How Classroom Testing Changed How I Prepare an IEP

picture of a laptop on a desk with a piece of paper. Chalkboard in the background.
Be honest: Do you look over your students' classroom testing results? I mean, really look at the results when developing an IEP? As a school-based SLP, it is my job to support the classroom teacher by providing speech/language therapy to students who struggle. I have to admit that I've been very lax with looking at the results of the test that my students have to take a few times a year. I would print the results and stick it in the folder without a lot of thought. My school system previously used the STAR test to determine a student's progress for reading and math. We now use the iReady, which has changed how I prepare an IEP.

What is the iReady? According to Curriculum Associates, The iReady Diagnostic is an adaptive assessment designed to provide teachers with actionable insight into student needs. The Diagnostic offers a complete picture of student performance and growth, eliminating the need for multiple, redundant tests. Diagnostic results also set a personalized learning path for each student, ensuring they're working on instruction that matches their unique learning needs.  The test is administered via electronic device three times/year. After looking at several of my students' results, I'm hooked! I have been amazed that the results from the test correspond with the language test results.

Breaking It Down

Let's take a look at the results and how it will help with writing an IEP.
(Click on the pictures for larger views.)
The first page gives you some very helpful information. In this Reading Assessment, you can see that this student tested on a Grade 2 Reading Level. When the domains are broken down, we can pinpoint where the deficits are. This student does well with phonological awareness, phonics, and high-frequency words, but vocabulary and comprehension of informational text are in the red. Comprehension of literature is also a deficit, but not to the extent of the other two.

Now let's see what kind of information we get from looking at the results for the deficit areas.
First, take a look at the "Developmental Analysis". This student has a "serious vocabulary deficit" and there is a possible cause. In this case, it could be due to "second word categories and multiple-meaning words."
Next, look in the "Can Do" box. Don't dismiss this box when writing an IEP; it's perfect for writing the strengths! Of course, you can add to it during the meeting as the team is discussing the student, but this gives a fantastic starting point when creating the draft.
The "Next Steps & Resources for Instruction" intrigue me because it's what we need to focus on during language therapy. Look through and you'll see it's exactly what we do in therapy.
The Can Do sections also give great ideas for starting points in therapy. Even though this student is able to describe story elements and make inferences, the results indicate that she is on Level 1. Since the student is in 3rd grade, the level should be higher. Look through these "Next Steps & Resources for Instruction":

Are you understanding just how valuable these results can be to SLPs during IEP writing and developing a language program for each individual student? Goals and objectives (if needed) are right there, especially when compared to the results of language testing.
Lastly, take a look at the Information Text Comprehension results:
This student can do a lot in this area, but with support. The goal is for the skills to be done independently. How are we going to support the teacher?

The Correlation Is Surprising

I'm not a reading teacher (we have interventionists for that) but I do work on the language skills required for a student to be a proficient reader. Every time I look at a student's results from this test, I am amazed at how closely related the results are with my language testing. Almost everything is spelled right out. It is so easy to cross-reference the results from my testing with the results of the iReady.
I will say that I have had teachers tell me that they take the results with a grain of salt; they aren't convinced that the results are an accurate indication of where the student is in literacy. They seem surprised when I tell them that from my perspective, the results and the suggestions are right with my language testing.

How to Gain Access to the Results

I don't have direct access to the results; I have to contact either my SpEd Teacher or my Interventionist for the results. It only takes a couple of minutes for them to email them to me, and I am only asking for them as their annuals come up. As meetings are held strengths and goals are tweaked (as they should be for meetings), but these results give the team an excellent starting point in the development of an IEP. An added plus is that it definitely helps with individualizing the IEP since the results are individualized.
To answer my own question posed at the beginning of this post: In the past, I didn't really look at the results, but you can bet I do now. The classroom teachers may not be completely on board with the information, but I think it is invaluable to SLPs.
How would you answer my question? What testing does your school system use to determine progress in reading?
Pinterest pin with picture of laptop on a desk with a piece of paper and a chalkboard in the background. The title of the blog post is on the bottom of the pin.

Education Law: Does It Make You Nervous or Fascinated?

Scrabble pieces scattered on table with the word "Law" in the middle
Disclaimer: This post by no means is meant to be viewed as legal advice. I am not an attorney, nor am I an expert on social media. This post should be viewed as a summary of key takeaways from a presentation by an attorney who practices law in the State of Tennessee.

Education law: Does it make you nervous or fascinated? It makes some people nervous to the point of being scared of it. Personally, I find it fascinating. Maybe it's because I'm a definite rule-follower. I want to do things right; I don't want to get in trouble! Our SpEd Attorney spoke to the Special Ed Teachers in my school system and gave us a lot of information in a very non-threatening but informative way. I think his initial plan was to split the 3 areas he spoke on in equal parts; however, he ended up spending a lot of time on the subject of social media.

Social Media can be a good thing

Social media can be such a good thing when used in the right way. We have to remember that we are employees, and everything we do can be viewed as a reflection on our employers and our profession. How many of us have gained ideas to help our therapy through social media? I don't think I would know what new things are happening in the world of Speech-Language Pathology without it. With social media, we have to be aware of the law in order to protect ourselves and our students.

1. Defining the line between concern and involvement

This is not pertaining to social media per se, but our former attorney told us not to give out our personal numbers to parents or "friend" them on social media. Their number one interest is their child, and even though they may be your "best friends", there may come a point when mama bear protects her cubs and shows her claws, as well she should. You have to remember that you are working for their children, not to be their friend. I see teachers who are just starting out in education talking about texting/messaging their parents and I inwardly cringe. In all my years in this profession, I have only given out my number maybe 3 times. Even then, it was only in emergency situations (like having to reschedule a meeting due to inclement weather). I don't accept friend requests from parents or TAs. My undergraduate program trained us well in the art of separating our professional life from our personal life. We were told over and over not to get too personally involved in our students. There is a fine line between being concerned and involved; experience will help you out with defining and not crossing that line.

2. Be familiar but careful

Our attorney ("our" being my school system's special education dept.) indicated that 68% of adults have a Facebook account and the largest growing demographic of social media is women over 55. Our students are on it so it's imperative that we at least have a working knowledge of it. Did you know that when you close Facebook without logging out the site continues to "mine" what sites you're going to? That's how those ads you see are pertinent to you. I think Snapchat may be a thing of the past (at least with my demographics it is). I remember one of my sons telling me about it and mentioning that the picture "goes away" after so many seconds. WRONG. All posts are kept on a server for data or ad targeting. 
Almost everyone I know is on some form of social media. In my opinion, parents are the most vocal. On Facebook, my community has a "speak out" group, and believe me, they DO speak out. Sometimes they get it right, sometimes they don't. As a school employee, I would think it would be very difficult to restrain from making comments. I haven't ever looked at that group but have heard about some of the postings. I feel very positive that some administrators have had to contact parents to request posts be removed or, at the very least, retracted. 

3. Know your school district's social media/cell phone policy

For your own protection, take a look at your school district's social media and cell phone policy. If you don't know where to find it, ask your administrator. If you don't understand it or need clarification, ask your administrator. 
The attorney presented 3 different scenarios concerning students and discussed whether there are infractions. In the first case, a student is using social media during class. Disciplining the student should be referred to the school's policy on cell phone usage during school hours. (The students should be aware and understand the school policies.) 
In the second case, the student insults the teacher on Facebook. This boils down to when it was posted.  According to the attorney, if it was posted during school hours or during a school event, it can be compared to the student verbalizing the insult to the teacher and the student may be disciplined accordingly. If it is posted after school hours, nothing can be done. In 2017, EducationDive posted an article on this subject. The court ruled that what the students do in their time away from school is not the school's business. You can read more here.
In scenario 3, a student threatens another student online. In this case, please look at your state's policies/laws. In my state, cyber threatening is a zero-tolerance offense. 
He also presented 3 situations specific to school employees. First bottom line: don't post anything during school hours. I know there are times when I will schedule something to be posted, but in order for these posts to go live, I have to actually get on Instagram for it to be posted. I can schedule Facebook and Twitter posts to automatically post and (if I had it) I could schedule Instagram posts to be automatically scheduled through a program. I am assuming that if investigated enough, there would be evidence that I scheduled a post during school hours and didn't actually access social media at school. The second scenario has an employee blasting teacher pay online. Apparently, this is okay, as long as a specific person or administrator is not named. I'm not sure why anyone would ever even think about doing this last scenario, but apparently, it's happened: an employee insults a student on Facebook. The attorney said there are 3 laws on confidentiality: State, FERPA, and IDEA.  Information that is protected under FERPA: birthdates, addresses, grades, scores, discipline, and health. Honestly, I would think it would be better just to hold your tongue (or fingers in this case) and just be quiet.

4. Parents and Social Media

About parents and social media use: The parent is allowed to discuss his child's grades online. He is also allowed to call the teacher various names on Facebook (freedom of speech). That being said, if the parent states untruths about the teacher or insults the teacher (such as saying the teacher can't teach & is having an affair with a colleague or administrator), the teacher can sue the individual but not through the school system. This (according to our attorney) would be a personal matter. 
We, as educators, need to know that if a parent abuses their child on social media it is our duty to report this. Find out your district's policy on reporting abuse and follow it. Our attorney said that if we file a criminal complaint with police it will not be anonymous; however, if DCS (or your state's children services department) is contacted, you can say the report is anonymous but make sure you ask for the intake number and write it down. When giving a report, keep emotions out of it and only state the facts. 

What about "Freedom of Speech"?

While reading different cases of teachers being terminated due to social media posts, I noticed that the 1st Amendment was referred to. In the article "Facebook Fired", Kimberly W. O'Connor, Gordon B. Schmidt, March 2015 (Sage Journals), Pickering v. Board of Education (1968) was cited. A teacher was fired because he wrote a letter to the editor criticizing "allocation of funds between academics and athletics". The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that this subject is a matter of public concern; therefore, Pickering's 1st Amendment Rights were protected. 
The research article goes on to say that if the person is speaking as an employee (in our case, as our district's employee) we are not covered by the 1st Amendment. Further reading of the article convinces me that our best defense is to say nothing about students in our posting on social media. 
Not at school or at a school event? It doesn't matter. Cases have been heard that have supported the school district's disciplinary action against an employee. Personal blog? Doesn't matter. If you have a personal blog and post school-related remarks you could be held liable. 

It's just not fair!

You may be thinking to yourself: This just isn't fair. Why, as a school employee, am I held to a higher standard in my personal life than people in the corporate world? Think about it: throughout the history of education, teachers have been held to a higher standard. In the infancy of our country, teachers were fired for doing things that were considered "immoral" for that time. In the 1800's, the rules were pretty specific:
They were a little more specific in 1915:
List of rules for teachers from 1915
From Open Culture
As school employees, we shape little ones' lives. During the school week, the students are in school more than they are at home. They look up to each of us, no matter what our role in the school is. Maybe it's just me being Old School, but it just seems right to me. 

Don't be nervous by education law. Educate yourself, ask questions, and just follow the law. Keep your students and their parents off of social media and keep your comments (both good and bad) about them to yourself. I don't know this to be a fact, but if you post something about a child, I would definitely have the parent look at the post first and sign a waiver. That being said, the best thing to do is to steer clear of it.
pinterest pin with scrabble pieces on the top with the word "law" in the middle; the bottom has the words "Educaiton Law: How does it make you feel?" on a green chalkboard background.

State Convention Take-Away: Finding a Bright Spot

Sun peeking through trees with grassy ground
Photo by Johannes Plenio from Pexels
Another state convention has come & gone. While this one will not stand out as a great one in my mind, the networking made it worthwhile.
I started the convention with a presentation with a couple of friends. We stayed up until 1:00 a.m. putting the finishing touches on it. In addition to the presentation, we had a booth in the exhibit hall.
3 women standing behind table with educational products
L to R: Me, The Speech Attic, The Speech Owl

Meeting & Greeting

Even though the convention was a little disappointing, there were definitely some shining moments. Besides hanging out with those two, we met and were reacquainted with other SLPs and grad students throughout the state. With the help of some amazing SLPs, we were able to give away a lot of therapy materials and SLP swag.
Products specific to Speech Language Pathologists scattered on floor

Using Music in Therapy

Another HUGE bright spot was listening to an SLP from Tennessee present on using music in your therapy sessions. We all know how motivating music is to our kids. Eva Hampton, M.A., CCC-SLP, encouraged us to use songs the kids know and use them to our advantage. "Who Let the Dogs Out" can be used for 'wh' questions and for the /h/. Or, take a popular song that the kids know and make up your own words according to their target. Older kids can make up their own lyrics to popular songs.
She also shared this really cool pie chart that she created to help illustrate the importance of home practice. If you know anything about me, you know how much I stress home practice. Every one of my book companions includes home practice; heck, just about everything in my TpT store includes home practice of some kind! Thanks to Eva's generosity, she has allowed me to share her chart with you:

Pie chart with explanation on how the chart was calculated below it
Not only would this chart be fantastic to stress the importance of home practice, but it would also be ideal to show parents when their child is being referred for additional testing. Once they can actually see the amount of help their child is receiving from the SLP, the parent may agree to further evaluation if they were hesitant before. And...if the student is getting less than 2 hours/week, you can tell the parent that the little red sliver is actually smaller than the chart. I can't express just how much I love this chart and how grateful I am that Eva took the time to do the math and make this chart. 

It's always fun to get away from school and be around "your kind" for a few days. You know what I'm talking about: people who actually "get" you and what you do. 

Do you go to your state convention? Why or why not?

Words, Pictures, Sentences, or All of the Above on Articulation Cards?

Picture of 3 cards with a picture of a coin; 1 with no label, 1 with the word "coin", and 1 with "coin" in a sentence.
I need to preface this post by saying this is completely my preference. To each his own when it comes to what we prefer in our therapy rooms! When it comes to articulation therapy, what do you prefer: words, pictures, or all of the above on your articulation cards?

A Feeling of Independence

Personally, I prefer the picture with a word. I've used Super Duper's cards for most of my career, at least since the company is been in existence. I appreciate the target sound being in red ink. I use that to talk about where in the word the target is. An added plus is that it helps the student with their reading. We will tap out the word like they learned in the classroom to determine which position their sound is. With the /r/, we look at the letter before the 'r' to determine if they should anchor their tongues for a beautiful vocalic /r/.  For homework with the older students, many times I will have them write the words they didn't produce correctly and take that home for homework. When the word is on the card they can copy it onto the homework sheet. This gives them a bit of a feeling of independence and doesn't make them feel less than adequate because I don't have to spell the word for them.

Avoiding "Robot Speech"

Once the student is on the sentence level, I don't want dependence on a written sentence. I want spontaneous responses in the student's own voice. I use Smarty Ears Articulate It! with my Quick Speech students. When they are on the sentence level I don't change the level; I want them to make up the sentence. If the student is not a fluent reader, having the written sentence under the picture may hinder the sentence being spontaneous. Likewise, if the student is a non-reader, there may also be some difficulty with being able to repeat sentences. I tell the student to say the sentence "like it's one big long word" to avoid "robot speech".

When a younger student first begins on the sentence level, I will say, "Tell me something about a _____." If the target word isn't used, then I will model their sentence and insert the target word. It usually only takes a couple of trials for the concept to be understood. Then if the word is left out of the sentence I will say, "I didn't hear _____" and the sentence is produced using the target. This is how I've done it for years and it works for me.

Where Repeating Sentences Appears

After the student is proficient at making up his own sentences I will throw in having him repeat sentences after me. This works especially well with my /r/ students. I have a book that I had to buy for undergrad that has sentences for every sound and every combination of sounds. The /r/ section includes sentences with multiple /r/ and /w/ sounds within a sentence. Once they are proficient with those I know we can almost say the sound is mastered.

I have friends who will begin the sentence level by generating the sentences for them at first; that's what works for them. Just to test this out, I had a student say his own sentences during Quick Speech. When he said his own sentences he averaged just above 90% accuracy. When I used the sentences provided by Smarty Ears, it dropped to around 75% accuracy.

As I said: To each his own! It's not that one is right and one is not right, it's what works best for us. Which is your preference: words, pictures, sentences, or all of the above on articulation cards?
Pinterest Pin with purple background & 3 articulation cards with the words "What's your preference for artic cards?" under. Title of blog post is in white on a framed green chalkboard background under the purple.
  • Get a full run-down on the steps I use during articulation therapy in this post.
  • Mommy Speech Therapy explains her process in this blog post.
  • Caroline Bowen explains Traditional Therapy in this article; she includes a slideshow for further demonstration.
  • Speech and Language Kids provides suggestions for choosing the appropriate speech therapy process here.

Decisions, Decisions: Dot Day or Pirate Day?

Pictures of the book covers

Oh, decisions, decisions. Which to concentrate on during therapy in September: Dot Day or Pirate Day? Here's the dilemma: International Dot Day is 15 September and International Talk Like a Pirate Day is 19 September. See what I'm talking about? They are only 4 days apart.

What is this "Dot Day"?

The art teacher at one of my schools brought attention to Dot Day a couple of years ago. (Dot Day started in 2009.) I made a quick game and a homework sheet and that was it. I decided to expand the activities by making a book companion to the book The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds.  This is a sweet book about a little girl who doesn't think she can draw. A teacher encourages her by taking the paper that she jabbed the marker on and told her to sign it. When the little girl sees the paper in a frame over her desk, the little girl is determined. She makes dots; a lot of dots. At the school art show, she showcases her dots. A little boy gives her a compliment and then says he can't draw a straight line with a ruler. (That's exactly what I tell people!) She gives him a piece of paper and has him draw a line...then tells him to sign it.

This book companion consists of comprehension questions (with a choice of 2 pictures to use as cues if needed), yes/no questions, sequencing (with the option to have the child take a black-line copy home for retelling), categories (round or not round), negation, unscramble sentences, 2 sheets for describing, an open-ended game, and homework.
2 piles of cards (1 yes/no and 1 "wh"?) on a table
Comprehension questions. The yes/no questions correspond with the 'wh' questions.

Colored Mandala on paper with pictures, list of words,  and instructions
This is an example of the homework sheet for later developing sounds (although I included /k,g/ and /f/for those students who would be able to complete this sheet). There is a different set of homework sheets for early developing sounds.

 Turning "Pirate Day" into "Pirate Week"

All SLPs know about Talk Like a Pirate Day. It's been going on since 2002.  There is a lot of therapy material on TpT with a pirate theme. I bought a book during a book fair, Rufus Goes to Sea (by Kim T. Griswell), that is about a pig named Rufus who wants to be a pirate. The captain of the ship keeps telling him he can't be a pirate until he realizes Rufus has a book.

This book companion includes comprehension questions with 2 pictures to use as visual cues if needed, yes/no questions, worksheets (for what doesn't belong, negation, categorizing and using simple sentences, following directions using positional concepts, 2 sheets for describing, and regular/irregular past tense verbs), a pirate search & find for homework with a suggested word list (for /f,v,k,g,l,r,s/, sh-ch-j, and blends),homework sheets for earlier developing sounds (final consonant deletion, /p,b,m/, /t,d,n/, /h/, /w/, and a blank sheet for your convenience), retelling using story elements, and a fun pirate game (ideal if you have a "popper" but you can also use a bean bag or any soft item that the students can throw!).
Search and find worksheet in a green and yellow frame
Search & Finds are a favorite in my TpT Store. I included one in this packet for later developing sounds. (I also included /k,g/ and /f/ in this one just in case you have students working on those sounds who may be able to complete the sheet.) There is another set of homework sheets for early developing sounds.
Pictures of pirates arranged in circles on a wall with a popper and a ball in place. The pirates have numbers on them.
Fun popper game! Don't have a popper? Use a bean bag or another soft object that can be thrown!

The Decision

Dot Day or Pirate Day? Here's what I'm going to do: The week before Dot Day we'll work on The Dot. The week after, Rufus Goes to Sea. It may take more than 1 week to get through Rufus and that's okay. The students really don't mind a pirate theme for 2 weeks!
picture of 2 books on the top with the title of the blog post on the bottom. Green chalkboard background with brown frame.
Need more ideas?
This blog post has a dot project for preschoolers.
Official merchandise for Dot Day can be found here.
Over 50 activities for Pirate Day can be found here.

My New System For Organizing My TpT Materials

picture of clear plastic boxes on shelves
There's a lot of talk this time of year of how everyone organizes their TpT materials. I keep looking for better ways to store everything. I've reorganized my materials quite a few times, but I really like my new system for organizing my TpT Materials.

At the end of last school year, I decided enough was enough and I purged. Gone are materials that I had when I first started working as a school-based SLP over 30 years ago. With all of the great materials offered through TpT, a lot of my things were just so outdated. I figured if I hadn't used them in a few years they weren't worth keeping. Was it hard? You betcha, but it felt so great to clean that stuff out!

Before I even knew anything about TpT, I kept my homemade materials in clear plastic boxes and notebooks.
2 big plastic boxes on a shelf
As my TpT materials grew, I put most things in notebooks.
Notebooks with labels on the spine sitting on a shelf
I also started using bins from the dollar store. I put packets in gallon freezer bags and had a bin for each month.
Different color plastic bins on shelves
Using bins, my shelves were somewhat organized but some of the bins were stuffed full.
I've planned around monthly themes pretty much my whole career (it's so much easier to plan that way!) so notebooks and bins fit my needs...until I started buying and downloading cards. Off I went to Michaels to buy these containers:
Plastic containers on shelves
Apparently, these containers are a hot commodity now. My Instagram feed blew up with SLPs trying to find them on sale. They weren't that easy to find a few years ago when I discovered them so I'm not surprised they were hard to find. These containers are absolutely fantastic for cards. Each container has 16 cases that are the perfect size for cards.
Top view of a plastic card container with labels on each card container.
I organized each container by seasonal activities. I put a label on each individual case so I can just look at the top of the case to see what cards are in the container.
Top View of card containers with a label on the individual container

When I purged last spring, I also purged these boxes. I had a lot of cards that I downloaded as freebies that I didn't have any use for, so they were "filed". I didn't get rid of the boxes or containers, just the contents.

I work with an awesome Special Ed Teacher who puts my organization skills to shame. I thought I was pretty organized, but she's peer-pressured me into upping my game! Enter: more plastic containers and the need to really get my materials organized in a prettier way. I told my principal I "Bartonized" my room (since the teacher's last name is Barton).  I'm quite pleased with the end result.
Shelves with plastic boxes and notebooks
These 12x12 plastic scrapbook storage cases are perfect for holding materials by themes. I just put them in the case, made labels for the front indicating the theme, and printed out a list of items in each case. When I'm looking for something, I don't have to open each case and rummage through it; the contents of the case are on the top.

As you can tell, I have plenty of space to add more boxes if I need to. Moving everything to the scrapbook cases gave me more room on my shelves. There's going to be a time when I don't have the whole classroom at this school, so I'm trying to think ahead and plan for not having all of the storage space I have right now.

So far I really like my new system for organizing my TpT items. Everything is together by theme/month so planning is much faster. Now I need to start organizing my cabinets!
picture of clear plastic boxes on shelves with "Organizing TpT Materials" below picture.

It's Time to Brush Up On Your Therapy Skills...Especially For /r/

image of paint brushes with title in words
Photo by RhondaK Native Florida Folk Artist on Unsplash
Back to School. Are you excited or just hoping to get through it? The students in my school system just finished their first week of school. It just didn't seem like the beginning of the school year to me. I slept great the night before and ran on autopilot with my morning routine. I got to school and did what I needed to do: wrote out class lists and got my rechecks for 1st & 2nd grades ready, among other things. Now it's time to brush up on my therapy skills...especially for /r/.

Just Like Riding a Bike

Oh, that /r/. The bain of our existence as school-based SLPs. Once you have a routine and a plan, it's just like riding a bike: you get back into it and before long you're back in the groove.

5 Tips for Grappling the Elusive "R"

I had the pleasure of getting out of my comfort zone and participating in a Facebook Live Session with Brooke from Simply Speaking SLT. Brooke is a New Zealander, so talking with her was interesting and very easy on the ears. My topic was 5 Tips for Grappling the Elusive "R".  I shared 5 things I've learned to correct production of /r/. Brooke was fantastic at putting me at ease and by when it was time to go "live" I felt like I had a new friend. I think you can tell there were a lot of laughs!
We had a bit of a snafu after a few minutes, so we had to complete the session in 2 parts. Brooke started this wonderful series a few months ago; she completes one/month. You'll definitely want to check out her Facebook Page and watch past (and future) shows. Oh, and definitely watch the second part of my session for more tips that maybe you didn't know about! I'm keeping my freebie up until August 15, 2018. Just click here and you should go right to it. 

I wrote a couple of posts about how I go about working on /r/ with my students and I had been meaning to get around to posting a video. The Facebook Live was perfect timing and allowed me to talk about my procedures/techniques in greater detail. 

You may be excited about back to school, or it may seem like you didn't even have a break. Either way, July &  August means it's time to brush up my therapy skills...especially for /r/! 
Image of paintbrushes with words "time to brush up on your therapy skills" underneath.
Like this post? Pin this picture to a board!
Are you looking for even more tips for working on /r/? Try these posts:

If You Had The Worst Day of Your Life

Picture of a smoking gun with the words "Don't be scared. Be Prepared" above it.
Photo by Ivandrei Pretorius from Pexels
Do you know what you would do if you had the worst day of your life? I'm not talking about the day when you wake up to the dog vomiting (or peeing), the baby won't eat, your teenager throws a fit because his/her hair isn't perfect or that outfit isn't washed, then you get a speeding ticket on the way to work, etc. You get the picture. No, I'm talking about a truly horrible day: a day when your school ends up on national news. A day when the unthinkable happens: someone comes to your school and opens fire.
I need to preface this post by saying that I have never had to live through the worst day of my life & I hope that I never have to. I am not an expert on this situation; I only wanted to pass on some take aways that I had from Active Shooter Training provided by our local Sheriff's Department.

A Change in Attitude and Emotions

How sad is it that school employees even have to go to this training? I have to admit, I was not happy that I had to spend my first morning back after summer vacation going to Active Shooter Training. As the morning progressed, my emotions changed. I started taking notes to pass on key points that were made just in case anyone doesn't have that training. I took pictures of slides so I wouldn't forget anything or misquote what was said. (I'm sure I looked like quite the nerd doing this, or that the officers providing the training thought I was texting.)

One of the first things the first officer said was this really should be called "Active Attack", not "Active Shooter", since not all events involve guns. There have been killings through the use of vehicles. A USA Today article lists 15 incidents of vehicular killings through the world. These occurred both in the USA, Canada, and Europe.
In any attack, we have 3 options: Run, Hide, or Fight. There has been no definitive profile in these attackers; there are some similarities between some of them but there is also some variance. Mental illness is one commonality, but we all know how often mental illness goes untreated. Instead of a profile, risk factors have been identified:
Slide with a list of 5 risk factors

Believe it or not, schools are not the #1 place for mass attacks, commerce is more likely almost twice as much. Schools are the #2, followed by outdoors. 45% of attackers have no connection with the location of the attack.
In one of the videos we watched, when police arrived on the scene of the attack they stepped over victims. Their #1 priority when arriving on the scene is to stop the attack. In determining who dies, a couple of factors were outlined: How quickly law enforcement arrives and target availability. Our local law enforcement timed how long it would take them to arrive to any of our schools: they have it just under 3 minutes. If I'm not mistaken, the average time in the USA is 5 minutes. Who is going to buy the police time? We are. Our job in this situation is to buy them the time to get there. Law Enforcement is not going to be the first on the scene. We're already there and it's our responsibility to keep our kids safe until they arrive.

Buy Law Enforcement Time to Arrive on the Scene

Throughout the training the officers stressed the importance of knowing your surroundings and running through your plan should an attack happen.  They stressed that if you can, run. Try to bring anyone you can, but if they slow you down by resisting leave them behind. We don't know how we will react when we are put in that situation and chances are we want to help as much as we can.  But we have to help ourselves first. If you're trapped and can't leave, barricade the door with anything you can find. If you make it hard for the attacker to enter, he'll leave. My SRO said that the attacker knows he only has a very few minutes before police arrive and he/she isn't going to waste time trying to get into a room. If you can't run and there's nothing to use as a barrier, then hide. Fight if you can, but if you are going to fight, be committed.
We listened to a 9-1-1 call from Columbine High School. This staff member was truly under diress as she talked to the operator. She did what she thought she should during the incident; she tried to keep her students safe but was unsuccessful. The shooter was right outside of her door when she called and she didn't feel it was safe to go to the door to lock it or to try to barricade the door. They were trapped and they paid the ultimate price for it. She tried, but she hadn't had training for that situation. That is why having this training is so important.

Get to the 3rd Stage Quickly By Being Prepared

There are 3 stages of disaster response: Denial, Deliberation, and Decisive Moment. The officer cited a book by Amanda Ripley: The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes- and Why.  (not an affiliate link)
Denial: How many times do we hear/see something and it takes a few seconds for it to register? How many times do we try to dismiss what we heard as something else? My son was at an outdoor music festival over the summer. One of the rappers thought it was a good idea to use gunshots as part of his show. My son said he heard one shot and thought "okay, that was just one." But then he heard more. He said he looked around and realized it was part of the show but a lot of people hit the dirt. Fortunately it was part of the show and wasn't real.
We were shown a video clip of The Station Nightclub Fire. This happened in 2003 and was caused by a stage manager using pyrotechnics as part of the show. The result was that the stage curtains caught on fire and the whole place was ablaze in 5 minutes. In the video you can see the curtains catch on fire but people are still standing around, thinking it was part of the show. Once they realize it isn't, they left the way they came in because they didn't know there were other exits. A diagram of the building shows there were other exits that could have been used. One wasn't used because it was blocked. Biggest takeaway from this: If you have even an iota of thought that what you hear is gunshots, treat it as such. If you have any thought that what you see or hear isn't right, treat it that way and get the heck out.
Deliberation: This is when you need to shift your emotion from fear to anger. When we're afraid, we freeze. But when we're mad, we act. Once we realize that what we hear/see is putting us in danger, we need to act. We need to get angry. Once we are able to shift to that emotion, we're able to do what we need to do to survive.
The officer compared the human brain and "puppy dog brain". The human brain is conditioned for flight, fright, freeze whereas the puppy dog brain reaction is fight, flight, feed, reproduce.  The main idea here is that it is an innate reaction when we are faced with a situation to run, freeze, or be frightened. If you put a dog in a situation where he is cornered, he will try to run but if he can't, he will fight. No one teaches a dog to do any of those things; they are innate behaviors. This relates to an active attacker in the way that we have to rehearse in our mind (if not physically) what we would do if we are put in this situation. If we have no pre-programmed responses, we react on impulse. If we freeze our heart rate increases which will keep the brain from doing its job. It won't be able to flip through the scenarios we have in our memory bank for a reaction.
Decisive Moment: Avoid/Deny/Defend suggest that we have to get through the first 2 stages quickly to get to this moment when we act. It is imperative to do that to survive.

As I said above, when law enforcement arrives their first priority is to stop the attack. If there are wounded and you are safe, know what to do to help them. Homeland Security has an initiative called Stop the Bleed. It's purpose is training so that survivors will know how to help those victims who are bleeding until medical help arrives.

How to Stop the Attack

The biggest way to stop an attack is identify the attacker before the killing begins. How do we do that if there is no definitive profile? Several "commonalities" have been identified:

As educators we have to pay attention. We have to report what we observe and see to our supervisors and to proper authorities. If we watch and observe we have time to catch a probable attacker in one of their 5 phases:
Fantasy: They will share their feelings with others but it is often dismissed as "crazy talk"
Planning: typically very hate filled; he will describe intricate intentions
Preparation: This is the phase in which they can be caught. They will gather items and intelligence
Approach: They will be physically on the property before the attack. This is the "smallest but greatest" window of opportunity to stop the attack.
Implementation: Our only solution at this point is to ADD (avoid, deny, defend).

I am probably the least observant person there is on the face of the earth. We were strongly encouraged to always be aware of what's going on around us. This training really opened my eyes wide to what I need to do to survive and to make sure my colleagues and students survive. It's frightening to think that I may be put in that situation some day, but the officer told us "Don't be scared, be prepared".

What the Heck is Going On?

The officer cited books by Dave Grossman as an offering to why attacks on our schools are happening. We all know kids whose parents aren't parenting, they're "friending". They allow their children to play violent video games. As a child's brain matures, what goes in is programming their brain. It is helping to develop the moral code in that child. I found this quote by Dave Grossman in his book On Combat: The Psychology and Physiology of Deadly Contact in War and Peace: "90% reduction in violence among boys who had video games and tv removed." (Goodreads- not an affiliate link) Another quote (also from Goodreads): "if we drill our children on mass murder simulators, that too will be a reflexive, autopilot skill that is available to them at some tragic moment of truth." I have a friend who told me that at her school in another state, they do the simulation drills. We all think it can't happen to us but looking at Columbine,  Sandy Hook, Parkland, and Virginia Tech we have to realize that it could happen to any of us at any time. I'm not sure if the officer was quoting Dave Grossman when he said this, but it is a scary thought: "We have just scratched the surface of violence in this country."

Again, how sad is it that we have to have a personal plan in place for survival when we are at school? Sad, but this is a reality that we all have to be prepared for if you had the worst day of your life.
HUGE shout-out to the Blount County (Tn.) Sheriff's Department for providing this amazing training to the educators of the school system. 

This post in no way takes the place of training by the proper officials. If your school system/facility does not offer training, I would highly encourage you to recommend that your supervisor contact local authorities for proper training.
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