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Working in an Australian Remote Community School Wk. 1

Posted on February 7, 2015 at 1:28 AM Comments comments ()


Well, I've completed the first week of supporting educators in a remote community in the Australian bush. I honestly didn't really know what to expect and I'm not sure I could have ever understood the experience of teaching in a remote indigenous community school unless I had had the opportunity to come here.

Teachers
I have found the teachers who choose to live and teach out here in this remote community to be dedicated and practical. In my experience, they seem to complain very little and, instead of complaining, do what it takes to get things done. We began teaching Direct Instruction before our order of materials arrived because the teachers and the principal were committed to making the implementation work. Teachers copied lessons, studied, and presented their first lessons on the second day of school. When the materials did arrive (on the third day), teachers stayed late to unload the pallets at 5:00 in 100° temperatures (with 80% humidity). When it was discovered that we were short materials, teachers came up with solutions so that the teaching would go on.

Students
In some ways the students are very much the same as American students (see my last post in which I describe students singing, "Let it Go"); in other ways they are very unique. Almost all of the students (probably 98%) are English Language Learners, and most of them have very low English skills. They also have very low literacy skills. One of the main problems is attendance. Many students don't attend school regularly, which certainly contributes to their low skills. When they do come to school, they are often sluggish and some fall asleep at school. From what I understand, it is not common in homes for students to have a regular bedtime. In fact, students are often awake most of the night, coming to school the next day sleepy and unresponsive. They finish school and go home to sleep during the evening, waking up after dark to stay awake for most of the night. This contributes to the instructional challenges for teachers, as they struggle to engage students and teach them academics, despite the sleepy response they receive.

Community
The community consists of the school, a store, a health center, and an airstrip. In some ways the school is a central component of the community. Many parents spend time at the school because it is centrally located and provides shade and a place for little ones to play. Many of the people in the community are related and they all know each other well, having grown up together and lived in rather close quarters for many generations. I had the opportunity to ride with one of the school workers as he drove students home the day the bus was stuck in mud. The state of the homes reminded me of some of the places I've visited in the US; places marked by abject poverty and neglect. There were many dilapidated cars, tires, and other types of trash littering the fronts and sides of houses. It is my understanding that several families may live in one house, with many children and adults sharing the living space. It helped me to understand why the children might come to school tired and unmotivated to learn. On the other hand, it also showed me why both children and adults might want to come to the school, with it's painted doors and brightly colored walls and displays. The school must seem like an incredible place to be, when compared with the realities of the living spaces.


The local school - complete with one of the large puddles that is a constant during the rainy season.






A panoramic of the preschool classroom - beautiful!

Next week I'm off to a new school. Due to the fact that the roads are impassable and that the community is so tiny that there is no place for me to stay there, I'll be commuting from one town to another via a single-engine plane. I'll have a pilot and an aircraft assigned to me and I'll fly in and out of the school in the morning and afternoon. As I'm rather terrified of flying in small planes, this plan does not thrill me! Oh well! It will be an interesting adventure and another opportunity to experience the realities of life in this world.


Brumbies, snakes, cane toads, and "Let it Go"

Posted on February 2, 2015 at 3:07 AM Comments comments ()
Well, it's back to school time! That is, it's back to school time here in Australia. Today was the first day of school in Nganmarriyanga, and I learned a lot about what it means to be an educator in this remote Australian community.

I walked the short distance to school this morning, artfully dodging huge piles of horse poop that was deposited throughout the night by the Brumbies (feral horses). In fact, I wasn't surprised to see the horse droppings because I had lost quite a bit of sleep last night due to the galloping and whinnying that went on all night. The locals, and the educators who serve them, seem quite undisturbed by the wild horses. I think they're fascinating!

I got to school as children were finishing their breakfasts. Unlike American schools, children were eating their meals out of glass bowls, which were then washed by the canteen workers. I was invited into the transition classroom (equivalent to our kindergarten program, but all day). Children were slowly filing in, many with parents in tow. The first activity of the day was toothbrush distribution and tooth brushing. As each student arrived he or she was given a toothbrush, which was loaded with a dollop of toothpaste. The children went outside to the water fountains to brush their teeth and rinse their mouths. Following tooth-brushing was nose blowing and ear cleaning (using rolled up kleenex). This activity was accompanied by a song, which was sung by many of the children, as well as the teacher. Hygiene dealt with, we moved on to exercise, story reading and activities on the computers and the smart board. Throughout the morning parents came and went, sitting on the floor near their children.

Children spent their recess time running and playing on the playground equipment found in the main part of the school grounds. The playground equipment is relatively new, and has safety ground-cover installed.




After a morning fruit break and recess, I decided to spend some time in the preschool classroom. It's a very full classroom, and several parents were in attendance. The children sang songs and the teacher spoke in both English and the local dialect. She also has an assistant who is fluent in the local dialect and who translated when needed.
After singing, we went to the library to pick out books and I got the opportunity to read with some of the students. We returned to the classroom and lunch (beef stew and bread) was served in glass bowls outside.

During lunch we caught a cane toad, a rather horrid looking beast that is predominant across Australia, despite being a rather recent addition to the ecosystem on the continent. Cane toads are pests and they procreate at an incredible rate. Once caught, they are put in a plastic trash bag and put in the freezer, which is (from what I understand) a very humane way of getting rid of them permanently.

After lunch the children went home and I spent time in a couple of other classrooms. After school I was working with some of the teachers when a group of students came and reported a snake in the preschool toilet. I guess that was the third snake seen on campus today: there was a large one seen in the main school yard, a smaller one seen on a pathway, and the unlucky fellow in the preschool toilet. Oh...and a fourth one...a baby one brought to us by one of the students.

Besides snakes, there are loads of dogs on campus. They are peaceful, quiet, and just hoping for a bite to eat. There were probably a dozen or so dogs wandering around the school grounds, which seemed very odd to me. Another interesting thing I discovered is that none of the students wear shoes to school, and neither do most of their parents. The children run through the playground and splash through the puddles in their bare feet (which was a little alarming to me, given the snake situation).

As I was packing up my things to go, I recognized a familiar tune. I exited the teacher's work room and found a small group of girls singing the song, "Let it Go," from the Disney movie Frozen. In some ways so very different...in other ways so very similar.

Reflections on Working in Australian Schools: Part I

Posted on January 31, 2015 at 7:07 PM Comments comments ()
I thought I'd take a chance to jot down my thoughts throughout this amazing experience of working in Australian remote community schools. I was given the opportunity to work in these schools through the National Institute for Direct Instruction (NIFDI). When I first thought about working in Australia, I pictured working in a somewhat populated area, investigating restaurants in the evening, and staying in Australian hotels. As I learned more about what I'd be doing, I soon realized that the experience would be quite different. So...here's a short recap of what has happened so far.

About 90 days ago I received an email with the names of my remote schools - Nganmarriyanga, Peppimenarti, and Nganambala. I couldn't even pronounce the names and I had no idea where they could possibly be. Thank goodness for Google Earth. I was able to find the first two and, with help from my son Adrien, I was finally able to find Nganambala. I could tell from the map that they are, indeed, remote. Shortly after, I discovered that during the rainy season it is impossible to drive from site to site. As a result, I would need to take a charter flight to travel from Darwin to the first school, in between schools, and then back to Darwin. This was not good news for me. I have said many times in my life that I would never fly in a small plane. Well, you know what they say - "never say never."

Just a note about seasons in northern Australia. There aren't four seasons here - just two. There is the rainy season (which is technically summer - it happens around winter in the US) and the dry season (which is during summer in the US). During the rainy season it is incredibly green, and incredibly muddy. The roads get impassable for several months. My first trip was scheduled during the rainy season (the first of seven in 2015).

Preparation for the trip was interesting. There are limitations regarding weight of luggage on charter flights, so I needed to make sure that my luggage met the criteria. Also, there was no surety that I'd have access to a store in the communities in which I was working, so I needed to bring some food to hold me over in case I couldn't purchase anything. To add to the experience, many people who had never visited the Australian outback had lots of advice. I did my best to pack what I thought was necessary.

My flight to Sydney left at 10:20 pm from LAX. I traveled on an A380, which was wonderful. I had a terrific flight and slept about eight hours. Landing in Sydney was interesting. We had to go through border patrol, get our suitcases, go through customs, check our bags, go through security, then take a bus to a different terminal for our domestic flight. The process took over two hours and was slightly exhausting. However, the flight to Darwin was really good - I had an entire row to myself and I was hypnotized by the lovely geography of the Australian continent.

I stayed one night in Darwin. I shopped at a local mall, which seemed like any mall that you could find in America. I did a little shopping in KMart, and found a few things in Woolworths. All in all, I was disappointed that it didn't seem more different - more Australian.

The next morning I was driven to the charter company to catch my flight to Nganmarriyanga. We were shown to a Cessna, with room for six passengers. I was assigned the front seat, right next to the pilot. At first we had a little bit of a problem getting the left propeller to start, but it eventually started...right at the same time that the sky opened up and began a torrential downpour! In fact, it was raining so hard that the pilot had to open his side window and stick his head out in order to see the runway! I prayed a lot as we taxied and then were airborne. Quickly we flew out of the storm and I became completely mesmerized by the scenery. 
We flew along the coastline and then took a turn inland. We were able to see Nganmarriyanga and Peppimenarti from the plane. 


The landing was incredibly smooth and we disembarked and unloaded our stuff. Wow - was it hot!! In fact, it was unbelievably hot and humid. I was covered with sweat in exactly 30 seconds. The principal's aunt was there to meet us and we piled the luggage and ourselves into a classic SUV and hit the road. Or, should I say, hit the mud. The dirt roads were a huge mess of terracotta colored mud. I was shown the school and the store, then shown to my temporary quarters (10 days).

I'm incredibly fortunate in that I'm staying in a house that belongs to a couple who are on maternity leave. It is comfortable and right next to the principal's home, and just down the road from the school and the store. I went to the store yesterday with one of the new teachers and was surprised to find a variety of items for sale, including a drum set and a stereo system (on sale for $1500!!). I purchased a few items and returned "home." 

Last night I had dinner with the principal and his lovely family. He has a wife who works at the school and who is expecting their third child. Her parents are visiting and I had a wonderful dinner with excellent conversation. Their children are lovely and I feel so blessed to have this opportunity to meet this special family. They are doing incredible work here and are dedicated to making a difference for the indigenous people in this area.

Today is a quiet day; I'm prepping for the first day of school, which is tomorrow! Thanks to the fact I have internet coverage, I've been able to FaceTime and Skype with my family and I feel like I'm not too far away.

Implementation of School-Wide PBIS

Posted on June 30, 2014 at 4:52 PM Comments comments ()
School-wide Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (SWPBIS) is a systems change effort that focuses on improving school climate through the implementation of evidence-based practices in the area of behavior.

SWPBIS is characterized by six defining characteristics:
  • It is preventive in nature
  • It is designed to have an instructional orientation
  • There is a focus on cultural responsiveness
  • Behavior is viewed as function-based
  • There is a systems implementation focus
  • It is evidence-based (and evidence-based practices are used)

When SWPBIS is implemented in a school, with fidelity, one should be able to observe the following features:
  • over 80% of the student can state the expectations and give behavioral examples because the expectations have been taught, practiced, and acknowledged
  • positive adult-to-student interactions exceed negative interactions
  • the foundation for addressing problem behavior is function-based
  • data- and team-based action planning and implementation are apparent
  • there is active participation by site and district administrators
  • all students are provided with a full continuum of behavior support (not just students in special education)

Schools and districts that are interested in implementing SWPBIS need to understand that efforts to change the culture of a school will require true commitment and time. Sending teachers to a one-day inservice on behavior, or having a consultant come in and do a one-day training on behavior, will not result in sustainable change. It is important to understand implementation science and use this knowledge in designing professional learning experiences that will result in true systems change.

When training schools in SWPBIS, we focus on the following eight implementation steps:
  1. Development of an implementation team
  2. Development of a brief, positively stated, statement of behavioral purpose
  3. Identification of 3-5 positive school-wide behavioral expectations
  4. Development of procedures for teaching the school-wide expectations
  5. Development of procedures for teaching classroom-wide expectations
  6. Development of a continuum of procedures for encouraging and strengthening student use of school-wide behavioral expectations
  7. Development of a continuum of procedures for discouraging student behavioral violations
  8. Development of data-based procedures for monitoring the implementation of SWPBIS

Over the summer I plan on spending more time blogging on each of these eight steps.

If you are interested in receiving training in PBIS for your school or district, please contact me at [email protected]
You can get more information about PBIS at the following sites:
www.pbis.org
www.pbiscaltac.org

The Top 10 Reasons Why Schools Should Implement PBIS

Posted on June 6, 2014 at 5:03 PM Comments comments ()
Next week I'm going to be working with the California Technical Assistance Center on PBIS to support a group of PBIS trainers in San Bernardino County. This dynamic and dedicated group of individuals are committed to bringing PBIS training to schools throughout San Bernardino County. I'm excited and honored to work with the group and thrilled to see more schools implementing PBIS. As the 2013-14 school year winds down, I thought I'd share my thoughts on why schools should implement PBIS. So, here are my Top Ten Reasons Why Schools Should Implement PBIS:
10. All kids deserve to attend a school at which they feel accepted and appreciated.
9. Discipline systems based on punishment do not change behavior, they simply make kids more determined not to get caught.
8. Discipline systems that focus on punishment actually reinforce negative behaviors because the students have to engage in the behavior before anything happens to them. Thus, any social reinforcement they will receive for the behavior has already occurred prior to the punishment. It's a classic case of "too little too late."
7. Students who behave appropriately should be recognized for their positive behavior.
6. For some students, the only positive environment in their lives is the school.
5. Relationships are the most powerful weapon we have in the war against bullying, suicide, drop-outs, etc. Children need to feel connected to at least one adult, and often that one adult is someone at the school.
4. A multi-tiered system of supports (MTSS) is the most efficient and effective way of preventing problems - behaviorally, socially, and academically.
3. Teachers and other staff members who work at PBIS schools report less stress and more enjoyment in coming to work.
2. It isn't that difficult to make school fun, and the rewards are immeasurable.
AND THE NUMBER 1 REASON IS:
1. It's just the right thing to do! Really!

Exclusionary practices such as suspension and expulsion do not change behavior and serve to further alienate students who already feel as though they are not part of the system. We need to spend our time, energy, and resources developing positive school cultures that encourage pro-social behavior, discourage anti-social behavior, and reduce bullying, truancy, and drop-outs. 

To learn more about PBIS, and find out how you can receive training in PBIS, check out the following websites:

Please feel free to contact me if you'd like more information about PBIS, or if you'd like to learn more about how your school can become a PBIS school.

Happy Teacher Appreciation Week

Posted on May 8, 2014 at 12:00 AM Comments comments ()
It's Teacher Appreciation Week, which is a great opportunity to thank those very special individuals who sacrifice so much to ensure the next generation will be capable of supporting all of us in our old age. Being a teacher is more than a job; it's more than a career; being a teacher is a calling. It's an opportunity to make a difference in the life of a young person. 
I still remember my sixth grade teacher, Mr. Gammie. He truly believed in me and encouraged me to apply myself. It was in his class that I learned to love learning. He made such an impact in my life that I traveled across Calgary, Alberta on the public bus (a two-hour trip) with my best friend to visit Mr. Gammie and his wife, after the school year ended. They were incredibly gracious to us and treated us to fresh-squeezed lemonade on the front patio of their house. I have since wondered what he thought when we showed up on his doorstep, but I'm so grateful that he, and his wife, were so incredibly gracious and kind to us.
If you are currently a student, make sure you take the time to thank your teacher(s) for what they do. If you're a parent, encourage your children to thank their teachers and make the effort to thank them yourself. Finally, if you know a teacher, thank that person for their commitment to make a difference in the life of a child.
If you're a teacher, take ten minutes to watch the following Ted Talk. It's definitely worth it, and it may give you the little push you need to get through the rest of the school year. Rita Pierson: Every kid needs a champion
To all the teachers out there - thank you so very much for everything you do! Thank you for making a difference and dedicating your life to the next generation - you're the best!

So What's the Big Debate About the Common Core?

Posted on March 21, 2014 at 2:55 PM Comments comments ()
A couple of weeks ago a good friend posted a picture of a math problem on Facebook that was originally posted by the Australian Tea Party and reputed to be an example of a Common Core (CCSS) lesson. I was intrigued by the post (I admit that I couldn't make sense of the math problem), partly because I wasn't aware that Australia had adopted the US Common Core State Standards,  and partly because in all my experience with the CCSS I had never experienced or seen anything like the problem that was being shown. 

I decided that I would do some research into the main objections regarding the adoption of the CCSS, with the goal of answering those objections in this blog. What I discovered is that the majority of the objections appear to be political in nature (federal government interfering in education, etc.). I am in no way qualified to speak to any kind of political concern or weigh in on a political debate, so I'm not going to touch that area with the infamous "ten-foot pole." I am, however, fairly knowledgeable about education, so I believe I might humbly weigh in on the debate in that arena. I have a feeling that this will extend into several blog posts, and I'm sincerely hoping that others will comment so that we actually have a dialogue about this content.

My focus today will be on the question of "why." Specifically, I want to discuss why some of us feel that the CCSS are a good idea for the field of education. 

In the late 1990s, the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) required states to develop content standards and to assess students on their mastery of those standards. As a result of NCLB, states across the country developed their own educational standards and then assessed their students based on their level of proficiency. Schools were then held accountable for bringing 100% of each sub-group of students to proficiency by the year 2014. Sounds good, right? Well, the concept is an interesting one, especially since students in different states were being measured according to different criteria. In California, where standards were reportedly on the more stringent end, schools struggled to bring all students to a level of proficiency. In other states, where content standards were set a lower level, proficiency was not such a big problem.

Throughout this time, institutes of higher education (colleges and universities) and employers were decrying the fact that graduates were not leaving school with the skills necessary to be successful in higher education and/or the world of work. Students were learning isolated skills, but they were not being taught how to think deeply, work with others, and solve problems.

Let me state here, for the record, that I believe that we have made some very good gains under NCLB. The idea of having state-wide standards of achievement and measuring progress towards those standards is, in my opinion, a good one. However, there are few people who would not agree that we still have room for growth. If our young people are going to learn to succeed in the 21st century, they need to master certain skills and learn to be deep thinkers, problem solvers, and collaborative workers. In my opinion, the authors of the CCSS strove to develop standards that push schools to teach in a way that does just that.

Your turn - what do you think about the changes in education since the passage of NCLB? Do you think education has improved, stayed the same, or gotten worse? Do you think education needs to change? If so, in what ways? Take this opportunity to join the conversation!

Master Binder System for Individuals with EF Deficits

Posted on February 24, 2014 at 1:03 AM Comments comments ()
“My child was not having any success as she searched for an important paper that needed to be signed by me and submitted to the school office.  I opened her backpack only to find that it looked like a bomb went off inside!  There was so much stuff in there, including paperwork that should have been shared with parents at home as well as assignments that should have been turned in at school. Comments from some of her teachers made sense now—‘She isn’t turning in any homework’.  I know she is doing the work at home, because she shows it to me after she finishes.  Oh, what is a parent/teacher/educational professional to do?” 

If this sounds familiar, and you have a child or student who has a disorganized backpack or school locker, who doesn’t take the necessary materials between home/school/classroom, who completes homework but doesn’t turn it in, has difficulty planning for and keeping track of long-term assignments so that work is finished on time, you are going to want to know about the Master Binder System strategy!

The Master Binder System can be used with students of all ages and can be adapted to meet the needs of the student and the educational environment.

If you are interested in receiving a copy of The Master Binder System, please sign our Guest Book and send us your email address so that we can send you a copy of the strategy. Simply type "Master Binder System" in the message area and we will send you a PDF of the strategy within a week. We promise that your email address is safe and will not be shared with any other person or company. Nor will it be posted on our website. 

Project Planning for people with EF deficits

Posted on February 18, 2014 at 2:37 PM Comments comments ()
Check out this email I received from my co-author, Carol Burmeister:

Hi Dr. Sheri,
 
I wanted to share a personal experience I had with my grandson last week.  I was helping him with his homework, which included preparing for a presentation on Ronald Reagan that he was expected to share in school on Friday.  He did research on his topic online and synthesized the information so that he could develop a presentation that included his findings and supporting evidence.  He made strategic use of digital media and visual displays to enhance understanding of his material.  He practiced his presentation skills at home before the big day.  On the day of the presentation, he impressed his teacher and his classmates who confirmed that he did a great job sharing his knowledge on the topic.  This experience with him made me thankful for the work that we have done on Project Mapping from FLIPP the Switch:  Powerful Strategies to Strengthen Executive Function Skills—that particular strategy definitely came in handy!  Oh—by the way—did I mention that my grandson is in kindergarten?

Carol's grandson is fortunate in that he has parents and grandparents who can help him develop a project that meets the requirements of the Common Core State Standards. However, for many individuals, planning a project to ensure it will be completed in time with all required components intact, can be extremely stressful. For someone with executive function deficits, the entire process can be totally overwhelming. That's where Project Mapping can be an invaluable tool in supporting the individual with EF deficits to visualize the steps needed to complete the project. This tool can be used by parents and educators and can be taught to students so that they can use it independently in the future.

Carol and I would like to make this super-effective planning tool available to readers of this blog for free during the month of February. If you would like to receive a copy of Project Mapping for free, please sign in on our Guest Book and type in "Project Mapping" in the comment section. Your free copy of Project Mapping will be sent out within the next week. If you know of anyone else who could benefit from this free resource, please have them sign into our Guest Book and we will gladly send them a free copy as well.

Have a great week and check back next week for another free resource for supporting individuals with executive function challenges.

So, what's the big deal about Executive Function?

Posted on February 14, 2014 at 1:05 AM Comments comments ()
When I think of Executive Function (EF) skills, I picture those movies in which a high-powered executive is followed around by an executive assistant who takes care of all the details. "Ma'am, your 9:00 is waiting in room B. You're conference call will begin at 9:45 and I'll make sure everyone is ready and waiting on the line. Tomorrow is Valentine's Day; I ordered a gift to be delivered to your husband at work and a flower arrangement to be delivered to your mother. I also wrote a thank you note to your mother-in-law for her birthday gift and sent that in the mail." Ahhh....bliss! Who wouldn't want someone taking care of all those pesky details that are so easily overwhelming!
EF skills are a little like that executive assistant in that they help us to get places on time, plan activities and a method to execute them, solve problems, and remain flexible and not overly emotional. Carol Burmeister and I have been writing a book entitled, FLIPP the Switch: Powerful Strategies to Strengthen Executive Function Skills (to be published by Autism Asperger Publishing Company in summer 2014) and we have learned a lot about EF and how EF deficits can affect many aspects of an individual's life. The book features 25 strategies that can be implemented by parents and educators to help individuals with EF deficits to be more productive.

FLIPP is an acronym that stands for Flexibility, Leveled Emotionality, Impulse Control, Planning and Problem Solving.

Next week, we'll be focusing on Project Mapping, a strategy that can support individuals in mapping out a complex project so that all parts are completed in a timely manner, leading to a finished project that is ready to turn in on time. You'll have an opportunity to have a PDF version of the Project Mapping template sent to you for free via email. This is a great opportunity to learn about one of these strategies prior to the release of the book next summer and we know that you will find Project Mapping incredibly useful. We are excited to share it with you and to hear your stories about how you have used the strategy at home and school.

You might also want to check the IES Resource page to view a presentation about Supporting Students with Executive Function Deficits.




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