Non-Violent Crisis Intervention

by Neva Fenno, M.S.Ed., MLIS

ABC learningI was reviewing some articles about special education service delivery and came across a list of current issues that are on the minds of SPED teachers and leaders. One of them was:

How should children with disabilities be disciplined when they pose a threat to school staff and to other students?

Teaching is an isolating activity; at least it certainly seems so at times. Between the bells, you are in a room with 15 students who are diverse in many ways. They have different intellectual abilities, some have physical disabilities that need special attention and some, if not most, have behavioral issues that affect the way your classroom is managed on a day-to-day basis. This behavior piece has always been my greatest challenge. What is the balance between discipline for a single incident of misbehavior and a consistent plan or approach for managing difficult behaviors among all of your challenging students?

Obviously, the latter is what you aim for. Once you have a consistent plan in place and everyone knows the rules, shouldn’t things fall into place and discipline become easier? It certainly can become easier, but there are always incidents of behavior that defy your classroom routine. Some students bring pain and emotional stress into your classroom that you cannot even imagine. The stress is like an overfilled balloon; it eventually needs to be released, and you are the only thing keeping the explosion from hurting that student or others in your care.

SPED teachers receive some specialized training in defusing tensions, but this never seems enough when a child explodes. When the explosion becomes a fight between two students, the instinct is to jump in and pull them apart. We know from our training, though, that this is the wrong thing to do. You could be injured, thus leaving no one in charge, and further injuries can happen. The procedure is always to get assistance. I remember when classrooms had no phones and we had no idea what a cell phone was.

teacher timeA few years ago, we brought in a crisis intervention team to provide training for our teachers in handling just such events. We used a company called CPI; they sent a team to our district and managed a four-day seminar in non-violent crisis intervention including restraint training: how to touch or otherwise handle a student in crisis who needs to be restrained so he doesn’t hurt himself or others. It was one of the best investments we’ve made for our staff. It was so effective that we’ve expanded the training to our entire staff on a voluntary basis. We may even make it mandatory. One of the great things they provided was to give extra training to some of our own teachers in a teach-the-teacher model so we could do our own training after they left. We used a combination of city and grant funds (IDEA federal funds) to transport, house and pay the team for their efforts.

During the training, the word respect kept popping up, and it’s an important element in the training. If all parties are respected during an episode that requires physical restraint, the procedure is easier and certainly much safer. The word respect seems to calm people down somehow. Emotions can run high, especially among children who have few resources to manage them. Once the initial incident is defused and the child is returned to the classroom, teachers can work together to try to find out why it happened in the first place. It may be necessary to bring the parents in to see if there’s something in the environment at home that is causing problems. When the whole family is involved, problem solving can proceed more effectively.

Obviously, this is a greatly simplified description of how a school district can approach behavior management programs.

Some resources for finding solutions:

Let me know how your school or district manages behavior.


Grant Name: Ross Foundation Educational Grants

Funded By: The Dorothea Haus Ross Foundation

Description:  Giving on a national basis to advance the moral, mental, and physical well-being of children of all races and creeds; to aid and assist in providing for the basic needs of food, shelter, and education of such children by whatever means and methods necessary or advisable; to prevent by medical research or otherwise the mental and physical handicaps of children. Funding also provided for the research of pediatric diseases.

Program Areas: Disabilities, Early Childhood, General Education, Health/PE, Special Education

Eligibility: Private School, Faith-based, Other

Proposal Deadline: Ongoing

Annual Total Amount: $400,000.00 – $560,000.00

Average Amount: $1,000.000 – $15,000.00

Address: 1036 Monroe Avenue, Rochester, NY 14620

Telephone: 585-473-6006

Email: info@dhrossfoundation.org

Website: The Dorothea Haus Ross Foundation

Availability: All States

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Becoming a Better Teacher

by Neva Fenno, M.S.Ed. MLIS

teacher little girl

They say that experience is the best teacher of a teacher. That is certainly true in my case. When I first started teaching in a special education classroom, I was kind, giving, quite frankly, a sucker. Kids manipulated me into a corner every single day. So, over time, I learned to be less of a friend and much more of a guiding hand, sometimes a shoving hand.

There are some things that teachers can do though, above and beyond waiting for time to pass, and letting experiences teach lessons the hard way. One thing I have done religiously every year is to make home visits. It is the single most important thing I do – I set the end of October as my deadline to make sure I visit every student’s home (unless the family expressly forbids it – and that has happened.)

I learn so much about my students this way. I can observe family dynamics, see where my student fits in the family order, see how parents interact with their kids. Are they warm and loving and supportive? Are they stern, controlling? Are they protective (or over-protective) of their special education child? These characteristics and family interactions give me ways to approach the child in the classroom, I understand them better.

I can observe the home itself and I don’t mean for House Beautiful comparisons. For many years I worked in urban schools in inner cities. I saw poverty first hand, and also saw how tempting the street can be for students. When you don’t have much, it makes sense to join with a group of kids who also have very little. These bands of poor kids can, if guided by a mentor, do wonderful things. I have the utmost regard for organizations like the “Y”, Girl’s Clubs and Scouts, etc. If students have a sense of purpose, and a responsible adult to guide them, the negative effects of a gang mentality can be avoided. I also work closely with the police. The schools I have worked in were lucky to have community officers. They helped to prevent many bad decisions kids choose to make on any given day.

Another must for me has been taking advantage of every possible opportunity for professional development. Lately it has been attending workshops on Common Core State Standards curriculum integration for Special Education, and on technology. I haven’t decided yet exactly how I feel about distance learning; this is true of professional development as well as some of the new “courses” online for schools. For classrooms, asynchronous learning by itself is not sufficient. You need a teacher and interaction of some sort with other students. Some of the credit-granting schools for students who need more classes to graduate from high school may be helpful to some, but I worry about academic rigor. With SPED kids, there are many other factors to consider that an online solution may ignore.

Not all distance learning is suspect. I’ve discovered a website called Lynda.com. There are a slew of video based tutorials here on computer software programs like Microsoft Office and Adobe Acrobat. These lessons are very helpful in bringing me up to speed on new products, too. There are other examples of this for teachers. This kind of online learning, no stakes informational presentations, will flourish and do well. I worry though about online degrees and online high schools.

There are so many new software products for managing the day to day operation of your classroom, including the automation of IEPs that I can’t list them all. I found an article that shows you how to choose an effective system.

And, hold on to your hats, I still grab a good book to stay up to date on what teachers are reading. A list here stays on the topic of becoming a better teacher.

So, out of the box, you are no doubt a great SPED teacher (or “regular” teacher). Just remind yourself that there are some specific steps you can take to brush up on new skills, and improve the ones you have.

Let us know some of your tips and tricks to be a great SPED teacher. I learn from my readers all the time.


Grant Name: Lawrence Scadden Teacher of the Year Award in Science Education for Students with Disabilities

Funded By: Science Education for Students with Disabilities

Description: The recipient will be recognized at the annual National Science Teachers Association Convention, at the Science-Abled Breakfast, sponsored by SESD and Reaching the Pinnacle for Students with Disabilities. The winner of the Scadden award is expected to attend the NSTA conference to accept the award and a check for $1,000.00. The $1,000.00 stipend associated with the Scadden Award is provided to offset travel expenses to NSTA.

Program Areas:   Disabilities, Science/Environmental, Special Education, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math)

Eligibility: Public School, Private School

Proposal Deadline: 1/20/2015

Average Amount: $1,000.00

E-mail: pverones@brockport.edu

Website: Science Education for Students with Disabilities

Availability: All States

Steps You Can Take to Modify Behaviors and Prevent SPED Referrals

by Neva Fenno, M.S.Ed. MLIS

girls sassy

Last time I wrote an article about behavior and special education. Needless referrals to special education services are a reality in schools throughout the country. Teachers reach a certain boiling point with children who act out in their classrooms and all steps to modify their behavior have been taken.

Rather than just talk about it, I thought I’d gather some resources for you, material you can use to help you decide if a behavior is past the point of no return for you, and a special education referral is warranted. I’ll also share some solutions that may work for you.

You’ve used up your classroom tricks and devices to bring a student into your classroom community. The behavior persists; in fact, it is accelerating and troubles you to the point where you need to pull in some people who might be able to help.

This is the place to start. Ask your principal or department head to come in to your classroom and observe the dynamic that has developed in your classroom because of one or two students and their errant behaviors. Ask that they stay for an entire class session or at least an hour. Ask them to be truly honest about what they are seeing. Maybe your perceptions have been blown out of proportion, you’ve been frustrated for a long time now, things can appear worse than they are. This tactic takes a certain self-awareness. You are exposing your class, warts and all. Isn’t it worth it though, to get to the bottom of the problem?

It will help to have a checklist they can use to mark off observations they are making, and then try to find methods for remediation. A resource I have used for years is “The Pre-Referral Intervention Manual” by Hawthorne Educational Services. Now in its 4th edition, the book is chock full of checklists for modifying behavior that disrupts your class. They take it another step and provide solid strategies for modifying the behaviors so you don’t need to take it to the next step, a SPED referral.

A classroom behavior checklist can be found here:

RTI Coordinator’s Checklist

You can also find a great resource for becoming familiar with RTI (Response to Intervention). RTI is implemented on a district and building level. It’s a complete system for modifying behavior, but also academic interventions so you don’t lose sight of the real issue, the behaviors that have interrupted the learning in your classroom.

Are you high tech? There’s an app for your mobile device that can help you work through behavior issues. It’s a system called DOJO and it might just be what you are looking for.

Use a behavior management menu. Are your students getting enough sleep?

You may have LBD (Learning Behavior Disorder) students in your classroom that have already had an IEP (Individualized Education Program) written for identified behavior disorders. Once a student has crossed over into the domain of special education, the IEP should be developed in a way that provides teachers with real techniques and tools for managing the toughest problems. Analyze the IEP, maybe there are some things you should repair for the next meeting.

I found an “IEP Goal Bank” that has some great advice for writing effective IEPs. iPads are showing up in classrooms these days, there are APPS and other iPad resources that can help with behavior management. Teach-nology has an entire section on their wonderful website for behavior management.

This article will hopefully make you feel better. There are tools and resources that can help – you don’t have to feel alone any more. So, your first step is to call in the troops, have others in your school observe your class and give advice – they may recommend simple things you didn’t think of that would be very helpful. Your goal is to prevent referrals to special education, but you need to know that sometimes the best solution is just that, an IEP creates a legal framework for working with seriously impaired students.

There seems to be no end to the ways that students will choose to drive you crazy, but there’s help out there.

Let me know what you think, comment on this blog, do you have suggestions?


Grant Name: Educational Grants

Funded By: The Ambrose Monell Foundatio 

Description: Giving on a national basis to improve the physical, mental, and moral condition of humanity throughout the world. Giving largely for hospitals and health services, scientific research, museums, performing arts, and other cultural activities, and higher and secondary education; support also for social services, research in political science, mental health, and aid to the handicapped. No grants to individuals 

Program Areas: Adult Literacy, Disabilities, General Education, Health/PE, Math, Reading, Science/Environmental, Social Studies, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math)

Eligibility: Public School, Private School, Higher Education, Other

Proposal Deadline: 10/31/2014

Annual Total Amount: $9,000,000.00

Average Amount: $5,000.00 – $100,000.00

Address: c/o Fulton, Rowe, & Hart, 1 Rockefeller Plz., Ste. 301, New York, NY 10020-2002

Telephone: 212-245-1863

E-mail: info@monellvetlesen.org

Website: The Ambrose Monell Foundation

Availability: All States