Today in the Inspirational Teacher Series we profile Morgan Kolis. Morgan was one of my original twitter friends and has graciously written some guest posts for us. One of my favorites, I’m NOT Your Enemy: Secrets from Your Child’s Special Education Teacher was one of our top ten most viewed guest posts last year. As you will see from her responses, she is a passionate, hard working educator that any parent would be lucky to have assigned to their children.
1. What is your name?
2. What is your education level and credentials?
B.A. from Heidelberg College in Ohio, M.A. from Baldwin Wallace College in Ohio.
I’ve also been trained in many instructional methods including the TEACCH program, PECS, some aspects of the DIR Floortime model, some aspects of ABA therapy, the Stevenson Reading Method, LAMP (Language Acquisition through Motor Planning), the Wilson Reading Program, the Everyday Math series, and the TouchMath program. I’ve also been trained in the Ohio Standards Based Alternative Assessments, the Ohio Integrated Systems Model, the Occhipinti Scheduling Model, and in troubleshooting and maintaining cochlear implants and hearing aids in students with hearing impairments.
3. What would you like a one-sentence description of yourself to say?
Miss Kolis is a teacher of students with moderate to intensive special needs who continues to learn from her students year after year.
4. Do you have a website?
Class Blog- http://staff.bbhcsd.org/kolism
My Blog- http://mlkolis.blogspot.com
Our Class Homepage- www.protopage.com/morgankolis
Apps Page- www.protopage.com/etechOhiomkmb
5. How long have you been a Teacher?
Nine complete school years
6. What type of classroom do you teach (i.e. General Education, Special Day Class, etc)?
Resource Room for students with moderate to intensive special needs
7. What Research based instruction methods do you use in your classroom for your students with a disability?
In our classroom, we use multi-sensory strategies for every subject area. We use aspects of programs like TouchMath, Reading A-Z, and Science A-Z. We use the principles of guided reading. We use visual supports in all aspects of the curriculum, both academic and functional. I integrate technology into all subject areas as well and use video modeling to work on social skills as well. We use aspects of ABA in our room, but stick to the method of TEACCH for our classroom structure and visual supports.
8. What other educational methods have you used that have been successful for your students with a disability?
We use shoebox tasks and file folder tasks to support all areas of curriculum. We practice fine motor skills with these tasks, but also reading, writing, handwriting, labeling objects, counting, adding, subtracting, counting coins, telling time, naming shapes, finding safety signs, and more. My team (of special education aides, SLP, and myself) has created over 500 file folder tasks in the past 4 years. We use these at the one to one teacher table, in stations, and at the independent work station.
We also use manipulatives and toys to promote “play” whenever possible. As I’ve read in my favorite blog by Teacher Tom, “play” can be synonymous with “life” and “love” and “education” and I find this inspirational and true in my classroom as well.
9. How do you create inclusion opportunities for your students with a disability?
My team and I make sure our students are included in every possible school activity and classroom activity they can be. If the class is doing an experiment, my students will be there. If the school attends an assembly, my students will be there. Some students may be able to stay for only 10-15 minutes, but we will always try our best to be there. My students attend all specials classes (Art, Music, Media Center, Computer Lab, and P.E.) with general education classes. We go on field trips with the class, go to lunch and recess with the class, and each student attends academic classes based on his/her needs and abilities.
10. What behavior strategies and methods have worked for you in the classroom for students with a disability?
First, we try to use all positive words in the classroom. Instead of saying “no running,” we use the words “walking feet.” This can get difficult as the school year continues and we do try to use a firm voice with the word “no” paired with the sign for “no” or “stop” when needed. We use LOTS of visual supports so that students know what to expect and use “first-then” visuals when needed such as “first folder, then marshmallow” or “first work, then snack.” We try to address all behaviors by deciphering their cause or antecedent first. Each student’s behaviors are dealt with individually.
One strategy that worked well this year was having one student work for puzzle pieces. Once he earned the puzzle pieces, the puzzle revealed an iPad. He earned his iPad time both in the morning and then again in the afternoon. On the few occasions that he did not earn the puzzle pieces, he learned that this was his consequence for not completing his work during the school day, or for having a tantrum during segments of his day. This strategy also helped me to pinpoint which sections of the day were most difficult for this student and helped us to integrate more sensory activities before and after these sections of the day.
11. How do you involve parents in educating their children in and out of the classroom?
Each week, on Friday or Saturday, I post a Weekly Newsletter. This Weekly Newsletter summarizes the previous week while outlining what we’ll work on in the upcoming week. I share the upcoming “Story of the Week” and spelling words, along with the math concepts and science themes as well. That way, parents can work on these concepts ahead of time, or review things from the previous weeks.
Additionally, I post materials on the blog page during winter and spring breaks to prevent regression.
Over summer break, I create “Summer Packets” that students can complete (but are not required to turn in) to prevent regression over the break.
I try to provide ideas of ways to integrate concepts at home such as “count the forks as your child sets the table tonight” on homework sheets. Another favorite is “count the coins that dad has in his pockets at the end of the work day” or “count the coins in the bottom of mom’s purse.”
I also send home all of the booklets from the week before that we’ve read from the Reading A-Z or Science A-Z series. Parents can then provide review and practice at home as well.
12. How do you communicate with the parents?
First, I have a blog page/web site for the parents to check regularly. I have notes on the page telling them how to use the page, how to find the newest information, and how to find the info. they need. Each week, on Friday or Saturday, I post a Weekly Newsletter. This Weekly Newsletter summarizes the previous week while outlining what we’ll work on in the upcoming week. I share the upcoming “Story of the Week” and spelling words, along with the math concepts and science themes as well.
Additionally, I send home a Friday Folder with information and student papers from the previous week. Parents are informed in the beginning of each school year that these folders are often thin as we do not complete as many “worksheets” as they might expect.
Students in 2nd and 3rd grade in my room (of K-3 students) also create an e-portfolio that they work on weekly and can share with parents, grandparents, and others.
I also maintain a Facebook page called “Parents and Other Fans of Room 5” along with a twitter handle called @Room5Friends.
Additionally, with each 9 week IEP progress report, I send a letter home to parents discussing the child’s progress. I meet with parents mid-year to discuss academic, social, functional, and behavioral skills in addition to our annual IEP meeting.
In the summer, I send each parent a multiple page information packet to share who the child’s teachers will be in the following year, what materials we’ll be using, and what the upcoming projects may be.
Lastly, I send an email out weekly to parents reminding them of any blog updates (like the Weekly Newsletter) and any “Room 5 Reminders.”
13. How do you collect data to determine if a child has met their IEP Goals?
I am continuously collecting data and keeping my ears open in the classroom, in the hallway, on the playground, in the lunchroom, and all around the school. I take notes on each child’s lesson plans each day in regards to what they can and cannot complete. I take formal and informal data. I use anecdotal data and standardized data and formative and summative assessments. I use all of this to inform my instruction from day to day.
14. What is a typical day like in your classroom?
There is no typical day in my classroom. Every day is different. This is the reason that I love this job. We celebrate small successes every day. One day, “Student L” can’t put his own shoes on. 152 days later, “Student L” can put his own shoes on AND even pull the tongue of the shoe out to put it on the right way! This is a success! We cheer and jump up and down and celebrate! When “Student A” reads a book on Level C of Reading A-Z when he previously spent the entire year before reading only Level B, we cheer! We celebrate! When “Student B” learns to use his talker, and when “Student C” uses a spoon instead of his fingers, and when “Student M” adds multiple digit numbers, we celebrate! And no day is the same.
15. What is the most inspirational thing you have ever seen in the classroom?
The most inspirational thing? Hmmm. This is so difficult. So many inspirational things happen in my room every day!
But, the single most inspirational thing I have witnessed was the day that a nonverbal student with autism told us with his own words that he wanted to use an iPad instead of another communication device. After weeks and weeks of trialing devices, I asked him “Do you want the iPad or the other one?” He typed “I want iPad.” I said “Does the iPad make you happy?” and he typed “happy.” Done deal. He got an iPad. And now he can communicate his wants and needs. And he inspired our principal to get 40 iPads for our entire school to use for instruction as well.
16. What advice would you give other Teachers about teaching students with a disability?
Never place an expectation on a student. Wait and see what he/she can do. And then push them to do more. And more. And more. Because they will.
17. What else would you like Parents and other Teachers to know that we haven’t already asked?
Not that we need recognition beyond the smiles of our students, but here are a few of the accolades I’ve received over the years-eTech Ohio Conference- Presenter- “APPvice to Support Students with Special Needs” (2012) Sun Courier Person of the Week (2011) Crystal Apple Award Recipient (2010-2011 School Year) SST3/ESC Outstanding Teacher (2008) Buddy Walk (Upside of Downs of Greater Cleveland) Team Leader (’06 –’11) Walk Now for Autism (Autism Speaks) Team Leader (’07-’11) Martha Holden Jennings Grant recipient (‘05 and ‘08) Brecksville-Broadview Heights Schools Foundation Grant recipient (’08, ’09, ’10, ‘11) Brecksville-Broadview Heights Schools Technology Grant recipient (’09) Easter Seals Walk With Me Zoo Walk Team Leader (‘08) 1st Annual International Summit on Conflict Resolution Education- Presenter- “Diversity Education as a Means to Conflict Resolution” (‘07) Jill Herrick Graduate Education Scholarship for Teachers (‘07) Hilton “Spotlight on Special Needs” Creator and Team Leader (’06-’08) Cleveland Cavaliers’ Head of the Class Teacher (‘05)