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

The Five Most Common Reasons for SPED Referral

by Neva Fenno, M.S.Ed. MLIS

hands filing

Over the years, the labels we use to describe special education students have changed. When I was in Special Education 101 (I’m really dating myself), we used to call developmentally disabled children retarded. Even worse, we split the kids into Mild, Moderate, and Severe categories. This was happening at the same time as “mainstreaming”. We understood that the least restrictive environment for all children was the way to go, but we muddied the issue by splitting kids into groups.

To some extent, we still do that. It’s important to be able find language to describe our children. We can’t provide special assistance if we can’t inform people about why it’s needed.

We’ve found there are five types of learning problems that students have that cause us to take a second look and refer them for special education assessment.

  • Specific Learning Disability
  • Intellectual Disability
  • Autism
  • Disorders of Hearing, Sight and Physical Disability
  • Emotional Disturbance

I am guessing at the order, there are probably numbers to tell us which of these is the most common, but I don’t have them handy. It really doesn’t matter; these areas of concern have created a bureaucracy of support for special education that is costly and complex. The bureaucracy has developed because of Public Law 94-142, the legislation mandating the least restrictive environment for educational services.

Today, most disabled students can be helped in resource rooms, or classrooms that pull students out for a period during the day for special education. There are however, substantially separate classrooms for students with severe problems. These are the students who have a one on one aide that help them with toileting, physical therapy, and other services we must provide by law.

School Committees all over the country bemoan the cost of these provisions, but at the end of the day, it’s an investment in our future. All students need the best we can give, regardless of cost.

Another part of the law is the requirement that parents be part of the team that outlines the type and duration of any services their children will receive. Schools may have different names for the teams, but it’s usually called the Individualized Education Program (IEP) Team. When the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was reauthorized in 2004, there were changes regarding IEP team members. Parents must be included, but there are others invited to team meetings including the classroom teacher, district administrators and others who are charged with providing services. Meetings occur two times each year, and amendments are made to treatment plans (individual education plans). For instance, parents can request that their children have special equipment. A tool called “Kurzweill” is commonly requested. This software reads aloud for the student and assists struggling readers. Students may also have readers during testing.

I’ve talked a lot about behaviors in classrooms and the costs we incur in our efforts to help at risk students. We can’t forget about the students with the most serious disabilities. Even though we may have substantially separate classrooms for some, this does not mean marginalization. In modern schools, every attempt is made to pull these children into everyday activities in the community at large.

Do you have questions for me? My readers answer more questions than they pose, but I welcome your involvement in this blog.


Grant Name: Serves Grants

Funded By: United States Tennis Association (USTA)

Description: Awarded to nonprofit organizations that support efforts in tennis and education to help disadvantaged, at-risk youth and people with disabilities. To qualify for a USTA Serves Grant, your organization must: Provide tennis programs for underserved youth, ages 5-18, with an educational* component OR Provide tennis programs for people with disabilities (all ages) with a life skills component for Adaptive Tennis programs.

Program Areas: Public School, Private School, Other

Eligibility: Disabilities, Health/PE

Proposal Deadline: 10/18/2014

Address: 70 West Red Oak Lane White Plains, NY 10604

Telephone: 914-696-7175

E-mail: materasso@usta.com

Website: United States Tennis Association

Availability: All States

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

When is a Behavior Problem a SPED Referral?

by Neva Fenno, M.S.Ed. MLIS

principal sign

One of the many challenges a classroom teacher faces in her daily classroom routine is the presence of one (or two or three) students with challenging behaviors. They take so much time from instruction for “regular” students that it has become a real problem for many teachers. They did not learn in their degree program how to deal with Joey who is throwing books out the window, or Freddy who trips little Miranda every time she walks by.

This may bring a smile to your face, but you know what I’m talking about. You’ve practiced techniques for classroom management that work 90% of the time, but those students are still a real issue for you. You’ve read books, you’ve reported it all to your principal and school counselor and at the end of each meeting, you still leave scratching your head.

There is a moment in many behavior problem situations, where a teacher reaches critical mass and sits down to refer the child for a special education evaluation. When does a behavior become so troubling that it qualifies for special education services? The behavior that is bugging you may be completely under control in other classrooms, what is the chemistry that exists between a teacher and students that reaches stalemate?

This is a tough question. In general, any behavior that gets under your skin is worthy of correction and intervention within your own domain. Something you notice and become concerned about may go right over another teacher’s head and radar but if it’s interfering with your routine, you need to address it.

I used a word above that can help you develop an accurate barometer, “troubling”. Like so many things in education, it is not black and white. However, if a child’s behavior is troubling you and it is pretty clear that unless there is resolution, this child will continue to use the behavior to manipulate his environment and you, it’s time for an intervention. In the lower grades, he/she is doing these things because he is afraid, afraid of being noticed as the failure he thinks he is, afraid of being called on and showing his ignorance. This is usually corrected by providing him with a way to be successful, give him a task at which he will shine and the behavior may disappear.

But as he grows, and the behavior escalates to include things that are hurtful to others or himself, it is definitely time for an evaluation. Your principal and special education coordinator will discourage you from filing, they are buried in referrals for similar problems and the system simply cannot absorb all these kids.

Your job is to document everything the child does, and document your interventions. It must be clear that you have “tried everything” and yet the situation has grown and become more troubling. The child is actively making everyone miserable, not just you. It’s not about your threshold of pain; it has more to do with the rest of your students. His behavior may be pulling so much of your attention that the rest of your students are questioning your authority or ability to cope. Time to bring in the troops and don’t be shy. There are intractable problems and you should not feel guilty or wimpy about bringing them to the attention of people who can help.

I also used the word “chemistry”. Sometimes there is a dynamic between a teacher and student that is simply toxic. There is no mutual respect to build on and it’s clear that another placement would benefit both student, teacher, and class. Be sure you completely and thoroughly understand the special education referral process and that your documentation is impeccable and thorough. Where possible, make sure you’ve brought the parents in for multiple conferences to try to organize a concerted effort at both school and home to alter the behavior. Sometimes in those meetings an explanation will emerge and a solution may become evident. There are students however, who do not have a supportive environment at home from which to draw solutions. These are the cases that will sap the strength of the system, this child is really in trouble and you will all need to work together to help him out. There may be a contract you can draw up with the child and other teachers that he will sign and live up to. The other teachers (and physical education teachers are especially helpful here), who can monitor behavior when you’re not there, and come up with a plan of intervention.

Books have been written about this subject, this blog is just a sample of impressions I have made over the years. I hope something has resonated with you, and don’t hesitate to comment on this blog and add to the discussion. My sense is this won’t be my last article on this subject, I know you have much to add to the conversation.

A couple of resources for you:

Seven Rules

Dealing with Difficult Students

Management Techniques – Relationship Building

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Grant Name: Teacher Grants

Funded By: The Kids In Need Foundation

Description: Kids In Need Teacher Grants provide K-12 educators with funding to provide innovative learning opportunities for their students. The Kids In Need Foundation helps to engage students in the learning process by supporting our most creative and important educational resource our nation’s teachers. All certified K-12 teachers in the U.S. are eligible.

Program Areas: Arts, ESL/Bilingual/Foreign Language, General Education, Health/PE, Math, Reading, Science/Environmental, Social Studies, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math), Technology

Eligibility: Public School, Private School

Proposal Deadline: 9/30/2014

Average Amount: $100.00 – $500.00

Address: 3055 Kettering Boulevard, Suite 119, Dayton, OH 45439

Telephone: 877-296-1231

E-mail: pennyh@kinf.org

Website: The Kids in Need Foundation

Availability: All States

Special Education and Compliance

by Neva Fenno, M.S.Ed. MLIS

pile of folders

In 1975, Congress passed Public Law 94-142 (Education of All Handicapped Children Act), now known as IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act). In order to receive federal funds, states must develop and implement policies that assure a free appropriate public education (FAPE) to all children with disabilities. The state plans must be consistent with the federal statute. One of the tenets of the law provides that students who are found to have disabilities or special needs, must be provided education in the “least restrictive environment”. The law has created a large federal bureaucracy as most laws requiring compliance will do. School districts all over the country receive grants and special funding to make sure the least restrictive environment provision is met.

Large school districts have created special classrooms with complex equipment and specialists to meet most of the needs presented by students with IEP’s (Individual Education Plans). Students may spend part of their day in these classrooms, the rest in regular classrooms with their peers so they can be in a less restrictive environment, thus meeting the letter of the law.

In the recent past, students have been seen with increasingly complex medical and intellectual challenges. Medical science has improved birth outcomes for children with very low birth weight for instance; these children at one time would have died, but are now saved, some with complicated needs. The public schools are required to provide services for these children. Often, a child will need to be transported away from his neighborhood school to find a classroom that can meet his needs. You have probably seen small yellow buses in your town; that is what they are for, providing free transportation for special needs children to special services in their town, or a neighboring community.

The special education programs in schools are based on the rules and guidelines developed by the federal government.  These rules are established to protect special education students and parents and to promote the well-being of the students.  Because these rules and regulations are many, varied, and quite specific on a number of points, special education administrators as well as building principals must make sure that their schools conform to both the substance and the intent of these rules.  That is not always an easy job.

Many rules and regulations that administrators must understand revolve around special committees and IEP’s (Individual Educational Programs or Plans).  A program could be deemed non-compliant because all the required members of the committee were not present, or properly informed, or noted in the minutes of a committee meeting. By law, each child’s IEP must be reviewed on a regularly scheduled basis so all his needs will be met as he grows. Things change, and the committees are empowered to keep up with the changes by providing new services as needed.  Parents are heavily involved in this process; this is the intent of the law.

Another way a program might be found non-compliant is when parents are not afforded an opportunity for meaningful participation in the committee meetings. The parents might not have been notified of the meeting in a timely fashion or the meeting may have been set up at a time or place that was not mutually agreeable.  The parents might have disagreed with the committee and no meeting was set to reconvene.  The parents might have refused to sign or agree or disagree with provisions of new plans.  Any or all of these problems could have a school cited for non-compliance, especially if there is a pattern of this behavior.

The IEP itself can be the center of a host of other non-compliance problems.  This can happen if an IEP was not written to provide appropriate educational benefit to the student.  Maybe the goals and objectives were not set up so that they were measurable.  Perhaps the levels of academic achievement were not aligned with goals, assessments, or services provided.  Now, with the implementation of Common Core State Standards and new testing requirements, students may not have been provided with proper accommodations on exams so they can take them with their peers.

Being a special education administrator or a building administrator is a difficult job.  It is really challenging when you have to deal with the many compliance issues surrounding special education students in the form of IEP’s, and evaluation/reevaluation meetings.

This blog article is a very basic thumbnail description of some of the more basic provisions of a law that has greatly improved the academic environments for so many thousands of students. I will be writing more about this law, but I felt the need to provide this background material for you to absorb so you will understand complicated issues.

If you are a parent of a special needs child, I’d love to hear from you. How is your school district managing your child’s educational needs? Are you happy with the services your child receives? Comment on this or other blogs we provide.

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Grant Name: BWI Summer Reading Program Grant

Funded By: American Library Association

Description:  This grant is designed to encourage outstanding summer reading programs by providing financial assistance, while recognizing ALSC members for outstanding program development. The applicant must plan and present an outline for a theme-based summer reading program in a public library. The program must be open to all children (birth -14 years).  The committee also encourages innovative proposals involving children with physical or mental disabilities.

Program Areas:  Disabilities, Library, Professional Development, Special Education

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

Proposal Deadline:  11/30/2014

Average Amount:  $3,000.00

Address: 50 E. Huron Street, Chicago, IL 60611-2788

Telephone: 312-280-4274

E-mail: cjewell@ala.org

Website: American Library Association

Availability:  All States

It’s the Little Things That Count – Creating an Inclusive Classroom with the HighScope® Curriculum

This post is authored by Francine Towbridge, Account Manager at Achievement Products® for Special Needs.

francine

This year I had the pleasure of attending the HighScope® International Conference in Ypsilanti, Michigan. The workshops were informative and enlightening. I especially enjoyed chatting with teachers who were excited and ready to learn new teaching strategies. Today, many preschools programs include children with special needs. Therefore, some teachers were particularly concerned about how to implement the HighScope® approach in an inclusive setting.

I attended two excellent workshops that addressed this topic:

  • A Preschool Class with a Special Approach: Plan-Do-Review in Inclusion Classrooms
  • Making HighScope® Work for Children on the Autism Spectrum

We all know that the goal of inclusion, is to create a warm environment that encourages positive interactions, and learning for students regardless of their ability level. I learned in the workshops that accomplishing this goal need not be a “Herculean” task!    

UCLA basketball coaching legend John Wooden said, “It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.” Coach Wooden won ten NCAA national championships, was named the national coach of the year six times, and his philosophy was based on teamwork. The workshops taught educators that changing a few “little details” in your HighScope® classroom and collaborating daily with your team will help you achieve the goals you have for your students.

Some of the strategies I learned in the workshops:

  • Focus on what the child can do! Current teaching practices in the field of special education are often based on correcting children’s “deficits.” If we make a little adjustment in attitude, we can start focusing on the child’s strengths and interests.
  • Special needs students are eager to learn. Meet them at their level. Give them opportunities to make choices by having a variety of learning materials available.
  •  Be consistent. A consistent but flexible daily routine gives children a sense of control and promotes independence.
  • Incorporate the students’ IEP goals into your daily routine. Small group time can be used to accomplish IEP objectives.
  • Use visual cues and photos for children with autism; this helps them interpret information. Some preschoolers can follow verbal requests, such as “Let’s put the blocks away.” However, children with autism may also need a visual cue for clean up time, such as a flicker of the lights or a photo of cleanup time. You can also create a visual representation of the daily routine and use pictures for planning and recall time.
  •  Be patient and positive. Allow extra time for the children to complete tasks and respond to a question. A warm classroom environment can lead to increased academic achievement and a sense of belonging.

After the workshops were over, many teachers lingered to ask the presenters questions, take handouts and the free visual aids. To me, this was a clear indication that the teachers were inspired to go back to their classrooms, tweak a few vital details and make big things happen with their little learners. I hope you will too!

Discipline and Special Education Students

in trouble cartoon

People have many misconceptions about special education programs and students. There is even a hint of fear in the faces of visitors to schools with active special education programs. People aren’t mean, just ill-informed. It’s true that many special education children need extra discipline to thrive. Structure seems to be so very important to many children. Structure gives kids a sense of security; it’s always good to know what’s expected of you. This is the crux of any classroom management program, carefully defined and communicated expectations.

It’s not surprising that student discipline is a major issue when discussing special education.  Discipline is a hot button for many parents.  They want to be very sure their children are treated fairly when any type of punishment is administered.  Special education students have all the rights of due process that any other student may have, but they are also protected further by their IEP’s.

In school, students are generally expected to follow a set code of conduct.  That conduct is interpreted throughout the school by both teachers and administrators.  In individual classrooms the teacher is responsible for keeping order but has some fairly wide latitude in most schools about what will be allowed and what will not. A school with great leadership will have a consistent and fair set of codes of conduct for all children, but special education teachers are brought into the planning of the expectations early in the process.

The committee that meets to develop each IEP must determine if a student’s disability is defined by particular types of misbehavior.  In other words, a typical student who curses aloud in class would be punished for disrupting the class and making poor choices.  But a special education student that has been diagnosed with Tourette syndrome would be doing no more than exhibiting a characteristic of his/her disability.  To punish that person would be like punishing another student whose temperature went up because he had the flu.

Similarly, students with AD/HD may call out more often than other students.  They will also wiggle more and get up and move around the class.  These are not behaviors the teacher wants to ignore, but the key is to continually remind students of what appropriate behavior looks like in your school.

Most IEP’s include a discipline plan so that special education students face certain consequences for their inappropriate behavior. Many districts in the country are working on professional development programs with a protocol called RTI (Response to Intervention). It’s a leveled set of guidelines that define how a student will learn and behave. Teachers are being trained to use it to provide additional structure and support in the classroom.

It’s also a way to prevent unnecessary referrals to special education classrooms by teachers who are struggling with classroom management issues. With this program, it is carefully spelled out what is expected, and it provides ways for teachers to intervene on behalf of a student who is taking longer to adapt to the classroom rules than others.

Parents need to understand the programs schools have adopted for classroom management and discipline. This high level of understanding helps them become better partners in the education of the children.

Grant Name:   Standard Charitable Foundation Grants

Funded By:  Standard Charitable Foundation

P: 971.321.3162
F: 971.321.5243

The Standard
Public Affairs P12B
1100 SW 6th Ave
Portland OR 97204

Description:  Areas of funding interest include Community Development, Education Effectiveness, Disability and Health.

Program Areas:  Adult Literacy, After-School, Arts, At-Risk/Character, Community Involvement/Volunteerism, Disabilities, Early Childhood, Family Services, General Education, Health/PE, Homeless, Math, Reading, Safe/Drug Free Schools, Science/Environmental, Social Studies, Special Education.

Recipients:  Public School, Other

Proposal Deadline:  5/1/14

Average Amount:  varies

Website: click here

Availability:  All States