Sunday, November 9, 2014

The Adjectives of ECET2

Curious, anxious, excited, stressed, nervous, overwhelmed, enthused, uplifted, flabbergasted, blown away.

These are some of the words that describe my feelings these past few months.  As I described in my post A Whole New World, since attending Kentucky's first Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teaching and Teachers (ECET2) convening, my world has been thrown upside down and opened up beyond my widest dreams.

A few months after attending ECET2 KY, I was asked to be part of the committee to plan a regional convening.  Those who know me understand that I LOVE to plan conferences; so after experiencing what ECET2 was all about, I eagerly jumped at the chance to help spread the movement into my neck of the woods.  After hours of tireless collaboration with two amazing teachers @ruck1m and @NMcCutchen, the Green River Region ECET2KY was a big success.  Teachers learned about the power of MAGIC from Jack Givens, legendary KY basketball player and my brother in law; discovered from Ali Wright, CTQ Teacherprener, that many countries around the world are providing more time for teachers to plan, collaborate and learn; and realized the importance of teaching and leading with a servant's heart from Owens Saylor, superintendent of Daviess County Public Schools.  Participants experienced powerful breakout sessions surrounding the Common Core, social media, and teacher leadership.  In colleague circles, teachers were able to dive deep into our profession and what it truly means to be a teacher leader.  I was proud of our work and honored to be a part.

Then came the email; I was invited to the 4th annual national ECET2 convening in New Orleans.  Yes!  I made it to the big leagues, being one of 300 teachers from across the country about to be elevated and celebrated Gates Foundation-style!  Friday evening we were led down Bourbon Street by a local high school marching band.  Bystanders were taking photos; beads were flying everywhere.  During the next 2 days, we heard some profound and inspirational stories from extraordinary teachers and leaders. I think I cried during each heart-felt story.  Honest, thought-provoking discussions ensued during our Colleague Circles.  Breakout sessions helped me better discover who I am and how I can go about change in my profession; even the slightest change can make a positive impact!

Words cannot truly express the impact this experience had on me.  I am not a wordsmith and could not possibly share in words what this experience was like.  That is why you need to read this blog post from genius writer Chris Bronke Keep The Flame Burning.

This video will give you a glimpse into ECET2NOLA and the power of teachers!

Because of these experiences, I now count many teachers across KY and the U.S. as dear friends, even though I may only chat with them on Twitter or Voxer.  ECET2 has not only expanded my PLN, it has given me a new family!

Since NOLA, these adjectives now describe me: inspired, challenged, illuminated, motivated, elevated, and celebrated!

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Power of Self Advocacy

I learned a long time ago the wisest thing I can do is be on my own side, be an advocate for myself and others like me.
               - Maya Angelou

Growing up I was taught that I needed to speak up for myself and that if I wanted something I should go after it.  I was always encouraged to speak my mind, to advocate for what I thought was right for myself and for others.  As an adult, I seem to spend the bulk of my waking hours going to bat for my own children or my students.

As educators we know the importance of students advocating for their needs.  We want the student who came to school without their glasses because they broke to ask to sit closer to the board.  We want the student who didn't hear the directions clearly to ask for them to be repeated.  We want the student with a peanut allergy who was mistakenly given trail mix at lunch to return it and ask for an alternative.

According to an information sheet by the Pacer Center, "How You Can Help Your Child Learn to Be a Good Self Advocate", self advocacy means:

taking the responsibility for communicating one’s needs and desires in a
straightforward manner to others. It is a set of skills that includes:
• Speaking up for yourself
• Communicating your strengths, needs and wishes
• Being able to listen to the opinions of others, even when their opinions differ from yours
• Having a sense of self-respect
• Taking responsibility for yourself
• Knowing your rights
• Knowing where to get help or who to go to with a question

For the years that I taught in my own classroom, I instilled these same values of self-advocacy in my students.  For example, when a student wanted to stay after school for a club, he had to ask for an interpreter to be there with him.  When I signed something to the class, but the student was looking the other way, she had to ask for me to repeat it.  When a student decided that she only wanted to talk that day, those students who could not hear had to ask me to interpret it into sign language.  When I forgot to turn on the FM microphone, instead of the student accepting that he couldn't hear me, he had developed the self advocacy skills to speak up and ask me to turn it on.  We would practice these through discussions, role play, and any teachable moment that arose when a student brought up an issue that needed to be solved. 

Since being an itinerant teacher, though, I find that because I am not with my students all day every day, I must directly teach them how to speak up for themselves.  It is imperative that they understand their strengths, needs, and rights in order to be successful in school.   I now include self advocacy goals on IEPs.  Here are a few examples with included objective examples.  The first example is for a younger elementary aged student and the second example for a high school student.

Given information presented orally, student will effectively use her self-advocacy skills to participate in collaborative discussions with peers and adults.
  • When information is presented orally, student will locate the source of the information and face the speaker.
  • When information is presented orally, student will recognize when she missed the information and ask the speaker for repetition or clarification.

Student will use his self advocacy skills to determine his needs for accommodations and modifications on test, assignments, homework, and before and after school events will require him to need the assistance of the teacher, interpreter, and/or paraprofessional aide.
  • Student will identify and explain the appropriate supports and services he requires in different settings.
  • Student will summarize the aspects of certain laws (IDEA, ADA, Rehabilitation Act of 1973) that are applicable to his specific needs as a deaf person.
  • When presented with a before or after school activity, student will determine if he requires a sign language interpreter then will follow school procedures to request an interpreter.
  • When in a cooperative learning setting, student will use his advocacy skills to ensure full participation in the group.

How I Facilitate Self Advocacy
Every year, before the first day of school, I meet with all the teachers working with each of my students.  I provide them a mini training on teaching a child with a hearing loss.  We talk about their particular student's hearing loss, how it impacts his/her listening and communication, how the student communicates (talking, signing or both), and provide tips for working with a child with a hearing loss.  I give them a cheat sheet that includes the pertinent information about the student and his/her IEP including a list of accommodations and supplementary aids and services (SAS) the child receives. 

With the students, I give them several surveys of their likes, dislikes, strengths, needs, what they think helps them or hinders them in school, etc.  We then spend some time talking about what they think helps them be successful in school; what have they figured out they need to be successful.  I teach them about the various laws that pertain to deaf and hard of hearing individuals that affords them rights to accommodations and services.  We create spreadsheets to determine which SAS the student feel would be beneficial in each classroom, according to the teaching style (lecture vs. collaborative work), arrangement of desks, type of technology used, pace of class, etc.  Through scaffolding from modeling to eventual independence, the student learns how to approach a teacher to discuss accommodations and SAS needs for each class.  The grand finally, when I know a student has fully mastered being a self-advocate, is when he/she takes over my role and conducts the mini training with all his/her teachers with minimal support from me.

In this era, students need skills to be successful in school beyond that of academics.  By having the ability to self-advocate, their chances of being college and career ready truly soar.  My job is done when a student tells me they no longer need my help; they can advocate for themselves now.

Here are two resources I use when teaching self advocacy.
The Iowa Expanded Core Curriculum for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing lists self determination and self-advocacy skills that are essential for DHH children to learn.

Supporting Success for Children with Hearing Loss includes several tools to help teachers support their students' self advocacy development.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

New School Year Commitments

Last month I had the honor and privilege of participating in the 2014-2016 Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Teacher Advisory Council convening in Seattle.  During my stay there, I learned about the various educational initiatives of the Gates Foundation whose goal is to make all students college and career ready.  What was continually emphasized was that teachers' voices matter; teachers help the Gates Foundation stay grounded in what they do.  All the master teachers in attendance were valued and held in the highest regard.  It felt like a week-long elevation and celebration of teachers. Simultaneously, our opinions on education reform and advocacy were embraced.  We were brought into the trusted inner circle of the Gates Foundation.  No words can express how that feels.

I absolutely love teaching; there is no better career in the world.  Where else can you find joy in watching a 3 year old deaf-blind child finally understand that the sign you have been trying to teach her means "more" or celebrate with a hard of hearing high school junior, that you have known since he was in the first grade, as he is accepted into the National Honor Society?  Only a teacher can experience these precious moments every day and know he/she has made an impact in a child's life.

As I reflect on my experience at the Gates TAC convening and my love of teaching, I begin to think about what my next steps are as an educator and a leader.  How can I take what I learned from the convening and from my reflections on the book Turning the Tide: Making Life Better for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Schoolchildren to make me a better educator and leader? How do I grow to collaborate with others to ensure that all students who are deaf and hard of hearing have a quality education that makes them college and career ready?  I know that I alone cannot fundamentally change the way we educate these students.  I can, however, commit to do what I can to support and collaborate with teachers, parents, administrators and others as we embrace effective teaching, the Common Core, and college and career readiness.

Dr. Vicki Philips, Director of Education at the Gates Foundation said, "Go bold with innovation."  As I contemplate the upcoming school year, here is how I plan to GO BOLD.
  • I promise to offer more opportunities this year for my students to interact with other DHH peers and adults.  I plan to innovate by arranging social events throughout the year, such as bowling or roller skating.  I will use technology (i.e. FaceTime) to have my students talk to Deaf adults.  I will encourage all my students and their parents to attend Deafestival, Deaf Spelling Bee, Hands Alive, Explore Your Future and other events in our region.
  • I commit to supporting parents as they navigate through the forest of deaf education.  I would love to set up sign classes again so that these parents can learn to communicate with their children.  I hope this can happen.
  • I promise to investigate how to set up a weekend camp for DHH children and their parents as a way to offer support and education to parents and to provide social connections for DHH children.
  • I commit to support my DHH teacher colleagues as we begin the new Teacher Professional Growth and Effectiveness System.  I know I need the support as well.
  • I vow to continue the quest to reduce the isolation of DHH children because of the educational placement decisions made.  I hope through working with key individuals we can educate decision makers that there is legal precedent to having DHH students educated with their DHH peers at a nearby school that is not necessarily their neighborhood school.  Collaboration among teachers and administrators is vital to the education success of DHH students.  
All my professional commitments above cannot possibly happen through me alone.  I am surrounded by dedicated and awesome DHH teachers, interpreters, and assistants who all do what they can for our children.  Only when we collaborate can great things happen!

What are your commitments to your students this year?

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Let's Turn the Tide

At the start of each summer, I browse through Amazon to see what new professional books need to become part of my library.  I just finished reading one such book: Turning the Tide: Making Life Better for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Schoolchildren by two Deaf researchers Gina A. Oliva and Linda Risser (2014).

While reading this book, I felt angry, excited, humbled, overwhelmed, validated, and inspired.  My book is filled with countless page tabs, holding the places of key information and statements made by the authors that I do not want to forget.

Yes, many of the suggestions for educational and social improvement the authors recommend are ones me and many others have been suggesting for years.  Others are new and energizing.  However, what make this book unique and exciting is how the suggestions came about.  You see, this book is actually a qualitative study of the experiences of deaf and hard of hearing adults ages 18-34 who spent at least 5 of their K-12 years "alone in the mainstream".  This means that there were no other DHH students in their classes, school, or even district.  Over 100 Deaf adults shared their mainstream experiences either via focus groups or online surveys.

I have read so many professional journal articles and books talking about the plight of deaf education and what needs to be done to make it better.  In Turning the Tide, however, we hear it straight from the horse's mouth.  We learn firsthand of how it is to be mainstreamed alone.

As a hearing professional, I am fully invested in deaf education reform; I spend many hours of my personal time doing what I can to improve the lives of DHH children.  However, I have never experienced what my students go through daily.  Only after reading this book do I get a glimpse of what life is really like for those "solitaire" students we itinerant teachers serve.

This book is full of personal experiences of the trials and tribulations that these DHH participants experienced as they struggled through their mainstream education.  I cannot possibly do it justice by summarizing it here.  However, I can say that their "saving grace" was the opportunities they had to get their "deaf fix". Whether it was summer camp, weekend programs or special trips, all participants cherished the opportunities they had to be with other DHH children.

Social Capital
I have been preaching and blogging about the social isolation DHH students feel as they are educated at their neighborhood school. Here is what the adults share in the book:

  • Only 25% of the survey participants said they had hearing friends in school, which means a full 75% of the DHH respondents felt they did not have any hearing friends throughout their schooling!
  • Only 12% of the surveyed DHH adults had other deaf and hard of hearing friends while in school, most met at summer camps or other events so that the friends lived out of town or out of state.  88% of these adults went through their schooling without having a DHH friend!  Can you imagine going through most, if not all, of your entire educational career and not having a friend that is just like you?  This also conflicts with IDEA that says students are supposed to have opportunities for direct communication with peers in their primary language.  This includes DHH peers!
Social capital - building friendships and relationships - is crucial to the educational experience of all children.  It is through these relationships that much incidental learning occurs in children.  If a child has minimal social capital, just imagine how much incidental learning they are being deprived of.

"The major different between friendships with deaf peers and friendships with hearing peers were that the deaf student was able to (a) be a full and equal participant; (b) converse with ease; (c) feel respected, accepted, and valued; and (d) feel emotionally safe and supported. (p. 35).

Don't we want all children to have friendships where they feel equal contributors in the friendship, that are not merely superficial due to limited communication, and can feel like they truly belong?  If so, then why do we continue to educate DHH children in isolation?  Why do districts still think it is OK to have the 3 elementary-aged DHH students go to 3 different schools instead of the same school?  Why is going to the neighborhood school still more important than the psychological well-being of DHH children?  There is legal precedent that allows DHH children to be "clustered" in one school.  We just need to let administrators know that it is OK to do so.

Pooling Resources
 Ever since the passage of IDEA an ever increasing number of DHH students are being served closer to their families in their neighborhood school, whether or not this is the most appropriate placement for them.  There was a time when the Kentucky School for the Deaf had over 400 students.  Today there is a little over 100.  What this means is there is a significant need for more DHH teachers and interpreters throughout the state to serve all these students being educated in their neighborhood schools.  Kentucky only has one teacher preparation program that graduates a handful of DHH teachers each year.  It also has only two interpreter training programs whose graduates may choose to enter PreK-12 interpreting, adult education or community interpreting.  Therefore with the current system, there is a high demand for teachers and interpreters, yet there is not enough supply to meet the demand.

Oliver and Risser share a study conducted by Carol Schwietzer of Wisconsin which studied itinerant teachers (pgs 109-111).  She found that:

  • 70% (1,500 out of 2,200) DHH students in Wisconsin were being served by itinerant teachers.
  • 1,000 of these students were alone in the mainstream

After calculating for travel time and actual service time, it was determined that the students were not being served well in the itinerant model.  Some itinerant teachers were spending up to 50% of their work day traveling!  (I wonder if this has been done in Kentucky.)  The stakeholders were then brought together to find a solution - creating cluster programs throughout the various geographical areas of the state.  By creating these programs, resources were pooled together to ensure that there were sufficient and quality DHH program team members, including DHH teachers, interpreters, SLPs, and assistants.  They were better able to support the families and the students' academic and social needs.  They had participation and support from special education directors from the very beginning.

The clusterization of DHH students is not a new phenomenon in the U.S.  Several states have gone this route.  Educators and other professionals working with DHH students realize that in order to truly provide a continuum of services options for all DHH students, to provide them with social capital, and to allow them for direct communication and instruction in their natural language (not through an interpreter), creating clusters/regional programs in conjunction with the school for the deaf is the best way to ensure all DHH students are afforded a high quality education in their primary language so they can be college and career ready.

If you care about the education of students who are deaf and hard of hearing, then you must read and fully digest this book.  Only then will you truly understand what we are doing to these students by educating them "alone in the mainstream".

It is time for Kentucky and other states to strengthen their schools for the deaf and create regional centers so that DHH children are no longer isolated and that they can finally receive high quality education!

In my next blog I will share what I promise to do to improve the education of my students.  What will you do?

Monday, July 7, 2014

A Whole New World

In the past sixth months, my world as an educator has widened like the Grand Canyon.  I believe I am very knowledgeable in the field of deaf education and try to keep abreast of the latest research and effective educational practices.  I do what I can to serve my profession well and to be a voice and leader to the key people in the field: parents, students, teachers, interpreters, and others.  However, my field of vision has been very narrow.  Little did I know about the vast Teacher Leader Movement happening around the U.S.  That all changed this past January.  Yes, I got a taste of this movement while serving as the KY Elementary Teacher of the Year, but I had no idea the depth and breath that Teacher Voice was taking hold all around me.

In January, right before being invited to attend ECET2 (I wrote about attending this convening in "Don't Be Isolated"), I stumbled upon the website for CTQ (Center For Teaching Quality).  This website brings teacher leaders together from throughout the U.S. to engage in dialogue on various educational issues.  I have joined their CTQ-KY Collaboratory and have lurked and participated in some bold and innovative discussions.

While at ECET2, I learned about Hope Street Group and the Prichard Committee, two organizations promoting transformative educational policy with teachers' voices at the forefront.

I also learned how teachers are using Twitter to expand their PLN. Since January my PLN has expanded exponentially.  I am connected to almost 100 teachers and teaching organizations around the U.S on a daily basis.

  • I follow links to blog posts from many teachers on various topics.  
  • I follow links to education articles that my PLN has shared.  
  • I read Op-Ed pieces that teachers have written as a way to elevate their voice.  
  • I keep abreast of happenings at the Department of Education and the various organizations I follow (both deaf ed and non-deaf ed).
  • I learn about new Apps and other technology that I am eager to try with my students this fall.  
  • I hear about educational books about teacher leadership, differentiated instruction, UDL, and numerous other topics 
  • I live vicariously through teachers as they attend conferences.  For example, I was not able to attend this year Let's TALK conference but was able to follow along on Twitter as teachers shared photos, quotes, and other take-aways from the conference.  
  • I occasionally attend Twitter chats on Thursdays by following #kyedchat.  Leaders create a topic and pose questions for participants to answer.  There are a multitude of education-focused twitter chats happening weekly.
The list goes on and on.  Twitter has become my instant professional development.

My eye opening experiences don't end there.  Two weeks ago I had the honor of traveling to Seattle as a new member of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Teacher Advisory Council.  There I learned the true meaning of Teacher Voice and Teacher Leadership.  I learned how to be a stronger advocate for educational reform.  I discovered that there are teachers everywhere with innovative ideas, doing what they can for the sake of all students.  I left with an indescribable feeling: to feel valued and respected enough to be entrusted with the innovative initiatives of an incredible philanthropic organization that keeps itself grounded by Teacher Voice.  I hope to write more about this experience in a future post.

I recently discovered that there is a new movement called Teacher Powered Schools.  "[T]eacher teams have secured authority to design and run their own schools. They make the decisions on aspects of school such as curriculum, budget, selecting personnel, and more. In addition to full schools, teachers can run a department within a school or a program that spans several schools."  What an incredible concept.  Can you imagine what would happen if teachers of the deaf and hard-of-hearing at a school for the deaf or in a region of a state were able to do this?  They are the experts and true leaders in the field of deaf education.  Maybe then all DHH children will become college and career ready.

Needless to say, teachers should no longer be teaching and learning in a silo.  There are countless avenues for teachers to collaborate, innovate, and celebrate.  If I kept my blinders on and never clicked on the FaceBook post about CTQ that appeared in my News Feed last January,  I would have never discovered this vast world of Teacher Voice and TeacherLleadership that is running rampant all around me.

Join me in expanding my PLN by signing up for Twitter and following me @heidigasl.  I hope to one day have enough DHH teachers in KY and around the U.S. as part of my PLN to start our own Twitter chat.  It takes a Village! 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Need to Appreciate Each Other

Teacher Appreciation Week occurred recently.  This is the time of year when children give their teachers hand-made cards, parents chip in to buy gifts from the class, special treats are provided by the PTO.  I enjoy being treated like royalty for this one week each year (some years more than others).

This week is also a time where messages on FaceBook, Tweets on Twitter, Op-Ed pieces in on-line news bombard social media to ensure the public knows just how much we teachers do everyday.

As the school year winds down, I start to reflect on the past 2 years of my career.  So much has happened to me that I need to take the time to give appreciation to those educators, administrators, family and friends important to me.

First, I appreciate my husband and children more than words can say.  Without their support, I could not spend countless hours of my personal time continuing my professional growth and doing what I can to improve my field.

I appreciate Robin Bush, my Director of Special Education, who asked me two years ago to become an itinerant teacher after being in the classroom setting for numerous years.  She gave me the opportunity and the time to spread my wings as a Teacher Leader, encouraging me and supporting me along the way.

I appreciate Crystal Corum, the DHH teacher who took over my classroom.  I am so impressed with her quality teaching that she looks like a veteran teacher and not one with only a few years under her belt.  I have never worried about leaving the students in her hands.

I appreciate Denise Gross and Lisa Howe, the two people who were my rocks in my classroom.  They kept me balanced and in line.  No matter how controlling or frantic I was, they were always there for me. I would have never been able to be a successful teacher without them beside me.

I appreciate Carrie Wedding, an amazing special education teacher, who allowed me to take over her classroom and co-teach with for my KY ToY observation.  She and I have always clicked when it comes to educating students that we always gel when we are together.

I appreciate Ashland Oil and the judges for the Kentucky Teacher of the Year.  Being a special educator and winning an award that is normally won by a general education teacher still brings tears to my eyes.  I truly appreciate the judges for selecting me from a field of amazing teachers.

I appreciate my entire DHH cadre.  We fluidly work as a team to develop learning activities and special events for our students.  Their dedication to our profession is second to none.

I appreciate some special people at KDE - Johnny Collett, Todd Davis, and especially Amanda Ellis - for being open to exploring what is best for students who are deaf/HH and the teachers that serve them.  These three individuals have servant hearts and truly care about doing whatever it takes to make ALL students college and career ready.  I envision a time when ALL DHH students in Kentucky will receive the best education possible!

I appreciate the entire Board of the Kentucky Educators for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.  These dedicated individuals give up their personal time in order to coordinate PD for teachers, promote quality education for DHH students, and listen to the needs of the teachers in their region.  We may still be only a few years old, but KYEDHH has the momentum to become a powerhouse.

I appreciate Christy Delk, Joann Ernst, Tony Peavler, and Elizabeth Ward for being rock stars.  The four of them and I are developing an e-guide of TPGES specifically for teachers of the deaf/HH.  By the time we are finished, we will have volunteered at least 100 hours to provide this support that is needed as we begin to implement TPGES in the fall.

Finally, I appreciate the mysterious person(s) who saw something special in me to recommend me for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Teacher Advisory Council.  I am thrilled to start my journey with the TAC, and I hope one day I will learn who this person is and can thank them personally!

As you finish out your school year, take time to thank those in your life that make it possible to be the amazing teacher that you are!

Saturday, May 17, 2014

How to Find the Time to be a Teacher Leader and Still Teach

"Teaching is not a job; it's a lifestyle."  This is one of my guiding principles, as it is for many other educators.  This is especially true for those who are Teacher Leaders.  I always have my hands in so many projects outside of my full-time career that it sometimes becomes overwhelming.  When one project is finished, two or three more are patiently waiting for me.

As of the writing of this post, I am current president of the Kentucky Educators for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, where we are working on our upcoming annual summer conference; a member of the Kentucky Education Commissioner's Teacher Advisory Council; leading a group of itinerant teachers of the deaf and hard of hearing in the creation of an e-guide on how the new TPGES system connects to DHH teachers; and was recently selected as a member of the 2014 - 2016 Gates Foundation Teacher Advisory Council.  This doesn't even include all the mini-projects that I continuously have on my plate, such as advocating for the needs of our DHH students.  AND, I still have 10 students preschool through high school in 8 different schools on my caseload.  We still have 2 more weeks of school left.

The question that I face again and again is how in the world I can possibly do all that I do AND have time to teach and have a family.  It is a good question; I wish I knew the answer.

What I do know is that with the Teacher Leadership Movement happening across the state and the creation of hybrid teaching roles where teachers spend part of their day educating students and the other part acting as a leader, there has to be a way to create such a hybrid role for someone like me.

Most DHH teachers are the only teacher in the entire district serving all the DHH students.  How could a hybrid role exist for such a person?  Who will educate the rest of the students on the caseload while the DHH teacher is acting in a leadership role?  In my district there is another DHH teacher, but she has a full caseload in a self-contained classroom.  If I spend 2-3 hours per day teaching half of my students (I see each individually at their home school), will another DHH teacher need to be hired to teach the other half while I am serving as a Teacher Leader?  What will that person do the rest of the school day? I would be even happy to serve in hybrid capacity for 5 hours per week, dedicating this time solely to DHH Teacher Leader projects.

I am sure this is the same a question that other Teacher Leaders who are in similar specialized fields have.  How can an art teacher who is solely responsible for traveling to each elementary school in the district become a Teacher Leader in a hybrid position?  How can the sole Biology teacher at the only high school in a district become one?

As the Teacher Leadership Movement progresses and the desire for hybrid roles increase, let's think about how people like me can have the best of both worlds: continue to educate students in order to stay connected and current in the profession AND have time to work on the multitude of Teacher Leader projects and initiatives that are necessary for student success.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Need to Feel Connected

This article was recently published in the Kentucky School for the Deaf's Statewide Family Support Center Newsletter spring 2014 issue.  It is geared towards parents of children who are deaf or hard of hearing but is applicable to professionals as well.
           In your child's IEP, under the Special Factors section, we are required by law to describe all opportunities that children with hearing loss have to directly communicate with peers and adults in their language or communication mode.  Let's dissect what this actually means.  Direct communication means face to face communication with peers or adults in whatever language the child uses WITHOUT the use of an interpreter or other facilitator.  Peers refer to children with normal hearing AND children with a hearing loss.  Adults refer to any person a child may encounter at school, both hearing AND deaf or hard of hearing.  Therefore, IDEA mandates that students who have a hearing loss be given opportunities throughout the school year to chat with hearing, deaf, and hard of hearing children and adults without the use of an interpreter in whatever communication mode that child uses.  What this means is that a child who is oral must be allowed opportunities to talk verbally with other kids and adults (who have and do not have hearing losses).  A child who signs must have chances to chat in sign with other DHH and hearing children and adults who sign.  IDEA does not, however, define how often this is to happen. 
            Why would IDEA require these direct communication opportunities?  In my opinion, there are two reasons why.  First, in order to be competent communicators, all children - hearing, deaf, and hard of hearing - must have many varied occasions to interact.  Language develops in all children by watching adults converse, by interacting with adults, and by chatting with other children.  IDEA recognizes that DHH children must have these varied opportunities throughout their school day and year in order to become competent language users. 
            I also believe that this IDEA requirement was put into place for the social and emotional well-being of children with hearing loss.  Humans are social creatures; we thrive on the relationships we develop.  Every person seeks out people they relate to, have similar interests with, use the same language as.  This is true for DHH children.  They need to connect with other DHH children.  Have you ever gone to the store and your child sees a person wearing hearing aids and gets excited?  Have you ever been at a restaurant where a deaf couple are there eating and your child can't keep his or her eyes off of them because they are signing like he does?  Children with hearing loss have an innate need to find other children or adults who also have hearing losses.  Their self image flourishes when they know they are not the only person in the world who cannot hear.  This is especially true for those children who may be the only child with a hearing loss in their school or district.
            For many years, teachers across Kentucky have planned events specifically for DHH children as a way for students to connect with similar peers.  Events such as Hands Alive, Regional Spelling Bees, Xtreme Xperience, HEAR US, and Kids Like Me, are a few examples of how teachers and parents are working together to give students chances to develop relationships with other DHH children.  These events have lasting impacts on children, parents and teachers.  Here are their words.
·       A child: "I like going to these events because I don't feel different.  I'm the only kid in my school that wears hearing aids.  I wish there were more."
·       A child enters a DHH event for the first time and turns to his teacher: "There are other kids with hearing aids like me."
·       A teacher: "This event has helped my student be less shy about his hearing loss."
·       A teacher: "Events help the DHH students build their self-esteem and confidence to know there are other people out there like them and therefore they feel better about themselves."
·       A parent after his second experience with his son at a DHH event: "He is young and may not appreciate this, but I saw the older kids looking after him, practicing with each other, and supporting each other.  These events will be a good influence on him."
·       A parent: "When I talk to the deaf high school students and learn about all they are doing, I have much hope for my child."
            Schools spend so much time focusing on academic achievement.  However, we MUST do what we can to focus on the whole child.  Children who are deaf and hard of hearing need us to make sure we do whatever we can to allow their language, self image, and emotional well-being to flourish.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Don't Be Isolated

It has been a very long time since I have written on my blog.  I have been busy being a wife, mother of 4, and teacher.  I have been busy being a student in a Director of Special Education certification program, writing columns for Kentucky Teacher, creating products for TeachersPayTeachers, acting as president for Kentucky Educators for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, and using my voice whenever possible to advocate for high quality education for deaf and hard of hearing students.

A few weeks ago I was invited to attend the Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teaching and Teachers Conference in Lexington, KY.  During this day long event sponsored by The Fund for Transforming Education in Kentucky, I learned what it truly means to be a Teacher Leader. 

Session leaders and facilitators were from the Hope Street Group, Center for Teaching Quality, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. 

Irvin Scott, Deputy Director at the Gates Foundation, had all of us on our feet singing, "I've got a feelin'...that we're making a difference in kids' lives." 

You can read these blog posts to learn more about what happened at the conference.

The most important lesson I learned from the conference was that isolation is the enemy of effective teaching.  This rang true to me because teachers of the deaf and hard of hearing frequently feel isolated.  Most are the only DHH teacher in their entire school district and may not have a colleague in a neighboring district.  I am fortunate to work in a district where there are two other DHH teachers with whom I can communicate and collaborate.

DHH teachers are overcoming their isolation by attending DHH cadre meetings across KY, becoming members of KYEDHH and serving on the Board, going to any PD available related to educating DHH children, and using technology to connect.

This is not enough, though.  What else can be done so that DHH teachers have a readily available PLN of other DHH teachers in KY and elsewhere?

When DHH teachers have the opportunity to collaborate, to communicate, to network, they have the ability to provide higher quality education to students who are deaf and hard of hearing. 

When DHH teachers reach out and look for support and engage other DHH teachers in solutions-based discussions, they are then better able to make decisions guided by student outcomes than what is easiest for the teachers.

When DHH teachers look to other DHH teachers to be virtual or onsite peer observers, they are more able to focus on relevant professional growth and learning.

DHH teachers, don't be satisfied with your daily routine and isolation.  Reach out and collaborate.  Find your leader voice and connect for the betterment of all our students.  Join me in giving DHH teachers and DHH children a voice; become a teacher leader!

Here is one final blog that explains what being a teacher leader truly means.