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Social Media and The School Image

The other night, I suspect like many of you, I watched the debates. I was also logged into Twitter and was watching the reactions of people around the world. Since then, I’ve watched a lot of drama unfold and take shape on social media over the next few days. I am super busy this time of year and I’ll be honest, I get most of my news and catch up on the events going on around the world through social media. I very rarely watch the news or read a paper.

Meanwhile I have been reading the book below:
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My district provided this book and the title definitely stood out to me! What a very important role we as educators play in helping shape the image of our school, district, and education itself. I have always loved the following quote:

“If you work for a man, in Heaven’s name work for him. If he pays wages that supply you your bread and butter, work for him, speak well of him, think well of him, and stand by him, and stand by the institution he represents. I think if I worked for a man, I would work for him. I would not work for him a part of his time, but all of his time. I would give an undivided service or none. If put to the pinch, an ounce of loyalty is worth a pound of cleverness. If you must vilify, condemn, and eternally disparage, why, resign your position, and when you are outside, damn to your heart’s content. But, I pray you, so long as you are a part of an institution, do not condemn it. Not that you will injure the institution – not that – but when you disparage the concern of which you are a part, you disparage yourself.” – Elbert Hubbard, American writer (19th Century)

If public school has an image problem, then we need to help with the makeover. We have great stories to tell!  We have fantastic things going on at school and social media is a pretty efficient way to share them with the community. Our families, our community members, are on social media. That’s where today’s stories take shape.

Like anything else, our teachers are all at different places as far as interest and skill level with utilizing Twitter as a tool for sharing and collaborating. At my campus, we created Twitter challenges which you can find here to help get that started.  We also try to model that by making sure we are tweeting out the great things we see, joining in Twitter chats with other educators, and sharing resources we come across with our teachers (always giving credit to our Twitter PLN!). Finally, we have our own school hashtag (#osestars) up and scrolling all day on our office flatscreen monitor.

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Parents, students and other visitors to our campus really enjoy seeing the tweets pop up in real time and we have found this to be a big motivation as well. We use TweetBeam for this service. We encourage all our visitors to visit our hashtag and leave us some feedback, and we make sure #osestars is printed on our campus flyer.

Yes, public school has an image problem. But what an opportunity we have to influence public perception! Imagine what type of influence we can have on the image of our district and our school if we consistently share our learning experiences with the larger community.

And it is SO much more informative than those debates…. 🙂

 

 

 

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Connecting In Your Own Building

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In a previous post I wrote about a way I am using the web tool S’More to invest in the professional growth of the teachers and staff in my building. In one of my S’mores I shared with our staff the why and how of being a connected educator. I have done these S’Mores weekly since school started, each time covering a different idea or topic.  But I have been thinking for a while that it missing something.

Teacher voice.

As important as it is to me to be connected through Twitter, we need to remember how important it is to connect in our own buildings. The weekly S’More is great but it would be even better if it were teacher-driven; I think that would be a great way to get conversations started and ideas flowing from teacher to teacher, classroom to classroom….rather than admin to teacher. So last week, I approached a teacher and asked if he would like to decide the topic and write the mini-blog for the upcoming S’More. I shared my reasons for wanting to make this change. I offered a few ideas related to topics that I know he would be great at discussing, his strengths which I have seen each time I am in his room. He’s a quiet member of the staff and I was really not sure how he would react to this invitation. I sent the email at about 2pm on a Friday.  At 3:30 I received this reply:

“How about this?”  Attached was the following blog he wrote: (Or click the link in next paragraph for the actual S’More).

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I set out to find links to resources, both print and video, to correspond with the “theme” of his blog and package the S’More. I forwarded it to my principal, who then sent me her “Principal Ponders” section of the S’More (which was a feature added about 4 weeks ago),  written to correspond with his chosen topic.  The end result was great and you can view it here.

Feeling pretty excited, I recently emailed another teacher and asked her if she would like to be the next “Teacher Guest Blogger” for next Friday’s S’More. She replied that she would love to! She is currently thinking about her topic and developing her blog post for it. It was always my hope that this S’More would morph into a kind of self-driven “teacher blog”, one that would generate chatter, build connections, give teachers a chance to hear from peers whom they might not have many daily dealings with, and give our teachers a “voice”.  I also secretly hope that this is sort of a “safe” entryway into a full blow staff blog site one day….

I will continue to solicit for guest bloggers and after a few weeks, I will create a sign up genius for teachers who want to volunteer so that they can go in and choose a week that they wish to contribute. For these early stages, it seems to be working best to personally ask.  It is also my plan to eventually (maybe after the first of the year) add student guest-bloggers to our S’More. I think that would really add another dimension to this school community collaboration tool. I would also love to have students appear on the staff blog that we (I hope) one day start!

I guess the main thing I’m learning is that there are many ways to be a connected educator. We focus a lot on connections globally, but I think it is also really important to focus our efforts on building and supporting connections within our own buildings.  

Here is a sidenote to those members of my PLN who are following, supporting and mentoring me in my first year as an AP. The funny thing about this is, this weekly S’More was originally my little way of impacting and supporting teacher growth as a new Assistant Principal. Pretty soon my principal had a section, and now I have teacher guest bloggers….  I think it is one of the best things that could have happened because, all this time that I have been preparing to become an A.P., going to administrator chats and learning from all of you,  I have been told by so many that “Great leaders do not seek the limelight, great leaders build capacity and enhance leadership in others“. So, I think “my” S’More is going in the exact right direction and I am actually excited that it is not just “mine” anymore! So thank you for the wisdom…I was (and still am) listening!

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The Best Nights Of My Life

“Meet The Teacher” was last night. I still remember the very first Meet The Teacher night I ever experienced. I had my room set up just right, I had a table with cookies and punch, and I got to meet the sweetest 2nd graders and their families. After the dust cleared (literally, I was in Lubbock, TX) and the room was once again quiet I thought to myself, this is the start of the rest of my life….and these may very well be some of the best nights of my life.

But last night, for the first time in 15 years, I did not have a classroom to welcome the parents into. I will admit that I have been wondering for a while now about how I would feel on this day. Change can be so exciting and yet so … weird…all at the same time. As the teachers went about putting on the finishing touches to their rooms just hours before our parents arrived, I felt a little bit of jealousy….”Ohhhh how cute her room is” and “oh wow look at the organized space he has set up for parents” were thoughts rumbling around in my head as I walked the halls and prepared to welcome — not a class of parents — but this year, a whole, entire school of parents. How would this go for me? How was I going to feel? Well…

As my principal and I welcomed guests, I had the absolute joy of seeing the excited faces of the kindergarten students (and the nervous faces of their parents). Now, I have never taught kindergarten. And really I am okay with that; I am sure it would amount to a major fiasco! But I found my eyes welling up with tears as I watched these little ones coming in so excited — one boy in particular was wearing his backpack because, as his dad explained to me, he “has not taken it off since we bought it last week”. How did I ever manage to be a teacher for 15 years and miss out on this once in a lifetime night of joy and nerves down the kinder wing?!

I had great fun meeting and joking around with some 5th graders as well…it was the first hallway I headed for and that makes sense to me because that is the grade level in which I spent the most time as a teacher. I visited with the 4th graders next (the grade level I have taught the past 4 years) and saw the familiar “all grown up” look that 4th graders appear with after having left just a couple months before as young and hesitant 3rd graders…something happens over the summer between 3rd and 4th grade!

Then I made my way to the 1st graders, who I sometimes did mistake for kindergarten students! Their eyes were wide as they discovered this chair and that desk and this lamp….The 2nd graders (the first grade I ever taught) were excited and I had a lot of fun meeting them, remembering back 15 years as I commented to one student, “my first class of students were 2nd graders”. He asked what I had thought of them. I told him they were the smartest group of kids in the world, of course.. I even stopped into a couple of the specials rooms, and the library. I have never had the pleasure of seeing all the little book lovers piled into the library on Meet The Teacher night..looking with wonder and anticipation at the rows and rows of books with stories and characters waiting to be discovered. Sure, I have sent them there when they left my room on that special back to school night. “Don’t forget to check out the library!” I would say as the family left my classroom. But this was the first time I was actually there for it.

I thanked countless dads who had arrived to inquire about our new Watch Dogs program, directed traffic as parents looked for the line to purchase a spirit shirt…a car tag…a supply box…a cafeteria payment….Thank goodness for the office ladies (a job I also once held, while working my way through college!) and the PTA parents who answered my questions so that I could answer questions and directed me to the right area so I could direct others to the right areas! The night was a whirlwind of excitement, curiosity, and discovery for me as I finally met the parents and students who will fill the halls on Monday. Who on one night finally came, and completed the picture -my picture – of “home”.

So how did my first Meet The Teacher night go as an administrator? Well, I just couldn’t shake this one thought that kept going through my head…

This is the start of the rest of my life, and these may very well be some of the best nights of my life.

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Gearing Up For The New

Screen Shot 2014-07-24 at 12.38.34 PMThis is my first post for the Fueled by Vroom Compelled Tribe blog group, a group of educators who have committed to reflecting through blogging. Our goal is to blog monthly around common topics and then give each other feedback on our blogs. You can view the members of this group by looking at the blog roll on the right of my home page. We are led by Craig Vroom, a Principal in Ohio. Our first topic is how we are gearing up for the new year!

This year marks the start of a new journey for me. After having spent the past fifteen years as a teacher, I am moving into my new role of Assistant Principal, at a new school, in  a new district.  I am excited, eager, and also a little bit nervous as I step out of a comfort zone and embrace the new!  In the past, gearing up for the new year meant buying supplies, planning my room arrangement, gathering information about my new students, gabbing with my teammates, and planning new and exciting ways to teach my content. Not this year! It’s a strange feeling…not knowing what you don’t know. I do not have a checklist in my mind of how to get ready for the year, when I have never experienced this from an AP standpoint. I’m viewing the world through a new lens, and taking it all in as I go. So instead of tasks and checklists related to a particular “role”, I’m going to describe how I am gearing up for a brand new experience.

Reading

One of the major things I am doing to prepare myself for this new role is reading and reflecting on the ideas of others.  I am reading books that some friends have suggested to me related to leadership, coaching, and serving others.  Some of the books I have read this summer include:

  • Engaging Students – Schlechty
  • The Energy Bus – Jon Gordon
  • Motivating and Inspiring Teachers – Todd Whitaker
  • What Great Principals Do Differently – Todd Whitaker
  • World Class Learners – Yong Jhau
  • The Immortality of Influence – Salome Thomas – EL
  • Examined Lives – James Miller (This is a personal read, but filled with information about the great philosophers and how their ideas shape us)

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There are some common ideas and themes that really resonate with me. Things such as being present. Being a listener. Being a learner. Spreading joy and positivity. Being visible. I am consuming a lot of information, but making mental connections as I go and identifying main “hooks” on which to hang this learning. I think these hooks have generated themselves because they speak directly to my own passion and interest. What type of leader do I want to be? One who is present, and visible. One who is helpful, and acts as a servant leader. One who lets teachers, parents, and students know how valued and valuable they are to our community-often and sincerely. Who spreads joy and gratitude. One who collaborates, and facilitates. One who is here to listen, and be a sounding board. So the ideas in these books that are resonating with me, fit into those categories and big ideas. So, as I read, I am identifying and strengthening my own purpose and mission.  This is helping me to “gear up” !

Setting My GPS

Along this same line, I have identified five words that are going to serve as my personal GPS for the year. This idea came from a summer learning series I have participated in with Todd Nesloney (@TechNinjaTodd) principal of Navasota Intermediate School in Texas.  We were asked to identify five words that we hope our teachers, students, and community would use to describe us.  How do we want to be seen by others? My five words for this year are:

 

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I am going to frame this Wordle and hang it in my office. Every day, when I see it, I can think about my own GPS for the year and ask myself how the conversations and activities I engage in daily line up with the GPS. I am hoping that this simple but powerful GPS will guide my interactions and decisions, so that everything I do is in line with these values.  If you would like to do this challenge yourself, here is a video that Dave Burgess (Teach Like A Pirate author) created for this summer learning series, with further information:

 

Health

One of the important things we can do as we embark on a new challenge is to stay cognizant of our own health. New things can cause stress, and too much stress can cause physical sickness and just wear us down in general. So, I am making sure that I am eating right, that I get enough sleep, and that I am exercising regularly. This last one is a little challenging for me, because my new hours are different and going to require me to get creative with my gym time. But for now, early morning is working. I am also stocked up on the vitamins!

 

positive-quotes-0Maintaining A Balance

This is hard, because I am so eager to get started and I want to just spend 24/7 on this new role!! But, it’s important to have a balance and make sure that I am making time for myself and my family.  Spending time in my normal Twitter chats is good for me, because this is a hobby but also allows me to connect with others and grow my PLN. Watching movies with my daughter, going out to eat with the family, reorganizing the pantry so that I can find things (something I have wanted to do for a long time), and redecorating my personal space have been some fun ways to relax and keep the balance. Currently, I am working on a project in my bedroom closet. All carpet and padding is ripped up, and I am preparing the floor so that I can paint the concrete. I am excited to see how this is going to look!! I also have been spending a lot of time at my mom’s house on the lake. The serene environment and beauty that surrounds her place is good for the soul. We have been having many great times together, which is priceless. Here is a picture looking out on the lake from her back deck:

 

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Once I start working, I will add to this list of important focus areas, including building relationships (my first order of business!).  I have a yearbook that I asked for about a month ago and I am steadily “getting to know” faces and names. But for now, these four things are what’s going on in my life right now. So many different things are, in their own way, helping me to gear up for a new role in a new school district. But these are four that I am being purposeful about, spending a lot of time on, and that I believe will have a great impact on my year. What about you? How are you gearing up for a new year? I would love to hear from you!

Leadership

Leadership Development Part 1: Effective Schools Correlates

 

In just three weeks, I will begin my journey as a first year Assistant Principal. As part of my summer learning,  I am currently involved in some training which is providing me many great things to think about! This post will be the first in a series of reflections on this training. It will be a way for me to share my learning and resources, reflect on the ideas and how they align with my own philosophy, and receive feedback from others to further push my thinking. If you are a new administrator too, I hope you will join in with me and be my thought partner! If you are a seasoned administrator, I would value your insights as well, as they will surely help drive my understanding and help me to synthesize my learning. And if you are a teacher, your reflections, insights and input will truly be invaluable to me as I share my learning with you and receive your feedback.

This first entry will focus on correlates found in effective schools.   

Below is a graphic which relates to effective schools correlates, as identified by Dr. Larry Lezotte and Ron Edmonds, Effective Schools researchers.  These are “correlates” because researchers have identified them as being correlated to student achievement. The first correlate, Clear and Focused Mission, is at the top. This is designed to show that the remaining six correlates support the first one.

Effective Schools Correllates
Sources: Ronald Edmonds, W.B. Brookover and Dr. Lawrence Lezotte Effective Schools Foundation

The following quote by Lezotte speaks to the philosophy which emerged from their research:

An effective school is one in which all the students learn the specified curriculum regardless of factors in their backgrounds which ordinarily have been identified as those which prevent such learning. –Lawrence (Larry) Lezotte in Learning for All.

For historical perspective, this came about in response to the work of other researchers, which held that student home environment had the most profound influence on student learning. The purpose of this post is not to discuss or debate the two different views; but to focus on the correlates outlined above and how some of our current practices align (or don’t align) with these.

As we think about specific programs or actions we currently have in place, we could categorize them according to each correlate. Many will fall into more than one correlate. I am interested in seeing which correlates our practices are most often aligned with, and also which correlates are least identified. Below I will list each correlate and then a few  of the practices I have seen which I would categorize there. These lists are by no means exhaustive, I’m just going to list a few actions under each correlate which are practices from my previous schools.

Strong Instructional Leadership

  • shared decision making
  • goal setting
  • positive supposition
  • focus on analyzing data and identifying trends across the campus
  • collaborative environment with a focus on vertical alignment and common academic language
  • clear and effective communication with all stakeholders
  • scheduling decisions made to make maximum use of instructional time (block schedules, etc)
  • teacher leadership / shared leadership
  • curriculum which is aligned, rigorous, and reflects the standards for each subject/grade level

Positive Home-School Relations

  • frequent communication with parents
  • literacy nights, math nights, reading posse, carnivals
  • leveraging of social media to provide a peek into our days
  • celebrations and events to celebrate students and families, including weekly assemblies
  • opportunities for parent participation on committees, as judges for contests, and as classroom helpers
  • updated websites which contain useful and relevant information
  • curriculum nights which help families learn about the curriculum and learning goals
  • district-wide showcases of student learning
  • positive phone calls, emails, or notes home

Safe and Orderly Environment

  • effective school-wide and classroom discipline systems
  • rooms free of clutter, well lit, clean
  • rituals and routines in place and consistently followed
  • classroom management which emphasizes personal responsibility for the learning environment
  • procedures for visitors entering the building, students know what to do if a visitor is not wearing a visitor sticker, for example
  • procedures are in place for dismissal, with students safely exiting the building and knowing designated areas for bus lines, parent pick up lines, etc

Climate for High Expectations for Student Success

  • Rubrics which students help design and which students use to guide their work
  • exemplar products which model high expectations
  • focus on growth mindset and grit as they relate to individual success for all students
  • focus on classroom routines
  • evaluating of student work, identifying best practices and collaborating on scoring criteria / grading practices.  Is the quality of work which meets or exceeds expectations in one class the same in another?
  • regular evaluation of data and identification of next instructional steps to move students forward
  • focus on commended ratings and programs which move high achieving students further
  • feedback to students which coaches them toward success
  • students can articulate the learning goal and what success looks like for that particular task / understanding

Frequent Monitoring of Student Progress

  • PLC meetings are regular, frequent, and effective. Teachers build common assessments and evaluate student progress.
  • leadership actively monitoring grades and common assessments given weekly
  • clear guidelines for intervention processes are in place and teachers understand the process for scheduling meetings to discuss individual students who are beginning to struggle
  • the process of RTI is streamlined; we do not spend unnecesary time “trying out” intervention effectiveness before we can meet as a team again (if those interventions are not showing effectiveness in a reasonable amount of time)
  • grade levels being assigned a “case manager” who they can go to with student progress needs
  • faculty-wide evaluation of data and collaboration vertically on skills, needs, and strengths
  • curriculum /assessment alignment
  • classroom progress monitoring occurs daily, including such things as fluency checks, conferencing, small group guided lessons, guided reading, and anecdotal records
  • formative and summative assignments are aligned and evaluated for instructional direction

Opportunity to Learn and Student Time on Task

  • Scheduling allows for blocks of time for core subjects (90 minutes for Language Arts, for example)
  • specials and lunch schedules are designed so as to not interrupt the core blocks as much as is possible
  • minimal loss of instructional time – video announcements, assemblies scheduled with least disruption, etc
  • tutorials are held before school, after school, and during the day to allow opportunity to participate
  • necessary materials are provided for learning, including science materials, manipulatives for math, variety of books, etc
  • differentiation to allow for multiple learning styles
  • class procedures are established to encourage time on task (routines for reading workshop that maximize time spent reading, for example)
  • absences and tardies are addressed
  • student needs are met, including making sure students are not hungry, addressing needs at home such as with utilities, academic support at home, transportation needs, at home materials (sending home books with those who may not have books at home)

As you can see, many of these actions could fall under multiple correlates. An interesting next step would be to dig further into the practices of my new campus, assign actions to categories as they are relevant, and then analyze the most and least represented to see how this might relate to the achievement of students at our campus. 

These six correlates, and the items categorized under each, are definitely things that I would say speak to a “Clear and Focused Mission“, the top correlate in the pyramid. Using these ideas, how might I come up with a sentence that captures my view of an effective school? I might say:

Effective schools hold the vision that all students can succeed and take actions which align with and support that vision through high expectations, strong collaborative practices, and effectively monitoring the progress of all learners while cultivating strong family and community relations.

Perhaps this activity might be something you would like to do as it relates to your own campus. Think about some of the practices at your school. How might you categorize them using the Effective Schools pyramid? Do you see any that are under-represented? Do you see any actions which conflict with one or more correlates? How do your lists compare with mine? Do you see any that you might place differently? Please share your thoughts with me, and your “Effective Schools” statement!

References and sources:

Jean Richerson, Region 13 ILD training, July 2014; Effective Schools ProductsEffective Schools Correlates PDF; Ronald Edmonds, W.B. Brookover and Dr. Lawrence Lezotte Effective Schools Foundation

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Are You Setting Goals Or Making Wishes?

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You’ve collaborated with your students to set goals. Now what?

Just like our students, we also set our own goals.  Whether it’s losing weight, saving money, or taking up a new hobby, we set these goals with good intentions and self-motivation. At that moment.

And then, the moment passes. When we don’t take the time to look for measurable progress toward our goals, and celebrate the small successes, we lose our motivation. “Well, it’s been three days and I haven’t lost a pound. Why bother”. Pretty soon, we start slipping back into old routines. Another pair of shoes.  Another night in front of the TV. Another donut.

Isn’t it the same for our students?

Setting goals with students is the first step toward progress, but it isn’t the only step. It isn’t even the most important one. Because if we fail to help them identify and celebrate progress–if they can’t articulate that progress– we’ve set a goal that won’t be reached. In essence, we’ve done nothing more than make a wish. And wishes, unfortunately, don’t always materialize- even if said with great determination. Even if they are written down on really cool student goal sheets. Even if the student can articulate that goal.

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Legally acquired and altered via solarseven/shutterstock.com.

These wishes need to be goals. And if goals are to be reached, they must be monitored, checked, celebrated and adjusted. By doing so, the goals become resolutions. Things we resolve to do. Not just things we wish for.

Scenario One: Let’s say I resolve to lose weight. I start eating salad every day. But if that isn’t getting me the results I want, I need to do some adjusting. Like adding in exercise. Drinking more water. So I do those things, and after a week I notice (by looking for progress) that I’ve lost two pounds. I feel very affirmed and continue on with my goal. Resolved.

Scenario Two: Let’s say I want to lose weight. I start eating salad every day. Except for the day my family drug me to the Mexican food place or the rodeo, where they only serve nachos.  I notice nothing on the scale after a week. I am defeated and decide to not weigh myself for a couple more weeks. Pretty soon, I’m back to doing things I did before, my goal completely forgotten. It wasn’t working anyway. My resolution fails because it wasn’t really a goal or a resolution.  I neither followed up on it, nor adjusted it as needed. It was a wish.

This week I’ve been thinking about the goals my students have set. How often are we coming together to look for those small, but magnificent, steps toward progress? Even a small step forward gives us all a renewed sense of confidence and commitment. Am I adjusting the action plan based on progress (or lack of)? Am I celebrating those little victories and reinforcing commitment? Are you?

When we see the results of our efforts,  we re-commit. We drive forward because we see that small progress as confirmation that what we are doing is working. That the goal is a resolution, one that we can achieve if we keep at it. It isn’t just a wish.

Let’s commit to action. Let’s look back at the goals we have set for ourselves, and our students.  Ask questions, find and celebrate progress, reset goals and actions where needed, and devote the time to regularly measuring the progress we are making.

When our students can articulate their progress, and not just the goal, they are committed.  And that is resolve.

Now, I think I’ll go have a salad.

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Dancing Along The Spectrum

Dancing Along The Spectrum

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Nineteen years ago, I was still oblivious to the signs of something called autism. My knowledge of this condition was very limited. At the same time, my second child was born. My beautiful, peaceful daughter. I had no idea the journey into that unknown sphere was about to begin.

Now she has made it through high school and currently is in her first year of college– living in a dorm. Amazing!! Diagnosed with Aspergers, this is a person who spent most of her life preferring to be alone, living in the shadows, never going out with friends or taking risks of any kind. She is the ultimate definition of a worrier. She was also fearful of people due to so many episodes of non-acceptance and avoided groups or socializing of any kind. Nowadays, she has 4 roommates, spends weekends having “girls day out”, has gotten a tattoo, writes essays, stays up late, and has dyed her hair. Oh my!! Granted, these are typical events for a college kid– but these are huge leaps for her. This thrills me! (Well, not so much the tattoo–although she chose one that says “Hope“, saying it represented how she has always hoped for friends and fun and now she is finally not afraid to jump in there and experience life….so I actually LOVE that tattoo now).

Having a child on the spectrum has taught me many things which have helped me be a better teacher…a better parent…a better person. Here are five of them:

1. Be a self-esteem +1 ‘ er.

People with autism are often the victim of bullying. Their uniqueness isn’t always appreciated and understood. This can have a devastating effect on self-esteem. To offset that, try to involve them in things that will help build confidence.  And be open to anything.  We signed up for Taekwando, where she went on to earn a green belt. Who knew my shy, quiet, introverted daughter would be good at martial arts?

2. Recognize and celebrate individual passions.

My daughter never watched cartoons or played with toys. She spent her time watching The Weather Channel and building weather stations in the back yard, where she collected data. She can look at the sky and name every type of cloud, she can tell you the latest tropical storms, she can discuss the weather patterns forming across the eastern seaboard or the latest update on a tropical depression forming off the coast. Though not always a favorite topic of her peers, it was through this interest that she learned to read, calculate, make predictions, understand cause and effect, and draw conclusions. Not to mention find places she wants to one day visit (or never visit). Recognize passions and show you accept them for who they are. They need the positive vibes.

3. Initiate “check-ins” often.

My daughter was never going to ask a teacher for clarification. If she received a bad grade on an assignment, her embarrassment over that and lack of confidence would result in her just putting the paper away and moving on. Some teachers saw this as her “not taking initiative” in improving her grades. That wasn’t the case. She would suffer great anxiety over those things, but that happened internally. Communication is her biggest area of struggle, so if you can initiate the conversations around this, please do. Not everyone is comfortable having discussions, much less initiating them.

4. Learning styles matter.

Some kids love to collaborate. They share ideas, they enjoy working with others. But not all students are like this. My daughter prefers to work alone. She also expresses herself much more successfully through writing and technology, which is why I was so thankful for those teachers who allowed her to choose how to learn, and demonstrate that learning. Not everyone should be required to speak in front of a group or conduct an interview to gather data for a survey; if the assignment can be adjusted to accommodate styles and preferences, while maintaining the integrity of the task, please do!

5. Small acts of kindness have far reaching effects.

My daughter was fortunate to have some of the most outstanding teachers during her years in school, but one thing that really helped was that she also always seemed to have that one teacher who went above and beyond. It might not have even been a teacher on her schedule, but it was an adult in the building that always spoke to her, looked out for her, asked her how she was doing and really wanted to hear the answer. One example that sticks out: she never wanted to eat in the cafeteria because of the crowds and noise—so this one teacher would write her a pass to allow her to come to her classroom during lunch. That simple act made such a difference in how her days went-where before she would start feeling the anxiety of lunch and it was only 7:00 am!

For someone with autism, to have to navigate the social minefield of the high school cafeteria (who to sit with, how to approach the group and ask to sit…) well, that’s almost too much to bear. There are so many things which we don’t even realize are so stressful for others. Try to be sensitive to all the little nuances because they might be huge challenges for them.

Finally,  try to avoid assumptions. While there are many common characteristics or traits, no two people on the spectrum are the same. Get to know individual talents, skills, and struggles because there are many stereotypes and they are just that: stereotypes.

Even after 19 years, I don’t have all the answers on raising or teaching those with autism, and I know I never will. But these are some of the things I have picked up that have helped me (and her), and I wanted to share with you.

Thank you to all the teachers, parents, friends and strangers that have gone out of their way to show kindness and love to my daughter. You have mattered.