding sunsets blazon,
Black canyons where the rapids rip and roar?
Have you swept the visioned valley with the green stream streaking through it,
Searched the Vastness for a something you have lost?
Have you strung your soul to silence? Then for God's sake go and do it;
Hear the challenge, learn the lesson, pay the cost.
Scholastic Testing Services. 7/23/13. http://www.ststesting.com/dra.html
The Atlantic. First published on 6/6/2013. http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/06/high-school-graduation-rate-hits-40-year-peak-in-the-us/276604/
The National Center for Response to Intervention (7/23/13). http://www.rti4success.org/screeningTools
The Northwest Evaluation Association. http://www.nwea.org/blog/2012/formative-assessment-vs-summative-assessment-results-timing-matters/
In grading a recent test, I noticed that the scores were lower than usual. I questioned if we had spent enough time on the material. I wondered if I had failed to address the challenging content appropriately. Was I to blame for the below average scores? Was it time for the dreaded “It’s not you, it’s me” speech. After wallowing in this short self-blaming, “I stink as a teacher” mode, I decided to do something about it. I decided to offer my students a re-do. I love a good old re-do because they are wrapped in hope, second chances, and all things warm and fuzzy. I think we all could benefit from a do-over every now and then (or every day). Like the infamous episode where Oprah gave away cars, teachers should give away do-overs in their classrooms. Every once in a while teachers should say, “here’s a free do-over for you, one for you, one for you…” The only problem is that there are some drawbacks to the revision process. Students may take advantage, the revision opportunity may limit the effort put forth on the initial work, and of course the practicality issue (in the real world we do not always get to correct our mistakes). Lastly, sometimes students don’t follow through and do not participate in the revision process at all. In the spirit of revision, I have developed a list of 7 strategies to facilitate the process and in turn encourage student participation:
1. Assess student interest in revision.
When thinking about assessing interest, an online ad (it has over 20 million views) about gender stereotypes came to mind. You can watch the entire ad here. In the ad, there are adolescents that role play physical activities "like a girl" and then they act out the same activities "like a boy". Unsurprisingly, within the role plays, the girls are portrayed less flatterinly than boys (for example they run less powerfully, swim less aggressively, etc.). The best part, however is after a discussion of gender stereotypes, the adolescents are asked if they wish for a second chance to do their role plays "differently". Instead of forcing a do-over, the children are invited to revisit their stereotypically laden gender beliefs. And you know what-each child participates in the do-over. The big take-away here is that a simple participation request allows for instant participant buy-in and thus increases participation in the revision process.
2. Include students as peer reviewers in the process.
Even though teachers are more knowledgeable than students (we are the experts in the classroom), we can learn a great deal from our students. The “curse of the expert” theory outlines how experts may sabotage learning (they often underestimate the level of task difficulty and overestimate potential performance of novices). In order to get around this, try to incorporate the help of your students in the revision process. Students share the same language or jargon, and provide a variety of feedback to help one another improve their work (Cho & MacArthur, 2010).
3. Consider how to manage time in the revision process.
If you are not careful, all of your teaching time will turn into revision time. To avoid this, one educator in an article titled “The utility of a student organized revision day" describes the benefits of designating one class day for student revision (Gill, Ong, & Cleland, 2012). Another idea that I tend to use-would be to include detailed rubrics so that the students have what they need to get the assignment right the very first time. A final suggestion would be the use of video to record assignment instructions or tips (Whatley & Ahmad, 2007). The video method is effective because conversational style is often more user-friendly than written/formal style (personalization learning principle).
4. Consider how your feedback influences student revision.
An article titled "What does it take to make a change?" shows the that the type of teacher feedback impacts the likelihood that a student will participate in the revision process (Silver & Lee, 2007). Specifically, when teachers offer advice about how to improve work quality, this facilitates more revision than other feedback methods (such as praise or criticism). So, if you tell your student, “I wonder if you can provide more details”, instead of saying “I like how you use detail in this one part”, the student may be more inclined to revise the work.
5. Examine how students view the revision process.
Do you remember Maslow and the Hierarchy of Needs? In general, Maslow described our needs in terms of layers- basic needs had to be met before we could pursue higher order needs. A Maslow-like theory may explain how students perceive the revision process (Thompson, 1994). In a paper from the College Composition and Communication conference, an educator described that in revision, students attend to basic needs (what is required to pass or not fail the assignment) and then they move on to higher order revising skills (creativity, synthesis, etc.).
6. Adjust classroom perception of revision.
Students view revision as a reflection of themselves. One study from the English Teaching Practice and Critique Journal showed that students believed that teacher revision comments indicated they were "careless" (Silver & Lee, 2007). Also, students reported that the teacher feedback lowered their confidence and made them feel angry. My take away from this study is that teachers must work to improve the way students perceive the re-do process. Perhaps reminding students that change is not bad. Additionally, identifying real-life examples of revision (such as remaking movies or remixing songs) to help students see that revising is a normal part of life.
7. Measure the revision process.
If you decide to offer students a re-do, measuring how well the process works (or not) is useful. Think about asking the students to provide feedback about their experience with revision. Typically, students report that revision allows for an increase in knowledge and confidence (Gill, Ong, & Cleland, 2013). Also, reviewing the grade changes (before and after the revisionn) will offer insight into the usefulness of allowing students to re-do future assignments.
Imagine being a parent and opening your mailbox sometime in early August and finding a letter from your son or daughter’s new teacher. In the letter, the teacher tells you all about herself, who she is, what she likes to do, how long she has been teaching, what she wants for your child and how you can contact her if you have any questions. You’d feel pretty good about this new teacher, wouldn’t you?
Parents want to believe that their child is being left in capable and compassionate hands. Students want to believe that their teachers care about them and are happy to have them in class. A brief (and thoroughly unexpected) letter to each student is one of the easiest ways to welcome and reassure parents and students. Below you’ll find a quick guide to help you draft your own letter to parents and students:
Format for the first letter to parents and students before school starts
Example of a before-school-starts letter to parents
August 1, 2014
Acme Elementary School
2220 Yellow Brick Road
Detroit, MI 48221
Dear Mr. and Mrs. Smith:
As Jerry’s teacher for the upcoming school year, I am looking forward to getting to know you and working with you.
I started teaching at Acme Elementary in 2006 and have been here ever since! Prior to this, I studied at University of Michigan where I earned my degree in Elementary Education. After completing my B.A. in 2004, I moved to Tokyo, Japan where I taught English Language Learners, while at the same time pursing my Master in the Art of Teaching from Marygrove College’s online program. Living and working abroad was an invaluable experience—not only did it allow me to work with students and hone my craft, it also gave me the opportunity to travel, learn about different cultures, and pursue two of my biggest passions: Japanese art and English Language Learners.
Just to give you a sense of what both you and Jerry can expect from me this year, I’d like to tell you a bit about our classroom and, very briefly, explain my philosophy of teaching.
During the first few weeks of school, I plan on setting aside a significant amount of time so that I can get to know Jerry and his classmates better. Every student is unique and has different interests and learning styles. I want to ensure that I spend an adequate amount of time learning about all of my students and having them learn about me. My goal is for our classroom to be a community of learners based on mutual respect for all individual differences. I want both you and Jerry to know that our (not my) classroom is a safe environment where students are encouraged to share, learn from one another, and learn from me—just as I will learn from them.
If you would, please share information with me about Jerry by completing the enclosed questionnaire so that I may begin to plan to meet his needs and expectations.
I also want to let you know that you are both welcome to visit our classroom before school begins or at any time during the year. To arrange a meeting, all you have to do is contact me and we’ll set something up!
Lastly, please subscribe to our classroom blog and Twitter feed. There you will find information about volunteer opportunities, and different ways you can support our classroom. Even if you do not wish to volunteer in the classroom, I would encourage you to follow our class online. I like to post photos and updates about students and all of our classroom activities!
Enjoy the last few weeks of summer. If you have questions, please contact me in one of the following ways:
Below you’ll find a series of questions to include in your student questionnaire:
Photo credit: gbaku / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Difficult conversations are inevitable. It hurts my heart when students try and try and yet they do not get the recognition (or score) they feel their effort warrants. Further, it stinks, when you are required to have an awkward conversation with a parent-you have to pull the sheet from over their eyes and discuss how their baby (who technically is not a baby and who physically is bigger than me) has flaws and daily struggles in the classroom.
As we face these challenging conversations, the outcome only adds more stress. In thinking about my talks with students over the years, the conversations rarely end as I would have liked. Unfortunately, students have stormed out of the room. There has been name calling-recently, a student nonchalantly noted, “You are just a teacher, you can’t do anything,” Of course, tears have been shed (many times by me-but in my defense, at least I was able to avoid the “ugly cry” that Oprah jokes about ).
So, can we learn to successfully navigate difficult talks with students? Below are a few tips to help start the conversation-no pun intended:
A communication strategy that is a personal favorite for me is incorporating story books when having a tough talk with a child. If you match the child’s concern with a character or situation from a book, you may use the story as a starting point for the conversation. If you want to take a look at my research in this area you can find it here.
A strong teacher-student relationship makes all the difference. Unsurprisingly, research on improving conversations between physicians and patients confirms that when you maintain a relationship with a foundation of trust, you are “better positioned” to have tough conversations.
Similarly, feelings about your relationship are influential as well. We hear of the ill effects of words during interpersonal conflicts-remember the chant to downplay the damage of words-“sticks and stones will break your bones…”, but research suggests that relationship satisfaction plays a bigger part than communication style in managing a verbal conflicts. Specifically, how you perceive your relationship is more powerful than what is said during a heated conversation. The take away for me is that if you have built a strong relationship with your students, it is ok if you do not know exactly what to say during a difficult conversation. In the end, you will be able to reach a resolution that everyone is comfortable with.
In addition to strengthening the teacher-student bond, avoidance may be a strategy worth considering. Keep in mind that avoiding the conversation has drawbacks, but in one conflict management study with couples, it was determined that avoidance is ok when there is time to go back to visit the issue later. So it sounds like if a conversation is needed, but it is more convenient to speak with the student after school, or during a scheduled conference, delaying the talk may be effective. Also, the study revealed that age and duration play a part in increased avoidance. So, it seems that the avoidance strategy may be useful for older students, veteran teachers, and schools that utilize looping (same teacher stays with same group of students each year).
If the idea of avoidance makes you uncomfortable, a more well-known strategy is trying to better engage the student in the conversation. Although, we as teachers often divulge or own flaws to help the student see us as real people, research reveals that this may be a mistake. One classroom study determined that teacher negative self-disclosure made students think less of the teacher. My take away is that having a “pity party” with students may not be as effective as utilizing genuine empathy to facilitate teacher-student conversations.
Also, I found a body of research that links touching behavior with positive child outcomes. For instance, touch helps with the growth of premature babies, sleep problems, and colic. Further, cultures where more physical expression is shown to children, these places had lower incidences of adult physical violence. A study with Greek preschool teachers (Stamatis & Stonkatas, 2009) revealed that the teacher’s touching habits resulted in the children feeling more comfortable and less insecure. So, if you are having a difficult conversation with a small child, consider the benefits of tactile behavior.
In my search for discussion strategies, I found Oprah Winfrey’s Life Class very resourceful. Specifically, the episode with Life Coach Iyanla Vanzant offers a series of rules for managing hard conversations. Some of these guidelines include setting ground rules, speaking from your own experience (using “I feel” vs. “You are”), and checking for understanding (differentiating between what was said and what was heard). A video clip of those guidelines can be viewed here.
These ideas are just a start. What strategies seem to truly make a difference for you when having a sensitive conversation with a student? What is your go-to method? If you have tried any of the suggestions listed, how useful were they for you? Also, can you share how effective or ineffective the strategy was for your students? If you feel that my list is missing something, or you have insight on another approach, please leave a comment below.
Dr. Jonathan T. Jefferson
“Never be bullied into silence. Never allow yourself to be made a victim. Accept no one’s definition of your life, but define yourself.” – Harvey S. Firestone
Chapter three of my book MUGAMORE begins with the above quote. Bullying is one of the topics touched upon in that chapter, which is based on true personal accounts experienced during the 1976 – 77 school-year. Believe it or not, as I keenly look back on my third-grade experiences, I believe the merciless physical and verbal abuse endured may have inadvertently led to beneficial outcomes in the trajectory of my life.
How, you might ask, could being bullied have possibly produced positive outcomes?
Well, let’s consider that I had just been transferred from my neighborhood school to a higher performing school ten miles away. As a late-year baby (November), I began kindergarten at age four. I was physically smaller than most of the other children; especially the boys, and now I was academically smaller as well. Canadian hockey fans know the benefits of being born earlier in the year (author Malcolm Gladwell gives extensive attention to this topic in his book Outliers). In my case, consistent fear for my physical well-being made focusing on third-grade academics difficult at best. After a miserable school-year fraught with repeated absences, I was back in the third grade the following school-year (’77-’78). However, the gift of retrospect maintains that this was the best thing that could have happened to me. During my second third-grade stint I found the other children were more my size -- physically and academically. Consequently, I quickly found my stride and soon after began to thrive above and beyond expectations.
Clearly, I am not a proponent of bullying, nor am I promoting it as a path to some greater end-game. It was just a coincidence that it contributed to a pivotal decision made for me by a concerned teacher. The Dignity for All Students Act (DASA) that became a law in New York State on July 1, 2012 is a step in the right direction. It “…seeks to provide the State’s students with a safe and supportive environment free from discrimination, intimidation, taunting, harassment, and bullying on school property, a school bus and/or at a school function.” To make this law complete, employees of the school system should have been afforded the additional protections (no intimidation, no taunting, & no bullying), and statements against cyber bullying should have been included.
To learn more about what you can do to contribute to a bully-free society, visit the following sites:www.bullying.org, www.cyberbullying.ca, and www.bullyingawarenessweek.org. There are a growing number of resources available on this topic. Hopefully, in the near future, no child will need to experience the perils I did my first year in third grade.
On behalf of the Zurich State Department of Education, Switzerland, I invite you to consider using and sharing the following materials with your professional colleagues and families involved with early childhood education. We are proud of the creation of our project and want you to enjoy the benefits of the quality materials in this program.
Families play the most important role in promoting the healthy development of their children, yet not all families are equipped with the information and support that help them create environments for their children to develop and learn.
The Zurich State Department of Education (Switzerland) created 40 short video scenarios for Early Childhood Education in Albanian, Arabic, Bosnian/Serbian/Croatian, English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Rhaeto-Romance, Spanish, Tamil, Tigrinya and Turkish.
The various video scenarios show day-to-day learning opportunities for children from birth through four years of age. They refer to a research-based framework, which was developed on behalf of the Swiss Commission for the UNESCO by Marie Meierhofer Children's Institute in Zurich.
The videos are part of a program for empowering parents and boosting the quality of childcare in any country. We believe they have universal appeal. They address themselves to parents as they are, speaking different languages. In addition, they are a tool for the professionals in the field working with parents.
The videos are in HD-quality, each lasting 2-3 minutes long. You can find the videos and more detailed comments for professionals on the website www.children-4.ch.There you can also download the videos and comments for free. You have our permission to use them as you wish without prior approval. They run best on Firefox. There are also special mobile websites for the iPad and the iPhone.
We always hear that absence makes the heart grow fonder. Does that apply to kids and their attitude towards returning to school after summer break? Is it possible that the very opposite occurs-the time away makes children more reluctant to return to school? Once a question pops into my mind, I kick it around a while in order to develop an answer. So here we go. This is what I have found so far:
A report about the impact of culture and absenteeism suggests that our attitude towards absence depends on society norms and what people around you perceive as normal. In trying to determine if the summer facilitates a longing to return to school (or anxiety to return), may depend a great deal on how society views the time away from instruction. Does society view it as a well-deserved break or a prison break? So, how do you view summer break-as an educator, parent, and learner? No pressure, but keep in mind that your view impacts those around you...
In other research, the views of students that regularly attend school as well as those classified as “non-attenders” reveal that school roles influence attendance beliefs. Children believe that they share an implicit contract with teachers that outlines responsibilities and consequences (Davies & Lee, 2006). Further, when students feel that the terms of the contract are upheld during the school year, student involvement increases. On the other hand, if the student perceives that there is a break down in the contract, self-withdrawal results. The big take-away here is that the student’s perception of school depends on non-spoken rules. The attitude towards going to school changes based on how well the student and staff meet their responsibilities in respect to each other, not the amount of time that has lapsed between instructional periods.
In looking at how time away impacts children, we can also borrow from past research (follow the link to read how research explains popular proverbs and folk wisdom) on children’s response to time away from different things. First, can you guess how a young child responds when a toy is taken away-out of their sight? Yep, they cry and behave as if the toy has vanished. Further, based on attachment research, we understand that when young children are away from their main caregiver-problems arise. So it seems that for young children, time away can lead to the “out of mind, out of sight” thought process. When looking further though, there is research that shows that factors such as the child’s age and the amount of time away from someone or something contributes to the child’s response. In terms of students and time away from school, maybe we should consider the same factors.
I found an interesting article in USA Today that may also prove useful. The piece examines the concept of “psychological closeness”. According to this social phenomenon, it is possible to have a connection with someone or something without physically being close to that person or thing. I’m thinking that if student interaction relies on seeing teachers and classmates, then socially, summer will be a struggle and they will desire to return to school. If students have mastered the “psychological closeness”, time away during the summer break would not negatively impact their attitude of returning to school. As the article explains “technology has made it seem more doable”, thus time and distance are no longer disadvantages in school attendance motivation.
In stark contrast to developing “psychological closeness”, a marketing article describes the existence of emotional fatigue when there is too much exposure to someone or something. The article reveals that almost 50% of Americans report that after excessive access, they are no longer affectionate about or do not deem these product brands as authentic. In terms of students, I am thinking that for those that are over-involved in school, summer time may provide a bit of a breather, and the absence helps decrease the emotional fatigue.
So, what do you think? What do you feel most influences a student's attitude towards returning to school after a break? What can we do to help facilitate a more positive post summer positive outlook in our future students? Do you find any specific classroom practices useful in instilling a craving for learning in your students-one that last from the last day of school to the start of the new school year?
Our students love when we read aloud to them and while we do this often, we always like to save a few of our favorite books for the last day of school. Before you part with your students for the summer, send them off with one of these read-aloud activities.
Miss Rumphius is the story of Alice Rumphius, who vowed as a young child to do three things in her life: travel to faraway lands, live by the sea, and make the world a more beautiful place. To fulfill her third vow, Alice scatters lupine seeds wherever she goes so that everyone can enjoy the beauty of these flowers long after she is gone.
Miss Rumphius is one of our favorite end-of-the-year read alouds. The illustrations are beautiful and the message challenges students to consider what they can do to make the world a better place. To remind students of this challenge, we like sending them off with a packet of lupine seeds.
City Dog, Country Frog is the story of an unlikely friendship between City Dog and Country Frog. In the spring, City Dog roams the countryside for the first time in his life and discovers Country Frog, a strange creature perched on a rock. It’s an unlikely match, but from here we follow the progression of a rich, but unlikely friendship that spans each season.
After reading this book, we like to play memory games with our students to reflect on the friends we’ve made, the special times we had, and key moments we shared during the school year.
During the school year, we read dozens of books to our students. On the last day of school, we like to take all of these books, spread them out on the tray of our whiteboard, and play the “connection game.”
The teacher begins the game by grabbing any two books and making some sort of connection between them. Next, a student picks a book and makes another connection to one of these two books. Repeat these steps until you’ve successfully connected all of the books together in some way. This is a fun way to revisit favorite books, but it’s also a useful way to reinforce text-to-text, text-to-self, and text-to-world connections.
Photo credit: sweetjessie / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0)
The Important Book is, as one critic has suggested, is a “deceptively simple exercise” in taking familiar objects (a spoon, a daisy, or rain) and forcing us to look at them in unfamiliar ways. It may be true that daisies are yellow in the middle and that they have long white petals—but why does the author suggest that the “most important” thing about daisies is that they are white? Students often disagree with the author’s conclusions, but that is precisely what makes The Important Book such a great read!
As an accompanying activity, have each student take out a piece of paper and write “The Important Thing About (student’s name goes here).
Now, have students go around the room and write down something important about each person. You can set any ground rules you like, but we ask students to be as specific as possible and avoid saying things about other students’ appearances.
I believe that children (all people, really) who might benefit from the use Assistive Technology such as a Communication Device, ultimately tell us what tools they need and how they will use them for their own benefit. When we attempt to support people in this process, we have to be acute observers and be willing to follow their lead.
I was born without a left hand. Prosthetics available to me and my parents were quite simplistic at the time and did not resemble a hand (I had a hook, shown here in the picture). I hated it, I was more capable without it, but the therapists and MDs advised my parents to use it. They believed that it made me look more "normal" and that in time, it would help me. At the age of 12, I was finally able to convince my loving parents and intelligent doctors that this was indeed not something I needed.
I have met many individuals with an arm similar to mine. Some were born this way, as I was, and others lack of a hand resulting from an illness or accident. Many of these people do not find a prosthetic device useful, again like me, while many others do. It was ultimately a personal decision for each of us.
As a speech-language pathologist assisting children to use assistive technology such as a Speech Generating Device (SGD), this personal experience is a reminder to me that although I am the specialist, the child ultimately knows themselves best. My job is to introduce the child to the tool- the communication system or systems, model their uses over time, with different communication partners, and for multiple communicative purposes. Only then, can the child decide how assistive technology is going to work for her. Successful assistive technology use or integration is a process, often iterative. We don't know what is going to work until we try. We have to be willing to reevaluate frequently and we have to respect what the child ultimately deems beneficial for themselves.
I see many of us struggling with AAC and AT implementation and use. Children, their families, their teachers and even the specialists- speech-language pathologists. It has been my experience, that when I put my direct teaching strategies aside, model the use of the communication devices, up the fun, and follow the child's lead- communication happens.
Let the child choose the assistive technology that works best- for them.
I teach an on-line graduate course at National Louis University in Chicago to students who are currently teachers and who are seeking to complete their master’s degree. One of the courses the student need to take in a series of three is called, Instructional Decision Making. Although the course has multiple learning goals and objectives, one of the key elements to the course is to engage the student in critical reflective practice to evaluate key understandings, assumptions, rationales, and shifts that underpin one's instructional decision making. The course explores a variety of teaching strategies and appropriate activities for grade school students. Being an on-line course, we do not meet face-to-face but do share the completed assignments with each other in the on-line class forum.
Select-a-Topic Video Sharing
For one of the assignments, the students are asked to research and share a presentation, report, video, etc. on a topic related to instructional decision making that was not covered as a part of the course. They are asked to elect a topic that we have not covered and create a lesson/presentation for the class on a selected topic of their choice. No “list of themes” are given to the student for ideas. They are asked to include a video example of teaching practice or expert opinion on a topic as a part of their presentation. The video could be from a third party source such as the videos they have viewed for the course. It could take the form of a chat session, VideoThread, Prezi, individual video, PowerPoint, etc.
To my surprise, and delight, one of the students in the class chose to write about the Whole Child Initiative. After grading her Prezi presentation, I sent her a separate email and asked her why she selected this topic. She informed me that she chose the Whole Child Initiative as she felt that in order for her students to be successful in the classroom, teachers need to cater to the whole child, not just one part. She went on to state that when teaching preschool, this is her goal in the classroom. She noted that this mindset changes as the students get older. This was a topic that she had heard of before but did not know much about it. She wanted to learn more in order to implement this concept in her classroom and hopefully encourage other teachers to follow suit.
What impressed me the most was here very appropriate selection of YouTube clips. Each one was spot on as they gave example for each of the five Whole Child tenants. She was right on the mark. She sums up nicely making note of several ASCD Whole Child Publications and where to find more information at the different websites.
I asked her if I could show this at our next Illinois ASCD board of directors meeting and she was thrilled and honored to have me do so.I, too, was exited and thought this would be worth sharing as a blog on the EDge. I look forward to your comments. Here it is.
We know that standards cannot impact student learning if they’re just sitting on the shelf. We need teachers who can teach them. Standards accomplish nothing alone. But many teachers have told us they still feel unprepared when it comes to the Common Core. Are you one of them?
As the clock ticks toward the transition from practice testing to the actual Common Core testing in 2015-2016, there are three things to think about:
1. The SIT & LISTEN model is not an effective way to train. Thanks to studies by The Consortium for Policy Research in Education, we have known this for a long time. Although districts continue to favor this passive, large-group model, it's clear that it doesn’t improve student learning.
2. The COACHING model works best.
3. The biggest challenge in teaching the K-5 Common Core ELA Standards is WRITING. Even more than making the leap to reading complex texts, teachers are hard-pressed to meet the new writing standards without help.
Teachers: Use the reflection guide as a personal professional development evaluation. It will help you determine your strengths and weaknesses in your writing instruction.
Administrators: Use the reflection guide when planning a professional development day. Follow the directions below.
1. Print “Questions Teachers Have When Teaching Writing”, and pass the reflection guide out to your teachers.
2. Ask your teachers to follow the directions in the reflection guide. They will fill out their glows (strengths) and grows (weaknesses) for writing.
3. Design your professional development day into sessions where each teacher will have 10 or 15 minutes to share a teaching idea or tool they have used successfully.
4. Teachers can consider their “grows” and choose to sit in on sessions that will be most helpful to them.
What was your most memorable professional development experience? Tell us in the comments section below.
How far would you go to make sure learning matters for your students? Would you make a promposal to model Brittany Mason? Create a Vine to send to soul singer Maxwell? Mass tweet Chipotle? Share with your students that you glued your ears to your head when you were twelve and never went to prom?
How about turn down a six-figure salary as Susan Lucci’s love interest to teach high school social studies?
If you’re Nick Ferroni, that was your Friday of last week.
I met Nick through Twitter. Both of us are New Jersey teachers, went to Rutgers, and are around the same age. But, that’s about where it ends on its surface. Nick was a three-star high school athlete, a scholarship division I football player, made some money underwear modeling, and had walk on roles on a soap opera. I wear underwear, played sports, and hated soap operas.
If you look at our picture together, there’s me on the left, and the man who Men’s Health called “One of the 25 fittest men in America” on the right. Nick’s biggest takeaway from this picture? His forehead looks shiny. My biggest takeaway: my body looks like Mr. Potato Head and it’s time for me to get a personal trainer.
Where Nick and I are similar is where we matter: we’ll both go to any lengths to make sure students learn, and how we define learning is much deeper than what’s in any textbook, teacher’s guide, or curriculum. We’re looking at students long-term: what impact will they have on society, and what impact will society have on them? What can we do to aid students so they have a positive experience in life, bouyed with a skill set transferrable to any situation. Can we teach them to solve problems, collaborate, advocate, compromise, and think creatively? Can we get them to push their boundaries from what they think they can do to what we think they can do?
Nick will buy gym memberships and train students who need a positive emotional release. He has a stack of protein bars in his desk in case his students get hungry. He leverages his experiences in theatre and the arts to invite in Maxwell, Brittany Mason, Brian Leonard, and more, to talk about their life experiences. Then, Nick weaves these experiences to draw parallels to the subject he teaches. Because, when he shuts the door, Nick is the curriculum. And, he takes that job seriously.
Which is why, when I have an opportunity to hang with a high energy, humble, creative rockstar educator, I’m going to do it. Even if it means waking up earlier than usual, driving an hour, and going to another school when my district is closed. This is probably how Nick’s students feel when they come to school: that there’s something worth coming inside for. And, that is half the battle.
Nick allowed me to live tweet the charades his students did to prepare for the US History 1 exam they had coming up. The energy, enthusiasm, and engagement I saw from the students and their teacher made me want to join in. Here are a few of them, as well as the class Twitter feed:
When I left later that day, I learned two things about Nick and his students: they have a real desire to eat Chipotle before their lives are over, and I want to spend more time with them. I hope both happen soon so we can cross them off our bucket lists. Maybe we can all go to Chipotle together? (FYI, still waiting for a tweet-back from Rusty).
I was out of the classroom this past Thursday and Friday to participate in a K-12 focus group in Washington DC. I had little idea what to expect going into the conversation, but I came out of it with an even broader perspective than I believed I had to begin with. I’ve spent the last 3 days reflecting on my experience and how it can ultimately benefit my students.
When I told my Room 204 friends I would be absent for Helping Hands Day, they were all visibly disappointed. However, I told them the trip I was taking was an important one, and I would like to bring their thoughts along with me. I had all students write a piece about what adults should keep in mind when making decisions about education. In my opinion, their responses were beautiful and I was determined to pack them in my suitcase and later share them. (link below)
There were about 50-60 people brought together from all facets of education. There were researchers from premiere colleges and universities. There were entrepreneurs whose education products are designed to move us towards ed reform. There were folks involved in education at the political level, where advocacy and policy are their greatest strength. There were several corporate leaders from major companies servicing the education market. There were school administrators from traditional and charter schools. Finally, there were also two teachers including myself. It was a powerful cross-section of finance, research, politics, private interest, and practice. On any given day, I believe this group could move mountains together.
While the nature of the conversation ran from college and career readiness to teacher effectiveness, with lots of other topics woven in-between, most conversations were tied tightly to the necessity of data. Data is what ties our efforts to our outcomes, and is a necessary part of measuring growth. I found myself surrounded by fellow Data Nerds, who view numbers to be exciting and sometimes enlightening. Data-driven decision making is a widely-accepted and oft-used catchphrase in education. However, I am never looking for data to tell me what I already know. If I already know a student struggles, I don’t need data to confirm that. Instead, I need decision-driven data collection. I decide there is a problem to be analyzed, and then collect data to solve the mystery.
However, with every question posed and answer given in regards to data, I couldn’t help but think of my students’ letters sitting quietly hidden at my feet in my teacher bag. There are essential skills our students must learn, which are rarely measured by assessment data. When reading my students’ reflections, I further realized there are some things I'm just not sure can be measured. Can we measure how children feel about school? Can we truly and accurately measure the degree to which a student feels he or she is a valued member of a classroom community? How do we measure fun? What matters to students should matter to decision makers. So, how do we (and should we?) find the fulcrum to quantify that? Can we truly measure meaning?
After drumming up my courage, I decided to spread my students' letters out on the tables early the next morning as we geared up for Day Two. I felt it was important to have student voices included in our conversation. Many folks took the time to thank me for the not-so-subtle message. There are no decisions I make without students in mind, and I feel that should be true for decision makers of all levels and backgrounds. Kids are at the heart of what we do, and if an 8 year old is able to convey the fact that students need to be healthy, safe, engaged, supported and challenged, aren’t we obligated to make that happen?
Please read my students' thoughts at our Student Voice Padlet page: http://padlet.com/SimplySuzy/StudentVoice
What I Learned Lately (WILL 13/14 #19)
“Dreaming or Awake – Is There A Difference?”
Early in my life, my mom encouraged me to dream. I am not sure if she was teaching me to escape the present or plan for the future or both. Recently, I have been dreaming a lot about life personally and professionally. My dreams have not been limited to the moments of sleep. I have often found myself “day dreaming”. As I have reflected on why I dream, what I am dreaming of and should I share my dreams, I have been left numb by the question, “what if”? As my body lay motionless last night, I found myself questioning was I awake or asleep? Then, I felt a strange sense of peace – did it really matter?
I have learned that dreams can prepare us for the awaken life. It is one thing to dream, it is another to understand the nature of the dream. Without examining the nature of our dreams, they are merely moments in between two breathes. As leaders we have dreams and we try to operationalize those dreams through vision and mission statements, action/improvement plans and our daily work. In education, we often use terms like equity, access and achievement gaps as ways to add context to our dreams. I am not sure we pause often enough to question the nature of the dreams and our actions.
I have a dream that one day our schools will rise up and lead our great nation. Lead you ask, yes lead! For if it is not us, then who shall? Although we the educators know that we are not all created equal, we know it is our job to create equitable opportunities for all our children. This is the true intent of our great nation, access to the dream, the American Dream. I have a dream that my two little boys, my daughter and every child that I serve will one day attend schools where they will not be judged by the AYP cell they are assigned to but by the content of their character and their ability to create their own new knowledge.
I dream that one day educators will open the doors of gifted and talented, honors and other college preparatory curriculum; one day in each of our towns, all students will be able to engage in the richness of Advance Placement and International Baccalaureate; one day in every school house, students will have one adult that believes that they deserve to and can achieve at the highest levels. I dream that we will not place barriers in front of our students and pretend that we are trying to protect them from failing before they have tried.
I dream that one day every hidden curriculum will be revealed, every lesson will be scaffolded, teachers will work collaboratively to provide portals to language, instructional strategies will the topic of conversation around the staff room table and the glory of new knowledge shall be revealed and all students will create it for themselves.
I dream that others will recognize that this is our chance. I dream that others will share the same conviction. I dream that we will all go back to our schools this year and every year until our dreams are our reality. With this conviction we will be able open the locked doors of promise for all students and be able to transform the clattering dissension of our profession into a picturesque web of support for our students. Then we will be able to collaborate together, to learn together, to struggle together, to walk the steps of the capital together, to stand up for access together, knowing that we will all be free one day.
As we wrap up one school year and begin to plan for another, I hope we relentlessly dream and ask ourselves, “what if”. More importantly, what if we the adults relentlessly asked our students to dream, plan and act? What if our students felt safe enough to share their dreams? What if we defined our work by ability to teach students how to learn and facilitated their dreams? What if we shared our dreams with our staff and students? What if…
Finally from, Stella Stuart “Dream - Everyday”
Behind me infinite power
Before me is endless possibility.
Around me is boundless opportunity.
Why should I fear?
As educators, much of our time is spent assessing student needs. Before we can truly help our students, an understanding of our own learning is key. Thus, near the end of each month, I will offer one short educator quiz to help shed light on where we are and where we wish to go...
If you have topics or research that you would like to include for a future quiz, please email email@example.com. If your material is selected, I will include your name and appropriate information with the quiz. If you are interested in taking last month's quiz, you can find it here!
Are you ready to build upon your student aggression management knowledge? You may take the brief quiz below by answering yes or no to the 6 questions listed.
1. Do you feel that aggression and bullying in the classroom are the same?
2. Is student relational aggression only linked with social deficits?
3. Do you feel that school activities/assignments would not impact student agression?
4. Do you feel that students are verbally aggressive due to their environment?
5. Would your confidence level in managing verbal aggression stay the same regardless of intervention use?
6. Do you feel that there is a lack of best practice guidelines available for managing student aggression?
Spoiler Alert! Exploring Your Results
This quiz was developed in response to 3 research articles (listed below in the references). If you answered "no" to most of the questions, your knowledge of student verbal aggression is closely related to the material reported in the articles. If you answered more questions with "yes", take a look at the answer explanations below.
1. There are distinctions between aggression and bullying. One key factor is that in bullying, the action is repeated over time. Also bullying may include aggression, but not all aggression meets the criteria for bullying.
2. Surprisingly, there is research that links aggression with social intelligence by means of the agressive student reaching thier social goals, accessing manipulation skills, and selecting from a variety of options during conflict.
3. The type of activity is important. Research shows that the more structured the activity, the less likely that students would behave aggressively.
4. There are multiple factors to consider in why a student may behave aggressively such as personality factors of the aggressor, factors related to the victim in the situation, as well as environmental factors.
5. Confidence reportedly improved (when comparing confidence levels before and after the use of a workbook intervention). There were reports that distracted the child, diffusing the situation, and ignoring the verbal aggressive were effective in managing the occurrence.
6. Best practice program/intervention guidelines for student aggression include the following components: school wide, population-specific, education and practice with the role of bystanders, inclusion of education on cyber bullying.
Leff, S.S., & Waasdorp, T.E. (2013). Effect of aggression and bullying on children and adolescents: Implications for prevention and intervention. Current Psychiatry Reports, 15(3), p343-353.
Mclaughlin, S., Bonner, G., Mboche, C., & Fairlie, T. (2010). A pilot study to test an intervention for dealing with verbal aggression. British Journal of Nursing, 19(8), p489-494.
Risser, S.D. (2013). Relational aggression and academic performance in elementary school. Psychology in the Schools, 50(1), p13-26.
There are days when I feel like I am not making any progress. I was having one of these days when I reached out to a good friend and she encouraged me to carry on despite my slump. So, I have decided to continue blogging on the issue that is of utmost importance to me, even before I hone my writing skills to a level acceptable to myself (and the general public) .
I believe that the issue of importance is one of civil rights. Specifically, the rights of all individuals with disabilities, their parents, their friends, the people who support them and their communities. We can look back over the last 100 years and pat ourselves on the back for the progress we have made, but we need to be cognoscente that these are short term wins (Kotter, 1996) and we have a long road ahead.
I tend to focus on the wrongs that are being committed against individuals with disabilities and I am comfortable with the words discrimination, abuse, failure to educate and neglect when we consider many aspects of the care and education of this diverse, heterogeneous population that we identify as disabled, handicapped, presenting with special needs or other labels deemed fitting. However, talking and thinking about the civil right's issues that surround these individuals makes people feel uncomfortable. If we are to be exposed to their realities, it seems we only have the stomach for uplifting stories, usually stories of how a “typically developing” person did something great for someone with a disability. The alternative, an event we find seriously surprising; a person with a disability does something “typical”.
I started a Facebook page for my pending nonprofit Augment Oregon and immediately began to recognize a pattern. When I posted a rant, no one responded by checking the coveted LIKE button. When I posted a quote or link with a picture, a happy smiley picture of a child with or without a disability, I got significantly more “LIKEs” than without. I get that exposing ourselves to the unfortunate realties for others can make us feel sad, this due to the amazing ability we humans have, empathy. And, experiencing empathy when it isn’t a pleasant feeling is something we can tolerate for only so long, in small doses if you will.
I have been fortunate to know many individuals who work with individuals with disabilities and they are so positive and hopeful about the future and the potential impact of their work. I observe them carefully, quite honestly wanting to experience their rosy outlook for myself. But, I have to be true to my own experiences and the need I feel to present my observations despite the fact that they are not always the happy story we want to hear. There is room for both perspectives, the one that celebrates the wonderful events that are occurring and are improving the lives of individuals with disabilities, but also the events that are or are not happening that contribute to a population that has not yet, in my opinion, seen their rights fully realized.
I have a professor who, on more than one occasion said, you are experiencing “culture” when you experience something shocking and no one else around you even bats an eye. More often than not, this has been my experience as an educator in the k-12 public school system and as a member of American society as a whole. I was appalled when Diane Sawyer (whom I respect) said of the Pope, “…he even kissed a disabled man.” Was everyone else watching the news that night appalled as well? Did they even notice? Or worse, did they think kissing a man with a disability was something to revel at? Do we still believe that disability is contagious?
As my husband and I watched a Toast to 2013 on T.V. New Year’s Eve, we watched a story of how a high school basketball coach allowed a teenager with disabilities to play the last few seconds of a basketball game. He shot a basket and scored for his team in the final moments before the game buzzer rang. I want to understand this; he got to play a few minutes of an entire season? That’s it? All the nondisabled people, for lack of a better term, gave up a few minutes and are heroes on the nightly news? I saw the look of pure joy on the student’s face, it was a valuable experience for him, but am I the only one that thinks we can do better? Way better?
I am raising a daughter with special needs. I can create a world that that tells her she was born perfect, just the way she was meant to be. I can include her in every aspect of our lives, I can have high standards for her and I can provide experiences as well as accommodation and tools to help her access those experiences when needed. But, I have to let her walk out our door. To date I have completely failed to get many influential people in her life to support my vision for her. Why? Because we live in a culture that has yet to respect the value of every individual. People with disabilities are victims of abelism (Hehir, 2005), a phenomenon that is often subtle and hard to capture in the moment, but it is there, a duplicitous form of discrimination imposed on those with disabilities by able bodied or “typical” persons, often resulting in unnecessary barriers laid in their paths.
My hope in blogging about the civil rights of individual with disabilities and the realities of abelism is to change what we see when we encounter people with disabilities. We can challenge our preconceived notions, we can base our beliefs on education and research and the inherent value of every person, but have to be willing to see, first.
Hehir, T. (2005). New Directions in Special Education: Eliminating Abelism in Policy and Practice. Campbridge, MA: Harvard Educational Publishing Group.
Kotter, J. P. (1996). Leading change. Harvard Business Press.