Friday, January 20, 2017

Terese Jurgensen ~ Director of Student Services ~ January 20, 2017

Jill McConnell, Linda Walter, Terese Jurgensen, Jessie Cummings & Alicia Martin
Autism Conference ~ Featuring Temple Grandin

Highlights from the Autism Conference
Featuring Temple Grandin
January 13th, 2017

It's difficult to put into words everything that the above special education teachers and myself learned last week during the autism conference. There were three presenters, Sean Barron, Alyson Bytein, and Temple Grandin. As I shared last week, Temple Grandin has been one of my educational heroes because of her work in teaching people across the globe about autism. Temple's brand is "Different Not Less." This statement was echoed by all three presenters that social emotional learning differences do not need to cripple a person, but rather can empower them to utilize the unique strengths that every person has. It is a growth mindset vision and one that the staff and students of Howard-Winneshiek CSD are embracing across the school district. 

I purchased Temple's book, "Different Not Less" and she kindly 
let me take a picture with her ~ It was hard to contain my joy!

 Alyson Beytien is a board certified behavior analyst and resides in Dubuque, Iowa. I first met Alyson when I was seeking help for autistic students that I was working with. She is a gifted, passionate woman who has made it her life's work to teach, support and discover the strengths in people who have autism. Mrs. Beytien and her husband, Craig, have three boys of their own who are all on the autism spectrum. Her presentation was so powerful because it was personal as well as educational. Here are some of the key points from her presentation. I loved these so much, I actually made them into pictures and framed them for some of the staff at Howard-Winn!

Doesn't this above picture say it all?! This is so true for everyone of us! My personal educational philosophy has always been "School to Work." If it won't be acceptable in a place of business, it is not acceptable in the school setting. Social interactions skills such as "being on time," "being respectful of co-workers," "following directions," "understanding expected and unexpected behaviors," "managing stress and emotional situations appropriately" are key in the work place. Let's be honest, it is not just our students on the autism spectrum who struggle in this area. This is one of the key reasons at Howard-Winn that we have Social Emotional Skills as one of our 21st Design Essentials. 

I couldn't agree with this statement more! As educators, parents and communities we need to unite, be in agreement and believe in our students! It is time to expect great things for our students and for our schools! It is a sad day for me whenever a student says they don't feel like they belong in school, or that it causes them "anxiety." This is one of the reasons that at Howard-Winn, we have purchased Panorama Social Emotional Learning, to garner the "litmus test" if you will from our students through surveys to gather student data to improve the culture and climate of the district. We always want to grow, improve and make great things happen for our students ~ educationally, socially, emotionally and post-secondary to find their passions and create a future and be a blessing. 

In special education, if a student has unique and discrepant behaviors that is stopping them from learning we conduct what is called a "Functional Behavior Assessment." What this does is find out what is reinforcing a behavior and how to create an environment and teach the skills to the students to change their behavior. During this assessment we ask, "What is the function of the behavior?" Is it escape, attention, obtaining an item or is it a sensory need? This is good information, but what I LOVE about this poster is that it is asking teachers, staff and parents a very simple question: "What is this behavior communicating to us?" Behavior is a language, a speech and an easy way to find out what a person needs. It takes away blame, confusion and even frustration on behalf of the teacher or parent that is working hard to teach and support children in making good choices that will impact their life in a positive way. This is a powerful statement. Temple Grandin's words were equally powerful.

Temple Grandin~"Different Not Less"

Temple Grandin shared some very powerful knowledge on the brain and how it takes "different kinds of minds," to make our world. She shared about Thomas Edison, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and others who had changed the world for the better because of being able to see the world in different kinds of ways and imagining things that others couldn't even dream of. This statement, which was tweeted out during the conference, was one of my favorites. The world of education is changing very quickly, and I do fear that the teaching profession in the United States may be decreasing in its value (certainly not by this writer) but it is the most important and honorable profession for it holds our world in its hands. I truly appreciate Temple holding up and honoring the teaching profession. 

Temple Grandin stressed again and again that allowing kids of all ages to sit and play video games instead of interacting with people by talking, playing board games, taking turns or reading was very detrimental to their social and emotional well-being. I could not agree more. One of the reasons we have incorporated Social Thinking, The Zones of Regulation and executive functioning strategies throughout our district PK-12 (emphasis on Preschool) is because students are coming to school without the ability to share space effectively, take their turn, wait, transition and control their emotions because their brains are not being wired through positive social interaction to work effectively in social settings. Tragic.

This photo is one in which Temple shared out when referring to our brains and the differing perspectives that make it so important for mankind to accept all people. This is a wonderful depiction to help us to pause and think before we criticize or judge people who have different kinds of minds. 

Update on English Language Learners
To date, Howard-Winneshiek Community Schools has 19 students who are qualified to receive English as a Second Language supports. Alicia Martin has been doing a fantastic job of serving these students in a pull-out setting to work on the academic language skills. It is important to note that academic language skills is much different than social communication skills. Alicia has been serving in this role as a .25 FTE (which equals 2 class periods) and the rest of her time at HWCD is serving as a secondary special education teacher. The State of Iowa has been transitioning the role and special services dramatically over the last two years. In fact, ELL services are being revamped to look a great deal like special education services that include individual learning plans, more intense assessment practices and ensuring that ELL students are incorporated into the general population of students and not pulled out of the very environment that would increase their language skills. 

It is for this reason, that we are beginning to relook at what we need at Howard-Winn. One of the objectives we are currently looking at is reviewing what the role of the ELL teacher would be, and how these services can be pulled into classrooms for a co-teaching role and supports to our general education classrooms. In the coming days and months, please look for further updates on this important topic. 


                       Have a Great Week!

If you need to reach me, Terese Jurgensen, please do so at: or cell (563) 929-6344!

No comments:

Post a Comment