Friday, November 11, 2016

Terese Jurgensen ~ Director of Student Services ~ November 11th, 2016

Each and Every Child
I am extremely excited to announce that HWCSD special education services will be covered by Each and Every Child, which is a monthly newsletter that goes out to all districts in Iowa covering exciting strategies and events that are happening for entitled students across Iowa. For many years, I have read this article, written by Jim Flansburg, who is a member of the Iowa Department of Education in Des Moines, Iowa. It is a class-act article, and I always learn from and am encouraged by its contents. We have spoken over the last two weeks about Social Emotional Learning and what is occurring across our district to support students who need to learn these adaptive behaviors.  Our students who are learning skills and strategies to support their Social and Emotional needs, do not just happen in our special education classroom, but indeed these strategies (although perhaps not as intensive as in the special education sector) are being taught throughout our district. It is important to remember that the Howard-Winneshiek School District has 21st Century Learning: System Design Essentials that we believe and instruct throughout our district. Social and Emotional Learning is highlighted in the first line:

~Meaningful relationships connect learners:
 Social-Emotional Learning foundational~

Mr. Flansburg notified me last week and shared that he will be coming to Howard-Winneshiek to interview our teaching staff and possibly a family who has been positively affected by Social Emotional Learning. One of the questions Mr. Flansburg asked me during our exchange is what research-based strategies is our school utilizing when teaching Social and Emotional Learning. Therefore, I am dedicating this weekly blog to highlight these important strategies and learning systems implemented here at HWCSD. I encourage you to read and sign up for the Each and Every Child Newsletter. You can find it at: https://www.educateiowa.gov/pk-12/special-education/each-and-every-child-newsletter

Social Thinking:


Mrs. J Teaching Social Thinking Concepts to Parents

Moving Beyond Social Skills- Social Emotional Learning
Social Thinking vs. Social Skills
What’s the difference between teaching Social Thinking and Social Skills? 
Historically, people from many different professions and non-professionals alike have taught social skills by identifying with students specific social behaviors, such as “greeting another person” or “initiating a topic in a conversation” and then teaching the students through the memorization and practice to improve upon their production of each of these skills. When the skills can be isolated and practiced data can also be more easily taken.

The reality is that our social skills are not made up of individually memorized behaviors that are then utilized exactly the same way in each situation; in fact it can be easily argued that people who say “hi” to every person the exact same way, regardless of what they know about the person or the situation would likely be interpreted as “odd”. Consider a 13-year-old boy who, based on the culture of his age and his campus is actually expected to say “what's up?” when greeting his peers, say “hi” when greeting his teacher and then say “hello” when brought into a formal meeting.  

The gap between teaching students behaviorally based, memorized social skills and the need to teach our students how to adapt their social skills based on the expectations of the situation and the people in the situation is the gap between the more tradition social skills teachings and Social Thinking. When teaching Social Thinking we are teaching students to become active social problem solvers who are not focused on memorizing what to do socially but instead are engaged in figuring out what people around them are doing, what they are expecting, what our students are seeking in their interactions with others and all this helps them to figure out how to interact in any given time or place and with different people. This same knowledge of the social mind can then be applied in our academic interpretations as well as our need to explain our own thinking through written expression, classroom projects, etc.
Social Thinking Across the Day - Home & School
  1. Explain how teaching "think with your eyes" is different from simply teaching good eye contact.
  2. Explain why a person with social learning deficits may have reading comprehension problems in the classroom.
  3. Distinguish and describe the difference between a useful IEP goal and one that is of little benefit.
  4. Describe how the use of spiral bound strategy cards can facilitate teaching how to initiate communication.
  5. Explain how gestalt processing relates to written expression and organizational skills.
  6. Describe a strategy to help students avoid blurting.



  1. Get comfortable with the topic by better understanding it. Administrators and teachers are comfortable talking about a child’s difficulty with reading decoding, spelling, or figuring out math problems but social problems are a challenge. While the teachers echoed this, few could explain why. My guess is that the social process isn’t all facts; it engages our emotional system. What we do socially impacts how we make others think and feel and most educators and learning specialists are not comfortable talking about their own and others’ emotional interpretations. They also don’t like to cause discomfort when talking to family members. Plus, when we’re talking about social abilities, we’re stepping into largely uncharted and unqualified territory, one that doesn’t have any type of standardized measurements that remove the subjectivity around social observations. So we’re often at a loss for not only what to say and how to phrase these observations, but how to measure the social gaps we notice and offer some concrete plan for improvement. The following tips will help to develop comfort with these discussions.

  2. Talking about “social learning” rather than social skills helps to better define the problems being discussed. To help parents and professionals more easily discuss the challenges noticed during the school or home hours, we encourage everyone to discuss the problem with user-friendly language. When our team works with parents we explain that when looking through the lens of the Social Thinking Methodology, a person’s social skills (behaviors) are a by-product of how that person interprets and responds to the situation and the people around him or her. People who exhibit socially awkward behavior or fairly persistently make others feel uneasy do not have a behavior problem; they have a social learning problem.

    This thinking is closely aligned with that of Dr. Ross Greene, creator of Collaborative & Proactive Solutions (www.livesinthebalance.org). Dr. Greene describes students who exhibit challenging behaviors as having lagging skills that lead to unsolved problems. In a nutshell, despite our student’s desire to interact, they don’t know how to figure out the situation they’re in. Think about a student who has persistent social skills challenges. He is experiencing daily unsolved problems, one after another. As a result, a peer watching the student or the person our student is interacting with may struggle to interpret our student’s intentions, emotions, or thoughts because the student’s social behaviors are odd, off-kilter or are unexpected for the context of the situation. This leaves observers feeling uncomfortable around the student and that feeling creates a social memory that lingers. Through the lens of Social Thinking we carry Dr. Greene’s thinking one step further and propose that our students are experiencing lagging concepts and skills. I don’t think it’s just skill development that is lagging but also how their brains process social information to make sense of the context and what they know about the people in the situation. In treatment we need to address how we each create social goals, how we interpret social cues, how people interpret our social cues, how to recognize and manage anxiety and other stressful emotions. This is far more than teaching social skills! This involves executive functioning, language, recognizing points of view, etc. Hence, we talk about this as engaging in social learning to teach social competencies, which can also be described as teaching social thinking and related social skills.

  3. Explore what it means to be socially competent. Through the lens of Social Thinking we describe that people start by interpreting socially-based information while also experiencing related emotions. This happens prior to figuring out their social responses (what some call social skills). This interpretive and emotional process occurs not only when interacting face to face with one or more persons, but also when sharing space with others who you do not intend to interact with or when simply observing to interpret social information (e.g. watching a weekly TV show, watching the news, reading a novel, studying history or social studies, etc.). Consider the many times in a day or week when you are surrounded by people you have no plans to talk to. You still use your social thinking to interpret your surroundings, figure out the expectations of the people, gauge your emotional reaction, and then adapt your behavior (social skills) based on the social goals you want to achieve. Most often when we’re surrounded by others we do not plan to interact with (such as when listening as part of a group in a classroom), our social goal is simply to share space effectively by adapting our behavior so we don’t call attention to ourselves.

    This idea is important to consider, because it means that when teaching social competencies we need students to learn to observe people in context to learn when (and how) to interact or not interact or share one’s thoughts out loud! When we focus on social competencies (the thoughts, emotions, interpretations, actions, reactions, and other thinking and behaviors involved) we make the important shift away from simply teaching social behavior to introducing and teaching students about social thinking and deeper social concepts.

  4. Recognize that social learning is one of many learning systems. This perspective toward teaching social competencies through our social thinking and related social skills aligns with Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences (Gardner, 1983) in which he described eight different “intelligences” that guide how people process information. Our social thinking and related social skills are part of our social cognitive processing and responses that influence our interpersonal and intrapersonal skills.

  5. Get organized around how we socially relate. One way is to use Social Thinking’s Treatment Frameworks to help understand how the social world works. Social Thinking’s teachings help us all become more aware of our own social perceptions, expectations, and interpretations and then organize our social observations around specific social ideas and frameworks. A few of our treatment frameworks are summarized below.



Social Emotional Learning - 
Teaching Executive Functioning Skills
We teach students that skills can be taught through utilizing brain research/information

Taken from SOAR Curriculum ~ The Brain and the Biology of Learning
Social and Emotional Learning
Over the past three years, I have written extensively on Social and Emotional Learning, whether it outlined Social Thinking Curriculum and Strategies, The Zones of Regulation, Self-Regulation and what an Amygdala Hijack looks like, executive functioning strategies or Skill -vs- Will (Skill being brain-based strategies that can be taught or Will - matters of the heart).  
During professional development trainings that I am honored to be a part of, I always emphasize that it is best practice to teach students these strategies as a matter of the brain - not them as a person who makes poor choices. 


In a previous district, I was teaching a kindergartner that his brain is like a muscle and that he can make it stronger by a "Stop and Think" strategy. I will never forget that day when his mom came to pick him up from school. He ran out to greet her with a big smile on his face delightedly telling her, "Guess what, Mommy! I am not a bad boy - I just need to make my brain stronger like my muscles!" 

I love brain research and the fact of the matter is, the more we learn about the brain, the better equipped we are to be as educators. 

The “Emotional Center” of the brain correlates with the foundation layer of the Success Pyramid, “Have Confidence.” This is also the very base center of the brain where the amygdala is located. If a student perceives anything as a threat or trauma, the brain will shut down and not be able to learn or process the threat perceived. 
This path your finger just followed is the path that all information follows along your spinal cord. The very first section of the brain to receive that information is the Emotional Center of the brain. This center is also known as the Base of the Brain. 
Reaction to threat – flood of hormones 
Downshifting – brain shifts to a primitive level of functioning
Instinctive reaction can save lives
More often – can escalate situations
In an nutshell, Executive Function Disorder kids become easily swamped by
their emotions - Amygdala Hijack!

“Threats” Make Learning Biologically Impossible

If the brain perceives a “threat” of any kind, it immediately goes into “RED ALERT! DANGER!” mode. This mode pulls brain chemicals from other regions of the brain as it prepares to respond.
That means, when the brain perceives a threat of any kind, learning becomes physically impossible. The brain literally “steals” power from the learning regions of the brain.
This design goes back to caveman days when we might encounter a tiger in the wild. Who could possibly think about memorizing theorems when a tiger wants to eat you?? Today, this region of the brain still does not know the difference between “Tiger!” and “Someone just said something really mean to me on my way to class.”

A tiger threatens our most basic physical survival. “Mean words” threaten our sense of belonging, which is also deeply important to our survival as a human, social species.

At Howard-Winneshiek CSD, we recognize how important it is to understand and teach our students skills by teaching the functions of the brain.

When the emotional region of the brain is not in the Green Zone of “safe, happy, and content,” it is physically impossible for the brain to learn.
The Zones of Regulation and its language is taught throughout our district!
Students can learn to self-regulate, recognize and control emotions and stay in control!

As you might imagine, to protect us, our brains error on the side of caution. Any sense of discomfort will put the brain in “RED ALERT! DANGER!” mode.
…the Emotional Center of the brain will hoard all of the brain chemicals needed for learning.
This critical aspect of brain function; Emotions are the on/off switch to learning!

Social and Emotional Learning - 
Is it Skill or is it Will?

     Challenging Behaviors...Is it Skill or is it Will?

Our special education staff have been trained in multiple strategies to help decipher if a child's challenging behaviors is a matter of Skill (executive functioning, problems in communication, perspective taking and how a learning deficit can impact a child's social and emotional success in school.

As we look toward supporting the students and families in our district, we are going to be supporting students and families by looking at challenging behaviors and issues as a matter of Skill or Will. We believe that every student wants to be successful and will do well if they have the tools to do so. That everyone is created for something great! However, we all have a "story to tell" and things we struggle with. The question is, "Is it a matter of Skill or Will?" 

"Is the struggle or challenging behavior a skill-based issue?" As a special education staff, partnering with our general education teachers, support staff and most importantly parents, we will be teaching skill-based needs such as executive functioning supports, expected behaviors, how to understand other people's perspectives and how to communicate effectively...to name just a few. Or, is the issue that is stopping a child from learning a matter of Will? Does the student struggle with emotional needs, attendance, need a mentor or someone to counsel them? These are matters of the heart, and we recognize that many students struggle with these and come to school, but aren't ready to learn because of burdens that are too much for them to handle. 
Jessie Cummings - Elementary Special Education Teacher

Social and Emotional Learning
Growth Mindset - Perseverance & Grit
The work of Carol Dweck


Professional Development for all staff on Growth Mindset




There are two mindsets that have a MAJOR impact on our ability to
 learn, grow, and achieve our goals.

GROWTH MINDSET: you believe that your skills and intelligence are things that can be developed and improved. That you DO have the capacity to learn and grow. Skills are built.

Social and Emotional Learning - 
Collaborative Proactive Solutions










Social and Emotional Learning
Creating Trauma Sensitive Classrooms
ACES: Adverse Childhood Experiences
Positive Behavior Supports

What is PBIS?
One of the Healthy Indicators of Iowa Schools is the Positive Behavior Intervention Supports Model or what is commonly referred to as PBIS. What I truly appreciate about PBIS is that it relates to our Skill or Will model of supporting students at Crestwood. Many people believe that students come to school and "automatically" understand how to act appropriately in the common areas of schools. Common areas would be the classroom, hallway, playground, lunchroom and restroom. Due to culture changes across the nation, this belief is no longer true. We teach and reteach the expected behaviors, how to act appropriately, in each of these areas and instead of the focus being punitive, the focus is rewarding students for acting appropriately. At Crestwood, we refer to these practices as Cadet Pride! 

Positive Behavior Intervention Supports
Teaching & Reaching Students for Cadet Pride!
  1. We can effectively teach appropriate behavior to all children. All PBIS practices are founded on the assumption and belief that all children can exhibit appropriate behavior. As a result, it is our responsibility to identify the contextual setting events and environmental conditions that enable exhibition of appropriate behavior. We then must determine the means and systems to provide those resources.
  2. Intervene early. It is best practices to intervene before targeted behaviors occur. If we intervene before problematic behaviors escalate, the interventions are much more manageable. Highly effective universal interventions in the early stages of implementation which are informed by time sensitive continuous progress monitoring, enjoy strong empirical support for their effectiveness with at-risk students.
  3. Use of a multi-tier model of service delivery. PBIS uses an efficient, needs-driven resource deployment system to match behavioral resources with student need. To achieve high rates of student success for all students, instruction in the schools must be differentiated in both nature and intensity. To efficiently differentiate behavioral instruction for all students. PBIS uses tiered models of service delivery.
  4. Use research-based, scientifically validated interventions to the extent available. No Child Left Behind requires the use of scientifically based curricula and interventions. The purpose of this requirement is to ensure that students are exposed to curriculum and teaching that has demonstrated effectiveness for the type of student and the setting. Research-based, scientifically validated interventions provide our best opportunity at implementing strategies that will be effective for a large majority of students.
  5. Monitor student progress to inform interventions. The only method to determine if a student is improving is to monitor the student's progress. The use of assessments that can be collected frequently and that are sensitive to small changes in student behavior is recommended. Determining the effectiveness (or lack of) an intervention early is important to maximize the impact of that intervention for the student.
  6. Use data to make decisions. A data-based decision regarding student response to the interventions is central to PBIS practices. Decisions in PBIS practices are based on professional judgment informed directly by student office discipline referral data and performance data. This principle requires that ongoing data collection systems are in place and that resulting data are used to make informed behavioral intervention planning decisions.
  7. Use assessment for three different purposes. In PBIS, three types of assessments are used: 1) screening of data comparison per day per month for total office discipline referrals, 2) diagnostic determination of data by time of day, problem behavior, and location and 3) progress monitoring to determine if the behavioral interventions are producing the desired effects.

At Howard-Winneshiek we are "preparing and empowering our students to think creatively, serve, contribute and succeed locally and globally. This is true for all of our students, and I can happily say that one of the main indicators of our success for students is because we are implementing Social and Emotional Learning in our special education classrooms as well as district-wide. The reason this is so powerful, is because learning doesn't take place in a vacuum, but rather throughout our district from Preschool to Seniors in High School as well as community-wide. 

A Student's Success Story:
In closing, I would like to share an amazing story of one of our students. Three years ago, this entitled student had emotional melt-downs when confronted with stressors of any kind, including struggling with other people's perspectives as well as her own. To make a very long story short, after a little over one year of implementing Social Thinking and Growth Mindset strategies, this person grew 5 grade levels in math, reading and her relationships with staff, students and her family have reached new heights! More importantly, she is happy. To see the smile on her face as she excels in her classes and has positive relationships takes my breath away. We are all so happy for her and her family. Social and Emotional Learning changes lives, and as we grow and develop in this area at Howard-Winneshiek CSD, we know the best is yet to come!

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Happy Veteran's Day! 






If you have an comments or need support in any way, please call or email me,
Terese Jurgensen at (563) 929-6344; 
tjurgensen@howard-winn.k12.ia.us











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