Pink Hearts & Bear Claws

pink heartIt’s hard being a kid, especially in middle school where up is down and right is wrong and social rules are ever-changing. I truly feel for my middle schoolers – I do; I wouldn’t want to go back.

For Davis*, that’s also the case, except he still has to muster his way through the next two and a half years of strife and confusion. His struggle is three-fold: (1) social cues alone are hard but couple that learning curve with autism and it becomes even harder; (2) transitioning from elementary school to middle is one of life’s BIG changes and comes with the need for greater emotional maturity, which not all of our students are ready for; and (3) Bear Claws – oh those coveted Bear Claws, a symbol that you are Top Dog with the most Class Dojo points and a chance to win free dress and front of the line lunch passes.

It is EVERYTHING in the social jungle that is middle school. Unfortunately, today, Davis did not earn a Bear Claw.

His day started out just fine, earning points for completing morning work, station rotations and fulfilling his classroom job. But something went awry after break and the points slowly kept slipping out of sight. He was neck and neck with Angel* when all of a sudden, Angel got double points for doing EXTRA WORK and SHOWING INDEPENDENCE. Poor Davis just couldn’t bounce back.

It was all too much.

And he just snapped.

“TEEEEAACCCHHHHEEERRR!!!”, Davis wailed in his Level 4 voice. “I NEED A POINT!!!!!! YOU HAVE TO GIVE ME A POINT!”

Of course, a Level 4 voice would never warrant a point; that would incite anarchy. Instead, he was issued a Warning, shortly followed by a Needs Work aka negative point.

Davis was down. But not out. Not yet.

With the help of my Amazing Aide, Davis sat on the stoop near the door and explained his side of the story. He argued his points like a well-seasoned attorney, citing all the evidence of the inherent unfairness of the point system in general and why he deserved a Bear Claw for his efforts today.

Five, ten, fifteen minutes passed and Davis was finally ready to rejoin the class. He took a few final Lazy 8 Breaths and strolled back to his seat. Before he resumed his rightful place at the corner desk, closest to the board so his wandering thoughts could be redirected to the lesson at hand, Davis, a kid whose struggle was real, took it upon himself to teach this teacher a lesson she’ll never forget.

Right there, in the midst of our planner and Remind.com end-of-day routine, Davis, with tear-stained eyes and a sniffily nose silently stood in my bubble space and placed a pink heart sticker directly on my heart.

He gave me his heart, with all of his heart.

I stood there for a few seconds, shocked yet honored to be a part of this moment.

His simple act of kindness was a keen reminder that even though he did not earn the Bear Claw today, Davis’ heart would always be in the right place.

*Names changed for privacy

__

Christine Terry is a Special Education Teacher and the Founder & Executive Director of Terry Tutors Specialized Education Services. She combines her teaching credential, psychology and law degrees, and a whole lotta chutzpah and heart to serve students and families seeking academic, behavior and advocacy support. Learn more at TerryTutors.com


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Conformity and the Common Core

standing in lineWe demand that our students raise their hands to ask a question, yet we require that they produce a self-identity reflection project. We insist that students stand in line before entering the classroom, yet we request that they think outside the box when answering that math reasoning question.

Conformity and the Common Core appear to be mutually exclusive. How are we supposed to teach students to think for themselves if we’re overly concerned with adherence to classroom management rules?

Put your backpacks away. Get out your pencil. Sit down. Wait for instructions. Raise a silent hand.

No, this isn’t the 50’s these are some of my classroom norms.

I’m not proud that I’ve had to conform to traditional behavior management systems in order to keep sanity in the classroom. That’s not what I thought I’d be spending 50% of my time on when I decided to become a teacher. In fact, I’m pretty frustrated that, after trying the new ways of running a classroom, still, at the end of the day it feels like I’ve made little difference when it comes to behavior.

On one hand, common core is about being creative, letting your students guide projects and lead learning. On the other hand, if the behavioral needs are too great the creativity gets tossed aside.

Now, I’m not a militant. I’m not perfect; my students are perfect; the system isn’t perfect — and I don’t expect perfection. But I was hoping that when I entered this profession, I’d get to be more creative and not just be a “stickler for the rules”.

The reality is that behavior outweighs creativity. If the classroom is not running smoothly, we cannot do fun things. Some would say the opposite. I was one of those, before I became a teacher. Conformity, fortunately or unfortunately, is required to move forward.

Hurry up and get with the game, cause I’d sure like to do some fun things. C’mon, kids 🙂


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Terry Tutors Specialized Education Services, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) charitable and educational nonprofit with a focus on providing wraparound academic, behavior and advocacy support services for struggling students in southern California. Learn More at TerryTutors.com

I Didn’t Get Picked for the Team

jury-dutyWill I Be Chosen?

I recently had jury duty. Yes, I hear you groaning, thinking of your own civic duty fate that will, too, find its way to your mailbox one day.

It’s not like anyone really wants jury duty; I get that. I thought I’d immediately be excused due to the fact that I have a law degree and no attorney wants a person who also went to law school sitting with 11 other members of the panel possibly influencing their argument.

So I was surprised when after nearly a week of jury selection I was still in the running. As the Plaintiff’s counsel questioned each of the prospective jurors, I noticed that she used words such as “chosen” and “selected”. Defense Counsel used the same positive connotations to describe our potential service.

Each day I’d walk into the jury assembly room and greet the other prospective jurors. I got to know some of them by name and we chatted while we waited. During questioning, we got to know a lot about each other too. Our answers about our personal and professional lives were a nice foundation to start a conversation during breaks or when the judge was in chambers with the lawyers.

By Day 3, I was on the way to accepting my fate and starting to plan ahead for the two-week trial,”Okay. Yes, jury service is disruptive to my schedule and I have to rearrange student sessions and meetings with schools, but I could do this for a few weeks. I might even enjoy having a break, and I’d get a whole new perspective on our court system from the inside of the jury box.”

Just as I was starting to look forward to it, I got cut.

I Didn’t Get Picked for the Team

After being “Thanked and Excused” from jury service, it surprised me that I felt disappointed instead of relieved.

I started to think about the time I was in 4th Grade and we were on the school yard picking teams for dodge ball. I was picked last. I know! I’m still surprised that I wasn’t chosen. It’s times like these that I still think about that disappointment.

The Link Between Poor Grades & Feeling Left Out

Oftentimes, my students feel alone in their struggles at school. Most of the time their failing grades go hand-in-hand with social struggles too. After my students and I have worked together for a few weeks, they will often confide in me about their daily difficulties to fit in, to find their group, to be “selected”. It’s not uncommon for us to talk about how hard it is to find someone to eat lunch with, work on a group project with several other classmates, raise your hand in class for fear your question will be “dumb”, or navigate the world of the popular kids.

Not doing well academically is often a sign that something else is wrong. Doing poorly in school actually may not be about your child’s ability to understand the material.

Save for a learning difference or diagnosed learning disability, there are a whole host of other reasons your child has trouble in a subject or with school overall: Maybe the lesson is too advanced or not advanced enough; maybe it’s a time management issue because there are too many activities and other obligations; maybe she’s being bullied, maybe he just wants to fit in so badly that he’s willing to follow his friends even if they are “jumping off a bridge”.

Dealing with Disappointment

The point being: fitting in is a big deal. It’s part of the school experience and as such, it’s a big part of your child’s life. Sometimes we don’t get picked for the team. That’s a part of life, too, and we must learn to navigate through that disappointment.

Feel our feelings, as they say.

But no matter how old you get and no matter in what context the situation arises, the disappointment of not being chosen will stay with you, even as an adult who didn’t get picked for jury duty.

It’s the way we teach our children to handle life’s disappointments that make a difference in how they perceive life’s difficult moments. Let’s teach them to honor that feeling and then pick themselves up and find a healthy way forward.

As for me, I bounced back from the disappointment of not being picked for jury duty about 20 minutes later. But I’m sure I’ll get another chance to be selected in the future.

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.

 

 

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!”