Recognize the Importance of Your Team

Tchers Voice: Special Education

I’m sure by now you’ve heard — a brilliant star went dark in the cosmos.

Dr. Stephen Hawking, British theoretical physicist who overcame ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a neurodegenerative disease also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease) to publish wildly popular books probing the mysteries of the universe, died on March 14th at the age of 76.

On August 17, 2016, I was invited to meet with Dr. Hawking at Cambridge University’s Research Centre for Theoretical Cosmology to talk about community access and voice output machines. As I noted in an article for the Oregon Education Association’s quarterly magazine,

“Over the years as a special education teacher, I have had over a dozen students who use voice output devices. To inspire my students, I have shared videos of Dr. Stephen Hawking. ‘If he didn’t use his talker,’ I told one student, ‘nobody would know he was the smartest man in the world.’ Believe me when I say that Dr. Stephen Hawking is my hero.”

Orange Dot Border

Stephen Hawking, Para, and Brett Bigham

Orange Dot Border

Read more

Building a Strong Learning Community for Newcomer ELLs

engaging newcomers in language and content

We know that students benefit from strong social-emotional support, and a big part of that is being included in the school community. In part two of our series Engaging Newcomers in Language & Content, we go back to ENLACE Academy, a school-within-a-school focused on supporting the academic and social-emotional needs of newcomer English Language Learners.

ENLACE aims to create an environment in which all students feel known and are able to build strong relationships with each other and with at least one adult. Through restorative practices, socio-emotional learning activities, and family engagement, students build strong communities and support each other as they adjust to a new school environment.

Read more

Doing Poorly on Purpose: Why Smart Kids Choose Not to do Well in School

doing poorly on purpose

As a teacher myself, I feel your pain when a capable student chooses — yes, chooses — not to perform well academically. Cajole as we might (and do…) to convince kids like these on the merits of academic accomplishment, many of them look at us with that blank expression of adolescence that speaks volumes in its silence.

What they don’t say are things like these:

  • “School is irrelevant to what I’ll eventually do in life, and we both know it. Tell me how linear algebra will help me become a better attorney.”
  • “If you really cared to help me, you’d let me test out of what I know how to do so that I had time to pursue stuff that is important to me.”
  • “The reason I don’t do the homework is that I’ve already proven to you through my class performance that I understand this stuff. Wouldn’t you be as frustrated as I am if you had to do such meaningless work every night?”

Green Dot Divide

More times than not, smart students who choose to do poorly on purpose have very good reasons for being disillusioned with their middle and high school experiences. And these students may be on to something. Research on gifted students and other high achievers has shown that many of them know 50% or more of the grade-level curriculum before it’s “taught” to them.

Read more

Setting the Tone for All Learners with Visual Cues

Tchers' Voice Special Education header

Inclusion practices have moved many students from special education rooms into mainstream classes, and as I’ve traveled the states as Oregon Teacher of the Year, I’ve heard one message loud and clear:

General education teachers need help adapting their classrooms and lessons for a wider range of skills.

We have classrooms with students reading at the Pre-K level sitting next to kids who read at the pre-college level.

Teachers need help.

These differences in ability are not just academic. Think of your own classrooms and the different behaviors and social skills you navigate each day. We have kids all over the place — so we teachers are going to be teaching all over the place.

Teaching Channel has invited me in to look at their amazing video lessons from inspiring teachers and imagine some adaptations that might help out your learners with IEPs (Individualized Education Programs). This is not to critique their outstanding work, but rather a special education teacher thinking about what one of my students might need to succeed — in that classroom, and with that same lesson. I want to set the tone from blog one and let these amazing teachers know how much they inspire me.

And on that note, I can’t think of a better video lesson to start with than Nick Romagnolo’s Setting the Tone from Day One. Hats off to Nick, because had I seen this video as a student teacher, I would’ve had a much better start to my career!

Read more

How YA Novels Help Teachers Build Empathy

Tchers' Voice : Great ideas from passionate educators just like you

We walk through our classroom doors and want to relate to our students. We want to understand their challenges, thought processes, motivations, and fears.

But how do we develop empathy for our students who may struggle with challenges we never experienced?

How can we understand their reactions, fears, and priorities if their childhood or adolescence is so incredibly different from our own or the one we’re creating for our children?

Good teachers understand that practicing and growing empathy makes us great teachers.

Read more

The Top Five Things I Learned from a Five-Year-Old About Growth Mindset

Growth Mindset Blog Header

The shiny new bicycle was forcefully shoved to the ground in disgust as Parker shouted,

“I cannot do it; I’ll never be able to ride my bike.”

To the parents out there, I venture to guess this triggers “fond” memories of youthful days gone by, but to me, not having kids, this experience with my five-year-old nephew was a first.

We had braved the unseasonably cold South Carolina weather for a mere five minutes before Parker came to this abrupt conclusion. Bundled in his winter coat and hat, he begrudgingly stormed off and sat on a rock on the side of the road. When I asked him why he was so upset, he fought back tears and explained, “Chase can ride his bike without training wheels, and I will never be able to.”

Now, being Uncle Chris, I wasn’t even sure who Chase was, but in this moment, I wanted to run to my writing notebook and sketch out this blog. However, I felt it best that I stay with the nearly-in-tears five-year-old to support him.

There’s a lot of talk about grit and growth mindset as it applies to education, and at this point, I would submit that most people reading this blog are not only familiar with these concepts, but probably way more well-read about them than I. However, in that moment, as I lovingly sat down next to Parker and put my arm around him, I had new reflections about how I would apply Parker’s learning experience to my own teaching and thinking.

Read more

Culturally Responsive Teaching: It Begins with Responsiveness

It Begins with Responsiveness Blog Header

Early last fall, I had the opportunity to sit with a team of sixth grade teachers at a middle school serving a large number of low-income Latino and African American students. Many of those students were at least two grade levels behind in reading. Their low literacy levels were wreaking havoc on their ability to learn content, engage in higher-level thinking, and build background knowledge.

A year earlier, in their PLC, this team decided that the solution was to use culturally responsive teaching (CRT) as a way to improve student learning and increase achievement.

When I visited with them, they were a bit perplexed why things hadn’t changed, because they’d instituted fun “call and response” chants at the beginning of class and created multicultural bulletin boards about music from different cultures and social justice topics. They’d spent time having “courageous conversations” about implicit bias. They’d tried this for a year, but reading scores didn’t improve and they couldn’t understand why.

Read more

Teachers Who Stay Connected Teach Longer

Tchers' Voice Teacher Retention Blog Header

As a new teacher, the demands of the career can be overwhelming at times. During my first year of teaching, I felt alone and I was unsure about whether I was doing a good job. So I turned to the internet, and I was both surprised and delighted to find that there was a bustling teacher community around every corner.

Building community is essential for teachers to feel connected, supported, and to share their ideas with peers. And when teachers feel heard and supported, they’ll be more satisfied with their career and more likely to stay in the classroom with the kids who need them. If you’re a teacher with a strong support system, online communities and social networks can be a welcome addition. But if you feel a little more like you’ve been making a go of it alone, these spaces can be a much-needed lifeline.

Teacher blogs, Facebook groups, and Twitter are three online resources that have helped me to stay connected, engaged, inspired, and to continue learning with a community of like-minded educators.

Read more

Does the Language You Use Limit Your Learning Environment?

Does the Language You Use Limit Your Learning Environment?

I have long been skeptical of the “One Word” promises made at the turn of the new year.

On one hand, I totally get it; it’s an efficient way to stay focused on personal improvement. And like any goal setting, focus is essential to success; we often try to do too much with our goals — personally and professionally. In that respect, I see the value. However, the scope of one word seems, in some ways, too focused. I’ve struggled to see how a one-word focus would truly help me become a better me, a better teacher. But with this said, I also had no suggestion for a different approach.

So, as 2017 faded into the cold and dreary new year backdrop of 2018, I sat down to do my usual new year reflection and goal setting, resigning myself to this seemingly too-narrow approach for lack of a more effective strategy. It was while I scribbled in my writer’s notebook, jotting down key words and phrases that captured elements of my personal and professional growth that I hope to see improve in 2018, when the music in the background, which is always playing when I write, shuffled to a different song, grabbing my attention in a way it never had before. Having heard this song well over 100 times already, I couldn’t believe the way it was now inspiring my goal setting.

Read more

Resources for Resilience and Healing after a School-Based Trauma

Resources for Resilience and Healing After School Based Trauma

It was the 11th school shooting in the United States this year — and it happened on January 23rd.

Pundits and politicians alike suggest that we, as a nation, are becoming numb to school shooting incidents — that we have become desensitized. However, nothing could be further from the truth for educators, their students, and school communities — tragedies like these are personal.

Although this most recent school shooting has been notably overshadowed by continuously breaking news, and it’s not a trending topic on Twitter, the tragic events at Marshall County High School in Kentucky this week are front and center in the minds of teachers, students, and parents across the nation.

Earlier this school year we published a post in the aftermath of the California wildfires that touched upon what teachers can do to support their students in times of tragedy. While the tragedy differs in type and scope, many of the tips for teaching in times of tragedy can help in the aftermath of gun violence — whether it happens in your own school or your community is feeling the anxiety that follows watching an event, like the one that played out in Kentucky, from afar.

But when it comes to something so important, teachers can never have too many resources to help them help students with resilience and, most importantly, healing.

Read more