Reflective Log (ongoing)
Candidate Manual – Page 25
(one page for each standard – observations and reflections
place on disk as part of Electronic Portfolio)
Data-based decision making
A large part of data-based decisions can be made from the beneficial aspects of seminars and workshops, inclusive of those provided by the school or district as well as outside seminars and workshops. Although many of these are somewhat informal in nature, they do provide a fair amount of data and statistics that are beneficial to the teacher, especially if they specifically address the particular population of students that the teacher and the school serve.
I’ve observed, especially in recent seminars that I’ve attended with my fellow employees,
that the more relevant and practical the material is to the particular students, the more employees are receptive to the seminars. One of the most common complaints are that that the seminar does not address the needs of the population that we serve at my school, the severely developmentally delayed. Often, we’ll have seminars that largely address higher-functioning students, with skills such as reading, math, and organizational skills. Too often, our population of students is mentioned more as a sidebar.
Another effective tool in data-based decision making is charting. All classrooms at my school use charting, and many times, the assistants also take part in the charting. Charting can be anything from diapering and toileting needs to behavioral charting, such as what time of the day students have particular behavioral episodes, such as fighting, acting out, spitting, violent activities, severe self-abuse, seizures, or crying. From this, sometimes I can detect a pattern. Some charting can involve determining what are intrinsically motivating items or actions for the student. These can be used to reward students for appropriate behavior, completion of academic tasks, or other behavior. And sometimes, it’s just good to know someone’s preferences to make their school day more
Charting can also be used for showing the effectiveness of a particular teaching lesson, or for keeping track of what is being worked on in the classroom. This is especially important for things such as the duration of time spent in a stander, specific academic goals, or other items. It’s also an effective method for keeping the staff involved on the IEP goals.
Advanced behavioral, emotional, and environmental supports
A very strong emphasis is placed on the behavioral, emotional, and environmental supports in the Transition class at National University (EXC 657). IDEA has the student firmly in the “driver’s seat” of any transition planning. The student’s hopes, dreams,
aspirations, desires, and skills are what we need to highlight during the transition process, and this obviously ties very strongtly into the behavioral, emotional and environmental supports. The student’s family takes a strong part in the IEP/ITP process, and with the student, everyone together gathers information on what would be best for the behavioral and emotional and environmental needs of the student. In the Transition class, the current and emerging research suggests that the student should be the main focus, with supports being tailored around the student, and not the student being “forced” into an existing hierarchy of models instead.
Current and emerging research
Seminars and in-services are often an effective means of imparting current and emerging research. It’s often an effective way for the staff to hear about new techniques. Often, I’ve observed, this occurs during the question and answer sessions. This often leads to discussions of fascinating areas that may or may not be related to the particular in-service, but are relevant to our particular population of students.
What we do at our school is photocopy particularly salient articles about such topics as autism, novel approaches to the severely developmentally delayed population, discrete trial therapy, and scientific studies from various journals, Newsweek, newspapers, and other sources of information.
In the Transition class, the current and emerging research suggests that the student should be the main focus, with supports being tailored around the student, and not the student being “forced” into an existing hierarchy of models instead. The transition model is a
“person-centered” model, which would obviously makes sense. The “I” in “ITP” stands for Individualized”, and it seems only logical that this would be the model adopted by
those in the transition team. This replaces the more “continuum”-oriented approach,
which had a hierarchy of agencies and placement, and the student would have to be able to fit into one of these offerings.
Transition and transition planning
With the population of severely developmentally delayed students that our school serves, sometimes, the transition area is given particular attention. One particular area of concern is the topic of conservatorship. Our ITP, or Individual Transition Plan, provides an area to discuss this with parents. Most parents ultimately decide not to gain conservatorship of their child after 18 years of age because they either don’t understand it, don’t feel that they need it, or feel that it is too expensive. Nevertheless, we usually
advise that they bring up the issue with their Regional Center representative.
I like to bring up the importance of looking at adult school facilities quite a few years in advance. Part of the reason, as this is important to any ITP meeting, is to open up a discussion of what the parents envision their child doing after they graduate (at our school, this is always at 22 years of age). This can often get the parents thinking about what is best in the not-so-distant future for their child. But there’s also another sort of
pragmatism in all this: there are often 2-3 year waiting lists at many adult educational facilities for the developmentally delayed. It’s important that the parents start looking far in advance so they can get an idea of which facilities they prefer.
In much of the Transition class at National University, EXC 657, the instructor emphasized the importance for the student and the family to be involved early on, but more importantly, to “buy in” to the entire transition process to make it more likely to
succeed. Much of the emphasis was on becoming more independent, which is also true with our school. The emphasis is placed on becoming an independent member of society, and much of that is done through employed and individualized living spaces. Our students are unfortunately not capable of doing this, but it gives the model that one should push towards just the same.
In the Transition class, the current and emerging research suggests that the student should be the main focus, with supports being tailored around the student, and not the student being “forced” into an existing hierarchy of models instead. It is crucial early on to involve the various agencies and community members in the transition process so that they are able to tailor their supports as best possible for the benefit of the student.
Specific emphasis/Action Research Project
One area of concern for me is enabling the staff at a school site to work on consistent manner with students who require unique or particular methods of interaction. Memos are usually ignored. I often wonder what would be the best method for a teacher to communicate these unique or particular approaches to teaching a student to the staff in a clear manner. And after communicating that, what would be the best way for having the school staff maintain focus on the methods of interaction with the student? This seems to be a concern at every school that I have ever worked at, but all communication methods still seem to be the same: memos and meetings. This is a topic that will probably manifest itself in the Action Research Project, as it is a salient topic for any school that I’ve ever seen.
Another area of concern for the Action Research project would be to analyze the best method of having students with autism diminish their aggressive behavior. One method that we have been attempting to explore is the area of communication, especially expressive communication. One possible theory is that the aggressive behavior is reduced if the student has another method of expressing his or her emotions or immediate needs. This area has become increasingly alarming in our classroom in particular, as we have several students with autism that have extremely aggressive behavior. Some of this appears to be completely unpredictable. Despite charting, no antecedent behavior has emerged. However, with other students, there is a clearer pattern of aggression that emerges. At any rate, with the rate of injuries to classroom staff and students rising in the past few months, finding an approach that diminishes the amount of aggressive behavior while still being able to provide an appropriate education becomes of tantamount importance for us.
We have consulted with the Behavioral Specialist and the School Psychologist on attempting to diminish the aggressive behavior. Both said that we had been doing what they would do, which is to firmly model and show appropriate behavior, reward positive behavior immediately after it occurs, and provide and encourage means of communication so that the student can more appropriately express his or her desires.
Advanced communication skills
Communication is key to working in a classroom. I think about the staff in my classroom, for example. I have two one-on-one assistants, and then two more classroom assistants. Until recently, I had three one-on-one assistants. That’s a lot of people working in close
quarters, every single day, and so clearly, communication is key here. The route that I’ve chosen – or perhaps it’s chosen me – is one of collaboration.
What I’ve found is that when people feel like they are able to suggest things in a climate of openness and collaboration, the whole class benefits. Several sources of great ideas is certainly better than only one.
This is, in my opinion, especially true of the one-on-one assistants, who probably spend more time with the student than anyone else – including the parents!! This is not
necessarily a criticism of the parents. What parents are able to spend six or seven continuous hours with their child when they have work, chores, other children, bills, school, cooking, cleaning, and other responsibilities? One-on-ones have a very close, unique interaction with the student, and have a lot of ideas. They are an incredibly valuable wealth of ideas, and one should always be receptive to that.
Often, through open communication in the classroom, one can also discover where the educator’s strengths and preferences lie. Someone may really love working on academic
lessons, while someone else may be better at therapeutic or artistic endeavors. Rather than try and have everyone work in the same manner, people’s strengths may be utilized more effectively when they are able to communicate this to you. I find that I can have a much more effective – and happier – staff if I listen to their points of view and tailor the classroom more effectively to their strengths. The students certainly benefit from this.
Leadership and management skills
Some of the in-services have addressed leadership and management skills, particularly, getting along with fellow employees. They have addressed the ability to impart a point of view without being overly aggressive about it. The idea of collaboration, of course, is often one that the staff feels comfortable with, as long as there is someone who is particularly deft at the handling of the conversation and the inevitable disagreements that occur.
At any rate, as mentioned in the Advanced Communication Skills Section, I favor a classroom that is based on collaboration. Obviously, I ultimately make the decisions for the classroom, but through collaboration, better ideas occur, and the classroom can be uniquely tailored to the individual strengths of the adults as well as the students’ needs.
Five heads are better than one, as the saying goes.
Another important aspect of leadership and management skills is to be able to very clearly impart everyone’s duties and have a plan of action for emergencies. It is important to review these every so often so that everyone is reminded. Posting plans of actions for emergencies or duties doesn’t seem like it is enough; regular meetings are important for discussing these to make sure that it is in the forefront of everyone’s mind.
As new situations arise, these plans of actions or duties can be modified as is appropriate. This level of communication increases the level of education and consistency that is brought to the students, and creates a much safer environment for everyone.
I feel that something that is overlooked in leadership and management skills is hypocrisy. If, for example, you are going to ask your staff to do something, this should be modeled by the person in charge. It can be something as simple as adhering to the break and lunch schedule, doing the same sort of work in the exact manner as discussed in the staff meetings or plan of action, or the approach taken in teaching a student. Consistency in the classroom is very important, and modeling the appropriate behavior on the part of the leader establishes that this consistency is important. Saying one thing and doing another frequently breeds resentment on the part of the co-workers.
In the latest class, EXC 659 (Transition), the professor stressed that Special Education teachers are the leaders of tomorrow’s inclusive schools. They would be the ones who know how to take an integrated setting, an integrated classroom, and make it work. People would be looking to the Special Education teachers to be the experts to create an inclusive school, consult with in the classroom for specific students, and help to train Regular Education personnel in teaching students with special needs.