barriers to learning

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A LETTER TO MY FAVORITE TEACHER

pam_general[2]

Dear Mrs. Davis,

You were my second grade teacher at Arapaho Elementary School in Richardson, Texas. The year, 1965.  I really don’t remember much about what you taught me, outside of the Planets Song, but I remember how you made me feel…Loved.  You were old, plump, and wore horn-rimmed glasses.  Chances are, you have passed away, but as another school year looms on the horizon, I want to let you know how much you helped me through a difficult time with your simple kindnesses.  I have never forgotten.

In April of 1966, when my daddy unexpectedly died of a heart attack, I missed two weeks of school.  My mother and I travelled to Alabama to join the rest of my family to bury my daddy.  When we returned home, I was nervous about returning to school.  I felt like I had a big neon sign over my head that flashed “My daddy died! My daddy died!” and worried about how my classmates were going to treat me.  Would thelove is a special way of feelingy ask me questions? Would they avoid me like I had the plague?  But you eased my fears by giving me a book, “Love is a Special Way of Feeling”, by Joan Walsh Anglund.  Inside the cover, you wrote in most excellent print, “We love you, Pam.”  Underneath your name were the printed signatures (after all, we hadn’t learned cursive yet) of my 24 classmates.  Receiving this book before I returned to school let me know that I was welcome and I was loved.  You have no idea how much that simple gesture made me feel. Even though my classmates may not have fully understood what was going on, having their signatures in the book under the comment “we love you” was, well, incredible.

The last month of school was good, but as a result of my daddy’s death, you knew I was moving to Alabama at the end of the school year.  On the last day of school, as we all cleaned out our desks and said our goodbyes, you gave me my second gift, a going away present.  Right before I left, you handed me a worn copy of “The Miracle Worker” by William Gibson.  You told me that it was your son’s book but you wanted me to have it because I was moving to the state where this amazing woman and her teacher lived, where this beautiful story of strength and courage took place.  It was several years before I was able to read the book but knowing that it meant a lot to you made me look forward to reading it. 

I suspect you repeated this type of gesture numerous times throughout your career for a variety of reasons due to student needs.  But that never entered my mind.  What entered my mind is that I was loved by you at a time when I needed to feel loved.  I have never forgotten, and I am still grateful.

I love you,

Pam

Here is a free handout, TEN TIPS FOR TEACHERS: SUPPORTING A GRIEVING STUDENT, that is useful for classroom teachers, guidance counselors, and school psychologists.

When one door of happiness closes, another opens,

but often we look so long at the closed door that we

do not see the one that has been opened up for us.

Helen Keller

 

Diabetes Tips

eva_general[2]

Things have sure changed since I went to school.  Some may say for the good, some may say for the worst but either way life is different than I knew it. I was raised in an era where the lunch ladies made home cooked meals, the president’s wife wasn’t worried about how much sodium we had and it was unusual to see an overweight child.  We never heard of peanut or tree nut allergies, there didn’t need to be laws allowing student to carry their epi pens and (gasp) we really did walk to school no matter what the weather.

I wouldn’t trade those years for anything.

I was also a student with type 1 diabetes. And as I see what children encounter with their diabetes in schools I am thankful I grew up when I did.  I took my insulin at home, in the morning and evenings, watched what I ate and when I did check my blood sugar it was at home.  There were no school staff reviewing numbers making me feel “good” or “bad” based on a reading I often couldn’t control.  My sister and friends looked out for me, and the one time I drank a regular Pepsi in front  of a teacher she called my dad (who also happened to be a principal).

Diabetes care has advanced tremendously since that time, but it’s also made things a bit more challenging for both students and teachers.  For students, it has to feel somewhat like being under a microscope.  Over the years I have had well-meaning staff do things that would make any child hate to come to school.  Checking blood glucose becomes an ordeal as does taking insulin.  Counting carbohydrates is a challenge and well-meaning people question what kids are eating.  With that, I would just like to offer school staff a few thoughts about children with diabetes from the perspective of someone who has been around the block a bit.

1- Diabetes is always there.  Kids do not get a day off.  24/7 children with diabetes are living with this often exasperating condition.  Please do all you can to make their routine “normal”.   Depending on the age and developmental ability of kids some are fine checking blood glucose in the classroom.  Often they know much more about their bodies than anyone else. Give kids as much flexibility as you can in making those decisions.

2- Don’t refer to children as “the diabetic”.  Granted, I hear this more in my nursing peers than I do from other school staff.  As someone with diabetes I am offended when someone tries to define me with that label.  I happened to develop a condition that I didn’t choose but it does not describe who I am.  It’s much less offensive to use language like “the child with diabetes” etc.  Just be aware of the impact of your words.

3- Learn what to do.  The biggest worry in school is low blood sugar (hypoglycemia). Know the signs and be prepared to respond.  I would hope that everyone has nurses in the schools to help provide training (but as we know this is an area sorely lacking in our prosperous country).  If you don’t have someone to train you, talk to parents and access information available for school staff on the American Diabetes Association website.

4- Make sure you have what you need to respond to a low blood sugar reaction.  Parents should supply snacks and supplies but unfortunately not every child has parents who do so on a regular basis.  Rather than spend your time fighting, ask the nurse or principal to get a tube or two of glucose gel.  You can also use cake gel (it must be GEL, not icing, the icing has more fat and takes longer to absorb).  That way you have a cheap and quick way to respond and prevent an emergency situation.

5- Know that if he/she has high blood sugar then there will need to be extra trips to the bathroom.  I’ve heard lots of staff talk about how kids abuse the system to “take advantage”.   There are lots of psychological issues than can come with diabetes that become classroom management issues.  That is a topic for another blog!  But do know that it is very real for a child to need extra trips to the bathroom when blood sugars are running high.

6- Low or high blood sugar levels can interfere with test-taking abilities.  These kind of things should all be addressed in a health plan, and often students with diabetes will also have a 504 plan.

7-Families are taught to count carbohydrates not limit foods.  Children with diabetes have the same nutritional needs as any other child.  They can eat cupcakes and other treats, it just has to be covered with insulin (either via pump or by an injection)- they should have access to the same treats the other students have.

Over my years in school health I have seen the number of students with type 1 diabetes increase.  It’s the rare occasion for schools not to have at least one student with diabetes. Please know they often feel “alone” in their condition.  When I was a child my parents packed me off to “Camp Kno-Koma” for two weeks every summer (I am NOT making the name up- that’s what it was called) where for once I was not the weirdo. We all had to do the same thing and I didn’t feel like everyone was staring.  Be aware of those feelings in your students.  Those thoughts will vary by child but sometimes kids just want to have a “normal” day.

Diabetes care at school is a team effort, and some days are easier than others. The more you know, the more comfortable parents will feel sending their child to school and the more confident you will feel in being able to respond to the needs of the kids in your care!!

 

 

 

 

 

Behavior Flow Chart

luanne_general[1]

So often when a student does not act the way we think s/he should act, we immediately discipline the child. Sometimes that works. Other times it just frustrates us. When I was in graduate school at University of Kentucky working on a master’s degree in Emotional Behavioral Disorders, my professor, C. Michael Nelson shared a flow chart with us. It was an AH-HA moment for me. I’d like to share it with you.

Look at the chart below or print out a copy as I explain it here…. The teacher gives the student a direction/task/etc. If the students complies, praise the student (Easy, right?!)

If the teacher gives a direction but the student does not comply, figure out if you know with absolute certainty the student has the ability to complete the direction/task/etc. Often we assume the student knows or should know and we get frustrated when the child does not. If the child has the ability to complete the task, motivate him. Elementary teachers do a great job motivating students. As students get older, less emphasis is placed on motivation. I’m not sure why that is…I know I work much better when I am motivated. Motivation in middle and high school doesn’t mean pass out stickers. It may be a simple as a pat on the back, or extra social time at the end of class, etc. If the child does NOT know how to do the task or if you are not sure if the child has the skill, TEACH the skill/expectation.

If the child does NOT complete the task after you have tried motivating or teaching the skill, then you discipline.

Once there was a high school student who had the opportunity to earn extra credit by writing a paragraph about the daily political cartoon in the daily newspaper but failed to make any effort to do so. The teacher was frustrated that she “wasn’t even trying to pass the class”. I wondered if the student even knew what a political cartoon was and if she had access to a newspaper. Remember she had never demonstrated she had the ability to do this. So I took her into the school library. The librarian showed her where day old newspapers were kept so she could cut out the cartoon. I showed her where the political cartoon was in the newspaper. She was thankful. After learning this new skill, she never missed a day of cutting out the cartoon and writing a paragraph!

So think about this flow chart the next time you get frustrated when a student doesn’t comply.

BEHAVIOR FLOW CHART

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Quick & Easy Functional Behavior Assessment

FBA1

There’s a reason for every student’s behavior! Jack has not “lost his mind”. Jill is not “trying to drive you crazy”. He or she is trying to get something or avoid something. Now you have to be the detective and figure out what it is. Many teachers overlook this detective step and skip to a quick fix.

Imagine if you went to the doctor and complained of pain in your arm and the doctor just said to take some ibuprofen. Well, if your arm is broken, that ibuprofen will not work. This is the same thing for student behavior. If a student is not doing his school work, you may send him to time out. If he is avoiding doing school work because he doesn’t understand it, your discipline will not fix the problem. It is actually helping the student avoid work.

I call this a Quick & Easy Functional Behavior Assessment because it just takes a few minutes to do. This is not a formal assessment many specialists prefer. It’s for the classroom teacher who has to deal with tough behaviors all the time.

One of my favorite encounters with a 3rd grade teacher was when she stopped me in the hallway and explained a problem she was having with a student. Before I could say a thing, she went on to quickly analyze his behavior. She specifically described his behavior, said he acted out at specific times, she thought he was doing it because ____, and thought she could take care of the problem by ____. She then thanked me for the help! I said, “You’re welcome!” and smiled all the way to my classroom. She did a Quick & Easy Functional Behavior Assessment right there in the hallway in less than 5 minutes!

Let’s get started! Download Quick & Easy Functional Behavior Assessment Teacher Reflection. Use this list to help you analyze what is going on.

In the next few days, I will show you how to use this Quick & Easy Functional Behavior Assessment and turn it into a behavior intervention plan.

See you soon, LuAnne

 

About THE THREE SQUARE PEGS

Pegs with schoolhouse

One School Nurse + One Behavior Specialist + One School Psychologist =

The Untested ESSENTIALS of Learning

A square peg in a round hole is an idiomatic expression which describes the unusual individualist who could not fit into a niche of his or her society.[1] ^ Wallace, Irving. (1957) The Square Pegs: Some Americans Who Dared to be Different, p. 10.

Above found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Square_peg_in_a_round_hole

 Most employees of school districts are… [insert a drum roll here]…teachers.  And the customers of their expertise are the wonderful students who walk through the doors of their respective schools each day, ready to learn all the fascinating things teachers have prepared to teach.

[Insert the sound of screeching brakes] Hold on a minute!

What happens if a student walks through the doors of the school and is not 100% ready to learn? What if the student is not even 50% ready to learn? What if the student is hungry? Sleep deprived? Scared because yesterday another student threatened to beat him up? Worried because her mother’s boyfriend threw her mother around the kitchen last night? Angry because her family’s electricity was turned off the night before? Sad because his grandfather is dying? What if the student, himself, is sick? Or has a learning disability? Or has attention span issues? Or…well, you get the point.  The list of hypotheticals is endless.

In an average day in a classroom of 25 students, there are probably at least 5-6 students who have some sort of barrier that interferes with his or her ability to learn academics optimally.  That’s where we come in…The 3 Square Pegs. Our jobs are to provide support services to students, their families, and the teaching staff so that teachers are able to teach, and more importantly, students are able to maximize learning.

What can you expect from our blog? Our focus will be on the multitude of untested essentials that are required for learning to occur.  Head lice? Check. Classroom design? Check. Bully Prevention? Check. De-escalation strategies? Check. And on and on the list goes. These essentials will be in the form of a host of practices at the district, school, classroom, and individual student levels.  With our 60+ years of collective experience in helping teachers teach and students learn, we think we have something to offer.

We are blessed to work in a school district that has vision. To be a small, rural school district with approximately 2,600 students, having a Nurse Practitioner designated as the district’s Director of the Coordinated School Health Program, a School Psychologist functioning as a district-wide counselor to support our excellent guidance counselors, and a Behavior Consultant who is currently the Director of our Alternative Education Program, we consider ourselves rather unique.

Per the meaning of “A square peg in a round hole”, we are unusual individualists who do not fit into a niche of our society (aka, schools). Don’t confuse our “not fitting neatly into our educational society” as meaning that we are not wanted there or that we don’t want to be there! We are welcomed and appreciated by the educators with whom we have the privilege of working. We just happen to think differently in some respects. While we all want the best for our students, our focus is on the many foundational essentials required for learning to even be an option.  Teachers teach.  They are under tremendous pressure to improve achievement and adhere to new national standards. The three of us provide support services, direct and indirect, to our district’s excellent teachers and awesome students. The result? Students who, for the most part, come to school happy, healthy, and ready to learn.  Not BECAUSE of us, but with our help, these students achieve more academic, behavioral, and social/emotional success.

What can you expect in the days and weeks to come? The format of our blog, while it has the common thread of addressing barriers to learning, will shift as each of us take on the responsibility of writing one or two blog entries per week.