Everyone gets frustrated at some point.  What I have learned from watching Ted Talks with Kelly McGonigal is that embracing stress is more important than reducing stress.  Clifton P. Parker discusses Kelly’s research in an article regarding the same topic.  He states, “Stress is most likely to be harmful when the following conditions are present: it feels against your will, out of your control and utterly devoid of meaning. If you can change any of these conditions – by finding some meaning in it – you can reduce the harmful effects of stress.” (Parker 2015)

When students in specialized programs move from 2nd to 3rd grade that most likely means that they will be switching IEP case managers; creating a transition for both the student and the special education teacher.  This can be a stressful time as there can be a gap in communication between how the student worked with one IEP case manager to the next.  In the case where Ronda Schelvan, special education teacher at Fisher’s Landing Elementary School had worked with a student for three years (kinder through 2nd grade) and was now handing off that second grader to Danielle Paschal, special education teacher at Fisher’s, the transition created change.  Planning for implementation of that student’s IEP through development of tools to support access to core curriculum, scheduling staff to support specially designed instruction, collaborating with the general education teacher regarding the student’s SDI and accommodations, and communicating the schedule with training of the student to para educators and other staff members all provide intentional, proactive planning for student success.  When you have to do this for 20 or more students across 6 grade levels, it can cause frustration.

Born out of frustration and being overwhelmed, Ronda and Danielle took the work being done at the building level of developing a scope and sequence for subject areas and a need for assessing student growth in relation to their evaluation, as an opportunity to make stress work for them.  Instead of being reactive to situations that were created from student need or scheduling changes, Danielle and Ronda decided to develop a shared vision for their work with students.  That way any student, regardless of their needs, would be able to enter their specialized program and have intentional planning that eventually leads to success.  Of course, they knew they had to get to know the student first.



“There seems to be some confusion between what is meant by a shared vision and outcomes. We are confused about what we consider to be a vision and have difficulty distinguishing the sense of direction a vision offers us from the small and concrete steps we take to get there. We share a vision that all students in our society will have an equal opportunity to be educated. We now need to examine the small, concrete steps that we take to get there. We refer to those steps as outcomes and we need to constantly ask ourselves, ‘Do the outcomes we have described help us to arrive at our shared vision?’ When we look at the above outcomes, we question whether they are measurable, concrete steps. Many of them might be better stated as a shared vision for the future.” (Costa, Arthur L. and Kallick, Bena 1995)

Ronda and Danielle decided to get to know the students through numbers.  They plotted information they could find about each student on a spreadsheet.  First, they put in all the service minutes outlined in each student’s Individual Education Plan and the setting the minutes would be served within (General Education or Special Education).  Then they sorted the spreadsheet by grade level.  In order to tier the student needs, Danielle and Ronda created a risk measure; 3 meant at risk, 2 meant some risk, 1 meant low risk, and 0 meant no risk.  The risk measurement was driven by the work Michelle Garcia Winner outlines with social thinking challenges: Significantly Challenged, Challenged Social Communicator, Emerging Social Communicator, Social Nuanced Social Communicator, and Neurotypical.  They also adjusted the risk factors by outlining the number of IEP goals each student had in each area that was plotted (i.e. math, reading, written language, behavior, social/emotional skills, adaptive skills, communication, fine motor, and gross motor).

What came of plotting this information was a closer look at defining the overall specialized program; which was a result of defining overall student need.  By seeing the need through the lens of data, Danielle and Ronda began to break down supports that could be provided through academic groupings, IEP caseload, student abilities, and skills that the students currently demonstrated.

In order to communicate this understanding to others, Danielle and Ronda colored the levels of risk.  Red showed a lot of academic needs for certain students.  Suddenly the frustration they were feeling in the previous year was understood as they saw the grade level and case manager associated with the group of students with higher academic needs.  For instance, on student had four IEP goals in a specific area and only 15 minutes of specially designed instruction a day.  This displayed a gap between assessment of need for service minutes and amount of IEP goals to teach, track, and monitor.

After defining student needs, Ronda and Danielle created a scope and sequence for social thinking skills in order to group students based on their social thinking needs for daily social skills lessons.  Ronda teaches whole body language at primary ages, the vocabulary of the whole body listening, strategy of using red dots/green dots, and thinking bubbles.  These skills support student identification of social thinking skills.  Danielle assesses students using ILAUGH.  While taking videos of these assessments so others can see how the student reacts to social situation, Danielle also has students interview her based on information presented to them.  (to learn more about ILAUGH go to https://www.socialthinking.com/Articlesid=32C05379CD1B408BAA6BAD0E0EE23918)

Danielle interviews each student to see if the student can get novel information and pick up social information.  She watches the student’s body language when asking questions or presenting information.  Parts of the assessment help see latency, how the student processes information, and how he/she attends to the task.  It also looks at whether he/she asks questions about others.  In the end, the ILAUGH assessment shows a snapshot of where the student is at with his/her social communication skills.



This assessment and defining Ronda’s and Danielle’s shared vision for the specialized program was not only helpful for them, it was helpful for all the stakeholders for which they work with throughout the school year.  The building assessment team grew to understand the value of the information this assessment in knowing the students and comparing other students to students within the specialized program.  Viewing the specialized program as a tier 3 intervention for students, the assessment allowed for further definition of where students would be at tier 1 and 2 in comparison to the higher needs of students in the specialized program; not ignoring developmental milestones as well.

By grouping students based on needs as outlined in the assessment, Danielle and Ronda were able to come up with a better way to schedule supports for students.  They could communicate with both general education teachers and paraeducators about the times they needed to be with certain groups of students, and could show them their reasoning for making that decision.  Ronda and Danielle created an “at a glance” profile for each student so that everyone who works with the specialized program could know the student based key indicators.  These indicators included whether the student had a behavior intervention plan or not, how many minutes they are served through their IEP, which areas they are served for their minutes, and which location they receive services.  It included student strengths and challenges in order to better support staff in knowing each student.

Danielle and Ronda could communicate to teachers about accommodations needed for certain students and student groupings.  Teachers were able to see the effectiveness of those tools and strategies, and often planned to use them to support all learners in the classroom, not just the students who access a specialized program.

Ronda and Danielle could see the effect of having a shared vision had with support staff when they had a change in speech and language pathologists this school year.  The scope and sequence, along with the assessment, provided a progression that  another staff member could align his practices with in order to support the overall vision of the program.  Thus, showing that Danielle and Ronda were building the level of understanding regarding what students and staff members need to know for social communication in their practice.  By having that shared vision, and communicating with others, Ronda and Danielle were creating consistency in how others worked with students needing that level of support.

In my conversation with Ronda and Danielle, they shared that this is a process, and it will continue to be a process.  They learned a lot this year by collaborating with others about their assessment and scope and sequence.  Now they can make minor refinements instead of reactively making major adjustments each year to their practice.  The assessment allows for them to look at how they align service minutes to the amount of IEP goals and rigor within the IEP goals based on student needs and abilities.  Overall, they can look at what they are doing to support student achievement objectively.  Defining the program is providing seamless education.  That way students are being provided support consistently because everyone shares in this vision.  Danielle and Ronda embraced the stress they were feeling and made sense of it.  Having a shared vision allowed for them to do what Kelly McGonigal talks about, “by reframing stress as a good thing and a sign of personal progress, we can avoid some of the baggage that comes with becoming stressed and actually turn our anxious feelings into a source of strength.” Ronda and Danielle are doing this, showing how the research Kelly does to define resiliency in the workplace also works in education.


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