Tuesday, July 26, 2016

3 Tips for Building Positive Relationships with Students' Families

Teachers often complain that one of the hardest things about teaching is dealing with parents. Although I've definitely had my struggles with families, working with parents is still one of my favorite parts of the job! As I've grown as a teacher, I've found a few things that have helped me to grow a bond and make a relationship with all of my students' families.
1. Communicate!
This might sound silly and like common sense, but if your kiddos are nonverbal like mine, then you need to step up your communication game with parents even more! Think about it, if your students aren't going home and telling their parents what they did that day, then how are the parents supposed to know all the awesome things you're doing in your classroom?! I know it sounds daunting, but I think that if you teach in a center-based (or self-contained) classroom, then you should have communication with parents daily. You don't have to call or email parents everyday, but a simple note like "Billly had a good day," "Jim didn't eat much today" or a smiley face sticker in a notebook will go a long way in making families feel like part of the team. I use little student planners I find at the Dollar Tree every year to write notes to families everyday.

2. Share the GLOWS!
Have you ever heard someone say, "For every bad thing you tell parents, tell them 3 positives"? Well I totally agree with this! I know we all have "that one kid" who is constantly getting bad calls or notes home, but we have to make sure that parents still know that there are good things about their kiddos. Do your best to share glows and progress (no matter how small it is) with families. If parents see you are excited about things their child is doing, your relationship with the family will definitely grow! Sharing glows and positive stuff going on in your room can be so fun! Try sending parents weekly pictures of kiddos doing fun stuff at school via text or email (my parents LOVE this!!!) or making a weekly/ monthly newsletter about any exciting stuff that has been going on in your room (if your school is always in a paper crisis like mine, you can email it!).

3. Invite families to the classroom
I've talked to a lot of teachers who don't like it when parents are in the classroom when they're teaching because they see it as a distraction to students. My first few years of teaching, I was one of those teachers!! I felt like I was being judged by parents and I thought it was harder to manage the kiddos when parents were in the room. Over the last few years, I've started to change my ways... I started inviting parents into our room to watch lessons and activities and the response from families was great! Parents were so excited to see how much their kiddos were able to do at school! It has been so meaningful for the parents to see me and the classroom staff "in action" with the kiddos and definitely led to parents giving us more respect. I realize it can be hard to get parents to school during the day, but it's worth a try!

Still don't think it's worth it to put the time and effort into relationships with families? Think about this... Every teacher will make mistakes during the school year (sorry, but none of us are perfect!). Whether it's small mistakes like forgetting to send a lunch box or notebook home or a bigger mistake like missing an IEP date, if you don't have a good relationship with families, they're bound to get upset when you make a mistake. If you have a good relationship with families, they're more likely to trust you and be understanding of your mistakes.

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Monday, July 25, 2016

Math Task Boxes {FREEBIE}

I have been pretty good about not doing too much work this summer, but now I'm finally in the head space to go back and have started knocking out lessons and materials. I have numerous kiddos working on number identification, counting, and simple addition/ subtraction. So I made cute Frozen and Monsters Inc. themed activities.


What I love about these is that there are two levels- 1 without visual prompts and 1 with visual prompts. I use the one without visual prompts during small group instruction and then I use the activities with visual prompts during independent work time/ task boxes. But you could use them differently depending on the needs of your kiddos.

The Frozen and Monsters Inc. bundles both have 2 levels of counting activities (one with a 10s frame and one when you circle the number you counted), single digit addition and single digit subtraction.

You can find the Minion math activities here and the Frozen activities here.

Here's the fun part- the first 5 people to comment will receive one of the activities for free! Just leave a comment with your email address and which activity you want (Frozen or Monster's Inc). Then I'll email you the activity within 48 hours.

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Friday, July 22, 2016

4 Schedules you NEED in your classroom!

Schedules are SO important for keeping special education classrooms running smoothly. A lot of people think you just need a staff schedule and maybe a visual schedule for the kiddos. I've found that by adding a few specific schedules, my room is running much smoother and there are way less miscommunications.

Class schedule (for the kids):
This is a visual schedule for the whole class to reference. It's just the basics of the day, it doesn't include anything kid-specific like medication or therapy times, but gives a gist of the schedule the entire class will be following.

Individual schedules:
Individual schedules can be important for any kiddo who needs to see small changes in the schedule that might not be on the large class schedule (like therapy times, medication administration, time in general ed, etc.). The chart on the left shows the kid's schedule for the entire week, then every morning, a staff member builds the visual schedule on the right. Kids can remove symbols and put them in an "all done" envelope as they finish things throughout the day.

Generic class schedule (for the staff):
I've found it to be really helpful to post and share a generic weekly schedule with all staff who are involved with your kiddos. It's somewhat detailed- has the weekly academic schedule, g-tube feeds, staff and student lunches, therapy dates and times, etc. This is a great schedule to share with any school or district administrators who might want to "pop in" to see you teach or chat for a minute. Note: I also use staff zoning plans but I post those separately.

Special Weekly Schedule (for staff):
I use this big schedule to let my paras know about anything new/different that is happening for the week. Working with 3 paras and numerous therapists, it can be hard to tell everyone in the room about upcoming events! To make sure there isn't a miscommunication, I post field trips, school events, meetings that I'll be out of the classroom for, etc. on this board so paras, OTs, PTs, SLPs, and administrators can reference it at any time.

What scheduling tips do you have to keep everyone "in the loop?"
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Friday, June 10, 2016

3 Tips for Starting the Year Strong with Paraprofessionals {freebie!}

Starting the school year off with paraprofessionals can be tricky... especially if you're working with paras who are new to your classroom (or new to the career all together). It's so important to start the year off by creating a team mentality, promoting collaboration and being clear about expectations and responsibilities. Here a few tips that have helped me to start the year off on a good note with my paras:
1. Do work styles and skills inventories with paras before the first day of school. 
This will help you to see at how you and your paras are similar and different in work style and preferences. After you complete them, you can then talk with your para(s) about the similarities/ differences of your scores and about possible road blocks or solutions to your differences. The skills inventory checklist will help you to identify where your paras will need more training and guidance. This is my favorite free work style inventory (page 1-3). This is a good free paraprofessional skills survey.

2. Complete a little "get to know you" questionnaire and then STOCK UP on goodies. 
Knowing your paras' favorite little snacks and treats is important so you can give them small pick-me-ups and tokens of appreciation throughout the school year. After you know what your paras like, stock up on some of their favorite treats and goodies and keep them hidden in your classroom somewhere so you have them on hand. I normally buy some stuff for my paras in bulk and keep it in my filing cabinet so that I have stuff on hand to cheer them up on a tough day or to quickly/easily say "thank you". I know we aren't rolling in money as teachers, but even spending a few dollars a month to show your paras you appreciate them will go a long way! Here is the questionnaire I use with my paras. You can easily find free questionnaires online by searching key words like "secret friend questionnaire" or "secret santa questionnaire".

3. Give them a handbook! 
I started making a handbook for my paras my 2nd year of teaching and it has been a HUGE asset for starting the year off right and something that we can reference throughout the year, if needed. It's a great way to communicate information like clocking in/out, expectations, classroom rules, the schedule, information about disabilities and confidentiality, info. about coping machines, lunch time routines, dress code, etc.
One last thing I do in regards to the handbook is I have my paras sign a paper saying they got a copy of the handbook and that they reviewed it.

You can download a FREE and editable handbook from my TpT store here.

Do you have any tips or ideas for starting the year off strong with paras or other teammates?

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Thursday, April 21, 2016


Did that get your attention? Don't worry, I don't think we should throw away all the fun stuff in classrooms, but I have 2 reasons why removing these things from your bookshelves and counters can be beneficial to you and your students!
1- It will increase student communication!
Replace books, toys and desired objects on shelves with picture symbols or photos. If a student wants a specific toy or book, he can communicate that by touching the picture symbol or removing the picture and taking it to a staff member (instead of just grabbing the toy). Although having to get the toys/books makes extra work for the staff, it encourages meaningful communication with kiddos who might not communicate otherwise!

2- It will minimize distractions and problem behaviors. 
When there are toys, books, and blocks on the shelves, a few of my students will often want to walk away from instruction to play interact with whatever is on the shelf... What kid would want to work when there is a SpongeBob book on the bookshelf?! Removing distracting toys/ items from students' eye sight is a super easy antecedent intervention to prevent distractions and problem behaviors.

How to do it:
1) Store supplies in another safe way- a few options:
  • Store stuff inside locked cabinets
  • Store stuff in the storage bins with the locking lids (my students aren't able to open these)
  • Or you can store toys on the top of shelves (if you don't have any kiddos who will climb the furniture to try to get the items)
2) Give your students a way to request the items. Put photos, picture symbols, or voice output devices in the place of the toys/items. Students can point to the pictures or remove the picture from and take it to a staff member to request the items.
Note: If you have students who don't take "no" well, make sure you remove the photos/ picture symbols when the student can't have access to the item. For example, we remove the iPad symbol for most of the day and only put it out when it's a time that the students are able to have access to the iPad (free choice time).

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Saturday, April 16, 2016

Visual prompts... more than just schedules and classroom management! {& a FREEBIE!}

A lot of people make the mistake of thinking that visual are simply for schedules and classroom management, but that is FAR from the truth! Visuals are great for prompting kids with a variety of academic skills. The most frequent visual prompts I use during academic activities are: color coding, pictures, and letters/ numbers. Check them out!
Color coding:
Color coding is an amazing way to prompt kiddos. Here are a few ways you can use color coding to prompt students during sorting and matching activities.
Categories and cards are color coded so students are prompted about what category the cards go in.

Puzzles are color coded (using Sharpies) to prompt kiddos with matching the letters.
Numbers are color coded to make matching numbers easier. 
Numbers on clothes pins are color coded to match the corresponding section.
Letters are color coded to make matching simpler. 

Pictures are fabulous visuals!! It's common to see pictures used in schedules and for classroom management, but I love to use them during literacy and math activities!
Small picture is paired with letter on clothes pin to prompt student when matching letter to initial sound.
Picture is paired with letter to prompt student when placing the initial letter sound in the blank.
You can download the above beginning consonant sound activity with visuals for FREE from my TpT here.  
The dots are a visual to match the Micky mouse heads to prompt students. 
Numbers/ letters:
It's easy to use letters and numbers to prompt students during beginning consonant sound and math activities.
Letter is written in the blank to prompt student about what letter goes there. 

The correct answer is written in the box to prompt the student.

It's important to remember that you should take data consistently and fade prompts over time to ensure that the student is mastering the task/ goal. Below is an example of 1 way you could fade color coding visual prompts. Note: Some students might need fading to happen in smaller steps.

Happy prompting ;)
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