Sunday, July 24, 2016

CBI Location Selection

I recently posted a photo to my teaching instagram (@lovespedteaching...find me!) joking that I was scoping out CBI (community-based instruction) locations, when in reality I was laid back at the beach ;-)  I really believe that I could make a pretty good case for beach life skills training, but that's a different post entirely. Today, let's discuss how CBI trips should be selected! A few years ago, I became the CBI coordinator for my district. Basically, this means that I am in charge of maintaining the CBI manual, coordinating bus pickup with the transportation secretary, and helping provide my fellow self-contained teachers with resources for use on trips. When I started looking into the habits of my district as well as those in neighboring counties, I realized that all too often CBI trips are treated as field trips, when they are very different by definition. Very little planning was going into the selection of locations and very little intentional teaching was happening while on the trips themselves. The trips were full of teachable moments and I applaud the educators for taking advantage of those, but I believed we could do a little more to take full advantage of the opportunities provided! So, how do I select CBI trips for my group?

Step 1: Look at the goals

Sometimes, especially in the upper grades, we plan for community experiences by setting community-based goals. Other times, it is beneficial to think outside the box! Your student may now be able to differentiate between upper and lower case letters using the file folder game that you created and worksheets you provide, but will he be able to pick them out on the McDonald’s sign? Perhaps she can add 1+2=3 on paper, but what if she wants a cookie and her two friends want a cookie; will she know how many cookies to purchase? Also, it is possible to monitor related service goals in the community setting as well. Perhaps he can transfer from his wheelchair to the chair in your classroom, but what about transferring to a swing at the park? As with everything we do, start with the goals!

Step 2: List locations

Walmart...again?! Think beyond the basics and keep the following in mind. Look at locations that...
  • Are the same or similar to the sites currently used by the student or will most likely be used by him/her in the future.
  • Will help you provide systematic instruction that is consistent with family expectations and desires. What do parents want them to be independent doing? Are there any restrictions that parents set on community locations?
  • Facilitate comprehensive, longitudinal instruction and consistent methodologies.We aren't all over the place in the classroom and should also not be all over the place in the community.
  • Focus on future living arrangements and desires upon exit from the school system. Postsecondary success is on the forefront of a high school teacher's mind, but this is a good tip for younger grades as well. Keep the end in mind as you help students take small steps toward the eventual goal.
I keep a working list of accessible stores, restaurants, and activities within our allowed driving distance along with estimated money needed for each location. This helps make planning time more productive.

Step 3: Lock in your choice

Don't stress over it: if you have selected a place that is accessible and will help you work on at least one goal per student, go with it! I have definitely taken my students places and come back to scratch it off the list, but then there have been some locations that I am skeptical about that proved to be wonderful! Give yourself the freedom to try and give yourself grace if you select a location that proves to be a "fail". We've all done it...we'll all do it again!

This is how I decide where to take my students on our biweekly CBI outings. I'll be updating the CBI manual soon, so I look forward to your comments about how you select locations for community experiences :-) 

Saturday, March 26, 2016


Warning: this post is a little raw, emotionally speaking. Some wounds have the potential to be opened as I write. Expressing emotion is VERY much out of my character, but I do feel that the best teachers get a little emotionally involved. Forgive me if this is scattered and not as positive as I typically am. This one's real life, folks.

I had a student that I believed I would adopt. I believed my husband and I could bring him into our home and into our lives and give him exactly what he, and perhaps I, needed: a family. I learned a lot while working with this sweet buddy, both in and outside of the classroom. He could light up a room with his smile, he was ALWAYS up for a celebration, he loved every part of Christmas and began planning his birthday party 10 months in advance. He sought proprioceptive input in the most endearing of ways. He connected with those he felt safe with and communicated with them in the best ways he could. He loved Google Images and could surprise you with his vocabulary regarding preferred items and locations, despite being considered functionally nonverbal. One day, while on a school break, I received word that this young man was being moved and it is very likely that I'll not see him again. It's absolutely heartbreaking, but I must live with the understanding that if he is supposed to be in our family, he will be. If he needs us as I believed he did, we will be given the opportunity to welcome him into our home. I learned so much from this sweet guy while he was in our classroom family and when I worked with him outside of the classroom, so I was hoping to use this platform to memorialize him in my life and share some of what he taught/reminded me.

Through my little buddy, I was reminded that autism is greater, stronger, more dominant than any relationship/bond that one might have. There is nothing "typical" or "textbook" about it. Each person, each situation, each experience has the potential to be very different. It is both beautiful and ugly, both relaxed and intense, both scattered and focused, both joy and pain. It is not simply a lack of social skills or, as I have heard it put, "home training". I had the pleasure of meeting with a couple this week that is very involved in the life and education of their son with autism. In our conversation, we noted that autism is so much more than a puzzle piece, more than a shirt, more than an awareness month. It's hard, it's needy, and it's wonderful. The life of the parent of a child with autism is one of advocate, of support, of strength, of proactivity, of problem-solving, of persistence, of determination. It's lonely and it's full. Were we ready for this life? Honestly, I'm not sure. Is anyone?

He taught me that a connection does not have to be spoken, that it can be shown in many ways, such as simply by needing that person to be near. He taught me that sometimes you hurt the people that you feel the most comfortable with because life is hard and communication breakdowns are harder. He showed me that life is full of beauty and reasons to smile, even in the 'everyday'. Through him, I was reminded that every day can be celebrated, exclaiming "Hooray!  Hooray!", even on a random Tuesday. I learned the effects of sensory therapy and was able to see it work before my eyes. Above all, I learned that kids are worth fighting for...and that not everyone is willing to fight.

This precious guy has changed me and my approach to teaching. I vow to be better, to push harder, to advocate stronger, to do all that I can to speak for those who cannot. I'm sorry, little buddy. I'm sorry I couldn't do that for you. <3

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Related Services Part 1: Mindset


Before I started teaching, I imagined related services as something separate from my class. I would teach them, then the physical therapist would come in and take care of their motor skill deficits. The speech language pathologist would come in and fix their communication problems. The occupational therapist would…well, I really didn’t know what the occupational therapist would do!

Once I began teaching, I saw my room as an extension of the therapies. They would tell me what to do and I would do it. For example, “Joe needs to get in the stander for 45 minutes per day.” So, Joe would get in the stander 45 minutes per day (well, ya know, most days). “Do these facial exercises with John to stimulate chewing”. So, I’d squish John’s face before lunch. With this mindset, it was so difficult to answer questions! “Hey Jenny, how is Suzie doing with the articulation of her “th” sound?” *Deer in headlights*  “…better?” I knew the importance of therapies and understood that simply working on it in their once or twice per week little snapshots of time wasn’t enough, but I still kept therapy work and class work separated, only really focusing on what was a specific IEP goal.

My mindset has shifted. If you could speak to the therapists in my district, you’d know I’m not perfect (lucky for me, I’m not giving you their numbers) ;-) but I try. I see the value of related service integration. I know that for my students to truly make gains in related service goals, they need to be able to generalize these skills throughout their days. It needs to be a priority for me to mesh ALL of their goals into an individualized program for each of my students. I'd love to, through this series, open up the conversation for others to share with me how they incorporate therapies into their classrooms. In part 2 of this related services series, I’ll reveal what spurred the change in my head, heart, and classroom. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

#Spedchat Back to School Countdown!

I am so super excited that it's back to school time! I absolutely cannot wait to see my kids!!  I thought I would link up with #SpedChatSaturday (yes, I know it's Wednesday...don't judge) ;-) for a back-to-school countdown. Here we go!!

My classroom library is so overwhelming to me! I have so many books and need a good system for rotating them and being able to quickly access them when a topic comes up. 

I look so forward to our back to school bowling party! We'll have it about three weeks before school starts for students. It occurred to me last year that my students don't usually have the opportunity to get together with one another like other high schoolers do. I had planned to schedule a couple activities this summer, but the summer has just really gotten away from me!!

Never underestimate the value of an organizational tool.  Binders, totes, and containers make it easy to access everything. Schedules are the best way for my parapros and I to be sure everything gets accomplished daily. Check out my earlier post regarding how I create our schedule .

I so badly want a wheelchair swing for my kiddos! I think several of them would get such great vestibular feedback from it! Let the fundraising begin...those slabs of metal are expensive!! 

More than that, I so wish that the general public would understand that my class is not a babysitting class and I do not babysit! Once people come into my class, they see it, but I think there are too many people that just assume not much goes on in a self-contained classroom. So, I invite folks in anytime they're willing/able!

Visual timers are great for students as well as for me! Here is the link to the timer we use:

I think it is so easy to get caught up in things that do not matter. I want my students, when they leave my school, to be as ready as possible for what is ahead. I refuse to settle!

Check out Lattes, Lesson Plan, & IEP's to get the templates so that you can link up with your countdown too!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Scheduling: Nightmare or Daydream?

Physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, inclusion classes, lunches, feedings, electives, data collection, sensory diet, academics, functional skills, independent living, transition activities, and at some point these kids have to go potty! How in the world can we possibly fit it all into one day?!?!

Each class is different and your scheduling needs may be completely different from mine, but I'd love to share with you what works for my current self-contained class and the steps I take each year when building a schedule. Hopefully you'll learn something and leave a comment teaching me something! Warning: this one is LOOOOONG!

Several years ago, my class size grew and the ability level differences among my students were extremely varied. The whole-class approach to teaching just didn't seem to work for us anymore! So, we adopted a rotation system and I've never looked back! We still have portions of our day that are whole group, but not for the majority of the day. Initially, we rotated for 20 minutes each station, but my current students are more successful with 10-12 minute rotations. Because I am at the high school and our class periods are 50 minutes, our morning block consists of 10-minute stations with 5-minute brain/restroom breaks during class changes. It just logistically works for us! Take a look at your students and their levels. Figure out what would help them be most successful and what works with your time frame and go with it! Okay, let's get down to business!

  1. Open Excel.  No, it's not time to fold that laundry that's been in the basket for two days. Put down the remote! You did NOT hear the doorbell. Haha!  Seriously, though, isn't getting started the hardest part?!
  2. Decide how you will divide your students. Will you have groups of students that rotate together or will they rotate individually? Put the student/group names across the top of the spreadsheet, beginning in column B.
  3. How will you divide your time? I start my schedule from the moment my students enter rather than from the school start time (but that's because this year my students began arriving about an hour and a half before school started). Figure out what breakdown works for you and put the times down in column A, beginning with row 2. You'll end up with a spreadsheet that looks a little something like this:
    School 'starts' at 8:15. I made note here of class changes and such.
  4. Start with the constants: arrival, departure, lunch times, feedings, toiletings, daily inclusion classes/electives. Add in therapists IF they come at a consistent time. I usually do not put mine into the schedule because they don't have a specific time that they necessarily come each time and I don't want to be stuck with a time slot wherein the therapist isn't there yet and the student has nothing to do! 
    • This year, I managed to make one schedule work for all 5 days by putting in things like "Social/APE" because my students did social story work on Mondays and Fridays during that time slot and adapted P.E. on Tuesday-Thursday. However, in years past, I have made separate schedules for different days if there were major differences between the days. I know it seems like a lot of work, but you'll be SO grateful that you took the time ahead of time to work out the logistics of the room.
    • Color-code these sections. Choose a different color for you and for each of your parapros. Then decide who will be responsible for making sure these things (such as toileting/feeding) happen. We are a team in my room and we definitely help each other out by sharing responsibilities as needed, but I like to be sure that I account for staffing for each thing that needs to be done (because I also have to account for others to be in the room supervising and watching for seizure activity). I like planning it ahead of time because I can also then be sure that I even out the workload, minimizing the risk of someone feeling like they are always changing/feeding/etc...
  5. Now, take a look at your IEP goals/transition activities. How will they be monitored? By whom? When? Where? Account for these goals by adding time for them into the schedule. Color-code as needed to be sure that the appropriate staffpersons are monitoring goals. I usually have each student rotate to each of the adults throughout the day. I just say "Mrs. Debbie's table", but she may monitor three of their goals throughout the week while they are at her table. 
  6. Once the constants and the goals are added and accounted for, brainstorm things that will be beneficial for individual students that are not necessarily IEP goals. As you know, we do far beyond what is stated in that little packet of papers! Make each moment that you have with your students count by selecting activities that allow for increased independence and have meaning and purpose. But, remember that brain breaks and choice leisure time have purpose! Add in these activities and color-code as needed for activities that cannot be completed with independence. This is where it starts to get a little hairy because there are only so many adult bodies in your room to provide direct assistance and overall supervision. Take a break, go ahead and fold that laundry! Watch some Netflix and try again tomorrow:-) 
Your completed schedule may look a little something like this!

I truly hope that this super-long post has helped someone out there tackle the craziness that is scheduling for a special education classroom! Scheduling doesn't have to be a nightmare!  Stay tuned for a future post regarding how I make this schedule easier for us to use on a daily basis and how I ensure (prove) that each goal is accounted for in our daily schedule! I would greatly appreciate your feedback!! Leave your thoughts in the comments and happy scheduling!!

If you'd like to learn more from other special educators about scheduling, follow this picture to a link-up by Delightfully Dedicated!

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Morning Meeting (for HS/Adults)

Ah, the morning meeting! I read about their success at younger grades and was curious as to how I could effectively implement a morning meeting with high schoolers (and adults at my summer job) with disabilities. The above picture is what I came up with! As you can see, there is a section for attendance (names blurred), picture communication symbols for each part of the date, a weather report, local (Atlanta area and local high school) sports teams playing that day, and an area for me to write in or post a current event to discuss. We have used it for several days at the center and the participants have done so well and enjoyed it!! Based on her vocalizations, I was able to determine that one person really enjoyed the Braves! Well, hello there reinforcer, motivator, and communication point!! ;-)

Pictured with the board is the rationale that I created so that I would be prepared to prove that the activity is age-appropriate, including the difference between a cartoon and a picture communication symbol. So far it has not been needed, but it gave me the opportunity to be sure I was intentional with each section. I'm working hard on being intentional, but that's for another post;-) 

I made a symbol storage book for the symbols not in use on a given day. I used dollar store vellum folders put into a 3-ring binder and organized the symbols by section. This has made it very easy to flip to a section and allow participants to select the needed symbol without fumbling through bags of symbols. The only downside?

Uneven Velcro use! Grrrr... ;-) haha! But, a sweet Instagram friend introduced me to a company that sells velcro for cheaper (! And you can purchase just one side of it so that I can even out my supply! Man, I love this teacher community!

So tell me, do you do a morning meeting? What else do/would you include? I know that this is in its puppy stages for me and I look forward to it growing!!

Monday, June 22, 2015


I have taken a summer position at a day program for adults with disabilities and I am VERY excited!!  I cannot wait to learn as much as I can about the transition from high school to postsecondary life for my students!  I am praying that I'll be an asset to this organization and the clients that they serve. While listening to their amazing schedule of activities, I began to take a look at my own class program and activities. One major question is still swirling in my mind: how much attention should I pay to what is "age-appropriate"?

Age-appropriate is defined, by my good friend Google (from Oxford Dictionaries), as "suitable for a particular age or age group". Easy enough, right? Most 18-year-olds do not like Spongebob, so it would not be appropriate for my students to enjoy Spongebob. Boom, the end. Except, there are some flaws to this logic:

  1. Some high schoolers do, in fact, like Spongebob.
  2. Who am I to tell an adult what he should/should not like?
  3. What "age" should we be concerned with: physical or cognitive?
I scroll through my Facebook news feed and see what I think would be deemed age-inappropriate things that adults with typical cognition are doing: dressing up in costumes for comic-con and renaissance faires; wearing Disney Princess shirts; participating in role-playing card/dice games; watching kids movies; dedicating entire rooms in their homes to Disney merchandise; reading kids books (okay, maybe that last one is me. haha!). And do you know why they do it? Because it makes them happy. And do you know who stops them? No one. 

On the other hand, we spend so much time and effort trying to help our students fit in with the general population, so I understand that if I have a student who carries around a Larry Boy from Veggie Tales doll, he will look different. I completely agree with helping my students become accepted by the community and know that there are some social norms that need be adhered to. There is, indeed, a time and place for everything. I also understand that I have students who do not want to be associated with being a "baby" and would not appreciate being forced to do "baby" things. This is why I feel that choice is so important within my classroom. I try to include classroom activities for the various interests of my students. To be honest, though, that might include providing materials for a student to color during choice/leisure if that's what she appreciates (and the coloring book that she purchased for herself on a community outing just might have been Dora the Explorer). I feel a little biased and definitely confused, so I honestly ask: is this wrong? Should I encourage my students to participate only in age-appropriate activities? Should I remove from my classroom the puzzles, books, and games that would not be suitable for high schoolers? What are your thoughts??