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.