*As we continue to discuss behavior support strategies, sometimes we forget about actually TEACHING social skills. We can’t assume students know how to take turns, manage interpersonal conflict and act appropriately in social situations.
*Social behaviors need to be taught just like any other skill. Finding time in your school day to teach social skills will pay off. Please watch my YouTube video and read the image from High Leverage Performances.
Students with autism
Students with autism can lack social awareness. They may not be able to take the Point of View (POV) of their peer which can result in social behavior that is atypical at times. Students with autism still want friendship so teaching social skills will help with bridging some of the gaps in social behaviors skills.
Early childhood literature as social support
One of my favorite tools for addressing social behavior issues is to use early childhood literature to help support social learning. One practicum student in my class shared how she had students teasing one another. Her mentor teacher pulled a bin full of books about teasing into the classroom to read to hear students. As she read she asked questions, checked for comprehension and encouraged students to pair-share ideas for using kind and supportive language with one another. The book my student pulled to share with our class is called Just Kidding by Trudy Ludwig. Here is the link for the book online:
Please watch the YouTube video which shares more about this positive behavior support strategy.
How do you feel after receiving positive and constructive feedback?
As an adult, how do you feel when your coach, supervisor or boss gives you positive and constructive feedback? Does it encourage you to continue working hard or make you feel demoralized? Most likely it will make you feel amazing! You have a clear understanding of what you are doing well and what you need to work on.
Make the feedback specific…
When a student get’s specific positive and constructive feedback, it is not just a “good job”. With the student’s goals and targets in mind you are helping inform them with the feedback. The feedback will give specific information how to improve and what is going well.
How do I give feedback?
Feedback in written or verbal forms are both great ways to give feedback. Make sure the feedback comes relatively shorty after the student performs the task and provide ongoing feedback until the student reaches his or her goals.
This behavior support strategy comes from High Leverage Performances…Here is a screenshot of the High Leverage performances number 8. I reference this in my YouTube video.
Well thought out routines and procedures help create a calm, organized classroom. Students know what to do and how to do it. Without positive, routines and procedures, a classroom can easily fall into total chaos. Examples include: how we manage materials, enter the classroom, transition, and turn in work.
How do we teach routines and procedures?
Teaching routines and procedures starts at the beginning of the school year with explicit instruction. Just like academics, routines and procedures need to be taught, and reinforced. Establishing routines and procedures is one of the High Leverage Practices for special education and will be the bedrock for your classroom environment. I have linked more information about High Leverage Practices here. https://ceedar.education.ufl.edu/portfolio/ccsc-2017-high-leverage-practices/
Things to think about when setting up routines and procedures
Consider the age of the students. What is age appropriate for them? For example if you teach Kindergarten, the routine for entering and leaving the classroom will look different from a fifth grade classroom. Can your students handle materials being on the desks in tubs or do they need to be stored out of reach? There are many considerations but speak to your team, observe other classrooms and know it is ok to change a routine if it is not working for your class.
Support for students with special needs
Students with autism or other special needs respond well to classrooms with well established routines and procedures. Students with autism feel safe when they know what to expect. Focus on the transition routines for students with autism. Transitions are when we often see behavioral challenges from our students with autism. One great way to teach routines to students with autism is by using a social story. Here is a link to my YouTube video sharing what a social story is. https://youtu.be/lKl6cafmdVY
Consistent routines provide structure for students with autism which makes them feel safe secure and helps them understand what is going on during the school day.
Support for all students
Positive behavior support strategies such as this are helpful for all students. Students will be productive, calm and organized with these routines in place. Watch your mentor teachers around you and see how well run their classroom are. What would you do the same? Also think about what you would change or do differently? All of this reflection is important in developing safe and well run classroom routines and procedures.
Erica, is now half way through teaching her second year in kindergarten.
I reached out to her to get some advice about how she survived and thrived during her first year teaching kindergarten. Here is some of her great advice:
Where and what grade do you teach?
I teach kindergarten in The Grants Pass School District.
What was your favorite thing about your first year teaching?
My favorite thing about my first year teaching was building such strong relationships with my coworkers. When you are student teaching you build relationships at your school but the most important relationships are still related to your college. During your first year it’s really important to create strong relationships with the people around you because they will help you with understanding the curriculum, helping specific students, and making sure you get the supports you need to be successful and thrive.
What was the most challenging thing about teaching your first year?
The most challenging thing about teaching my first year was accepting that I can’t help every single student but instead I can only give them the tools to be successful. It was painful to let some of my kiddos who didn’t reach all the grade level standards or who didn’t get the proper supports in kindergarten go to first grade. Accepting that I can’t fix but instead can only support has made my second year emotionally easier.
What surprised you the most about your first year teaching?
What surprised me the most about my first year teaching was how much poverty/ trauma there is in Southern Oregon. For some of these kids, we are ALL they have. Some of my students have gone through life events that I could not even imagine going through as an adult and all we can do is give them a hug and make sure school is full of love and support.
What is your advice for handling challenges communicating with parents?
I think the best thing you can do is rely on your teaching team and principal when it comes to challenges with parents. If you have a parent who is being unkind, I would advise telling your principal and asking for advice. Always ask for advice when you don’t know how to handle a situation.
How have you navigated work/life balance?
This is one of the biggest challenges that every teacher faces. You always have a long list of things to finish and it never seems to end. Remember you are allowed to say no! I made a promise to myself that unless there are special circumstances I will not stay past 4 PM and I do not go to work on the weekends. I work through my lunches and prep during every prep period so I can leave on time. Its worth it for me! I am a planner so Sunday nights I pre-plan dinners with friends during the week to make sure I still socialize. It’s easy to make school your life but balance is so important. I always plan a special event for the weekends as well so I have something fun to look forward to(this can be as simple as a Saturday morning hike)!
What are some ways you have taken care of yourself this first year?
Self care is so important! Some things I do include going to the gym after work, taking my dog to the dog park, meal prepping on Sunday’s so I have healthy food for the week, leaving work by 4pm, going to bed at a decent hour so I have energy for the next work day, and talking about how I feel with friends, family, and/ or coworkers. Remember that you can’t be your best self for your students if you aren’t taking care of yourself.
As a student teacher, what are the best ways you can prepare while in your teacher preparation program?
While in your teacher prep. program take advantage of the opportunity to learn about different teaching styles and classroom management systems. You will develop your own teaching style/ management system but it’s wonderful when you have ideas to build off of.
What advice do you have for job seeking when the time comes?
My advice for job seeking is to apply to as many districts as you can via the online portals. There are so many amazing job opportunities in the Rogue Valley, and outside of the Valley, and you will find the best fit for you. Don’t give up! Job interviews are very stressful but when you find the right school you will know! When it comes to interviews you need to be yourself. You will be asked questions about concepts that you learned in your prep program but that’s only about 30% of the interview. The other 70% is if you would fit into their school culture. Be honest about who you are and what you believe!
THANK YOU Erica for taking the time to share your insights and wisdom with us!
We are so proud of you and know you are making a huge difference every day when you show up for your students!
“Masking” and Autism- Sometimes this is called “camouflaging”
On social media (twitter) I have seen multiple people who experience Autism describe the concept of “masking” and autism. At an autism conference I recently went to, a young man with autism described how he was able to “mask” his Autism and at the age of 22 has recently received a diagnosis.
What is “masking”?
•Masking is when a person who has Autism tries to blend in or go unnoticed among their neurotypical peers.
•They will fly under the radar, try to go unnoticed and copy or mirror as best as possible the social scripts of their peers.
•They work hard to be the “good student” and not bring extra attention to themselves.
•Research shows that those who have Autism level one (aka. Asperger’s) often camouflage.
•Masking happens when a person with autism is more aware of their social differences to the neurotypical world.
•Girls with autism tend to “mask” more than boys on the spectrum.
Why is masking an issue?
•Masking suppresses the natural state of the person with Autism.
•Students who mask are often misdiagnosed because they have camouflaged their symptoms. A misdiagnosis of mental health difficulties may happen.
•A feeling of social isolation may happen because they are not able to be their true selves.
•Masking can lead to loneliness, depression, self-harm, self-medication, anxiety anger and is most notably it is exhausting.
If you suspect a student is masking, talk to your educational team, a special education teacher, school counselor or other professional. Getting others involved will help support you as an educator to determine the next steps to take in helping the student.
Getting the chance to watch Dr. Temple Grandin talk has been a career long dream of mine!
When I started working with children with autism back in 1997, her book “Thinking in Pictures” was one of my first introductions to autism.
Dr. Grandin was one of the first individuals with autism who could articulate what life is like for people on the autism spectrum. Parents and professionals both clamored for her knowledge, expertise and valuable insight.
I just had the amazing opportunity to hear her speak at the US Autism Association!
Here are the major takeaways I had from her keynote speech:
Limit screen time for children with autism to less than 1 hour per day. She noted that many of the children who could succeed in computer science are sucked in to video games and no longer can access their full potential due to their addiction
Parents need to “start letting go”-foster independence from a young age. She likened this to the adult cow who still wants to nurse from the mama cow. She said we need to “wean our children” so they are not dependent on us
“don’t over-protect”the child with autism
Allow children a multitude of hands on experiences because true learning takes place with hands on experiences not through screens
Teach young children how to “wait” and how to “take turns” and use board games as a way to teach these skills
Having real jobs are important for young adults with autism starting at age 13 (or so).
Don’t get hung up on the label of autism
Focus on the strengths of the child not the deficits-build upon a child’s special interest which could end up leading to a valuable career one day. As an example, a child who is interested in pipes can become a plumber.
Don’t make kids with autism do “baby math” if they excel in math. Allow the child to excel in the area they are gifted in
Encourage friendships through shared experiences such as cub scouts, school clubs etc. A shared interest will help build the friendship
There is NO need to disclose autism diagnosis for milder cases due to some prejudice surrounding autism. Instead, tell what you need “those lights give me a headache”
Stretch students to grow and don’t overprotect them!
Allow for choices
If you were at the conference or have learned from Dr. Grandin yourself, please share what your biggest takeaways are in the comments!
Talking about professional dress and attire can be a tricky issue. A principal I had one school year, spoke at a staff meeting and asked all of the teachers not to wear short mini skirts to work but only because one teacher routinely wore them. I think having a one-on-one conversation with the teacher who wore the mini skirts was too much for him so he addressed the whole teaching team. He was turning red in the face as he was talking about this issue in the staff meeting. We want our time together as teachers to be about collaboration and learning and not about what we are wearing.
The bottom line was a parent called him and said “I don’t think the skirt my son’s teacher is wearing is appropriate because it is too short.” As an instructor who guides new practicum and pre-service teachers, I want to advise you NOW so you don’t run into someone telling you that your attire is not appropriate.
I don’t want anyone to think that I am taking away their sense of personality, gender identity or sense of style. I simply suggest taking what you currently have going on and elevating that look to be professional, well-groomed and put together for the classroom.
One year job interview: We often tell our student teachers that this school year is essentially a one year job interview. We want you to not only represent the university in a positive light but most importantly yourself. You are your own personal “brand” and the way you present yourself will reflect upon your “brand.” Even if a veteran teacher wears casual clothing, they have a contract and you at this point may not. It is important to dress professionally even if those around you are not.
Outfit Ideas: Here are a few ideas for outfits that are professional for teachers to wear.
button down shirts with collars
(modest) length skirt or a dress
What about Jeans? Check with your specific school to see if it is ok to wear jeans. I know this might sound odd to most people who live in jeans, but some principals do not want teachers to wear jeans.
Check the handbook: Most of the employee handbooks for schools will detail what appropriate dress will look like and if anything is off-limits.
Well groomed: One workshop I went to in Texas urged teachers to look in the mirror before leaving the house. This may sound obvious but this last check will make sure the buttons are straight on your shirt, that food stains aren’t on your shirt and that your general look is professional. I would recommend not using scents such as perfume and cologne because some students are very sensitive to scents.
Dress for the grade: If you are volunteering in a preschool don’t show up in high heels or a tight skirt. You will need to sit on the floor, move freely on the playground and keep up with busy kids. As a guide, look at your supervising teacher and see what he or she is wearing.
Go online for inspiration: Pinterest is one platform I know of that has great outfit ideas for teachers. No need to break the bank to create a new wardrobe as thrift stores such as the goodwill will often have everything you need to pull together a few good looks. Take a friend along to help you sort through the racks.
Here is one of my wonderful student teachers Becca in a nice casual yet professional teacher outfit. Her school is ok if teachers wear jeans and she has a great polished look.
Brainstorm some outfits in your wardrobe that are professional enough for you to wear to the classroom you are volunteering in.
As a practicum student, you have the opportunity to be in schools and volunteer in a classroom full of children. When parents drop off and pick up their child, they may see you in and around the school.
Parents will want to know who is in their child’s classroom working with their children
I recommend creating an all about me page to share with your supervising teachers. They may choose to share this page with parents by posting it on the parent communication bulletin board or find another way to share it.
I have created a “Meet your practicum student” one page outline for you to use to print and use in your classroom. (see below)
What to Include: Here are some examples of what you can put on the all about me page… Continue reading →