We Interrupt Our Regularly Scheduled Blog Post

For a few years now we’ve wanted to do a historical perspective of special education. And for a few years now, we’ve started but then things get murky with the time line or we get super busy, or things happen that need our attention.

And then Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed on Friday while we were spit balling some ideas for a blog. It goes without saying the world of special education we have walked into since 2012 has been influenced in educating students with disabilities because of Justice Ginsberg and her rulings as a part of the United States Supreme Court.

For those who were not born in the United States: The United States Supreme Court is the ‘end of the road’ for specific types of court cases offered. Until the death of Justice Ginsburg, there were nine seated justices. The Supreme Court is responsible for legal issues in the entire country. There additional adjunct duties, specifically to the role of Chief Justice, but overall the Supreme Court, which is outlined in the United States Constitution, is its own entity from the other two branches of Federal Government (Executive and Legislative). To be a seated Justice on the court, the President nominates a potential justice and that justice is then subjected to interviews by the Senate, part of the Legislative branch. Upon recommendation by the Judiciary Committee, a potential justice is then either voted or not voted to the bench. Justices can serve indefinitely, unlike any other branch of the Federal government. Justices have a choice to be with the Majority, with the Minority, or neutral when they write opinions, or decisions about or not a particular case is decided.

Justice Ginsberg was seated after her confirmation hearing by the Senate in 1993 and served until her death, hearing cases even at a distance during COVID-19. She was the second woman after Sandra Day O’Connor to be seated. After Justice O’Connor retired in 2006, Ginsberg was the sole woman on the court until Justice Sotomayor was confirmed in 2009.

Olmsted vs. LC, 1999

For those with intellectual disabilities, prior to this ruling, it was not uncommon for a person with an intellectual disability to be placed somewhere other than the community they grew up in. For the two representatives, Lois Curtis and Elaine Wilson, they were living in a hospital. They did have permission to live in a more community-based setting, but they had not transitioned to one.

Olmsted was decided in favor of LC. ADA – Americans with Disability Act, according to the Majority opinion, had been violated.

The decision reminded States that they needed to have a plan for adults with disabilities with the least restrictive settings.

Ginsburg wrote the Majority Opinion. She said that the long hospitalization was harmful to the women, and other people with intellectual disabilities. In writing this opinion, Justice Ginsburg supported that people with disabilities belonged in their communities as much as possible.

If you want more information about Olmsted, check this out from the Health and Human Services.

But you’re a blog about K-12 education….

Here’s the part of our blog we don’t talk about truly enough—our students graduate and become adults. Life is this unstoppable train. Our students need our support to get to that goal. Without the Olmsted Decision, our students are void of a community that supports their existence. Education is about giving students skills to be a member of their community and demonstrate that we always have space.


Do you have any comments about this week’s blog? Do you have a question for us? Would you like to have an opportunity to pilot some materials at your campus? Find ParaEducate online herehereherehere, and on our website. ParaEducate is a company providing materials, information, and strategies for people working in special education inclusion settings for grades K-12. ParaEducate, the blog, is published during the academic school year on Mondays, unless a holiday or announced day off. ParaEducate shares their findings at conferences, through their books, and their academic adaptations.

Posted in #BetterTogether, Adults with Disabilities, Disabilities, Intellectual Disabilities, Legal Issues, Resources | Leave a comment

I’d Do Anything…

Renay spent this week looking at the sky. If you don’t know, the sky in much of California is either dayglow orange or yellow soot grey. Neither is healthy right now. Renay has been nearly trapped inside working on work or avoiding ‘outside’. But she has managed to grab some photos of the dangerous quality of the sky as it is.

First at ParaEducate, we want those in the Western United States to be safe. Please follow evacuation procedures for your area if you are under evacuation from wild fires. Please take proper precautions in your area to stay safe.

But the return of fire season at the top of probably the hardest school year is also problematic. Some areas are forced into black out to help cut down fire risk, school has been summarily canceled for that block of time, unfortunately this is also one of the last weeks of school starting for students. Whether online, hybrid, or traditional, this is a big deal still. Please be safe. We cannot say that enough right now.

The Things About What We Had That We Miss

It wasn’t until Renay logged off the other day that we realized how much we missed watching kids walk out a door. Hearing the chatter about the upcoming basketball season (school, college, or professional). The look of exhaustion as a student tried to mentally navigate the information they have just taken in and how they will parse that information away when they move to their next class. The noise of the hallway (though, we do not miss helping to monitor the hallways). That chatter between students of “What happened with [class]?” and the thirty-second chatter that broke down the class. For elementary, the scatter of thundering feet to the playground. The chatter later how someone threw the ball the best way for the first time or how they might be looking forward to art hour or even STEAM activities. The incidentals are what are missing. These are those moments we build community and connections.

For a student with a disability, these are the moments we aren’t facilitating peer interaction. We might have to referee as an adult, but these are genuine good-byes from peers and the general education teacher. Certainly, there are ways of facilitating this online peer interactions, but it’s not quite as spontaneous as walking out a door.

As an adult, though, we are missing these too. Running into a co-worker at the bathrooms, seeing a coworker at the coffee shop after a long PD session the previous day. Those little exchanges are now whittled down to only the teachers whose Zoom we have. We can arrange a meeting, but these feel organized and not as organic as coworkers we waved to across a hallway as we got carried away by the crush of students heading to the next class.

Some things we know are working for staff:

  • Call someone you trust on the phone. Why phone? Our eyes are shot a bit balancing multiple tabs and screens. Even if you use face time and even if you talk about work, the freedom that is being off work devices restores some of that time one has over hallway chat. Sure, it comes way after the fact, but find something to laugh about. Talk about kids (biological ones if you have them), talk about your plants, talk about your pets. Connect.
  • Equipment. Nothing can be understated here. Having the right device that works. Sometimes it’s as little as getting a wireless mouse, sometimes it’s recognizing that there are differences in the multiple available platforms.
  • Headphones with microphones. I know they are harder to get right now. Some folks are busting out their gaming headsets and running the set up through a USB port and to their gaming controls to get their long hours on setups. Honestly: gaming headphones are notoriously expensive, but there is a reason top-ranked gamer use the headphones to connect with their teammates on the largest stadiums in the world, they work because they are designed for long term wear. Over the ear relieves pain from constant in and out that earbuds, even the good ones, sometimes have. If you’re on only four hours a day that might work, but for those of us on heading up to eight hours a day, you’re going to want to make the switch when you can swing it. (Yes, please, districts should be funding this, but we know they are stretched trying to get internet to students).
  • Pulling a page from the students: use multiple devices. We preface this knowing full well that most people cannot afford to be running more than one device or even have more than their work computer. But we’re going to take a note from our students this week. One student finally admitted to having class on their phone (the app of the connection today) and then accessing the pieces of class on their Chromebook/laptop. This takes off some load from the laptop and the multiple tabs that are open. There are some challenges in looking at shared screens from peers or tracking, but trying to get to the “doing” part of typing something to turn into the teacher or device management is simplified to some degree this way. Not all adults can have a second screen or project their computer screens elsewhere from their main device, let alone students, but this is one way that we can help to manage the load.
  • Provide the incidental moments for students. So much of distance learning is literally a railroad train and there aren’t those moments. Sure we might script the students into introducing themselves or perhaps facilitate those moments, but reward the students who just naturally ask how their peers are. Let them know when you hear them reaching out. We are learning how to learn in this medium. Be tolerant of the students being off task for a minute in a break out room. Build that community and let students feel that they are there for each other when we cannot be in the same room.

We know this is going to be a long road. And communities are going to return in shifts. We will get there. Please stay safe.

One last word…

Yes, our book is now live.

The second book In Stick Figures: The Odyssey In Stick Figures is now available as a paperback. We are working with our publisher on the digital release of this book. Due to the challenges of publishing graphics digitally we are taking our time on this release. Please be patient with us as we try and make this book available digitally.

Written in twenty-four books and an introduction like many of the translations, we bring some stick figures to Homer’s epic ballad of how Odysseus traveled home from the War at Troy. We are proud to release this adapted text to use with students.


Do you have any comments about this week’s blog? Do you have a question for us? Would you like to have an opportunity to pilot some materials at your campus? Find ParaEducate online herehereherehere, and on our website. ParaEducate is a company providing materials, information, and strategies for people working in special education inclusion settings for grades K-12. ParaEducate, the blog, is published during the academic school year on Mondays, unless a holiday or announced day off. ParaEducate shares their findings at conferences, through their books, and their academic adaptations.

Posted in Campus, Classroom, Disabilities, Distance Learning, General Education Students, ParaEducate, paraeducators, Professionalism, publications, social skills, Students, training | Leave a comment

Distance Learning Tips

Last Friday, Renay logged off the computer a little jittery, she blamed the late morning coffee run being off schedule, but there was something else going on. It had been three solid days of meetings and preparations for the first three days of school. And Friday was the end of that first week with students. There was so much to unpack and unfortunately: everyone who could possibly need to have the conversation with, they were too burned out to start the conversation.

We have discussed a lot about Distance Learning, but we haven’t had concrete tips until now. Part of the reason was we sincerely did believe back in April, ‘well this will last until June’. And then June came and went, and now many districts are using computers only. There are just as many schools that are attempting Hybrid, some students on-site, some students at home. And there are many schools that are just at ‘business as normal’.

For That Co-Worker who should not touch wires

Renay has spent the better part of her entire working life either working with computers or working on computers—building them from just sketches into physical spaces. She knows a computer can be simple as a sorting machine with a mechanical flipper or as complex as a satellite. Computers make sense to Renay and have since she first saw one when she was five.

But with a spectrum of staff who have worked for just three years to over twenty-five years, some staff are not nearly as happy to see Distance Learning right now. Renay has been the default trainer for over 20 people on staff outside and in addition to her normal work duties.

What can we do with the staff? How do we get them comfortable?

  • Constant training: Staff who use multiple devices (Tablets, different operating systems—called OS) are probably the most problematic unless they are comfortable with their devices. Giving staff different ways to get in only works if they are paying attention to looking for the differences to give success
  • Don’t force the panic, don’t give a staff member who is learning more connection than they are ready for
  • Lobby the companies to not use the same options—this one is harder, for example, one company uses ‘more’ as a button with different options in at least five different locations across the screen. The ‘more’ button does something different at the bottom of the screen than the participant list than in the ‘raise your hand’ option bar. That consistent language to help navigate a novice is really important.
  • If you happen to be the coworker who knows and says that technology shouldn’t be an option: screaming louder into the microphone will not change the situation. But we also know something else: we miss you too. Well, maybe not the screaming part.

For Teachers

  • Slow down. Nope curriculum is not a reason to keep going faster. Slow down. Some students are still learning to navigate Learning Management Systems (LMS). Slow down. Students need that time to get to know each other in break out rooms. Slow down. Even if you need to get through more material in less time. Slow down. We realize the panic of building a plane, flying the plane, taping down problems on the flying plane, and studying aerodynamics from book one written at a book ten level. If you slow down, you will prevent your burn out. Slow down.
  • About taking roll online for real-time attendance (often called synchronous): Several people go about doing these different ways, students type in a warmup answer, students say ‘hi’, students are admitted from a lobby. However, you are choosing, getting in the habit of saying the student’s name. Get in the habit of welcoming that student, but slow down (did we mention this already?), let the student know you are learning their name, appreciating that they are entering class just like they had entered in real life.
  • Make your cursor/mouse pointer bigger. This helps with tracking. Some options, usually in Windows, allow you to even change the color of the mouse arrow. Encourage the students to do the same especially before a group presentation. Why? It takes time to track if you move your mouse over. Kids are keeping up with their classmate’s expressions, maybe something that was said about a discussion, they are trying to pay attention to you and hold that in their mind. An older student might manage this all right, a younger student might manage one or two things all right, and a student with a disability might just tune out and not do the activity. Slow down. Give the students who are tuning out a fighting chance to stay in class, even virtually.
  • And about those students—expect parents to be in the room. Well, wait you asked them to be in a distraction-free environment. Except your students might have disabilities or they might be under ten. The student with a disability might have a family member or an in-home support provider helping the student get online. The rule of thumb for ages was that the family computer or the child who used a computer, especially a computer online was to be used in a family public area. This was to help monitor the activity of the child and encourage good skills in the use of computers and especially not using computers for the number of hours on end.
  • While we are on those number of hours of computer usage: build in those brain breaks for students. Not just for students in elementary, students in secondary too. Teach students to look up and write one thing they see out the nearest window, teach students to stand up and reach for their toes, and come back to their seats after thirty seconds. Ergonometric standards for adults still say 20 minutes on then for 20 seconds looking at something over 20 feet away. Children can only attend naturally for so many minutes in normal life. Let’s give the kids good habits when it comes to using computers.
  • It might be too late now, but the phrases “Mute” and “Unmute” while natural seeming to adults, they actually come across muddled to some students, even those who wear headsets. Some suggestions: make a slide show and include icons for “green microphone” and “red microphone” for different times students are expected to have their microphones muted or unmuted. We also have had some success with students ‘microphone on’ and ‘microphone off’
  • Having access to your day’s presentation matters. We thought this was a feature of Renay being in grad school, but she explained that there is no good system to have a visual agenda of activities. That the students need to be able to review those activities or discussion points to have that reference.
  • Well if the students have a visual agenda, then they should split their screen. Okay but one second. A split-screen or holding two different windows open is most useful when taking notes from online reading. We generally surmise perhaps in ELA, History, or Science classes. It can be found in maybe Music or even PE, but we really aren’t fans of split-screen. The reason? The majority of the students in districts across the country are on Chromebooks. And Chromebooks with small screens (under 15 inches). Every microinch of that screen’s real estate matters. Two tabs open, one for notes, one for the lecture are going to eat into that space. Open a third for online reading and now you may not be able to see as much as if you had one window open. It is a skill a student will need to manage, but keep in mind: how long the student will be working like that, how long a student needs to complete an assignment
  • While we are on that: completing assignments take longer. They take longer online because they require a different set of muscle memories and executive functioning. Students are still developing their executive functioning and this can be quite complex. “Finish the math problems” involves 1) getting online, 2) remembering the password to the online textbook [even with a Single Sign-On (SSO), this is still required], 3) finding paper at home or the document to turn in for math class, 4) sitting so the math can be done, 5) remembering process for turning in work –may involve using their cell phone for ‘scanning’, 6) remembering to click ‘submit’

We have to talk though about the stories that are bubbling up: the teachers who quit in the middle of class online or the teachers who are not all right and turning on their video feed to teach class. And we are certain paraeducators are among them.

If you are in need of support: reach out to someone on campus you trust. If there is an emergency going on and it warrants a call to 9-1-1: please do so. Then call your administrator. If you are uncomfortable with what the students are seeing from a teacher, they are probably uncomfortable too. Contact your administrator.

If you need to quit: please do not do it publicly. We truly appreciate frustrations with the systems provided. We know students are not interacting the same as if they were in person. And we certainly know that few are trained to give distance learning. We know content demands are different, we know that not everything wants to interact the way things should between different pieces of technology. If you cannot handle being a teacher online, we respect that, but we want to give you dignity when you leave. Quitting in the middle of a class makes it very hard though we understand why you might quit.

Where is the support staff?

Support staff is a service provided to students to access academics or support positive behaviors. But at distance, the behaviors become the secondary function of the job.

A few things to keep in mind for paraeducators at a distance:

  1. You might be skipping your breaks, don’t. You need that break for stretching from being on the computer that long. And you need to grab a chance at the bathroom or check in on family distance learning or educating themselves.
  2. Having access to the LMS that allows you to help students figure out their assignments being different than their peers is also useful.
  3. Teach your students who are able to share their screens. This will negate the issues of navigating an adult interface verses what the student sees. Teach the student to slow down too.
  4. Finding ways to keep students who have challenges in paying attention by offering may rewards to the student for participation. Give that student honest praise for their contributions.

There is a lot going on. It will be all right. Some things to look up: box breathing. Pattern this into your schedule every twenty minutes, more often if things are going awry.

The world demands more of us. And this is what we are facing right now. We can either push the demands away or we can rise up. Educators typically rise up. And we will support each other to rise up.

And a funny story before we depart

We all know about cats interrupting online meetings. One particular cat walked across a keyboard of a school device and turned on screen magnification. The aforementioned cat was summarily banished from the student’s learning space. In summary: know where the accessibility features are on the school devices just in case.

One more thing:

ParaEducate will be off next week Monday for Labor Day. We will return September 14, 2020.


Do you have any comments about this week’s blog? Do you have a question for us? Would you like to have an opportunity to pilot some materials at your campus? Find ParaEducate online herehereherehere, and on our website. ParaEducate is a company providing materials, information, and strategies for people working in special education inclusion settings for grades K-12. ParaEducate, the blog, is published during the academic school year on Mondays, unless a holiday or announced day off. ParaEducate shares their findings at conferences, through their books, and their academic adaptations.

Posted in Campus, Disabilities, Distance Learning, General Education Students, ParaEducate, paraeducators, parents, Professionalism, Resources, Skills Lesson, Students, Technology, Uncategorized | Comments Off on Distance Learning Tips

Running Silent

We really have been caught up this week in the frenzy that has been sending our book to the publisher. The long-awaited The Odyssey in Stick Figures has been finally sent over and we are waiting for a few green lights before clicking publish. There is a bit of relief in the idea that we have been working on this book for five years. In year three we completely threw out the original manuscript we were working with (it had us planning for nearly four hundred fifty pages of illustrations). As it was, we walked out with 138 pages and approaching 150 original images all placed into the book. In the middle of publishing and adding images about three months ago, we ran into a problem with our original preferred publishing layout and had to change and add extra software to make this book a possibility.

We are very excited about The Odyssey in Stick Figures. It is hard not to be. Most of our books fast track to publication within a year or two when we have the majority of the information lined up properly. Five years this file has waited. We had to sort out the illustration process (by hand, watercolor). Then we scanned all the images and then edited the majority of the images to be ready to fit into the book. And we were doing this around many other life demands. In its own way, making this book was an odyssey of its own.

What life demands from us right now is that we, educators, find some level of kindness for each other. Case in point, a colleague had a staff ice breaker that involved a think-pair-share in small groups of what has changed with distance learning. For this colleague: it meant their trip to school was gone and the one road to the school which was always a fancy parking lot in their community was not a daily expectation. For another set of colleagues, their ice breakers were shout outs for contributions to the work they were doing to prepare for the upcoming school year. Office hours for one to one training and moral support.

Tricks of the Trade to share

Many districts are using several different platforms to get kids connected. For those who have the ability to push kids out into separate ‘rooms’ to have discussions, a few thoughts:

  1. Give kids more time to orient themselves. If you want to do what would normally take three to five minutes, give the students ten. This will also allow you to hop into discussions and hear some of the things that are going on, or seeing if someone needs more help. By the end of the year: you can have those three to five-minute blocks and pull the kids back. But at the beginning give the students space. Facilitate those conversations, know that it is just as odd as the students think it is. And that’s all right.
  2. Give yourself space to be wrong. To learn your new platforms. Whether or not you are familiar or ready to go, there will be just honest human error.
  3. There is a lot of good happening at your school. Even if you are not there. Some teachers are teaching from their classrooms as available, but others are at home on hotspots or Wi-Fi. We miss each other. We miss the driven room, face to face, purpose but we are here together virtually speaking none the less.

What About the Students Who Do Not Connect Online?

Before we get too far, by connect we mean to engage with peers or educators online. If it were a general education student we might wonder if they were sleeping in, if they have connectivity, if the student, in general, was all right. But with a student with a disability, the concerns are a little more basic. Does the student have a person who knows how to log them in? Is the student all right? Do they have enough equipment? How am I to engage with the student with a disability? Can I help a bit more? Do they need less help?

Even with anti-bias training/awareness on the part of an educator: talking with a student with a disability especially with a disability that is moderate to severe in nature can seem challenging. Separate the teacher and the student by a computer screen and now the difference is much more challenging. You might not get those moments to talk, even when facilitated by a paraeducator or other support staff. Try and make it a point as they come ‘in’ to talk to each student. Give the student that time to know that this is their classroom. Be aware that there is a delay of some students getting into a meeting and their device being entirely connected—this might be harder to remember since most teachers did not learn the internet in the era of the 56.6 k modem back in the day, but those of us who were working on those devices back then know all too well.

We are all too excited to be back with our students. It’s the new year. There will be bumps, falls, and possibly even exhaustion and these will come much differently than they did wandering around campus and ushering students into the right places. The world will change. We hope this will be for the better.

Oh, if you were wondering: yes we will let you know when the green light is complete on the new book. We’re excited. You’re excited. We can do this. First ‘bell’ may have run for some, it will start soon for others. We can make this work for all the students.

We are all too excited to be back with our students. It’s the new year. There will be bumps, falls, and possibly even exhaustion and these will come much differently than they did wandering around campus and ushering students into the right places.

ParaEducate

Do you have any comments about this week’s blog? Do you have a question for us? Would you like to have an opportunity to pilot some materials at your campus? Find ParaEducate online herehereherehere, and on our website. ParaEducate is a company providing materials, information, and strategies for people working in special education inclusion settings for grades K-12. ParaEducate, the blog, is published during the academic school year on Mondays, unless a holiday or announced day off. ParaEducate shares their findings at conferences, through their books, and their academic adaptations.

Posted in 8 hours, Begining of the Year, blog, Campus, Disabilities, Distance Learning, ParaEducate, paraeducators, Professionalism, Shutdown, Students | Comments Off on Running Silent

Little Talks

Renay has been working with teachers, service providers, and parents across the country and consulting about distance learning. She will be the first to tell you that she is hardly an expert about distance learning. While this seems to be a natural fit because Renay has always liked computers, Renay will be the first to tell you: it probably won’t be enough to handle what is coming in the next few weeks.

While Renay has been managing this, she has been working with many general education teachers preparing them for the upcoming year. Some may or may not have students with disabilities in their classroom, so many of the suggestions are really aimed at general education teachers. However, with this in mind, this helps guide special education teachers and their staff to prepare students for what comes ahead. This really is a joint venture.

But we need to start discussing some things related to distance learning.

What should we think about first?

This round of Distance Learning is going to be a little less friendly compared to what occurred from March through to June (or May) depending on your district. Grade might be going to come into play for the first time.

But the beginning of the year is about two things right away. The first is how to do things and what can a student do, and connections—relationships student to student, teacher to student.

But the beginning of the year is about two things right away. The first is how to do things and what can a student do, and connections—relationships student to student, teacher to student.

ParaEducate

Some of the how to do things will come from administration. Will there be new systems? Will there be a way to connect with students?

What can a student do? The older a student is, the more technological skills they might have. Introducing a student who is still identifying letters to how to type their name might be a useful activity. For a student who is using a communication device, helping the family figure out how much space the student needs to be successful in their distance learning.

For secondary students, new schedules might be introduced. This is going to make the delivery of services for special education much more complex for the districts who are trying 3×3 or 4×4 (a limited number of classes per term, three or four) pushing a full term or near year in one shorter block of time.

Standing on the outside, it might be overwhelming. Paraeducators and parents are both reporting anxiety about the different schedule and the different situation that is coming. Undoubtedly, the students are as well. Which leads us to mindset.

Mindset

We have had discussions about mindset heading into this academic year, especially schools that might have to pivot from being open, even from partially being back to back to distance. We’ve seen many posts about helping students cultivate mindset, especially a positive mindset about going back to school digitally.

Some thoughts that might apply and might not apply. Especially with older students.

  1. Start the conversation off that this year is different. And different from what we were doing at the end of last school year.
  2. Have students write about what worked and what did not work for them and share it with you (and only you). At the beginning of the year students are not quite ready to share with peers and under the assumption many will not have their cameras on—it’s that much harder to make a connection with a student
  3. For staff have the staff do the same thing. Consider the students by name that just did not work at all. Consider the circumstances you are aware of why distance learning might not have worked. Look at the students who did improve.

We want to talk briefly: it is all right to be pessimistic. We know some folks who are laughing at the idea that we would openly say that. Perhaps you think that Renay influenced this line alone. But we do know that some students are skeptical about Distance Learning. It is all right to believe that things are not equal in the world of in-person education and Distance Learning. They are not truly. What pessimism gives us is the flip side, the side we do not want to venture towards, it gives us our guides to help students manage Distance Learning. And if we know if something does not work for a student, then accept that it does not work for distance learning. Let’s find something that will work.

What pessimism gives us is the flip side, the side we do not want to venture towards, it gives us our guides to help students manage Distance Learning.

ParaEducate

Embrace technology.

We are at another cross roads in education and this was going to happen sooner or later. Embrace technology. It will be the connection we all have. And for better or worse, it is what we will address.

The choice is to accept technology or be left behind. This might have contributed to the large retirement group we have seen in many districts. While technology does not solve all the problems, it certainly provides more gateways than walls. You just have to figure out where the gates are.

What About Equity?

We have mentioned equity before last spring. And the truth is: equity is not going to be in play; we honestly doubt it ever truly was with regards to education. Someone will always have something that someone else does not know. Be it an experience, a kernel of knowledge. The point of education is to connect those pieces for those who do not have those first hand.

While we are on equity, about those cameras….realize that some homes may have four or more people on the same connection attempting to do the same thing. The camera off means that a parent can take their conference call with three different clients. The camera off might mean a student might not want to show their bedroom that they share with four other siblings or cousins. The camera off might mean that student is still struggling from the isolation of sheltering in place. The camera off also might help the student focus on what is going on in class. The camera off might let a younger sibling walk behind the student to get to a drawer of clothes to play dress up. Giving students different ways of being able to show they are interested is key right now.

And a warning: if you did not know in the Spring, expect parents to be there in class with their students. Not just because they might be in another room working from home, but helping a student with a disability login. They might stay the whole time. As long as you remember that there might be other ears with the student, stay the course.

One more tiny piece about equity before we leave to the next talk: especially on the West Coast, rolling blackouts are being re-introduced because of a heat wave. There is literally nothing that could possibly done about a rolling black out. Give students and yourself the means to be able to handle the situation at hand.

Shouldn’t We Be Fixing To Make Things More Equitable?

There are two pieces to this. And it starts with the individual: Are you able to give yourself right now to helping to look at the equitable piece of education? It’s not a small box. Keeping well in mind you are taking care of family, trying to connect with students and their families, and trying to take care of yourself.

Work might be family for you, but it is not the only piece of you that exists. For educators who are trying to work on this piece with groups: please keep working we are excited to hear what you come up with. For the educators who cannot do one more thing: It is okay, don’t worry. We have this we won’t forget about you. We understand you cannot take one more thing on your plate. We know you will be supportive when you see the ideas that get developed.

But I need concrete ideas for what to do

  1. Find a way for students to introduce themselves to you in a non-threatening manner. We are currently liking a Google Slide template where students type in boxes, their names, their likes/dislikes, record a voice message through their Learning Management System.
  2. This year it is not about the standards (but it is—just hold off). This year is about relationships, more so than any other year. It is about finding ways to connect to the students that you might not have had before.
  3. Giving feedback to students is more important than ever. Being very clear about their contributions to class, insights they have, asking if they want to share, but being specific while they are working and how they are working will help keep that student going.
  4. Teach the students their LMS, especially if it is new. Time lost now will be made up later. It is about making those connections to being better online. Teach the students how to be good citizens online.
  5. Brain/body breaks: we’ve always found the teachers who are geared to younger students are better at these sorts of breaks. But now we are going to be on a computer for eight hours nearly solid a day. Getting all students to thoughtfully get up and stretch, looking away from the screen is important. Be ready. Certainly, the student might not do all the activity, but giving those moments is very important

Giving feedback to students is more important than ever. Being very clear about their contributions to class, insights they have, asking if they want to share…

ParaEducate

There is a lot going on out in the world right now. And education is the small piece of the whole puzzle. We admit, most of what we have talked about this week is not really within most paraeducator’s control, but we know as school employees, paraeducators can influence the messaging, can influence the policies and culture of a campus opening at distance learning. For teachers and administrators, please listen to everyone right now. No one voice weighs more than the next, be mindful that the powers that make decisions clearly can change how one employee responds.

We at ParaEducate know the world right now requires educators who are calm and put together. And it is all right to let students know you might not be 100%. And that is where they will meet you. Yes, even our students with disabilities. Because they need to hear they are not alone. And we will work this out together to make our communities together.


Do you have any comments about this week’s blog? Do you have a question for us? Would you like to have an opportunity to pilot some materials at your campus? Find ParaEducate online herehereherehere, and on our website. ParaEducate is a company providing materials, information, and strategies for people working in special education inclusion settings for grades K-12. ParaEducate, the blog, is published during the academic school year on Mondays, unless a holiday or announced day off. ParaEducate shares their findings at conferences, through their books, and their academic adaptations.

Posted in 8 hours, Adminstrators, Begining of the Year, Campus, Classroom, Disabilities, Distance Learning, General Education Students, General Education Teachers, Guardians, ParaEducate, paraeducators, parents, Professionalism, Reframing, Resources, SEL, Students, Support Services | Comments Off on Little Talks

Virtually Ready

We let August third come sweep on by. Our summer here at ParaEducate was unlike any other we have had before, but we also know it was probably similar to others out there. Before we left work in June, our principal told us to keep an ear to our email. So every day, faithfully we checked and sometimes there felt like there was a lot, and sometimes there was nothing. And then the county we are sheltering in place had a few cases of COVID-19. But then it was more than a few cases. As a result, school for several neighboring counties will be Distance Learning.

In California, Senate Bill 98 passed (SB 98). This bill for the state of California defined expected 2020-2021 Distance Learning. This is a much more robust request for education of all students online than previously experienced from March until June. First of all, this is a virtual classroom of more minutes, approaching a more interaction online.

With more and more schools coming online, no matter how you feel about the situation at hand, let’s look at virtual education. What skills should a student bring into a virtual education.

The questions feel endless…

  • How to participate in class?
  • Getting in the habit of learning to respond. Have the camera on, thumbs up or down.
  • Learning how to respond to polls set up.
  • Adults need to get used to verbal interruptions for questions either by students or staff.
  • How to turn in things?
  • How to connect with students whose skills do not involve sitting?

What should we learn in the first week?

This separates into age groups. We’ll start the secondary group first. But keep in mind that these are suggestions.

For Secondary (grades 7 to 12), consider students learning:

  • How to navigate any learning management system
  • How to write an email
  • How to use a smartphone to make a scan of handwritten work
  • How to find help for academics, social-emotional

Elementary (grades 4 to 6)

  • How to learn to navigate a learning management system
  • How to ask a question in class
  • How to turn in work
  • How to find help for academics and social emotional
  • How to respond to emotions

Elementary (grades K-3)

  • How to ask questions in class
  • How to take a picture with the computer camera
  • How to turn in work digitally
  • How to type
  • How to identify their emotions and how to reflect

This is all well and good, but what about Paraeducators?

Paraeducators can help facilitate communication between teachers and students. Paraeducators can keep an eye on chat with older students for questions. Paraeducators can help with one on one interactions with students even digitally.

Do not under estimate the importance of teamwork in the upcoming weeks. There is a lot to be said for team work during this time.

A note:

ParaEducate will publish on Mondays for the remainder of the 2020 calendar year.

We thank you and welcome you back to the upcoming academic year.


Do you have any comments about this week’s blog? Do you have a question for us? Would you like to have an opportunity to pilot some materials at your campus? Find ParaEducate online herehereherehere, and on our website. ParaEducate is a company providing materials, information, and strategies for people working in special education inclusion settings for grades K-12. ParaEducate, the blog, is published during the academic school year on Mondays, unless a holiday or announced day off. ParaEducate shares their findings at conferences, through their books, and their academic adaptations.

Posted in #TeamInclusion, Begining of the Year, Campus, Distance Learning, General Education Teachers, ParaEducate, paraeducators, Shutdown, Skills Lesson | Comments Off on Virtually Ready

It Is Political, But Not In The Way You Think

We had no intention of returning this quickly. But as a company, we cannot ignore the simple fact that the rise of violence lately in the United States is running rampant.

We recognize that our readers are probably exhausted by the barrage of news of things that are entirely out of our hands. But we cannot be silent. While we know focus of our world is on the disability community, this doesn’t mean that our students aren’t African Americans, aren’t attending protests, have friends and neighbors who experience the divide that the rest of us are just sitting on the side wondering why solutions have not been found.

We were reminded last week right after George Floyd was murdered that Inclusion doesn’t happen without all our ethnicities, cultures, and life experiences. From this, we know that we need to verbally send our support to the change that is so desperately needed.

“…Inclusion doesn’t happen without all our ethnicities, cultures, and life experiences.”

When part of our community is affected, our whole community sees it, hears it, experiences it. We cannot all go out and attend the protests. But for those who experience the divide: we see you, we hear you, we are on your side.

“…we see you, we hear you, we are on your side.”

Some things to know before you engage someone who is stuck because of the “-isms”

  1. Check your privilege. Know when your voice needs to be the one to stand up and when you need to step back for other voices to take the stage. Know that you might have had an easier time because of your ethnicity, your socio-economics, or other life circumstances than someone else.
  2. While you’re at it: check for your biases. These are the generalizations you make daily. Even ones you’re not aware of.
  3. Engage your campus. It’s better if it comes from the top down. But there are things around campus you can engage: read diverse books, talk about different life experiences. That the world is not just the campus, the community, or the news.
  4. Ask for help from the ELA or History experts at your campus. There are ways to provide context and connectivity to lessons currently in discussion.
  5. Ask your coworkers who are African-American what you can do to help them and their community during this time. It might even be helping that co-worker. Let them know that you see them, hear them, and have their backs.

The problems in the United States will not go away tomorrow. These problems are not unique to the United States but our solution to move to forward will be uniquely American. Our solutions will not change the past, but it will start to remove the barriers that have been oppressive.

We see you. We here you. We are on your side.


ParaEducate is on summer break right now. Do you have any comments about this week’s blog? Do you have a question for us? Would you like to have an opportunity to pilot some materials at your campus? Find ParaEducate online herehereherehere, and on our website. ParaEducate is a company providing materials, information, and strategies for people working in special education inclusion settings for grades K-12. ParaEducate, the blog, is published during the academic school year on Mondays, unless a holiday or announced day off. ParaEducate shares their findings at conferences, through their books, and their academic adaptations.

Posted in #kindness, Book Conversations, Campus, Disabilities, Inclusion, ParaEducate, Professionalism, Students, Summer | Comments Off on It Is Political, But Not In The Way You Think

What About Now?

Yes, we promised this yesterday. But yesterday happened and is gone. It is the end of the academic year for ParaEducate. Normally by now, we’ve prepared you for things that can be fun and talked more about celebrations. But this year is entirely different. It is hard to ignore that there are good things that have come from crisis distance learning.

This moment in time, those of us with the ability have helped others rise. We’ve found the words to forge ahead. For our colleagues who have struggled: we have heard from you. We listen. We know this– all crisis parts– is not easy. We know that there are millions of things that demand your attention. And it’s okay. We have you until you’re ready.

We know this– all crisis parts– is not easy. We know that there are millions of things that demand your attention. And it’s okay. We have you until you’re ready.

ParaEducate

The Good, Bad, And Frustrations

The Good

Some kids are thriving. Renay has noticed that some teens do want to do school like this.

For the students who are working and turning in work, you also notice that spring fever has set in and some of the students are not turning in the quality of work you expect. It is refreshing to know that the students are still being themselves even at a distance.

It is refreshing to know that the students are still being themselves even at a distance.

ParaEducate

All those options for turning in ‘different’, are coming to fruition. And students, with less contact with peers are starting to take those little risks. And we welcome those risks.

The Bad

Inequality. Devices that do not work the same across the board. Accessibility to internet with little brothers, sisters, cousins, parents/adults all using the same internet. For educators with families, scheduling is not something we can just ignore anymore. Helping the children in our shelter in place is as important as supporting

Disinterest. The kids who aren’t interested in distance learning, whether because of their own mental health or because this is not the best way to engage that student.

The constant worry. Is there something you need? Are you not getting this because you don’t have enough examples? What barrier do I need to know about that you aren’t able to articulate? How can we better explain what is going on to our students with the most severe disabilities? How do we rebuild the process of ‘school’ for students who are dependent on routine of ‘school’?

The unanswered questions. These partners with worries, but we have them. And we just need the resilience to write down our questions and keep moving forward. Right now, it’s the end of the year. We have to start dealing with grading and smiles for the end of the school year. Whether or not we can have graduation or if we can have a gathering of our staff for the end of the year sendoff is the last thing on our minds, though we are quite sad that it is not like years past because the individuals leaving have no fewer demands.

Frustrations

Being shut out of student’s lives at school. The kids being shut out from opportunities to build up with each other.

Trying to find the system that will get students to do ‘school’ for the ones who can do school.

Trying to find systems for students to interact in this moment.

We wouldn’t be a last post without some humor

Dangers we never anticipated happening in Distance Learning:

  • Feeling sick because the student tossed the computer on the bed and hopped off.
  • Watching some students enjoy the ‘chat’ feature when you know most of them have access to audio
  • Having the family cat walkthrough on the keyboard. Best distractions while working.
  • We believe that we can learn (and teach) via distance and for some, this is working, for some, this is something we try and we know will never work again.

Thinking About The New School Year

There are three potential speculations for most districts.

  • We all go back 100% of the time
  • We go back with alternative scheduling and some online
  • We stay on line 100% of the time

So, what we need to do is think about how best to use paraeducators. Especially in the 100% online situation. But before we get into some details, we need to put the real supports in place.

We know that solutions no matter what involve the adults squaring with their own mental health.

We know that solutions involve all educators no matter what school looks like.

We know that solutions follow local county guidelines, respecting the health of many of our students with disabilities as well as their general education, high risk and low risk peers and the families they return home to daily.

We can still learn from each other. Those professionals who have made the hop into distance learning and feel confident with the tools they have been given should be helping other educators to learn the technology and bridge those gaps that can help students be more successful in their academic progress.

Those professionals who have made the hop into distance learning and feel confident with the tools they have been given should be helping other educators to learn the technology and bridge those gaps that can help students be more successful in their academic progress.

ParaEducate

We also want to state that distance learning, even crisis response distance learning is not going away. That the lessons we have learned need to be ready to go and help everyone in the district out as an immediate plan. It is time to reflect and build a plan in place for when the next time we need to switch to distance learning again. What can we best provide for all students?  What can we best provide all staff? How do we help our students who are the most in crisis feel supported? We build this new school system carefully.

End of the Year Sign Off

Like all of the country, our entire trajectory was skewed. It probably did not help that we switched to a Monday posting and then our lives got changed more so ParaEducate ended up forgetting to pull together Monday and posted on a Tuesday. A few times…Whoops. But we thank our loyal supporters. It makes all the difference for us.

ParaEducate is a small business. Unlike most small businesses, ParaEducate is able to politely ask you all, wherever you are, to support your local small businesses—the corner market, the special restaurant downtown first. We will be here when you return.

ParaEducate will return for the academic year 2020-2021 on August 3, 2020, no matter how the world looks then. There will be one summer surprise post during this time.

Find kindness. Find joy. Take care of each other.


Do you have any comments about this week’s blog? Do you have a question for us? Would you like to have an opportunity to pilot some materials at your campus? Find ParaEducate online herehereherehere, and on our website. ParaEducate is a company providing materials, information, and strategies for people working in special education inclusion settings for grades K-12. ParaEducate, the blog, is published during the academic school year on Mondays, unless a holiday or announced day off. ParaEducate shares their findings at conferences, through their books, and their academic adaptations.

Posted in 8 hours, blog, Campus, Disabilities, Distance Learning, End of the Year, ParaEducate, paraeducators, Professionalism, Retirement, Students, Technology | Comments Off on What About Now?

How To Motivate At A Distance

In other years, when we talk about ‘motivating at a distance’, we are usually talking about a paraeducator being on the other side of the classroom or maybe from another classroom entirely. This is the one time when we might think our motivators are completely useless.

Distance Learning, even crisis Distance Learning, requires the student to advocate for themselves. And for some of our students who communicate very sporadically when we are sitting with that student, this is more of a challenge that we have miles between us when the student is anywhere in the city (hopefully) and through the complexity that is now wifi connectivity.

But connections are happening. To be certain, Renay has probably only seen less than 1% of her students online. And like other teachers, she is finding that troubling. Not just because they have not logged in, but there might be barriers, but they are just not chatting or connecting with their teachers.

But successes are happening. That student who makes incremental progress is clearly making incremental progress. Last week, it was just to log in. Then this week’s assignments started rolling in. One or two classes and it’s enough to make you dance a jig of glee. Then they participated in a classroom online discussion voluntarily. They came to office hours. Be happy they logged in. Greeting as they are ready for class to start. More so than prior to being kept at home. This is not a ‘thing’. It works. Honestly. Connect to the students you say you enjoy being around. It matters. Celebrate those successes.

Greeting as they are ready for class to start. More so than prior to being kept at home. This is not a ‘thing’. It works. Honestly. Connect to the students you say you enjoy being around. It matters. Celebrate those successes.

ParaEducate

This is a time to be handing out ‘thank you’s to students like candy on Halloween. Do it. Do it genuinely. Do it privately, do it publicly, do it with the teacher to call attention to their great work. Do it so their parents know about the leaps and bounds their student is making.

What About Those Not Participating?

Praise what you can. Be direct about the work they need to do. Lower the bar. Get it lower if you need to. Get the student to do the work you know they can.

The Distractions…

We would be dismissive about successes some students are having if we did not talk about the distractions of school. We are not certain, because there are no real studies done on distance learning at this scale, but we know a few things to be true.

Some students do better without the social aspect of school. The lunch room causes anxiety. The noise in the halls, the slammed lockers in the locker room. In their home, students know where they belong. There are inequities everywhere in life.

The novelty of distance learning has gotten some students to feed into the opportunities that have arisen. Coupled with some districts choosing that the end of the year grades are Pass/Fail, some students have an opportunity to do better than they have in the past.

Equally telling are the students who are experiencing anxiety because unlike in a classroom when everyone can speak at once, only a few people can speak and the calls are much less random, the teacher is choosing to go down the list alphabetically, or some other strategy because they are without their randomizers or cannot privately speak to a student about when they will be called on.

Because They Are About To Leave

A lot of attention is on graduates right now. And one of Renay’s godsons is graduating this year from high school, so she knows all too much about what he is not getting to do as his school year ends. And schools are managing to celebrate those seniors whether it is a school parade in a car by each home or a drive by graduation for a photo at school, there are celebrations.  There is another group of people about to leave school and we are not talking about them: the Teachers who are Retiring or leaving for a different job.

We normally don’t talk a lot about the professional end when it comes to teachers. Certainly, paraeducators come and go. Sometimes administrators too.

But teachers…they are the ones that are going to keep the boat going. At least so we hope. And now under Shelter In Place, finding out about a teacher who is retiring or leaving, it feels like that person is already even further away than they were.

What can we do? This is one of those times that perhaps ‘old school’ is useful. If your campus has a list of post office mail addresses, get one of those and write out a letter thanking that teacher for the opportunity to work with them. Have students write something they will remember from the teacher if they had the specific teacher. Remember you might need to support a student if they have an especially meaningful relationship with a student.

Thank you for being professionals with good humor as we worked to teach students. I appreciate your candor and support in making adjustments to being with the variety of students, and adults in your classrooms.

Speaking of Going…

ParaEducate will end for the academic year next week, on May 18. This academic year has been quite a surprise for all of us. Thank you for your support this academic year. You can always reach out to us and have a response.


Do you have any comments about this week’s blog? Do you have a question for us? Would you like to have an opportunity to pilot some materials at your campus? Find ParaEducate online herehereherehere, and on our website. ParaEducate is a company providing materials, information, and strategies for people working in special education inclusion settings for grades K-12. ParaEducate, the blog, is published during the academic school year on Mondays, unless a holiday or announced day off. ParaEducate shares their findings at conferences, through their books, and their academic adaptations.

Posted in 8 hours, Behavior Strategies, blog, Campus, Classroom, Disabilities, Distance Learning, General Education Students, ParaEducate, paraeducators, Professionalism, Students, Technology | Comments Off on How To Motivate At A Distance

Learning Modifications At A Distance

Renay is on Week 4 of 8 for modifying and staying on routine to reach out to students at a variety of levels and keep them going through distance learning until the academic year ends. Like many of you, Renay is also wearing multiple hats at the same time. We are lucky Renay has learned a little bit of balance, but she has gotten to the point when she realizes she cannot take on as much as she would like to do. And that is totally all right.

It is Teacher Appreciation Week

We want to say first it is Teacher Appreciation Week. In the past maybe the PTA made a lunch, or some cute poster for the teachers to share.

If you have time, write a short message in Google Campus to the teachers who you know have stepped up and taken on this greater challenge. It could even be an email thanking them. Sure flowers and coffee are nice, but right now, being kind, being truthful, being open with all our teachers reaching out and letting them know that they are being heard in this.

Reaching Out to Students Right Now

In a meeting, a consoler at a school politely reminded all staff that students are experiencing depression in large numbers. And the adults are too.

But some things to work on with students.

  • Praise the students more often. Renay has found the ritual of greeting as students log in more important than ever. Perhaps more important than greeting at the door in regular classrooms.
  • Connecting to each student, even when they do not log in is incredibly important. Email the student, ask them how they are doing.
  • Most paraeducators never hear this, but you need to praise four to five times prior to a correction. Build on the good that you have, not the good you expect and never give a return.
  • Give precise instructions.

Modifications

One of the things that got Renay there this week was looking at some modifications. And there are a lot more modifications going on right now than previously. It is just not feasible to coach students through the same way we would have in school 1:1. So, the first thought is usually to grab whatever is free and available. Which is great and then you try and use those modifications and you run into issues.

Renay is currently trying to make sense of a modification found online. While the questions are mostly spot on for a student, she realized there were some details that seemed very wrong. On further investigation, she found that a modification had purposefully strange details. She surmised it might have been a process for copyright, but she suspects something else. Many modifications and written adaptations are being found from countries other than the United States, which is normally fine. However, things that specifically involve an interpretation that comes from the United States, say involving racial inequality in the United States, those are modifications that really need to be done and created by people in the United States. Bottom line: if you are taking a modification online from an unknown source, please check out the entire source for details. In the bigger picture normally details don’t really matter, but sometimes they do. If finding the free sources are making your life easier: we appreciate that fact and hope you use the time for something for you instead.

No, We Are Pretty Serious On The Self-Care

Distance Learning came about in this large scale because of a crisis. This is not something anyone signed up for. There are a lot of feelings with dates being pushed back and graduations not occurring and other markers of the end of the year. To help folks get through this time

Remember when the word day is done, the work day is done.

Take a walk. Find a video about yoga. Spend time with your family. Cuddle your dog or cat (if they will allow it).

Read a book. Watch some TV or a movie. Play video games.

None of these suggests include: fight with your offspring to do their online course work, keep working, or email everyone about the progress you made.

Take care of yourself, the rest will fall in place when it should. There is no shame in asking for help.

Thank you, everyone, for the work you have been doing to keep education running. Thank you to everyone who continues to follow your local government guidelines.


Do you have any comments about this week’s blog? Do you have a question for us? Would you like to have an opportunity to pilot some materials at your campus? Find ParaEducate online herehereherehere, and on our website. ParaEducate is a company providing materials, information, and strategies for people working in special education inclusion settings for grades K-12. ParaEducate, the blog, is published during the academic school year on Mondays, unless a holiday or announced day off. ParaEducate shares their findings at conferences, through their books, and their academic adaptations.

Posted in Appreciation, Behavior Strategies, Campus, Distance Learning, Modifications, ParaEducate, paraeducators, Professionalism, SEL, Trauma Sensitive | Comments Off on Learning Modifications At A Distance