Seasons of Thanks

It might be hard to remember that feeling of gratitude that happened in May and June as all the kids perhaps drove by to get their diplomas, the way communities bonded and developed a new tradition to help build in thanks for the way education rallied and helped communities have a chance to recover. But here we are, in the season that begins with thanks. And we might be tired of waiting for whatever ‘end’ of COVID restrictions might be. But whatever your community is using, please keep using it. Please stay safe.

Let’s start with some thank you

To the parents, to the spouses, to the families of first responders, especially our medical workers, Thank you. While we educators might not know the cycles of challenges that are specifically faced by the medical community, we know that not only professional duty kept you going out and helping all the members of our community, you were bound to see this through. And at best, we are only half way through in most areas.

To the students, for our youngest students who have never known any other education, we thank you for being brave enough to keep trying. To our older students we thank you for knowing that this is temporary, that something like the school you have experienced in years past will come again. For the students who are stepping up, we thank you. To the students who are still frightened by this change, it will be okay, we are still here. For the students who feel they are not doing much, we are working on it.

To the families, you might not be thrilled with distance learning. You might be more worried about what your student is not able to do any longer. But what has generally been said, even your student with a disability, is not any more behind than their academic peers. Everyone is experiencing the challenges of Distance Learning or Hybrid, or full return with modifications. For the families who made decisions to stay home, we know much you agonized over those choices. For those families who made decisions to send their children to Hybrid or full return, we know that you too may have agonized over those choices.

To the educators and their families. The choices of returning to work or not is quite challenging. It is not just about the test of patience that has been laid at the feet of educators. For those who have started to only scratch the surface of ‘figuring it out’, for those who feel confident. To those who have spent extra hours helping coworkers. You understand the challenges that we are facing. You understand that the extra work that has gone into making things happen. You understand that the exhaustion that has reached a new level. You understand that things are not as easy as they should be. But nothing ever worth teaching ever has been.

You understand that things are not as easy as they should be. But nothing ever worth teaching ever has been.

ParaEducate

It is not easy. Nothing ever worthwhile should be easy. But we are continuing along with whatever version of school. We wish everyone well. We wish for happier times ahead.

Seasonal Thanks

We will be off next week for the holiday of Thanksgiving in the United States. We know this holiday may look different compared to previous years, but it means all the same this year. We remember the family who have shared and sacrificed. We remember the family that call and ask us every day. We remember to give thanks to our friends and allies who make the challenges of being away for so long a little bit easier to accept. If you are able, please contribute financially to a local food bank or shelter. And know that next year, will be a celebration to remember.


ParaEducate will be off next week for United States Thanksgiving. 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 Teachers, paraeducators, parents, Professionalism, Reframing, Special Education Teachers, Students | Comments Off on Seasons of Thanks

Hard. Good. Essential

It probably should not be a surprise that Renay was riveted to the television, like generations before her for the moon landing, for the Challenger Explosion, September 11th. And now, a presidential election that has broken a glass ceiling– a Vice-President-Elect who shares the idea of mixed heritage with Renay. A president-elect speech that addressed people with disabilities. With an incoming first lady who knows the world of education.

History favors the victors. But now it’s time to get to the real work: remembering the importance of community. No one wins until we all are working together to move the country forward.

Hard Work

We have never really discussed the tides of the week. But with Distance Learning, the week takes on a different tenor.

Mondays are going to be Mondays. You need the schedule of homework for the week, you need to have an idea of the hand outs, you need to get ahead in the reading, you make your game plans of how to help your students. You might make digital visual schedules today. And you have got to get into the digital classes and capture the essence of what the general education teacher is providing. And you are doing this without the walking across campus. You are probably doing it between juggling children of your own on their schedule, hopefully in your district, but it is just as likely not to have children in your district of employment.

Tuesdays are hopefully the same as Monday so the work you put in Monday isn’t as difficult as it possibly can be. And maybe the hours are longer or shorter. You might have meetings today. You might have them later in the week.

Wednesday, you think you’ve climbed that hill, you know the work gets harder from here. You know you have quizzes piling, you have work that needs to explain. And Thursday, you feel you have the world at your fingers.

But Friday. Friday makes hard harder. And everyone’s nerves are frayed. No matter how important something is, nothing should matter that much. And yet: it still does. It is a work day.

The point of this list really is to look at the pacing of yourself during the week. Take care of yourself during the day. Reach out to coworkers if you need support.

The point of this list really is to look at the pacing of yourself during the week. Take care of yourself during the day. Reach out to coworkers if you need support.

Paraeducate

Good Work

There is good work. And it comes between black squares with names, and no response, even on the full class chat. We know that staff is working hard with the skills they have and the skills that can transfer to an online setting, not all the skills do.

We thank you for your efforts in continuing to connect with students, no matter how they come to school.

Essential Work

Education is essential work. Getting information imparted is only a part of the equation. Facilitating friendships is also essential work.

  • Improving relationships from adult to student, student to student, is essential work.
  • Helping students see through the chaos is essential work.
  • Building foundational skills is essential work.
  • Making progress is essential work.
  • Connecting with families is essential work.
  • Making opportunities to build on community within school is essential work.
  • Remember that the school is a community.

If all these things come into play, then school makes progress with a variety of students.

We model. We build trust. We carry on. This is the land education was built on. And we will continue to do so.


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.

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Traditions

It is the beginning of November and weeks and days are pretty much blending together. Grades are showing up for most students by this point or they are about to. And in the world of technology that now dominates the educational landscape like some Science Fiction novel, to be certain, students are not necessarily thinking about the things that are not happening.

But Renay just came off two major personal holidays this week—Dia de Los Muertos and All Soul’s Day. While Renay admits that they aren’t major holidays she shares with many people normally, there is a profound sense of sadness to her that this is an event now that feels even more isolating though she knows many people celebrate. And through November and December are more holidays that are filled with deeper traditions, and the point is to gather and share the best of the year.

At school, traditions are a bit less personal. Right now, the missing costumes related events, possibly Homecoming for students who have recently graduated from high school, and special gatherings for parents and their children.

Opportunity does arise to make new traditions. Renay had an amazing amount of fun last week during her school’s spirit week. The winner: bring your pet to class day. In a class of students who would never turn on their camera, their pet being welcomed brought half the class willing to take a yearbook screenshot with their pet. Some pets, mostly cats, were not thrilled, but many cats have been champions—one student even left out an ottoman for their cat. The cat was most pleased with this offering as their throne for the day and was happy to nap there next to their student person. The close runner up: Students wearing costumes on Friday. By the way– Renay was “Distance Learning Mission Control”.

And that is the tradition to celebrate: the things we can find now. The smiles on our student’s faces, in their voices, their progress they are making no matter what. There are going to be the students that we worry about—any educator would be worried about any student. Those of us heading into Hybrid are also worried. There are things that are emotionally taxing, the roving that we are not doing, and the speed at which our lives as educators have been way too busy alternating with way too lax in other ways are also challenges. And if we don’t have those meetings with each other, we forget that causal meetings, meetings without intent, provide challenges to our professional growth and chances to learn what the other brings. In summary: we need each other in the education field more than ever.

Opportunity does arise to make new traditions. Renay had an amazing amount of fun last week during her school’s spirit week.

ParaEducate

The traditions to keep

It would be time to always assess what we need to do to be successful. What did work? What will the students remember of their education at this moment in time? Are we providing everything we can as educators to be the guide through the journey. What motivated the students? What brought them some happiness? What did they learn?

And then you take a second, maybe even another second, because these aren’t necessarily concepts students with disabilities share easily with others. But we will tell you that find the joy in the day. That student who needed a million prompts to do one task: he just did a partial task without a prompt. The student that makes you smile has learned to use that smile to make other students smile. The student that is helpful to others has continued to be helpful to others. If as an educator, you are not finding these moments fulfilling, it is all right. There are many things demanding your attention and you are not able to keep track of all of those things right now. But know and have faith that these events are occurring.

One more thing…

Renay was just tapped for something rather exciting coming up. We cannot wait to share with you.

And if you don’t know: We are nearly a month away from sending Renay virtually to SIP. Haven’t signed up yet? It is free and it is centered in California. They have two series, this one is geared just for paraeducators. We are excited to share our work with SIP.


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, Conferences, Distance Learning, Morale, ParaEducate, paraeducators, Professionalism, Reframing | Comments Off on Traditions

Right From The Top

We had waffled about our topic this week. Probably a symptom of our mid-October doldrums, but we were mindlessly scrolling through social media when we came across a title of an article about administrators and their relationship with teachers. And that’s exactly what we were facing right now.

While the original article has little bearing on the relationship of an administrator and a paraeducator, we thought we’d look at this relationship.

In general, most districts the official supervisor for any given campus is held in the authority of the principal and/or vice principal. However, special education falls under two places (once under special education and once on the campus the services are housed). This often creates an interesting set of conflicts especially if a staff member was reassigned by the district—usually citing the number of needed minutes for students IEP to be cost effective. There are other issues as well.

Paraeducators, are also under the direction of anyone with a teaching credential. At that ‘moment’ for that snapshot in time: you are there with that person trying to figure out the best way to support any given student.

That is technically way too many people supervising one person in pursuit of educating three to five students at any given time. Especially when teachers technically only answer to one person, again in special education perhaps three entities (the family of the student, the general education administrator, and the special education administrator).

But really, what we need to tell you it’s not really that complicated in the minute in the moment, as you are going through your day at any given campus/device to support the students you support.

But how does an administrator support a paraeducator?

  1. Remember that they are on your campus and serve as another set of eyes on campus. They count as a person in the room for hybrid and small cohorts. They aren’t ‘just a service’.
  2. Remember that each paraeducator and their specific job duties are as unique as the student they support. Some students need direct one on one attention, but is their paraeducator giving the student a chance to try things on their own? Is that paraeducator aware of how the social interactions of a group with their student are playing out?
  3. With distance learning: do you know when they get their breaks? Did you know the schedule has the paraeducator on for five hours straight with no break? When are the department meetings occurring? Did you know the team is meeting/not meeting/meeting more than once a week officially?
  4. Find out from the case managers how they are getting timely information about changes that are going on in classes. This goes for virtual education and traditional education and everything in between. When a parent complains, this will help sort things out for everyone.
  5. Find out things about your paraeducator. What do they like? What was the last book they read? What their general education class preferences are and why? Do they have another job? [Honestly: the answer is probably yes, and find out how that affects their work-life balance.]
  6. Realizing that some paraeducators will need more guidance than others. It is all too easy to hope the paraeducator will ‘learn on the job’, and some of the best do. The others need to be explicitly told ‘yes’ or ‘no.
  7. Let the paraeducator know you are there for them as much as you are for the teaching staff. Come in to classes, watch how they work with students, find out what they know and do not know. Be ready to understand that paraeducator and their student relationships.

With distance learning: do you know when they get their breaks? Did you know the schedule has the paraeducator on for five hours straight with no break? When are the department meetings occurring? Did you know the team is meeting/not meeting/meeting more than once a week officially?

ParaEducate

Not ever paraeducator has aspirations to be a teacher. We need to statement this to be clear. But many could be good teachers with the right coaching and guidance. Administrators taking advantage and learning to guide all the members on their campus to being the best staff possible is not just for the teachers, though teachers are always going to be central to the administrative duties.


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 Adminstrators, Campus, Distance Learning, paraeducators, Professionalism | Comments Off on Right From The Top

Turn This Thing Around

Grades have come out for some students or are about to for others, depending on their age. But here we have a chance to look at what the students are doing (or not doing). And again, every year we sit and watch things unfold with students.

Now with students in more different places in their academics than ever, it will be quite a challenge in the coming months to get students to reach the same conclusions academically as we have had in the past.

But fortunately, we have resources for that.

  1. Start with “I don’t know that yet.” Getting students reoriented to being at school is important for all students. They are not going to remember everything they were trying to cram in since they started school.
  2. Have a plan to help people up. Maybe more brain breaks, maybe more processing time. These are going to be situations that are going to look different daily. Some students like routine. Some students like a novelty. Some students will act like this does not matter: it does. They’re just too cool to say so.
  3. For students who do not have families who are supportive of their academic progress, you get to be their sole cheerleader. This is hard. You will be separating out the push back you will invariably get from the mixed messages the student is trying to decipher in their life. Sometimes it will be you sitting in the void asking and begging for them to respond. Sometimes it will be you sitting by wondering where they stored all that information and they are just getting it out. And other times, you will wonder why you are trying. It is all right. You can do this. We know it makes a difference.

Remind students that they can change and make adjustments to how they perceive themselves and allow others to think about them. And this is hard, especially for students with disabilities. Many students understand they don’t understand things and are reluctant to share that they do not understand something. Reaching out in chat when a teacher is hammering the class for responses (even copied responses) is not exactly useful to keep up when the chat scrolling by.

Remind students that they can change and make adjustments to how they perceive themselves and allow others to think about them.

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 Distance Learning, Grades, Shutdown | Comments Off on Turn This Thing Around

It’s Time To Talk Of Other Things…

We thought we’d start addressing hybrid learning this week. We know many schools are beginning to start their process of preparing hybrid learning if they aren’t already there. However, we got a concern that came across Renay’s desk.

The concern might as well have been dancing with air horns tied to the feet. “Are paraeducators doing less in distance learning.”

We have to say, every single time someone asks Renay if she’s doing less, she laughs. Since the start of Distance Learning, Renay says it’s actually probable that her work load has doubled, her commute is now nearly only five minutes (the time it takes to boot up three different devices and make sure they are fully plugged in for the day.) Yes, Renay has four academic classes this ‘term’ right now. But the hours are the same. Renay still has to scramble to figure out how to do the work, provide support to students who are even less likely to ask or want support, and connect students to resources to make their education possible. Renay is online for nearly seven hours straight just for work. And that includes meetings, connecting with general education teachers, responding to email, writing modifications, and trying to figure out how to new distance learning options for a student might work differently.

Educators are constantly trying to improve things for as many students as possible. We believe that everyone on any given campus in any given current set up are spread exceedingly thin right now and that educators need support emotionally and professionally.

At ParaEducate, we are pretty certain there might be individuals across every district who are working less. And we don’t want to speculate why. We know the majority of staff in every campus are working their tails off trying to make distance learning work for as many students as possible.

We have to say, every single time someone asks Renay if she’s doing less [because of distance learning], she laughs.

ParaEducate

Let’s Play With a Cactus…

We have decided to start talking about things with regards to distance learning a little more strategically. For our first round, we look at using the cameras…

Cameras on or Cameras off?

Cameras onCameras Off
Statistically speaking: the student is more likely to be engaged in the work. Educators can ‘read’ the room, and adjust for students who need support  
Seeing peers: Older students have more ways of seeing their peers, younger students may not. Seeing the person, not just the name on the screen helps those students know things are ‘all right’.  
Provide equity: students who do not have equal access to quality internet are more likely to be able to stay on if more people’s cameras are off  
Emotional crutch: Not just for the student with known anxiety that sea of faces is hard to sort through.  
Provide students privacy: not all students know that their peers may be sharing a smaller space with four or five other siblings or cousins, or perhaps family friends. And especially for students who are in group homes. It’s different if you’re a friend. But a classroom is not a friendship. And certainly your teacher is not your friend.
Table looking at arguments for and against using cameras with students

Is there something we’ve forgotten in either category? We might not know all the benefits of either

We’re On Our Way…

It is October. It is one of the most celebrated months for disabilities.

Just take a look at a partial list here:

·  Antidepressant Death Awareness Month

·  Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder Month

·  Blindness Awareness Month

·  Celiac Disease Awareness Month

·  Celiac Sprue Awareness Month

·  Dwarfism Awareness Month 

·  Dysautonomia Awareness Month

·  Dyslexia Awareness Month

·  Global ADHD Awareness Month

·  Global Diversity Awareness Month

·  Head Start Awareness Month

·  International Augmentative & Alternative Communication (AAC)

·  Long-Term Care Planning Month

·  Lupus Awareness Month

·  Mental Illness Awareness Month

·  National Audiology Awareness Month

·  National Critical Illness Awareness Month

·  National Depression Education and Awareness Month

·  National Disability Employment Awareness Month

·  National Down Syndrome Awareness Month

·  National Learning and Development Month

·  National Sensory Awareness Month

·  National Service Dog Month

·  National Spina Bifida Awareness Month

·  National Stop Bullying Month

·  National Substance Abuse Prevention Month

·  Rett Syndrome Awareness Month

·  Spina Bifida Prevention Month

·  World Blindness Awareness Month

So while this is an impressive list, the real question is ‘what to do’ about the ‘Awareness’? Can I, as an individual, move to an action? Do I need to talk to other people more? Do I need to lobby my local elected officials to do more for people with disabilities? What can I do?

  1. Take time to learn how the students you work with have their disabilities affect them.
  2. Give the students you work with space to make mistakes
  3. Ask the student what they need before jumping in.

If you have not met a person with a specific disability, don’t worry. You may one day.

A Long Awaited Announcement

Renay is speaking in a Paraeducator series hosted by Supporting Inclusive Practices. They are a California group working on helping educators become more inclusive. We are very honored and excited to be connecting with many folks up and down the State of California.


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 ADHD, Campus, Conferences, Disabilities, Distance Learning, Inclusion, Intellectual Disabilities, ParaEducate, paraeducators, Professionalism, Resources, Technology | Comments Off on It’s Time To Talk Of Other Things…

October Is Hard. October Distance Learning is Harder.

Renay admitted this week, she is a little sick of hearing her coworkers ask when we will ‘return’. But this got us thinking. This last week had not gone according to anyone’s plan.

First there was an internet provider outage. Some folks did have access but their access got worse. Kids who had data plans for their cellphones, hopped in. But that meant students whose primary access was the internet dependent devices issued by the district were stuck even if they could get on their phones. It meant Renay and many others stepped up to cover for teachers in classes that are not their primary, but it was the choice that was left. Then the weather changed. It is fall. Another season beginning and yet, we still don’t know what we don’t know. And that is emotionally taxing. Even for adults.

Let’s Talk About Returning Logically For a Little Bit

No matter where you are, your district should have a ‘plan’. You can disagree with the plan, but there absolutely needs to be a plan.

No matter where you are, your district should have a ‘plan’. You can disagree with the plan, but there absolutely needs to be a plan.

ParaEducate

We have about five different groups making decisions about distance learning:

  • The families that really want their children back at school, especially those with disabilities.
  • The families that are ambivalent about wanting their children back in school, but will send them anyway.
  • The families, that do not want their children to return because if they get sick, and especially sick with COVID, other family are likely to become very sick
  • The families that have experienced loss of COVID

Now this list is void of the socio-economic inequity—the fact that some families are choosing between leaving children unsupervised at home so the adults can go to work, ages of children, the emotional toll of how far apart some folks feel. And this doesn’t take into consideration the families of teachers, the risks the teachers face medically if they get COVID, or the emotional cost of what happens if they open a campus and then close even a section of campus because the hybrid team or one class was exposed.

The logic end of the story is: until we can assure that systems are in place to handle if kids get sick, opening and closing school or even preventing certain students from physically returning is actually probably worse for adult scheduling than “all at home.” For those schools on Distance Learning, there are a few parts to Distance Learning that most counties that have barred schools from opening are important. The first is the infection numbers—how many people are getting sick, and then there are the testing numbers, how many people are being tested for the first time, and do they have symptoms. The ability to keep people socially distant is also a challenge. Schools were built around efficiency, the number of students moving through halls, lines in the lunchroom, all of those things are about getting large numbers of people in and out quickly and safely. But this also means increased potential exposure.

We have seen ‘outdoor’ education. And we’re not talking about a wilderness experience. Classrooms set up to be outside. And that works really well until nature doesn’t cooperate. An excessively rainy or windy day. A day with heat temperatures over 100. And it leaves out anything involving natural disasters (thunder, tornado).

But we also need to be honest about returning. Wherever you are on that spectrum of returning, being honest with your level of exposure to yourself. Please follow local government guidelines.

Let’s Get Back to Renay for a minute…

It is normal in October to look around and panic. Somethings are not clicking in school for some students and that one behavior you thought you had a handle on has just amped up. It’s October. We all might already be a little sick of each other’s company. Some districts put in an October Break just to allow for a little steam to be let off. And right now: this sounds very appealing but we really don’t want to go back any sooner.

For those like Renay October in Distance Learning has been approaching burn out. And when Renay hears, “When are we coming back?” as if the choice to return will be as easy as flipping on a light switch, it worries her.

However, this speaks to a volume of other issues including the isolation of teachers. Even those who are fortunate to return to teach from their classrooms there are so many things missing. You aren’t going into the hall to see another teacher to ask about students. You aren’t walking to the teacher’s room to get a coffee. You certainly are not ducking into the library to mill about and check on a book or sign up for library time. Unlike ‘before’, you have to literally make time to connect with a coworker, and even then, you might be at your desk and they at the door, forty feet away. This added physical distance changes the conversational dynamics.

Official meetings are harder. Normal meetings have chatter in little pods before meetings officially get started. You can speak quietly to someone you’d see in the halls normally. You can see what someone else is grading that week. Those are gone. Instead, you might have a series of boxes lined up and the best we can do is private chat or text during the meeting. And we know this isn’t the same sort of interactions we’d have.

And this starts to eat at a person. The Fall schedule feels like you might need a four day a week model, not a full five day, but here we are, filling in the best we possibly can.

And we have not actually even begun to talk about Hybrid scheduling.

So, we offer a reminder to all the adults working school. We know you’ve heard this a thousand times, but it bears repeating.

  1. There is no shame in asking for help. You are the teacher. You are not trained to do anything in education alone—as shocking as that is to hear. You may be in a room with over thirty students to support, but you have never been alone.
  2. The exhaustion is real at the end of the day though you’ve likely sat for nearly eight hours without moving. That is currently a ‘normal’.
  3. Use some calming techniques to help you get through this. Teach them to your students. These techniques matter. It helps many students get through the day. Take the time. Color in an adult coloring book. Eat the cookie (not all the cookies though). Take the nap.
  4. We want back too. But we want back when we know the students and the other staff will be safe without extraneous risk. There will be risks; life is full of risks, but if we could limit the risks that would be very useful.
  5. Hug your loved ones who you live with. Send a happy note to someone who you have not seen in person for a while. Watch a butterfly fly through your yard. (Seriously, have you seen a butterfly fly? Based on pure physics, it’s amusing.) Make a personal goal to have say one good thing about every week, every day if you can. Yes, it’s still all right to say, “I got up. I had breakfast” as your good thing.
  6. Have some space for people who are unhappy with the way things are. For those who have trouble voicing their opinions, hearing other’s voice their opinions about the situation can be emotionally vexing. But what Renay realized, was that was the voice she has trouble stating out loud. October learning is hard. October Distance Learning is Harder.

There are not a lot of things in the world we can control. But for the time being, we can make what we have work. Let’s keep keep the misery from the students, we’re all doing our best. We are going to have some wins. We are going to disappoint other students. But we can do Distance Learning. Not just because we have been told, but because we are ready for the real challenges that Distance Learning should provide.

We Pause for a minute to add a shout out to the student teachers Distance Learning

Student Teachers in the mix of Distance Learning have possibly embraced the worse parts of the circumstances. Not only are they distance teaching, they too are distance learning. They are walking in to classrooms where their students cannot necessarily identify that they are a person to trust.

Do not leave out the mental health of your Student Teachers. Most of their professors may not be 100% onboard with distance learning, compounding circumstances for them. While Student Teachers have access to their University or collective’s mental health support, the hours can be inaccessible to Student Teachers, especially those who are expected to participate over four days a week. Let them take the time to get mental health support. Remind them it will be all right. Remind them they are not alone.


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, #TeamInclusion, 8 hours, Campus, Disabilities, Distance Learning, General Education Students, General Education Teachers, Mental Health, Morale, paraeducators, Professionalism, Reframing, Resources, Special Education Teachers, student teachers, Students | Comments Off on October Is Hard. October Distance Learning is Harder.

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 | Comments Off on We Interrupt Our Regularly Scheduled Blog Post

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 | Comments Off on I’d Do Anything…

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