Monday, July 20, 2015

The Do's and Don'ts of IEP Meetings (for Teachers)

When I was a teacher, an IEP meeting meant one thing:  No conference period.  

For me, it was just one thing added to my never-ending list of to-do's.  I didn't plan for them.  In fact, sometimes I forgot about them.  There was no class or manual that taught what was to be expected of me.  And to be honest, anyone who knew me during my teacher years knows I've broken every rule in the book.  Let's just say, I'm glad there are no video tapes in IEP meetings!  So, if this is you, just know that you are not alone!

I have spent many hours in IEP meetings since becoming a diagnostician, so here's a list of things I would like to have known as a teacher (and things that just drive me crazy!).  :)

The Do's & Don'ts of IEP Meetings (for Teachers)

1.  Attend the meeting on time:  I cannot tell you how many minutes I have spent waiting on teachers (or... ahem... administrators) to actually show up to the meeting.  I even give day-before reminders on most cases and still have some not show up.  So, please don't make someone have to find you, especially if you work in a humongous school where the possibilities are endless as to where we might find you!

2.  Recognize that it is a formal, legal, and confidential meeting:  Legal and confidential are the words you should take from this.  You could be in court one day defending what you said in an IEP meeting, so make sure to choose your words wisely.  And remember that the meeting is confidential and the only people who you should speak with about it are those who have educational interest (meaning, if you are a 4th grade teacher, you don't discuss it with a 1st grade teacher over lunch).

One more thing... what you decide in a meeting has to be implemented!

3.  Tell the parent how the child is doing, but DON'T withhold information because of fear:  I once had a teacher come into a meeting before the parent got there and told me about all the problems she was having in her class with this particular student.  During the meeting, when it was the teacher's turn to speak, she said, "Oh, he's doing pretty well" and then proceeded to tell about all the (minimal) progress he had made.  Please don't do this!  If you end up having very serious problems with a child in the future, there is nothing to back up that this has been a consistent problem.  In fact, you are basically saying that there were no problems at this time and thus the current problem is a fluke.  Be honest (and kind), and don't sugar coat the important information that parents need to know.

4.  Bring data and work samples:  Nothing says you know what you're talking about like data and work samples!  Bring the stuff to back up what you are seeing in the classroom.

5.  Share ideas that might work in the classroom (or at home):  You are the expert not only of your content area, but of that child.  So, don't feel intimidated by all those specialists sitting at the table.  Share what is working and what is not working in the classroom, and bring ideas to the table that we can talk about!

6.  Take notes:  Things change.  Maybe it's an accommodation.  Maybe the student now has a new medical issue.  Whatever the case may be, you are likely the only person who knows the information when you walk out of that meeting, and you have to share it with the other teachers.  Don't rely on someone else to send that information everyone else.

And... please... I beg you, please don't play on your phone or fall asleep.  You're asking, "Would anybody actually do that?".  Why yes, yes they would.

7.  Put yourself in the parent's shoes:  I meet parents a lot who are genuinely concerned about their child, but don't know how to help.  Whether it's due to a lack of education, support, or understanding, they are having the same problems you are.  Try to understand how difficult it must be to have a child with a disability, and be cautious in how you speak about that child with the parent.

8.  Speak up:  Nothing makes me more angry than this scenario:

Me (to general education teacher):  "Would you like to share how little Johnny is doing in your classroom?"
General education teacher:  "No, she (special education teacher) pretty much covered it!"

Oh.My.Gosh!  I can't deal with this one.  I hate (and I mean, hate) speaking in a public forum.  I'm terrified.  And I have this really embarrassing issue where my face turns bright red when I'm nervous (or mad... or put on the spot... or for just about any other reason!).  So, I completely understand the fear of speaking to a group of professionals.  But, seriously, you have to suck it up.  By not speaking, you are either telling the parent that you are scared to speak or you just plain don't care, and neither of those are good ways to be viewed.  Also, you know this child more than anyone else at that table, other than the parent.  Share how she did on a specific activity or assignment or share a funny story. But, please don't pass up on an opportunity to speak about the child.

9.  Be a team player:  Don't be that person who gets to the IEP meeting and disagrees with everything the committee says.  And please don't check that you disagree with the IEP Committee on the signature page unless there is just no other option!  You can absolutely disagree, but give your opinions and your concerns during the meeting and work through them with the others.  If you check that disagree box, you will have to redo the meeting at another date, and no one wants that!  Be kind, open minded, and cooperative and all will go well.

10.  Share positives about the student:  This should be common sense, I know, but it still needs to be said.  You can absolutely share concerns and issues that happen in your classroom, but always... and I mean ALWAYS... give some positives.

11.  Listen up and ask questions:  Even though you are an expert, you are not the only expert.  Parents most often have the most valuable information about your students.  Many IEP Committee members also include speech therapists, occupational therapists, school counselors, and school psychologists.  These people are full of wonderful information, but they can sometimes forget they are talking to people who don't have degrees in their area of expertise.  So, ask questions when you don't understand, because if you don't understand, it's likely the parent doesn't either.

12.  Be willing to try new things:  If something isn't working in your classroom, be open to new ideas.  Sometimes a seemingly odd suggestion will actually work, so be willing to try anything that will help the child to be successful in your classroom.

I hope your year (and your next IEP meeting) is a success!

For my math teachers returning to school, here is a free product that I just LOVE!  Find and download it here!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Math Menu Fun and a Back to School FREEBIE!

When I taught in 4th and 5th grades, I used old grocery ads and restaurant menus for math activities.  I kept them in a cabinet all year long and would take them out when I had a fun activity to do.  However, after a year or two, my ads and menus would dwindle down to shreds of paper.  Kids would lose or tear the pages or the ads would be all mixed up or stuck in upside down.  Since I needed a class set, I would have to go sneak back into a grocery store and take another stack, assuming no one was guarding them!  Haha!

After a couple of years of doing this, I decided that it would be easier to just create my own menus that I could print off whenever I wanted, use as a homework assignment, or laminate and wrap with a rubber band.  I just wanted an easier way for my kids to enjoy the menus without the hassle of keeping up with them all!  On top of that, I could create them for all sorts of things that kids would experience in real life, like going to a ski shop, or planting a garden!

So, I created my own.  All the kids need is a menu and a worksheet.  They use the menu to answer the questions.  Easy for the teacher, rigorous (I made differentiated versions for different levels), and the kids love them!

With that being said, I wanted to share one of my favorite activities from my little TpT store - Math Menus! Because it's back to school time, I wanted to share this freebie with you so that your kids can have some fun in the first weeks of school!

Here are some more of my favorites, but I have plenty of different kinds!  Your kids will love them!

Halloween Math Menus

The Burger Joint Math Menu

Pizza Pies Math Menu

You can find more menus here and here at my store!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Stop Saying "You're So Smart" - Growth Mindset

Last year, my school invited Eduardo Briceño to talk to us about the importance of having a growth mindset, a concept from "The Power of Belief - Mindset and Success" and this book by Carol Dweck (affiliate link)!

He basically asserts that there are two types of people: those who think intelligence and skills are fixed/unchanging and others who believe they are able to be developed/honed.

In his speech and his book, he discusses one thing that we all (likely) have done:  tell a student how smart he/she is or tell a student how good he/she is at a specific skill.  Now, I have heard that telling your kids they are "smart" is not the way to go, but I guess I had filed that info away in a section of my brain that doesn't get much use.  Well, according to Briceño, doing this puts kids into a fixed mindset where they think they are either good or bad at something and nothing can change that.  He says that children who live in a fixed mindset are less likely to engage in challenging or difficult work because they think it's just too hard and they can't do it.

Since I am no longer in the classroom, I decided to use this concept on my 6-year-old to see what kind of affect it had on her.  There are tons of examples that I could give that I have done on my own, but I'll just mention one of them that happened recently with my daughter's swim teacher.

My daughter takes swimming lessons all year long.  She is the type of kid who could care less about sports and would rather just play at home.  It bothers me because I grew up in sports (I played competitive and college soccer and high school tennis) and have a very competitive spirit.  So, going to swimming is kind of a drag sometimes because she doesn't always want to go.

On her first day of swimming this summer, her teacher told us that she would be working mainly on endurance, so that whole practice, they swam laps back and forth in the pool.  My daughter cried on the way home because she was so tired and her body hurt so bad. On the second day of swimming, I basically had to drag her out of the house.

After a grueling practice, I met with her teacher to discuss how my daughter was doing.  During that discussion, the teacher stated to me and my daughter that she was so proud of her because she never complains, even when the work is hard, and even when she's tired, she never quits.

You should have seen my daughter's face when she said that.  You should have seen MY face!  Not only did she mention specific things that she was doing well in, but she cemented in her head that the path to success in swimming is not just being "good" at it.  It's from working hard, not complaining, and never giving up.  From that day on, I have not heard one complaint out of that child.  She starts off every morning with, "When is swimming?  I just can't wait to go to swimming!".

In the spirit of this, I've decided to come up with a list of words you can use to motivate your students and encourage a growth mindset this coming school year.  

Say them, write them on stickies, leave them in journals or on homework assignments, and tell your kids' parents!

To print this out, click here.

Find my Growth Mindset resource here!  It includes a guide for parents and their children so that growth mindset doesn't stop when the kids walk out your door!