This Holiday Season Take a Note from the “Mensch on the Bench”

mensch-wisdomEvery year it seems that from Halloween till New Years the days just fly by, I feel like I’m a teeny, tiny hamster spinning a gigantic wheel ’round and ’round with no end in sight. I suspect you may feel this way too.

With all the stressors this fall, including the travelling, present-buying, annual family get-togethers and even the post-election turmoil (I’m still in shock!), I thought this gentle reminder from our good friend, The Mensch on the Bench, was in proper form.

A mensch is a Yiddish word meaning ‘a person of integrity and honor’ – a person who does good by and for others. It’s an aspirational word and a standard I am striving to attain both personally and professionally as an example to my students, their parents, and my colleagues. I even hope to be a mensch to the person who honked at me this morning as I was getting on the 101 or the lady who jumped in line at Starbucks. Hey! No one said living life as a mensch was gonna be easy. I’m definitely still learning.

This holiday season, whether you’ve got an Elf on the Shelf or a Mensch on the Bench remember to take a moment, laugh, breathe, and be grateful for your family, your friends, your country,  your apartment, your house, your car, your metro card, the dollars in your pocket and even your chocolate stash.

And perhaps channel your inner mensch and do a good deed for others in this season of thanks, giving and gratitude.

Happy Holidays, from this joyful mensch to you and your joyous loved ones.

Christine Terry, J.D., is the Founder & Executive Director of Terry Tutors Specialized Education Services.

She created the One Wraparound Service for The Struggling Student, which includes Academic Support, Behavior Management, Special Education Advocacy and School Placement services. Christine truly loves helping struggling students realize their inner potential and the possibilities that await them in and out of the classroom.

Defining Self & Success

SuccessAs it stands today, education is geared towards teaching our young students the importance of achieving success. How we define success can make or break our students self-worth. All too often, success is defined according to our culture and in today’s society, success means having money and power so that you can be in control of your own happiness.

My New Definition of Success

As a well-educated and self-proclaimed “definer” of my own success,  I too adhered to society’s definition. The typical Type A student, I found myself always trying to live up to and then exceed my own expectations, attempting to outdo my last triumph and climb the ladder towards the next goal that would reinvigorate my self-worth and value to others. But it seemed the ladder never ended and that if I chose to, I could climb forever.  Only recently, did I begin to question the definition of success I adopted as a child. Through age, experience, and honestly the fact that I was just so tired of my never-ending climb, I  began to realize that my definition of success hinged on control.

And then I realized that control was an illusion.

The fact is I have no control over anyone or anything, except my own behavior, choices and actions. That’s it. After the initial shock wore off, it was oddly reassuring to know that the weight of worrying about having enough money and power so that I could be happy one day had lifted. A new chapter had begun.

I no longer have to wait till I have enough to be happy, I can just be.

Collectively Learning Success Through Praise

Children learn to define success through praise. We were praised for taking our first step, eating our first solid food, and using the potty for the first time. Our basic definition of success revolved around our basic needs. As children grow, the adults in their lives praise them for different things, harder things like getting an A on a test. If you’re praised for getting an A, then achieving an A becomes part of your definition of success. And we, as a culture, unquestionably accept this definition.

But what if we began defining success less collectively and more individually?

At the core of education is understanding how we each learn differently. We’re all good at different things and we all struggle with different challenges. Yet, we are taught to define success in the same way.

The system of education is beginning to catch up with the notion of individualized learning, Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences, and even brain-mapping. Most educators acknowledge the research but many cannot fathom how to teach 32 students in 32 different ways. Classroom practices will have to be redefined to accommodate this new definition of learning too.

Embrace Individualized Education Now

I’m afraid we cannot wait for the system to catch up with the student. It’ll be too late and another generation lost to the definition that an A means you’re worthy. The work of change must be done now.

It’s important that parents and teachers collaborate, looking at the whole child and honoring their strengths while redefining their challenges. How do we do this?  At home, you can begin to praise your child for achieving a B or even a C in that really hard subject. So your child’s strength is with words and not formulas. That’s okay. She will still be successful in her own right. At school, you can begin to praise your shy student for his thoughtful paper on the subject, even though he chose not to raise his hand to participate in the class discussion.

Redefine Your Expectations

I want to be clear: I am not saying to lower your expectations, but, rather, redefine them in accordance with your child’s individual strengths and challenges. Children want to please you; they will rise to the challenges you set for them. It’s our job, as parents and teachers, to make sure those challenges build upon each other in an attainable way.

Do we define a baby’s first fall as failure? No, we define it as learning. Expectation and failure go hand in hand. Some parents and educators shy away from exposing their students to failure at a young age for fear their child will think of themselves as a failure. Did the baby think of herself as a failure when she fell for the first time? Probably not because her parents reassured her that it would be okay. Then her parents helped their child up and she attempted to learn to walk again.

That’s exactly what we as parents and teachers should be doing with our students: redefining success and failure as, simply, learning.

The challenge is really within ourselves because until we can redefine our own successes and failures as learning, we cannot extend the same kindness towards our children. How we treat others is a reflection of how we see ourselves. That’s one lesson I continue to learn over and over again. Thankfully, that’s a lesson I’m ready to learn.

Christine Terry, J.D., is the Founder & Executive Director of Terry Tutors Specialized Education Services.

She created the One Wraparound Service for The Struggling Student, which includes Academic, Behavior, Special Education Advocacy, and School Placement services. Christine truly loves helping struggling students realize their inner potential and the possibilities that await them in and out of the classroom.

 

 

 

 

 

Summer May Be Right Around the Corner but It’s Not Too Late to Start the IEP Process

IEP

Navigating the IEP Process with TerryTutors.com

 

Alrighty, we’re headed down those sweet but chaotic last few months of the school year — 10 weeks to be exact, but who’s counting.

Although this school year is winding down, there’s still time to get an evaluation and possibly an IEP or 504 Plan in place, ready to go for the Fall.

If there’s something your child has been struggling with and it’s been a consistent issue all year long, then maybe there’s something else happening: a learning difference, behavior challenge,  social skills need.

A report card can only shed so much light on the issue. As a parent or a provider, we owe it to our kiddos to uncover the real reason they are struggling in school. This means going the extra mile and seeking out an answer through the evaluation process.

The first step is to:

1. Write your Request for an Evaluation Letter. An Initial Request for a Referral for an Evaluation letter starts the IEP process, alerting the school that you believe your child may meet the eligibility requirements to receive Special Education services and supports.

Note that if your child attends a private school, you can still ask for an IEP from either (1) the public school district where the school is located, or (2) more commonly, the school district where the child’s home resides.

Secondly,

2. Document everything. If you talk to the Principal, your child’s Teacher, or School Psychologist then followup with a Thank You email to verify your conversation and timestamp your efforts to put the wheels in motion. This is not to be litigious, but rather just good practice. The Advocacy rule of thumb: If it’s not written down, it never happened. Be understanding but be persistent.

And make sure to:

3. Educate yourself on what the law says. The district must legally comply with the federal laws of FAPE, IDEA, Child Find to name a few.

It’s a tall order. Having been on both sides of the table, I know firsthand the frustrations that come with trying to serve and meet each student’s individual needs. Don’t let the process discourage you!

Review these helpful resources to help you navigate the system:

Christine Terry, J.D., is the Founder & Executive Director of Terry Tutors Specialized Education Services.

She created the One Wraparound Service for The Struggling Student, which includes Academic, Behavior, Special Education Advocacy, and School Placement services. Christine truly loves helping struggling students realize their inner potential and the possibilities that await them in and out of the classroom.

 

 

Goal Setting Sets the Tone for Confidence & Improvement

Goals

At the start of every tutoring session or parent meeting I ask my clients: What are your goals for our time together? This helps set the tone, providing structure to what is often a difficult moment in time — the moment someone asks for help.

Goals versus Expectations

Setting goals is different than having expectations. Goals are specific, measureable, attainable, relevant and time-bound. Expectations, on the other hand, are the “I wish you could’s” and the “I want you to’s” of life. Most of us have those sore childhood memories where our parents wished we could just do this differently or wanted us to do something that way instead. That’s a lot of pressure on a kid! Of course, parents want only the best for their kids but when your best is not your child’s version of best, then there is a conflict.

Conflict comes in many forms and one of those is having unattainable expectations. You want your child to go to Harvard? Okay, let’s really think about this: (1) What does it take to get into an Ivy League school? , (2) Is this really the best school environment for my child?, (3) Am I helping my child become a life-long learner and not just creating a “teach to the test” kind of student?

Shoot for the stars, yes! But combat the pressure of high expectation with a loving dose of reality.

Set Daily Attainable, Specific Goals to Build Your Child’s Confidence & Productivity

Nothing gives a student a reality check like setting daily attainable, specific goals. Child-led goals work best because they learn to take ownership and responsibility for their own actions or inactions. A life lesson, for sure!

To do this effectively, start with two goals – both should be things they could slightly improve upon but for the most part got it already – and one challenge goal, something new or something they have wanted to try but keep putting it off.

If your child is on the younger side, a sticker chart visibly placed in their room or in a common area is helpful. Let them choose where they’d like to put it. Some kids prefer to be more private as they learn something new and aren’t quite ready to shout it out to the whole family. Immediate gratification (ie: small prizes) and verbal praise helps younger kids solidify their confidence and keep coming back to challenge themselves further. If your child is a little older, say a ‘tween’, have them keep their own self-created reflection chart privately where they can earn bigger prizes for things that take a week or two to accomplish.

Set specific goals, such as complete math homework between 4:30-5:15 or write one paragraph for your English paper before dinner. Goals are baby steps.

Goals can also encompass something that’s difficult outside of homework like social skills (ie: invite one new friend over for a play date this weekend) or trying a new food (ie: asparagus, yum!). Learning is not limited to just academics. We need to broaden our goals to challenges outside of the classroom too.

If It’s Just Not Working, Rework Your Thinking

Oftentimes, our goals may initially reflect our expectations, just worded in a different way. If that’s the case, take a step back and try to put yourself in your child’s shoes, making sure to consider your child’s learning style and whether we may be putting too much or not enough pressure on your child to perform up to a certain standard. Starting slow with clear, attainable goals is usually the best beta test.

The end goal is really to help our kids love learning. We can do this by helping them increase their confidence through small accomplishments, which leads to increased confidence when the work, and life, gets harder.

You’re right, those Harvard dreams could very well be in your child’s future. However, we want to make sure they enjoy the process of learning on their way to the big leagues.

Christine Terry, J.D., is a Special Education Advocate & Founder of Terry Tutors. She created the One Wraparound Service for The Struggling Student, which includes Academic, Behavior, Special Education Advocacy, and School Placement services. Christine truly loves helping struggling students realize their inner potential and the possibilities that await them in and out of the classroom.

Inappropriate Behavior May Be Masking a Learning Difference

2012.7.Class-ClownIf you’re a parent of a child struggling with inappropriate behavior at school, you might find yourself answering this question at an SST or IEP Meeting: Does your child’s behavior impede his/her ability to learn in the classroom?

If you answered yes, then know that you’re not alone. As a Wraparound Support Provider, I hear this all too familiar story from parents just like yourself:

It started with little things, like not paying attention to the teacher, failing to turn in homework, or talking when he’s not supposed to, but it soon escalated to an alternation with another student, maybe a former friend, on the playground or in the lunchroom and now the school is talking suspension. Phone calls from the school increased from once a week to twice and now it’s nearly every day. And every day it’s a struggle to understand why this is happening.

You know your child is smart, knows the rules of school and although may have had a little academic or behavior issue in the past, it has never been something to worry about. But now, you find yourself worrying about his future and wondering ‘why?’

The Behavior May Be Hiding the Learning Difference

When trying to uncover the reason behind a behavior difficulty at school, we must focus on the root cause. It is imperative that we refrain from putting too much stake on the surface behavior. Yes, the behavior is causing daily problems, but it is likely hiding something more serious. The only way to uncover the real issue is to take a thorough look at all areas of your child’s life: (1) Home Environment; (2) School Environment; (3) Individual Needs

What’s Going on at Home?

Family dynamic changes can be difficult transitions for kids of all ages. The first question to ask: What changes have occurred at home?

Was there a change to the structure of the family, parenting style, or the way the home is run? If so, we have to look closely at these changes, no matter how minute, because they are part of the bigger picture.

Let’s make sure not to play the blame game.

Parents cannot blame the school alone for their child’s behavior and the school cannot blame the parents only for their student’s difficulties. Really, no one should be blaming anybody but it often feels that way, doesn’t it.

We need to change that.

Looking at what changes have occurred in a child’s home environment is one part of the mystery. As parents, you must do your due diligence and answer that question honestly, keeping an open mind.

behavior is functional

What’s Going on at School?

The second question to ask: What’s happening during school that perpetuates the inappropriate behavior?

Maybe the new teacher is not your child’s favorite this year or maybe there’s another kid that’s picking on your kid.

School is just as much about social preservation as it is about academic prowess.

When delving deeply into the school day, we want to be mindful to look at social struggles as well as academic ones. If your child is facing a problem with one of his friends, that could be the precipice for the behavior. Even it is seems minor, it may be a major source of strain for your child.

It’s hard to remember that kids are just that — kids. We’re adults now and can handle more stressors and triggers, but our kids have yet to go through the ups and downs of life that we have. So when faced with what presents as a minor social hiccup, perhaps they aren’t as prepared as we’d like them to be because they haven’t yet had to deal with that particular situation.

A child who’s acting out in class may be masking a more serious learning difficulty.

We have to also look at the academic needs of the student. Oftentimes, the behavior is masking a more serious issue, like a learning difference.

This is a hard one because it’s not a quick fix and may very well be something the student must learn to navigate through not only in school but in life. And that’s okay.

We’ve come a long way in the way we think about learning disabilities, disorders and differences. We know that there is no one right way to learn and that standardized testing does not tell the whole story nor determine success in life. It’s still important, however, to acknowledge that there is a learning difference so that the school can put appropriate accommodations and modifications in place.

What’s Going on Internally?

Getting to the root cause of a behavior need, may uncover a learning difference, but we’ll only really have concrete evidence of that if your child is evaluated for one.

A Psychological Educational Evaluation (often called a Psycho-Ed Assessment/Eval) is conducted by the School Psychologist at the request of the parent. It is also the start of the I.E.P. process.

I recently had a parent tell me that requesting testing was initially a scary process because she didn’t know what the evaluation would reveal. By choosing to look at it as a general check-up, however, it lessened the worry and put things in perspective. If a learning difference is found and her child is able to get services through the school, then that is one more piece of the puzzle solved.

Collaboration is Key to Bridging the Gap Between Home & School

Teachers, Parents, Providers want the same thing: to solve the puzzle. We can’t do that, however, by piecemealing the process. We have to collaborate.  We must look beyond the outward behaviors to the core issues, working together to understand what’s happening at home in conjunction with what’s happening in the classroom.

To label a child a “Behavior Problem” is the equivalent of just looking at someone’s outward appearance and deciding their whole story. It’s unfair of us to do so. We won’t know the whole story until we uncover the root issue. It takes time, money, patience, and expertise. Once completed, however, we have a clearer picture of what’s really going on.

If your child is in need of behavior support or you want to find out more about services available for behavior needs, click on TerryTutors.com for more information.

Christine Terry, J.D., is a Special Education Advocate & Founder of Terry Tutors. She created the One Wraparound Service for The Struggling Student, which includes Academic, Behavior, Special Education Advocacy, and School Placement services. Christine truly loves helping students realize their inner potential and the possibilities that await them: “To be a part of a student’s ‘ah ha’ moment is the best feeling in the world because I know I’m helping that student build foundational confidence that will lead to a successful path, not just in school but throughout life!”