Category Archives: From the teacher

More than you think

by Michael Murphy

It is easy to say that kids will be kids. Easy to think that their silly actions are a step to growing up, a phase they will outgrow, or a gasp for attention. As the Friendship Academy teacher at Easter Seals’ Bucks County Division, I see a variety of behaviors and work alongside with numerous professionals to decipher what the children, some able to communicate and others who struggle, are trying to say. Each action is a message, a question, or a statement and all the adults have to do is listen. Imagine that, adults not using their listening ears!

When we ask a student to clean up the floor, they don’t know what that means. A nephew of mine was told to clean up the floor at home, and he actually picked up every single toy… and put it on a higher surface. The floor was clean… the table, tv stand, bookshelf and couch were not. However, he cleaned up the floor and actually showed an impressive ability to follow directions. As adults, we have to think about how we explain our directions. Children throwing toys during clean up time or continuing to play could communicate that they are unsure of what “clean up” can mean. Instead, at Friendship Academy, we give shorter instructions;

Now David, you’re not doing that right, you’ll be in trouble unless you clean up all your toys”

becomes “Put in bin, David.”

Think about a boss giving you directions as an adult. How long does it take for you to tune them out? Children are saying more than you think by not cleaning up.

Kids like to move! They jump off couches, run into walls and just won’t stay still. They are trying to tell you something, just listen! I like to think that I get a lot out of my kids when they’re at our circle time. Sometimes I can get up to 15 preschoolers of varying abilities sitting for up to 30 minutes, and its not by having them all sit still and quiet while I do the lesson that I wanted to do. I make THEM the lesson! Their ideas, their questions, their movements. I give opportunities to get loud, to move around and to be silly, and after that they are ready to listen. We assigned a portion of the room as the jumping corner, and that is not to punish the child who wants to jump and send them away, but it is a way to provide these much needed opportunities to students to help them wake up and refocus.

Again think about a long day at work, staring at the screens or dealing with customers over and over… sometimes you need to step away and shake it off. A child’s wiggles, jumps, claps… its not to ruin your day. It is saying more than you think. It is asking you to give them something to do to help them refocus.

No David stop doing that right now, I need you to sit.”

becomes “Lets jump (wiggle, clap…) ten times and then try this again.”

And yes, I’m that parent running up and down the aisles at Target because, frankly, I don’t like clothes shopping either.

Kids hit! They may do so out of internal frustration, external frustration, or just to get you to listen to them. My son gave my a shove to my chest today while I was checking my text messages, and I was about to get very upset until I realized that, from time to time, I’ll give him a pat on the shoulder when I know he is too into Fruit Ninja or Netflix. Kids learn more than you’d think from just watching us in action as adults. At their most extreme, students need to learn how to deal with their frustrations, but children don’t always hit out of anger, usually just out of frustration for not knowing or possessing the best words to use to solve their problems. At Friendship Academy, long before any kind of threat or punishment, we share some words to use. “Are you angry?” “Do you need help?” “Would you like to do something new?” These are all phrases we use when we observe an event getting ready to boil over. They are openers to allow students to begin a larger conversation and to help increase their available language. Sometimes we just have to provide some of the attention that that child is seeking. Children are well aware that their physical aggression will bring more attention than saying “Excuse me.” until they have their time to speak.

I cannot speak for every child, but I have seen students of varied cognitive and physical abilities respond well to shortened instructions, a respectful tone, an opportunity to do something THEY enjoy, and a simple opener to have their own time to talk. Children will grow to exceed your expectations, however high you hold them, they will do more than you think they ever could. The best way to get them to reach higher and higher is not to tell them what NOT to do, but to provide them with guidance towards what they should do. And always praise, even for failed attempts because when you try hard at your job, don’t you want some recognition too?

 

What’s Qoming On at Bucks County?

by Michael Murphy

Thanks to some dedicated staff and several generous community technology grants, Easter Seals in Bucks County has been able to install Qomo boards in each classroom. A Qomo board is an exciting interactive whiteboard with an outstanding variety of applications in today’s classroom. Since the boards were installed in the fall of 2015, each classroom at the Margaret “Judge” Brooks Center in Levittown, PA has worked to utilize the technology as best as we can. Our teachers have used the boards in new and diverse ways, as the populations and purposes of our students can be very unique. We use the boards in routine activities, like circle and calendar times, while also testing its limits and challenging the limits of our students in more academic and focused activities. The entire staff has challenged their tech skills at one time or another in order to best utilize these tools, even going so far as to plan gatherings among staff to share and troubleshoot new ideas or problems. The initiative of the staff shows a promising dedication to best serving our clients in all facets of learning.

Often children are said to have too much screen time at young ages, however as educators we know that any experience can be turned into a learning adventure if students are taught to utilize tools in the best ways. At home my children can unlock my cell phone, find (and delete) applications and, of course, exit out of anything they do not like. At the earliest of ages students are learning to solve simple problems. When applied to our Qomo boards, we have instant engagement from our students and are able to watch them solve simple problems, accomplish tasks and apply technology to learning activities. Whether the required tasks are simple or complex we try to address a variety of goals.

As the Friendship Academy teacher at Bucks we can have a challenging group of 3-5 year old students of a wide range of physical, cognitive and emotional abilities. We use the Qomo to encourage students to follow the class expectations if they want the next turn. You’ve never seen such perfect demonstrations of Criss Cross Applesauce. We achieve physical goals at times by having students use a non-preferred arm, reaching high or low, or even just standing with minimal support for a period of time. We get students to patiently wait their turns, while still engaged in conversation and thoughtful discussion. They wait. They try. They learn. They succeed. One by one the children get more and more excited for their turn, turning an average attention span of a few minutes into an extended, sometimes twenty minute activity where everyone gets a turn to show what they know.

The activity was something simple, dragging shapes to a matching space on a tangram. No curveballs here, just your basic shapes. When the shapes were all added to the tangram, the picture came to life. A duck, a turtle, a horse… nothing spectacular. Students came up one by one and added a piece of their choice by dragging their finger across the board, or requesting to use the “Magic Wand” (a simple stylus that doubles as a light saber). The students who are sitting on the rug are encouraged to make predictions about what piece will be chosen, what the picture will turn into or counting the number of other shapes left on the board. When the student picks their shape their friends clapped or gave thumbs up and watched as another student came up to do the same. At the end the students confirmed their predictions, laughed at the animation and calmed themselves back down to be ready for the next tangram. Not an earth shattering lesson, but in an inclusive classroom it truly included everybody. We worked together to achieve a common goal. Students felt confident enough to share their ideas, predictions and encouragement for their peers. At the board, students were able to make a simple choice, under considerable pressure in front of their peers and sometimes explained or defended their choice. Every student walked away with positive praise from teachers, students and staff and a new approach to their ability in the classroom.

Through these exercises we are practicing patience, sharing, cooperation, and determination. These are some of the most difficult lessons to teach young children. While the Qomo board is so much more in each classroom depending on its usage, at its most basic level it is an automatic motivator that achieves whatever goals the teacher wants to address. With a focus on individualized education, there is no better way to teach and assess students of such varied ages and abilities than I have seen when that board turns on and I start my lesson.

Grand Mom Dot

by Pat Fitzmyer

Happy 93 years young to our own Grand Mom Dot! Grand Mom Dot is a feeding assistant in the Starfish classroom in the Philadelphia Yaffe Center.

Grand Mom Dot

Grand Mom Dot began her association with Easter Seals in Philadelphia after her retirement over 30 years ago when she joined the Foster Grandparent program. Grand Mom Dot worked for many years at the Yaffe Center mostly with Miss Julie in the Crickets classroom. She was always the life of the party and really enjoyed her interactions with the children. Sadly, the foster grandparent program ended here and Grand Mom resumed her life as a retiree. She was restless in retirement and called Philadelphia one day to ask about volunteer opportunities at Easter Seals. Volunteer, you say?  How about employment? And that is how she began her life as a feeding assistant in the Starfish classroom.

We salute you and love you and look forward to a continuing relationship with the Starfish classroom.

Happy Birthday Grand Mom Dot!

Teachers in the Making!

by Jennifer Greener

Three students from St. Joseph’s University who are studying to be special education teachers volunteered to sponsor a fall activity with the students in Easter Seals Philadelphia Approved Private School. Using their knowledge of how some children’s limitations with fine motor skills, communication and behavior may impact the ability to access and participate in craft activities, they came well-prepared. The volunteers selected visually appealing craft ideas with models of the finished products. The crafts included easy-to-assemble pieces that were readily available for the students. With the support of Easter Seals staff, the children received one-to-one assistance with the craft activities. They utilized their individualized means of making choices, indicating which pieces they wanted to use to personalize their creations. Students received various levels of assistance, some needed hand-over-hand support, while allowing them the opportunity to express their own individuality. When the projects were finished the volunteers had time to play and dance with some of the students before they left for the day. The students enjoyed their time with the volunteers, and this activity provided valuable experience for the budding teachers.

Motor time is more than just burning off steam

by Anna Lassman, OTR/L &  Laura Corbett

Motor play in most early intervention center programs tends to involve unstructured time in a gross motor room, or playground, to let the kids move around and burn off steam; however it tends to be a crazy, free for all kind of period of the day where both staff and students leave frustrated. Many of our students often feel lost when not directly engaged in a structured activity. We were finding an increase in challenging behaviors in our gross motor room due to the lack of planning and structure.

Staff in the Philadelphia Division EI Center noticed this as a problem and began brainstorming new ways to make our gross motor time more effective. The goal is to provide opportunities for our students to practice a variety of skills including general gross motor play, following directions, waiting their turn, turn taking and social play, making and sticking to choices, functional play, requesting, and entering and leaving the room calm and organized.

In January 2015, we were lucky enough to get a recreational therapy intern from Penn State and we knew this was a golden opportunity. With the help and leadership of our Recreational Therapy intern, Kate Shilkitus, wonderful things have happened. Not only are our children “burning off steam,” but also, they are practicing appropriate and functional play while following a routine and here’s HOW we made it all happen.

We started with gathering the classroom staff together and talking about the importance of motor room and all of its benefits. Cindy Goldberg, PT and Anna Lassman, OT provided support through a workshop where we discussed the program we hoped to create in the gross motor room. Together, we talked about responsibilities of the therapy staff and the Teaching staff members to make this all work. The following was discussed in detail:

  1. Use of motor time with a lesson plan that includes strategies to prevent challenging behavior. Some strategies included:
  • Including their interests to keep them engaged and motivated in the gross motor room (i.e balls, slides, pretend play, cars, etc.)
  • The use of reinforcers (bubbles, stickers, etc.)
  • The use of visuals to communicate expectations before they go to GM room.
  • The use of visuals to show the children “what comes next” and the agenda for the session.
  • The use of choice boards and structured smaller groups within the larger gross motor room space to guide play.
  • Bring/push class chairs down to GM room (heavy work that can be calming and organizing) for students to sit on at start, rather than opening the door and kids rushing in.
  • Gradually go from chair sitting to floor sitting as kids become used to new GM room routine
  • Use “clean-up” as part of the session.
  • Ending session with a calming/re-group type activity by the waiting area to build compliance momentum.
  • Use of time during team meetings to make a plan for the week in the motor room based on the above items.
  1. We discussed the properties of the equipment available and various ways to use them to expand play schemes.
  • Obstacle courses can be changed up mid- session.
  • More than one way to use pieces of equipment
  • Staff modeled creative ways to use a ball or a wedge, for example.
  1. What levels of assistance we use and how to fade or increase as needed based on individuals.

Based on ideas and feedback from the workshop, we began to put together visual materials, including a stop sign at door, marked places in the room for waiting areas, and activity and equipment use suggestions, but the prep work alone can be a very timely task. Fortunately having Kate, our recreation therapy intern, who was ready and willing to lead this initiative, we hit the ground running. We believe that what has made this program even more successful from the start is having Kate dedicate her time and energy in that room.

Following our workshop, Kate spent a great deal of time preparing the environment and doing the prep work. She created several visuals and utilized the strategies discussed to create expectations with the use of visuals. Visual supports are crucial for many of our students so in creating these, Kate helped to set our students up for success.

Here’s an example of our expectations upon entering the gross motor room

expectations

Here’s an example of our choice board that is set up everyday. Staff then model the different activities that can be done with each choice.

choices

Once Kate had everything prepped and ready to go, we rolled out the new program and collected baseline data on two skills: (1) Wait time with an expectation of average wait time to be 30 seconds to 1 minute with 2 or less redirections. (2) Following directions throughout the session with 2 or less redirections. Kate has been collecting data daily and the findings are outstanding! We have seen a dramatic improvement in just a short time. The chart(s) below gives you a clear picture that this new program is most certainly working.

data

Kate’s ability to help strategize, plan, and implement a new program is extraordinary. She spends endless time at school and at home reflecting on individual progress and the program as a whole. Unfortunately, Kate has left us as her internship has come to a close, but her hard work and lasting effects in establishing a consistent routine and program in our gross motor room are here to stay. The last three weeks will consisted of transitioning our teachers to lead and implement the program with Kate’s support. The teachers now feel confident in doing the same.

We look forward to continued success with this program and our students. No longer do our teachers need to “burn off steam” after a chaotic session in the gross motor room. We have successfully implemented a new program that keeps both students and staff calm and having fun.

 

It’s Just Not Fair

by Michael Murphy

“It’s Just Not Fair” is often heard throughout a preschool classroom, more so in an inclusive classroom such as Friendship Academy where students are treated and educated as individuals; meaning that praise is always given, but rewards are based on expectations of those individuals. We get excited for each and every achievement that happens in our classroom, but even the youngest of students notices when one student has a reward bin, or a penny board, or gets to take breaks after long activities. They catch on quick, they can get upset, they can sometimes be right.

As a teacher I explain the situation in ways they understand, ways they can remember. I dance until they smile, I offer them the world. They still know it is not a sticker but it is enough for the moment to let them forget.

As a preschool teacher, I get excited for all sorts of achievements. I may dance and sing more than I teach. A successful circle time, I dance. An awesome line in the hallway, I sing. A classroom of good listeners, I do both.

As a teacher of Friendship Academy it gets a little different. All types of students have all types of achievements. Friends utilize full sentences, I sing. Friends keep hands to themselves or find ways to control themselves in exciting activities, I dance. Friends make basic vocalizations, I do both. Friends engage in a flawless transition from one activity to another, I do both. Friends go a whole day without a meltdown, I do both. Friends engage in an activity and try their best for two minutes, I lose my mind for that.

What is really “just not fair” is that after all the work, after all the success, after all the praise and rewards. I don’t get to watch them grow anymore. They go off to elementary school. They work to be the good leaders in the classroom, the examples, the students who engage because they want to, not because they have to. And then I start from scratch, one step at a time. Maybe it is better this way because after all the leaps and bounds…

I’m running out of stickers.

Meet JJ…

Walk With Me is just five days away, so it seems a perfect time to introduce our fifth Honorary Ambassador, JJ. There is still time to register for the Walk by clicking here. We hope you will join us on Saturday as we celebrate JJ and all of our Ambassadors.

Meet JJ…

jj_2015

JJ is very social six-year-old who has PVL, Cerebral Palsy, Dysphagia and cortical vision impairments. JJ has tremendous inner strength and we have to believe so much of it comes from his parents, big sister, twin brother and huge extended family. When he was ready for center-based services, he also became part of the Easter Seals family. Since he began at Easter Seals, JJ has come out of his shell even more, his motivation is increased, his words have increased and he is holding his head up better. In addition to his increased words, he will soon be using an eye gazing device to really help him find his voice. When he’s not amazing his teachers, he’s quite happy rough housing with his siblings, playing catch and playing games on his iPad. He also loves watching sports and cheering loudly with his daddy.  When asked to describe JJ, his parents summed it up by saying that JJ is their family’s rock star and inspiration.  His love for life makes their days truly blessed.

Perspectives from a Student Teacher

by Elizabeth Anzevino

As a double elementary and special education major at Saint Joseph’s University, I had already experienced seven weeks student teaching in a Kindergarten classroom. I conducted lessons, created assessments, and practiced behavior management techniques. But I knew student teaching at Easter Seals would be an entirely different experience. I did have a background in working with students with Autism and developmental delays from my job as a substitute teacher back home in New Jersey, but I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect on my first day here back in March. But between then and now, as my time as a student teacher is finished, I learned more than I ever could have imagined from my cooperating teacher Megan Guthrie, the staff, and most importantly the students of the Bear Cubs classroom that I got to spend every day with.

After that first day I quickly understood the team effort that went into teaching this group of preschoolers. The coordination and planning between Megan, her assistant Robin, and all of the therapists that came through the door that day amazed me. I always knew that these team members worked together in order to carry out goals of an IEP and to manage a class, but I had no idea how dedicated and involved everyone truly was. As I took more of an observing role the first week or so, I quickly became integrated into the every day activities of the classroom, and I learned that a great deal of planning, structure, and attention to detail had to be given in order to get through the day as smoothly as possible, and in order for the kids to gain as much out of the day as they were able.

Throughout the seven weeks that I was a part of the Bear Cubs I learned more and more about each of the individual students, and it helped me as a teacher. Megan gave me the responsibility to take over circle time as well as whole and small group lessons, and I facilitated transitions from one activity to the next. With my lesson planning I truly got to implement what I had been learning about differentiation for the last four years; and I also saw how challenging it could be. Although I did a lot on my own I truly learned that talking to other teachers and therapists helped with making accommodations and modifications for each of my students. I learned firsthand how the IEP process worked, took and interpreted data on functional routines within our class, and I even got to conduct assessments using the Star Program. Megan and I made many changes to our classroom throughout my time at Easter Seals and it taught me that things will always be ever changing, and as a teacher I will need to be flexible. As much planning as we do, there are always things that pop up unexpectedly that we as teachers are responsible for handling, and in the end it makes us better educators.

The experience I received from Easter Seals is one that I will keep with me always. The environment there is so positive and energetic and made me love going each and every day. Now that student teaching is over and graduation is approaching, I truly miss every second of it, and it makes the time I spent there that much more special. As I start graduate school, I know that Easter Seals has taught me so much I will be able to take with me. I feel more than prepared for my future career because not only did I learn and observe while I was there, but I did it. I was the teacher. I will be forever grateful to Easter Seals and am so happy that I was placed there.

A new look at the Friendship Academy

The Friendship Academy is an amazing program where all children play to learn. This unique program provides an excellent early childhood education program with a research-driven and enriched curriculum in a child-friendly and safety-oriented setting.

The Friendship Academy is an inclusive program, which means that children with disabilities learn side-by-side with their typically developing peers. The benefit to the children with disabilities is the opportunity to model their peers. The benefits to the typically developing children are many. Some of the program features include; “Handwriting Without Tears”, an eco-science experience with a greenhouse/garden, music instructor, arts and crafts, iPad technology and a library and book loan program.

We have created a video that gives you first-hand look at how the program is impacting families.

Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports Program (PBIS).

Good News!
We are working to make our school the very best it can be!

How?

By Adopting the Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports Program (PBIS).

What is PBIS?

Positive behavior interventions and supports is a planned way to meet the behavioral needs of students in a school. Parents are important in the success of PBIS, and many choose to use a similar system at home.

What will it look like?

Positive behavior interventions and support is a system that is developed by a school for improving student behavior. It is used:

  • With All students
  • Across All environments in school (classroom, lunchroom, restroom, playground)
  • To help schools to create effective learning environments

Parents and staff will continue to work together as we develop PBIS into our program. Our first collaboration was deciding on our positive behavior initiative Mission Statement. Parents voted by email, sending in their paper votes, as well as using our voting poster that was displayed in the lobby for two weeks. Both staff and parents voted and the winner is…

Positive possibilities!

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Now that we have chosen our mission statement we can begin the journey of implementing this idea throughout our entire program with the help of parents, students and staff. Stay tuned for more on how we plan to spread the Positive Possibilities, beginning with our four program wide expectations; Be Safe, Be Engaged, Be Responsible, Be a Team Player!

 Leah Telliard is an APS Social Worker and PBIS team member