Are We Teaching Our Students That They Can Grow?

Educators are learning that in addition to knowing content, students must also have a healthy approach to learning. That is, students must see themselves as learners who can grow.

We all know students who become frustrated when the task seems difficult. Some students feel defeated the moment they walk in the door. Carol Dweck (in her book, Mindset) has helped us all realize that an important factor affecting the learning outcomes of our students is not merely IQ, but also how students see themselves as learners. Do our students see themselves as learners who will grow or as students with predetermined strengths and weaknesses for life?

It is worth taking time to teach our students a bit about how our brains work, stressing the value (and payoff!) of hard work and effort. Often our students jump right to the I can’t do this thought, so giving them a category for understanding where that thought may be coming from and what to think instead may help them move forward. 

I have created a resource for teachers, support staff, and parents to use in order to teach children they can learn and grow even when it seems hard.  It starts with a narrative with simple illustrations (for an individual or whole class) followed by reflection sheets and  3 classroom posters containing helpful growth-centered scripts.

Based on your students’ level of understanding, you, as the educator or parent, may need to take a deeper dive into some of the concepts presented (e.g., What is patience? What does effort look like? What does hard work look like?). I have avoided using words such as “task persistence” or “task initiation,” but you can describe the learning process in terms of these skills if your students are ready.

If you haven’t already, make this year a year for helping your children or students see themselves as learners who grow with hard work and practice!

(Click here or on any image to fully preview or purchase the product.)




Jessica Minahan and the Behavior Code

Jessica Minahan is a board-certified behavior analyst and special educator employed in the Newton (Massachusetts) public school system. Jessica has done educators a great service by writing her book (along with Nancy Rappaport) entitled The Behavior Code.  I have begun reading it and find it refreshing and helpful.  Are all of Jessica’s strategies and insights new? No. What she does is nicely capture and summarize essential components of how to support behaviorally challenged students with solid data and fidelity.  After working with difficult students year after year, it can become easy to forget that their actions are purposeful and are their attempt to solve a problem (pg. 15).  I appreciate Minahan’s charge to teachers to become “behavior detectives” as described in the following excerpt:

“Our perspective is that all teachers who are willing to be behavior detectives can learn to identify why challenging students behave a certain way, what school factors contribute to the behavior, and what strategies will lead to more appropriate, constructive behavior for school and life.”  (pg. 8)

In chapter one, Minahan identifies the following essential concepts for understanding behavior (and goes on to expound on each concept throughout the remainder of the chapter):

  • Misbehavior is a symptom of an underlying cause.
  • Behavior is communication.
  • Behavior has a function.
  • Behavior occurs in patterns.
  • The only behavior teachers can control is their own.
  • Behavior can be changed.

In chapter two, Minahan introduces the FAIR plan – a behavior intervention plan that includes four elements:

  • Functional hypothesis of behavior
  • Accommodations
  • Interaction strategies
  • Response strategies

Chapters three through seven dive into strategies for working with students who struggle with anxiety-related behavior, oppositional behavior, withdrawn behavior, and sexualized behavior.  Helpful examples are given, and a Q&A section is provided as well.  Appendices contain forms and other helpful information.

Jessica MinahanMy agency is fortunate to be hosting Jessica Minahan for a training day in mid-January 2018.  I look forward to hearing her speak and learning much!  I’m sure I will have more to post after her visit…

Click here to visit Jessica Minahan’s website.  Click here to view and/or purchase her book on Amazon.

Research-Based Resources for Positive Behavioral Support


As the new school year begins, those of us in K-12 education undoubtedly have a few students in mind who tend to struggle behaviorally.

Have you ever stopped to think about what makes behavioral challenges unique?  When you think about all the disabilities and learning challenges students present with in schools, behavioral challenges are just a different breed.  Think about it.  When a student has a disability in math calculation, reading fluency, or speech and language, the skill deficit is clear and the interventions fairly straightforward.  School staff tend to maintain an empathetic understanding and even compassion for the student while they provide accommodations and specialized instruction to address the disability.  The student’s progress is tracked, and interventions continue across content areas as long as needed.

When school staff interact with a student exhibiting behavioral challenges, on the other hand, something else is happening.  Different responses and emotions arise in staff members when they encounter seemingly rude, oppositional and disruptive behaviors. Regardless of the reasons behind it, behavior often elicits responses from adults drawing from their own experiences and standards for conduct.   Further, when children exhibit behaviors, it often affects the learning of others so there may arise a sense of injustice on the part of staff.  It tends to be harder to have compassion for students with challenging behavior, even though the reasons behind the behavior may be no fault of the student (just like a student with a learning disability is not at fault for his or her disability).

All of that said, it is vital that we as educators strive to understand our students and employ research-based strategies to support our students with behavioral challenges.   Our efforts should lead us to understand what our students are communicating to us through their behavior.  Over the coming months,  I would like to provide resources to equip educators and parents to effectively support behaviorally-challenged students.

Today’s  Resource:

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Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (

A comprehensive resource hub with many links from school-wide supports to plans for individual students.  There is a lot there – take some time to look around!

Kid To Kid: 5 Considerations For Teaching Peer Communication

One of the most important skills we have is communicating effectively with our peers.  This is the pathway to friendship. It is the means by which we thrive (or survive!) at social gatherings.  It is how we navigate the workplace.  For our students, it can be the difference between playing with peers at recess and sitting alone on the playground bench. Social interaction is part of succeeding and engaging in school and life.

If we are to teach children to grow in peer communication, we must do it well.  It will be one of the most important skills they ever learn. Consider these five (brief) points for laying a solid foundation for the children with whom you work:

 1. Never assume.  Children with social learning difficulties often don’t make sense of social interaction like typical children do.  This means that every step needs to be taught and explained.  Never assume that they see it like we do.  Never assume that they understand why greetings are important or that they know not to interrupt another peer when they start talking.  Social interaction is a part of living that does not come naturally to children with autism so we need to help them develop a new category for connecting with others.

This social narrative teaches children how to greet their peers every step of the way. Great for Pre-K through early elementary. Can also be shown on smart boards for large group teaching.

2. Break it down.  Every social interaction is comprised of many individual steps.  Always strive to reduce peer interaction down into these small steps in order to increase understanding and keep things manageable.  Be patient.  Your student may be learning to greet others for a long time before he or she is ready to tackle simple conversation starters.

3. Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse.  Much practice is required here. And just because a student does something once, does not mean that he or she has fully learned it and will always have it. As you likely have seen, students with autism can have days where they are quite “on,” demonstrating skills quite well.  Other days, however, can seem like they never had the skill at all.  The more teaching and practice the student has, the more he/she will gain the skills towards sustained application.

4. Use actual peers. All the time.  Using social narratives, visuals and other teaching tools are helpful only so far as they are used in conjunction with real peer interaction.  As you teach social interaction skills, have typical peers involved to practice with your students.  Even better, have the typical peers teach your students and role-play.  There is nothing like the power of positive peer influence.  This also allows for natural learning and practice to take place outside of your classroom or office.  Peers who work with your students can continue to interact with them in other settings throughout the day, increasing generalized learning.

Save ink with this Simply Social Narratives resource.  Appeals to a wide range of ages and includes interactive templates.

5. Keep it visual.   As you provide and build an understanding of social interaction with your students, keep a clear, visual record for them. Social narratives and talk/thought bubble conversation templates are a couple of strategies you can use.  Also, keep these materials interactive by having the student fill in greeting and conversation ideas.  Be sure to send a copy of these materials home in order to provide parents an opportunity to practice and review social interaction skills with their child.

Shown throughout this post are resources I have created to help children grow in these essential skills.  These can be used individually with students, with small groups, or as smart board presentations for a whole class.  They also serve as helpful resources to send home to parents so parents can support their child’s social learning.

For children who identify with this well-known theme, this narrative walks children through all steps of peer communication from greeting through conversation starters and follow-up questions. Includes interactive templates.



Social Skill Help Cards Are Here! (And so are video previews…)

For the past couple of months, I have been thinking about quick-reference supports for students with social learning needs – something smaller than a full social narrative, but more informative than a visual picture card. The result?  Social Skills Help Cards.   These cards serve as handy teaching tools that provide students with social learning opportunities throughout the day.


Why are Social Skills Help Cards needed?  Simply put, we need to be surrounding our students with more social learning opportunities. Students with social learning difficulties struggle with learning a skill and generalizing it across multiple settings.  The size and simplicity of the cards make it easy to present students with key concepts throughout the day, both at home and at school.

This product also marks the first time I have provided a video preview in the product description of my Teachers Pay Teachers product page.  Hopefully it provides a more thorough look at how the Help Cards can help your students learn these essential skills for life.




Explicit Instruction – Dr. Anita Archer

I hope you all had a restful holiday!  Are you feeling refreshed and ready for the new year, or are you already suffering from the winter blues?  I hope you are generating new ideas and creative strategies for learning…

explicit-instructionTo start the new year, here is something from Explicit Instruction: Effective and Efficient Teaching by Anita Archer regarding what research tells us about how kids learn best.  Dr. Archer’s book lays out what works for special-needs learners (and all learners for that matter).  In chapter one, Dr. Archer presents the foundational elements of Explicit Instruction.  I chose to highlight 9 of the 16.

Elements of Explicit Instruction:

  1. Focus instruction on critical content
  2. Sequence skills logically
  3. Break down complex skills and strategies into smaller instructional units
  4. Begin lessons with a clear statement of the lesson’s goals and your expectations
  5. Review prior skills and knowledge before beginning instruction
  6. Provide step-by-step demonstrations
  7. Monitor student performance closely
  8. Provide immediate affirmative and corrective feedback
  9. Help students organize knowledge

Theses are essential teaching elements whether you are a general education teacher, special education teacher, homeschooler, or parent.   One of Dr. Archer’s mantras is, “How well you teach = how well they learn.”  This correlates perfectly with John Hattie’s research, which concludes that far and away, quality of instruction is the number one predictor of student achievement.  We are always teaching kids based on a set of skills and beliefs about how we think kids learn.  I highly recommend Dr. Archer’s book to help inform the way you teach in order to maximize student growth.

I’ll leave you with a short clip of Dr. Archer explaining the use of instructional routines: