Safety in the community for the individual, you, and the public

Besides writing curriculum for students with significant challenges, I also work with families, here in Pennsylvania. I am part of an amazing group of other parents who are passionate about helping others create a vision for the future, find supports and services, and connect parents to accurate and important information. Recently, I have been really focused on safety in the community. Every individual has a right to be a valued and integrated part of their local community. We also know that does not always come easily.

There are a lot of challenges we as teachers and parents face when we go on community outings. I wrote 2 other blog posts on this topic a while ago full of thoughts, suggestions, and a free download. Visit them by clicking below:

  • Community Trips and Challenging Behaviors: Getting to know the person (click here)
  • Community Trips and Challenging Behaviors: Getting to know the behavior (click here)

Today, I wanted to come at this from a different angle. An angle that I think is missing in a lot of talks about safety in the community (including the one I currently deliver to the families I work with). This comes from a very personal experience that was scary, upsetting, frustrating, and embarrassing. I share it because, as always, I think there is a lot to learn from our failures, and I KNOW there are so many parents and teachers out there who deal with this issue and no one wants to talk about it.

Keeping the general public safe while we are in the community.

The sad reality is that many of us deal with students and children or adults who have such extreme behaviors that they can actually be a danger to people they may come in contact with while in the community. I deal with this personally with my son, Jimmy, who is 22 and is a very big strong guy. I have also had a similar situation with one other student in the past, who, although not as big, was more explosive and impulsive than Jimmy is. So here is what happened with Jimmy in a nutshell. What I learned, and what tools I can share with you if you are in a similar situation.

For the past 8 months, I have worked with some very skilled and trained individuals who have been helping me get Jimmy more acclimated to being in the community. Honestly, it has gone pretty well. The only aggressive behaviors have been directed at either me or one of the workers, and that has been really infrequent. In fact, Jimmy’s behaviors, in general, decreased the more times we went on trips into the community. It seemed like a big win, and we all had high hopes as we looked for possible employment opportunities in our local community. But then I got over confident.

Jimmy was doing so well, I decided to take him to the local thrift store on my own. We had gone so many times in the past months, that I felt like this was something I could handle. What I forgot was Jimmy has a past behavior trigger of becoming very aggressive toward children who are crying. In fact, we had been out in stores numerous times the past 8 months with upset children, and although he may have glanced their way, he never made any move towards them. But, that day I took him he seemed different. I will never know why. Maybe he had a stomach ache, maybe his head hurt, maybe he just didn’t sleep well and felt grumpy. For whatever reason, this was the day he decided to revisit that terrible behavior and try to attack a 3 year old sitting quietly in a shopping cart while his mother looked through a clothing rack. I can say no one was injured, as I was able to get in between Jimmy and the child, but it was really close. He did grab the boy’s sweatshirt which scared the little guy who started crying immediately. Thankfully, Mom got her son and the cart out of the area very quickly. It was a real struggle getting Jimmy out of that store for reasons I won’t go into, but needless to say I was pretty sore the next day from wrestling him out and back into the car. We got home safely, and Jimmy acted as though it had been just another normal outing into the community.

So what does this mean for his future? How will he ever successfully integrate into our community? First, I had to really think about what it was that he enjoyed so much about going to these places. Was it the actual store? No. Was it the interaction with the people there? No. It came down to three things:

  1. Going for a car ride
  2. Attaining a new toy or book
  3. Stopping for fast food on the way home

So, I started thinking about how I could provide these things without endangering another child EVER. I have now come up with a list of places where I am almost 100% certain children will not or cannot be present. I am creating my own thrift store in a neighbor’s garage where he can go and shop for a new toy or book. So far, this new plan has been going really well.

I found an arcade, empty during the school day.

I found the movie theater is empty in the afternoon in between movie times. And, he LOVES popcorn.

I found a church willing to open up an empty building during the day so he could play on their piano.

I am still working really hard at finding more places we can go where I know he will be safe, I will be safe, and the public will be safe. I feel it is my responsibility as a parent (and as a teacher) to ensure the safety of all involved. That may mean I have to think outside the box, but special education teachers and parents are awesome at doing that.

I wanted to share a list of questions I came up with when looking for potential places to visit in the community. You should definitely take the time to explore some places on your own first. In addition, use this checklist in combination with the other 2 lists of questions from the blog posts listed above to help you have the most successful community outing possible.

Download the checklist HERE (no email required)

This was not an easy story for me to share, but I know there will be at least one other person out there who is in the exact same (or worse) situation that I am in. We have to talk about the tough times as well as all the accomplishments. I hope this conversation helped at least one teacher or parent.

PS If you are a teacher and want some more helpful tips on having a successful field trip with your class, then visit my blog post on it by clicking HERE.

25 Excellent Earth Day Activities for a Special Ed Classroom

April 22 is Earth Day. This has always been a holiday I could get behind. Teaching students about why we need to keep the Earth healthy and how they can make a local impact was always something I found really important and fun to teach. Now, with the explosion of Pinterest, you can spend HOURS going down a rabbit hole looking for an activity your students can actually do and connect with. So, I spent that time for you!! I went down a lot of rabbit holes, before finding what I think are some great Earth Day activities (ALL FREE) that I think students in a special ed setting will truly be able to get excited about and learn from. So here we go…

First, I want to offer you a free resource of my very own. Like I said, I love teaching about Earth Day, and I recently just updated and expanded my Earth day Unit. You can check that out HERE. But, I wanted to put something together that you could use right now at no cost (not even an email address!!)

Earth Day sorting activity (CLICK HERE)

This sorting activity allows students to decide if something is good or bad for our Earth. There is a color-coded option already included for students who need more support. So click below the image to grab this awesome activity to use with any learning level you may have in your classroom.

So, now onto my other great finds (ALL FREE):

Math Resources for Earth Day

ELA Resources for Earth Day

Science Resources for Earth Day

Art Resources for Earth Day

Other activities for Earth Day

  • Earth Day Social Problem Solving. Good for older kids. (click HERE)
  • Earth Day Playlists:  songs, poems, videos and more (click HERE)
  • Community Service Projects (click HERE)

If you are looking for complete units for Earth Day, I have three in my store depending on the age of the students you teach. Check them out by clicking the link below each picture.

Earth Day for elementary
Click HERE)
Pollution & Conservation
Middle School

(click HERE)
Global Connections
High School

(click HERE)

Errorless Teaching: Is it worth it?

If you are not in the special education you may wonder what the deal is with errorless activities. What is the point? What are students learning? If you are a special education teacher, then you know they learn a lot from these simple activities. Here are some benefits from having your students do activities that are errorless plus a free download at the end.

1. Learning the mechanics

Before learning new content, we need to give our students a chance to learn how to do certain activities. For example, if you want students to use a circle map to illustrate the main points from a lesson, you want them to already be familiar with what a circle map is and how it works. Having students use a tool with only correct answer choices gives them the foundation they need when faced with unfamiliar or new content. Just think about it. You likely first learned to ride a bike on your driveway or in your neighborhood. It was probably a while before you ventured onto an unknown road or terrain. Riding your bike on a trail successfully only happens when all you have to do is focus on the trail, not how to ride a bike. So, give your students lots of practice using certain tools in a safe and errorless manner before combining them with new or unfamiliar content.

2. Increasing participation

When students feel more confident, they are more likely to participate. In addition, it adds to the discussion and interaction because all the answers they provide will be correct. That gives you so many more opportunities to validate their interaction and reinforce their attempts to participate. Imagine being observed when doing an errorless lesson. It is very likely, no one will pick up on the errorless part and instead, will see equal and active engagement by all the students in the group. A win all around!!

3. Addressing multiple learning levels with the same material

If you have used any of my units on TPT, you know I started about a year ago including errorless and non-errorless options for certain activities. This all came about from a suggestion from a teacher who was using my units. She told me she loved them for her lower level kids, but needed something more challenging for those who were a little more advanced. So, I started adding those options. Now the exact same worksheet can be used for more than one learning level. You can use errorless for those just starting out. You can use the non-errorless version with some color-coding added for more advanced. Finally, you can use the non-errorless version just how it is for those who can truly discriminate right from wrong answers. To see more on color-coding check out these two blog posts:

4. Building confidence

As I stated above, students who are consistently reinforced tend to repeat that target behavior more often. If you provide lots of options for participation and response with the knowledge that the answer will always be correct (at least in the beginning) you are likely to see a faster spike in engagement and learning. Students won’t know the activity is errorless. Most won’t recognize the subtle differences in the worksheets being used by other students in their group. It will feel totally natural to praise and reward students for their participation and you get the added bonus of reinforcing that the answer given was a correct one!

5. Creating review tools

Most of these activities can serve double duty as review tools for an upcoming assessment. Because they were errorless, you know the material they are reviewing is correct. In addition, you know that parents and perhaps other paraprofessionals who may be reviewing the material with the student has the correct information as well. I had one teacher tell me it is great note taking skill. The power of errorless teaching. It is truly worth the effort.

So wondering how to make activities you already have errorless? Click on the link below to download a quick cheat sheet on how to turn various activities into errorless ones quickly and efficiently!

Errorless teaching quick tips (download NO email needed) CLICK HERE