Monday, June 1, 2020

Are you still writing?

Notes & Things

I write little notes on my calendar when I'm happy or stressed.  I don't write them the day I have the thought but I move the calendar forward a month or two or three and write something and then I find it again.  In May these were the notes: 

  • Remember when you thought you'd never get a CGM? 
    • I feel like we've had it forever 
  • Bet you know the carb count on all the favorite foods by heart now.
    • we still have a whiteboard with lots of our common choices and their carb count in the kitchen but I almost never look at it
  • R is the best! "I'm thirsty"
    • so we were watching a "redneck" comedian one night and he was telling about how his wife said she was too hot and he put down his book, got out of his bed, and adjusted the thermostat - it was a fun show and R and I laughed and laughed at that one since I had just finished commenting that I was thirsty and R got up and got me a glass of water

So a friend asks me a few days ago if I'm still writing.  She knows I was writing a "journal" about my son's diagnosis and how we are all adjusting to that.  I am still writing but clearly not as much and there are two main reasons for that.  First, we are so much more confident in our management now that things don't stress me quite as much as before.  At least, that is what I'm telling myself but probably I'm just more accustomed to this stress.

Second, I'm struggling with the learning curve of becoming a "distance education" provider and it has me on my computer for 4-6+ hours a day.  By the time I have my own time in the evening I do not want to look at my computer and if I do bring it to the couch with me I just end up working some more.  And, of course, both my boys are distance learning right now too.  My teen doesn't need much support to get his schooling done but my 5th grader needs a lot of prompting and cajoling to get any work done.

I've always liked the challenge of picking up a new skill as long as it is something I feel passionate about.  I like the feeling that I don't have it yet but knowing that I will get it.  Thank goodness for that too because I am learning a lot as an educator right now and if I didn't enjoy the push I'd be a quivering mix of exhaustion and frustration.  The high needs programs in my school district met early and frequently when campus closed and we've come a long way.  At my previous school I had a teaching "partner".  She taught the younger grades and I the older right across the hall from each other.  We co-planned, vented, and supported each other and I took that for granted a lot.  It is one of the things I've missed the most in my current position.  

In my current school, I am the only high needs specialist in the building.  Students with this level of exceptional need have only been in this building for the five years I've been here so many teachers have very limited experience with students with ASD or Down syndrome or the other lower incidence disabilities.  I've missed having someone right there to talk to about students, programming, supporting paras, and supporting general education teachers.  

When the campus closed the other two high needs elementary teachers and I made a plan to work together and try to keep our programs aligned in what we were providing and I had a professional community again. We meet weekly and we are keeping each other moving forward and growing.  We agreed on several points right away.  
  1. Keep our students connected and supported with calls, live sessions, and videos. 
  2. Provide respite when/where we could for families who are used to multiple services and providers who would suddenly be "on-their-own" 24/7.
  3. Focus most of our attention on creating supports that could carry forward into the coming school years rather than investing our valuable time in things that would only serve our students in this crisis teaching
  4. Keep our IEPs and Evaluations up to date and make amendments when campus reopens
So that is where all my time is going.  We started with some maintenance level binder work and tools that students were familiar with and could do with minimal adult support (for students who could do that).  We were hoping this would give families a way of giving a work task and walking away for 10-15 minutes.  Many families have been able to do that.  

We also set up online learning sessions for families who wanted that option.  I had one family who wanted daily sessions immediately and other families have added them as the weeks have gone on.  At one point I was running 12 live sessions per week but we're down to 6-8 session per week now.  Some families scheduled sessions and were not able to regularly login for them but we kept trying.  For those that are consistently showing up, we're now able to provide positive interaction and social connection, minimal instruction, but we can do some valid assessment of skills that are being taught on our new learning system.

We adopted two new learning systems.  Unique Learning Systems with News to You and Seesaw. I've used News to You for years and really feel it has a place for some of my students but since none of them had used ULS before I couldn't find an easy and intuitive way for them to use it during the closure.  I am definitely seeing the potential in the units and plans and am looking forward to using it for years to come in the classroom.  One of the other programs is relying primarily on this learning platform as her students are firmly at this level.  

The other learning platform, Seesaw, has become my new favorite thing!  It allows us to post our own teaching video and a follow up activity that is interactive for our students.  For my program, we've had over 200 assignments submitted since closing and that is with only a handful of students participating.  I'm going to use Seesaw for years to come and I'm pretty excited about the potential.  For now, it is giving us a way to try to get learning and instruction to our students that is differentiated to their needs and abilities.  

With these options I'm reaching 11/12 of my students.  That last student may be participating in the print work we provided for him but I can't be sure of that.  His family is working at this time and since I can reach them by phone about twice a month I know they are doing their best and just trying to get through day by day.

My first year as a teacher (a million years ago) I had a mentor who was a resource room teacher.  She later became my principal and ultimately is now serving as a curriculum director.  I took her for granted a lot too but I always think about her.  I read somewhere that people don't always remember what you say but they remember how you make them feel and this woman knows how to make others feel heard, valued, and accepted.  I've tried to take a page from her book and be a person that makes others feel valued. We are so very disconnected from others right now and yet it seems to be the one thing that everyone can agree on: we need other people.  We need and want that connection.  So I try to continue to reach out to my colleagues and friends and be available to them as best I can.  I'm pretty good at video calls now so dial me up.  A couple months ago if you told me I'd be staring at myself on zoom for 3+ hours a day I would've thought you'd lost your mind😀  

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