Friday, October 21, 2016

Pumpkin Muffins with Walnuts, in our new place!

      Hello hello again! It was so hard to be away from the blog for so long, especially since there's so much I've been exploring and wanting to share. Long story short, I occasionally have the worst luck in the world, which I like to think of as a bad luck waterfall downward spiral up a creek without a paddle sort of event. I'm not always this unlucky, but when it hits, the luck is BAD. This time my bad luck manifested in my ability to be in touch with the world. Between my cell phone and connecting to the internet, I've experienced enough "Well it should be working, wonder why it's not..." moments in the last six weeks to last me...a long time.

      I've done so much exploring, reading, watching Gilmore Girls, and frugally shopping for dishes, kitchen utensils, and furniture in the last few weeks. At first it was really fun, like living the best version of life, but after a few weeks it's gotten hard to handle! Starting anything anew is always exciting at first, but the excitement has faded a bit as I've started to get accustomed to our new home and this big city, and realized...I need something to do with my time!

      Taking a break from job hunting, I decided I'd work on a few blog posts today. And of course, I've started with the most delicious one! It's turned to fall here so quickly! These cold, cloudy days are just begging for all the fall comforts, including everything pumpkin.

      I have a long history of a tumultuous relationship with breakfast. For most of the past five years or so, I've struggled to want to eat breakfast. Don't get me wrong, I love breakfast food! I just seem to prefer it, well, mostly for dinner, ha! My stomach seems to strongly dislike waking up. This has been problematic, specifically for functioning at work, eating before running events I'd signed up for (pretty much ruined a 10 mile race for me), visiting people and going out to eat for breakfast, and generally it's just never a good thing. Over the years, with my gastroenterologist, we've figured out a routine that helps and a few of the reasons why, which maybe I'll get into another time, but one of the strategies I use to entice my stomach in the mornings is by baking whatever I'm craving in muffin form.

      This brings us to pumpkin muffins! With the stress of moving, even when I haven't felt stressed about it, my gut has reverted to it's old ways and I've just not been into breakfast here. It's meant I get late starts to the day and feel like I'm missing out on time I should be using more productively. So, since I'm craving all things fall, I made these wonderfully simple pumpkin muffins from a German blog called "Esspirationen" which translates, essentially, into "eat-spiration" and which I think is beyond adorable. I'll leave a translated version below, but feel free to use your web browser to translate the page from Germany.

      I had to make these little darlings in my new toaster convection oven, because this is my life now.  My kitchen situation, as compared to previous living arrangements, is quite sparse, and I've just got the basics. For example, aside from only having a small convection oven, I mixed everything by hand because I don't yet have a mixer! And I don't have great counters for baking prep, so until we get a table I'm confined to tiny counter spaces which I promptly make a huge mess. At least they are delicious!

Thanks for tuning in, and look for more posts soon, I've so much to share from my "offline" time! 

Pumpkin Muffins with Walnuts and White Chocolate
Translated from Esspirationen
*I omitted chocolate from mine- I KNOW crazy- but that's the way it was! I encourage you to follow the original recipe for yours :)

Ingredients for 12 muffins
200 g Hokkaido pumpkin
150 g spelled flour Type 630
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 eggs
100g sugar
1 packet Bourbon vanilla sugar
75 g butter or margarine
1 pinch of salt
50 g walnuts
100 g white chocolate
1 pinch of gingerbread spices

Cook the Hokkaido pumpkin throughout for 15 minutes in a large pot in plenty of water. Then remove and let cool slightly. Roast the walnuts in a dry frying pan and chop. Chop chocolate (up to 2 ribs) coarsely too. Cut out 200 g of pumpkin flesh and puree. Preheat the oven to 200 ° C (top / bottom heat). Beat butter and sugar until creamy, then add eggs and a pinch of salt and beat for 2 minutes. Mix flour with spices and baking powder and stir. Add to butter and sugar mix and stir, then add the pumpkin puree. Stir in chopped nuts and chocolate. Prep a muffin tin and spread the batter evenly in it. Bake 20 minutes. In the meantime, the remaining chocolate ribs melt in a small bowl in a water bath. Leave the finished baked muffins to cool slightly in the mold, then release them from the mold and decorate with the melted chocolate and powdered sugar.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Quick update: Offline!

Hello followers of Growing Polymathic! Just a quick message to say we've yet to get our internet established at our new apartment in Germany, so I'm not able to keep up with posts at the moment! I'll be back in another week or so, hopefully! See you then! Until then I've been reading quite a bit. Be prepared for a book list post...

Thursday, September 15, 2016

YBC 39 Day Yoga Progress Project + BuJo Spread

At a biergarten in the Englischer Gartens in
      The start of our second week in Munich marks the start of my husband going to work daily, instead of hanging out and exploring with me. I could whine about it, but it was my choice not to jump into work right when we got here. While I am hopeful to work in the coming months, I'm currently available to do all the "adulting" and make sure we get our paperwork in order while my husband can focus on starting a new job and figuring out what his role is there. It is nice to have some extra time to figure out what the heck an Einwohnermeldeamt is and where I find one, since that is where I have to register our address and receive an Anmeldebestätigung to prove we are allowed to live here. Those are some ridiculously intimidating words. Are American words for similar identification routines as intimidating? Driver's License? Identification card? DMV? Well, that last one can be intimidating but only because of the implied waiting foreverrrrr. Adulting is hard.

      As I Google Translate webpage after webpage (including the webpage to sign up for German classes...I should probably take those?), it occurs to me that I have zero commitments at the moment. This can be a bit demotivating/frightening/difficult for me. I'm used to quite a hectic schedule. I recently read an article that talks about how being busy is becoming a new status symbol, and while I can identify with that post, I can also appreciate my lack of busy-ness right now as something that will probably never happen again in my life. Regardless, without anything at all to do I'll just sit around, watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and drink coffee. Do I need the coffee even if I'm not busy? Obviously, yes, because coffee. However, I'm really out of my element with this whole empty schedule routine.

My BuJo spread for keeping track of the Project. I left some space in the notes section to record particular videos or
poses that I want to remember later on, because I'm sure I'll forget them. 
      Enter: the 39 Day Yoga Progress Project for Flexibility from Yoga By Candace. She is one of my favorites, both as a yoga instructor and an entrepreneur who's really killing this whole "Girl Boss" thing in life. I have been telling myself for months that I would really benefit from doing yoga every day. I just never got in the habit of it. Tasks and errands came up, there were so many "lasts" that couldn't be put off, and so many trips to take to see people before we moved. I could tell myself I didn't need to do yoga if I'd already worked out, but going running was difficult this summer because a) it was ridiculously hot and b) my body is pretty stiff, still, from an ankle injury I suffered in April. This project will be a good way to loosen up my muscles, give me something productive to do, and focus my energy in a positive way as we go through the rough parts of transitioning after a BIG move.

     Candace has a sample program all laid out on her website. It's easy to follow, and the multitudinous library of yoga videos on her YouTube channel makes it easy to switch up the routine every day. I'm combining the program with my slight obsession with Bullet Journaling, and I've made a spread to keep track of my progress and the program. The less I have to go online, check what I'm supposed to do, and then probably get distracted by something else online, the more accountable I will be to this program! I borrowed Candace's suggested program but just put a time limit, so I can choose a video of that length to do, that suits my mood, each day. I also hope that my running will benefit from this progress journey as well, so I've included spaces in my layout to record my mile time at the same time as the yoga pose check ins. I've included a picture to give a close up for the boxes on the right. My favorite part is the quote, which I stole from Candace's project page. It's a [bad] pun, which I looooove!

      I've chosen Dancer's Pose as my focus, and you can see my *sarcasm* magnificent form in the "before" picture below. I didn't realize how ridiculous I looked until I took it, and I'm totally embarrassing myself by posting it, but progress is a journey and every journey has a starting point. I've definitely got a ways to go. But in the name of keeping a commitment, finding productive uses of my time, and keeping my sanity, I'm determined to make some progress. So, here I go! Follow the Growing Polymathic Instagram to see progress along the way, and the final result!

Embarrassingly bad before shots. Here's hoping for a LOT of progress! 

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Co-Teaching from the Special Education Persepctive Part 4: Professionalism (& back to school!)

       Captain Obvious called, he says, "It's August." Some teachers have already begun their year, others are counting down the days. I'm reflecting on a season where I should be busy with classroom plans and panicking impending paperwork for my caseload, but instead I'm casually sipping coffee and watching the Olympics. My husband and I are moving abroad in 3 weeks, and I'm enjoying a low-stress morning after a stressful previous week of selling, packing, and coordinating our things in preparation for the move. It is REALLY WEIRD that I'm not relating to back to school memes, especially the ones about dreading wearing real pants. I'm still stressing and trying to plan out an upcoming year where I couldn't even begin to predict the outcomes, but my year won't involve a classroom. I won't get to see my little babies that I taught the last 2 years become 8th graders. I won't be working with my wonderful coworkers. I'll repeat, it's really weird. Big sigh.

      Back to school reflections have brought about some inspiration for this last post in my Co-Teaching series. As much as the magnitude of the impending school year can overwhelm teachers, remember one thing: You got this! Pre-year jitters are normal, just like the Olympic athletes I'm watching have pre-race jitters. I mean really, the only difference between the two is that the Olympic athletes have more sculpted abs. Getting nervous for something upcoming just means you care about it, and you care about doing a good job. Give yourself a pat on the back and reassure yourself that no matter what curriculum changes, classroom changes, grade level changes, and staff changes arise, you will have a successful year no matter what.

       As the finale in my Co-Teaching series, here are some encouraging tidbits to remind you and your co-teacher about working together professionally. I hope you've enjoyed the series! (Shameless self-plug: opening week PD is a great time to share these blog posts with your coworkers!)

There are twice as many teachers in your classroom! This is a GOOD thing! How to best use that to your advantage: Work with ALL students! Pull EC groups sometimes, and then let your co-teacher do the same. Working with the same group of students will wear both of you out, while trading off can give each of you fresh perspective when it’s needed. Likewise, split your grading, assessing, lesson prep, everything! Make co-teaching work for you so that you both feel like you're contributing and taking some of the load off the other teacher.

Meetings come up, things happen, but make sure the students know you are invested in their success. Students should learn from your relationship about how to work together. The more the whole class sees BOTH teachers interacting positively, the more positive your class will be. Let your students see you both take the lead, and let them see you compromise as well. Let them know when you've disagreed (professionally) and how you've gotten through it. Let them know when you've celebrated something together (especially if you celebrated your students!). Mostly, let them see you both actively participating in their education.

This is just good professionalism anywhere. If you're the one running from room to room and anticipate being late, tell them. Treat every day like it's the first day and you want to make a good impression. Your students pick up when you get in the habit of being late, running behind, or being absent. They WILL call you out on it!

You're developing a personal and professional relationship, in front of a most influential audience! So, remember to keep professional disagreements professional by not including them in conversations with students or peers. Don’t share your arguments with others and be respectful with your co-teacher when you disagree. As a teacher, be intentional about your practice. If you don’t know, ask! Always seek to grow in your skillset and seek advice professionally when needed

With time, with planning, with your co-teacher, and with yourself. Compromise is healthy and can help keep the pressure off of one teammate feeling like they have to carry "more" of the load. Always seek to problems solve and come up with creative solutions. Be sure you are working together to resolve or mediate differences, not waiting for the other to fix it! 

Just as in any relationship, take time to figure out what’s working and what’s not. If it’s not working, try something new! Be responsive to your co-teacher’s needs. Be sure to make time to talk about student strengths and struggles during your PLC. However, make sure you also celebrate the good and approach student needs with a growth mindset.

...And, most importantly, have a great school year! 

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Co-Teaching from the Special Education Perspective Part 3: Types of Co-Teaching

      The meat and potatoes of co-teaching has to do with understanding the ways in which you can use co-teaching to your advantage in the classroom. In the words of professional development everywhere, co-teaching is a "tool for your toolbox" that can make the world of different if it's used correctly. View it as an opportunity and your perspective on co-teaching will shift toward the "how can I make this work for students?" instead of "how do I survive this year?" Today I define the six types of co-teaching with some pros, cons, and a brief description of lessons where I've used each type of co-teaching successfully.  Here's a handy document for you to ponder your own pros/cons/applications for each type. 
*Sidenote, it feels weird to type "I've used" in that sentence...because I did it a with a co-teacher, not on my own! I should be saying "we"!!

The Six Types of Co-Teaching

One Teach, One Assist
One teacher delivers instruction while the other supports both students and the co-teacher.
  • Support individual students’ needs
  • Can switch roles
  • One teacher less active
  • One teacher looks more “in charge”
My experience:
This is most beneficial when one of you is feeling ill/not having a great day. Let the stronger teacher deliver main content and the ill teacher can support! It can also be useful if you have whole class content as you can give your co-teacher a break from being "on stage" if you know they have a lot going on. One teach one assist is also beneficial when there is a student in the room who consistently needs individual supports during class; one teacher can deliver a whole class lesson and the other teacher can pop in between supporting the class and supporting an individual student. Be careful, however, because routine use of one teach one assist shows the students that one teacher is in charge, and the other is just there to help out "that one kid."
One Teach, One Observe

One teacher is delivering instruction while the other is observing the class (uninvolved with the lesson).
  • Data collection
  • Feedback on lessons, management, etc.
  • One teacher is “inactive”

My Experience: I only felt comfortable using one teach one observe as a data collection tool. Some co-teachers like to assess each other, assess a lesson, and use the co-teacher for objective feedback. I've used it before when working as a new teacher starting in the middle of the year, and with new co-teachers who wanted to watch how I delivered content or interacted with students. This is not a model intended for daily use!

Station Teaching
Students can be divided into stations, some may be independent, but at least one is teacher leading a group while the other teacher may lead a second group or may monitor the class as a whole.
  • Differentiation
  • Allow for interventions
  • Small group teaching
  • More structure needed for groups
  • More planning for station activities

My Experience: This is a great model for differentiating in the classroom! We used it in almost all of my co-teaching experiences. It's a great way to break up a routine, deliver different instruction based on skill or need, and provide students with the opportunity to work in cooperative groups. It does require a bit of planning ahead of time, to prepare roles and stations, and in teaching students group work expectations. It's absolutely worth it, though! 

Parallel Teaching
Teachers are simultaneously teaching the same content to the class, which has been split in two (not necessarily equal) groups.
  • Small group teaching
  • May have different teaching styles
My Experience: This has been most useful in a situation where a large inclusion class needs a big break from one another; or on those days where you know a lesson will be tough for the class and you want a way to teach in small groups; or on days that you'd like to spend a little more time on content and have students take a deeper role in an activity or lesson. The only drawback is that if it's an explicit lesson and you teach it two different ways, that can be confusing once you rejoin classes. Confusion can, however, be avoided with good planning!
Alternative Teaching

Teachers are simultaneously teaching different content to the class, which has been split in two (not necessarily equal) groups.
  • Differentiation
  • Small group teaching
  • Allow for interventions
  • Students may miss content
My Experience: This is great for "pull out" type content, such as specific interventions students need to record time with, individual services as determined by an IEP, or pulling a small group of students for remediation, extra practice, etc. Students definitely notice, though, that they are "different" or that they are the small group being pulled out. Work work groups, math facts practice, and other in-class small groups count as well, becaucse both teachers are actively delivering separate content.

Both teachers split delivery of content and class routines. This is the most complex form of co-teaching.
  • Students more engaged
  • Truly collaborative
  • Difficult to execute without a relationship
My Experience: This is my favorite! It takes a lot to work up to and of course you really have to develop a relationship, but it works out really well. You can adjust to whatever it is you want to do in your classroom. It's almost as if you are switching between all of the other types of co-teaching as needed, depending on your lesson format and your class structure. Students benefit from teaming because they get to witness a working relationship and use that example in the classroom, in their friendships, and beyond. They know that not only do they have one teacher looking out for them, but they have two teachers, working with them, working for them. It truly personifies the saying, "Two heads are better than one." 

      The best way to co-teach use all of these styles! In each co-teaching partnership, particular lessons lend themselves better one style or another, and in your co-planning (which you hopefully have told your administrators is a requirement for co-teaching) you discuss what style fits your lesson best. Assign roles for both teachers, so that both are being utilized. If one of the teachers in a co-teaching relationship feels underutilized not only is it bad for the relationship, but it's bad for the students too. Go back and talk about it with your co-teacher. Communication is key! Especially the message you are communicating to your students. 

Co-Teaching from the Special Education Perspective Part 4: Professionalism

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Co-Teaching from the Special Education Perspective Part 2: Relationship and Communication

     When I got married in 2013, it seemed everyone had advice for me and my husband. "Don't go to bed angry," "Get out and adventure," "Be willing to admit when you're wrong," and "Happy wife, happy life!" were among the phrases we heard often, and they're phrases I've heard over and over at most bridal showers and weddings I've attended over the years. It's age old and time tested advice we've all heard. And by this early point in the post I'm sure you're all thinking "UH first rule of an introductory paragraph is to let your reader know what you'll be talking about, so what in the universe does this have to do with co-teaching?"

     Fair point, reader, fair point. Let me extend to you an invitation to approach co-teaching using those first two letters only: CO. When you're married or getting married, advice is usually related to those aspects of the marriage that have to do with doing things TOGETHER. CO-habitating, CO-parenting, CO-operating, and CO-mpromise (see what I did there?). Each of those areas of "togetherness" can apply to co-teachers as well. You share the same space, discipline the same students, while you both also manage teaching content and your individual professional requirements. Your job is to work with another human being in order to teach students, many of whom typically have diverse learning needs and have varying cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds. If you read Part 1 of this series, you know that each teacher brings their own "baggage" to a co-teaching relationship. Part 2 explores 6 conversations you should have to build a team dynamic between you and your co-teacher. So if you're reading this, share it with your co-teacher as well!

          Typically, you're given limited time and minimal professional development about co-teaching prior to entering into a co-teaching situation. Maybe during the year someone will say "Oh, hey if you take a PD day during the year there's this workshop you can go to in order to learn about how to co-teach" and of course it will be in March, when you've already established all of your routines, habits, and a working (or not) relationship. So here are some suggestions for the start of the year, when you're all abuzz and ready for the new school year to begin, for how to build a little relationship with your co-teacher and get your priorities aligned before the students arrive.

Six conversations to have with your co-teacher in the days before the school year starts: 

1. Share your strengths and weaknesses with each other.

      Just like in any team relationship, you bring a particular set of strengths and weaknesses to the team. And let's call them weaknesses, not "areas to improve," not "deltas," or anything else, because it's important in a co-teaching relationship to acknowledge that there are parts of your job that you don't do as well, just like there are parts of your job that you do very well. That's totally normal. That's why workplaces have multiple people on projects, teams, and committees, because everyone is not a superhero with all-encompassing abilities. You should not expect that of yourself as a teacher, nor should you expect it of your co-teacher, especially since you don't expect that of your students! Your co-teaching relationship is a chance to show your students what a functional partnership looks like, an example of cooperation, compromise, and, hopefully, friendship. Prepare to show off that teamwork with a conversation about what you each do best, and what you each hope to improve.

Guiding questions: In what areas of instruction are you most confident? What areas do you struggle with the most? What parts of the school year are your favorite? What do you enjoy most about teaching? What parts of your job do you dislike most and why? (red flag, if they say "co-teaching" maybe go see your administrator...)

2. Share your "why's" and your "what's"

      We often hear that research shows the more you know about a person the more tolerant you are of them. You're also more willing to compromise and overall more accepting of diverse profiles in general. Take a few moments at the start of the year and get really serious about why you are in the teaching profession. It doesn't need to be TOO serious - bring some coffee and donuts or chocolate and keep it casual- but be honest in the conversation. You should both also share your "what" as a teacher. This is a term I've totally invented but relates to what it is that makes you feel successful at your job. For some it is appearance- the classroom, making things "look pretty," talking with parents, relationships with kids, etc. For others it is the meaning behind the scenes- creating assessments, analyzing data, checking off lists, PLC conversations. Often, though, it's a mix of both of these and every teacher has a different combination of what makes them feel successful. Know what makes you feel successful, but also know how to support your co-teacher in feeling successful.

Guiding questions: What is most fun for you about teaching? What parts of your job make you smile the most or help you get through the tougher times? When you prioritize your tasks, what's most important to get done first?

3. Talk about your classroom management styles. A LOT. 

      Class routines, structure, and discipline needs to be consistent between you and your co-teacher. For example, if your co-teacher hates having a messy room at the end of class, then you need to support that by enforcing student routines which leave the room tidy. Likewise, if you can’t stand students calling out, make sure your co-teacher knows to enforce student routines that have students speak out in an organized manner. If your school does not have a PBIS system, then what will be your classroom behavior management system? I will advise that good cop/bad cop is not a particularly sustainable option (it can be helpful in some situations, but not all, and leads to different levels of respect for each co-teacher). Make sure you have a system that works for both of you, because you both have to maintain it.

Guiding questions: What system of management do you use? What are you most comfortable with? Are there behaviors that you struggle to manage? What behaviors frustrate you the most? What is the most successful way you've managed that behavior in the past? What resources do you need to put in place to help enforce your system (Are you both buying candy? Do you need weekly prizes/reward ideas? Do you need to review rules for a token economy system?)

4. Talk about space- for both you and the students. 

      Most often, co-teaching takes place in one teacher's room. And, as all teachers know, you don't want to mess with a teacher's space. That's their sanctuary! BUT, as co-teachers, you have to share the space. So talk about what that will look like! If you are more laid back this might not be as big of a concern, but for teachers that are particular about their room habits, this can be a really big deal in the grand scheme of the school year. Have a conversation about the kind of space you each require, and then talk about how that will relate to your students.

Guiding questions: What will the teacher desk space look like (do both teachers need a desk? If so, shared space or separate for each desk?)? What functions do you need your classroom to have? Do you have small group space? Does each teacher have their own room? If so, how will you plan to utilize both rooms, or will you only plan to use one?

5.  Talk about your respective specialty areas.

     As a special education teacher, I always informed my co-teachers about my special education tasks and job requirements. Honestly, most of my co-teachers knew it was a lot of work but didn't know why it was important or how much work went into each component. Sharing the legal concerns, the background information, and even venting about the amount of work was helpful because my co-teachers saw my job as both essential to their classrooms and a valued need in the school system. It also made me brush up on some of the areas where I needed to continue learning (looking up state special education laws to explain their specifics to my co-teachers, for example, helped me stay abreast of legal information in a new state). Similarly, my co-teachers always kept me informed about content training they had completed, new initiatives in curriculum, and changes to pacing guides or district content standards. We learned from each other, and respected each other as professionals in our respective areas because of it. At the start of the year, talk about what expectations you have to manage in a school year.

Guiding questions: What expectations do you have for yourself this year, in regards to your professional role? What tasks do you complete when? What is your approach to completing your job requirements on your own, and how do you fit each other into those approaches? What knowledge will you want your co-teacher to share about their role, and what do you anticipate sharing with them in return?

6. Talk about where you both stand with regard to the content you will teach. 

      This last conversation is the one I hear is most often omitted. When preparation time runs short, this conversation gets lost in the assumption that "you're a teacher, you should know how to teach the content." And when there's time for the conversation, I've heard many special educators say that they don't want to admit they don't know content, or they say they admit they don't feel comfortable with certain content and then their co-teacher immediately dismisses them as a valuable colleague. To avoid this, have a conversation about the content- yearly plans, unit plans, lesson plans. How will you plan? What daily content routines will you feature (warm ups? daily informal assessment? daily prompts? weekly themes, like Minute Math Monday?)? Then, as you're talking about what's important to the instruction, fill each other in on the parts of instruction  you each enjoy, dislike, don't feel comfortable with, want to learn more about, etc. It's important, again, to be honest as your plan ahead. It's also important to acknowledge that even if you aren't comfortable covering certain content, there are still plenty of ways for you to be an active part of instruction. I'll talk about that in Part 3, but for now, know you need to talk with your co-teacher about the content. 

Guiding questions: What content area are you working on, and what grade level(s)? What do each of you feel most comfortable teaching? What parts of the content could you improve instructionally? What experiences do you bring to the team in this content area? How will you plan for differentiation of materials and what responsibilities will you each have in terms of planning content and assessment? 

      No cooperative relationship can happen without honest, open, and continual dialogue about the relationship and where it is headed! As previously stated, your working relationship is one that has to interact with each and every one of your students, so it is important to cultivate that team relationship to provide a functional example for your students to observe. The more students can observe healthy, positive, and successful adult relationships, the more prepared they are to deal with cooperative tasks in the future (and in your classroom!).

Co-Teaching from the Special Education Perspective Part 3: Types of Co-Teaching

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Co-Teaching from the Special Education Perspective Part 1: Get Organized

(preface: this post is low on images but ample in pdf/Google Doc resources!)

      Pretend you are going on a date this Friday. Drinks, dinner, the whole deal! Woo hoo! It's an exciting time for you, my friend. You know that you'll probably spend some time this week thinking about what you're going to wear, looking at the menu for the restaurant ahead of time, making any arrangements you need to for someone to watch your pets, your kids, your laptop, who knows. There's mental preparation that goes into the whole week, because you might be nervous, excited, unsure, or maybe you're even ambivalent but you at least want to make a good impression. Then, the day of, you might take an hour to do your hair, pick out three outfits before you find the fourth option you didn't realize would be your favorite. You've got to iron your shirt, wash the car (if you are old fashioned), make sure you have everything just right; for some people this means even your tan is updated, while for others it simply means feeling like yourself before you go present yourself to someone else.

      The point is, you spend time before the date getting ready, and not just the time it takes to do your hair or iron your nicest dress shirt. Not for the first time, comparing co-teaching to dating/marriage/personal relationships is a great way metaphor for many reasons, but mostly because co-teaching involves establishing an actual relationship. That's why it's the most challenging form of teaching for many people. I'll get into the relationship piece in Part 2, but first think back to all those items you might check off your "to-do" list before a date. You have to get yourself ready!

      Coming to a co-teaching relationship from the Special Education perspective means you're bringing a lot of baggage with you. You bring all the complications to the relationship! You've got the behavior plans, the academic interventions, the modified assignments, the parents who want a daily report on everything their child has done, not to mention the testing modifications and accommodations! And don't forget the meetings that may or may not cause you to miss class, the data collection required for your IEPs, the planning time you have to take to work on IEPs and progress reports every quarter. Your co-teacher may be involved in some of these things, but ultimately, these tasks are only on YOUR radar, and likely aren't on your co-teacher's daily, weekly, or even yearly agenda.

      So it's up to you to get yourself organized before your school year starts, to come into that relationship with your baggage checked. I use a few handy tools to keep myself organized. Because, if I know my annual review dates are a click away, my data notebooks are easy to use (and personalize for those pesky goals that just don't fit any cookie-cutter type data collection tools), and my testing modifications are easy to read, then I know that I've got my baggage in order before I step up to the co-teaching plate. That was a lot of mixed metaphors, I apologize.

      The summer is a great time to reflect on what didn't work last year, and what did work; what items you need to better organize, what stressed you out the most in terms of case management and start brainstorming strategies to relieve some of that stress this coming year. Take out all the parts that are out of your control - last minute district and school deadlines, new transfers, new behavior plans to manage, etc.- and do what you can to improve YOUR organization and clarify your tasks for the year that will not change - writing IEPs, knowing mods, deadlines/dates for annual reviews and re-evals, etc. The more you have a handle on that information, the less it will stress you out as the year goes on.

    Here are some tools I use in the first few weeks of school to stay organized, but PLEASE feel free to comment with your own organization strategies, how you would improve these tools, or any other relevant feedback! Teaching becomes so much easier when we are a community that comes together to share our resources and expertise. You never know who or how many you will help with your advice!

Tool #1: Caseload Management Document

I use a document like this (electronic, I use Google Sheets) to organize my caseload each year. It includes the basic information you need to reference often, such as annual reviews, placement, and whether or not you've completed a progress report for that quarter. I color code mine to keep organized. Yellow annual review means it's scheduled, orange means it's coming up in the next few weeks but not scheduled, green is complete. Same for re-evals (but I add pink, which means we're doing testing and the first meeting is complete but I'm waiting on testing to be completed).

Tool #2: Student Data Sheet Document

This is a great document to keep in a data notebook, student folder, or electronic data folder because it is easily transferable to next year's case manager. It's also easy to read information to present at an IEP meeting, a BIP meeting, any kind of meeting, really. Plus, it includes space for all the information you'd need to set up a meeting. Lastly, the small graphs are easy to label with whatever units you need for your myriad goals and benchmarks. You can print as many goal pages as you need, since they conveniently fit on one page each, and you can print duplicates if you collect data more regularly than this sheet allows (way to go, you!).

Tool #3: Testing Mods/Accommodations Documents

I'll include 2 versions of this- one which is more "basic" and another which has added detail. Different teachers like different things, and I personalized the same format to be a simple version for a teacher that just wanted the quick glance, and a detailed version for a teacher that wanted more background information and details on the mods themselves. The pdf version embedded on this post is blank (and small, I blame Google), but the link will provide both a blank copy and an example of a mods form that is filled in with sample mods. I typically create the spreadsheet for the regular teacher (or myself!) requesting them at the start of the year, and then share it only with them, so that they have a copy a) of just their classes and b) that is not shared with all teachers, so that confidentiality is protected. Then, as I have meetings where mods are changed, I update the spreadsheet to reflect those changes (and usually I highlight that student's row so they know it has changed).

Basic Version (blank or filled in):

Detailed Version (blank or filled in):

Tool #4: Student Checklist/Parent feedback Document

Here's an example of a checklist I used with a student whose parents wanted feedback on class performance in order to support us (the student would avoid work, so his parents and teachers set up this sheet to give daily feedback to the parents so they could reward/reinforce expectations at home as needed to improve work completion). I've used check-ins like this with students in a self-contained setting, as well as inclusion 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th graders This type of system requires major parent effort and teacher effort as well, so it's not a one-size-fits-all type of system, but it's easy to modify based on classes, context, or per-student needs. It helps to organize some of the behavioral/parent contact needs you may have in your classroom. If you know some students who may be in your classes or on your caseload next year, summer is a great time to search for these kinds of resources to have at your disposal when you need a new strategy during the year.

Co-Teaching from the Special Education Perspective Part 2: Relationship and Communication