Really Cool Idea to Promote Self Advocacy

this is an awesome idea!

This week in the TIES ( Transition to Independence a Employment and a Success) Program the team of young adults are focusing on Self Advocacy techniques. It is awesome that they can speak up, self disclose a disability to receive accommodations in college and the work place– BUT what if they offered their users manual to instructors or supervisors? What if these young adults entered their post-school life with a users manual?

The process of writing the users manual would ensure that they get to know themselves. Then sharing the product, using it as an ongoing project would be a game changer. I am going to incorporate this into the weeks lesson plans on Self Advocay. So glad I found this resource at http://www.edutopia.org

Here is an example of the author’s users manual
Ashley Hutchinson recommends we, as teachers also write a users manual. I am looking forward to doing this with my students tomorrow!

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Staying in the NOW!

SO proud to know all of these famous people who were featured in the Keys Style January Edition!

Take a minute and read three awesome articles in this January Edition:

Teacher Spotlight  pg. 4 and 5

Ship Happens-Stand Up Paddleboarding (SUP) pg. 26-29 

Student Council Members Seek to Improve Their School for Every Student pg. 6-9

What great articles about our little island!

I love living here and experiencing the connection we all have, a connection that supports EVERYONE to reach their ULTIMATE Goals. Sometimes I get bogged down into the logistics of planning future events, writing lesson plans, scheduling practices, doing paperwork, watching from the sidelines, networking and facilitating opportunities for my students/athletes, that I neglect look at the results that are evident TODAY.

These articles cover a great teacher and our local Special Olympics Director at Horace O’Bryant Middle School, the lifestyle born from meetings at the Lazy Dog picnic table and the Key West High Student Council moved me tremendously.

Reading these made me look outside the “To Do” list and returned my feet to the NOW.

2014 is going to be EPIC!

2014-01-04_0741 Invitational Maria Teacher Spotlight

2014-01-04_0839

“New” Faculty Meeting Format is Forcing Me to Grow

Every Thursday I rush across town from my Program Building to the High School, keeping an open mind about the PLC format that our faculty meetings are taking. Traditionally, our meetings left me wondering where I fit into this faculty, a group who focuses on AP (advanced placement), ivy league college entrance, standardized test scores, student behavior, attendance and tardiness.

At the beginning of the school year we were divided up into two PLC groups, one with our curricular department and one with grade level groups. We are charged with sharing strategies we are using in the classroom that have been adopted school wide. I was kind of excited! Here it was, an opportunity to connect with a staff I am part of but separated by due to the nature of my off campus program.

Let me put in the disclaimer here—our principal is FANTASTIC, she “gets”it” and there are many faculty members who are awesome teachers in their specialty. This ramble of mine is my feelings about being a nontypical high school teacher who is teaching nontypical students!

Through our weekly PLC meetings, I have become enlightened that my students are equal in the utilization of strategies. They utilize them in different settings or with different materials that are not typical to a high school student in a classroom, but they use them!

An example of my enlightenment came during a PLC sharing of Marking the Text , a strategy that came from the school wide use of AVID.  I missed this presentation of the strategy  a few years ago, because I was not included in school wide usage of the program, due to the nature of my mobile teaching of young adults with special needs in the workforce. I did not, nor ever will utilize the AVID program. There seemed to be a misconception at the time that “Ruth’s” kids do not need this approach to learning about reading. I too was not paying attention when it was first presented at a two-hour long faculty meeting in lecture format and did not sign up for any of the PD.

In our new PLC format I have come to realize that this strategy CAN and IS being used by my students. AND the kicker is they have been utilizing the strategy in the real world as adults. I realized this as I watched them read the job ads online and in newspapers, highlighting key vocabulary and then discussing it in our daily Job Club session. My students are able to pull up a website for a major employer, using their fingers on a touchscreen device, highlight the important info they need to apply for a job, prepare for an interview and become knowledgable about the employer. We have been utilizing this strategy digitally for quite some time, while the General Education population is still using pencil and paper! The PLC gave me a name for what we were doing, which seems to happen quite a bit, I am practicing effective strategies in my classroom from instinct or common sense and then learn there is a name for it!

I was excited when it was my turn to share with other General Education 12 Grade teachers how we were using the strategy with Ipads, personal phones and other digital media in the mobile world outside the high school walls. The recorder took notes and then we quickly moved on to the next thing on the standardized PLC agenda, leaving me feel a bit empty—I was hoping for more collaboration and real connections with my peers. As these weekly meetings are continuing, I am learning to listen more, share less verbally and the use  pictures of my students in the real world to share what I do, which is helping. There has een a small spark–a few of the teachers I have known for many years started asking questions. Like “What is Autism?” “How can I get help with teaching a student with Aspergers?” This spark is growing and one teacher is asking for resources.

Although, this empty feeling keeps coming up in my professional live. When I am with a group of high school teachers and talk about my “kids” or get excited about a new thing like opening doors for them at our local community college, eyes glaze over. If I lived in a larger geographical area (not a 2 by 4 mile island) and closer to a university (not 4 hours away on one road to the nearest Walmart!) I might have more opportunities to collaborate with people who are doing what I do. Colleagues who take Transition seriously, people who know that students with disabilities CAN go to college and are making it happen. Sometimes I feel like I live in the backwoods instead of Paradise!

Therefore I have been reaching out to the wide open space of the digital world and the internet! Strategically trying to build a PLN (Personal Learning Network). My goal is to develop connections and resources that will carry me into retirement from Public School System. I do not want to stop doing what I do, but would like to do it on a wider platform.

So I am learning to Tweet! To dust off this blog and to set up our Program Blog as a class project for my darling young man who wants a job in Technology building websites and games. Learning about Edublogs and moving the Program Blog from WordPress. Learning to manage digital information is a full-time job and I think I am getting the hang of it. Trying not to feel overwhelmed and like I have to take immediate action on everything I discover.

So to connect with me outside this Blog I am now on Twitter @ononeroad and have making a Facebook titled On One Road as a goal, until then you can connect via my personal page.

Any tips, tricks and just general comments would be appreciated! I am quite distracted by shiny objects! As one flies across my screen I will follow it to other links and then forget about what I was studying to start with!!!!

Here is a summary of my connections I have been utilizing since I started this PLN project!

www.coolcatteacher— GREAT BLOG!

Hootsuite APP and Desktop Great explanation of how to put all social media together

Blogging through the Fourth Dimension  Great BLOG!

Diigio  my links can be found at ononeroad

Developing a “home” page on my Google Chrome that will follow me on all devices, MAC and PC–this has been fun–I have been gathering RSS feeds and Bookmarks from Safari and my internet explorer on my school computer, finding things that have not been used in a while

One resource that is being dusted off is Classroom 2.0 and the tried and true CEC-Council for Exceptional Children

Florida Resource that is being dusted off and found to be very useful in helping me fit the round peg in a square hole

And I rediscovered Edutopia! It has been a productive and renewing Christmas Break so far.

Now if only the weather would clear up—-I am ready to go enjoy my last week off of school in Paradise!

 

Fighting off Bah Humbug

The Holidays are bitter sweet. Being blessed with a Public School schedule with two weeks off, makes this job worth all the late nights, long hours and emotional investment into the lives of young adults with special needs.

Yet there is a draw back, the investment creates a bit more stress then the typical classroom teacher experiences. I am not done at the end of the contracted duty hours. It has been my choice to become fully invested in this career for the past 27 years of my life. A choice that is brings consequences that affect me profoundly at this time of year.

A longing to travel and skip Christmas has been inside me for the past few years, yet I do not give in. I plug away, put up the tree, ship the gifts, try to coordinate schedules with my small family in TN. and push the Bah Humbug feeling away. I operate on what Christmas is “supposed” to look like.

The three weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas in my business are the hardest, in my opinion. The return to the classroom after Thanksgiving is like a hard sprint, put my head down and run to Dec. 20th, sliding into my bed to sleep for two days! After that I wake up and work on recovery in order to return on Jan. 6th for the downhill slide to Spring Break. Christmas and its goodwill sometimes gets set aside in my personal life in order for me to make it through and that makes me sad.

I have neglected my small family, missed life events (Graduations, Military Awards Ceremonies, Birthdays) of my nephews because I was unwilling to take the time away from the students (substitutes are not easy to find for this group and sometimes destroy what took months to accomplish). Until a few years ago I did not have funds to travel from this island I choose to live on, which made it hard to be involved in the families lives in Nashville.

My choices to focus on this career, have consequences today. Now that I am slowing down and can take the time to be with my nephews and their children, have some funds to be able to travel, they are adults and have full lives, responsibilities  and Aunt Ruth is not someone they know well. Their priorities are with their families now, as it should be. That is ok, that is the natural way of it and I rejoice for the two boys who will carry on our family legacy.

I redirect my bittersweet  feelings and dive into the what is going on with my students, savoring the time with them and enjoying Christmas through they’re loving spirits.

My adult students have the childlike wonder of the season, and are learning the adult life lessons of responsibility. They are continuing to go to the job sites, do their grocery shopping and all of their college assignments, things that are not as motivating as Santa Claus and Christmas Cookies!  As a leader, I feel that it is important to keep us moving forward with the IEP goals, keeping in mind that a two week break is on the horizon. Therefore the focus is on lesson plans that are highly engaging for students and staff. This has yielded some awesome student gains in these past few weeks!

While making plans for community based vocational sites and college access, the two week break must be planned for also. The business world that the students interact with is sometimes confused when we stop attending the internship or community learning site for two weeks. It is so important to maintain our relationships with them for the benefit of the students, but so hard to do on this school schedule. Sometimes students choose to participate in the “office parties” on their job sites and need support. It is always fun to witness the communication breakthroughs that emerge via the interaction with natural supports. The relationships become solidified via the Holiday Spirit the students exude.

Keeping my emotions in check, there are some very important decisions that I am making that will affect the quality of my life in the near future, along with affecting this program that has been an extension of me for the past 7 years.

In the recent weeks I have learned that the magic age of 55 gave me some options in my retirement funding. It seems that the 403b that my father insited that I start many years ago is going to come in handy. At 55, it can be rolled over into the FRS system to “buy” the three years of bad choices I made during an attempt to live in Ohio. This means at in June 2014 grand total of my FRS service credit will be 28 years! Which means I work 2 more years and in June 2016 I can retire with 30 years of service or enter DROP.

This is the best Christmas Present ever! I can count on one hand the time I have left to serve in the Public School System! This does not mean I will “retire” from my “kids” It does meant that I will have choices in how, when and where I serve.

As I sit here on my front porch, reflecting on the implications of this news, I fight off the temptation to run away from Christmas. I find joy in knowing that the my service time has helped many others, yet also come to a new resolution that the next two weeks will be about taking care of me. Taking care of my needs for play and healthy eating. Taking time to reflect on how to use the next two years to leave a legacy that the Public School System can sustain if it chooses to. Taking time to create an action plan that will enable me to share all the knowledge gleaned from my students with others.

Counting the blessings, feeling the warm island breezes and taking time to watch the sunrise is driving the Bah Humbugs away!

The Next Chapter

Working in Public Schools my entire career has given me security and unpredictability at the same time. A paycheck that is predictable every two weeks, insurance and knowing that I have a job until I choose to retire gives me security in an ever-changing world. Yet each year the new curriculum, staff changes, latest fads and the newly created systematic policies cause stress. As soon as I think I have it all figured out, know which piece of paper to turn into the proper administrative office to get something accomplished for my kids, it changes and I am required to redo my efforts. As I get closer to retirement, I am ready to let go of the security and release the frustrations that are brought on by the systematic yearly changes. The NEXT CHAPTER is in sight! I have earned it!

My students also receive security in the Public School System, receiving services they are entitled to by law. Yet as they get closer to age 22, the loss of security is scary for them and their families. As they reach the NEXT CHAPTER in the life of a young adult they want all the things a 20 something wants–college, independent living, to drive a car, to have friends without a paid person accompanying them and they have earned it!

The loss of my time in accomplishing administrative tasks in the never-ending changes of Public School,  is not one that my students can afford. My students, ages 18-22 with special needs are in the final chapter of their school career. The lines between IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) entitlements and ADA (Adults with Disabilities) rights are getting firmer and darker. In their younger years, my students have been entitled to every service imaginable and the law supported their requests. As they move into the adult world the rights that they have as adults are not guaranteed, their IDEA services do not transfer over to the adult world.

They may or may not qualify for funding to continue with speech therapy, occupational therapy, a job coach, unpaid work experience sessions or one to one instruction in the adult world. Most likely they will not qualify for those services under the adult providers on our island. Maybe in the “Real World” of the mainland or other states, but on our island the adult services are limited to what our local ARC  provides, which includes Adult Day Training (ADT)  program, Supported Living, Group Homes, Community Inclusion Activities and limited Employment Services. All the services are contracted via a provider that may or may not exist on our island. My young adults are limited by funding sources, if they want to be in an activity that provides independence and individuality, the funds may not support that desire.

Special Olympics has become a VERY important part of the lives of these young adults, giving them a FREE year round sports and social opportunity to be active in the community without a paid person controlling their time. Each athlete can be an individual and explore things that they would never have explored in the ARC or Adult Provider model of services. This is why I am so dedicated to giving Special Olympics countless hours of my unpaid time. Yet, this organization, as a non-profit has its systematic challenges and does not offer the security of the Public School System, I am finding that I am drawn to exploring the options Special Olympics volunteering can offer for my NEXT CHAPTER —— Retirement.

Recently I realized that I have spent my entire career giving others an opportunity to have a life, working to move systematic mountains to give them their dreams. Helping them open the doors to the NEXT CHAPTER of their lives. I am getting tired, yet I do not want to stop doing what I do for “my kids”. I am exploring my early retirement options and trying to figure out how to have a life of my own. This is scary for me. I am addicted to predictability, security and situations that offer me a sense of control.

As I move forward into the Early Retirement plan, I am learning that there are some secure things I will need to let go of. The idea that I will receive a cushy pension and that my insurance will be fully paid for was something that hooked me into this career in the 1970’s. That promise is changing for all of us. How we deal with it is an individual choice. I choose to take action and responsibility for my NEXT CHAPTER of life, not sit and complain or try to make the union take care of me. I am not sure where this will go or how it will look, all I know is that I am ready. Since the start of this school year, I have heard these words during my early morning coffee/meditation time:

“You have spent enough time giving others a life, it is time to get your own. Actively pursue Early Retirement”

I am going to honor that inner voice. There is more to be revealed as I take the actions needed to find out how I can exit this profession prior to age 62.

All that really matters

From Friday Dec. 14, 2012 I have been trying to compose my thoughts, feelings and search my heart, not wanting to dwell on or allow negativity to become the focus of a blog post, although really wanting to document, reflect and utilize my therapeutic tool of writing. I even thought about leaving the events in Sandy Hook alone, letting it be personal and defining to each of us without any discussion.

The event happening the Friday before the week of school prior to our Christmas Break, left little time to mull it over. In my classroom, we are all about the fun—-the fun and joy of Christmas—the good tidings.We do nice things for each other and focus on the goodwill of the season. I threw myself into the fun! We had a great week, but there was a cloud around us. A cloud I refused to talk about or acknowledge, if I let it in, then the innocence of my young people would be deflated. I stood guard and did not let the news media, discussion from other staff members or any comments get to my kids. As the leader, I am in charge, and on my watch the classroom was declared a news free zone. The students did not ask or question me in regards to the events they heard at home over the weekend and I was relieved. I was not looking forward to explaining or talking about Sandy Hook to a group of young adults who have limited intellectual functioning. So on we moved to have a very joy filled week together.

At the close of the week on Friday Dec. 21, 2012 (the end of the world according to the Mayans, a fact I heard discussed by people around me and one I found to be rather humorous) I boarded a plane to Nashville, Tn. —so ready to be with my family! I breathed a sigh and sunk down into the plane seat, pulled my leather jacket over my head and slept. The deepest sleep I have had in a week!

Disembarking the plane at the Nashville Airport, greeted by music from Tootsies Bar and the smells of Whits BBQ, it always feels like home when I walk towards the baggage area! I noticed the news on the big screen, announcing the NRA’s statement about guns, security in schools—and other stuff I need time to ponder but NO! I do not want to hear this! I also was assaulted by the Sequestration updates from the news app on my phone when I turned it on. NO! I do not want to know about what we need to face in the classroom after the Holiday, when the budget goes into Sequestration!

Here I am at my brother’s house, in front of a fireplace, feeling loved. That is all that matters.

The next few weeks will be filled with hugging the children in our little family, contributing to the next generation. Thank you to my brother for providing this loving home. And right now this is all that matters.

Consolidating Information

I have been working on consolidating information regarding the process of Transition.

“The term “transition services” means a coordinated set of activities for a child with a disability that:
Is designed to be within a results-oriented process, that is focused on improving the academic and functional achievement of the child with a disability to facilitate the child’s movement from school to post-school activities, including postsecondary education, vocational education, integrated employment (including supported employment); continuing and adult education, adult services, independent living, or community participation;
Is based on the individual child’s needs, taking into account the child’s strengths, preferences, and interests; and
Includes instruction, related services, community experiences, the development of employment and other post-school adult living objectives, and, if appropriate, acquisition of daily living skills and functional vocational evaluation.”

The area of Transition has become my niche, my speciality area of expertise. I love learning about this process. It seems that personally,  I am always in some state of transition and always learn more about myself every time I assist a family to prepare for their child’s post-school adult life.

At the beginning of this school year  I got tired of searching, trying to find document, web links and resources when people asked me for them, or having them get lost in the digital no mans land. I will be using three places to post these goodies as I find them. This is going to be a work in progress and I hope it will benefit others.

Source One:  My KWHS teacher web page

Source Two: The TIES Facebook Page

Source Three: The Transition Resources Page on this blog

Keep checking on these three links—-this will be a work in Progress.

Please let me know what resources you use as a teacher, family member or a person with disabilities—I love learning new things!

Passing through the Scary Place to get to THE HAPPY PLACE

Desiring to move forward, having the ability to meet the challenge and knowing I have something to offer, ready to do a job always hinges on others choices to let me do it.

My Career has been focused into a narrow niche–the expertise I have developed serves a very specific need in our district and extends far beyond the classroom and will become another blog post in the future. The focus of my service to the youth, families and our district has been in the area of Secondary Transition—-preparing youth for life after age 22. This process starts as early as age 14, yet it is important to educate families in the preschool years, therefore there is a position in our district—Transition Specialist/Parent Liaison–which is part of the Administrative Exceptional Student Education team.

Whenever I have thought about leaving the classroom—with the purpose of helping a broader range of youth and families—there has not been a position that fits me—I am not principal or assistant principal material! This past year our current Transition Specialist/Parent Liaison retired, leaving me an opportunity for career advancement and instilling an excitement within me—the possibility of sharing all I have learned—making a difference in the lives of family across this chain of islands filled me with hope.

The process of updating my resume, compiling references and letters of recommendation was a very positive one for me.  I realized all that has been accomplished in the 12 years I have been part of this district. The shinning stars and spotlights I have helped the district achieve on the state level and the individual differences— the positive post school outcomes that have been achieved, the services that have been expanded—-due to diligent and often times unpaid time—dedication to a purpose and  being part of the awesome results has been worth all the sacrifices in the past 12 years! A humble recognition of  what I have accomplished led me to apply for this position.

I patiently waited all summer for an interview, getting ready to take a big Risk and knowing if I did not I would regret it.

Not a word or a call until the week prior to school starting——it seemed they were not interested in filling this position in order to get the year started—the new Transition Specialist would be a bit behind and if it was me, it would leave my current program in the lurch to find a replacement—but still, I was willing to take the RISK for change.

I was invited for an interview on the Friday before students were to arrive. They said I made the TOP 5 —ok that is encouraging.

The interview committee was composed of people who have worked with me, watched my accomplishments and know the positive things of my career and how it has benefitted this district.  I was still very nervous, because at this point I felt in my gut, deep down in that knowing place of our stomach—-what I had accomplished for them in the past 12 years, really did not make a difference to them—the resume, the letters of recommendation from my principal and the former Transition Specialist, whom I had worked very closely with over the past 12 years—was not what they were looking for——it all hinged on the interview and who they wanted in the job.

There were a few things I had difficulty answering—-  graduation requirements and course codes are things I do not work with every day—BUT I know where to find the answers! I know the websites to go to and the people to call.  Other then that, I gave them the information about agency linkages, the people I have on speed dial—the ways I work with families, the community and the historical data of increased family-community involvement with our youth, what I know about the law —-I did not present any fancy graphs or show off in any way, maybe I should have!

I felt I did well—I compared myself the to the other known candidates and was confident my experience and 22 years of work in the field of Exceptional Student Education—the passion I bring as a first generation ESE teacher was something they would want. But if not I was ok with the choice coming down to one other experienced candidate that has worked alongside me from the day I entered this district. She is just as qualified and we have shared many experiences, laughs, ups, downs and we both felt we had a good shot at this—we both were excited to have an opportunity to move this district into new programs and opportunities for youth with disabilities.

We were told that it would take a week for them to decide and announce who they were choosing to fill the position. How things can change in a blink of an eye is amazing to me on this chain of islands! My interview was over at 11:30 a.m. —- at 2:17 p.m. I received a email telling me that they were able to make a decision early then anticipated and that I WAS NOT THE CHOICE.

So I think—OK—good for her! My colleague and I will have a good time working together and life will go on.

Wrong! A bitter—ego check pill was to be swallowed in the next few hours.

The Transition Specialist for our district is a person who worked in our district as Jr. High School ESE teacher for 7 years or so—I do not know her or anything about her. I am baffled——because as our Transition Program lead teacher, I work with teachers in the Jr. High and High Schools to determine students  who will eligible for the program when they  turn 18 —- I have never worked with this person, nor attended professional development sessions, meetings or conferences regarding the topic of Transition with her. I tend to move about the state and seek out training that is specialized to the topic of Transition because we are limited in our district offerings. I have not met this person in my Transition Travels. I am sure she has qualifications and  there things in her career experiences that I can learn from and will be open to all she has to offer, yet to be honest I am  very confused about how to move forward, as the Transition Specialist has historically worked closely with me.

Now —Ego Check in place—the first reaction of anger subsided–full acceptance of the fact that the people “downtown” do not want what I have to offer, puts me in a difficult place.

Over the summer, lots of self reflection, admitting to myself that I am good—I am the kind of professional that any district would love to have—-other ESE directors in the state have tried to recruit me over the years, but my dedication and loyalty to this chain of island has kept me rooted to the rock. Today as I meditate on the upcoming school year—anticipate seeing more growth in the youth I work with—- I realize that the deep loyalty and passion is shifting—-it is still there for my youth and families—-I will continue to move heaven and earth to help them become independent young adults in their community.

But the passion that motivated me to put in the unpaid time it takes to create a feather in the districts cap—cultivate community supports, meet with families, work with the college to adapt classes—develop programs—all out of the scope of my job definition as “just a teacher” is waning—facing the prospect of  more pay cuts–I question how willing am I to continue to do the things I have been doing for this district.  In the past few days, I have spent over $350.00 in my own money for items we will need in the TIES program on the first day of school. Am I willing to continue to lose money and spend my own money to give this district a shinning star of a program as a feather in its cap?

As I ask these questions of myself, I cannot help but wonder if it is time to move on? Are there other youth and families waiting for me somewhere?

Only God can answer this question—-the summer of quiet and staycation has been spent in tight communication with Him—He led me to apply for the Transition Specialist/Family Liaison position—He sustained me through the process of taking a big risk——-openly declaring my desire to move on to my superiors was scary—putting myself in a position to be rejected was scary–He sustained me—I know He will give me the answers to these questions rolling around inside

Until those answers become clear——-I am jumping into the 2012-2013 school year with both feet

Jumping into the HAPPY PLACE——Free of the SCARY PLACE!

Stay tuned as I am sure there will be some awesome stories from the 2012-2013 HAPPY PLACE!