Triangle of Teaching

Special Education

Teaching Philosophy Statement and Goals

“The Triangle of Teaching”

When considering my philosophy toward education I reflect on several thoughts and strategies, but in the end I’ve come up with what I call the “Triangle of Teaching,” which consists of three main ideas; Teamwork, Communication, and Positive Reinforcement. I feel these three concepts overlap, and they relate to most ideas that I focus on, in and out of the classroom. I’ve come to these specific strategies by reflecting on my past experiences with teaching students, and as a student myself.

When considering educators who have modeled great instructional styles I immediately think of three teachers that I have had the pleasure of studying under. One was an art teacher in elementary school, one was a history professor in junior college, and the final one was a special education professor in graduate school. The common thread was that they all contained a tremendous amount of knowledge content pertaining to their field and to life in general. They all had individual strengths, which included foresight and compassion for their students. My art teacher had the ability to communicate and involve my parents in a way that affected me into adulthood. I feel that a teacher may have a tremendous amount of knowledge, but without a positive approach and proper communication skills there is a gap in conveying that knowledge into learning experiences. My history professor in junior college was one of the first instructors that showed me that passion for a subject was infectious, and his way of chronicling tales went well beyond just lecturing. Another of my most influential instructors has an ideological list concerning students with special needs that I also relate to my philosophy. They include items such as thinking of the student as a child first, focusing on what they can do rather than cannot, and looking at how students communicate. My experience is that with a positive approach, good communication and a team oriented approach I will accomplish these values.

This leads me to the influences upon my teaching philosophy from the students I have taught, their families, and the staff I have worked with. Once again I feel that a successful teacher and classroom must include a team oriented approach based on clear communication and positive supports. I feel that when I approach my classroom I consider communication with my students, but I also with their families and the school staff. This implements overall teamwork then we can work together to reach our common goal, which is the success of the student. In a similar way I need to include students into the equation when consideration my “team.” I realize I need to be a leader in the classroom, which sometimes means making tough decisions or being resolute, but I need the cooperation and communication of everyone to reach our goal. Students are always communicating with us, whether it is by external behaviors or by not speaking. I need to be aware of how others are communicating with me, and how I am relating with them. This brings me to using positive reinforcement, and how it influences all areas of our lives. I realize that an important part of collaborating with a team is using a constructive approach, so that when I need cooperation or support we have laid the foundation that we can rely on, which is essential when using a team oriented approach in special education. I realize that even the most calm and compassionate teacher gets frustrated, but it is how we react in these situations that define how we will be viewed by our team and whether we will grow from those experiences.

Teaching is one of the most important jobs, if not the most important job, that has ever existed. This is a primary reason I decided to become a teacher because I knew it was vital and essential. The importance of this vocation has instilled in me the passion and enthusiasm to enter into the pedagogical field, and this is even more evident in special education where there are so many opportunities to have a positive effect on children. This experience has demonstrated to me that learning is a lifelong goal whether you are in school or not, and I need to remember that when working with children. My father was one of the smartest and wisest people I ever knew, yet when he was a teenager it was necessary for him to quit high school to help support his family. One of his focal points for me was to attend school, even if I was uncertain what I wanted to do, but his point was to get the formal education he never received. This had a profound affect on how I perceived education, and it wasn’t a coincidence that I applied to a teaching program just after his passing. He also said, “I don’t care what you do, but just find something that you enjoy,” and this lends to my belief in teaching with an affirmative attitude because we have to believe in what we do and enjoy it. My father didn’t care how much money I made or what field I chose, but he knew after spending 30 years in a factory that there had to be conciliation between working to live and living to work. My family’s history has been a influence on my teaching style, and it has led me to focusing my the three philosophies in my teaching triangle because I need to be aware of where my students are coming from and what they and their families are dealing with on a daily basis. It will not always be easy in the classroom, but I believe that with compassion, belief in our team, and the proper strategies that I can make a difference. This is my philosophy and this is my hope.

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The Role of the Family in Education of Children with Special Needs

There may be a lot of team members when it comes to special education, such as SLP’s, OTP’s, school psychologist, general education teachers, special education teachers, school nurses, resource room teachers, etc.,  but none are more important that the student’s family. Not only have they spent more time with the student than anyone else, but they see them in a variety of environments. This knowledge is extremely important in the making of a productive IEP. I work in an intermediate special education classroom, so the parents are usually familiar with the school and have had IEP’s for several years. This gives us a little background on the students and their home life, and if there have been difficulties then it provides prospective for creating a good working environment. When there are new students to the school, or ones that have not had an IEP, then we try to meet with the family before we actually conduct an IEP meeting. This way we can be the family’s advocate at the IEP planning sessions and express their thoughts. In our “EDSP 6642” Individual Education Programs class, Dr. Thomas recommended providing the family with a copy of the IEP before the meeting so they could familiarize themselves with the plan. This is can be difficult in our classroom because of the diversity and percentage of ELL parents, but for those same reasons it is imperative that we find translations or a way to communicate our ideas to them beforehand.

There are a number of ways to include families into the daily operation of a classroom. In our class we have a communication folder that goes home with each student’s backpack every day, and comes back in the morning from the family. We fill out a daily form that addresses how their day went, which could include items such as what they worked on to basic health statements for students that have profound disabilities or are medically fragile. The mother of our student with the most severe disabilities fills out a form every morning informing us if he has eaten breakfast, went to the bathroom, and whether is “happy” or “agitated.”  This also allows a chance for her to voice minor concerns or just a “heads up” on temperament. Most major concerns from the family are addressed with an open door type policy where they usually call or email with questions. We respond to these concerns as quickly as possible to alleviate any unneeded worry.

In general we encourage parents to participate in the classroom as much as they are comfortable with. We have what we call “The ILC around the world” where each month we focus on a different area of the world that our students or their family are from, and we do try to focus lessons on that region. This is especially significant in the reading and writing subjects where we try to implement social studies and other skills. We also invite the parents to come into the classroom to share food, attire and stories about their culture. It is pertinent to address the cultural and developmental differences in students with disabilities. Not only do we implement strategies that focus on cultural and developmental factors, but we embed the ideas into the overall theme of our classroom and instruction. I have found that a lot of our parents seem hesitant to be involved with the school as opposed to parents of typically developing children, but when given an opportunity to talk about their culture they seem to feel more at ease. This may revolve around the idea that we are proud of our students’ differences whether it is developmentally or culturally, and I have learned so much about the areas that they come from. This approach also makes it easier for the families to approach us with questions and concerns about their children, and makes the IEP meeting environment much more relaxed and open for communication.

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Student Teaching Internship Reflection – Week #11

 

This week was fairly typical. My students did well, and the lessons were effective. We let the students have input on rearranging the classroom with the forethought that there wasn’t too much time left in the year, but it seems to be working very well. This reminds me to help the students advocate for themselves as much as possible to help them develop independent skills and to help with motivation in the classroom.

Some of the bigger challenges this week revolved around preparing for graduation and certification. I finished my STLP meta-reflections and I also gave a partner presentation on team management in the classroom. Both of these projects required plenty of preparation and time, which were excellent learning opportunities, but it was nice to finish them and focus on my classroom.

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Student Teaching Internship Reflection – Week #10

This week was full of a lot of schedule and strategy changing due in a large part to different people being sick. Both of the students with more severe disabilities that were having challenging behaviors last week improved slightly, but we had not found a viable intervention plan yet that has lead to good production yet. One of our resource room teachers was absent for a couple of days, which allowed me an extended time to fill in and experience that kind of classroom for a lesson each day.

I was able to start assessing a student to help my mentor teacher create a new IEP, which has been a valuable experience for me so far. The student is improving quite a bit, and I’m trying to make sure my assessment is unbiased, which was a tough but important part of my assessment training. We want our students to do well, but when we “nudge” them for answers or are flexible in the standards then we are doing them harm by adjusting their future instruction improperly. In the next month I want make many of the essential aspects of a special education classroom a priority, such as IEP’s, FBA’s, and BIP’s. My mentor teacher is doing a great job of allowing me to work on these with her on these documents.

In my math lessons I am focusing on pre-subtraction skills, so I am using a lot of manipulatives and showing concrete examples of “taking away.” My math group is the more cognitively challenged group in my classroom, so these are difficult concepts but they are making progress. I tried to make a big leap with my writing group, and introduced the question mark as punctuation.  I am realizing that this is an especially difficult idea for my students. I am finding that repetition and direct instruction are good approaches because since it is such a small difference in the placement of words they get confused. I find it tricky because the first graders that I work with in the resource room understand it quickly, and this illustrates their subtler disabilities. I give them concrete ideas such as keywords that begin a sentence, such as what, why, when, where, and who. These are the same questions we ask when brainstorming for writing, but they still need constant instruction and prompting. I feel that they will grasp it, but it is a new skill so it may take a while.

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Student Teaching Internship Reflection – Week #9

Welcome to week 9 of my student teaching. After the adrenalin rush of last week’s job fair I waded into the online application bog. I applied for a position at the school I had been working at for the last year, but the position went to an experienced teacher who wanted to switch schools. The good part was that the person they hired is a great teacher who also has kids in the school. My focus remains on finding the school that is the best fit for me, so onward and upward!

The lessons went well this week, but there were a lot of distracting behaviors, which I’ll get to later. I continued to push the boundaries for my writing group. Since this month’s focus is on Africa I decided to begin the first week with African tribal masks as the subject. This was a pretty abstract concept for them, much like rice two weeks ago, but they retained a lot of knowledge about the specifics of the mask making process and how they are used, which they were then able to put into coherence sentences. My math group continued to work on counting backward and starting to introduce the concept of subtraction, so next week will tell if they grasp the process.

Some of the behaviors issues that dominated the week were one student with severe autism that lives with his father, but his father left the country for a month. This has prompted him to continuously shout out “DADDY!” and cry for much of the day. We’ve implemented several plans to help alleviate the behaviors. One pertained to visual supports reinforcing that dad had gone away, but he would be back. Another was to work on his voice control about his distress, so we will give him attention and sympathy if he speaks at a good volume level. Another student who is non-verbal with profound disabilities was not feeling well, and at several times this week he became very confrontational and was pushing, pinching, and scratching people. We document the different behaviors and coordinate with his doctor at Children’s hospital to keep them informed concerning medications and strategies. After several challenging days he stayed home sick, and after returning on Friday his behavior was much better. It reminds me to consider how non-verbal students communicate their feelings or discomfort. Many of our non-verbal students are able to communicate using augmentative methods, but for many children who have not learned alternate communication skills the only way they know how to express themselves is by lashing out. We continue to work on communication skills, and I realize that his behaviors are not a sign of malicious reasoning. They are usually a sign that he does not feel well, and wants to go home. I try to put myself in the child’s shoes, and ask myself how I would feel if I was sick and could not communicate that feeling.

I also attended my 3rd ILC PCT (early release training) on Friday. Its focus was on communication and social skills. I showed a short video clip of a lesson that centered on peer interaction and turn and talk. I’ve been observed several times in the past year by my principal and university coordinator, but having a room full of special education teachers watch and make comments on a video of myself made me nervous. They had good things to say, and I gleaned a few good suggestions for my future lessons. This was a great way to end the week, and I came out feeling a bit more confident.

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Life skills & sensory block

Life Skills lesson

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Student Teaching Internship Reflection – Week #8

Welcome to week 8 of my student teaching. This week was a good solid week with my students. We continued our abstract non-fiction trend for writing by working on dragons as a topic. I used several vantage points, such as Komodo dragons, Western dragons, and Eastern dragons. The students really latched on to the Eastern dragons subjects and did some very good writing. I started to introduce counting backwards to my math group to prepare them for learning subtraction, and they have been doing very well. I will be taking this step very slowly because the step between counting backwards and the concept of subtraction is a difficult one, so I will be trying to introduce as many manipulatives and concrete examples as possible. Another subject that I took note of was my daily working within the resource room. I take a group for reading and writing each day, but for the most part my part of the class has been to assist the teacher. I started realizing the importance of the resource room lately, and how the group of students so diverse academically and behaviorally. This is a area that I had not considered, but our main resource room teacher is very skilled, and I see the effect she has on a wide variety of ages and levels. I think this is a very challenging position, but I could learn a lot from her and I would enjoy the opportunity to work with someone like her.

This week was very eventful for me career wise as well. I attended my first Education job fair, and it was very diverse for me and extremely helpful to acclimate myself to this industry. In the last 3 years I have been in the mindset of learning and trying to become to the best teacher I could be, so my entrance to this arena was unusual in trying learning the aspect of getting an actual get a job in the field. This is not to say that it was a negative experience or that the professionals were any less concerned with learning, but rather that it was a new occurrence for me. One area of the job search that is not so positive is the online application process. I realize that the pool of teaching professionals is very large, and the want and need of modern uses to sort and reduce the large numbers of applicants is probably necessary, but the system is very unintuitive and sometimes frustrating. I realize that that it can be an efficient filter for applicants, but in the end I would really just want to show a potential school what I can offer.

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