December 10th, 2018

2018 PAGE Conference

PAGE Conference

Nov. 29 & 30, 2018 * Deb Sowers (with Melissa Wilson)

Melissa and I attended the annual PAGE conference in Pittsburgh this year.  Because I am not a specific member of a team of teachers, I always appreciate the opportunity to attend this conference as it gives the the chance to interact with and learn from people who “live in my world”.  I attended the pre-conference activities on Thursday. Our first session speaker was Jim Delisle. He talked about “Learning to Exhale: Meeting the intellectual and emotional needs of gifted children and teens” and how important it is for our kids to be able to demystify giftedness.  Among many points he made and stories he shared, two stood out in my mind:

A. The importance of distinguishing between “Gifted” and “Talent”  

Talent is something you do.

Giftedness is a greater awareness, a greater sensitivity, and a greater ability to understand and transform perceptions into intellectual and emotional experiences.

–Annemarie Roeper

B. There are eight great gripes of gifted kids.  Delisle outlined these in his book, GIfted Kids Survival Guide

He encouraged us to talk with students about these; perhaps before the discussion, have students circle ones that they’re concerned about and explain.  The common grips are:1.

  1. No one explains what being gifted is all about
  2. The stuff we do in school is too easy and it’s boring.
  3. Parents, teachers and/or friends expect us to be perfect, to do our best all the time.
  4. Kids tease us about being smart.
  5. Friends who really understand us are few and far between.
  6. We feel too different and wish people would accept us for what we are.
  7. We feel overwhelmed by the number of things we can do in life.
  8. We worry a lot about world problems and feel helpless to do anything about them.

A take-away I had from this session is to use this “Eight Great Gripes” as a discussion launch during an upcoming Socratic Seminar.

Our keynote speaker was Ashley Flynn from the Center for Talented Youth.  Her topic was “Under the Radar: Innovations in Identifying Students from Underrepresented Populations”  This talk as well as another session I attended entitled “The Other 97%: Challenging Gifted Learners in the Regular Education Classroom”, gave me some great ideas to share and try.  Specifically, I’d like to push in to classrooms and do mini-lessons with first graders to help gen ed teachers help to begin noticing and identifying students who should possibly be screened for gifted.  Just going in once a month for 15-20 minutes can be helpful. I also would like to work with grades 2-4 graders in developing some special programs to help challenge those several students in their classroom who may not be identified gifted but could use the challenge (it’s hard to explain the idea without showing an example!).

I always appreciate being able to attend this conference and bring back some strategies and ideas to share within our district.  Please feel free to contact me for more specific notes of these and other workshops I attended. I decided just to share the big takeaways from the conference rather than ALL of what I learned.

Thanks for this opportunity,

Deb Sowers


December 7th, 2018

MAKERSPACES: Creating Motivating, Engaging Work Spaces for Your Library

On Wednesday, December 5, Kim Ackerman, Kimberly Porter, and Stacey Fisher attended a  Bureau of Education & Research workshop by Tricia Kuon called MAKERSPACES: Creating, Motivating, Engaging Work Spaces for Your Library. The UTEC model of Makerspaces was shared- Using, Tinkering, Experimenting, and Creating, and we worked through the model ourselves and learned how to “level up” experiences. Makerspaces emphasize the 5 C’s- Critical Thinking, Creativity, Communication, Collaboration, and Citizenship and give students the opportunity to engage in learning. Incorporating hands-on activities that extend a lesson or concept increases student learning significantly whether it’s in a library makerspace or a classroom. The resource handbook includes an array of best apps, websites, books, technology ideas, craft ideas, and best ways to market the makerspace which will be useful in accessing resources, tools, and ideas for creating a dynamic and fluid makerspace at all levels K-12.

December 6th, 2018

PCTELA – October 19

On Friday, October 19, Kari Irvin and I (Nicole Shepski) attended the first day of the Pennsylvania Council for Teachers of English Language Arts (PCTELA) in Harrisburg, PA. Here is a break-down of our day:

Session A: Interviews as Stories, Nicole A. Bond and Kayt Schott

Story Corp was used as a resource for capturing interviews/stories of individuals who experienced 9/11. The project was then used as a resource for informative writing.  Students learned interview etiquette, video-editing skills, and informative writing craft in an authentic and meaningful setting.

Featured Speaker: A.S. King

King shared her personal experiences with ELA teachers and how they impacted her life either positively or negatively.  She stressed the importance of celebrating individuality when it comes to crafting and telling stories.

Session B: Secondary Students Learning About themselves through Independent Reading, Jolene Borgese

Jolene Borgese book-talked diverse young adult literature and expressed the need for these books to be used as mirrors and windows. She shared lists of top-reads for us to take along and use in our classrooms.

Session C: Teaching Contemporary, Multicultural Young Adult Literature to Foster Equity and Advocacy, Michelle Knotts and Adison Godfrey

This session also focused on diverse literature being used as mirrors and windows for students to build empathy.  They provided examples of how these titles could be used within an ELA classroom.

Featured Speaker: Ruth Ayres

Ruth Ayres is the author of the book Enticing Hard to Reach Writers.  She shared many points from her book including how traumatic experiences negatively impact the development of the brain and how writing can be used as a tool to help these individuals heal.  It provides them with an outlet for their emotions and stories.


Reflection – This conference session was extremely motivating and rejuvenating. We came away with numerous applicable ideas for our classrooms and would highly recommend this conference for any ELA teacher in the future.

December 5th, 2018

“A Healthier Mind is a Happier Life” 2019 American Mental Health Wellness Conference

On Monday, November 19 and Tuesday, November 20, 2018, Laura Murphy and I attended “A Healthier Mind is a Happier Life” Conference sponsored by the American Mental Wellness Association.  The American Mental Wellness Association is a relatively new “umbrella” organization that aims to unify various health and wellness initiatives in order to streamline how mental health is treated as well as increase funding for mental wellness programs.  Sharon Engdahl, the Executive Director, would like the American Mental Wellness Association in mental health to become what the American Cancer Society has become in the medical field.

The opportunity to attend this conference appeared in my inbox last spring and I shared it with my some of my colleagues involved with Aevidum, Take a Stand Committee, and the diversity committee.  I was interested in attending because of a tragic suicide of a student in our own district.  I believe that improving school climate and creating an inclusive environment for all students would help to prevent tragedies like these.  I also think that mental health is a growing public health concern that will affect all aspects of American life, including the school and local community.  I wanted some strategies for how to deal with an increase in the amount of students dealing with mental health issues as well as a sense of where the mental health initiatives are heading and how that could impact education.

I cannot say that I walked away satisfied that I achieved my set outcomes. However, I did learn a ton about mental health and how individuals struggle or learn to live with their issues.  I learned that more Americans suffer from mental health disorders than cancer, heart disease, and lung disease combined.  I also learned that most mental health disorders can be effectively treated if we use prevention and early intervention techniques.  While the conference did have breakout sessions called “In the Classroom” specifically aimed at education, Laura and I found that we were not truly with “our people;” most attendees were mental health professionals and among them, only a small fraction worked in education.  We were definitely welcomed with open arms, but educators were not the primary intended audience, which made it more difficult for me to reach my own intended outcomes.

One of my biggest takeaways from the conference was mental wellness and how we need to spend as much time tending to our mental health we do tending to our physical health.  Americans spend billions every year on diets, cleanses, exercise equipment, and gym memberships to keep our bodies in shape.  What are we doing to take care of our mind at the same time?  While physical fitness helps keep our minds sharp, it is not the only answer, especially if we have low self-esteem, lack of boundaries, lack of positive relationships, lack of communication, and lack of commitment.  Recently, the trend in education is that teachers with five years or less experience have been “burning out.”  This is my fourth year in South Western School District and fifth year of teaching overall, so I can definitely relate to this.  I have to figure out how to tend to my own mental wellness in order to be at my best for students.  I also learned that some of my coping strategies for stress are not always effective or healthy.  Having attended this conference, my own mental well-being has become more of a priority for me.  Grading papers will have to wait if it means I can spend quality time with my family, which recharges my own batteries.

One of the most powerful sessions was called “Prepared & Ready to Promote & Support Mental Wellness/Safety in the Workplace.”  This session was labeled “In the Community,” but I figured it could benefit both students and teachers.  In this session, I learned a lot about empathetic listening.  According to one Harvard study, there is an epidemic of loneliness in this country.  So, how can authentic social connections help this epidemic?  I learned some strategies to becoming an empathetic listener, such as authentic presence through body language, respect even if you do not agree with someone, and the difference between empathy and sympathy.  Empathy takes more emotional connection, while sympathy can actually drive disconnection.

I also learned about an organization called Someone to Tell It to, based in Harrisburg, which actually helps train people to become better listeners.  This session really resonated with me.  It was a good reminder for dealing with both students, colleagues, and administrators.  Empathetic listening is what helps me connect so well with students and build relationships.  I also value empathetic listening from my colleagues and administrators.  I do not always feel “heard” and this feeling fosters disconnection, frustration, and distrust.  Upon reflecting, I think Rob Freil is truly an empathetic listener from my experience with him on the new councils created this year.

One of the most exciting sessions I went to was called “Utilizing Trauma-Informed Culture & Neuroscience Applications to Improve Student Learning” from the “In the Classroom” pathway.  At this session, I learned that the Red Lion School District is focusing on implementing trauma-informed practices in the classroom.  This is their only initiative this year; no new curriculum, no technology initiatives, nothing else.  A “Brain Strategies Team” was put together to look at the scientific research on trauma and the brain.  They were trained on best trauma-informed practices for the classroom and now they are rolling out a district-wide professional development on these trauma-based practices.  Some examples of these practices include class meetings, mindfulness, walk & talks, pulse oximeters at the nurse’s office, and buddy classrooms.  The district is rethinking consequences vs. discipline and they are educating teachers about this difference.

Lastly, I was excited to hear Dr. Tim Murphy, former PA Congressman, speak about the new Families in Mental Health Crisis Act, which became law in December 2016.  Dr. Murphy spoke about how mental health and wellness law will be changing and how there will be new and improved government oversight of this field.  I learned a lot from this Keynote speaker, but I did not get a real sense of how this law could affect public school.  I suspect that it is not clear how this could impact the educational community since the law is still being implemented.

Overall, I had a great time at the American Mental Wellness Association’s first conference, but I do not know if I would attend again.  I could possibly be interested in attending one day, but not two, and only if there were more sessions offered specifically for educators.  I enjoyed getting to know Laura Murphy more, since we drove together each day.  I also enjoyed visiting the Hershey Lodge while it was decorated for the holidays.  I suspect the knowledge I gained from the conference will continue to inform my practice as a teacher.

December 4th, 2018

American Mental Wellness Association 2018 National Conference

American Mental Wellness Association 2018 National Conference

At this conference, I attended several different sessions. In this post, I’ve included notes from each section but the biggest take-home points are:

  1. Mental health is a costly economic issue that is not properly funded and largely stigmatized; we should view mental health as mental fitness.
  2. Negative brain changes can result from brain injury, brain illness, stress & trauma.
  3. Brain health relies upon: Nutrition, Socialization, Spirituality, Mental stimulation &
    Physical activity
  4. Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are common. In a large survey of middle-class Caucasians, almost two-thirds of study participants reported at least one ACE, and more than one in five reported three or more ACEs. Increased ACE scores result in increased health risks.
  5. CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) is  a degenerative brain disease caused by repetitive hits. The TAU proteins in the brain are misfolded. CTE can only be diagnosed after death but include (short list): Difficulty thinking (cognitive impairment), Impulsive behavior, Depression or apathy, Short-term memory loss, Difficulty planning and carrying out tasks (executive function), Emotional instability, Substance abuse, Suicidal thoughts or behavior. It is being recommended that children under 14 do not participate in contact sports.
  6. The “choking game” is a “game” which children suffocate each other to seek a “high” but is killing children. It goes by many other names; for more info:


Some websites for further information:


Additional Reading:

Fingerprints of God

Scalpel & the Soul


Living on the Offense, Eric Hipple

The monetary impact to society of mental illness cost is greater than cancer & diabetes combined

$1 trillion/year = on addiction

$93 billion = suicide


Brain plasticity – change connections

  • Inability to solve problem is the problem
    • Brain injury
    • Brain illness
    • Stress
    • Trauma
      • Brain tries to fragment memory
      • Stays on the emotional side & doesn’t get processed until an activator causes trauma to “pop”back up
      • support/mentor trauma → triumph


  • Our Story’s shape us but don’t define us


  • Mental health should be viewed as mental fitness
  • Keys to mental fitness

*responsibility      * self-esteem  * boundaries    * vulnerability  * communication     * commitment

Executive Function: A Window to Optimizing Student’s Learning

  • Dr. Kaufman will be releasing a new Maslow’s hierarchy very soon
  • Executive function = mental & behavioral control
    • Fully developed
      • Womens ~ 22 years old
      • Men ~ 25 years old
  • Adult attention span is 12 minutes
  • Stress shrinks brain network
  • Higher scores on ACE (adverse childhood experiences) are directly correlated with higher health risks
  • Takes 6 seconds to change an emotion


Brain Health Across the Lifespan, Dr. Paul Nussbaum

  • Brain health relies on these core principles:
    • Nutrition
    • Socialization
    • Spirituality
    • Mental stimulation
    • Physical activity
  • Travel reduces the risk of dementia due to new experiences
  • To process information women tend to use both sides of the brain, men tend to use one side of the brain
  • The hippocampus can generate new brain cells
  • When you love, you shut off the anger area of your brain

Recommended reading: Fingerprints of God, Scalpel & the Soul

Trama in Our Communities – It’s Impact – How to help – Joyful Living; Ellen Smith, Elaine Strokoff, deJoly LaBrier

Disease Control and Prevention, Kaiser Permanente. The ACE Study Survey Data


Score %
0 36.1
1 26
2 15.9
3 9.5
4 12.5


  • Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are common. Almost two-thirds of study participants reported at least one ACE, and more than one in five reported three or more ACEs.


  • As the number of ACEs increases so does the risk for the following*:
    • Alcoholism and alcohol abuse
    • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
    • Depression
    • Fetal death
    • Health-related quality of life
    • Illicit drug use
    • Ischemic heart disease
    • Liver disease
    • Poor work performance
    • Financial stress
    • Risk for intimate partner violence
    • Multiple sexual partners
    • Sexually transmitted diseases
    • Smoking
    • Suicide attempts
    • Unintended pregnancies
    • Early initiation of smoking
    • Early initiation of sexual activity
    • Adolescent pregnancy
    • Risk for sexual violence
    • Poor academic achievement


A Neuroscientist’s Perspective on Mental Health & Mental Illness, Dr. Karen Lankford,

  • Unconscious bias
  • Unconscious connect with conscious via emotions; if not through emotions can connect via bodily functional neurological disorders

New Federal Mental Health Laws: Impact on Mental Health Treatment in the Coming Decade, Dr. Timothy Murphy, former senator

  • “No one cares about crazy people”
  • 350,000 mental illness deaths/year


In the Military Traumatic Brain Injury, Hellp Recovery, Resiliency, Renewal of Military Members, Veterans & Families; Timothy Murphy, Karen Zegel & Doug Zegel


  • CTE (Chronic traumatic encephalopathy )is  a degenerative brain disease caused by repetitive hits. The TAU proteins in brain are misfolded. CTE can only be diagnosed after death but include (short list):
    • Difficulty thinking (cognitive impairment)
    • Impulsive behavior.
    • Depression or apathy.
    • Short-term memory loss.
    • Difficulty planning and carrying out tasks (executive function)
    • Emotional instability.
    • Substance abuse.
    • Suicidal thoughts or behavior


  • From brain bank, brains that were autopsied due to repetitive hits
    • 91% of college athletes brains had CTE
    • 99% of professional athlete’s brains had CTE
    • 66% of veterans brains had CTE


  • Out of 2000 brains, 63 brains participated in contact sports
    • 33% of those brains  had CTE
    • 0% of brains without contact sports had CTE
  • 20% of suicides are veterans
  • “Normal” brain upon autopsy weighs 1400g, Alzheimer’s brain 1000g, stage 4 CTE brain 800 g
  • Stress can cause self-inflicted brain injury; cortisol levels cause brain inflammation. Cortisol destroys connections and cuts off the frontal lobe causing the hippocampus to shrink and the amygdala to overwork.
  • Anxiety is a response to a perceived but not real threat that is treated as real.
  • The brain is the only organ capable of destroying & renewing itself.

Therapy – ABC (Affect, behavior, cognition)


How we prepare for stress

  1. Resilience
    1. Building strength & tools to meet stress
    2. Adaptive thinking – correct choices
    3. Philosophies of life that are prepared for stress practice experiences
  1. Resistance
    1. Corussage to fight when faced with stress
    2. Correct choices, brain engaged
    3. Book – “The art of War”


  1. Recovery
    1. Hope: patience, persistence, forgiveness



Attitude Control


Training & learning




  1. Renewal
    1. Faith in renewal
    2. Transforming your view of self & world


December 3rd, 2018

Keys to Enhancing Your Effectiveness as a School Nurse

During the conference, the instructor discussed numerous ways to manage your time during the school day. One of the ways, and is so simple,  was to make a list of what has to be done today. She said the best way is to list three items and go from there so that you don’t overwhelm yourself. The time management part was beneficial to me since I cover 4 elementary buildings every day. This can be overwhelming, to say the least, but improving time management is important. The instructor discussed the school law which states that every certified school nurse can have 1500 students in their caseload( I have approximately 1430 students). It was discussed that the law needs to be changed so that the certified school nurse can be more effective in their practice. It has been in the house for years to change the ratio to 1 certified school nurse per 750 students. We talked about the numerous safe practices to deal with emergencies in the buildings, especially since the world has changed. We were updated on all of the new ways to manage an emergency with an intruder in the building. We discussed the importance of IHP’s and 504’s. We talked about the issues impacting the mental health and well being of our students and how certified school nurses can help these students.  The mental health aspect of school nursing is becoming overwhelming since we are seeing an increase in the acuity of our students, especially with anxiety and social issues. It was discussed that if we would be able to identify students with these issues early on in their elementary years it could possibly help these students have a better educational experience.

November 14th, 2018

TDA Conference

The TDA workshop on All-About-Instruction was the second phase of the LIU’s TDA workshop. Last year, it focused a lot on the construction, selection, and scoring of TDA prompts. I was eager to learn how to truly infuse analysis into the classroom. The largest takeaway was increasing the amount of discussion and interaction with inferencing that goes deeper into analysis (and the difference between the two)!

During the workshop, the most meaningful portion was when we were given time to work on an actual TDA lesson. I was able to collaborate with fellow SW 5th grade teachers to create an entire lesson (mini unit) on TDA utilizing a genre that our students need more exposure to in fifth grade, Greek myths. We implemented many of the new strategies that we learned during the workshop such as opportunities to practice with pictures, short and longer texts, text-dependent questions, peer collaboration/discussion, implicit and explicit reasoning, and writing.

I was able to begin this TDA mini unit with the students before my maternity leave. The dialogue and discussion that the students were providing on pictures and poetry was outstanding. The conversation was rich and their inferencing was going further into analysis. When I return, I look forward to continuing to infuse these concepts throughout our reading and writing curriculum. Likewise, it will be exciting to collaborate with teachers from all content areas to incorporate the culture of analysis to all areas.

November 13th, 2018

Trauma Informed Classroom- Attended by: Summer Borden, Cari Friddle and Lori Holland

The Trauma-Informed Classroom

PaTTAN Harrisburg, PA

Joshua MacNeill M.Ed.

Kathy Van Horn M.Ed., LP


  1. Thumb Ball (icebreaker — get-to-know-you activity)
  • This ball is full of themed questions that is tossed around – you answer a question that one of your thumbs lands on when you catch the ball – the one we used was called “shaped by our past”
  • You can purchase a thumb ball with questions based on any given theme.
  • Good to use with students because the students we are working with are very shaped by their pasts – it helps us get a frame of reference for the students we are teaching


  • Fidgets


  • Very helpful because there is a large portion of our brain that is directly connected to our hands
  • Be sure to address fidgets and their purpose with students — “These are tools, not toys.”
  • There are some fidgets that work for some people and not others — find something that works for each student individually – not one size fits all


  • Brain Breaks


  • Important to help solidify information that is being processed in the brain, and finding a place for storage
  • Do a brain break right before presenting brand new or important information
  • Have jars with different types of brain breaks listed on popsicle sticks to draw one when needed – categorize them by breathing, movement, stretching, etc.
  • The 3 of the ES teachers could coordinate a list of brain breaks that we use across all levels
  • Don’t always use the “energizing” brain breaks – but customize brain breaks to the need, such as calming down, or gaining focus.
  • A great brain break that is good for transitioning is simply throwing a ball into the air, and all of the students clap once when the ball is at its highest point
  1. The Brain and the heart are very connected
  • If our brain says “you’re not safe” then it sends a message to make the pulse increase
  • Use Pulse Oximeters for students to “self-monitor” where they’re at — how they are doing with situations that are usually triggers
  • If you do Pulse monitoring, it must be a on a consistent basis in order to understand the students “normal” — some students have a higher normal pulse simply due to the life experiences they have already endured
  • Some math teachers use pulse with graphing, and discovering how different things affect the students pulse, like music or activities


  • Breathing


  • We were all born  into the world being belly breathers, but become chest breathers with stress
  • Belly breathing promotes calmness, chest breathing promotes stress
  • Having students put hands behind the back of your neck to force belly breathing
  • When we breathe through our belly, we get 10 times more air into our bodies



  • The Brain


  • The brain develops from the bottom up and the inside out. So, when something traumatic happens in a child’s life, the part of the brain that is developing at that time is effected
    • Brainstem – form in utero
      • Blood pressure, heart rate, body temp
    • Midbrain – forms throughout the first 3 years of life
      • Motor regulation, states of arousal, appetite, sleep
    • Limbic – develops through adolescence
      • Affiliation, attachment, sexual behavior, emotional reactivity
    • Cortex – all through adulthood – it never stops
      • Abstract thoughts and concrete thoughts



  • How trauma impacts the brain


  • Children who experience trauma can become either dissociative or hyper-vigilant
  • When a student experiences trauma, everything that is happening in that moment is connected; smells, sights, sounds, colors, temperatures… everything from traumatic moments can become a future trigger for a student.
  • The cortex is what we use to control our impulses — but students with trauma have a smaller cortex, and have less control of their impulses
  • Their impulses are stronger because that part of the brain is overdeveloped, but the cortex is underdeveloped — so the impulses are coming at a higher rate, and the cortex cannot keep up with controlling impulses because it is underdeveloped.
  • MISSING Experiences — due to neglect — you can simply add in the experiences that were missed in order to fill in those gaps in the brain
      • Figuring out the “gaps” of missing experiences through Child Trauma Academy – they do brain mapping and it prints out exactly what is missing BOOK: The Brain that Changes Itself by Norman Doidge
  • Students who experienced trauma have a disconnect between the two brain hemispheres of the brain – doing activities that cross the midline help produce connectivity between the two hemispheres of the brain (i.e. the ABC’s and 123’s)
      • “I bet you can’t do this” activity gets great buy-in and focuses all of their attention on the task of doing ABC’s while saying their 123’s



  • Brain States


  • The brain’s main focus is to make sure we stay safe. The brain goes from calm all the way to terror.
      • We usually only stay in the calm state when we are alone (cortex)
      • When we are around people, we are still in our cortex, but we are usually in the “alert” state
      • If something happens that causes concern, we move to the alarm state (limbic) — this is the baseline for students who have experienced childhood trauma. We have to work to get them back into their cortex. Kids in this state pick up more on the body language, and not focusing on the actual words you are saying.
      • Fear state is in the brainstem — this is shear impulse without any thinking at all. It is all reaction.
  • We do our most creative thinking when we are in the calm state and thinking in the top of the cortex. That’s why your best ideas come to you in the early morning or in the shower in the morning.
  1. Regulation = the ability to put time and thought between a feeling and a reaction
  • Even simply milliseconds
  • Teachers and staff are “adding intentionality” to students’ behaviors, when really the student isn’t able to control their reactions/emotions
  • In order to reason with students, it is important to implement Bottom-Up Regulation



  • Bottom-Up Regulation


  • Regulate → Relate → Reason (moving up the brain)
  • As a teacher, it is not just my job to teach, but it is my job to make sure I am helping students get to a place where they can learn.
  • WATER is extremely regulating – it helps us get more oxygen, and forces us to focus on our breathing. As a student is losing control and needs to regulate, offering a cup of water and getting the student to take slow-sips.
  • Bottom-up processing works for every single brain, not just the traumatized brain



  • Mirror Neurons


  • Students will mirror an adults level of calm
  • It is IMPERATIVE that adults stay calm within the classroom in order to help the students stay calm


  1. Students can continuously say “no” to the strategies we offer, but they can never say no to how we treat them — we need to continue to treat the reacting student with calm and respect.



  • Interventions to change the BRAIN


    • These interventions need to be repetitive in order to change the brain
    • Dosage = something about every 20 minutes – the brain will rule things out that last too long, but it needs to be intermittent throughout the day — little dosages over and over again bring more change.
    • Music that plays to the beat that would be the same as a mother’s heartbeat in utero — this activates the brainstem and creates more calm.


  • BRAINSTEM Interventions


      • Rocking/rocking chairs, swinging, music to heartbeat, music/drumming, deep breathing, weighted blankets, staring at a fan/mobile, white noise, balancing/stretching, chewing and sucking
      • K9 for independence provide free dogs
      • Weighted clothes to wear consistently or Lycra Capes


  • Midbrain Interventions


    • walk/run/exercise
    • Creative arts
    • Bilateral movement
    • Walking a heavy box to another room – pushing against their own hands
    • Desk cycles/Fit Desks/Standing desks



  • Limbic Interventions


    • Parallel interactions — standing shoulder to shoulder to talk
    • Movement, fidgets, building relationships with animals, etc.



  • Cortex Interventions


    • The goal is to stimulate the deeper parts of the brain from which dysregulated students are operating in order to help students move up the brain and operate from the cortex


November 10th, 2018

School Connect- Social Skills Curriculum Training

Last year as our Emotional Support Team started brainstorming what social skills curriculum to chose, we came across School Connect. School Connects provides a thorough and in-depth guide to providing SEL (social and emotional learning), to students. This curriculum is meant for high schoolers and it has 4 modules, each intended for each year of high school. The first module is Creating a Supportive Learning Community, the second module is Developing Self-Awareness and Self- Management, the third module is Building Relationships and Resolving Conflicts.

Keeth Matheny, who is the co-author of this curriculum and model teacher for school connect, he was the presenter at the conference in Reno. The 3-day conference covered the 4 modules, sample lesson, previewed lesson plans and provided many hands-on activities that are incorporated within the lessons. Most of the people attending the conference with me were from the Reno area and were taking Keeth’s class as a refresher. There was only 1 other special education teacher there as well. As it was discussed, School Connect’s SEL curriculum is intended for all high school students. Mr. Matheny shared that he starts with his freshmen seminar and at his school, every freshman has to take his class. I spoke with Keeth one on one and we discussed how I was going to be implementing the curriculum here at South Western. I shared with him that I only have 14 kids on my caseload and that I basically split my kids into 3 groups.


The first group of students are ones who need a full block (79 minutes) of social skills instruction. The second group of kids are ones who need only a 5th-period social skills lesson (45 minutes), and the third group are ones who do not need a specific lesson.

At this time, and with this being my first year teaching social skills, we are using the 1st module with my social skills group. One major concept that I learned at the training that all the work and effort I put into my lessons the more the kids will get out of them. This curriculum is not a “one size fits all” framework and I can, as the expert on my kids, can include certain activities given to me and I can also incorporate my own ideas as well.


The training got me excited for yet another amazing year with my emotional support kids.

November 7th, 2018

TDA Workshop

TDA Workshop

Dates: September 10 – September 11, 2018

Location: LIU

Instructors: Laura McCusker, Kasey Smith

Attendees: Kristen Fickes, Stephanie Klansek, Heather Myers, Sarah Ringley, Casi Sinnott, Keith Smith


Casi Sinnott

My biggest takeaway from this workshop was realizing that each TDA prompt really addresses two reading elements. One reading element is usually explicitly stated in the prompt; while the other element must be inferred. This emphasized for me the importance of teaching students about author’s craft and reading elements because they must be able to identify and analyze these on their own. It also emphasized the need to teach students how to read and comprehend a prompt since they have to read between the lines to answer it completely. When we were discussing Lexile as an element of text complexity, I decided to research the complexity of the prompt. The text “Drawing Horses” had an 800-900 Lexile which was appropriate for the grade level assessment. However, the prompt was written at an 1100-1200 Lexile which was above grade level. Knowing this adds to the importance of teaching students how to deconstruct a prompt.


Stephanie Klansek

When constructing TDA prompts and choosing texts to use in our classes, it is important to consider both the quantitative and qualitative measures of complexity. We often consider Lexile levels of text, but we often overlook factors such as knowledge demands, meaning/purpose, text structure, language features, and visual supports. The workshop provided a helpful Text Complexity Analysis Worksheet, which will assist in choosing complex tests for both instruction and assessment. As a district, it would be helpful to have a bank of resources for complex texts. It also speaks to the importance for teachers to be avid readers in order to seek out complex yet relevant texts that may be relevant to our curriculum and content.


Keith Smith

I left the workshop, much like Casi, better understanding the importance of author’s craft in scoring a 3 or 4 on the TDA essay. It is not enough to write about what the text says; students need to analyze the author’s choices in crafting the text. In eighth grade, we have typically asked our students to write the type of writing that we are simultaneously reading. For example, we write a short story while we study short stories. This has allowed us to address author’s craft in the pieces that we read and in the story that the student is crafting. It think this helps our students when we then ask them to address author’s craft in a TDA essay. We learn best when we are asked to create. I also left the workshop with a healthier understanding of the scoring. We had the opportunity to score several papers and compare our scores to our table and the whole room. It was enlightening to hear my colleagues talk about why they scored a paper a certain way.


Kristen Fickes

The takeaway that I had from the workshop relates to the analysis of student work for TDAs. One of the activities that we participated in involved us categorizing student work samples into the categories of “Objectives Met,” “Objectives Partially Met,” and “Objectives Not Met.” The next step of this analysis involved looking at the commonalities among those student work samples in each of those categories. This process allowed me to see which mini-lessons I could target as a small group, as well as which mini-lessons I needed to instruct as a whole group. In addition to the analysis of student work information, I also learned more about how to craft a TDA prompt. As Casi stated, the prompt addresses two reading elements–one being explicitly stated and the other needing to be inferred.

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