9 Ways to be an Effective Teacher in an Inclusive Classroom

My first reaction when I’m told I will have a student on an IEP in my classroom is panic. Then when I meet the child they melt my heart just like all the cutie-patooties do on Meet Your Teacher Night. Then it is the first week of school and I’m nervous, but things go okay, considering. Then the year progresses and I have to pull up my big girl teacher pants and be an effective teacher in an inclusive classroom. Here are some helpful ways to do that without loosing all your hair.

1. Remember that children are children. They are different and unique. Some will raise challenges, some will be your easy kiddos, but they are children. And all children need love and connections to develop.

69a907a591955860d1dd7aaa3db25872image source: http://kidsactivitiesblog.com/23747/what-is-diversity

bra_by_tessaduck2. Get yourself some good support. You are going to need to make friends with that teacher down the hall who has her stuff together and frankly, with the one across the hall who is still learning, because the truth is, we’re all still learning. At the very least, you’re going to need to be able to talk to some one at the end of the day after Johnny dumped the entire container of pony beads on the floor and Susie flushed a puppet down the toilet.

You will also need the support of professionals. You are NOT in this alone. You need to be on an interdisciplinary team. Work with your co-teacher, the child’s parents, an early childhood special educator, an inclusion specialist, and any other team members your child needs (ie: speech pathologist, occupational therapist, psychologist.) This team is going to be who shares their knowledge and helps you implement the plans set forth in a child’s IFSP or IEP.

anigif_enhanced-buzz-15477-1383186462-63. Treat yo self….and Teach yo self! In other words educate yourself on your kiddos as they come into your class. If you have a child with speech delay, look into some sign language. If you have a child with cerebral palsy look it up and learn about that particular disability. You will need professional training in some cases, and in other cases, like if you have an English language learner, you might just have to brush up on your Spanish. The important thing, is that you are willing to learn. (also, sorry if you aren’t a Parks & Rec fan.)

4. Be on the look out for teachable moments and facilitate experiences. A teachable moment is when a child is highly motivated and better able to acquire a skill. These moments can be moments that were set up by you. For example, you read the book Mouse Paint and then set out three white mice dolls and color mixing paddles. Some kids will naturally be drawn to the mice and paddles and in their excitement to explore, you can ask what happens when you put the red and the blue paddle together over the mouses fur? You’ve just reinforced what two colors make purple. A teachable moment can also take place during free choice play. You could notice that Sally has put three play cookies on her plate and ask her how many she has. That is an opportunity to help her count. Little kiddos aren’t always going to learn when you are shoving information down their throat at circle time. They are too busy wiggling and wondering what that green speck on the floor is, and oh my gosh Johnny just walked in late, and well you know how it goes. So make sure you take time to interact with kiddos and look for those moments of self motivation and excitement.

5. Be Enthusiastic! Don’t you do this job because even though you come home with green paint in your hair and a googley eye glued to your butt, you love this job and the kiddos!? So let’s show some enthusiasm. When they accomplish something, let them know how proud you are! Even if it is a small accomplishment, they have probably worked really hard to get there. Isn’t it exciting when you’ve been working recognizing letters since the first day of school and Johnny busts out with “Hey! That’s my J!” Don’t forget to let him know how exciting it is that he knows his “J”

6. Be Consistent. Children need a stable and predictable routine. A lot of children come from unstable homes and unpredictable families. Some children may not know where they are going to sleep or if they will get breakfast. You can be their rock during the week. They know that Ms.Flaggle-baggle will be at the door smiling and and saying “Good Morning Johnny! Which table toy do you want to play with this morning?” and give him hug if he needs it that morning. That stability is priceless.The other part of consistency is setting limits and giving clear expectations. You will have to teach your children the limits of the classroom, like “use walking feet,” and then also enforce those limits. When you don’t use your walking feet during free play, you may choose a puzzle and work at the table.

7. Be Flexible. Part of being an effective teacher is know when to bend, improvise, or change up an activity to accommodate a child with a special needs. It’s Monday morning at 9:15am and the class is supposed to be starting their morning meeting, but Sally is missing her mom and having a meltdown by the weather chart. Your consistent routine says it is time to talk about the weather, but now is the time to be flexible. Sally needs a big hug and to know that she is safe and loved. You are most definitely allowed to do that. Bonus: The whole class is already staring at Sally and her crocodile tears, so this might be a teachable moment for some of them. Sally and the rest of the class will get to see that their teacher cares about them, that they are safe, and they are loved.

8. Be Patient. Don’t you want to pull your hair when some one says this, but its totally true. As teachers we have to remain calm in the face of kids pushing all of our buttons and we have to let them learn at their own pace. So remember to stop and take three deep breaths and then keep being patient.

c3575e13d9ed127ac828a1d34b61ca849. Have a sense of humor. You can’t teach young children and be a grouch. Kids are fun and hilarious. Laugh with them and let them know the world is fun. Children learn through play, so play with them! You’ll get your work done and so will they!

Here are some more Tips on Working with a Special Needs Child.

lots of love & sunshine, Ms. Sarah


Landmark Legislation for People with Disabilities

I hope you have a fresh cup of coffee because it is time to get down to business and look the important laws on behalf of people with disabilities in the past 50ish years. Again, most of my information in this post will come from The Exceptional Child

  • 1963: University Affiliated Facilities (PL 88-164) funded the establishment of University Affiliated Facilities. In 2000, through the Developmental Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights Act (PL 106-402), these facilities were renamed University Centers of Excellence in Developmental Disabilities (UCEDDs). There are 67 located across the United States. They have been involved in all significant disability initiatives for 40 years.
    • Main purposes of UCEDDs: to create, demonstrate, evaluate interventions and educational programs for children and youth with disabilities in their family AND to provide professional trainees with interdisciplinary training AND establish university-community partnerships to improve services for people with disabilities (pg 33)1963: University Affiliated Facilities (PL 88-164) – This law allocated funds to establish University Affiliated Facilities or UAFs, which were staffed by interdisciplinary teams and promoted exemplary practices related to early intervention and serving infants and young children with developmental disabilities.
  • 1968: Handicapped Children’s Early Education Assistance Act, or HCEEP, (PL 90-538), which was renamed the Early Education Project for Children with Disabilities in 1992. (see how it was renamed with People First Language)
    • Main purposes of this law is to improve on early intervention services (early because we know so much development takes place in those first years) for children with disabilities or potential disabilities, focus on parent involvement, and fund centers that develop, prove the worth of, and spread better early education practices for children with developmental delays.
  • 2007: Head Start Act (PL 110-134) required that beginning in 2009 at least 10% of the children attending would be children with disabilities.
    • Head Start was started in 1965 and as of 2008, has impacted more than 25 million familes. Head Start serves more than 900,000 children and a little over 12% of those children are children with disabilities. (Like I said in my last post, Head Start is an important program that gives children with disadvantages, including those with disabilities, important opportunities to be school ready when they enter Kindergarten!)
  • 1973 and reauthorized in 2000: Developmental Disabilities Act, DDA, (PL 106-402).
    • Main purposes: This law works to reduce discrimination against individuals with disabilities (section 504), required that every person with a disability is to be given public access into jobs, education, housing and public buildings (think wheelchair ramps and other accommodations), and required schools to give children with disabilities accommodations (for example a child with ADD might be given extra time to complete a test).
  • 1975: Education for All Handicapped Children Act (PL 94-142), was popular as The Bill of Rights for Handicapped Children. It is now the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act, IDEIA (PL 108-446)
    • Main Purposes: IDEIA requires that all children get free, appropriate, public education and encourages the state to serve preschool children that need early intervention. This legislation was considered a huge success in upholding the constitutional rights of citizens with disabilities, because of its guarantee that all, including those with disabilities, children would receive an appropriate education.
      • Provided funds, incentive funds, to get states to find children of preschool age who who needed early intervention through Child Find programs (a program started in the 1960s to identify children with developmental delays or problems) and provide them with services.
      • There is a zero reject policy: this mandated local schools to provide all children, no matter the severity of their disability with free education appropriate to their needs. An appropriate education meant that the school district must provide educational services to each that are appropriate to each child as detailed in their IEP or IFSP. (See post on IEP/IFSP)
      • Least Restrictive Environment: this is the law’s word for Inclusion and it means that as far as possible, children who have disabilities will be educated with their peers who are not identified as having disabilities. They must be given the adequate support or it is not considered least restricted.
      • Parents must be given the right to call for a meeting or special hearing to address concerns with their child’s education. A child cannot be removed because of inconvenient behavior. This is all part of due process which give the parent’s rights to look over their child’s records, be consulted when it comes to decisions about their child’s education, be given notice of any proposed changes to their child’s educational classification or placement, and demand legal representation if there is any unresolved disagreement with the school.
      • IDEIA also emphasizes parent involvement. It recognizes and wants to utilize the importance of the parent’s part in their child’s growth.
    • 1986 and 2004: The Education For All Handicapped Children Act Amendments is considered “the most comprehensive legislation ever enacted on behalf of infants and young children, in which services were mandated for children from birth through age three. In 2004, new criteria were added in the areal of IFSP development, Child Find, transition to Kindergarten, and dispute resolution.”
      • Laws in regard to services for children ages birth to three. They fall into the category of discretionary legislation, meaning the state is not required to offer the services. If, however, the state is providing services to non disabled children, they are then required to provided services for children with disabilities. The children can receive services is they have delays or are potentially going to have delays without intervention and do not have to be labeled as such. The family will receive an multidisciplinary assessment outlining needs and service (IFSP).
    • 2004: Latest IDEIA Updates, came into effect on July 1, 2005.
      • New requirements for Special Education Teachers– highly qualified, have a B.A., obtain state special education licensure (not temporary).
      • New goals working to provide special education and services to children with disabilities for children who do not have a home or are in a mobile population.
      • New requirement, within 15 days of a parent’s complaint the Local Education Agency  will call a meeting to try and resolve the issue.
      • New, a functional behavior assessment: if a child who has violated the code of conduct, the LEA will meet with parent, and if it is determined that the behavior is due to a disability they will be given a functional behavior assessment to evaluate how the child’s behavior “works” to get them what they need and provided with a positive behavior plan. If the behavior is not due to the disability, the child will have to face the schools consequences.
      • State are allowed to extend IFSP services until the child enters Kindergarten.
      • On an IEP, the sections: short term objectives or benchmarks are no longer required.
    • 1990: Americans with Disabilities Act, ADA (PL 101-336) provides civil rights protection to individuals in their employment, public services, accommodations, transportation, and telecommunications. And if there is a violation of the ADA, a complaint can be filed with the U.S. Department of Justice. Here is a video on the impact of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
    • 1973: Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act is the first civil rights statute for people with disabilities and it offers protection to people form being discriminated against based on their disability.
    • 2002: No Child Left Behind Act, NCLB (PL107-110) is a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
      • Main purposes: to improve math and literacy testing, reauthorize school reform by using federal funds, requires states to create accountability for annual progress in math and reading, children with disabilities are to be tested alongside their typically developing peers, and if a child has an IEP accommodations must be offered.
      • 2010: proposed changes to NCLB included: focus more on student growth, broadening the range of assessments, and assessing all children appropriately including consideration for English language learners, minorities and children with special needs.

There is much more that can be discussed and learned about the legislation having to do with children with disabilities but these laws show the progress our country has made in this area.

Now that you’ve finished your coffee, go follow all of this wonderful legislation! lots of love & sunshine, Ms. Sarah

Partnering with Parents and Families

Parents and Families are an important part of an inclusive classroom. We need to work hard to create a partnership with them that will promote positive development and success for the whole family.
As teachers, it is important that we empower the families of our students. We need to create opportunities for family members to become self-sustaining and competent. We want them to be able to use their own abilities and social networks to be successful. We want our families to have a sense of control over their development.

Why Parent Engagement is Important:

  • Parents are their child’s first teacher.
  • Children learn skills quicker when parents or caregivers practice with them at home.
  • There is consistency of expectations across school and home.
  • Early intervention will provide support for parents.
  • Parents know their children best.

Steps to A Successful Partnership with Parents and Familes

  • Get to know your families.
  • Be sensitive to their culture (be it ethnically or just the way their family functions.)
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate.
  • Respect them.
  • Take time for them.
  • Look for ways to give them support.

Ways to Communicate With Famillies

  • Call, text, or email
  • Notes
  • Weekly folder
  • A Weekly or Monthly Class Newsletter
  • Two-Way Journal
  • Written/typed note
  • Class website

Here are some helpful links when partnering with Parents and Families:

Talking to Parents: What Every Teacher Needs to Know

Family Involvement vs. Family Engagement: The Difference. The Significance.

The Playdough Club: A fun way to involve parents.

with lots of love & sunshine,

Ms. Sarah

Children with Disabilities: A History of Advocacy and Change

Go make yourself a hot cup of coffee (I just refilled mine) and get ready to settle in, because there is a lot to learn when it comes to the history and lawregarding children with disabilities. A lot of this information will come from The Exceptional Child (Ch. 2)

There have been several laws passed on behalf of infants and children with disabilities (or children at risk of developing disabilities). Most of the legal progress for supporting identification, prevention and treatment has been made since the 1960s.

The legislation emphasizes family support and participation, thereby recognizing that infants and young children are best served in the context of a strong and health family. (pg 30, The Exceptional Child)

The emphasis on family is an important switch considering that in the past there was an emphasis on institutionalizing children and a lot of shame that surrounded families of children with disabilities (In the 1800s there were even lots of cases of children being hidden in backrooms or attics and the families pretended they did not exist because they weren’t fit to be in public.)  The ADL gives A Brief History of the Disability Rights Movement and mentions that the 1930’s saw some technological advances that provided some options for self-sufficiency for people with disabilities. Then in the 1940’s and 1950’s with so many disabled veterans in the view of the public there was growing pressure to provide some support for people with disabilities. Then in the 1960’s the Civil Rights Movement gave way to the idea that people with disabilities has the same rights and potentials as everybody else.

Running parallel to the Civil Rights movement was The Early Intervention Movement. Some of the first research showed that intelligence was NOT set at birth and development in infants was greatly impacted by environment and experience. The research around this area gave convincing evidence that young children develop the most during their first few years.

Important Facts About Environment and Experience Research:

  • Children are what they are, they are born that way. <–This idea has been challenged.
  • The environment and experience a child is exposed to greatly affects how they grow and develop.
  • Brain research taught people that young children need experiences often and early on to develop the synapses they will need.

One of the first results of this was compensatory education. These programs were for children who were disadvantaged and would provide them with social, educational, and medicinal opportunities that their more advantaged peers would receive. One example of compensatory education is HEAD START (that’s where I work!). The next time you hear politicians considering cutting Head Start programs or you get to vote on something like that, now you know why it is important.

The civil rights movement also gave way to advocacy groups who work collectively toward a cause. Some of these groups are :

  • the Council for Exceptional Children (ECE)
    • the Division for Early Childhood (DEC
    • the American Speech Language, and Hearing Association (ASHA)
    • the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AAIDD)
    • TASH, formerly the Association for Persons with Severe Handicaps

These groups worked to develop much of the legislation that gave way several important laws and landmark legislation for people with disabilities. My next post will cover the Landmark Legislation for People with Disabilities. So go refill your coffee and click on over to learn about the significant amount of rulings on behalf of people with disabilities.

lots of love & sunshine,

Ms. Sarah

“Special Needs??”

While reading, research, pinterest searching and blogging like a mad woman about Children with Special Needs I have come across some various discussion on the term “special needs.” The website Disability Is Natural is so against it they even have printable posters to discontinue the use of the phrase.

I have been feeling increasingly conflicted, because my class is, after all, called Children with Special Needs.

So, I’ve been doing some pacing, some chatting with my husband who took a master’s level course in this stuff, and some thinking. I want to explain why I am choosing to continue to use this phrase. Before I offer my explanation, I want to first invite anyone reading this to please leave their thoughts in the comment section. I’m genuinely interested I what people have to say about this phrase.

I will continue to use this phrase until further notice because when I say children or people “with special needs” I am not explicitly referring to children or people with disabilities. The text book for my class is called The Exceptional Child, uses the phrase children with special needs, and discuss a lot more than children with disabilites.  In my previous posts discussing the history and legislation for people with disabilities I only used that phrase: “people with disabilities” because my reference was not broad. My use of the word is usually in context of inclusion too. If I have to make special accommodations for them to be included in my classroom, I would say they fall under the category of a child with special needs.

When I speak of children with special needs I am discussing just that, a child that has a special need, or needs. After working as a Head Start teacher for three years, one thing I’ve learned is that there are a lot of kids with special needs. Here is a partial list of children with special needs:

  • a child with a disability
  • an English language learner
  • a child with an unstable home life
  • a gifted child
  • a child with a difficult temperment
  • a child with aggression issues or bullying tendencies
  • a child who withdraws quickly or easily
  • a child in the minority
  • a child who is homeless
  • a child who is not getting enough to eat in the mornings
  • a child who is more active than his/her peers but has not been diagnosed with anything
  • a sensory sensitive child
  • a sensory seeking child

I three children in my class this year who are on IEPs and I have even more who have special needs and who and what they need differs by day too. So this is my rationale for using the word. Let me know what you think.

lots of love & sunshine, Ms. Sarah

image source: http://imissmychildhood.blogspot.com.au/2013/03/security.html

People First

How many of you have used the “R” word? If you you didn’t raise your hand, I’m impressed. I grew up when people constantly used that word and unfortunately I used the word too. On my to be an educator and in my efforts to be more inclusive, I have learned that WORDS are paramount. When talking to my class, the words I choose to use can direct how the entire day is going to go. And when talking to and about people with disabilities, it is equally important to choose our words carefully.

People first language is the first step in being more careful with one’s words. The Exceptional Child defines people first language or terminology as referring to people with disabilities with language that speaks of the person first, then the disability.

This means you would say “a child with autism” vs. “an autistic child.”

It is such a simple concept (in some cases, you are only switching the order of words), but the change has a profound effect. And that effect, is that the person has become the focus instead of their disability. They are no longer defined or identified as their disability.

Disability is Natural has a chart of Examples of People First Language.

I encourage you to check it out and examine the words you are using. You will be surprised how many phrases you might need to adjust. And society will be a little bit better thanks to you!

Here is a helpful and short article on the people first language: A Few Words About People First Language.

Something to remember from Disabilityisnatural.com:

A person with a disability is more like people without disabilities than different!

lots of love & sunshine, Ms. Sarah

image source: http://www.smartappsforspecialneeds.com/2014/02/discussion-time-people-first-language.html

Typical Development vs. Exceptional Development

Exceptional Children – a term coined at the 1930 White House Conference on Handicapped Individuals, to refer to all children who are different from typically developing children.” pg 80 of The Exceptional Child

Two facts to keep in mind when think of children with:


(These two facts are also straight from page 80 except for I put them in all caps because I think they’re that important.)

Normal or Typical Development is when a child is changing, growing, and acquiring skills at basically the same age and in the same order as the majority of children close to their age.

This process of acquiring skills moves along what is called a developmental continuum, or a “the range of skills or behaviors among children in any one area of development.” Using the word normal is sometimes questionable, especially given the differences in culture, community, or even with a single child’s family. Children also grow at their own pace. The idea of typical development will vary greatly from child to child. Even with these variances, there can is a fairly predictable pattern or order of development. This order involves developmental milestones, or “points at which specific skills are acquired in a fairly predictable order.”

Atypical or Exceptional Development – these words present problems as they tend to be all inclusive, meaning they can pertain to anyone from a child with a mild difference to a child who has way above average intelligence.

What is more helpful is identify developmental delays, developmental disorders, and when a child is at risk.

A developmental delay is when a child is performing like a child who of a much younger age.

A developmental disorder is when a child is cannot perform skills typical of their similarly aged peers, but the potential for growth is still there.

A child who is at risk may be showing signs that serious problems may develop later, but these problems will be resolved if there is early intervention.

Another type of development that is different than typical is when a child is showing signs they are gifted. This is important to take notice of too because they may need some early intervention to prevent problems later due to lack of stimulation or challenge.

The best thing we can do as parents, care givers, and teacher is be aware of developmental milestones. The CDC is a great place to find information on milestones. Here is a link to a milestone card that gives some milestones for children from age 6 months – four years.

Milestone Moments is a booklet that gives a more detailed checklist of a child’s milestones from 2 months to 5 years old.

Baby Steps: Learn the Signs. Act Early. is a video on recognizing signs of a possible problems and what to do.

photo.PNG lots of love & sunshine, Ms. Sarah

image source: http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/actearly/pdf/parents_pdfs/trackchildsdevmilestoneseng.pdf