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Language of the Heart| Heartaches and Heartsongs

Big Heart of Art - 1000 Visual Mashups
Creative Commons License photo credit: qthomasbower

In the post: Caring Community| People First Language we talked about the power of labels, negative stereotypes and the paradigm shift of looking at all people as PEOPLE First!

Today, on Valentine’s Day, I am asking you to think about how you use words:

Do my words cause Heartaches?
Do my words cause Heartsongs?

What are you doing?

WHAT are you doing?

What ARE you doing?

What are YOU doing?

WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING!!!!

The same words can be said in anger or with gentle concern.
The speaker, the listener, the context of the communication, as well as the intent all make a difference.

Parents, Teachers, Coworkers, Friends, Enemies… We have all been misunderstood and misinterpreted. We have all wished we could swallow what came out of our mouths–take back our words. We have all been both aggressors and victims and have given heartaches as well as heartsongs.

HEARTACHES: “What’s that mess on your shirt?”
HEARTSONGS: “I see you have paint on your shirt.”
————————————————————-

HEARTACHES: “NO!”
HEARTSONGS: “Let’s talk about this before you decide.”
————————————————————

HEARTACHES: “Get over here right now!”
HEARTSONGS: “I need you with me.”
————————————————————-

HEARTACHES: “I told you so.”
HEARTSONGS: “That was harder than you thought.”
—————————————————————

In the comment section, let’s share some ideas on how you could make each of the following examples into either a heartache, or a heartsong?

Scenarios: Heartaches or Heartsongs.

1. Sara is eating breakfast. The bus is coming in 5 minutes. She spills her juice while reaching for the cereal.

What could you say that would cause a heartache?

What could you say that would cause a heartsong?

2. Ken wants to help his friend wash the car. He accidentally squirts him with the hose.

What could you say that could cause a heartache?

What could you say that could cause a heartsong?

3. Emily comes home from work. When asked about her day, she begins to cry and says, “Jim doesn’t like me.”

What could you say that could cause a heartache?

What could you say that could cause a heartsong?

By speaking with your heart, you may be able to bring out the very best in people. Give them a chance to talk. Listen patiently.

And of course, there is always the quote: “I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.” But we’ll save that for another post.

I’m wishing you a day filled with heartsongs. May you have many opportunities to give them and to receive them. Spread the love.

Keep Climbing: Onward and Upward
All my love,

Mary

Comments:

Do you have any examples of heartaches, heartsongs?
Heartaches turned into heartsongs?
Use the examples above, or share some from your own experiences.

Adapted from Project Prepare, Ohio (1995)

St. Nick and the Batman socks

St. Nick and the Batman Socks


Old World Santa
Creative Commons License photo credit: frannie60

In Christmas 1981, Cincinnati Public Schools was involved in two class-action lawsuits. Our family was caught up in both of them.

The first concerned the right of Aaron, our then seven year old son, who had an IQ below fifty and the labels of autism and intellectual disability, to be able to attend public school instead of a segregated handicapped-only school, “with his own kind.”

The second lawsuit was about racial segregation and the development of “magnet schools” to bring together children of different races, socio-economic backgrounds, and learning styles. We voluntarily enrolled our youngest son, Tommy, age five, into Sands’ Montessori School in the inner city to promote desegregation.

While the lawyers thought the two cases were different, our family knew they were both about building an inclusive community, valuing diversity, and learning from each other.

One of our first lessons about diversity came on St. Nick’s Feastday, Dec. 6th.

In true German tradition, the evening before St. Nick’s Feastday, Tommy wrote letters to Santa for both himself and Aaron, tucked them inside their shoes and placed them outside their bedroom door.

The next morning, Tommy was thrilled to find St. Nick left a note asking him to help spread the spirit of Christmas, be nice to his mother (ah-hem), a couple of candy bars and a pair of Batman socks.

Tommy was always shy. But he was so excited to show off his Batman socks he strutted in front of the mirror, decided his pants covered too much of the socks, and tucked his pants legs inside his socks. Batman socks ruled!

I of course, thought this was darling, took pictures for his Kindergarten scrapbook and drove him to school thinking I was one terrific mom, er, St. Nick.

Tommy joined his class, and I was hanging out with the school secretaries when Tommy’s teacher called into the office asking me to come to the kindergarten room. Over the PA I could hear Tommy sobbing and the rest of the children clearly agitated.

It took a couple of minutes to sort out the details, but apparently Tommy had proudly shown his Batman socks at Show and Tell.

What he learned was no one else in the class had ever heard of St. Nick. And what was worse, St. Nick did not pick up anyone else’s note to Santa. So using sophisticated kindergarten logic, that meant no one–except Tommy–was going to get anything for Christmas.

Further, Tommy felt terrible he hadn’t told them about St. Nick. He reckoned this mess was all his fault. He was “not spreading Christmas cheer” as he had been told in St. Nick’s message, so Santa would be mad at him and not give him anything either.

Tommy’s tear-streaked face would have been bad enough, but he was curled under a desk in the corner with his bare feet hanging out. His Batman socks were inside-out in the garbage can.

Well, this was clearly a kindergarten disaster of monumental proportions. Tommy’s caring teacher and I exchanged those adult looks that said we were supposed to fix this. We settled the children.

I brought Tommy back into the circle, held him in my lap and reassured two other children who were sitting nearby.

Mr. Leedom read Marcia Brown’s story, Stone Soup.

Stone Soup

Stone SoupThe moral of the story is if we think in terms of “gifts” instead of “scarcity,” and if we see the unique beauty in our differences, customs and traditions, we will all have a richer life.

Community Building

After the teacher finished the story, I fumbled out a few words about our class being a community just like the people in the story.

Sometimes our family or religious traditions are not familiar to everyone. Just like each of the families in the story Stone Soup, our class was full of families that could contribute special stories and traditions to celebrate the holidays.

(Kindergartners are very generous in allowing grown-ups to tell stories to make themselves feel better.)

I told them St. Nick came to our house because we were of German descent. I asked if anyone else had other traditions around the holidays and one student told the story of Kwanzaa, another about Hanukkah. I reassured everyone they needed to talk with their families about their holiday traditions, but that if Santa brought them gifts last year, he would surely bring them gifts this year.

As I looked around the circle at these children I had come to love, it dawned on me this was not the all-white, German Catholic, middle-class community school in which I had grown up.

This was exactly the kind of learning experience we wished for our sons.

Intellectually, I knew this was why we chose this school. This sharing was the gift of diversity and inclusion.

But this was more. This experience was a transformational moment for me, Tommy and perhaps some of the students.

Community Building Mix

The next day I brought in the ingredients for our own version of Stone Soup“Building Community Snack Mix” and gave each of the students a Batman sticker.
For more information click on the community building mix.

Batman Socks Rule!

Tommy did get his Batman socks out of the garbage can. He wore them all kindergarten and into first grade until they were faded and had a hole in the heel. The Batman socks are part of his childhood legacy.

New St. Nick Traditions

Each year, for the last thirty years, we have placed the worn, torn Batman socks on our Christmas tree.

Now Tommy has a little girl of his own.

I want to wait a couple Christmases. But when our grandbaby goes to Kindergarten, the Batman socks are again going back to Tommy for his St. Nick’s Day present.

Hopefully, the story of “St. Nick and the Batman Socks” will become a cherished tradition to share with his daughter…and will continue to teach about diversity, community building and inclusion.

Comments:

Do you have any St. Nick or holiday traditions that are unique to your family? Do you have any school memories about lessons in diversity, community building or inclusion? Do you have other ideas on how to build community during the holidays?

Keep Climbing: Onward and Upward

All the best, Mary

Thanksgiving | Inclusion and Interdependence

Squanto helps the Pilgrims

Thanksgiving Week: Day 1

I love the story of Thanksgiving. It is a story of inclusion (click here) and interdependence.

A group of pioneer families risk it all and travel to a strange land. They gratefully accept the help of the Native Americans who look different, speak a different language, have different cultural and religious beliefs. At first they are fearful of the differences, eventually they peacefully trade, share and learn from each other. The Native Americans welcome them into this new people and environment. But the Native Americans save the pilgrims from starvation (yea, corn, pumpkins, turkeys…) and disease (yea, the cranberry). Both groups still value their own cultural beliefs and traditions, but as neighbors they become an interdependent community which shares the hard work and sacrifice. Then, after a successful harvest, they do what every culture since the beginning of time does, they are thankful and celebrate.

As an early childhood teacher and special education professional I looked for ways to teach about cooperation, collaboration, and community. I looked for ways to include my students with special needs into the “normalized” (click here) holiday school programs and activities. I looked for ways to differentiate the curriculum so even the students with the most severe disabilities could partially participate.

Inclusion success stories for ALL children:

White Gifts for the Food Bank:

The entire school sponsored a “white gift” program for Thanksgiving. Each child brought in a non-perishable food item for the local food bank. The children decorated and wrapped the gifts in white tissue paper and put them into donated laundry baskets to distribute.

Thanksgiving Day Program:

I paraphrased and adapted the songs and dances so everyone could participate. We used the songs below in both large whole school programs and our individual class programs.

Bringing in the Community:

These were always crowd favorites. We would sing the songs, have someone dress up like a turkey and strut around. (One time it was the principal, one time a favorite music/gym teacher, sometimes a parent or a student from the high school drama club.) The turkey also lead the rhythm band for a couple songs. When we had a music teacher, she taught the rhythm band, after the cutbacks the teacher did it.

Each student made a picture for their families. If they were able, they wrote and read a sentence of what they were thankful for to the group. If the student couldn’t read, write or talk, they had a picture or the actual object they were thankful for (A picture of their family or a grandparent, a flower…) They might use a tape recorder, or ask their friends to say it with them.

For the grand finale, the class would line-dance to the traditional music of Turkey in the Straw and Old Joe Clark (the gym teacher helped teach the dances).

Finally, we ask the parents, brothers – sisters to join in for the Turkey in the Straw square and Old Joe Clark square dance classics.

The students created and colored/painted the programs, created unique tickets if we had limited seating, and they collected the tickets at the door. The words to all the songs were in the program so the children and parents could read and sing them together at home.

Refreshments:

The day before the program we had everyone bring in a piece of fruit for each person who was coming, the class made fruit salad, corn bread and cookies for the refreshments. Extra parents volunteered the day we made the fruit salad, corn bread and cookies. We had about 6 different kinds of fruit and vegetable peelers. We set up “stations” with a parent as supervisor of each station. Everyone participated, or partially participated according to their abilities.

Disabilities were not the issue, it was how can this person participate.

Decorations:

The students decorated the room and bulletin boards. We made several large murals of fruit cornacopeia, or a farm or grocery fruit and vegetable stand, or garden….

During our group story time, we used poster board to plan what we would do, and who would be responsible. We divided up the chores. The children chose how they wanted to do it. We usually combined the farm,Thanksgiving, food and/or autumn thematic units so the bulletin boards and room were decorated at least a week ahead of time. All learning activities focused on the thematic unit, were tied to standardized goals and IEP goals.

Children Giving the Tour:

Before the program, the students gave their parents and guests a tour of the classroom explaining what we were doing, what they were learning.

After the program, the parents got to take all their child’s work home to show grandma and grandpa or other friends on Thanksgiving day.

On Thanksgiving Day

Many families told us the whole family sang the songs and some used the “On Thanksgiving” song as part of the grace at Thanksgiving dinner. It really was a nice way of bringing the families into our program and letting the children be the experts and teach the songs, games to their families.

SONGS:

Ole Mr. Turkey

Who’s that struttin’ round lookin’ mighty perky?
Looks like it might be old Mister Turkey.
Strut Mr. Turkey that’s a fancy way to walk
Strut Mr. Turkey that’s a fancy way to walk.

Gobble, Gobble, Gobble

I’m a mighty fine turkey and I sing a fine song,
GOBBLE GOBBLE GOBBLE, GOBBLE, GOBBLE, GOBBLE
I strut around the barnyard all the day long and my head goes
BOBBLE BOBBLE BOBBLE.

TUNE: FRIERE JACQUES – Round

(In our school program, I took a song the children knew, rewrote the words, and chose one child to be the “conductor” for each part of the round. Another time in a whole school program, three different classes each sang a different part of the round.)

On Thanksgiving, on Thanksgiving
We are glad, we are glad.
For all the special blessings, all the special blessings
That we have, that we have.

(repeat 3 times)

TUNE: Turkey in the Straw

(I paraphrased the words so we could act it out.)

Oh, a turkey is a bird, just as proud as can be.
He struts around with his tail in the breeze.
He makes gobble noises at everyone he sees.
But thanksgiving is coming, and that’s not make-believe!

RUN TURKEY, HIDE TURKEY
Turkey in the straw, turkey in the hay,
Where oh where will the turkey be
When the table is set Thanksgiving Day? (rub tummy)

In Winter

(Transition verse- putting on coats, getting in line….)

In winter when it’s cold and snows
I have to wear a lot of clothes.
If only I were like a bear
I wouldn’t have all this to wear.
Whatever weather she is in,
She grows her coat right on her skin.

Comments:

What are some of your memories? How did the teacher include ALL students, including the students with disabilities in their activities? What were some of the lessons of that first Thanksgiving that apply to building community and celebrating diversity?

Keep Climbing: Onward and Upward

All my best,

Mary

Kill the Turkeys! Life lessons for people with disabilities.

Preschool turkey handprint

Isn't this cute, I'll save it forever

Hand-Print Turkeys

The first time Aaron brought home a hand-print turkey he was 3 years old and I thought it was adorable.

HOWEVER

When Aaron was 25 years old and brought home the same hand-print turkey, I was livid.

Kill the Turkey!

What’s the difference? Same kid, same activity. Why is one turkey a treasure, another only fit for the garbage?

The difference is the educational and philosophical debate between “developmentally age-appropriate” and “chronologically age-appropriate” activities for people with autism and developmental disabilities.

In a previous post, I introduced Dr. Lou Brown’s ecological assessment tool the “Life Space Analysis” (click here) This planning tool for people with disabilities helps identify the when, where, who and what fills a person’s day and gives clues on a person’s quality of life–though this tool can be useful for all of us.

1970s: The Birth of Special Education

Back in the 70s when IDEA was passed and people with disabilities first got the right to go to public school, everyone was trying to figure out how people with disabilities learned? What were the appropriate activities and curriculum? If you want more information about this time period click here: Parallels in Time II.”

Dr. Lou Brown and his colleagues found adolescents and adults across the country playing with infant toys. The “what” in their Life Space Analysis consisted of meaningless activities repeated every day like: coloring, stacking blocks, putting colored rings on tubes, playing with wooden puzzles and generally keeping Fisher Price in business.

The rationale was these students were eternal children. It didn’t make any difference what they did. There were no expectations. They had low IQs and were functioning at a preschool or early childhood developmental level. So teachers used materials and activities matching the student’s developmental levels. For example: If a person had an IQ of 50 and a developmental age of 5.2 (6 years and 2 months), then the person with the disability should do activities that matched what a normal 5.2 month old child would do. It didn’t matter if the “child” was actually 19 or 35, or 70 in chronological years.

2010: Adult Services

I have to admit, I thought the idea of developmental age was long dead. Aaron went to public school and had plans for his future as an adult (click here). He had a functional community based curriculum, he had a transition plan, and he had work experiences. Plus, the research in the whole field of special education and adult services, strongly supports the idea of chronologically age-appropriate activities.

So, again: What’s the Problem?

In my recent round of looking at adult day care for people with disabilities and the elderly, I have been shocked out of my mind to find rooms with Fisher Price toys. I know the toys are indestructible, but come on. They are NOT AGE-Appropriate! If the toy package says ages 3-6, then if you are over 6 years old, it is not age-appropriate.

Schools vs. Adult Day Care

The difference between best practice in the schools and best practice in adult services is the fact that the staff and teachers are licensed. They have training and have studied the research literature about best practices. They have done student teaching and got first hand experiences under mentor teachers.

The people who run and work in the adult day care systems are lovely people who have high school diploma’s (or GEDs) and because the job pays little more than minimum wage, they get no inservice, no vision of what CAN happen. They have the reality of too many people with disabilities, not enough help, and no training. So making preschool turkeys, or paper plate pilgrims makes sense to them. The materials are cheap and the activity matches their developmental ages.

Thankful?

Being Thankful

I am thankful Aaron has some place to go during the day. (Some states have nothing and the people sit at home.)

I am thankful these kind people don’t abuse and hurt Aaron.

I am thankful they take him to the bathroom, wipe up his messes, help him eat his lunch, and do their best.

But, they send home a paper plate bunny, toilet paper firecracker, macaroni Santa… And I am not thankful.

I don’t have an answer. I have tried to send in more age-appropriate materials and resources. I have tried to show alternative activities. And they are not thankful.

Comments:

What do you think? Is my age-appropriate rant just silly? What do you think I should do the next time Aaron brings home a preschool craft? Do you think the types of activities makes a difference to the people with disabilities?

If this makes sense and you want to spread the word, please retweet or link to Facebook. We have a whole lot of people to reach before the Christmas and holiday crafts begin.

I would be thankful.

Keep Climbing: Onward and Upward

All my best,

Mary

Brown, L., Branston, M., Hamre Nietupski, S., Pumpian, I., Certo, N. & Gruenewald, L. (1979). A Strategy for Developing Chronological Age Appropriate and Functional Curricular Content For Severely Handicapped Adolescents and Young Adults. Journal of Special Education, 13(1), 81 – 90.