Sunday, March 11, 2018

Paraprofessional Series: Training Paraprofessionals

There are SO many things that special education paraprofessionals need to be trained on... behaviors, data collection, AAC and communication, confidentiality, mobility equipment, academic instruction, and SO much more! There literally isn't enough time in the day to train paras on everything that they need to know. It seems that there are two major barriers to training paraprofessionals: time and resources.


When it comes to finding the time to train paraprofessionals, teachers have to be super creative. The toughest part of scheduling time for training paras is often para reporting/ contracted time. It's typical for paraprofessionals and students to have the same hours, so you're left having to find a way to train paras while students are present. Although it's tough to do, making the time to train paras will show paras that you value them, will make them more confident, and will improve student outcomes!


Ideas for making the time for training paraprofessionals:
Although it's hard to do, it's crucial that you find a way to make time to train your paraprofessionals. If it's particularly hard and stressful, just start small! You can start by doing 10-15 minute mini-training sessions or by just training one para at a time, but start somewhere! It's what's best for your students and it will make your life easier too!

Here are a few ideas for making the time to train paraprofessionals:

-Turn a movie or video on once a week or month. If you're going to do a training session while kids are watching a movie or video, you obviously need to make sure you're still keeping any eye on the kiddos or  you can ask someone like your principal, school psychologist or assistant principal to come in and watch the movie with the kiddos so you can completely focus on training your paras.

-Jenn from Teach Love Autism uses iPad time to make time for meeting with paras. This is a great idea because students are often so reinforced by iPad time! If you have the luxury of having a lot of iPads in your classroom, giving students extra iPad time so you can have time to train paras is an excellent option!



-If your students have a rest time, use that as a time to train paras. We have an incredibly long school day, so my students rest for about an hour a day. My paras are normally in and out of the classroom at that time for a variety of things (their lunches, the sensory room with students and general ed with students) however, it's a time that I'm able to train paras 1:1, if needed. If you want to read more about our rest time, check out this post.

-Request funding from your principal or district to pay for your paraprofessionals to stay 30-60 minutes late (or coming in 30-60 min. early) 1-2 times a month for training. If you work in a classroom with students who have severe behaviors or medical needs, you should be able to convince your principal to agree to this if you frame it in a way that your paraprofessionals need this training in order to keep your students safe. Of course, your paras would need to agree to staying late or coming early for the training, but they would be getting paid for it! I've never had a paraprofessional refuse to come early or stay late if they were going to get paid for it.

-If your administration or district is unable to come up with funding to pay your paras extra for coming in late/early for training, you still have another FREE option!! Another thing I've done is I've had para training sessions before or after school and then I let paras pick a day to come in late or leave early to make up that time that they did for the training session. Of course, I got this cleared with my administration and we scheduled it ahead of time so I never had two paras coming in late or leaving early on the same day, but it was a creative and free way that let me have some training sessions with my paras!

Here's an example of how it could look:
Monday afternoon: All 3 paras stayed 30 minutes after school
Tuesday afternoon: Para 1 leaves 30 minutes early
Wednesday afternoon: Para 2 leaves 30 minutes early
Thursday afternoon: Para 3 leaves 30 minutes early


Now that you have some ideas for scheduling and making time for training paras, let's jump to the next barrier to training paraprofessionals... resources!


Resources for training paraprofessionals:
Use Powerpoints
Powerpoints or other computer based presentations are great because you display them and also print them for staff. When making these presentations, make sure you make them interactive by including real-life examples from your classroom! We love to act things out, role play with specific behaviors and practice using data sheets during para training sessions.

You can find some good presentations for paras on good-ole google, but I find that a lot of the time, those presentations are more geared towards teachers and aren't great for paras who are new to the classroom. I've ended up making a lot of my own Powerpoints that are tailored to the specific needs of my paras and classroom. If you want a few free editable PPTs for training paras, click here, where I have a basic behavior PD and a prompting PD.

Behavior Management PD (on my TpT for free)

Prompting PD (on my TpT for free)

Use Videos of Yourself: 
If you just want to teach your paras a little technique or trick, record a short video of yourself explaining it or modeling the technique and have paras watch it. It doesn't have to be anything fancy, just grab your cellphone or iPad and record a 1-3 minute video. This will give paras the opportunity to watch (and re-watch) you do the tasks/ technique and ask questions if needed!

Below are a few of the activities I've record myself doing for my paras:
-modeling how to use core vocab during independent play
-using communication during communication during recess and gross motor
-using a PECs system with a student
-reviewing a behavior chart with a student
-prompting during a writing activity for specific student
-prompting for transitioning student off of a task
-prompting during a fine motor activity for specific student




Use Modules and Websites:
There are a ton of great modules and websites out there for training paras, and the best ones are FREE! I have two free go-to websites that I love using with my paraprofessionals.

-The Pennsylvania Department of Ed has a ton of free modules for paras here. You have to make an account, but topics include reading comprehension and fluency, autism, IDEA, social skills, data collection, working with students who are deaf-blind and so much more!

-Autism Internet Modules is another awesome and free website that has a ton of great short modules for paras (and you, if you want!) to complete. These modules are great because some are short (15-30 minutes) and they include videos and questions that check for understanding. Just a few of the topics on the website include functional communication training, naturalistic intervention, discrete trial training, cognitive differences, pivotal response training, picture exchange communication system, and self-management.

Use YouTube or other videos:
I have no shame in my game, on numerous occasions, I've pulled up one of Chris's videos from Autism Classroom Resources and had my paras watch it. Using videos from other awesome special education professionals can be a great way for your paras to hear the information from someone else's mouth! At least once in your career you'll probably have a paraprofessional who doesn't agree with what you're saying/ what you want to do. In my experience, having paras hear the information from someone other than you can help in those situations.

Do you have any awesome tips or tricks for training paraprofessionals?

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Multisensory Approach to Core Vocab

Two years ago I was feeling a little bored and dare I say it... burned out. I went to a conference that Karen Erickson presented at and I discovered core vocabulary! Implementing core vocabulary instruction has made me so excited about teaching again and has sparked my creativity in the classroom.


Like most kids, my students with disabilities benefit from learning through a multisensory approach. My students love to learn through songs, games, hands-on activities, acting things out, visuals, modeling, etc. So this is how I teach and reinforce core vocabulary in my classroom. Here's a little explanation on how I teach and reinforce core vocabulary:

During circle time:
I teach core vocab. mini-lessons every day during circle time.
-We practice/ review the word by having all students verbally say it or finding it on their communication board or device
-We read a book that emphases the core word (We read the same book for the entire week. If you need resources for free core books, check out this post.)
-We practice the word in a hands-on way with games, activities, etc. (I plan 3-5 different activities to for the entire week, so we sometimes repeat an activity 1-2 times.)
-We watch a video that uses the core word. (We watch the same 1-2 videos for the entire week.)
-Note: If you want to see weekly videos with core vocabulary activity ideas, follow me on Facebook and Instagram!




Across the day:
My paras and I do our best to verbally model the core words across the day in any way we can. I also try to embed the core words across our environment. Here are a few examples of how I do this, but check out this post if you want more ideas.





In literacy:
-We keep core boards on student tables and reinforce the core words whenever we can. You often run into core words when reading and you can just point it out in the heat of the moment! You can also regularly reinforce words during reading by saying, "Let's turn the page." "Do you want me to read more?" "Should we keep going?"

Okay, now for the fun part! Here is the chart I've created with activity ideas and videos for every core word!

 Core word:
Activity Ideas: 
 Song/ Video Ideas:
 I
-Play "I spy" with colors
-Play with a toy and prompt students to say, "I do it"
-Practice compliments/ commenting by saying stuff like "I think you're silly/ funny." "I think you're pretty." etc.


 like
-Practice saying "like" and "don't like" by showing kids different objects, toys, etc.
-Put "like" picture cards or word cards around the room and have students do scavenger hunt for the words
-Play an animal game and have students roar like a lion, oink like a pig, jump like a frog, crawl like a crab, etc.
-Play a song or video and have kids say if they "like" or "don't like" it 



 not
-Practice social phrases like "not a problem!"
-Put objects in the wrong place and say "Oh, NOT there!" 
-Have kids play with a toy or do an activity and have them say if they liked it or NOT



 want
-Practice requesting toys, objects, or snacks with picture cards, verbally or assistive tech. Have kids make the entire sentence or fill in the blank "I want ___."
-Show kids action picture cards and have them request an action like, "I want to jump." or "I want to skip." and then do that action with them.


 help
-Put desired objects in containers or ziplock bags and have students request help opening them
-Give them something they aren't able to do and prompt them to request help!


 it
 -Show kids an objects and ask them "what is IT?" or "what color is IT?" and have students respond "IT is ___." 
-Show students something they desire and say "Do you want IT?" 
-Show students a video and prompt them to say "watch IT." 
-Hide something in a container or somewhere in the classroom and say "find IT."



 more
-Give students a small amount of something (food/ snacks are great!) and ask them, "Do you want more?"
-Have students practice requesting more of something (game, toys, music, etc.).



 different
-Show students objects and have them point to things that are different.
-Talk about different ways students are different (hair color, eye color, likes/ dislikes, gender, etc.).
-Give them a toy/ activity and after a few minutes of playing, ask them if they want to play with a different toy 




 who
-Talk about who is at school and who isn't at school.
-Ask students questions like, "Who likes pizza?" "Who wants to play?" "Who feels happy today?"
-Show students pictures of classmates and say, "Who is that?"




he/she
-Do sorting activities with pictures of boys and girls
-You can talk about what students are wearing and say, "He's wearing a blue shirt. She's wearing a pink shirt."
-Do gross motor activities and talk about what students are doing. You could say, "She is jumping. He is spinning."




you
-Practice showing different emotions on faces and prompt kids by saying, "You smile!" or "You frown."
-Have students do different actions and say to kids, "You run." "You hop!" etc.
-Do a little activity (like a puzzle) and then prompt students by saying, "Can you do it?"


where
-Ask students, "Where is __? (enter name)" and have students point to the student you say.
-Work on receptive skills by giving students pictures and asking students questions like, "Where do you swing?" "Where do you eat?"
-Have teachers or students hide and say, "Where did ___ go?!"
-When looking at books/ stories, ask students where pictures in the book are.


up
-Play with balloons or paper airplanes and say, "Up, up, up!"
-Turn the music down and prompt students to ask you to turn it up. 



on, in 
-Have students practice putting things in and on containers, tables, etc.
-Turn lights and toys on
-Have kids put their hands in and out of the their pockets




me
-Work on receptive skills and tell kids, "Show me where __ is."
-Show students pictures of themselves and other kids and have them say, "That's me!"
-Play dress up and have them put on different outfits/ hats



make
-Have students make funny faces
-Have students make art projects or recipes
-Have students make music with instruments
-Have students make a Mr. Potato Head




get
-Put objects in a box/ bag and have students take the object out and ask them, "What did you get?"
-Set something near students and say, "Will you get that for me?" and prompt them to hand it to you.



look
-Have students look through kalediscopes
-Show students funny videos to look at
-Play a game where you say, "Look at __ (enter name)," and have students look at different teachers/ peers
-Send students on a scavenger hunt and have them look for different things in the classroom/ school



what
-Ask students:
"What is your name?"
"What do you want to do?"
"What did you do this weekend?"
"What's your favorite color?"




need
-Help students make a need vs. wants chart with pictures
-Give student a toy that doesn't work (you can take the batteries out!) and make them say, "I need help!"
-When doing crafts or assignments, have students say they need help. 


are, is
-Put things in a bag/box/bucket and have students take the objects out and tell you what it is


some
-When getting ready for treat or snack, ask students, "Do you want some?"
-During an art activity, give all the materials to one student and have the other students ask, "Can I have some?"



put
-Have students put objects in different places.
-Have students practice putting their shoes/socks on


all
-When it's time for the entire group/ class to do something, say comments like, "It's time for all of us to go to art."
-When cleaning up, tell students to put all the toys away


this, that
-Play with a fun toy in front of students and then say, "Oh, do you want this?"




don't
-When doing a fun game/ activity you can say, "This is so fun! I don't want to stop!"
-Remind students, "Don't forget to do your homework!"


stop, go
-Make toy cars/ trains go and stop
-Play red light, green light and practice using the words go and stop
-Play music chairs and use the words go and stop
-Have students tell you "go" to turn a video/ song on





do
-Do a part of an activity (like a puzzle) and then hand a part to a student and say, "Now you do it."
-Work on receptive skills and prompt students, "Do this!" while doing different movements.




when
-Play simon says ("When I say...")
-Show students a glimpse of new toy and say, "When should we play with it?!"


finished
-Practice using the word finished when taking turns
-Practice using the word finished after snack and meal time. When a student is done eating say, "Are you finished?"

Help! I can't find a video for finished! :-0
over
-Model the word over by playing with trains and having them go over bridges
-Start a game/ activity on the other side of the classroom and say, "Hi friend! Come on over and play with me!"


turn
-Practice taking turns with a fun game or activity
-Turn the lights/ music/ or video off and on
-Turn around in a circle
-Make spinning toys turn






open
-Hide fun objects in boxes, envelopes, cabinets, etc. and have students open them to see what's inside
-Have students open and shut their eyes




can
-Do part of a puzzle and say, "Can you do it?"
-Play basketball and say, "I can do it!" as you shoot hoops




I hope this helps you with your core vocabulary instruction!

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Paraprofessional Series: Having difficult conversations with paraprofessionals

Coaching and managing paraprofessionals is one of the hardest and most rewarding parts of being a special education teacher! I have been blessed with some amazing paras over my years in the classroom, but I have also had to have my fair share of difficult conversations with paraprofessionals.


It's inevitable that you're going to have to have difficult conversations with paraprofessionals at some point in your career. Although these conversations will likely be uncomfortable, it doesn't have to be something you dread or that causes a huge amount of stress! Just like with any relationship, having a positive relationship and good communication with paras makes having difficult conversations easier. If you need a few simple ideas for building positive relationships with paras, check out this postthis post, and this post.


I want to start by saying, that these conversations should always be done in private initially! Never have a conversation about a concern that only pertains to one para in front of other classroom staff. Of course, if the concerns continue, you will want to start involving your administration, but I highly suggest having the conversation just between you and the para at first. It's also incredibly important to document the conversations you have with paras in some way. I have a little notebook where I write notes about conversations I have with paras. The notes will come in handy if you have to get administration involved later on.

-Always start with a few positives and things the paraprofessional is doing well!


It's so important to remind the para what she/ he is doing well. This is especially important if you're working with a paraprofessional who is new to working in the classroom, because being a paraprofessional is HARD and can be a scary job to learn how to do. Just like students (and you!) want to be reinforced for what you're doing well, paras likely want to hear what they're doing well.

A few examples of positive things you can tell paras:
"I love how you've built a great relationship with ___."
"I really appreciate how you've jumped right in with implementing ___'s behavior plan."
"You're doing a wonderful job at running centers/ reading groups!"
"Thanks for always being willing to lend an extra hand in specials."

-Be concrete with your concerns and areas for growth. 


Now this is the hard part of the conversation... When it comes to discussing your concerns/ the areas for growth for the para, be concrete about your concerns! It's a good idea to give specific examples of the concerns/ issues you've seen and then to give specific examples of how the para can improve the issue. It also might be helpful to clearly explain WHY the behavior is an issue/ concern of yours. For example, you could explain that when a para is on her phone during recess or lunch, it's a safety concern because she isn't actively watching the students.

Below are common concerns/ issues in classrooms with paraprofessionals and possible ways to word the conversation:
Cell phone use:
"I've noticed you're spending a lot of time on your cellphone. I know we all have families and have to check our phones periodically, however, it's really important that we focus all of our attention on the students during the day to ensure they're safe and learning. Please limit checking your phone to breaks. If something is going on that requires you to need to check your phone more than usual, please just let me know."

Excessive talking/ noise volume control:
"It's really important that we keep side/ personal conversations to a minimum throughout the day when the students are present. I often struggle to focus on teaching when staff are excessively talking, so it probably makes it tough for our students to focus too."

When a para doesn't agree with an intervention/ plan you want to put in place:
"I understand you don't agree with implementing ___ intervention. However, I want to implement it because (insert data or research). Let's try the intervention for a few weeks. We will come together in a few weeks and if it isn't working, then we can tweak the plan/ intervention."

-Finish by asking how you can better support the paraprofessional.


It's important to remember that YOU are there to SUPPORT your paras. No teacher is perfect, so it's likely that there is something you can do differently to help your paras meet the classroom expectations/ goals. I've had paras come up with great ideas about how I can better support them when it comes to concerns (like more lists/ zoning plans, verbal reminders/ cues), so use the conversation as a way for you to grow professionally and better support your staff.

-Follow up within a day or two. 
Make sure you follow up with the para within a day or two of having a difficult conversation. Remind that para that if she comes up with something that you can do differently to support her, that she can come to you, leave you a note or send you an email! Ask her again if she thought of anything you can do to do better support her or if she have any questions/ concerns. It's normal for people to not be able to think of ideas like this during initial conversations, and following up will show the para that you care enough to give the para time to think about it and then follow up.

After following up, make sure you continue to give them feedback on how they're doing! If the concern continues have one more conversation with the para before having a more formal meeting with administration and the para.

Do you have any tips for having difficult conversations with paras?

Monday, February 19, 2018

3 Tips for Making an Awesome Teacher Portfolio for Interviews

Interviewing for teaching jobs can be stressful, but you can make it easier on yourself by having an awesome portfolio to show principals! If you get a little nervous when interviewing, having physical examples of your work in a portfolio to show off will definitely help ease your nerves! Check out my 3 tips for making an awesome teacher portfolio.


1) Keep your portfolio simple and tailor it to the specific job you're applying for.
There's a fine line between having too much and too little in your portfolio. There's no need to have a 4 inch binder full of materials and examples... because no principal will have time to look through it all, but it's also important to have enough in the portfolio to show that you would be great at the job you're applying for! I suggest tailoring your portfolio to the specific job you're applying for. For example, if you're applying for a job that includes management of paraprofessionals, include information on how you've effectively managed staff in the past. However, if you aren't applying for a teaching job that involves managing paras, then save the space and don't include it in your portfolio. If you're applying for a job in a classroom for students with autism or social/ emotional disabilities, make sure you include information about your experience with behavior management or applied behavior analysis. It's a good idea to look at the specific job description to identify what strengths you should highlight in your portfolio.

2) Put copies of references and letters of recommendation in your portfolio. 
This might sound simple and obvious, but don't be that person who says, "Oh, I'll send you my references and letters of recommendations later today." Make it easy on the hiring principal and show you took the initiative by having copies of letters of recommendation and your references' information ready to hand over at the interview!

3) Include pictures and real-life examples in your portfolio. 
It's a great idea to include pictures and real-life examples of your work in your portfolio. You can include pictures of students working, student work samples, your data wall, how you collaborate with parents, the list can go on and on! Pictures are a great way to capture the awesome things you are doing in the classroom. Something that would be meaningful to include in any teacher portfolio is examples of differentiation. To show how you differentiate, you can include pictures or bring physical materials that are differentiated. You can use page protectors or plastic binder pouches to make pictures and lesson materials look professional. I love these binder friendly pouches from Amazon.

Here are examples of things I included in my most recent portfolio when applying for self-contained special education classroom jobs:

-Resume, References, Letters of Recommendations

-Parent Communication
I included pictures of parent newsletters and back and forth books.

-Staff Management
I included pictures of staff inventories completed, zoning plans and daily task lists/ duties.

-Behavior Management
I included pictures of behavior supports I implement and printouts from a behavior presentation I gave.

-Data Collection (Behavior & Academic)
I included pictures of behavior and academic data collection.

-Differentiation
I included an example of a literacy lesson/ book that is differentiated in three levels.



Happy job hunting!

Friday, January 19, 2018

February Themed Task Boxes

It's almost February, so it was time for me to knock out some February themed task boxes! I normally keep these posts super short and full of pictures, so here we go!
Sorting activity with erasers from Target dollar spot. 

Put in task with little kaleidoscopes from Target dollar spot.

Put in task with stamps from the Target dollar spot. (I hot glued the caps on the stamps!)

Sorting activity with hearts off of decorations from the Dollar Tree. 

Color sorting/ fine motor clip activity with mini-clips from the Target dollar spot. 

I hope this helps you put together a few simple and fun Valentine's Day themed task boxes! Click out the below image to check out Autism Classroom News for tons of work box ideas!





Sunday, January 14, 2018

An Open Letter to Teachers Coping with Death in the Classroom

Let me start by saying I'm not a doctor, psychiatrist, psychologist or a grief counselor... but I've dealt with students passing away numerous times. This is a letter I never wanted or expected to write, but I have something to say to you...


Dear Teacher Coping with Death in the Classroom,

First, I'm sorry that you're reading this. I'm sorry to your student's family, to you, to your student's friends, to your school community, I'm just sorry. I know that this is probably one of the most painful things a teacher and school community can go through. Although I'm not a mental health professional, I want to tell you few things....

It's okay to not want to talk about it while at work.
Don't get me wrong, you will need to talk about it, but for me, there is a time and a place to talk about a student's death... I don't want to talk about it when any students are around or honestly with people at work who I'm not close with. In the past, I've politely asked my administration to let my colleagues know to not bring it up or speak with me about it while students are in the building. I know that my colleagues mean well in asking how I am doing, but I just can't bare to choke back the tears while standing in the hallway or cafeteria.

It's okay to not know how to explain it to your students.
When a student passes away, one of the first few thoughts you might have is, "How am I going to explain this to my class?"  Ask for the support of your administration, school psychologist or grief counselors within your district. Explaining death to any child is tough but it can be even harder when you're explaining it to students with disabilities... You don't have to do this alone!

Taking the student's things away/ down is the one of the hardest parts.
I remember standing in my classroom looking at student's personal belongings numerous times thinking, "What do I do with this?" "When do I take her name tag down?" "What do I do with his art projects?" etc. I felt like if I took these things down right away I wasn't remembering and honoring the student, but these thing were also a painful reminder to look at everyday. One time I had a student (who was non-verbal) bring me a name tag off the desk of a student who had passed away, just days prior, and just handed it to me.... probably trying to communicate, "Where's my friend? I miss my friend." And that, that about broke me.

Celebrating the student's life will help! 
Plant a tree, post their picture on an memorial wall, make a plaque, have a special ceremony, do something to celebrate the student's life! I promise that it will help you, the family and your school community.

As hard as it it, remember that every single day in the classroom matters! Do your best to bring joy and love into your students' lives every.single.day! Spend a little extra time outside when it's warm and sunny, read an extra story to them, spend an extra 10 minutes during centers in the afternoon, give them a hug or a high five every day before they go home, and hang in there, my friend!

Love,
A Fellow Mourning Teacher