Get Off the Bandwagons

Why is it that we in education grab onto good ideas and treat them as if they are THE ONE ABSOLUTE solution for anything that is challenging us and then squeeze the life out of it making it hurtful instead of helpful?

I have been in education a long time and I have seen movements come and go and in each case it takes way too long to find balance in the use of good ideas. We go all in. We drink ththe kool-aid, we spend too much money on the bells and whistles that come with the good idea (and there is always something to spend money on), we even hire MORE administrators to manage the new idea.

And then the data collection starts. It is never unbiased. It almost never collects relevant data because the data collection system is structured to skew data in favor of the new idea.

You all know this is true. Whole Language, phonics only, any number of school wide behavioral programs, social skills programs, and individualized behavior modification methods.

I love collecting data. I do. I love slowly and methodically unraveling the mystery of what makes my students become maladaptive. I am not opposed to collecting data.

I am not contradicting myself. I am making the case here that we should never collect data in blanket, one-size-fits all ways. We should never have an intervention already in mind for  kiddos whose data tells us the obvious. Anyone who doesn’t get this by the third time around bumps up an intervention level, and that level is not individualized. It’s most often a one-size-fits all intervention that includes reteaching and more practice. And the reteaching and practice has nothing to do with he individual and usually necessitates more skewed data collection. And if you are a kiddo that still doesn’t get it afterth-1 that intervention, then you get an IEP.  And the data used to justify an IEP is typically pretty useless. We still don’t understand the kiddo. We still don’t understand the maladaptive behavior, we are still busy trying to explain the lack of response to intervention by blaming the kid. He is attention seeking, he is hungry for power and control, he is avoiding…. blah, blah, blah.

With poor data collection, we continue to develop ineffective interventions, we continue to hold each student at arm’s length. The data collection tool stands between us and the students. It gets in the way of relationship building. We collect information we don’t need,  and that data drives our decisions. Ugh.

I agree when we have a student not responding to the everydayness of school, not growing, not learning efficiently, we have to intervene. But let’s do so mindfully and start with relationship building. Let’s not assume that once a kiddo knows better he will do better.

And let’s not assume that once they know better and still don’t do better it is because they won’t, that it’s a choice. And that is where the wheels fall off the wagon. We don’t dig deep enough. We don’t individualize the data collection. We make a lot of assumptions and those assumptions render us at the very least neglectful and at worst, hurtful.


My point is this. We must stop jumping on every trend with full gusto at the expense of our students. We must look at every possible remedy objectively and critically. We must stop throwing good money after bad, stop trying to find a one-size-fits all answer.

Why? Because the variables are too many to count for each and every student. If we don’t consider as many variables as possible, we are not treating our students as individuals. And when we stop looking at our students as whole persons with individual needs, then we are part of the p

And yes, PBIS, I am talking about you.



If I Hear ‘Data Driven’ One More Time!

I am a huge proponent of collecting data and using it to guide program and placement decisions.

I am not a proponent of collecting the wrong data using the wrong tools that lead us to  wrong program and placement decisions.

What? Data isn’t data?

No. It is not.

And this is what I most abhor about data collection that has been developed by Pearson, PBIS, and other big machines in education. They have taken the critical thinking about behaviors out of the teacher’s hands. They have sold us a bill of goods that they have made data collection easy and efficient, relevant. They have removed us another few steps away from the humanness of our students, the humanness of ourselves as teachers.

Most importantly, when we use such one size fits all programs, we are no longer individualizing, using our keen observation, looking for the details, the more subtle nuances of student behaviors. It is in those nuances and details we find the answers. It is when we collect data about those subtle nuances that we learn about our students, find solutions and accommodations.

It is not ever in the broad sweep of generalized data collection that we find ways to help our students.

I feel a series of posts about data collection coming on… you have been warned.

Or maybe you are looking forward to it?



Mishandling Bullying

As a long term EBD teacher I was all too familiar with the pain my students caused others. I also know how often my students were the bullied ones. And I know how often their complaints were disregarded and how often they were told they should just ignore the problematic bully, how often they were told they were asking for what they got.

I have come to the belief that some of what we call bullying by our students with special needs is just maladaptive social behaviors, inability to effectively communicate with peers, inability to read the affect of others. Sometimes there is no mean intent. Sometimes it is just not knowing how else to relate. There is a difference between not understanding because of a skill deficit and bullying.

A big difference.

And yet I see school administrators lumping it all together in one problem called bullying.

Bullying is all about perception. If I perceive threat from another and the other knows I feel threatened and the intent is to make me feel threatened, then that is bullying. It is intentional meanness.  If I perceive threat and others don’t see it as a threat, I am told to ignore said threat. But I still feel threatened. Whose problem is this?

If I am the cause of someone feeling threat, but my actions are simply maladaptive social behavior, the person feeling threatened is still going to feel unsafe in some way. Are they feeling unsafe because of the unpredictability of my maladaptive behaviors, do they understand the intent is not to cause harm? Either way, they feel unsafe.

And this brings me to my current thinking about bullying. I would like to reframe it. I say we must take any student’s perceived sense of threat seriously. And that means the tattle tale, the oversensitive kid, the special ed kid, the gen ed kid. If a student feels unsafe, then that is what we atth-1tend to.

No matter the reason. No matter how we may perceive the threat. No matter if the threat is really a non-threat according to our standards and definition of threat.

We cannot continue to tell any of our students to ignore anything that makes them feel unsafe. No matter who the student is.



Darlene is a high school student with special needs. She has emotional and behavioral issues, a learning disability and has been significantly traumatized in her younger life. She has arrested emotional development because of trauma. She never feels safe at school. She feels her teachers do not care and are not there to support her. Most often she suspects the intent of other students as threatening. Sometimes she tries to be a tough girl, sometimes she runs right to the adults that are supposed to keep her feeling safe. She is a frequent reporter of feeling threat.  She is a target because she reacts to everything. And sometimes that reaction is unpleasant and unpredictable. Most often the school adults tell her to ignore what others are saying and doing and that if she would just ignore, then others would leave her alone.drawing-bullying4

I call bullshit on that one.

I think we can agree that when one feels threatened they typically fight, fly, or freeze. In most cases, Darlene feels the need to at least throw some tough girl language in the direction of what she perceives a threat. She is doing what she can to allow herself to feel safe.

Darlene is taunted a lot. Daily, and by a small core of other students she spends much of her day with in special ed classes. She spends her days in a constant state of hyper vigilance. This leaves little brain function for learning and correctly assessing the intent of others. Darlene has taken her concerns to building administrators repeatedly and is told to ignore.

Well, Darlene snapped the other day. I am honestly surprised it took her this long. The day before the snap, another repeat offender shoved Darlene and caused her entire lunch to spill down the front of her shirt. Darlene did nothing but throw some language at the perpetrator. The very next day, there were words and another shove, so Darlene swung back. She was thrown to the floor and ended up with a concussion and sprained clavicle.

Please note her that the administration never asked Darlene if she was OK physically. They told her she should have ignored the other girl. They put her in ISS alone in a conference room off the front office. She was in there alone, with a massive headache for the remainder of the day.  I will stop here with the description of how Darlene was treated as that digresses from the real purpose in today’s post.

Darlene was handed a citation and a 5 day suspension. Because of confidentiality I have no idea what happened to the other student.

We have this all wrong.

We are punishing kids who fight against not feeling safe and reacting to a sense of threat. Repeated threat. We are expecting someone in a state of hyper vigilance to ignore threats, and in this case they were both physical and verbal. Darlene, for whatever reasons, is in a constant state of high anxiety due to perceived threat.

And that is where we need to start untangling the mess. And you all know I don’t mean to PBIS the students. You all know how ineffective that is when dealing with mental health. And Darlene has been traumatized repeatedly. As such she deserves trauma informed counsel and care in her school.

Refusing to see this as the complex situation it is means nothing gets resolved, nobody th-2gets the help and care they need, and the cycle continues.

Blaming the victim for responding to what they perceive as a threat or unsafe situation, further victimizes the victim, which makes for an even more hyper vigilant person in an even more frequent state of perceived threat.

Giving either of the students legal citations for fighting glosses over the problem assuming both parties are in control and mentally healthy.

My guess is both parties are feeling unsafe most of the time and their actions are their maladaptive way to restore a sense of

So, we have this all wrong. If any kiddo is feeling unsafe, start there. Listen, offer real coping strategies.

Most importantly, don’t tell them to ignore what they perceive as a threat.

That’s just crazy making.

That’s just irresponsible.

That’s just bullying.














The Alaska Statewide Special Education Conference in one word.

I grew exponentially.

Personally and professionally.

I learned about myself, others, and better ways of reaching kids. I met incredible people who generously shared their gifts with me.

I had never been to Alaska so the culture was new to me.

  • If you teach in a small village in the bush, milk might cost you 15 bucks a gallon
  • If you teach in a small village in the bush, there are no art, music or phy ed teachers
  • Kids with special needs present the same ways no matter where they live
  • There are great teachers and not so evolved teachers everywhere
  • The teachers who choose to teach in remote areas only accessible by plane are made of a grit I will never possess.
  • Every single person I interacted with was kind, generous, and genuine

I grew personally.

  • I traveled alone and learned that I truly am comfortable alone in all ways
  • I am able to connect with just about everyone I interact with and that is a good thing.
  • I am able to give and receive comfortably
  • I can eat alone in a restaurant or at a bar without relying on a book or my phone to keep me occupied

I grew professionally.

  • My presentation went well
  • I realize I have many more presentations in me- and on a variety of topics
  • I know how to connect with an audience
  • I am competent
  • I have a wide and valuable knowledge base and people want to hear what I have to say

I learned.

  • We have a long way yet to go as far as reaching teachers and showing them there are better ways to manage students than with behaviorist approaches and methods
  • Lindamood-Bell is a perhaps the best way to help students of all ages with reading struggles (verbal to visual and back)
  • I hate Pearson Publishing even more now
  • There are great new ways to help kids on the spectrum manage their anxiety thanks to incredible research being done in Colorado
  • Most schools are not following recommended protocol for head injuries and how holy worrisome is that whole subject?
  • There are like-minded people in every corner of the world and I am grateful for that

What I will be writing about in the near future.

  • Lindamood-Bell approach to teaching reading
  • behavior management
  • accommodations for those with concussions
  • school violence and bullying
  • my good friend, Chocolate Cake

It is my hope to be called back to Alaska to work with some of the exceptional teachers I met.

Oh, and to eat more REAL salmon.



It’s That Time Of Year

No, not the holidays.  First semester is almost over, progress reports have been given out and just about every parent of a kiddo with an IEP is freaking out.

While some of us receive weekly, maybe even daily, communication from our kids’ special ed teachers, many of us don’t.  We assume all is well, we address whatever issues are presented in communication from school, some of us even regularly check Parent Portal for current grades and missing assignments (which are not always current). Most often we receive a quarterly IEP progress report stating our kid is making progress toward the IEP goal. All is well. Right?

But those pesky depressing academic progress reports/grades hit us in the head over and over. Most of us have received our quarterly IEP progress reports and see that our kiddo is making progress toward his goals. We sit in that relief for about two seconds because the progress report with the actual grades on it says something entirely different.

Why the disconnect between academic IEP goals and real time curricula?

Good question.

It could be that

  • goals don’t support actual curriculum
  • general ed and special ed aren’t working together
  • IEP goals are written poorly
  • IEP goals are not shared and then revisited with gen ed teachers
  • we need an IEP review and revise to ensure our kids get what they need to have a report card that shows valid academic progress
  • assessment of student performance alone is driving the instruction

Wait, what? Assessment doesn’t drive the instruction? Well, this argument could last to infinity and beyond, couldn’t it?

What came first, the chicken or the egg?  The goals or the assessment? They go hand in hand, sure, but when planning a lesson, what does the planner need to consider first?

That’s easy for me.  How did everyone do yesterday? Lots of blank stares? Exit slips that confirm the majority got it? Quiz grades? Chapter review homework?


Where were my students yesterday as whole persons? As learners, as humans with needs, basic and otherwise? Discouraged? Encouraged? Distracted? Focused? And how did all those things affect academic performance? And if those things affect academic performance, then does whatever academic assessment tool we use really reflect what they learned and why or why not?


The assessment that most drives my planning? The assessment I make of myself, my performance, my ability to read affect and take in feedback while I am teaching.

These are unclear waters, for sure. But many would have you believe that when you sit down to write a lesson plan, you start with whatever academic or behavioral assessment tool you will use.

Well, I think that just discounts a whole lot of what makes our students the whole beings they are. Don’t you? I certainly review the day before, but not in a limited way. If they didn’t get it, then that is on me. What did I miss? What feedback did I ignore or not see?

I start with the IEP goals and standards, how my students left my lesson the day before, as whole people. I analyze what my students need as far as experience and instruction to meet those goals and standards. I spend all my time on finding ways to reach my students, to engage them, to honor who they are and what they bring to me every day.  The whole package. At the end of my lesson I figure out how I will know they made progress or mastered the concept.

And sometimes my student assessment is purely observation. Sometimes it is all about the exit slip. Sometimes it’s about the independent practice.

It is never about the total points my students have accrued per quarter or semester. NEVER. And it is never about how a rubric defines performance. I hate rubrics as assessment tools. That’s a whole other blog post.

I believe this is why our academic progress reports do not match our IEP goal progress reports. We are all assessing different things in different ways and not really talking with each other about how our students are doing if we blend the two worlds. IEP goals and academic curricular goals should blend enough that there is less discrepancy between all those pesky and conflicting progress reports.

Because, how does “making progress” on an academic IEP goal mean the same as the letter grade of a ‘D’ on a report card?

It’s crazy making.




It’s Almost Here!

A month or so ago, a friend and I went to see the Allies for Inclusion exhibit at a nearby community college. This exhibit comes from St. Louis University and travels the country helping us all become Allies. Link below describes it all. I know, I have mentioned this before, but now am even more excited as the exhibit makes its way closer to home.

While I rant consistently about all the things we need to do to make our world more inclusive, thisFullSizeRender exhibit does a much better job than I. My friend and I got choked up more than once and the beauty and power of this exhibit is in its simplicity. There are opportunities to interact with the exhibit and that makes it even more profound. It’s not preachy, it’s not condescending, it’s not about being charitable to those who are marginalized.

What I took away from this exhibit was much more than a bunch of facts about specific challenges others face. I took away the hope that we can connect to those we thought were unreachable. We can most certainly look in the eyes of another and know, without doubt, that we are looking at a person with more in common with us than not, and that we can find ways to engage and enjoy, relate and connect.

And in those connections, we find dear friends, powerful people, dreams coming true, laughter, intimacy.

And love.

Here is the good news. An absolutely powerful, caring and empathic high school senior, Brother Advocate, decided to bring this exhibit to our high school. The first high school ever to host Allies for Inclusion. Now, that’s big. Really big. That takes gumption and dedication and conviction. And he has raised the money, communicated with all concerned, sold it to his principal and special education director. He is marketing and gathering volunteers. He is making this happen in 2 weeks. He is doing what the adults in our world could have done if they were true allies for inclusion.

By now the principal has kicked it in gear and is working out all the details. He has space ready, charts filled in, schedules taking shape.

If you are in the area, please come to the exhibit. You can become an Ally for Inclusion. Support Brother Advocate. Support all the marginalized in your community by working toward a better understanding and belief that every single person on this planet is a whole person.

Have a look at the origins of the exhibit and then show up. Support Brother Advocate because what he is doing, as a high school student, is absolutely incredible.

And if you are not in the area, make sure to go to the link above and consider bringing this exhibit to your community.



PBIS; Flawed and Harmful

Sadly, I must write abut PBIS again.

It seems this year has brought us even bigger absurdities in the name of PBIS and behavior management in general.

Suspensions are actually on the rise. Hmm. Office referrals are more frequent and more infractions are being doled out for things that could have/should have been handled in the classroom.

th-4The PBIS system is driving the bus and all its rules and consequences and data collection are using up the priceless time, resources and learning experiences that make for effective teaching and schools.

Once again, we have lost sight of the essential fact that our students are whole beings. Given that, the variables to be considered in behavior managment are diverse and complex. PBIS neglects to embrace that.

I believe PBIS is causing more harm to kids who are already hurting. The entire premise is if we teach kids what is right, they will do right. It is all in their control.  All of it.  And if we get to tier 3 in our data collection and intervention plans, then the student needs an IEP because of some flaw or deficit within the student.

Students bring to school the best they have. And sometimes the best they have is not pleasant or terribly adaptive. And most often, teaching and reteaching them how to be more pleasant, acceptable and adaptive is not going to change how they present.

So, how did we get so lost and caught up in this swirl of the perceived magic of PBIS? There is no magic. There is no recipe for dealing with maladaptive kids. There is no whole-school approach that fixes whatever you think needs fixing.

These are whole people we are teaching. These are real people with real struggles with real needs and desires. That we expect them to do better once they know better is nothing less than disrespectful.  th-5

And it hurts kids that are already hurting.

One PBIS intervention is the check in and check out. It is nothing more than kids showing up, designated checker-inner/outer reminding them to read more, to take home their books, to pay attention, to get  daily communication sheets signed by parents, to do better today than yesterday is just bullshit. How is that helping our students improve? Once again it is all on them to figure it out. There is no attention given to how or what is being taught. It’s all on that poor kiddo who brings you his best every single day only to be told his best isn’t good enough.

I say, WE aren’t good enough. The ADULTS are not doing good enough.

Because we have come to rely on a recipe with promised results, a recipe that requires nothing of us but to put that plate of cookies on the table. If the kids don’t take a cookie, they need an intervention. If they don’t respond to that intervention, then they need an IEP.

th-3I don’t know. There are just too many cookies I don’t like. Is that my fault, or yours, for not offering me what I find palatable?

PBIS, you are not working. And your data collection and analysis are flawed in significant ways. PBIS, you are causing harm to way too many kids.