Tuesday, April 28, 2020

IEP Light

IEP Light

The majority of school systems across the country are closed and students are enjoying the struggles of online learning.  That experience includes children with disabilities who have an IEP.  An IEP (Individual Learning Plan) is a contract for service between the school system and the child with disabilities.  Its purpose is to ensure that the child will receive a free, appropriate education which has been defined by the Supreme Court as allowing a child to move from grade to grade to the best of his/her ability.    We have learned lots about online learning.  One of the main things is that teachers and students miss each other and don’t learn as well long-distance.
We have also learned that children with disabilities learn even less online and that school systems are not doing very well at differentiating instruction to meet the needs of these kids.   Oh, and the IEP is just floating out there in the wind.   No one is even pretending schools are meeting the contractual agreement.
What to do about that?  Enter the distance learning plan, or in Maryland, the ICLIP, the Individual Continuity of Learning Plan.  The ICLP is presented as a temporary amendment to the IEP.   It will disappear and the IEP will return as soon as schools reopen.   Parents need to agree to the plan. They may do that through email or a phone call.   If they do not agree, then a virtual meeting is called to review the IEP so the student gets some education during the period of closed schools.
Obviously, an ICLP cannot cover everything that is in the IEP or it wouldn’t be needed.   Most school systems are requesting that teachers pick a couple of goals and one-two objectives for each goal.   Some areas are tricky, particularly related services such as OT or speech.  Also exactly how does a student learn to handle a table saw, landscape a yard or wire an outlet without touching any of those things?  
There was a time when people thought that online learning might be a great replacement for rural areas or to supplement teacher shortages.  We have learned that it is not.  We have also learned that parents, regardless of whatever professional training they may have, are not great teachers of their own kids.  And they don’t want to be.   One of the good things that may come out of this experience is that teachers will be more highly appreciated which is a very good thing.
The ICLP is the IEP Light, but at least it is a step to keep moving in the right direction.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

No you won't get it right

No you won’t get it right

You probably never trained to be a teacher and if you did it wasn’t to teach your own children.   Now here you are, stuck at home with your children who should be at school, your significant other who should be at work, and those little furry children who are thrilled beyond compare because you are home.
There is lots and lots of stress to go around.   You should be grateful because you have a job and lots of people are not receiving a salary.  You are not all that used to working from home and that creates stress.  It was easier to just reach out and ask  question or walk around the corner when you needed a co-worker's help.  Now it is all virtual and sometimes the answers take longer to get back to you.  It is hard enough to work from home without being expected to be your child’s substitute teacher.  This is not what you want to do nor what you signed up for.
Or maybe, you are one of the unlucky people who would just love the stress of working from home if only you had a job to do that would bring in the money you need to live.  You are really worrying when the unemployment will kick in and will it be enough to get you by.   It is really hard for you to concentrate on your student’s distance learning when your mind is on next month’s rent or mortgage.   Yet the teachers expect that you do a lot of assistant teaching.   If your child is in high school, you may not even be familiar with the new content.  Your child keeps insisting that is not the way the teacher explains it.  If your child has special learning needs, the task just got harder.
People think they have complimented you by calling you an essential worker.  Sounds nice but no one told you that meant possibly putting your family at risk because of your contact with the outside world.   You know you need to work to keep your family solvent, but does that mean putting those same people at risk.  Wait a minute tell me again what today’s online learning objective is?   What is it you expect me to do for this lesson?  Sorry my mind wasn’t on it.
You are trying so hard to get it all right so you and your family can get through this pandemic together and your kids not fall too far behind in school.  There just seem to be so many balls in the air.  Why do you feel so guilty, like you are not quite measuring up no matter how hard you try?   Relax, you won’t get it right- just won’t happen way too much to juggle.  Kick the guilt to the curb- move on.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Time to step up

Time to step up

Seventy-five years ago (April 13, 2020), Harry Truman started his first full day as President of the United States.   Eleanor Roosevelt had summoned Truman to the White House the day before to advise him of the President’s death.  Truman, a humble man, asked Eleanor, “Is there anything I can do for you?”.   Mrs. Roosevelt, perhaps echoing the thoughts of the entire country, responded, “Is there anything we can do for you?  For you are the one in trouble now.”
Truman was one of the last people anyone would have looked to in a crisis.  Victory in Europe would come in about a month.   Japan would be another story.   
Truman was very undereducated for a president, having only finished high school.  He had failed at several businesses.  His vice-president position was the result of backroom dealing and compromise.  He would not have been anyone’s first choice to wrap up a world-wide war and to bring the world back to whatever was going to pass for normal.  Yet he did lead and most historians rank Truman among the top 10 US presidents, rising in recent years.
So unexpected leaders are among us.
This is an important time for parents to lead.   Kids are getting lots of “papers”  and "packets" being sent home from school.   There are expectations for online learning.  But teachers are not in the room.  Students will need a great many supplementary learning experiences.   Like it or not, families will need to step up to the plate to home-school their kids.  This means spending time with the work sent home.  It means following up with online lessons.  It means reading to your kids and perhaps watching historical or science documentaries and discussing them.   It means taking time away from your own working from home work to make sure your children are learning something.  It also means limiting the drug of video games and screen time.   It is too easy to sit your child in front of a screen and get some time for yourself.  Leaders lead in different ways in different times.  Now it is your time.
Teachers can really have it easy.  Let’s face it, the public schools are completely unprepared for this digital continuity of learning stuff.  As a teacher you can really take the easy way out.   Many school systems are only requiring a couple of hours a day of online teaching.  Some districts are only requiring a couple of hours a week with “busy work” as follow up.  You can take that easy way out.  You can worry about your own kids or your own life and just do the minimum that is required while you receive your entire salary and benefits.  Or you can lead.  You can step up to the plate and find Utube videos, more interesting articles online for kids to read, you can even post videos that you yourself have made.  In essence, you can do your best to teach school.  Leaders lead in different ways in different times. Now it is your time.
Employers, you too can lead.   Times are tough economically and many businesses are finding income slashed.  Are you doing the most possible for your employees?  Are you supporting and helping them in any way that you can afford to do?  This pandemic will be over at some point.  Economic life will come back.  You will want those experienced and competent staff members to be with you as you rebuild your business.  Are you with them now?  Leaders lead in different ways different times.  Now it is your time.
The man experts expected little of rose to the occasion and led our nation and Europe through recovery of WWII.   He had a sign on his desk, “The buck stops here”.  When it comes to leadership, what sign is on your desk? 

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Not as good, is well not as good

Not as good, is, well not as good.

Schools have shut down and shifted to online learning.  Kids who have struggled with in classroom learning will probably struggle more with online learning.  But there aren’t choices at the present time.  So what can we do.
Kids also miss the social piece of school so if families can use apps like Google Hangout to connect classmates that can help learning.   If teachers have time they can have private chats and hangouts with their students.  Facetime is important so that is good if it can be arranged.
Now comes the big BUT!   We have gone from record unemployment lows to some significant high rates of furlough and unemployment for our families.  Some teachers may see their own incomes fall from two salaries to one.  A lot of families are struggling to put food on the table and pay the rent.  Supporting online instruction may not be a first priority.  Additionally, some families may be shuffling to find online instructional support for more than one child on a limited number of devices.  There are a LOT of moving parts in this dilemma.   None of this had a lead time or time to plan.   People, parents and educators, are scared, overwhelmed and maybe even a bit impatient.  Technology is amazing until it isn’t.  For those with limited technology skills the frustration is worse.
What do to? First of all, as much structure as possible like a real school day will help.  If there is written material that arrived first, parents can prepare the kids for what is to come.  If possible, give the technology a dry run to make sure it is up and operating.  
Next breathe- deeply.  A child may miss an online lesson because he/she isn’t interested or technology failed.  Believe it or not that happens in a classroom too.  
As a parent you just didn’t give the lesson your attention that you should have for whatever reason, other kids, your own online job, your lack of skill.  It’s ok.  A missed lesson or two will not change the trajectory of your child’s life.
Embrace the fun part of online learning, the neat videos, seeing what a teacher’s house looks like in the background, seeing yourself on “TV”.   No, online learning is not as good as in school learning, not for plain kids and certainly not for children with learning challenges.
But sometimes not as good, is good enough- Breathe