Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Am I an Audist?

Here is an ASL version of this post on YouTube:

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.

Monday, August 17, 2015

When Plain Video is Not Enough: How Educational Videos Fail Teachers of the DHH and their Students

The below post was originally published on the Redesign Challenge website July 9, 2015 and can be found here.

Where are the Professional Learning Videos for Teachers of DHH Students?

Use of video for professional learning is commonplace among teachers everywhere. With the focus on personalized learning, teachers are utilizing various websites and other media to find exactly what they need to grow professionally. However, as a teacher of students who are deaf and hard of hearing (DHH), I often struggle to find videos that meet my needs. Sure, there are archived webinars or recordings of conference presentations specific for teachers of the DHH that appear sporadically online. However, if I wanted to learn how to teach DHH students to analyze an author’s point of view, I would be hard pressed to find a video. I do not have a one-stop shop of videos as my go-to for professional learning.

The root of the problem is not that professional learning video providers are intentionally ignoring the needs of educators of this unique population. I would argue that it is not possible for them to ignore what they do not know. The fact is my students learn differently from students who can hear. For example, DHH children have stronger visual-spatial memories than hearing students (who tend to have stronger sequential memories). Therefore, I cannot just use strategies and curriculum for hearing students and present them in American Sign Language (ASL). Also, content teachers who learn ASL but teach the same way to DHH students as they do to hearing students, without pedagogical knowledge of DHH learning, may not achieve the desired results. A perfect example of this difference is when we look at prepositional phrases. In English, we would say “The cup is on the table.” The words must fall in this sequence in order to be grammatically correct and make sense. However, now think about how you would draw this sentence; you would first draw the table then the cup on the table. You would not have the cup floating in space then a table magically appearing. This is parallel to how this sentence would be signed in ASL; you establish the presence of the table, then place the cup on the table. Without knowing the distinction between prepositional phrases in both languages, teachers would not be using the appropriate strategies needed for DHH students to fully comprehend the concept in either language. This is a problem, and it is insidious because we cannot address it if we do not know a problem exists. The average person is not aware of these specific learning needs of DHH students. Consequently, it is imperative that teachers of DHH students take the lead in educating the public and advocating for their students. The Redesign Challenge has presented me the opportunity to do just that.

It’s Not Just About Teachers of DHH Students- The Problem is Universal.

Across the U.S. approximately 80% of all DHH students are educated in public school settings, spending at least part of their time in regular education classrooms surrounded by a sea of students and teachers who can hear. These teachers are not fully equipped to properly educate DHH students; they don’t understand that merely wearing a microphone does not provide the student with equal access to instructional content. DHH students learn differently! Even more troubling is that regular education teachers typically have little to no training in strategies that work for their DHH students. They may not even be aware that their best instructional moves are ineffective, at best, for DHH students.

Clearly, there is a great need to provide support to classroom teachers so that they have the necessary tools and skills to best meet the needs of DHH students academically and socially. I have spent countless hours searching for resources to help myself. I cannot imagine how difficult it is for teachers who are not trained in educating this population to develop the competencies in working with them. Therefore, there must be an avenue for them to learn how to effectively teach DHH students; videos that can demonstrate the strategies needed to effectively transform their teaching methods to reach all children, not just those who can hear. Additionally, DHH teachers in resource or classroom settings should also have equal opportunity to high quality videos so they too can hone their craft.

DHH teachers are not alone. This problem extends well beyond DHH contexts. There are teachers of other disability areas, related arts, world languages, early childhood, etc. that just don’t have video resources like those available to ELA and math K-12.

There is a huge push for increased professional learning videos in this country so that ALL educators are better equipped to teach today’s students. Teachers, regardless of the setting, must be provided the same opportunity and resources to learn how to best educate their students. The problem is now clear so where do we go from here?  How can the Redesign Challenge address this issue?

When I think about the lack of video resources for my own professional learning, it makes me wonder about the access to instructional content videos for my DHH students. There is a plethora of videos for students on a variety of subjects; however there again is a lack of similar resources for DHH students. Are video developers not targeting these students, or do they just not know that they should develop videos differently for them?

Video Captions Do Not Equal Access for DHH Students.

In today’s digital age, there are countless resources that focus on enhancing student learning. Classrooms around the country are transforming themselves into blended learning environments.  Teachers are creating their own videos or using ones from such places as Khan Academy or Crash Course. Students from the largest cities or the smallest rural towns can equally access all of these videos, via computers, laptops, tablets, or even smartphones.

As a teacher of DHH students, I look at all these amazing advancements in education and think to myself, “What about my students who can’t hear what is being said in these videos? How can my students who communicate in ASL and are learning English as a second language have equal access to the high quality videos that all other children can access?”

To truly personalize the blended learning environment for DHH students, there needs to be instructional content videos presented in ASL readily available for ANY teacher of DHH students to use in their classroom. These videos must be produced in a way that capitalizes on how DHH students learn best. Remember, experts in deaf education know that DHH children have stronger visual-spatial memories than hearing students (who tend to have stronger sequential memories). Using the same curriculum and strategies designed for students who can hear with DHH students may not have the desired results. Plus, closed captioning is not enough since many DHH students are not reading fluently at the speaker’s rate and do not have enough academic English vernacular to fully comprehend closed captioned messages. An entire video library would have to be created that illustrates the desired content in a way in which DHH children’s brains process information.

Having such videos could benefit ALL students in unforeseen ways:
  • Since many DHH classrooms include students from multiple grade and ability levels, the videos would allow for more individualized learning
  • Using instructional videos that are presented by fluent ASL users from around the U.S. will increase the amount of language models to which students have access
  • In regular education classrooms, DHH students can freely collaborate quickly and easily with their hearing peers, on the same video project, by EVERYONE adding closed captioning and voice-overs to each ASL video
  • Hearing peers will have opportunities to learn ASL from the videos and the DHH students to increase their English skills from viewing the captions. This could have positive outcomes of reduced social isolation of the DHH students in mainstream settings.
  • DHH students can view these at home while doing their homework for relearning of content or enrichment.
  • Parents of DHH children can use the videos as a tool to better learn how to communicate with their children
I have no doubt that teachers of world languages, early childhood, other disability areas are in the same conundrum as me. They could easily craft a similar proposal of instructional content videos for their population of students or specialty area.

The parallel problems shared by students and teachers are alarming. With the abundance of online resources available to today’s teachers, there has to be a way to make 21st century learning more available to students who find themselves “in the margins” of the mainstream public school setting. Have you found a solution in your school? If you have any ideas of how to do so, I would love to hear them.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Learning About Teachers' Voices Through Blogging

Teachers are sharing strategies with their school professional learning communities.
Teachers are sitting at the table with principals to create new ideas to improve the school.
Teachers are speaking at school board meetings to address district-wide concerns.
Teachers are attending legislative sessions to ensure teacher voice is present in decision making.
Teachers are using blogs to reflect and share their thoughts on the state of education today.

Teachers tend to believe that no one listens to them, that only parents have the power to make change. They may feel that way, but teacher voice is EVERYWHERE!!!

Blogging is an avenue that many teachers are using to record their reflections, thoughts, feelings, and voice, whether privately or publicly. Some teachers want to share new strategies they have tried in their classroom or their thoughts on a book they just read or a video they just watched. Teachers commonly maintain a blog site as a form of communication with their students and parents. Some blog as a way to bring awareness to public policy. There is really no limit to the reasons why teachers blog. I have been blogging for a few years now but only became more active this past year. I write when I feel inspired or something drives me to write, and I've been inspired and driven a lot this year.

Chris Bronke, an amazing teacher leader from Chicago, recently wrote this post about blogging. I encourage you to read it to understand "why the educational narrative needs more teacher writers".

As I continue my journey of professional growth, I find myself reading blogs about different topics that are expanding my horizons beyond deaf education. However, to best serve my students I do need to learn about the latest research, strategies, curriculum etc for teaching DHH students. I like to see other teachers reflect on their teaching by reading other DHH teacher blogs. It gives me other perspectives on the state of deaf education beyond my own.

Since the August #DeafEd Twitter chat is focusing on professional learning, I wanted to create a list of the different DHH teacher blogs out there. I found several through Google and through solicitation via social media, some of which I read. I encourage all DHH teachers to read each other's blogs, reflect on what they have to say then make comments. Bloggers appreciate feedback and continued discussion on what was written; I know I do.

Let's see if we can make a concerted effort to increase our own professional learning by learning from each other through blogs!

This is just a short list of which I hope will expand. If you have a blog or know of any, please leave it in the comment section below and I will add it to this list! Here is the list, in alphabetical order.!teaching-our-way/c1idx - new

If you don't blog but wish to begin, I encourage you to reach out to the National Blogging Collaborative, that Chris Bronke co-founded and discusses in his blog. This amazing group of teacher leaders from around the U.S. will help you every step of the way!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Soaring High: My ECET2 Seattle Experience

Soaring high!

Physically, that is where I am as I write this: 30,000 feet in the air.

Emotionally, that is how I feel after leaving Seattle.

You see, I just experienced another mind blowing Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teaching and Teachers convening, or ECET2 as we like to call it. It is described as a convening instead of a conference because it is like no other professional learning experience you have ever had.

I've previously blogged about my ECET2 experiences in New Orleans and in Kentucky; however this time I am soaring higher than I ever have before. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation attempts to raise the bar each time they plan an ECET2, and this one was no exception. There were surprises everywhere. The Seattle All-Star marching band performed for us. We had a reception at the Seattle Aquarium that was reserved just for us; those otters and harbor seals were so cute! MELINDA GATES spent one hour talking to us not only about the foundation's work but about herself, her family, and her values. We were given t-shirts and booklets. We had the opportunity to share #WhyITeach at a photo booth. We were inspired by the power of teacher stories by listening to keynote presentations. We learned how to elevate our voice and improve our practice through various breakout sessions. We addressed and developed solutions to issues through Colleagues Circles and Problems of Practice. A special SHOUTOUT to the fabulous new members of my PLN from Table 47!!!

I was fortunate to participate in a post ECET2 session on social media learning how to increase our presence. I received many ideas on how I can strengthen the #DeafEd Twitter chat and to increase the traffic to my blog. I received so many suggestions on how to use visual storytelling to advocate for my students. These ideas are running around in my mind, just waiting for me to get started.

Yes, this ECET2 was the best I have ever experienced, but it was not only because of everything I listed above. There was a special teacher who was given the chance to tell her story and the story of a people. Lauren Maucere (@LaurenMaucere), a teacher from Los Angeles, stood on stage and told the story of the Deaf. As a Deaf woman, she shared the history of the oppression of Deaf people in education to 450 attendees. She shared the struggle that Deaf children face as they navigate school. She told about the case of Jose Garcia who was denied an appropriate education for 14 years; that didn't happened decades ago, the ruling was handed down last week! Lauren shared how her students have the right to learn about Shakespeare just as all students do; however, they just have to access it differently. She let every teacher in the audience know Deaf can and will!

As I watched Lauren give her keynote, I kept thinking "YES! YES! She is sharing the story of my students. She is giving a first hand account of everything I write about and for which I advocate!" Teachers and Foundation staff that I know and respect experienced first hand what I ramble on about whenever I get the chance.

I knew ahead of time that Lauren would be a keynote presenter, and I reached out to her before the convening to introduce myself. We spent time getting to know each other Friday evening and instantly connected. The entire 3 days I wanted to spend as much time with her as I could; we were kindred spirits; she was my new west coast sister! I am excited about our new found friendship and where it will lead. Who knows, you may see us present together at a future ECET2 or even co-write a book!

As you can tell, this ECET2 experience meant so much more to me on so many levels. There was FINALLY someone there speaking my teacher language, someone who teaches in the same field as I do. Someone who cares as much as (or even more) than I do about Deaf and Hard of Hearing children. Connections are a key ingredient to ECET2, and I have made many in my ECET2 experiences. However, I made the most powerful connection to date with Lauren!

If you want to view the keynote address by Lauren Maucere, you can view it here!

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Why should I care about songs being signed?

This morning I went on a rant on Face Book after seeing yet another video of someone signing a song in ASL go viral and get lots of media attention. Here is what I wrote:

"I need to get on my soap box again and rant about the latest signed "interpretation" of a song by Eminem. I sure wish there was a dislike button or app or something for every time I see yet another video of a hearing person signing a song that is spread like wild fire on social media. To some, it is cool to the eye; however I see it as a mockery to the language when there are countless conceptual and grammatical errors, when the singer/songwriter's intent of the message is left out, when attempts to visually represent the beat of the music make it painful to watch. For those who enjoy watching music in ASL, why are you not making music videos by D-PAN, Sean Forbes, Rosa Lee and others go viral? Theirs are true artistry. Theirs are worthy of the awe and fascination. They take the time to analyze every line of a song to ensure the most accurate interpretation possible. We cannot support those individuals who gain fame based on the hearing community's ignorance of what is true artistry. If you are reading this, please think twice before spreading these videos. SUPPORT DEAF ARTISTS!"

Soon after, I received a private message from someone asking me why I care; why is it a big deal if people make videos of songs being signed and it gets shared? People like to watch songs in ASL.

Why should I care? Good question. I care because I have the utmost respect for the Deaf community, Deaf culture, and American Sign Language. I care because in order to be the best educator of Deaf children that I can, I must have this respect and live it daily in everything I do and say. I am privileged to be an educator of the Deaf community of the future and do whatever I can to be an ally to them.

Why am I so passionate? You see, I might have gone to college to be an educator of Deaf children, but I was raised by the Deaf community. No, I did not have any family members who were Deaf. I didn't have Deaf friends in my childhood. What I mean is that from the moment I took my first ASL class in 1990 at Boston University, my rearing began. It was through these classes that I decided to switch majors and become a Deaf ed teacher. Read about this transformation here. These children and my first ASL teacher started me on my path to who I am today.

I was fortunate as I made my way through college in Boston and into my first few years of teaching at The Learning Center to be surrounded by powerful Deaf leaders. These leaders took me under their wings and raised me in "Deaf Power" that I eagerly instill in my students still today. Being immersed in Deaf life while in graduate school surrounded by Deaf teens and Deaf adult role models provided me with the mindset of ally and supporter of Deaf rights. My Deaf parents included professors and colleagues: Ben Bahan, Janis Cole, Jimmy Challis, Marie Jean Philip, Joe Murray, Cindy Palella (Perry) and May-Lin Eu. 

My Deaf ally upbringing continued as I moved to Florida. My new parents included Clayton Valli, Lisette Wood (Molina), Vivian Diaz, Jennifer Alon, and Kim Cunningham. Even though I am almost 44 years old, I am still being raised by Deaf adults who are constantly molding me into the best me I can be. In Kentucky I lean on Wilton McMillan, Meena Mann, Lisa Howe, Nina Coyer, Anita Dowd, and Laura Herman (though she did move).

I am a product of all the incredible Deaf individuals who have come into my life and have had a hand in shaping me into the educator and advocate that I am today. So yes, even though I am hearing, it is my responsibility to rant when their language and culture is being disrespected by social media.

You see, change only happens when we are all involved. The Civil Rights Movement wasn't a success because the Black community alone fought for it. Look at videos of the marches. You will see people from all walks of life there marching together. It is our moral duty to be allies, to be advocates, to stand up for what is right.

Every day I am thankful for each Deaf person who set me on the right path as an educator. I am not just a teacher of Deaf children. To be a supporter, ally, advocate, and a leader it is imperative to surround yourself and be raised by Deaf leaders.  

Thank you!

P.S. If I am forgetting a Deaf leader, my apologies. I will add more as they come to mind! :)

Sunday, April 19, 2015

April 19 - What would I do without my iPad?

Today's #AprilBlogADay question asks "Tech in the classroom - How? Why? Should we?"

I may not have a classroom, but I could not do my job as effectively as I do now if it wasn't for technology. My teaching life is on my iPad. 

As an itinerant teacher, I travel to several schools daily serving students from preschool through high school. My role is to work individually with each student on their specific IEP goals. These range from reading, writing, and listening to self advocacy and language development. I have 8 different lesson plans that I have to create each week and 8 different sets of materials I have to manage.

When I first started this position three years ago, I was faced with an organizational nightmare: my trunk was becoming my mobile office. Everything I needed to teach all my students had to fit in my minivan trunk: lesson plans, students' IEPs and monitoring sheets, books, worksheets, paper, pens, tape, glue, crayons, everything. That doesn't even count all my special supplies I needed to maintain and troubleshoot hearing aids and other amplification equipment. Luckily I got some great tips from fellow itinerant teachers in organizing the important supplies I needed.

Then one day I experienced an "AH HA" moment. 

I was given an iPad by my district, but I wasn't using it that much. I realized that I could probably eliminate the bulk of paper lesson plans, attendance sheets, IEP monitoring sheets, flashcards, worksheets etc by using my iPad instead. I started researching Apps that covered my students' IEP goals and couldn't believe that I found Apps that addressed every area that I needed to target. I started creating PowerPoints of my students' vocabulary words, making instructional videos, creating spreadsheets to collect data, modifying another teacher's iPad IEP monitoring sheet...

In a few weeks time I went from lugging a laptop, books, folders, papers and pens into each school to carrying my iPad and a binder. I love technology!

Saturday, April 18, 2015

April 18 - Teaching is in all my cells

Today we celebrated my daughter Jasmine's 7th birthday with a party at the bowling alley. Twenty-five invitations were passed out to all her classmates because the school's policy is if you invite one, you have to invite them all. Otherwise, you have to mail them individually.

These days it is hard to fully prepare for a party because it has become the trend to not RSVP to parties. When did it become acceptable to just show up to a party without notifying the host that you will be attending? Therefore, I had no idea if 5 or 25 of her classmates would show up. It is so hard to decide how many plates, cups, utensils and goodie bags to bring.

Eleven loud, energetic, but FUN 6 and 7 year olds had a fantastic time bowling, eating cake, opening presents and running around playing tag. Anyone who is a parent knows that tending to a bunch of children at a party is an exhausting task! After the guests leave, you muster up your remaining energy to clean and pack up the car.

As I was cleaning up, a woman who was bowling several lanes down approached me. She asked if I was a teacher. Surprised, I said yes and asked her how she knew. She said that she bowls at the alley every weekend and notices that most parents just let all the children run wild. She said that wasn't the case with the children in our party. She noticed that I had all the students line up when giving directions, had them sitting in the seats waiting for their turn to bowl and used hand signals when I needed to get their attention. She even said she saw how I clapped and high fived each child as they took their turn bowling. Somehow she knew that I just had to be a teacher.

At first I thought, was this woman starting at me the entire two hours that she noticed all that? Then I thought, wow, I made a positive impression on her because of the fact that I am a TEACHER!

Teaching does not end when I walk out of the school doors. Teaching is in every fiber of my being. It definitely came in handy today or these kids would have ran all over me! I just love being a teacher!!!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

April 15 - I'm a hoarder

I admit it: I am a hoarder. As a teacher I cringe at the idea of getting rid of something because I might possibly need it in a few years. Who knows the quantity of stuff I have amassed over the past 20 years!

When I was teaching in a K-5 self contained classroom the hoarding was out of control. Anytime a teacher would lay out something she was giving away for free, I snatched it right up because I might be able to use it someday. Since I taught different grades each year, that meant I needed stuff for every grade.

Once I moved into an itinerant position I had to purge. It was AWFUL!!! The teacher replacing me wanted to borrow some of my stuff which I was glad to do. The rest had to find its place in my home somewhere; I don't have a garage. That meant I had to sort through everything and determine what was the most valuable to me if I ever went back into the classroom and what was OK to part with because I could buy a new one. The PAIN!!!

This week I began to realize that my hoarding goes beyond teacher materials. I am updating my curriculum vita in preparation for applying for a new job. As I added in the various activities I have accomplished over the past year, I noticed that my CV was 8 PAGES LONG! You see, it contained every educational related job I have had over the past 20 years, every presentation I ever gave, every publication I've ever written...

I knew I needed to trim it down and hated seeing all my older accomplishments disappear from the pages. I turned to my dear colleagues asking their advice. In one way shape or form, they all encouraged me to cut some out (more than others). I kept asking different people hoping that one person would tell me it was OK to keep everything. NOPE!

So now I am painstakingly eliminating pieces of me from my CV. However, I know it is for the greater good. Who really wants or has time to read EIGHT pages of someone's life?

At the end of the day, I know that if given the opportunity, I will be able to share my pieces of my past with those on the interview committee. They are not gone, just diverted elsewhere.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

April 14 - Why I Teach

Today's #AprilBlogADay topic has us reflecting on why we teach. As I think about this, the first things that come to mind are everything I exclude as reasons.

NOT reasons why I teach:

To teach a specific subject
To give students tests
To stand in front of a classroom and lecture
To force children to read, write, or do math
To frustrate students beyond belief
To "skill and drill"

Now for the REAL reasons why I teach

To see a smile on a child's face
To watch productive struggles
To make connections that will last a life time
To help students access the world around them
To be a bridge between child and families, and children and the world
To inspire others
To help students see their strengths
To model my love for learning
To be present

I am sure I could come back to this post periodically and continue to add to each group.

Teaching is not about imparting knowledge onto students. It is about building relationships and providing skills students need to learn!

Monday, April 13, 2015

April 13 - Telling vs Figuring It Out

Today was the first day back from Spring Break. I love this time of year as an itinerant teacher. I can enjoy the warm weather as I walk to and from my car while traveling to the different schools around the district. I can take students outside to sit on a bench and teach. The winter woes are disappearing and everyone' spirits are uplifted as the flowers begin to bloom and baby robins make their nests by classroom windows.

This is also the time when testing begins. The state assessment may be several weeks away, but schools are already administering the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test to determine how much students have grown since they took the test in the fall. Many districts have set guidelines for Student Growth Goals (SGG) for teachers to follow that encompass an increase in MAP scores. Because of my unique situation, my SGG is based on an increase in the vocabulary strand of MAP.

Since January when my SGG was set, I have included time each day for direct instruction that focused on the RIT band skills in vocabulary. Much of that instruction focused on providing my students strategies for determining unknown words. As teachers, it is impossible to teach students the thousands of words in English; therefore we must provide students with various strategies to decipher the meaning of new words they come across. Whether it is sounding out the word, determining the part of speech, using context clues, breaking words apart by affixes and root words, or using resources, students must have tricks up their sleeves when they come across a new word.

Today, as I was talking to one of my students about the upcoming MAP test, trying to get him motivated, he says to me, "You were supposed to teach me vocabulary, but you haven't taught me any vocabulary." What a punch in the gut! Then I shared that my goal for the past few months was to teach him what to do when he gets to a word that he doesn't know and that was more important than doing any daily or weekly vocabulary lists. I then rattled off all the strategies I taught him. He was quiet. I then asked him, "Would you rather I tell you everything or you figure things out yourself?" He pondered that for a few seconds then said, "Figure them out myself." YES!

After he started to understand, I pulled out some context clues cards I had ready for him to tackle. Each card included several sentences with one vocabulary word underlined. We have done simpler ones in the past that had multiple choice answers for the meaning of the word, but these had none and I knew all the vocabulary were new to him.

I challenged him to read each sentence, figure out the meaning of the word then defend his answer with proof from the context AND tell me which strategy he used. Low and behold, he answered them correctly one after the other. After a few, I did gloat a bit by sarcastically saying, "Oh sure, I didn't teach you anything!" He cracked a smile then waved his hand at me.

Productive struggle is so important for our students to learn and grown. As educators we cannot stand in front of the class and tell our students. We need to give them the tools they need to learn!


The results are in: the students I targeted for my Student Growth Goal SHATTERED their goals! The goal was for them to increase their vocabulary MAP score by 5 points from winter to spring. They each increased their score by almost 3 TIMES the goal! Their overall MAP reading scores went up just as significantly.

I share this news because, even though this is only one test, it validates the growth that I have observed in these students since beginning the SGG process.  The strategies I have taught, the adjustments to lessons, providing students opportunities to struggle, and the frequent formative assessments I have conducted along the way are instrumental to the achievement of my students.

As educators, we set goals for students all the time. However, in order to achieve these goals we must have intentional focus on them. We must ensure that we are dedicating time addressing the skills, content, and strategies needed to achieve the goals. They should not be mere wall decorations.

Be intentional with every minute you spend with children and the results will speak for themselves.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

April 12 - Passion Project - supporting educators

Today's #AprilBlogADay question asks about my passion project. The problem with that question is that I have already written on that topic on April 5 and April 6. So what else is my passion project?

I love to support educators. Helping others strengthen their craft or elevate their voice is something I greatly enjoy. So many of my side projects and responsibilities are related to supporting educators.

Here are a few:

  • serving on ECET2 steering committees
  • serving as a TPGES peer observer
  • working with other teachers to create documents that connect the Danielson Framework to DHH teachers
  • encouraging other teachers to take on leadership roles in their school or district
Through this I have found that I love supporting ALL educators. I used to focus all my efforts on DHH teachers because that is my area of expertise. However, this past year I have realized that we are all a community of educators wanting to learn and grow from each other. What I have to say might matter to someone who is not a DHH teacher.

This thought came into focus when I became a peer observer. Not only was I partnered with special education teachers, I also had the fortune of working with a regular education elementary teacher. Even though peer observers are not supposed to give suggestions for improvement, after we discussed the evidence I collected, the regular education teacher sincerely wanted me to give her tips on ways to improve her questioning techniques. Me? A Deaf Ed teacher? Yes! I found that I had lots of suggestions for her that she found very useful!

It was through this experience that I realized even further that I enjoy serving all teachers. I look forward to what lies in my future as I look beyond Deaf education to support all educators.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

April 11 - Books I'm Reading

I did it. I stayed off social media. Well, not completely. I did peek a few times, but I resisted all urges to reply, retweet, report, or share. It was so great to just BE with my family!

Because I am dedicated to this challenge, I came home, unpacked, ate dinner and read today's #AprilBlogADay question. Well, actually in between all that I read!

What are you reading, either professionally or personally? Why?

I'm excited about this question because I spent a large portion of my down time on our family mini vacation reading. For the past year or so I have been enjoying the Young Adult novels my 13 year old reads. Most of them are dystopian fiction, but now and again there are some other styles that I also enjoy.

In two days I completely read The Selection by Kiera Cass. The back of the book didn't sound that interesting. It reminded me of a cross between The Bachelor TV show competition mixed with the caste system of The Giver. However, it was an easy read and immediately made me feel like a teenage girl!

I finished the book this morning, and all I could think about while driving home was I needed to get my hands on the second book in the series The Elite. I stopped at page 50 in order to type this post!

Professionally, I have been trying to read Mindset by Carol Dweck. I know, I'm the only teacher leader left on the planet who hasn't read it yet. I actually bought it last fall, but I had other books to finish first.

The reason why I haven't completed yet is simple; I cannot read a professional book with distractions around me. I need absolute quiet. The faintest of sounds ruins my concentration. This is extremely opposite in how I read books for pleasure. I can easily tune out all sounds around me and immerse myself into what I am reading. My family dislikes when I am ready for pleasure because they have a hard time getting my attention. I am that good at ignoring, I mean tuning them out.

So, I am committing to finding more quiet time to finish Mindset. This week, instead of coming home and continuing to do my teacher things, I will instead read this book until I pick up my children from After School. I will get it done my week's end!

Thursday, April 9, 2015

April 9 - Disconnecting

Many experts say that it is important to disconnect and take time for yourself to re-energize. I have a hard time doing this.

  • I am an email addict. My work email is connected to my iPad and my cell phone! 
  • I dislike getting behind on Twitter or Face Book. I might miss something good.
  • I need to hear my colleagues' voices on Voxer.
  • I LOVE to be on my computer, even to watch shows recorded on my DVR.
  • Yes, I peek at my phone every couple of minutes while driving to see if any notification light is blinking.

Yes, I admit. I have a problem; but I actually excuse it because I have a passion for teaching and learning.

Why am I sharing this? Well, that is a good question. It was not my intent as I sat down to blog today to share my dirty little secrets. I just wanted to share that I was going on a mini vacation with the family so would not be blogging for the next several days.

Then, as if in a counseling session, I started airing my dirty laundry! I could go back and add much more to the list, but I think you get the picture.

I am making a commitment to my family that for the next few days I will:

  • Turn off my phone email notification and only check my email once per day
  • Only go on Face Book to upload photos from our trip
  • Accept that it is OK if I miss things on Twitter
  • Watch my DVR'd shows on my iPad only after the kids have gone to bed
  • Tell me Voxer family that they will not here from me for a few days.

I admit I am not completely disconnecting. I might go insane if I tried. However, I will greatly reduce how much time I am attached to technology. I have a feeling my family will be much happier to have my undivided attention these next several days!

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

April 8 - Following student's lead, The Framework in action

One of my favorite sub-domains of the Danielson Framework is 3E: Demonstrating Flexibility and Responsiveness. I say it is my favorite because it validates what I do with students all the time - follow their lead.

I love the freedom that following students allows me. I do not fear throwing my lesson plans up in the air because a student asks a question which sparks a conversation that leads to investigation.

Several years ago while teaching in a classroom, a student noticed that our school had a daily student news show but that there have never been any of the DHH students on the program. He asked, "Can we have our own news show?" WOW, the discussion that entailed over the next 30 minutes was powerful.

The result: the students were going to create a special Deaf Awareness news show. All my ELA lesson plans for the next few weeks were tossed aside while I allowed the students to discuss segment options, conduct research, interview Deaf adults, write scripts, rehearse and record the show. The video was broadcasted to the entire school and uploaded to my account. It was a huge hit! When I went back to look at all the standards covered by following their lead, it was mindblowing! An archive of the video can be seen here. Of course they loved it so much that we had to do another one the following fall. Also, in following years there have been DHH students serving as co-anchor and in the camera crew for the school news.

Recently while I was serving as a peer observer, a teacher "warned" me that sometimes she has to shift gears in the middle of a lesson if she sees that it is not going as planned. She said she sometimes has to backtrack or move sideways as she is teaching in order to achieve her lesson goals.

The first thing I thought was, why is she warning me? Does she not know that this is what exemplary teachers do?

I promptly pulled out the Framework and showed her this domain. We then talked about how adjusting lessons is what great teaching is all about. She was stunned! This is a veteran teacher who is held in high regards by her principal but is very humble in her abilities.

While observing her, she did indeed demonstrate flexibility when her students were not understanding the concept. It was like watching a television show where actors are giving the liberty for improvisation. When we watch the show, we have no idea what is scripted and what is improvised!

The more I learn about and apply the Framework to my teaching and to the peers I observe, the more I realize how powerful this tool is in ensuring high quality teaching for all students!