Saturday, June 21, 2014

Years 35 to 37: Elementary Learning Specialist for Central Valley Schools: Beginnings and Endings; I am ALL DONE now!

At this time 40 years ago, I was just beginning my career in the education field. I spent a year in classrooms by this time; 3 months with an early childhood special education program, and 6 months in a school for students with disabilities ages 6 through 21. And because I had other experiences with people with disabilities, I was ready to embark on my teaching career in this great field.

This blog has been about those 40 years and the highs, the lows; the children, the teachers; the parents and the administrators. All of my experiences have taught me about life and how to live it. I hope that in return, I have also helped others.

So this last blog entry is about beginnings and endings. Recently, a lifelong friend sent me some pictures she took when I was just starting out and getting my classroom ready. What a gift! I had never even seen these pictures, but they are perfect for this post! I look at these pictures and think, if I knew what I do now, would I still have gone into this field? I was pretty naïve back then! Young and very "green". Now I am a very "seasoned" educator. Not as naïve certainly, but hopefully not too cynical either.

This last month of work has been a whirlwind of activity and has left me with a lot of mixed emotions. A retirement celebration with co-workers from three school districts, thoughtful gifts and flowers, beautiful cards and special visits with cherished friends. A wonderful scrapbook was also given to me with pages from so many people. I even got a "social story" about how to retire! A retirement dinner for all district employees retiring this year was lovely and gave me the opportunity to once again reflect on a "beginning" and an "ending". At the conclusion of my 6 month student teaching, I received a small candy dish with my name engraved. This was my first "teacher" gift. At the dinner, I was given a large brass school bell with my name, years of service to the district and total number of years in education. I will consider this to be my last "teacher gift!

And I still had more  gifts to give and receive! Over the last three years, two baristas at Jacob's Java in the valley have been so kind and friendly. They always take the time to chat and make getting my coffee lots of fun. So I made them some coasters for their own coffee drinks.

Tricia and Nicole surprised me on my last day with additional gifts as well. There is a gift certificate to get a mani-pedi with Nicole; and a beautiful hand made quilting tool from Tricia; made by her father! Beautiful and functional! Trust me, it will get plenty of use!

 Throughout the year, when teachers were being obstinate, or meetings were tedious, etc.; I would say to Tricia and Nicole, "We are all done with that!" This got to be our inside joke of sorts, and Tricia especially had fun with it! I counted down my last 6 days of work and had one of the secretaries take a picture of me each day with the number of days left. Then on my last day, I had Tricia and Nicole hold chalkboards that said, "She is all done."

 And so I've come to the end my friends! If you've been following this blog; thank you. I hope you have enjoyed it and possibly even learned some things from it.

And now I am ALL DONE!

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Years 35 to 37: Elementary Learning Specialist for Central Valley Schools: Retirement Celebration Fun!

And so I am coming to the end of my forty year journey. This week I celebrated with a wonderful retirement party hosted by my good friends Marci Haynes and Linda Murray. Despite threatening rain and some thunder and lightening, over 50 people attended from Cheney, Spokane and Central Valley School districts! We had a great time with good friends, wonderful food, a beautiful garden location, and lots of walks down memory lane.

Marci and Kim Nurvic had the idea that everyone should bring a scrapbook page to make a scrapbook. This was a great idea and the pages make me smile. I will show some next week. I think more pages are coming. It was interesting to see co-workers from three districts come together. Some people knew each other either by stories I've told about them, or through professional work. Spokane really is small enough that people do know each other from district to district! And it was so fun to reconnect with colleagues I haven't seen for many years!

My friends were very generous in remembering and congratulating me on my retirement. I received many wonderful gifts including a whopper gift card to the Buggy Barn from my CV sped friends, a personalized Thirty-One bag from my "Adams family", and beans from Kay! There's a funny story to that gift from our years together at Reid!

I also tried to give some gifts. Starting in February, I decided that I wanted to make something I could give to some of the many people I've worked with over the years. I started crocheting little hearts. I thought I would make about thirty of these, but as it turned out, I made forty-five. I also designed a card with a quote and a picture of me and my grandson walking. The quote says, "Learning is not a race for information; It's a walk of discovery." I added, "Thank you for being a part of my 40 year 'walk'." On the back of each card was a personal message. I wanted to give something back to all of the wonderful people that have added to my educational experiences over the years. I have been truly blessed by knowing them all!

Friday, May 30, 2014

Years 35 to 37: Elementary Learning Specialist for Central Valley Schools: Winding Down and Having Some Fun!

Everyday for the last several weeks, people are asking me, "How many days left? What's the countdown?" Truth be told, I have not been counting. Although today I am aware that I do have only 15 days to go!

Over the last several months, things have not slowed down, but instead seemed to have sped up! Observations, visits for parents, meetings, and professional development trainings; all have kept me busy. I am used to doing lots of observations and early in March, Tricia, the coordinator I work for asked me to go to Liberty Lake and do an observation of a young man I've observed several times over the last three years. I thought this was unusual because I don't have this school this year, but Tricia explained that since I've built a relationship with the school concerning this boy, they had asked for me to do it specifically. And so on this particular day, I willingly got my observation sheets and trotted off to Liberty Lake!

At the school I signed in and went down to the classroom. I immediately started taking data, counting time on task in 10 second intervals. I knew that the whole school was going to an assembly, and part of what I was to observe was how this boy made the transition and coped during the assembly. I dutifully followed the class to the gym and continued taking data. In the gym the children were all gathered and I seated myself somewhere near the class so that I could continue my observations. The whole school assembly was to give out some Meritorious Award Nominations. These awards are given for service above and beyond the normal duties of your position. Each school nominates candidates and then all of the candidates are put before the school board and one or two people are chosen to receive the final awards. So there I am, carefully taking data and only half listening to the school board members talking about the candidates being nominated from Liberty Lake. Then all of the sudden, I hear my name! I think, "Why did they say my name?" And then there was clapping and people saying, "Come on up Kathy!" I was completely taken by surprise! Well, it turns out that Kristn Date, the excellent resource room teacher, had nominated me as a candidate for the award! Wow! Unbelievable! And so I went forward to get it. I look out in the audience, and there is Marci and Nicole, taking pictures and videos! Tricky ladies! Here is a little bit of what Kristin wrote when she submitted my name for this award:
"Kathy is always willing to go the extra mile for both staff and students. Her many years as an educator and in administration have given her a wealth of knowledge! She seems to know the answer to almost everything in her field! She is a true asset to those around her. I was given the opportunity to work closely with Kathy several years ago. I always felt that she was there to support me. I never felt like a burden, even when I was asking the most basic questions or repeatedly asking the same questions. She never made me feel rushed or like she needed to be somewhere else. Even though, I'm sure many times she did need to get going. I felt like she was  'present' throughout all our interactions and meetings. She made my day with her funny anecdotes about the preschoolers from her past so I wouldn't feel like I was the only one who had ever had to deal with all the situations that aren't 'text book'. It has been a true pleasure to have her on my team! I will miss her terribly." Such kind words from a truly wonderful and gifted teacher! I was beyond moved.

And then on May 7th, we had our last elementary teachers' meeting of the year. All year, Tricia has been giving out "Above and Beyond Awards". These have been a little "tongue in cheek" and lots of fun! Nicole and I tried to offer suggestions for these awards, but truth be told, Tricia was a genius with these! Impressive! So after the last one was given out, she said, "Kathy, you need to come and stand here." What? I did and she presented me with my own award. My award was "The Queen of Special Education" but only until the end of the year. This award came complete with crown and wand! Tricia said, "This is a powerful wand and so we can only let you use it until the end of the year. However, you can wave it and say, 'Now all parents will be nice,' or 'We are all done with this!'" Ha, ha! Love this wonderful group of people!!

Two more posts remain in my year long blog. Next week I will share my retirement celebration with you all! And after that, I will talk about my final days. Thank you for joining me on this journey!

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Years 35 to 37: Elementary Learning Specialist for Central Valley Schools: The "Learning Zone"

Over the years, I've met and worked with many students with extreme ADHD. I'm not talking about students who were a little wiggly in their chairs, or needed more time to run at recess, I'm talking about students who might be eating, forget mid-bite, and end up with the food on their cheeks! Seriously; that's a concern!

When I worked at Spokane Schools the first time as a preschool teacher, I had the great fortune to meet Nancy Royse. Nancy was a physical therapist with a great understanding of our body's central nervous system. Nancy could take a look at students and assess what kinds of activity they might need to do in order to get their central nervous system into what she called "the learning zone". She maintained that if a student's "system" was running too high; no learning would take place. And if that system was running too low;
again, they would not be in the "zone" to learn.

Through Nancy I learned all about using the different sensory systems our body has in order to regulate and organize the central nervous system. We are not talking about just the usual five senses of seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting and touching. We are also talking about the vestibular (movement and balance) and the proprioceptive (muscle and joints) systems. These additional sensory systems can be instrumental in organizing a student and getting them into the zone.

So over the past at least 25 years, I've tried to pass on this information. Preschool teachers, self-contained special ed teachers, resource room teachers, and yes, even general ed teachers have all heard my spiel on  how to integrate sensory activities into their daily routine in order to get their students into the zone. "Heavy work" is the backbone of my talks. Using the big muscles in our bodies, the upper arm muscles or the thigh muscles of the legs; will really help kids "engines" that are running high.

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to go into my favorite first grade teacher's room. She had a little guy that was having a lot of trouble attending. I came in to do a time on task data sample. In the 25 minutes I observed, this student was on task less than 2 minutes. Wow! How can you learn in that situation? How can anyone learn? And this was with medication! So we decided to add some planned heavy work into this boy's daily routine. And we also worked with him to recognize when he needed to do this work in order to be ready to learn. Pushups, wall sits, and wheelbarrow walking are the heavy work exercises that work best for him. He is getting extremely good at knowing when he needs this kind of help and tells his teacher. His ability to work and focus has increased dramatically and his grades have improved. The teacher is a believer!

I will be forever grateful to Nancy and the many other PTs and OTs I've worked with for helping me understand and spread the word about sensory systems and the importance of being in the "zone". If anyone is interested in more information about this, The Alert Program is a good resource. Check it out!

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Years 35 to 37: Elementary Learning Specialist for Central Valley Schools: Observations, Meditations, and the "Right Stuff"

Over the years as an education/learning specialist, one of my greatest pleasures has been to go into classrooms and do observations. I get to see all kinds of things doing this! But in the past three years in Central Valley, I've witnessed some amazing things!

One of the best things about this school district is its' dedication to offering programs to meet a variety of levels for children with special needs. We have self contained classrooms for children who have disabilities that may impact their social behaviors, sensory issues, communication needs, etc. We have classrooms for children who need extra help that may be more time than a resource room can offer, but doesn't need to fill a child's whole day. All students, regardless of the impact of their disabilities, get time in general education classrooms as well. This is such a gift!

But no school district is infallible. Often times students are placed in one classroom, but after observations and lots of thinking and working with teams, another placement is thought to be more appropriate. During my first year in the district, we had a young man in one of our behavior classrooms. He was struggling and not making much progress. Behaviors were constant and the team was frustrated. One of this boy's co-disorders is autism, and so we decided to try moving him to a classroom with a teacher very skilled in working with students on the autism spectrum.

Now this teacher is truly amazing! She has what I would call the "right stuff"! She is skilled in discrete trial training, ABA, and the use of PECS. All of her students use visual schedules like pros! They work not only on academic tasks, but also on daily living skills, social skills, and leisure activities. The structure and routine, the empathy and care; all of this worked to make the most remarkable difference in this boy! A year and a half later, I went to do some videoing of him to share with his middle school teacher. I could not believe this was the same child! And I got a chance to watch him in his school concert play a recorder solo. The music teacher at this building is also such a gift! And after he finished his solo, he took a deep bow! I had trouble keeping back the tears.

And it's not just some of our special education teachers with remarkable skills. There is a first grade team of teachers in one of my buildings that is just spectacular. I've had the opportunity to observe them on many occasions, and I always learn something new. One of the teachers in this building teaches so much through stories and by example and ties her teaching to the PACE character education that the district uses.

So a couple of years ago, this teacher asks me to come in and help her with a boy who seems to have some anxiety and challenges with social skills. This was my first visit to this class, and I am going to share a passage from my observation with you. I think you will see why I was, and still am, so impressed with her:

Mrs. S. calls the children to the carpet to explain the math lesson. As the children gather, she plays a CD with a counting song. The children join in counting by 2’s, 3’s, 4’s and 5’s. As Mrs. S. starts the lesson, she asks that the children put their thumbs up if they understand or know the answer to a question. At one point, B. has given a “thumbs up,” but doesn’t have the right answer. Mrs. S. redirects him and he gets the answer right. She gives him a lot of appropriate praise and says she is proud of his problem solving ability. Before the children return to their tables to do their math sheet, Mrs. S. dismisses the children by colors they are wearing. B. is listening, and when he hears the color blue, he jumps up and goes to his table to start work.
B. takes a pencil but the point breaks. He gets up and sharpens it and tells Mrs. S. She reinforces his good decision making skills. He goes back and starts work. He shares information with others at his table, and gives compliments. The peer helper from fifth grade, Cody, looks up at B. working and tells him that he can write his name on the board. B. looks surprised and says to Cody, “Did the teacher tell you that you could tell me that I can write my name on the board?” Cody says, “Yes. Mrs. S. said that if I notice people doing the right thing, I can tell them to write their names on the board.” B. gets up, goes to the board, and very carefully writes his name on it. After writing it, he stops by Mrs. S. and waits for her to see him. She turns to him and he says, “I got noticed!” She says, “Who noticed you?” He looks around the room and then points to Cody saying, “Him.” Mrs. S. says, “Mr. Cody noticed you? Why did he notice you?” B. thinks for a minute and then says tentatively, “I was writing on my math paper.” Mrs. S. says, “B., you are having a fabulous day. Will you give me a high-five?” and he does. It doesn't get any better than that.

I'm going to miss these classroom visits next year.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Years 35 to 37: Elementary Learning Specialist for Central Valley School District: One More Post About Behavior!

Sometimes in this job, it's not just the students or the teachers exhibiting inappropriate behaviors! When you work with a variety of people, schools, students and parents; you are going to see behaviors from EVERYONE. And once in a while, that included me!

My second year in Central Valley, we were having a meeting with some pretty tough parents. These parents were angry and belligerent, and disagreed with everything we were suggesting for their child. We let them vent for several minutes and then I wanted to offer some suggestions in regard to future programming for their son. As I started to speak, the boy's father started making derogatory remarks and kept interrupting me. I could feel my blood pressure rising and soon I was on my feet getting ready to really give this guy a piece of my mind! Now this is not the kind of person you want to make angry as he is the type likely to take revenge. However, that was not on my mind at the moment. Thank goodness it was on Geri's! She reached over and pulled me back down to my chair. Then the administrator that is in charge of the elementary principals, stepped in and escorted this man out of the room and then the school, ducking an attempt by this man to punch him in the face on the way out! Unbelievable! I'm thankful to Geri as I could have been the person needing to duck the punch, and I'm not that fast!

But the flip side of this story is one from December 2012. All of us in the education field were touched and saddened by what happened in Connecticut that month. Those of us who work with the toughest children worry about them and for their futures every day. Then I got this message from one of the most amazing people I know. She works with students in one of our behavior classrooms and is on the "front line" of dealing with behaviors every single day. I've removed her name and the student's from this message she got, but thought it was too powerful not to share. 

Here is what it said:  "I received this Christmas Card from one of the students we have in our classroom at the end of the day. I didn't really have time to reflect at that moment as we were trying to send all students off on their winter break. I did however thank the student and gave him a big hug. When I got home and I  was putting things away, I looked at the card again, and I came to the conclusion that this is why I still do what I do. I realized that I don't receive things like this every day. Cards like this are few and far between. Usually, the message I get from most children with behaviors is that they are angry and I am just another adult trying to tell them what to do. However, the message I try to send after every behavior is that I will want to work with you again tomorrow. I have been saying this to all students for many years now and sometimes think they don't really hear me. In reality, my message is heard. And though I go through these periods of being frustrated with behaviors, other adults and myself, I can't imagine doing anything else at this time. And though there might come a time I change my mind, for the time being, this is why I still do what I do."

At times like that, I am so proud to be working in this field. It is such a privilege to know and work with people like this; and I will miss these fantastic educators when I retire. But like she said, this is why we do what we do. 

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Years 35 to 37: Elementary Learning Specialist for Central Valley Schools: Nobody starts the school year off like Central Valley!

As the summer of 2011 wound down and I got ready for the new school year in my new job, I was excited and a little scared at the same time. At almost 60, was this the right thing to do? But I knew it would be a fresh start hopefully with teachers and students I could offer new ideas and strategies to.

Now the Central Valley school district does something I had never experienced in all my years in the education field. They host the most amazing, uplifting, and somewhat nostalgic opening to the school year I've ever seen. To me it is reminiscent of bygone years and simpler times; something that might have brought us all together in the 1950s.

On one of the days before the school year starts, all staff are invited to one of the high schools (they alternate between University high and Central Valley high each year). To start the morning off, Spokane Teachers Credit Union and the school board supply fruit, pastries and coffee, have tickets to fill out for winning gift baskets, etc. You have a chance to wander around, catch up with your fellow teachers, and meet new friends.

After about an hour of eating and visiting, this huge group of teachers and staff move to the gym. In the gym, the high school band, in full dress uniform, plays for everyone. Such amazing talent! And as we gather, it is such a treat to hear them play! When everyone is inside and the band has played a couple more songs, the American flag lowers from the gymnasium ceiling, and we all stand as the band plays the national anthem. One year a young very talented girl of about 11 sang a solo of the anthem. If this doesn't get your patriotic juices flowing, nothing will! It also always brings a tear to my eye and a lump to my throat, and I wonder if I will be able to get myself back together!

The next part of this opening to the school year consists of inspirational talks, videos, PowerPoint shows, etc. by school board members and district administration, including the superintendent. There is always a theme: this year it was "What's Up With That?" This was crazy fun! How often do you see your district administrators dress up in costumes, sing, dance, and put on skits? And boy, I have to say, our HR person really has a great voice! This was so much fun and afterwards almost everyone is in a good mood and ready to start the school year. The only challenging thing is getting out of the parking lot! That can take a looooong time. But hey, why not just chat with a few more people while you're waiting?

I will miss these openings to the school year. Even though I've only attended three, I've enjoyed them so much that I'm wondering; do you think anyone will notice if I come
and join in the fun next year?

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Years 35 to 37: Elementary Learning Specialist for Central Valley Schools: "You'll feel like you've come home."

After the 2010-2011 school year in Spokane, I was emotionally exhausted and wasn't sure I could return in the fall. But at this time, my husband and I had not yet consulted with a financial planner or attended any retirement seminars, so even though I was on the Plan 1 retirement system, we weren't sure I could retire.

Not long after the year ended, I got a call from Lyn, a woman I worked with in Spokane. She told me that there was an elementary learning specialist opening in Central Valley. She had looked at the position and she said it was essentially the same job I'd been doing for the past 12 years. I was excited and thanked Lyn for letting me know. And because the Spokane area is not really all that big, it turned out that a few people I'd worked with before, in both Cheney and Spokane, were now working in Central Valley as well.

One of those people was Geri Hammond. Geri and I had both been education specialists in Spokane before she became a coordinator for elementary special education programs. She was now the elementary coordinator in Central Valley. I decided to get in touch with her and see if she thought this would be a good job for me to apply for.

Geri was very encouraging. She said, "Kathy, you really should apply. This is a wonderful district to work for. You will feel like you've come home." Well that sounded good to me! So I applied.

Now what have I learned after all of these years about interviewing? I've learned to bring stuff and talk a lot! So when I got an interview, I brought my rolling cart full of binders with examples of professional development trainings, preschool curriculum, Social Stories, and the FBA/BIP I'd worked on with Michelle and Bonnie. When I came into the district office, Geri met me at the door. She said, "What is all that?" I said, "I just thought I would bring a few examples of things I've done over the years." She laughed and said, "Okay, but we've only got 45 minutes! Take your cart to the elevator, but don't you get in. Nobody rides the elevator. Just send it to the second floor and you take the stairs."

I did just that. Upstairs the special services area was large and light. People were friendly and open. The interview went well and in a couple of days I found out I had the job. I was delighted! My office area had a window and amazing amounts of storage! In all of my years as a specialist, I never once had a window!

Over the next several weeks I moved in and started to learn about the people and the job. I would have seven elementary schools and the special education programs and teachers attached to them. The job would be very much like what I did for Spokane, but more "hands-on". I could spend more time problem solving and working with others; something that slowly went away in Spokane as the specialists retired and were not replaced. This sounded great!

I really did feel like I had "come home"!

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Years 23 to 34: Education Specialist for Spokane Public Schools: Micro-managing and Muppet Meeting Mondays Make Me Move On!

When I first got hired as an education specialist for Spokane Public Schools, there were ten of us who worked with the special education teachers in the thirty five elementary schools, six middle schools, and five high schools. We also had five area coordinators and a special education director and assistant director. The ten of us worked collaboratively, but had the autonomy to work on our own with the trust of our superiors that we not only knew what we were doing, but could do it well and probably better with less interference. This didn't mean that we were out there randomly doing whatever we wanted; we always checked with our coordinators, frequently met with them, and did things for them when they had other duties. It was a very efficient system and I loved my job.

Then early in 2010, things changed. Our special ed director retired, and the person put in charge had no background in special education. In fact, I'd heard her on more than one occasion express her disdain for special education and how it was run. She vowed to "clean it up". In her mind, there did not need to be a lot of support staff helping the teachers in the field. Indeed, as the ed specialists retired, none were replaced. By this time, we were down to two ed specialists for the elementary programs and just two for the secondary. Only two elementary coordinators remained as well, and anything, and I mean ANYTHING you wanted to send out in an email, propose for professional development, etc., had to be approved with the director first.
One day in the spring of 2010, Susan B., the coordinator I worked for, asked me to send out a group email to the preschool teachers. I did, and then boy, did I hear about it! The director emailed me and told me that I was not to email this group again. I tried to explain that my immediate boss had asked me to do it. She said that she didn't care who asked me to do it, I wouldn't be doing it again! Suddenly going to work was not as much fun. Slowly my responsibilities with the preschool group disappeared altogether. Now another person was put in charge of that group; a person with NO early childhood background. Should I have been surprised?

I dreaded returning to work in the fall of 2010. No longer working with preschool programs, I now worked mostly with the elementary self-contained rooms. I liked working with these teachers! They had been without support after Joanie S. and Cindy V. retired. They appreciated everything you did for them. But then there were the meetings! As things got underway, the new leadership decided to have meetings with all support staff every other Monday. I dreaded these meetings mostly because the director, being the supreme micro-manager, loved to tell us all what we were doing wrong. I began to refer to these meetings as Muppet Meeting Mondays. Here is a post from my Facebook page that fall: "Tomorrow is Muppet Meeting Monday. We have to do this two times a month.Not looking forward to it. Just so you know, I will be playing the part of Oscar the Grouch. The parts of Miss Piggy and Scooter are permanently taken. Any of you that will be going want to claim a character?"

By the middle of October, I was resigned to having a horrible year, but then it got worse. Dave, one of the assistant special ed directors, asked me to send out a group email about the new IEP's we were doing and how to write good present levels, etc. I thought, surely if Dave asks me to do this, I don't have to check with the director. Wrong! This time the director sent me an email saying I had to meet with her. I was shocked. I started archiving her emails to me. Her tone was very threatening. I called the Spokane Education Association and asked for a representative to come with me to the meeting. The president herself decided to join me. At the meeting the SEA president asked about my background, what I had been doing during my years in Spokane, and what the problem was as I saw it. I talked about my long career in special education, my twenty-two years as a classroom teacher, and my support to both preschool and other elementary special education programs over the past twelve years. The president listened and then said to the director, "It seems like Kathy has a lot of knowledge about special education and programs. Why wouldn't you listen to her suggestions and allow her to make some decisions on her own?" And this was the director's response, "Because I don't have to."

And that was that. Two weeks later I was told I would no longer be just an ed specialist, but that half of my time would be as a behavior intervention specialist. Don't get me wrong. I had learned a lot about behavior over the years, and the behavior intervention specialists I got to hang out with were the best, but I had not pursued this kind of a job. I had signed on to be an ed specialist. Can you say "retaliation"? 

I made it through the year, but it was a hard one. Thank goodness the people I worked with on a daily basis were great. Teachers, therapists, other specialists; you couldn't ask for a better bunch. But at the end of the year, I knew I needed to make a choice. Thanks to a good friend, I found out that a similar position was opening up in Central Valley. So I decided to apply.

When I got the job in CV, Susan B. decided to throw a little going away party for me. I was overwhelmed by the number of people who came to wish me well. It was such a gift to me. I only hope that everyone I worked with over the years in Spokane felt I gave something back to them.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Years 23 to 34: Education Specialist for Spokane Public Schools: There's Preschool; and then there's Milena!

As I've said before, one of the great joys of being an education specialist is getting the opportunity to work with such a diverse group of people. You get to see teachers who are organized and methodical; finding a style that works for them and honing it to perfection. You see brand new teachers who's faces light up and their confidence increase when they take suggestions you've given and put them into practice. And you also see teachers who may be having problems with behavior or other classroom issues, never take a suggestion or the help that's offered.

Such was my experience over and over in Spokane. But when I had the opportunity to focus more with the preschool group after about a year and a half in the job, the experiences became more positive. When I left Spokane in 1989 to go to Cheney, I was one of just five preschool teachers in the district. When I returned in 1999 as an education specialist, that number had grown to twelve. And the types of programs had changed as well. Not only did we have self-contained programs for our children with more severe disabilities, but we also had integrated programs with Head Start and our district childcare program, Express.

 I'll never forget my first meeting with the preschool group. Susan B., the elementary coordinator I worked with was also put in charge of managing the preschool programs. By the 2000/2001 school year, the other education specialists had slowly turned over the preschool programs in their buildings to me. So Susan decided to make it a permanent part of my job and asked me to attend a meeting at Bancroft where one of our CAPE and one of our self-contained programs were housed. Susan had some ideas of how to move these programs forward which included having a group of psychologists dedicated to the testing of preschoolers. It also included more professional development for this group and adding me as their ed specialist to help with curriculum development, classroom  observations and the management of behavior issues. Susan outlined some of her plans and then she introduced me. By this time, I knew several of these teachers, but I had not yet met Milena!

 I'd heard stories about this woman, and truth be told, some of the ed specialists were a little afraid of her. Tall, with short white hair and a thick Czech accent; she could be a bit intimidating. So when she came up to talk to me after the meeting, I was a little afraid as well! She said, "So, what makes you think you would be a good ed specialist for preschool?" I said, "Twenty-two years in the classroom as a special education teacher; fifteen of those in preschool?" She paused for a minute, and then she smiled her big smile and laughed and said, "Okay!" And thus a long standing friendship was born!

Milena is one of those teachers who changes the lives of those who are privileged enough to meet and work with her. She has a style that is uniquely her own. Trained at Gonzaga, she is a master in using direct instruction, applied behavior analysis, and the Picture Exchange Communication System to make huge gains with her children with autism. But she doesn't stop there; she is also a master in more eclectic social communication models like James McDonald's ECO and Stephen Gutstein's Relationship Development Intervention.

She has the patience of twelve people put together. I've seen her continue to do Circle Time; calmly calling on children to come and choose a song, conducting a game, or doing greetings; all the while with a screaming child holding onto a hunk of her hair and pulling it hard! She is kind and thoughtful almost to a fault. I've seen her be completely distraught when we had to tell one child's parents that he had broken her jaw (she had this wired shut for 10 weeks during the summer, living off liquids and mashed potatoes). She did not want his parents to give up on him. And her sense of humor is amazing! One day I was talking to a teacher who taught in a self contained program one level up from preschool. She told me that she went to do an observation of a student she would be getting from Milena the next year. When she arrived, Milena was just beginning her Circle Time. Things started out quietly, but then, just when everyone was relaxed and unsuspecting, Milena pulls out one of her opening activities she does to get the children's attention. On this day it happened to be a frog toy that when you squeezed it, a long tongue came out and touched you! My friend Sue said she almost fell off her chair! That's Milena! She has the best attention getting activities ever!

And what about today? Well this gifted teacher who I've seen move from Indian Trail, to Woodridge, to Bryant, to Browne and now to Holmes, continues to teach some of our most impacted preschool children. Recently I called her during a lunch break on a Friday. I know that the preschool teachers have Fridays to help with assessments and get lesson plans and activities ready for the following week. So I expected to be able to chat for a few minutes. However that was not the case. When I called, Milena said, "I'm so glad you called but I only have a minute to talk. My first grade social group is coming down and I need to be ready." It seems that Milena saw the need to work with students beyond the preschool in this poverty stricken school, and so volunteers her planning time to conduct social skills groups with the different grades. That is dedication.

Milena has mentored and influenced many young teachers over the years. Whitney, Pia, Lisa, Sally; all have gone on to be amazing teachers. Something my sister said to me a few years ago when I was thinking about getting my second dog, Darby seems to fit here. She said, "Kathy, if you get a dog now, Murphy will help to train him and when Murphy is gone, you'll have a little bit of him left in Darby." And that's what I see when I watch some of these teachers mentored by Milena; they all have their own styles, but there is a little bit of Milena in all of them! And that is a wonderful gift.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Years 23 to 34: Education Specialist for Spokane Public Schools: Babies, Babies, and More Babies (and quilts)!

It's interesting when you have a job that allows you to work with lots of different people. So many different personalities, ages, approaches to teaching, etc. I had this opportunity for twelve years in Spokane and the teachers, psychologists, therapists, administrators and other support staff encompassed all ages, sizes, shapes, and dispositions!

Probably the most cohesive group, by age anyway, was the preschool group. Except for a few in my age group or older, most of this group were young, just married, and/or having babies! Wow! For a while there, these young women were contributing to the increased population of Spokane at what seemed like an alarming rate! I say that because as a quilter, I decided to make baby quilts for many of these babies. It seemed like a good idea at the beginning, but then I couldn't keep up! Most of the quilts I made I designed myself, and all of them used fabrics that did not come from places like JoAnne's, but instead from quality quilt stores. These fabrics have a much higher thread count and longer life span.

In 2000, two teachers I worked with had their first babies. One was a self-contained teacher I did my Master's with, and the other was a teacher I worked with first in Cheney, but who now worked in Spokane. Kellie's quilt was all in stitchery with angels. This quilt also involved applique and was entirely quilted by hand. Around the inside border I hand stitched the Prayer to My Guardian Angel. Susan's quilt was done using a technique called paper piecing and was all sailboats and seagulls. Unfortunately, I don't have a picture of it.

I did a quilt with ducks for Jessieanna, one with circles for Carmen, and one with hearts for Louise.

A quilt with crayons for Meghan, one with brown and pink stars for Dawn, and one with crazy squares for Kristi.
And teachers having babies weren't the only recipients of quilts. There were quilts to be made for people who were retiring like Judi and Mary. And quilts for those who were sick, like Bonnie.

Judi's quilt I made with the hand prints of her students in the shape of caterpillars and flowers. Then I added hand prints of all of the preschool teachers. That was a fun quilt and a big surprise for Judi!

Leslie Weller and I worked together on Mary's retirement quilt. Leslie did the beautiful piecing of the quilt in wonderful colors and fabrics. I did the machine quilting, quilting pansies throughout the quilt.

Bonnie's quilt was extra special. Sometimes when I begin a quilt, I start to get thoughts about who should get it when I'm finished. I had thought I was making the quilt as a wall hanging for myself, but then the thoughts about Bonnie persisted and I knew I needed to make it for her. I called this quilt "Once in a Blue Moon" as a person like Bonnie comes around about that often.

There were more quilts like this one I made for Regal principal Mallory Thomas. She was kind enough to provide me office space for many years.

And I've continued the tradition in Central Valley. Last year Deb Lathrop and I worked together to make Geri a retirement quilt that included T-shirts from all 14 of the elementary schools. And almost two years ago, I designed and made this baby quilt for Stacia, a wonderful OT that I've actually known since she was 3 years old (her mother was my hair dresser lo these many years ago!). Since she works at McDonald, I made a barn quilt and machine quilted "Old McDonald" around the border. It turned out very cute!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Years 23 to 34: Education Specialist for Spokane Public Schools: Technology Fun and Books for Songs!

As I started working more and more with teachers and students, I embraced technology and what it could do for me in the way of making customized visual supports. Many teachers were working with children with little or no language. They relied on pictures for their students to use to communicate. Other teachers used pictures for schedules, stories, etc. I knew how important using visual supports were for our children with special needs, especially our children on the autism spectrum.

For a while I struggled with low tech paint programs like the free one that comes with Microsoft Office. These programs drove me crazy! Not very flexible, it took me hours to put pictures together or to change colors, etc. And then I discovered Paint.NET. Oh my! Did my world change! This is a free program that is like PhotoShop "light". It may not be quite as extensive, but the things I can do with that program! I can layer, rotate, change colors, sharpen, soften - you name it, I can do it! And thanks to my son Mark, I learned what "tolerance" means as related to a paint program!

This new ability allowed me to go crazy! Suddenly I was able to make books to go with favorite children's songs like I Am A Pizza, Slap Those Mosquitoes, and Five Little Ducks. Favorite poems or fingerplays also turned into books like Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear and Ten in the Bed. I shared these books with all of the teachers I worked with. Preschool teachers, kindergarten teachers, and primary special education classroom teachers loved these.

And it wasn't just fun songs with books that got made. I also started to make social stories and scripts with my new found technology. Social stories and scripts are social lessons that help children with autism navigate difficult social situations. Originally developed by Carol Gray, these stories and scripts can be written about anything a child is struggling to learn about or understand. These books also help children with other behavior issues, so soon I was getting requests from many teachers to write stories for them.

Then one day I was meeting with Cori Valley, and she told me about Cathy Bollinger. Cathy is a singer/songwriter who writes many kinds of educational songs, but has at least two excellent CDs of musical social stories. These are fantastic and fun! Wow! I got to work right away making books to go with eleven of the songs that seemed most appropriate for the students and teachers I was working with. Here are a few of them.

Today I have about 200 books, social stories, poems, fingerplays, and musical social stories illustrated and saved. These books are being used by Head Start and ECEAP programs as well as Montessori and special education preschools on both sides of the state. Indeed, some of the teachers I've worked with who have moved to other parts of the country are using them in those new places as well. I am proud to have helped produce some strong visual supports that are fun as well, and help so many children make sense of their world.

And I am now also having fun sharing these books with my own grandson Eddie! He thinks they're great!