Today in the Inspirational Teacher Series we profile Michelle Tschannen. While I do not know Michelle personally I was very impressed reading her responses below. Unlike many of our other profiles Michelle works in a Private School setting and her specific classroom focuses on children with mild to moderate learning disabilities.
1. What is your name?
2. What is your education level and credentials?
Masters of Teaching- K-12 Special Education License in VA, concentration in LD, E/BD, and ID
3. What would you like a one-sentence description of yourself to say?
Michelle is a dedicated, loving teacher who believes in the power of education to transform lives.
4. Do you have a website?
Only a private website for my students and their parents.
5. How long have you been a Teacher?
6. What type of classroom do you teach (i.e. General Education, Special Day Class, etc)?
Private School setting (Northern Virginia)- Self-contained classroom of 8 students (K-2nd grade), one teacher (me) and a teacher’s aid. My students have mild-moderate learning disabilities, including diagnoses of Autism, Dyslexia, ADD & AD/HD, Severe Language Disorder, and Nonverbal Learning Disorder. My students are all functioning around the same academic level, with some variation in skills that I am frequently differentiating for.
7. What Research based instruction methods do you use in your classroom for your students with a disability?
The basis of my instruction comes from an understanding of Howard Gardner’s work on multiple intelligences and recent developments in brain research. I utilize systematic and sequential, multisensory instruction, including an Orton-Gillingham approach to reading instruction. For written instruction, I use the 6+1 Traits of Writing and Step up to Writing programs. For math instruction, I use SRA Numberworld’s, a research-based multisensory math program.
8. What other educational methods have you used that have been successful for your students with a disability?
I firmly believe in positive behavior supports and seek to manage my classroom by focusing on the positives. I strive to create a supportive, uplifting classroom community. This enables my students who frequently experience failure in their lives to feel successful and part of a large group of successful people.
I also differentiate all of my instruction. Without this critical method of instruction, I wouldn’t be able to adequately meet the unique needs of all of my students
9. How do you create inclusion opportunities for your students with a disability?
Because my school is a self-contained environment, setting up inclusion opportunities for my students primarily falls on the responsibility of parents. I do make an effort to involve my students in service learning opportunities within the classroom that enable them to use the skills they’ve learned in the classroom in the “real world.” Our students spend time at a local nursing home, visit the local grocery store and parks, as well as attending field trips within the community. I take time to seek out inclusive extra-curricular activities to recommend to parents, so that my students are well-rounded, as well as pushed to generalize the skills they’ve learned in school to the larger community.
10. What behavior strategies and methods have worked for you in the classroom for students with a disability?
As I stated before, I’ve found behavior management most successful when I focus on the positive. We have a class token system where students can earn poker chips for making good choices and then cash these in at the end of the day for prizes or coupons (lunch with the teacher, wear a hat to school, etc). I believe that every behavior serves a purpose, so when students make choices that disrupt the learning process, I try and determine what purpose their behavior is serving and then provide them with a break or more appropriate strategy to meet the need they’re trying to serve. EX: If a child is repeatedly putting a glue stick in their mouth, I’ll provide them with a chewy tube to chew on, or gum. If a child is repeatedly walking around the room and making loud noises I’ll have them go to the hallway with an adult and push a heavy rice bin to obtain heavy muscle work. Our school also has a focus on positive behavior supports an students can be “caught” making good choices and rewarded with a special note to the principal which gets read aloud to the class, shared with the principal, and then sent home.
11. How do you involve parents in educating their children in and out of the classroom?
One of my best assets as a teacher, according to parents, is the way I involve parents as integral team members. I send frequent e-mail updates to parents, both as a whole-class and on an individual basis. I speak with parents individually before and after school. I encourage parents to look for the positives in their children and provide them with the language necessary to speak with their children frequently and in a loving manner. I also have a classroom blog where I share weekly pictures and videos of their children, as well as media articles and videos pertaining to the needs of their children. Parents are the critical link towards my students finding success in life and I treat them as such. I want parents to leave my classroom empowered by their child’s diagnosis, strengths, and needs. I also want them to have fallen more in love with their child, especially their amazing quirks.
12. How do you communicate with the parents?
In my classroom, e-mail is huge, as is our classroom blog. I’m flexible, however, and always ask parents for their preferred method of communication and go from there.
13. How do you collect data to determine if a child has met their IEP Goals?
At our school, we are not held to meet IEP goals. We encourage our parents to develop an IEP for their child with their neighborhood school for when their children transition back into the public setting. Thus some of our students have IEPs in place and others do not.
At my school, however, we do create baseline goals for the students. To ensure that my students are meeting these goals, I keep a data notebook for each child in each subject area. This becomes more of a portfolio of the child’s work throughout the year. My assistant and I also document behavioral data for each child and use this to help us assess if students have met their baseline goals. I utilize informal and formal assessments as data tools as well, but try not to place a large amount of pressure on my students when it comes to testing, as this creates heightened anxiety for them.
14. What is a typical day like in your classroom?
A typical day in my classroom is busy, loud, and fun! My students are involved in a myriad of activities and lessons that incorporate movement, music, art, and building. Many parents state that their children come home exhausted by the end of the day and can’t stop talking about what they’ve done at school!
A typical day begins with 15 minutes of play-time in the gym to get out the wiggles, 15 minutes of unpacking and quiet morning work (art project, building something, practicing learned skills, etc), 30 minutes of calendar and morning announcements, 30 minutes of reading group, 30 minutes of speech or OT group, 15 minutes of snack time, 15 minutes of recess, and 30 minutes of math group. We build in many transitions throughout the day, so our kids have time to move. Our students have a short 15 minute lunch and 15 minute recess, then it’s back to the room to finish off the day. We end the day, typically with 30 minutes of writing, 30 minutes of science or social studies (alternating each day), 30 minutes of social skills, 15 minutes of snack time, 15 minutes of recess, 10 minutes of packing up, and an hour of PE and music class. Sporadically throughout the week, we have other classes, such as Art, mentoring with older students, assemblies, and field trips.
15. What is the most inspirational thing you have ever seen in the classroom?
Hands down, the most inspiring thing I saw in my classroom was during my first year of teaching. That year I taught high school boys in a self-contained setting in Washington, DC. These students, 9th graders, had a myriad of E/BD diagnoses and had experienced great failure in school and difficulties at home. For the entire year, my students tested me and pushed me to my limits emotionally and physically. The most frequent comment they made to me all year was, “I hate you, Ms. T!” My response was always, “I’m sorry you feel that way, but there’s something about you that I just adore.” Then I would always compliment them on something I genuinely found positive about them. On the last day of school, during our awards ceremony, I was awarded with a star trophy that said, “World Greatest Teacher.” When my students had found out that only students were being awarded with trophies and certificates, they were appalled. They pooled what little hard-earned money they had earned and saved that year from the school for making good choices, and chose this specific trophy for me. They told me they wanted it to be a star and that it had to say “World’s Best Teacher” because that’s what I was to them. I cried and was at a total loss of words.
To me, this speaks to the testament of never giving up on a child and the power of making people feel genuinely loved and cared for.
16. What advice would you give other Teachers about teaching students with a disability?
Be patient. Smile often. Laugh with your students. Celebrate the goodness in every child. Enjoy every moment, because it goes by way too fast!
17. What else would you like Parents and other Teachers to know that we haven’t already asked?
Your children are incredible! They may be different from their peers and from your expectations at birth. It’s ok to mourn that loss. Mourn and then open your eyes to the wonderful people they are. They will change the world in a million ways and I’m so honored that you let me spend each day with them. Revel in their uniqueness and you’ll find that they’re truly amazing little people.