What Teachers Want: Are You Serious?

In the wake of yet another school shooting, the government and members of the media are beating a familiar drum: more guns, not less, will  put a stop to our decades-long national epidemic of mass shootings in schools. The President of the United States has been aggressively putting forward the idea that our nation needs armed teachers to  prevent school shootings. The notion of transforming our educators into a paramilitary strike-force of academic achievement is completely absurd for many reasons. Chief among these is that it is simply impractical to expect a teacher to become a trained marksman and learn to adequately respond in an active shooter situation.  Then there’s the funding required for such a proposal. Not to mention that putting more guns in schools creates a culture and environment that does nothing to address the struggles of children at risk.

Not My Job!

Being a teacher requires us to wear many hats: nurse, counselor, social worker, caretaker, parent… nowhere in our training or toolbox of skills does that ever include shooter.

There are many field experiences, trainings, and degrees required to become a teacher. Those most powerful and effective learning experiences are on the job, hands on learning.  Soldiers and police officers undergo intense training as well. According to an FBI study done of active school shooter situations from the years 2000-2013, “law enforcement suffered casualties in 21 of the 45 incidents where they engaged the shooter to end the threat.” So this means that almost 50% of professionally trained law enforcement died!  HALF. Even with all of their training.

So we want to consider that a teacher who takes a one day gun safety class is now qualified to react and protect themselves and students from an intruder intent on doing the most damage?  How would teachers stand a reasonable chance of survival, when half of our trained law enforcement perishes while attempting the same task?

There is not a lesson plan that can adequately prepare teachers for an active shooter.  Can you imagine the consequences, the outrage if a teacher accidently shot and killed a student in the process? Is this a risk that our society is willing to accept?

Who is Paying?

Incentivizing teachers to become trained to carry weapons requires funding. Where would that money come from? If money is available for schools and to give to teachers, how about a higher salary or incentives for more logical things like additional endorsements and social emotional trainings?

The federal government just cut taxes and passed a budget resolution to increase spending, creating a large spending gap.

How does arming teachers fit in to this proposal?  You would need guns, training, liability insurance.  Just for starters.

In 2016, in Fairfax County, Virginia, a meal tax was proposed to raise money for the county. This proposal was defeated. The tax would have generated roughly 99 million dollars of tax revenue for the county, 70% of which was designated to go to Fairfax County Public Schools, primarily as an increase in teacher salaries.

Funding for public school resources, universal PreK, and teacher salaries is not a priority, but guns are. It is hard to take the call to arms seriously when those asking for it are against investing in our children and the things that they need to thrive.

Environment

The biggest need in our schools is for a more positive, empathetic, and proactive mindset that focuses on strengths and solutions. Children that come from difficult home lives and who are predisposed to risk factors need to mentored, loved, and seen. This can only happen when we all get on board and take action. Children who need help and support are not difficult to pick out, so why do they continue to slip through the cracks?

What Now?

Research has shown that early intervention is critical for children exposed to adverse conditions. Harvard University conducted a study about The Toxic Stress of Early Childhood Adversity fining that toxic stress affects children’s metal and physical health for a lifetime. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) conducted a study on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) and gave an ACE score based on the answers to questions relating to trauma. “There are 10 types of childhood trauma measured in the ACE Study. Five are personal — physical abuse, verbal abuse, sexual abuse, physical neglect, and emotional neglect. Five are related to other family members: a parent who’s an alcoholic, a mother who’s a victim of domestic violence, a family member in jail, a family member diagnosed with a mental illness, and the disappearance of a parent through divorce, death, or abandonment.” The CDC’s Adverse Childhood Experiences Study uncovered a stunning link between childhood trauma and the chronic diseases people develop as adults, as well as social and emotional struggles. Is this not where we should focus the conversation, resources, and outrage? What can we do to PREVENT, ANTICIPATE, and CHANGE the inevitable struggle of at risk children?

Since we know the consequences of adverse childhood experiences are inevitable, let’s invest in what we need to support children! How will guns in schools help with any of these things?

 

https://acestoohigh.com/got-your-ace-score/

https://developingchild.harvard.edu/resources/inbrief-the-impact-of-early-adversity-on-childrens-development/

https://www.fbi.gov/news/stories/2014/september/fbi-releases-study-on-active-shooter-incidents/pdfs/a-study-of-active-shooter-incidents-in-the-u.s.-between-2000-and-2013

 

 

Early Childhood Inclusion Teacher

What Has Changed Since We Were Kids

I am finding myself rageful lately.  The politics in this country no longer reflect dialogue I’m even remotely familiar with and each day we experience a new tragedy or outrage that we no longer even seem to notice.

As we reel and stumble to make sense of our public health crisis of mass shootings by white men, I keep hearing the question, “what has changed since we were kids?”

Everything.

No, I’m not talking about “family values” or about God in the lives of Americans or about women in the workplace.  In terms of money and national values, though, much has changed.

Politics

The wealth gap in the US is widening annually – currently bigger than ever.

Voter suppression and gerrymandering have had a huge impact on who is elected into office.

Citizens United and campaign finance laws have contributed to the movement toward kleptocracy.

To name a few . . . little things add up and become big things.  Our legislative branch has ground to a halt, adversarial, vindictive, ineffective, and unaccountable.

Education

NCLB created necessary, but deeply flawed, accountability measures for districts, teachers, and states.  These high stakes measures, in my opinion, changed the face of education in our country.

More and more kids and families living in poverty means more needs to meet in schools.  Intense demands to make ends meet creates stress in families.

State and federal budgets have consistently demonstrated a lack of commitment in public education resulting in teachers and administrators forced to do much much much more with far less.

To name a few . . . little things add up and become big things.  Our dialogue has diminished to a blame game, all or nothing, you’re with me or you’re against me.

So what?

We have a disconnect between policy and practice in public education.  We have underresourced, overstretched teachers and administrators.  And teachers are as variable as the rest of us – some literally save lives, some do damage, some fall somewhere in between.  We have learners and their families with vast needs, some we cannot even begin to comprehend.  We have refugee children in our classrooms – literally escaping war zones.  Are we trauma informed enough for that?  We have huge challenges and far too few solutions.

I don’t claim to have the answers but I do know there is no one answer and there is no one blame.  It’s not JUST access to weapons of war (although that is a big one, and one we can easily change . . . with our votes).  It’s not JUST parents who don’t care or don’t discipline or don’t go to church or don’t teach manners (this narrative needs to be silenced, it is not productive or accurate, support families always).  It’s not JUST teachers who are stretched too thin (another narrative that is played out, support teachers always).  It’s not JUST poverty.  It’s not JUST white supremacy or bullying or video games.

Every child is a unique being experiencing the world in his unique way.  Your interactions make a mark.  Every.  Single.  Time.  You never know what someone carries away from their experience with you.  Show compassion.  Empathy.  Give the benefit of the doubt.  Focus on strengths.  See the good in others.  FIND good in others.  When you feel yourself making a judgement about someone else’s choices, reframe that judgement into a strengths-based statement.  “Fourth graders should know how to walk quietly down the hall by now” could be reframed into “We all need reminders some days, let’s talk about how we move through our school building.”  Simple switches that lift and teach.

Action Steps

Embrace mistakes.  Teach from mistakes.  Forgive mistakes.  See the humanity in others, empathize, care.  Less talking, more listening.  Seek to understand.  Vote.  March.  Participate.  Engage, and listen.

What’s changed since we were kids, I think, is that we’re the adults now.  And there’s no assault weapons ban, there’s student loan debt, and wages are stagnant, health insurance premiums are stupid expensive, and the shrinking middle class can’t keep up.  Americans are stressed to the max and desperate people do desperate things in small and big ways.

Also I don’t think it was all rainbows and butterflies when we were kids.  But time has a way of fuzzing the edges and filtering the blemishes.  And there wasn’t easy access to weapons of war.

I am reframing my rage into care, my anger into empathy.  What about you?  What can you commit to do for our nation, your community, your family?  It will take every last one of us and I’m with you.

Jen Newton, PhD is an assistant professor in early childhood/early childhood special education (isn’t that a lot of words for what should be one field??).  I talk a lot and have strong opinions – or so I am told.

Reimagining Quality of Life for Adults with Significant Needs: Finding Holland

Since the tender age of ten, I have been contemplating what will happen to my brother, CJ, when my parents pass away. When I was four, CJ was diagnosed with Autism. And, similarly to how Emily Perl Kingsley felt in her poem, Welcome to Holland, my family dynamic was altered for the better. While some moments were frustrating (aka when he would jump out of the moving car, mimic crying babies, or climb the tallest of trees), when I took a step back I realized that there were times when I, too, did things that were frustrating (aka my middle school years – sorry mom). And from this new perspective, I began to recognize CJ’s many strengths, as he composed beautiful art and memorized the producers of every Disney movie. While living with CJ has fueled my passion for creating my non-profit housing program, “Finding Holland,” I am continuously driven to advocate for equitable housing for all individuals across the spectrum of Autism as well as moderate to severe disabilities.

The Problem

What resources are available when it comes providing long term supports for adults with special needs? While there are transitional and day programs out there, there is little attention focused on future housing arrangements and equitable employment opportunities that are suitable for individuals with moderate to severe Autism. These individuals have numerous strengths and abilities, and they deserve a dignified quality of life. Unfortunately, housing facilities that uplift their abilities while meeting their individualized needs are not readily available throughout the U.S.

My Vision

My house, “Finding Holland,” will work to build a strong community among its members with a state-of-the-art,  integrative wellness center and residential facility for people of ALL abilities. There will be a vision, positive atmosphere, and leadership team focused on supporting people with Autism and creating an “enviable life” with them. A staff of life coaches, occupational therapists, speech therapists, physical therapists, special educators, and therapeutic recreational specialists will provide accommodations to each individual in order for them to participate as independently as possible. Finding Holland will allow individuals to set personal goals, establish daily routines, and discover a “work-life” balance that supports individuals in living their fullest life.

In the realm of education, we have made progress in providing students with equitable access to deeper learning. About half a century ago, most individuals with moderate to severe special needs were institutionalized throughout their adult lives once they “aged out” of the school system. Families, guardians, and professionals call this “falling off the cliff.” However, in my opinion, we have not made sufficient progress in providing equitable housing and work resources following school. In my classroom and in the home I create, I am working to teach individuals how to take care of themselves, express themselves, and develop their communication, in order to have a voice in determining their own quality of life.

The spectrum of Autism is wide and not fully understood, and therefore, there aren’t a lot of resources available for this specific population post high-school. Yes, there are day recreational programs and work programs, but absolutely nothing considered to be a standard, “traditional job.”  Additionally, in terms of residential living, the majority of these programs are private, which requires significant financial resources. Following the transition from high school, the amount of supports available are limited and accommodations within work and residential life often don’t meet the specific needs of the individual. I’ve only seen programs that provide factory work, work programs, and government funded programs with an emphasis on working. We need to mix that up and provide social recreation, interaction, and a work-life balance.

Yes, maybe, right now this is all just a vision, but we need to advocate, collaborate, and use our voices to create equitable housing access for people of all abilities! Together, we will find Holland.

Katie Miles works as a Paraprofessional at Barbara C. Jordan Elementary in The School District of University City. She graduated from Saint Louis University in December 2017 with a Bachelor of Arts in Elementary and Special Education.

Behavior is Communication

I’m a big believer that words matter.  Words are powerful and, despite that “sticks and stones” rubbish, words can certainly hurt us.  Therefore, when talking about “behavior management,” by the way, I continue to put quotes around it in an effort to communicate that, while those words sometimes provoke a common understanding for educational professionals and parents, “behavior management” does not effectively articulate the charge teachers have in developing classroom communities.

Behavior is communication.

Maybe we should call behavior management courses behavior communication courses instead.  Children are communicating with us through their behavior.  They are telling us they are tired, disengaged, distracted, hungry, sad, so excited they may burst, worried, scared, confused, overwhelmed, frustrated, and more.  Kids, like adults, experience the full range of human emotions and the full range of human coping mechanisms for those emotions.

What if we moved from managing behaviors to listening?

A basic tenet of “behavior management” is identifying the function of the behavior.  This is actually trickier than it sounds.  We often make assumptions that the function of the behavior is that the child is “lazy” so avoids her work, or the child is “manipulative,” “defiant,” or “hyperactive.”  Once we put those frames on a child, they are difficult/impossible to shake off.  Children pick up on these labels too. They often internalize them and then take on the identify of being that “difficult” or “hyper” child. It also puts the responsibility of classroom engagement and “behaving” on the learner rather than on the teacher.  Remember, it is the teacher’s job to gain the cooperation of her learners.

Kids really do not wake up in the morning thinking they want to ruin your day.  They don’t.  I know it’s tempting to believe some do.  But even they don’t.  We have to move away from expecting kids to come to school ready to learn and start enticing them to learn, motivating them to learn, engaging them to learn, incentivizing them to learn.  We have to understand that some children come to school hungry or lacking sleep, and that we have to figure out ways to meet these needs. YES!  We know and acknowledge that teachers have tough jobs (FYI: Parent blaming/shaming is not allowed – we also must believe all parents are doing the best they can with their current reality.  Remember, there are things you do not know). When we put the responsibility “to behave” on the learner, we set them up to fail.  When we listen to their communication and meet their needs appropriately, we free them up to focus on learning.

Importantly, though, kids do not typically show the behaviors we want to see for someone they don’t like or trust – or from someone they know doesn’t like them.  By listening to what the child is communicating with their behavior, we are able to more meaningfully determine the function of the behavior, and even more importantly, more meaningfully replace it.  The purpose of managing behavior should ultimately be to extinguish the unwanted behavior by replacing it with a preferred way of meeting the same need.

Huh?

Let’s take a common example.  Teacher is providing whole group instruction.  Kai is talking to his seat mate.  Teacher moves closer to Kai and he stops talking.  Kai goes to sharpen his pencil, teacher asks him to sit.  Kai asks to go to the bathroom.  Kai gets a tissue.  Kai rummages through his desk.  Kai is “off task.”  If the teacher clips Kai down on the behavior chart, takes five minutes of his recess (why do we restrict kids movement as punishment?  That’s control, pure and simple – it is NOT teaching), or moves him to an “island” (a desk in the corner of the room away from peers), the teacher is not giving Kai any strategies for next time he is feeling restless during whole group instruction.

So what is Kai’s behavior communicating?

We generally separate behavioral communication into two big categories of escape and attention.  Kai appears to be communicating a need to escape from the task at hand.  We don’t know WHY he needs to escape but we won’t understand why by clipping him down or restricting his freedom.  What if we listened to his communication and gave him a break?  What if we said, “Hey, Kai, do you need to take a break so you can come back ready to learn?”  Maybe we even have some acceptable brain/body breaks already identified that he can self select when he feels himself becoming restless.  What if we replaced his disruptive behavior with an acceptable option that still meets his need to move?

Would that be managing behavior?  What are you currently doing in your classroom to understand the function of behavior?

 

Jen Newton, PhD is an assistant professor in early childhood/early childhood special education (isn’t that a lot of words for what should be one field??).  I talk a lot and have strong opinions – or so I am told.

From Punishing to Teaching The Behavior We Want To See

Ahh, “behavior management.”

Research shows that “behavior management” is one of the top challenges for teachers, one of the factors attributed to teacher attrition, and a top priority for school administrators.  But what does it mean, to manage behaviors?

It is a teacher’s job to gain the cooperation of his/her learners.  Think about those words . . . gain the cooperation of . . . What are our expectations of a well-managed classroom?  Cooperative learners?  Engaged learners?  Compliant children?

Many of the systems we find in classrooms (i.e., clip charts, color charts, marble jars) are contingent upon compliance.  But compliance with what?  We often inundate children with vague classroom rules (what does it really mean to “be respectful”?) without clear operationalized expectations for, say, getting clipped up or clipped down.  What is the tangible real difference in behavior between “good job” and “great job” on a clip chart?  Ask any kid.  They’ll tell you it’s the teacher’s call, and it usually depends on the teacher’s mood.

And that’s moving UP on the chart.  Let’s talk about moving down.

Commonly, moving down on the system relies on punishment – lose five minutes recess, “think time,” or call parent.  Consequences are good, you say?  But, how do these things TEACH the behavior we want to see in children?  A child is not sitting still in class, so taking away the one time of day that they can move freely (recess) will teach him/her to sit still?  And if we are clipping kids down and enforcing these consequences consistently, then are we actually managing behavior?  Because the consequences aren’t changing the child’s behavior and now we’re in a punishment cycle where we feel compelled to make the consequences stiffer rather than to consider the entire system is failing.  Let’s reconsider the system together.

These systems operate on some assumptions.

  1. All children come to school ready to learn.
    1. (Spoiler alert:  They don’t.)
  2. All children know what you want them to do and how to do it.
    1. (Spoiler alert:  They don’t.)
  3. Kids at whatever grade I teach “should know better by now.”
    1. (Spoiler alert:  They don’t.)
  4. Punishment is the only way to gain cooperation.
    1. (Spoiler alert:  It isn’t.  In fact, it’s a terrible way to gain cooperation.)

What if we dismissed all of these false assumptions and envisioned a classroom community built on trust and acceptance of individual children’s needs?  What would that even look like?  Let’s start by establishing new assumptions.

  1. All children come to school having already had experiences, both good and bad, for the day.
    1. (Pro tip:  Like adults!  Sometimes, I oversleep.  Sometimes, I spill my coffee.  Sometimes, we run out of hot water.  Sometimes, I’m grumpy.  All of the emotions we as adults experience that affect our day can also be experienced by children.  And their feelings matter as much as ours!)
  2. All children are capable of being taught our expectations.
    1. (Pro tip:  It’s our job to teach!  Some kids need more teaching on some things and less on others.  We still teach.  Behavior is like math.  Differentiated instruction is necessary for all kids to learn.)
  3. All children make mistakes and need the opportunity to try again.
    1. (Pro tip:  Like adults!  I know better than to speed on the highway . . . but, I still do it.  Sometimes, I need teaching too.  Mistakes are learning opportunities!)
  4. Punishment doesn’t work.  It also betrays trust and frustrates everyone.
    1. (Pro tip:  Even after I get a speeding ticket, I speed.  Oops)

So if we assume all kids are doing the best they can and that they need our help to realize their full potential, how would that change our approach to building classroom community?  What if we flip from managing behavior to creating community and developing strategies for meeting individual students where they are?

Jen Newton, PhD is an assistant professor in early childhood/early childhood special education (isn’t that a lot of words for what should be one field??).  I talk a lot and have strong opinions – or so I am told.