Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Happy Anniversary to Me!


Today, August 22, marks my one year anniversary as an administrator. One year under my belt, one year experience as the Director of Student Services for Frankfort Independent Schools.

  • One year as a Director of Special Education
  • One year as a 504 Coordinator
  • One year as an ADA Corrdinator
  • One year as a Preschool Director
  • One year as a Gifted/Talented Coordinator
  • One year as a English Learner Coordinator
  • One year as a (whatever else is asked of me LOL)

Yes, I wear all those hats. Why in the world would I take on such a job as my very first administrator experience? Well, I thought getting my start in a small district will ease me into administration. I sure wasn't thinking that... 
 small district = less people = more hats!

The positive side is that I have had a crash course in multiple facets of administration that I would have never received if I was solely a Director of Special Education.

I am extremely fortunate to be wrapped around by an amazing group of educators and leaders both in and out of FIS. I am learning and growing every day because of the support that I receive. It is an indescribable feeling to be surrounded by people who want you to succeed. Everyone is open and helpful - whether it be related to a simple logistic matter or something more intricate as a personnel issue. Even the teachers are patient with me (for the most part) as I learn the ropes, especially in those areas where I had no previous experience. There are too many people to thank for the immense growth I have made this past year.

As I reflect on this first year, I have discovered a few interesting things about myself.
  1. I am a great manager. I am able to tackle many tasks and solve multiple problems all in a day's work. I think I may have already known this ;)
  2. I have a long way to go to be a leader. When I was in Deaf Ed, I was a strong teacher leader. However, I have yet to transition that leadership into my new role. I think the constant feeling of being overwhelmed and still learning my roles has not allowed me to prioritize and be the leader I want to be and know I can be.
  3. I am terrible at accepting praise. I have never really been one who accepted praise well. 
    • When I was in Deaf Ed, if I received praise, I would respond that I was just doing my job. I didn't think anything I was doing was extraordinary. It was just what I felt should be done. Yes, I did know I was a master teacher, but I just felt that I was doing what needed to be done.
    • Now, in my new role, when I receive praise, I don't believe I deserve it. I think I am so overwhelmed with all my responsibilities and everything I need to do that when praise comes my way, I think it's not genuine, that I didn't do anything worthy of praise. Hopefully, as I develop confidence in my new abilities and continue to grow, I will be able to recognize my own accomplishments and accept the praise.

Intestingly, learning all the aspects of my many hats has not been the hardest part of my new role. I am slowly but surely tackling those and growing because of it.

The hardest aspect of this job is accepting that I am no longer a part of the teacher leader group. I am now "The Man"; I have moved to the "Dark Side." I keep forgetting that I am not a teacher, I am not peers, colleagues, equals, to those educators with whom I work daily. I know in time I will find a balance and figure out exactly where I fit in because I never want the teacher leadership to disappear from my soul.

Many people ask me if I miss Deaf Ed. I was a Teacher of the Deaf for 21 years. Of course, I miss it. However, I know that I made the right decision by moving on. I was stagnant where I was and needed to be in a place where I can grow in new ways and support teachers, students, and systems. 

I still stay connected to Deaf Ed. I moderate the monthly #DeafEd Twitter chat. I keep in touch with former students and parents. I have lunch dates with Deaf friends. And, of course, I have continued my obsession with Deaf Ed projects.

During our summer leader institute, we were charged with writing our personal vision statements. Here I share mine.

  • I believe that all children deserve a high quality education from teachers who are masters of their content and pedagogy.
  • Being in the education field is not a 9-5 job but a lifestyle choice.
  • In order to create a Culture of Excellence, we must be able to look beyond the boundaries of minimal compliance and invest the time and energy necessary.
  • Find the expertise in those you lead, and empower them to share, support, and lead others
  • Teacher voice is crucial to any decisions that are made at the local, state, and national levels. Teachers know, therefore they must be heard.
  • All children deserve to have someone in their corner fighting for them.
  • I believe that it is important to trust and support the work of my teachers and staff.
  • I believe that every person is as equally important to a team.
  • School/district teams are like a crew team. Every person must row with the same level of intensity, to achieve a common goal.
  • Children are like a box of Fruit Loops cereal. They all come in different colors, shapes and sizes. However, on the inside, they are all made the same and deserve to be treated as such.

So, what will year 2 hold for me? 
  • I have made it my goal to learn to be more of a leader than a manager. 
  • I plan to work on building relationships and increasing communication with the staff with whom I work. 
  • I will never stop my love for Deaf Ed and will continue with the projects brewing in my mind!

Thank you to my superintendent, Dr. Barber, for taking a chance on an inexperienced person to wear so many hats. 

Thank you to my husband, Darrell, and children who are sacrificing so much just so I can pursue my career. We have lived apart for one year now. I do hope that at any moment we will be together for more than just the weekends - for forever!

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Growing Our Own

I cannot believe it has been 1 1/2 years since I wrote my last post here. So much has happened to me professionally during that time. Yes, I have written for other online platforms; but I have gotten out of the habit of reflecting here. I need to share what my journey has been like recently. I will soon.


I am experiencing something right now that is sparking a fire in me to write.

The Educators Rising National Conference is currently happening in Phoenix, AZ. I have the privilege of being in attendance with over 1,000 rising educators. The conference is only half way finished, but I need to write now!

Let me just say, I thought ECET2 knew how to party; but at this conference, there was a DJ and dancing before the event even kicked off Friday night!


My guess is because students are in the driver's seat. The officers are all students; they are the ones we see on the stage leading the conference, introducing the speakers, sharing their stories! POWERFUL!

According to their website, "Educators Rising cultivates highly skilled educators by guiding young people on a path to becoming accomplished teachers, beginning in high school and extending through college and into the profession."

EdRising (the only preferred shortened version of the name) is an organization that supports teenagers in becoming teachers. Chapters are established in local middle and high schools with the express purpose of growing future educators. Students receive hands-on learning experiences of what it is like to teach, and are provided clinical experiences that many future teachers do not receive until they are juniors or seniors in college! 

The organization, with the support of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards and the National Education Association, created standards that "define what high school students exploring teaching need to know and be able to do to take their first steps on the path to accomplished teaching." There is a large virtual network that students can join. They can earn micro-credentials that give them a leg up when entering college. Competitions occur throughout the nation where these rising educators can demonstrate their knowledge, skills and leadership. Recently, a curriculum was released that can be used as a resource for creating teacher pathways.

Students in this organization are considered "rising educators," not "future educators". This is because they are already immersing themselves in teaching; they are making an impact now! 

What strikes me the most about Educators Rising is the whole concept of "grow your own". This really resonates with me when I think about the critical shortage of Teachers of the Deaf, and the even greater need of teachers who are themselves deaf. 

What are we doing as a profession to encourage our youth who are Deaf, Deaf-Blind, Deaf with Disabilities, and Hard of Hearing (DDBDDHH) to join the education profession?

Sure, we may be having individual conversations with our students telling them that they would make great teachers. We might be giving students opportunities to be peer tutors with the hope they would feel what we feel whenever we help someone learn. 

But, is that enough? No!
  • We need to start creating EdRising chapters at schools for the deaf, public school cluster programs and anywhere else that might entice our deaf youth to become rising educators. 
  • We must create teaching pathways in our high schools that will lead our DDBDDHH youth into the field of deaf education. 
  • We can give these students hands-on learning experiences to serve as language models to our youth, to feel our burning desire to make an impact in children's lives.

There is more we need to do beyond that.
  • We must do more to raise their literacy levels so they can pass the required PRAXIS or other exams needed to enter into college programs or to receive teacher certification. 
  • We must fight for alternative pathways for them to enter teacher prep programs or to become certified by eliminating the audistic barriers to these exams.

The future of education is at the hands of today's youth. Let's ignite a fire in them to pursue the best profession on earth - teaching!

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Am I an Audist?

Here is an ASL version of this post on YouTube: https://youtu.be/BbVJzdKPfYc

At the start of Winter break, I put on my To Do list to write a blog reflecting on 2015. It was a spectacular year professionally for me. However, when I sat down to start writing, something else came out of me...

I am in my 21st year as a Teacher of the Deaf and consider myself an ally and advocate to the Deaf community and Deaf education. I've been signing since I took my first ASL course in 1990 and am even a nationally certified sign language interpreter. I strongly believe in bilingual ASL/English education and am an opponent of simultaneous communication - aka Sim-Com (talking and signing at the same time). When I taught in a Deaf classroom it was very clear to my students: one either signs or speaks, but not both. I empowered my students to make their own communication choices. If they chose to speak in a group setting, then either I would sign the message to the other students or ask the student to then restate it in ASL for equal access to classmates. I've read countless studies about the ill effects of using Sim-Com and preach against it to whomever will listen. I know how despicable it is to communicate to a hearing person in spoken English if a Deaf person is present.


Why is it that in the last few years, after leaving the classroom to become an itinerant teacher, I find myself occasionally Sim-Comming around Deaf children and adults? Why is it if I engage in a conversation with a hearing person who knows ASL with a Deaf person present, we somehow end up talking while signing? It's not consciously intentional - we just slip into it.

I have never considered myself an Audist, but after reflection, I as a hearing person, regardless of what I know is right in every fiber of my being, do have audist tendencies.

Audism was coined by Tom Humphries in his 1977 dissertation: "The notion that one is superior based on one’s ability to hear or behave in the manner of one who hears." In essence, it is discrimination against people who are Deaf and hard of hearing. It can also be connected to linguicism - that one language is superior to another.

By using Sim-Com in front of a Deaf person, one is discriminating against that person by insinuating that ASL alone is not a language of equal value to English. It also does not take into account the thoughts and feelings of the Deaf person who is excluded in the conversations simply because the hearing people choose to Sim-Com, or to solely speak.

Why in the world would I do this???? It’s easy to say that I just follow what the other hearing person does, but sometimes it’s me who starts it. Regardless, I know it has to stop!

A few weeks ago after hitting myself in the head a few times, I came to the realization that I indeed have been portraying audist behavior. I made a decision to do whatever I can to stop myself from continuing this blatant discrimination. I attended a Christmas party at the Deaf classroom where I used to teach. I appreciate that the new teacher and staff continue to include me in their parties and secret Santa exchanges. Before I entered the classroom, I made a promise to myself that I would only use ASL the entire time I was there. I knew the Deaf students and the Deaf teacher assistant would be there, and I wanted to be sure I respected them the entire time I was there.

A few days later, I messaged the Deaf assistant and apologized to her for all the times I have visited the classroom and Sim-Commed or spoke to the teacher in her and the students' presence. I told her about my reflection and resolution to go back to doing what I know is right.

Sim-Com has been ingrained in the Deaf education system for decades. Despite all the research demonstrating how it negatively impacts the education of Deaf and hard of hearing children, it refuses to go away. There are protests and movements happening right now across the U.S. advocating for change in how Deaf children are educated, included how they are taught communicatively.

I must make clear, I am not an opponent of Deaf and hard of hearing children learning to speak. If they have the capability, they should be given the opportunity. I teach several students who speak. What I am saying is by combining and using 2 languages at the same time results in incomplete messages in both languages and ultimately hurts the development of these children.

I am taking a stance to never again Sim-Com. If I slip, please call me out on it.

Will you join me?

UPDATE - 1/11/16

I recently posted this on FaceBook and wanted to include it here.

Thank you to everyone who has read and/or shared by recent blog post "Am I an Audist?" I wrote this as a way to openly self-reflect on the practices I have been using and my vow to change. I hoped it would make people think and maybe spark some discussion. I had no intentions of almost 1,000 people reading it and it being shared widely. People have been candid to comment on the post itself, on FaceBook and on Twitter. I appreciate everyone for their thoughts. It's important to note that deaf and hard of hearing adults and children communicate in a variety of ways; some even choose to Sim-Com themselves. That is their right in which they are empowered to do so. I would never tell an adult or a child he/she must Sim-Com. And there are some adults who want the hearing signer to Sim-Com or at least mouth English. That, again, is their right. I have some hypotheses as to why this is so, but I'll keep that in my mind and not in writing. However, as an educator, for me to Sim-Com to another hearing adult in front of DHH adults and children is, in my opinion, morally wrong, as I stated in my post. The same is true if I communicate directly to DHH children using Sim-Com. It is not fair to them if I give them 2 incomplete languages at the same time. How can we expect DHH children to develop fluency in either language if we do not model to them true language form in either ASL or English? Finally, I want to applaud every parent who is learning to sign for their signing deaf children. It is not easy to learn a second language as an adult, and having to learn it for the sake of their child puts more urgency on the matter. These parents are doing what they know is best - providing language to their children. As they are learning, if they Sim-Com, that's OK in my book. They deserve to be excused from any criticism surrounding Sim-Com. They are doing their best for their children and are more often than not, learning as their children learn. Praise them for their efforts, never condone them for talking while signing. We just need more parents signing to their kids!

Thank you!

Monday, November 16, 2015

Thanksgiving Memories

Family gatherings are an integral part of our lives. The connections we have with our families are what make us thrive. They make us who we are. The relationships we build are paramount to every fiber of our being.  
Now, imagine attending family functions and not being able to hear your Uncle Bob talking about all the fish he caught the day before or your grandmother telling you how proud she is that you made the academic team. This is the life of many deaf children; they are part of families, but because almost 90% of deaf children are born to hearing parents, they are born into silence and isolation. Some parents learn sign language to communicate with their children, but not all do. This can make for lonely family gatherings.

Several years ago, while working at an elementary program that served deaf and hard of hearing students from multiple school districts, the students and I decided to write and perform a Thanksgiving play. We adapted the book A Turkey For Thanksgiving, by Eve Bunting, by adding in Deaf characters and elements of Deaf culture to create A Deaf Turkey For Thanksgiving.

To add to the excitement of performing a play in front of the school and the children's families, we decided to host a Deaf Thanksgiving feast. I secretly wanted my students to experience a language filled Thanksgiving family experience. Each child's family volunteered to bring a dish, and the teachers provided the turkey and ham. The amazing cafeteria workers graciously cooked the meats for us in between serving lunch to hundreds of children. The preschool class created placemats with photos of the students and cute hand printed Thanksgiving decorations. These would become souvenirs for everyone who attended. My class made the mashed potatoes from scratch. I'm not sure how germ free the final product was, but the students loved contributing to the meal.

        My classroom was transformed into a mini restaurant. Table and chairs occupied the entire floor space in my room as we received over 50 hungry guests. The preschool classroom held the buffet line full of hand cut meats and mouthwatering side dishes. A separate table was covered corner to corner in traditional holiday pies and cakes. We could have never anticipated the graciousness of all the families. Every child had at least three people attend with them. Central Office administration had come to show their support, including the superintendent and a School Board member. Even my husband was there along with my daughter. Sounds of laughter filled the air of families young and old. Parents and children chatted away as teachers and interpreters served as communication bridges when needed.  My classroom was no longer just a place for learning; it was a place for families making lasting memories together.

        The Deaf Thanksgiving play and feast became a tradition for those in the regional program, and we saw an increase in attendance each of the next eight years. We quickly outgrew my cramped classroom and had to take over a corner of the gymnasium to accommodate the 75 plus that attended each year. Not only were parents coming, but they were bringing siblings, aunts, uncles, and grandparents! Even more administrators from Central Office were coming to see what we were doing.

This tradition quickly transformed into a Deaf family reunion. Parents of Deaf children who moved on to middle school and high school checked them out of school early to come to our feast. Even families that had moved across the state came back to reunite with their Deaf family.

At some point new district policies no longer allowed for home cooked dishes to be brought into schools. This didn’t stop us; instead we collected money to order the side dishes from a local restaurant while the teachers and I still provided the turkey and ham.

        Four years ago, I left the regional program for another position in the district. My departure also meant the end of the Deaf Thanksgiving tradition. It took a while, but eventually the Deaf children and their families stopped asking when the next feast would be. However, the bonds that were made as a result of the Deaf Thanksgiving reunion still remain. Once a family is formed, especially one of respect and joy, those bonds can never truly be broken. I still talk to many of the parents of former students, and they still connect with each other. Part of my heart will forever belong to my second family. I am a better teacher because of them.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Spotlight on Deaf Education

The following are portions of an article recently published in the October 2015 edition of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Teacher Advisory Council Newsletter.

I share them here in hopes of continuing the conversations surrounding deaf education reform.

- Heidi

Spotlight on Deaf Education
An interview with Heidi Givens, by fellow TAC member Brooke Perry

Over the past year, I’ve been lucky enough to spend a lot of time connecting with Heidi over our mutual interest in teacher blogging. Heidi teaches students who are deaf or hard of hearing in Daviess County Public Schools, in Kentucky. My relationship with Heidi has opened my eyes to the unique learning needs of the students she works with, along with the importance and scope of her job as an educator—something I believe is worthy of sharing with our peers.” - Brooke Perry

What are the main differences you see in the ways that hearing students and deaf/hard of hearing students learn?

There are assumptions that deaf children are just hearing children who cannot hear. This could not be further from the truth. Deaf children receive and process information differently, and therefore learn differently than hearing children. They have different memory strengths; deaf children have stronger visual-spatial memory and hearing children have stronger sequential memory. These differences are related to how the two groups use their senses to access language and the world around them. Hearing children are bombarded with sound, especially in the classroom, where teachers and students are talking all the time. They process information in the order the words were heard: linearly. Our English language also functions in a linear manner. Deaf children, however, experience the world visually, which af­fects how they learn. With their wider and stronger peripheral visions, deaf children pick up on many small visual details that hearing children miss. They are more sensitive to slight changes in facial expressions or to the positioning of items on different pages in a book. They also process information within a larger context in order to understand how the concepts they’re learn­ing fit in visually with what they already know. It’s like getting information as a picture rather than a stream of words. For ex­ample, if we were to say, “The cup is on the table,” that’s a linear statement. But to draw that sentence, most people would not draw a cup floating there first. You’d draw the table first, and then you would draw the cup on top of the table. That’s how language works for visual-spatial learners. So, using the same teaching framework with deaf students that we use for hearing students just doesn’t work.

What do we need to know about the #DeafEd Twitter chat?

The chat began with a visiting professor and students at the Rochester Institute of Technology. I stumbled upon the chat on Twitter in 2014, and I knew I needed to learn more. The students had come up with questions and made videos to sign them. The level of professionalism and participation was so impressive, but since it was a culminating project for the college students, there wasn’t a plan to continue the chat. I asked the professor, TL (@talilalewis), if I could take over. We held the next #DeafEd chat in mid-April of this year, and it was a hit. Prior to the start of this chat, there really wasn’t a national platform for conversa­tions about deaf education. Our intent is to vary the topics each month and have prominent experts in the field serve as hosts. My hope is to encourage any teacher who is or could be working with deaf or hard of hearing students to participate. The title of the chat on October 1 was, “The Intersection of Education and Language of Deaf Students of Color,” and the November 5 chat, hosted by TL and students, will be about Deaf identity.

What are your hopes for the future of deaf education?

A bill was just introduced in the US Congress—H.R. 3535: The Alice Cogswell and Anne Sullivan Macy Act. It looks at the Indi­viduals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which falls short on students who are deaf, blind, or deaf-blind. The IDEA states that a student who has a disability should have the opportunity to be educated in the least restrictive environment. “Least re­strictive environment” is often interpreted to mean the regular education classroom, but for deaf children, that is often the most restrictive environment. Because of the way people interpret the law, deaf students have to be in the same classroom as hearing students, and often that’s a detriment to the children. A lack of direct access to communication and opportunities to be with similar peers has a harmful effect on many deaf and hard of hearing students. The Alice Cogswell and Anne Sullivan Macy Act aims to ensure that the language needs of deaf and hard of hearing students are made a priority. If the bill passes, you’ll see more deaf children where they’re supposed to be, and that’s in a school for the deaf.