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!

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

April 7 - Nothing to say, until...

It is almost lunch time, and I haven't thought of anything profound to write about. I've spent the past few blogs getting some "soapbox talk" off my chest. What do I have left? I look at the topic suggestions, but nothing comes to mind. I guess spending my morning bringing my car to get fixed, doing laundry, and taking care of my energetic children has occupied my mind.

Until this happened...

I jumped on Twitter, and the first thing I saw was that registration was now open for the Let's TALK conference.

I've never been to this conference because it occurs just one week prior to the Kentucky Educators for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing annual summer conference. Why would I want to attend two conferences back to back? I know my husband and children wouldn't want me away from home that much.

However, this year I feel differently. With all the growth that has happened to me over the past year, I can no longer skip this event. I NEED to be there. My family will have to understand that in order for me to continue on my path of growth, this is one stop I cannot pass by.

It was exciting to see all the session choices but quite nerve racking to select the ones I want to attend. There are a few that I REALLY hope I get into as I feel those would make me a better educator and leader.

What was even more thrilling is how many presenters I know! Through my experiences with Gates Teacher Advisory Council, Commissioner Holliday's Teacher Advisory Council, ECET2 and ECET2KY, I have met some incredible educators, many of whom I now call friends. To think that only a year ago I didn't know any of them existed!

Thank you to Twitter and my PLN! If I didn't sneak on there for a minute in between folding clothes, I would have had nothing to write about today!

Monday, April 6, 2015

April 6 - A Vision for Regional Programs in KY

Those who know me are aware of my mission: to see the establishment of regional programs for the deaf and hard of hearing throughout Kentucky. This is not my idea; there have been several reports written over the past few decades that recommend the creation of such programs.

Yet, in 2015, only one such program exists in Kentucky. There was a second one in my town, but that no longer is considered a regional program.

Why do I advocate for such programs across Kentucky? I have blogged about this previously, but it comes down to a few main factors:

  1. There are numerous school districts in Kentucky that have DHH students but no DHH teacher and/or interpreter to serve those students. There is a serious shortage of DHH teachers and interpreters in Kentucky
  2. Many districts only have one or two DHH students in the entire district. This makes it extremely difficult to provide opportunities for that student to interact with other DHH students and DHH adults. This interaction is crucial for their language, social, emotional, and psychological development and well-being
  3. Those districts that have several DHH students tend to allow them to attend their neighborhood school despite legal decisions that permit clustering of students. This separation increases the financial burden of a school district. 
    • When I was in the classroom, I once did a cost analysis comparing the costs of having each of my students transported to my school where the interpreter, aide, and myself all worked with the students. I compared this to the cost if each student went to their neighborhood school where a sign language interpreter would need to be hired for each student, plus there would be travel expenses for me traveling to serve each student. The difference was astonishing!
  4. DHH students have the right to be educated with their peers, other DHH children! 
  5. They have the right to free exchange of information in their primary language whether with peers or adults. 
  6. They have the right to be educated by highly qualified certified teachers of the deaf and hard of hearing.
  7. They have the right to know they are not alone in this world. All DHH children, regardless of hearing loss, communication mode, or need for special education services deserve to know that there are other kids like themselves out there!
Now is the time to dust off those reports written 15 - 20 years ago but are still valid today and to take action.

Regionalized programs are able to provide the full continuum of services required under IDEA, with the exception of attending the school for the Deaf. I contend that these programs should be extensions of the Kentucky School for the Deaf since it is overseen by the Kentucky Department of Education. This will ensure consistency in the services offered at each regional program.

Here is how the continuum could be offered at a regional program. Note that I have turned the LRE upside down as per yesterday's post.

  • Full-time special education
    • Most of the day with DHH peers in a self contained classroom
    • All content in DHH classroom, attending special area classes (PE, music etc) with the DHH class and no general education students
    •  Interact with hearing peers during lunch and recess
  • Part-time special education, part-time general education
    • Most of the day with DHH peers in a self contained classroom
    • Homeroom is the DHH self contained classroom
    • All content in DHH classroom with mainstreaming to special area classes (PE, music, library), lunch and recess with a general education class, or
    • Most content in DHH classroom with mainstreaming into general education classes for 1 or 2 content areas in which they are in the average range and have the language foundation to access information through an interpreter
  • Part-time general education, part-time special education
    • Most of the day with hearing peers or without Supplementary Aides and Services(SAS) (FM system, interpreter)
    • Homeroom is a general education classroom
    • Part time in DHH resource/self contained classroom for Specially Designed Instruction (SDI) in content areas and/or language, listening, or
    • Part time in resource classroom (special ed) for SDI in content areas and/or language, listening, or
    • Weekly to daily support from itinerant teacher for SDI (times vary from 15 minutes to a few hours)
  • Full-Time general education – not including related services
    • 100% of the day with hearing peers with or without SAS (FM system, interpreter)
    • Can also include DHH students who are on a 504 plan or recieve no services but can benefit from being in the school school as other DHH students

I propose that regional programs be created throughout Kentucky now! Our children deserve it.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

April 5 - Turn LRE Upside Down

Today's #AprilBlogADay topic is:

What practice, tradition, instructional strategy or anything else "must die"? What needs to stop in order for Education to move forward?

Immediately after reading this question, I thought of one practice in the education of children who are Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing that must go away.

How we view the Least Restrictive Environment for DHH students

Before reading any further, it is imperative that you know that what I explain below about students who are Deaf and Hard of Hearing are generalizations. Every child with a hearing loss is unique. Some are incredibly successful in the mainstream classroom whether they use hearing aids and communicate verbally or are profoundly Deaf and use American Sign Language and an interpreter in the classroom.

My goal is to talk about this subject broadly so that we can rethink how the Least Restrictive Environment issue is addressed with DHH students.

Least Restrictive Environment

According to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the Least Restrictive Environment for students with disabilities is:

"To the maximum extent appropriate, children with disabilities, including children in public or private institutions or other care facilities, are educated with children who are not disabled, and special classes, separate schooling, or other removal of children with disabilities from the regular educational environment occurs only when the nature or severity of the disability of a child is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily."

The problem with this definition is how it is interpreted by teachers, administration, and policy makers in its application to DHH students. Their assumption is that putting these children in a classroom with "non-disabled" or hearing peers is the most appropriate educational placement.  

For a certain group of hard of hearing children, yes, I would consider this an appropriate placement.  I work with students in this category who have milder to moderate hearing losses, speak well, and socialize appropriately with hearing peers. They are very successful in the mainstream environment. Although, one can always argue about what "successful" really means, especially if the children are socially isolated from other DHH students. How does that impact their psyche?

As I think about the majority of students who are DHH, especially those whose primary language is American Sign Language (ASL), I say WHOA, wait a minute! Placing them alone in a classroom with 20+ hearing children may not be the most appropriate placement; it is a more restrictive environment. 

To understand why, you must understand my views on DHH students. These views are not unique to me; many in the field of Deaf education have the same opinions.
  • Students who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing are not disabled; it just happens that they can't hear, are visual learners, and process the world differently than those who can. Many regular education teachers don't know how to adjust their instruction to this type of learner
  • Many of these students use ASL to communicate, hence members of a linguistic minority such as those students in our schools whose first language is something other than English. Therefore, they need to be able to freely and directly communicate with adults and peers in their first language
  • DHH students, like all students, are social beings and crave socialization with other DHH students. As a species, we all gravitate towards those that are like ourselves. One may walk into a cafeteria of a high school and see groups of Black students sitting together. Even those students with mild hearing losses become excited when they finally meet another child who has a hearing loss

In order for this post to not turn into a book, I will cut to the chase. 

When determining the LRE for DHH students, as per IDEA, the IEP team looks at the continuum of services starting with 100% mainstream and goes through each environment until the team comes to one they believe will meet the student's needs. RARELY does a team dicuss every option available, including a school for the Deaf.  This is because according the IDEA regulations, they don't have to; plus IDEA considers a Deaf school to be the most restrictive. For DHH children, this is ludicrous!

I contend that the LRE options need to be turned upside down for DHH students. 

The school for the Deaf should be the very first thing considered for DHH students.  In that environment, students have direct access to instruction from teachers who not only communicate in the language of the child but are fully certified in teaching DHH students.  Additionally, the students can freely communicate with each other; there is no need for an interpreter to facilitate communication between peers. The positive psychological and emotional impact on children who are surrounded by peers who are DHH and use the same language (non similar non-disabled peers as IDEA states) is indescribable. 

The list of reasons why schools for the Deaf should be considered as the first placement option for DHH children is much longer than described above, but you get the gist.

Only after discussing this environment should the team move down the list. A public school that offers self-contained DHH classrooms with the opportunities to mainstream for specials (PE, music, etc) or a content of which the student excels is the most appropriate environment for some students. Still others may over time transition to more mainstream classes while going to a DHH classroom for certain subjects. Then, in my view, what should be discussed last, is if the student should be educated in an environment where they are the lone DHH student.

Self-contained and resource classrooms that allow for DHH peer interaction is difficult for those in rural settings where there may be only 1 or 2 DHH children in the entire district.  Thus, the establishment of regionalized programs is IMPERATIVE to meet the needs of all DHH students.

Although I have blogged about the need for regionalized programs in Kentucky, I had never laid out my vision for them. Since I have 25 more posts to write for the #AprilBlogADay challenge, I think it is time I do so.  Be on the look out!!!

If you are interested in reading some of my previous posts regarding educating DHH students, please read:

Saturday, April 4, 2015

April 4 - Humanity Beyond the Classroom

As a teacher of students who are deaf and hard of hearing, I serve as a communication bridge between my students and their families. Many of the families of the students with whom I work have limited to no competency in American Sign Language - the language of their children. Therefore, I am sometimes asked to help facilitate dialogue between parent and child, whether heart-breaking or uplifting. 

The loss of a loved one is difficult for all children. Sadly, it is very common for Deaf children to not know when or why someone has died because their family has limited to no ability to effectively convey it to them.  This was true for one of my students whose grandmother passed away.  

One morning during class, Michelle’s mother called me. Because she could not sign, she asked me to share the news with her daughter and to explain how her grandmother died. After hanging up with Michelle’s mother and taking a few seconds to gain my composure, I asked my assistant to take over the lesson and brought Michelle to a quiet location in the school. 

As I shared the devastating news with Michelle, I stopped being her teacher and became her mother.  Teacher preparation programs or professional development do not teach how to have difficult conversations with students.  Not only did I have to share this heartbreaking news with her, I then had to console her as any mother would.  I spent time doing what any mother would do - explaining what happened, hugging her, telling her that her grandmother was in a better place now.  I had to be the one to do this because, even though her mother wished she had the signing skills, she didn't.  That is the most difficult part of my role of serving as a bridge between my students and their family.

Despite only meeting Michelle’s grandmother a few times, I went to the funeral to be there for Michelle.  Her mother saved me a spot in the front pew reserved for immediate family.  Michelle sat between her mother and me.  This was a symbolic gesture that I was part of their family.  

The church had hired two teenage girls who learned to ‘sign’ by reading books on American Sign Language. Because it is virtually impossible to learn American Sign Language by looking at pictures in a book, there were many errors in what they signed, making their message very confusing. A few times during the service I checked in with Michelle to see if she understood what the girls were ’interpreting’; she did not. After no longer being able to tolerate her dismay, I asked her mother if it would be OK if I replaced the girls and properly interpret the remainder of the service. Because Michelle’s mother did not know sign language, she was unaware that the girls were not signing correctly and had no idea that Michelle could not understand any of the service.  I nonchalantly told the girls that Michelle could not understand them, and asked if they would please let me take over.  They gladly stepped aside so that I could interpret. A smile crept onto Michelle’s face as she was finally able to understand the prayers, sermons, and songs of the funeral.

At the end of the service, someone from the church upsettingly approached me asking why I took over interpreting.  After explaining my reasoning, instead of being understanding and supportive, she complained about how difficult it was to find those two girls and that she hoped the pastor would not be furious with her for what I did.  Even though I wanted to give her my speech on the right of equal access to Michelle and tell her how unqualified those girls were, I bit my lip.  Sometimes it is not just worth the energy to advocate to those who have no interest in listening.  I was there to support Michelle and to continue to be that bridge between her and her mother, and that is what I did.

Note: The student's name has been changed.

Friday, April 3, 2015

April 3 - I Crave More Connectedness

In previous posts I have shared about how my life has been turned upside and opened wide as I have become more connected through Twitter, blogging, Voxing, attending ECET2, and being part of the Gates Foundation TAC. I spend every free moment I have (in between family and my thousand plus projects) online trying to continuously learn and grow. My thirst for learning has grown exponentially. Yet I crave more!

I have noticed since joining Twitter in January 2014 that there is a lack of Twitter chat about Deaf Education. I looked at the awesome Google Doc that lists all the educator chats available virtually 24/7, but where is the deaf education chat? No where to be found! Yes, people use the hashtag #DeafEd when they tweet about something related to Deaf Ed, but a chat doesn't exist.

Then it happened! 

In November, I saw a tweet from @behearddc announcing the FIRST EVER #DeafEd Twitter chat.  I think I did a double take.  Were my eyes deceiving me? Was it actually going to happen? Was there finally going to be a chat about my passion, my love, my field?  YES!!!!!

Man, I could not wait to re-tweet and re-tweet and email my teacher friends and post on Face Book this historic event. I wanted the world to know that it was happening!

Students from the National Technical Institute for the Deaf, a college of Rochester Institute of Technology, were leading this Twitter chat as a class project from their professor Talila Lewis. I could feel my adrenaline rush throughout the entire hour.  I was discussing my field with like-minded professionals and Deaf college students. What made it even more exhilarating than expected was that the students had created online videos of someone signing each question, increasing the equal access to all those participating.  WOW!!!

And then...

There was no more chat :(

The students developed an incredible chat for their project which was now complete.  I wasn't satisfied.  I needed more. There needs to be more!

I will make more!

I contacted the professor about continuing the chat.  TL was 100% supportive of the idea of a chat and agreed to help in anyway possible if I decided to start something.  So I am.

This week I created and disseminated a survey to collect interest from Deaf Ed teachers, Deaf community members, interpreters, college students, etc.  People are providing their feedback on day and time, frequency, and suggesting topics.  Some are even signing up to guest host!  So far less than 30 people have responded. I do hope to get a great deal more before closing the survey and begin to plan for the chat.

With the help of everyone out there..

#DeafEd chat will happen!

Update: April 7, 2015

The new #DeafEd chat is now held the first Thursday of every month at 7:30 p.m. ET. A special kickoff is happening on April 16 with the first monthly chat happening on May 7.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

April 2 - The Ripple Effect of a Visionary

The recommended topic for today's #AprilBlogADay is about the ripple effect of something I have done.  However, I just can't seem to write about that, not because I don't want to but because of an announcement that has taken over my thoughts.

Yesterday Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday announced that he will be retiring on August 31.  Immediately, the panic set in on Twitter, FaceBook, texts, phone calls, emails, and teacher conversations.

Will Common Core be stripped away?

Will teacher career pathways dissolve?

What is going to happen to PGES?

Will Kentucky no longer be in the forefront of education in the U.S.?

This panic is valid because Dr. Holliday is no ordinary Education Commissioner; he is a visionary, a leader, a man with a strong growth mindset! Anyone who has been in the same room as him can feel his leadership radiating.

I have been honored since 2012 to serve on Dr. Holliday's Teacher Advisory Council.  I will tell you that this type of TAC is uncommon in the U.S.  When I mention TAC to colleagues outside of Kentucky, they are intrigued; many states don't have one.  Why are we so unique? Dr. Holliday is a former teacher and knows how critical teacher voice is to student improvement and systemic change.  The voices of all the teachers on the Council are heard and validated.  I have seen some of my recommendations come into fruition.

I will never forget the first face-to-face TAC meeting I attended.  A month prior I was named 2013 KY Elementary Teacher of the Year.  This earned me a seat two chairs away from Dr. Holliday at our roundtable.  I felt his energy!  During the meeting there was a presentation that involved some advanced calculations and statistics that was confusing some of us.  Immediately, Dr. Holliday stood up, walked over to chart paper, switched his commissioner hat around to teacher hat, and started explaining to each of us how to interpret what we were seeing.  It became obvious to me then: Dr. Holliday is first and foremost an educator!

I say that Dr. Holliday is a visionary because it appears to me that he is always thinking 5 years ahead.  When you hear him talk, read his blog, or watch the presentation of KDE staff, it is apparent that Dr. Holliday is always one step ahead of us. He can already see where Kentucky is heading and leads everyone down that path.  This is why Kentucky is in the forefront of Common Core implementation.  This is why Kentucky continues to receive ESEA waivers. He has a vision and knows how to get us there!

One can understand why educators are concerned about what will happen to Kentucky's education system once he retires.  However, I have a strong feeling that because he has touched so many lives and has a strong team of leaders and educators working at the Department that Kentucky will remain strong.  Each and every one of has has felt the impact of Dr. Holliday's vision and determination as it ripples throughout the state and the nation.

There will never be another Dr. Holliday, and whoever takes over will have huge shoes to fill. However, the ripples made by Dr. Holliday are so powerful they will continue to expand and never end.

Thank you Dr. Holliday for your 40 years of service to education and by touching my life with your vision!

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

April 1 - The challenge

This morning I decided to join the #AprilBlogADay challenge posed on Twitter by Chris Crouch (@the_explicator).  Its intent is to encourage teachers to practice, use, and refine their voice.

Anyone who knows me well knows that I always have a lot to say, but do I have enough on my mind to blog EVERYDAY in April?  Who knows, but I am giving it a try.

Today is April 1, the start of a new month where an increasing number of signs of spring are starting to appear all around us.  It is also a fun day as everyone tries their best to trick one another.  I am walking around my house in eggshells as I wait to see what type of tricks my husband and children are going to play on me today.  As I travel from school to school today, I will be on the lookout for pranksters around every corner.  This is all in good fun.

My mind wants to write about the ways educators are fooled on a daily basis, but my heart says, NO WAY.  This is April 1; spring is in the air, summer break is only a few weeks away, Kentucky is in the Final Four!

I will leave the fooling for another day!