Dr. Raymond Heipp

Specialist Manager

Summer Plans for Our Next Best Academic Year

Summer Plans for Our Next Best Academic Year

By: Dr. Ray Heipp

The Beach Boys gave us an “Endless Summer” almost 40 years ago. While that might be something we could use today, we only have so many weeks for our own transition from the 2023-24 academic year to the 2024-25 academic year. We want to make sure we have some time for ourselves as well as keeping an eye toward the start of the year. What are some of those things that would be helpful to focus upon understanding the current educational environments in which we operate? How can we set ourselves up for a healthy academic year as well as from a mental health standpoint?

Let’s start with you first. The phrase that I have heard and used for most of my academic career is “You don’t understand. I don’t have time for myself.” It is always good to focus on your family or on matters that need to be addressed during the summer. Taking just 15 minutes per day along with finding some time each week to “do you” can lead to a more relaxed and refreshed feeling throughout the summer and into the upcoming school year. “Do you” can be anything you want it to be. I know some folks like to go to the beach and soak up the sun. Others might prefer to go camping or hiking to be closer to nature.  Some might simply want to find a comfortable chair and a good book. Whatever your choice is, do it! Even if you are on a vacation with the family, still find that 15 minutes where you can be by yourself and recharge. By finding this time now in the summer months, you may be able to create a habit that can move with you into the school year.

As you look ahead for your students, here are some themes you might want to consider. The first is the idea of transitioning. How can you begin to look at multiple aspects of your classroom day and create opportunities for transition? One of the tools I always recommend as an important part of training the behavior of transitioning between activities is a Time Timer Visual Timer. Aside from decreasing anxiety through the use of a visual timer, one can also begin to have consistency in transitioning between activities. If you have a Time Timer sitting on a shelf somewhere, bring it down and use it every day. If you don’t have one, consider using a 5-minute timer as it gives a different visual perspective for your students. We are beginning to use their own bodies to train the behavior of a timed transition. We are also teaching them the importance of a schedule moving forward in their lives. Simply putting information on a dry-erase board as to the activities which need to be completed is good in identifying which tasks need to be done. That is like a to-do list. Adding in the visual time aspect is what creates a stronger behavior around completing that transition. Please be aware that having timers with numbers or using an actual clock can only be as effective as the individual’s cognitive ability to process time. The research supporting the use of a visual timer reducing anxiety focuses on the fact that numbers still require math and do not always alleviate feelings around needing to rush through things. A visual timer creates an understanding of the passage of time and a visual cue to understand how much time is left. I even use a visual timer when completing activities as it keeps me more focused.

The second theme focuses on sensory supports and how to use them properly. We have been trained to believe that sensory supports should only be used during escalations or periods of increased emotional response. In fact, when any individual, including those who are neuro-typical, is taught to use socially and environmentally appropriate sensory supports, they can begin to work on self-regulating behaviors which can then transition outside of the classroom. For those who do not look to put items in their mouths or to throw things, products such as a tangle toy, boinks, sensory stones, or a pencil grip can become tools that can be a go-to when feelings of stress or overwhelm begin to arise. Again, this is a strategy that can work for all individuals. I have a “worry stone” that I carry with me and a tangle toy on my office desk. Sensory supports should not be hidden away until certain times. I have even worked with some OTs and some SLPs who give sensory supports to individuals when completing therapy sessions so that those individuals can process their kinetic energy and train themselves to maintain focus on the task at hand.

Another theme is one that I preach on a regular basis. This theme is making any assistive technology inclusive and accessible to many. Again, what devices do you have sitting on shelves because the student who needed them has graduated or transitioned to another building? See how you can repurpose those devices to enhance what goes on in your classroom. I love the example of using TalkingBrix2 to become single message “direction givers” in different parts of the classroom.  Now, your voice can be in multiple places at one time, and you begin to train a behavior around getting directions from auditory and visual prompts as well as getting them from a teacher, therapist, or another adult. Think about when that student might enter the workplace and have to get directions from a training video instead of a person. You have them ready to go!  Other single message communicators can also be placed in different areas to give affirmations or reminders. Be creative with your AAC devices. I always share the example of using a QuickTalker with the Widgit software to create “auditory books.” Take a book like Goodnight Moon and record the pages on your QuickTalker. Use Widgit to create a grid that has a picture of the pages and record what is written on that page. Now, individuals can take the book and the QuickTalker and “read” to themselves without always needing your input. Let them begin to understand the flow of words within reading and get them to enjoy it as they learn how to do it.

Incorporate switches into your classroom as well. Something as simple as taking a battery interrupter and putting it into a light and then connecting it to a switch can help you to create an “answer button,” a “call button,” a “question button,” or any other type of button you can design as the use of that switch simply turns on the light. Now, many students can communicate that way without the need to shout out loud, raise a hand, or go unnoticed as their hand or voice might not be visible or audible.

Summer is the time where we can create the idea in our minds of how we can utilize the tools that we have to enhance our classroom environments. Dream big and let those dreams come to fruition! Don’t forget to take the time for yourself first. When you are centered and focused, it allows you to be even more focused on those around you, students and family! If you do have some questions about your specific environments, feel free to reach out to me at rheipp@schoolhealth.com and let’s see what we can come up with for you.

May you have an amazing summer and come back ready for an amazing 2024-25 Academic Year!

Hope: Understanding How We Create It in Ourselves and Our Individuals

Hope: Understanding How We Create It in Ourselves and Our Individuals

By: Dr. Ray Heipp

 

May is a wonderful month - it is a time when spring has taken root here in the Midwest and hints of summer are in the air. From an academic perspective, it is a time of many transitions. When I was an administrator, it came to signify the end of the current year along with the beginning of the preparation for the new year. Those endings came in the shape of graduations and the movement to the next level of academia or movement into the workplace. In all of this, there was and still is a feeling of hope and excitement for all involved.

But what is hope and why is it so important, especially after the pandemic? Let’s start with the current levels of anxiety and stress in everyone. The pandemic brought about a lot of changes in how we interact with others. It was a traumatic experience which created ripple effects in the way people deal with daily activities. That anxiety has also led to a level of frustration that we see played out in the world around us. Part of what helps us address that anxiety and stress is the hope that things will get better.

The mistake many make is to assume that the ideas of wishing and hoping are the same. It is not a matter of semantics here. Instead, it is a matter of approach to the world that differentiates the two. A wish is a passive idea. “When you wish upon a star….” and other phrases around wishes surrender the idea to the power of someone or something else. A hope, by its very nature, includes some action on our part. Let’s go back to school ourselves. “I hope to play varsity this year.” “I want a lead role in the fall production.” I want to get a 3.0 GPA.” “I want to pass physics.” These are all statements of hope that require us to put in the practice or the work that will help us to get there. Unfortunately, we allow a lack of understanding of the difference between these two ideas to hinder ourselves and our students from perceiving the actions which need to take place.

Think of it this way. “I want to pass Physics” is a statement of hope that includes an awareness that homework needs to be done, tutoring may need to be a part of the plan, and studying will be required. We lose some of that deeper understanding when we say things like “I hope I have Ms. Flabitz and not that crazy Dr. H.” That is not a statement of hope, it is simply a wish which could lead us down a bad path if we end up with that crazy guy.

So how can we grab onto hope and demonstrate it to our students, our colleagues, our families, and our communities? First, we want to understand that we will be taking some action. I have recently had the privilege of taking a course on hope through the work of our owners here at School Health. We aligned ourselves with Kathryn Goetzke and her SHINE Hope Company to take a look at this idea of hope and how we could incorporate it into the workplace. There are also versions for schools. Here, I simply hope to focus on what we can be doing as individuals. We can start by taking a quick survey to determine our “Hope Score” and begin to work from there.  Here is the link for that survey: Measure Your Hope - The Shine Hope Company

From there, we are able to look at our own strengths in this area.  Always focus on your strengths first as that supports us subconsciously. You and your students have amazing strengths that can heighten hope around what you are doing and help get through those difficult times. Once you have taken the survey, you are able to move into the process which entails movement through the idea of SHINE. So how do you SHINE as you seek to increase your hope?

We start by looking at the ways in which we can address our stress. Stress Skills make up the “S” in SHINE. These are skills that most of us will recognize and can probably even identify why they are important. These are not extensive skills which require hours of study or practice. Simple ideas like controlled breathing, walking, exercise, listening to soothing music, and counting to 10 are all examples of how we can act when dealing with stress. The more that we can utilize skills that reduce stress the better the opportunity we have for increasing hope.

The “H” brings us to Happiness Habits. What are those activities that both make us happy and can create a positive sensation (for which there is a physiological reason!) within us. These habits include things like listening to music, being in nature, practicing affirmations, and playing games. Those are some of the activities one might expect. There are others though that focus on our health, like getting the proper sleep, eating in a healthy manner (yes, it is okay to have a cheat day!), and practicing affirmations. There are also a few habits which may surprise you.  These are habits like donating time, talent, and treasure to groups in need, giving a hug, and smiling. All of these help produce chemicals in the brain which add to our happiness and well-being.

Next, we move into taking Inspired Actions. Basically, think of this as setting goals for yourself that can help you navigate the challenges of any given day. Many of you have heard me speak of SMART goals before and those fit quite well into bringing hope to your life. SMART goals are those which are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time bound. Set these goals for all aspects of your life and look to help students understand how goal setting works. Don’t be afraid to set some short-term goals to achieve levels of success leading up to your long-term goals.

The “N” refers to Nourishing Networks. Who is it you spend your time around? What are they inspiring you to do? It is a researched fact that spending time with a set group of people acclimates you into feeling, believing, and reaching similar levels as those in the group. If you are around positive people who are focused on making life better, you will tend to do the same. However, if you are around negative people or people who chose the couch over other activities, you will tend to act in the same way. For those of us who have children, think of the warnings we may have given to our children when it came to their friend groups. Hope is achieved through positive action and the belief that there is another level for you to reach. Hanging around the right people reinforces your belief in yourself and gives you the potential for a support team as you move forward.

Finally, the “E” represents Eliminating Challenges. The greatest challenge many face is limiting beliefs around what they can become. Believe in yourself, work to enhance your strengths, and then address areas for improvement. When you see something you believe in, go after it and do not let naysayers hold you back.

This post is not long enough to take your completely through the process of using hope to achieve your goals and to bring you through the challenges of each day as unscathed as possible. Should you have more questions about hope, this program for your school or students, please feel free to reach out to me.

Looking to the Future While Staying Present

April is such a unique month when it comes to our work with students. It’s a time when we are making sure that they are staying on top of their learning, especially upon returning from spring break. At the same time, we are making sure that they are prepared for the end of this academic year.  We cannot forget that we are also finalizing IEPs and making sure that we are ready to transition our students into the following academic year. I know it often feels like we are straddling academic years like the Colossus of Rhodes standing over both sides of the port. As we look at our own mental health and anxiety levels, what are some activities we can be doing to make this month and the rest of this year go as smoothly as possible?

Let’s start with planning for next year as the IEP process has us thinking that way already. Do you know who your students will be next year? In some cases, you may be continuing with a group or at least a few students.  Those are the ones that you can use to set a foundation for next year. Take their IEP information and as you continue to work with them this year, set aside worksheets, a list of activities, and a list of devices that you will need for them. As you create your lists, when possible, bring some of those devices into your classroom. Set them in a container that you can set in a cabinet for the summer. If your returning students still need them, verify with your AT Specialist or Special Education Director that you can store them over the summer to make it an easier transition for you in the fall.  

As you look toward the end of this year and the summer, you also want to start supporting the students with life skills that can be utilized throughout their lives. We spend time working on that end-of-year transition and do a wonderful job with that. We also want to start promoting behaviors for our students that make sense for the summer. Begin talking about nutrition and hydration, especially when it comes to the summer months. If your students are not participating in your summer program where these things can be monitored and supported, introduce lessons that create some of those behaviors now. Have some hydration breaks and talk about lunch and proper snacking. Some of you will have your students with you during the summer months and can reinforce these lessons. Know that either way, you are giving your students the skills they need to create some independence in the future. Another thing to consider when working with your students for the summer months is properly preparing themselves for being outdoors. See if you can work with local dollar stores to make sure that your students have proper eyewear when out in the sun. Speak a little about sunscreen as well. We recognize that the feeling of sunscreen might trigger some adverse reactions in some students, but we still want to provide information. For those students who do not like the feel of a spray or cream on their arms, legs, and face, work with them on understanding how to use shade, wearing hats if possible, and taking precautions by having some awareness of time in the sun.

In preparing for next year with devices or products you do not currently have, remember that ESSER III funding is open until September 30 when all monies must be encumbered. Many of your districts have a page on their website which shares how much ESSER money has been spent and how much is left. One of the suggestions I have been making to districts is to utilize these funds by projecting what devices might be needed over the next two to three years. Looking at products like the Scanmarker Pro for its use in ELL settings or the Big Mack in all areas of the building because they can serve multiple purposes may give you some guidance in buying. I have explained to districts that using their ESSER funds for things bought annually from your regular or IDEA funding, like classroom supplies, workbooks, or online subscriptions should continue to be aligned with those budgets. The ESSER III funds, based on how they are written, are perfect for stocking up on those devices which are regularly used, but may rely on grants in future years. Take some time, speak with those with whom you trust, and come up with a plan that has you better prepared for future students and budgets. Know that I am always there to support you with questions around this and can be reached at rheipp@schoolhealth.com.  

I am seeing districts right now using their funds on Ablenet products since they meet all government guidelines a couple of years ahead of the guidelines being formally put into place. I have seen the increase in systems like Simply Works to create accessible classrooms and workspaces. Some districts are supporting those with visual impairments by bringing in products like the OrCam Read3 which has AI that can support students in so many more ways than just reading documents out loud. Take some time (I know that is a precious commodity!) and think about how you can make your classroom environment even more inclusive and sensory friendly, like adding in a Sensory Blackout Tent. Looking ahead now can save you time and budget space in future years.

Finally, I want to share the most important activity for you at this time of the year. That activity is taking time for yourself! I know I sound like a broken record as I am continually reminding you about this.  Even five minutes a day of silence, self-reflection, meditation, breathing, or some other activity that lets you relax and focus on you. I have been speaking with colleagues throughout the country who are overly concerned about both the teacher and substitute teacher shortages. Many of these colleagues have shared with me that the greatest reason for teachers leaving is not retirement, but wanting to get away from the stress and feelings of overwhelm that are prevalent in so many aspects of education today. I am not saying that by taking five minutes a day that you will stay in education. What I am saying is that by taking those five minutes a day, you will be more centered and able to make the best decisions for yourself, your family, and your students. Know you are valued and appreciated!

 

Looking at Special Olympics as a Key to Community Involvement

Looking at Special Olympics as a Key to Community Involvement

By Dr. Ray Heipp

 

When many of us think of Special Olympics, we think of our individuals participating in games and finding success in their efforts. Special Olympics has evolved into so much more and is making a strong push to become part of the fabric in connecting the larger community to our individuals. I recently attended the “Sports for Inclusion Event” and saw various groups within the Special Olympics organization come together to expand their impact. Much of what they are doing can have an influence on what we do in our schools and therapy centers as well.

I first began volunteering with Special Olympics in the mid-1980s. It was great to see individuals receive an opportunity to demonstrate their abilities in more of the public eye. It was wonderful to observe the camaraderie between athletes and the support they gave each other. To me, the most amazing part came when I witnessed one of my athletes compete in the 100-meter dash. He was fantastic in training. When he competed in the finals, his time would have placed him in the top 6 at the high school level if he had the opportunity. The other volunteers were as amazed at his efforts as I was. The difference lay in the fact that I understood that he had the potential to do something like this. The others were not as aware and made comments like, “how can someone like him run so fast?” It would take another decade until the arrival of “Forrest Gump” where the public would have a wider sense of our individuals’ abilities.

One of the aspects discussed at the “Sports for Inclusion Event” was of the Unified School Program. Many of you may already be familiar with our Unified sports where our individuals are on teams with their neuro-typical peers and compete with other teams in sports like basketball and soccer. We are seeing more schools move toward this program which benefits everyone involved. I recently had an opportunity to work with one of the districts in my home state of Ohio as they put together this program for their students. The moderator of the program described how neuro-typical involvement increased dramatically once a few games had been played. The excitement generated by these games and the overall interactions with individuals who would not have had other opportunities was contagious. This story reminded me of the student with CP, whose use of a Zip Ball to play catch with the school’s varsity quarterback created a lasting relationship as well as changed the way others viewed the individual.

The “Sport for Inclusion Event” also brought in the idea of community support and activities. We definitely want to consider moving beyond a single day in the summer to provide games for individuals of all ages. Here are some “what ifs” to consider for your community:

  • Can we create leagues for those outside of school ages to compete in things like basketball?
  • Does your community have a wheelchair basketball league?
  • Would one of your schools be open to hosting these leagues in their gyms?
  • Can you have some of your students learn life skills by having them support the concession stands and ticket booths?
  • If you are able to create these leagues, what about indoor soccer, so that those in wheelchairs can also be included?
  • We have seen the rise of “Champion Leagues” for baseball, so what about expanding those into softball for all ages?
  • Are there available fields and can we also encourage support from our communities for sponsorship?
  • How about the inclusion of these teams in any kick-off parades?

Those sports, along with track and field, tend to be the ones that we think of for our individuals and Unified teams. Did you know that other sports are also at the heart of what Special Olympics does? How about some adapted bowling or bocce? The hottest sport which was discussed at the conference was Paddle Ball. Are there ways that we can get our individuals into other leagues? The beautiful thing is that Special Olympics already has kits designed for these sports to assist with the adaptations as well as getting the sponsors of these games a start on the equipment needed. What would it be like to have inclusive bocce or paddle ball tournaments as part of community days? There are so many opportunities to create events like these and I encourage you to reach out to me or to Special Olympics for other ideas!

 

The picture you see here is just one of the ways you can get involved with Special Olympics. I annually partake in the Polar Plunge in support of Special Olympics. This picture shows this year’s plunge. I dove into Lake Erie on a day with slightly above freezing temperatures here in Ohio. School Health supports the Illinois chapter, but every state has its own version. I spoke with several individuals who did annual 24-hour plunges, where they dive once per hour for 24 straight hours. You could also simply sponsor someone instead of plunging yourself or volunteer for the formal events. Let’s now consider some other potential ways for you to become involved.

  • Is your district interested in the Unified program and can they host events there on campus?
  • Can the faculty and staff at your school compete against the Unified teams or even join with our individuals to take on other schools?
  • Can businesses in the community step forward and offer support through sponsorships, volunteer hours, or even buying kits for various sports to support the growth of potential leagues?

Inclusion must take place within and beyond the walls of our schools! Special Olympics offers us an opportunity to take inclusion to our communities. Together, we can make the “tomorrow” of everyone a little better by allowing everyone to demonstrate their abilities. If you have any questions about how you can look to create this inclusion, please feel free to reach out to me at rheipp@schoolhealth.com!

Understanding the New Federal Guidelines for the End of ESSER III

 

Several things happened at the end of January that helped bring clarity to the assistive technology landscape. Annually, the end of January brings us to the ATIA Conference in Orlando. This conference is a great opportunity to learn about the latest technology and the prevalent application of these from our colleagues across the country. We will get to the highlights of that towards the end of this piece. The bigger news was the fact that the U.S. Department of Education, in a document dated January 22nd, spelled out guidelines for the use of assistive technology as well as presented another document that addressed myth vs. fact looks at perceptions in education. Both can be found on our website. For those of you who have not had the opportunity to read the document, here is a synopsis of what it states, as well as some thoughts as to how you can proceed over the next few months with the end of ESSER III funding coming September 30th, 2024.

The first two myth vs. fact statements focus on the IEP and the need for AT. Assistive Technology should be a consideration in every IEP meeting, not just certain ones based on conditions. That does not mean that every child qualifies for AT. Instead, it is through the work of assessment during the IEP process whether there is a need. Stemming from that, recommended AT must be provided by the district or LEA under the guidelines of FAPE and cannot be dismissed by saying the funding is not available. What this means is that a quick assessment of tools which any district may be lacking could be conducted now so that while ESSER III funding is still open, districts can fill the gap of having AT devices for trial and/or usage by students. This is a perfect time to review what your district already has and create training for those devices with the teachers and therapists in the field.

The next two statements focus on the idea of AT devices and services. Simply providing a student an assistive technology device does not mean that other services need not be provided.  I think that most of us recognize that AT is the tool and what we can do with therapies and life skills add focus to the assistance of these individuals. It is nice to see this clarified for those outside of the Special Education realm to aid in the understanding that there is no “one-size-fits-all” device or approach that is available. The second part of that duo focuses on the AT evaluation. IDEA does not require a formal evaluation for each piece of AT before it can be implemented. I know some of our AT Specialists have a large caseload of evaluations that they are attempting to conduct. Other districts have enlisted third party groups to conduct these evaluations as well. In many cases, an AT evaluation qualifies what an individual needs. This statement refers more to the situations where the AT device that might be able to support that student is obvious. Therefore, the need to wait for an evaluation before implementation can be eliminated. If we know what will work, let us get that student paired with the device and not delay or cause other frustrations.

We then move to the fact that training must be a part of any AT implementation. Students do not have to learn these devices on their own. Keep in mind, we need to make sure that teachers and therapists are given training, so that they might be even better equipped to support the students. Reach out to the groups with whom you work to see what kind of training they can provide you. This training can be virtual or video presentations with time for questions at a later point after the support team has practiced with the devices.

The next two statements have been created for those outside of our community. They refer to the fact that any recommended assistive technology must be included in the IEP and formally reviewed and included in transition planning. I know that some districts prefer not to put specific manufacturers down in the IEPs when discussing AT, and that is fine. However, the definition of those products, e.g., a reading pen that does not need the internet and can be connected to earbuds, should be listed. Transitioning from elementary or middle schools into the secondary setting should also include these definitions and how the devices are best utilized for the next group of teachers.

Another statement addresses the usage of assistive technology with state-mandated assessments, and I am so grateful for this addition! AT is approved for these assessments if it is a part of the individual’s IEP and the way that they learn daily. The use of AT is NOT an unfair advantage or prohibitive for students who do not need it. AT is NOT cheating! With that in mind, districts do want to look at devices like reader pens and speech-to-text software while the ESSER III funds are available. Certain reader pens are also incredibly efficient for our ELL population and can help them to understand the questions in a manner that allows them to best answer like they do for our students with reading issues or dyslexia.

The next two statements address how AT is viewed. First AT is not simply technology that is high tech. AT in both mid-tech (speaking calculator, digital recorder, single message communicator, etc.) or low-tech (one of my favorite tools – pencil grips, communication boards, etc.), are by their definition AT and must be addressed. In that same thought, AT is also not for any specific condition or conditions. The DOE reminds us that assistive technology can be incorporated into the IEP of any student if it provides the support that the individual needs to succeed.

As we look at the next statements, we have defined for us that AT is for ALL environments and not just the classroom, must be individualized, and it cannot be assumed that a device which works for someone will work the same way for others. They then go on to spell out succinctly that AT is NOT the same as accessible technology. Nor are AT, UDL, and AEM all “the same thing.” They state that the purpose for each is different, and all should be reviewed considering each individual. There are many of us who have had to fight through situations where those from the outside were content to have something that was “good enough” recommended – often because it was cheaper. No more of that!

The next few statements look at the individual’s usage of the AT. We have heard from the outside that AT lowers motivation for students to learn and lets them get away with having to do the work. That is a myth, as the research has shown that student motivation improves when the AT assists them in sharing their knowledge and abilities. The next two statements look at a child who does not want to use the recommended AT or uses their own devices. The facts around these are that the district still needs to support the students and encourage them to use the devices that will help. Those students who are hesitant to use a device may simply be trying to fit in with their peers. That is another good reason to utilize the ESSER III funds for products like reader pens, unobtrusive switches, or simple communication devices to reduce some of the stigma of using these that students may be feeling. Training for everyone is also essential here.

The final set of myth and fact statements review the deployment of assistive technology. It is the decision of the IEP what technology should be employed, and then someone from that team can work with the district IT team to make sure it is implemented properly. Another statement focuses on how much time it takes to procure the devices. You always want to check with your provider on this as some devices may be experiencing production delays. The good news is that most devices like those by AbleNet, Enabling Devices, software companies like Widgit and ProStudy, and Cosmo, are in stock and can be shipped quickly in 30 days or less. Work with groups you can trust. Please be wary of companies like Amazon. I use Amazon for a lot of my purchases today for personal use. However, working with companies like School Health and Jodi Szuter will provide you with the confidence and support that you are getting the products you need that will help the team, as well as the individual.

The final part of this document focuses on infants and toddlers. AT, which includes items like helmets, cushions, and adapted seating are covered under the auspices of IDEA-C. This has been a contention with some of our Head Start/Early Head Start programs, as well as other specialized programs within some of our districts. The AT needs of these students, including AAC, are supported. Feel free to look at the documents from the government as we have also posted those.

ATIA was one of the best ones I have attended since pre-COVID days. The discussions were deeper, and the excitement of sharing ideas was palpable. There was focus as well on the sensory side of education. Hillary Goldthwait-Fowles and Jennifer Edge-Savage had a phenomenal session on sensory supports for everyone and people came out of it energized. The one caution I have from the conference is with some of the “new” technologies. Many of the groups who were there had long-established technologies with new models or great updates. Those are the technologies which are evidence-based and make a difference. I always worry about some of these newer technologies which have no direct research. Please do your homework and work with people you can trust for insights into what will best support you and your students’ needs.

As always, if you do have any questions, please feel free to reach out to me at rheipp@schoolhealth.com.

Making 2024 the Best Year Ever for All

Making 2024 the Best Year Ever for All

By: Dr. Raymond Heipp

 

So, I realize that the title of this blog sounds a little cliché! We tend to hear statements like that every year from pundits trying to cash in on the “new year, new you” ideology and the promotion of “New Year’s Resolutions.” Keeping that in mind as well as trying to stave off another purchase of a stationary bike which becomes a clothes hangar by April, we will take a look at ways that we can inspire the individuals with whom we work to have “Best Me Ever” plans along with some insights into the ending of ESSER III funding and how we can utilize it for the benefit of both current and future students.

Why “Best Me Ever” plans? When we analyze the idea of New Year’s Resolutions as neurotypical adults, we can distinguish that these resolutions are for our own benefit and are ways of tweaking how we approach aspects of our lives. Whether it is looking at habits like smoking cessation, being nice, and diet and exercise to lose a few pounds’ or something more detailed like changing lifestyles to protect again significant health concerns, we can come at these resolutions knowing that it is for our benefit that we are doing these activities. For our individuals, levels of cognitive awareness might not be there to understand the idea behind “resolutions,” thus creating a feeling of inadequacy or lack. We do not want them to approach these plans from the negative. By having them focus on the positive effects of activities that will help to create “Best Me Ever” plans, we encourage them to stay with it and look forward to it as well.

What might these plans include? Let’s look at some common issues our individuals face and see how we can help to create a positive mindset around them. Our first issue surrounds the need to lose weight. When I speak of weight loss with them, I am looking at those individuals who may need to lose 20 or more lbs. for their health and well-being. I have seen too often the idea of promoting weight loss to someone who might not be overweight by a great extent. However, weight loss for them can become an unhealthy fixation which causes significant drops and improper focus. The first thing we should determine if weight loss is something to be added is why the weight is on in the first place. Is the additional weight due to improper eating habits? What if they are due to anxiety or lack of exercise as opposed to eating habits? These questions will help to point us toward the proper approach to take. For example, if there are improper eating habits like “eating one’s feelings” by overeating after stressful situations, then simply teaching about healthy food choices does not make sense. Instead, we want to look at other coping strategies that do not focus on eating.

In speaking with a former student-athlete of mine who has worked in both the exercise and nutritional realms with many individuals, including some you might know, he shared with me that he encourages a weekly “cheat day” when approaching weight loss due to the body simply being out of shape. We discussed the merits of my “Pizza Fridays” and how something like that actually can help a body to acclimate to other foods during the week. Psychologically, these “cheat days” can help give an individual better internal strength when approaching their diets. He has noticed that many of his clients begin to adjust their “cheat days” into healthier foods while more easily acclimating their bodies to an overall diet regimen.

He cautioned about diets though when it came to overeating due to stress or emotional responses. He works with his clients on coping mechanisms first in these cases. He then can see or help a client transition to less overeating issues. With our individuals, we may need to begin with these coping mechanisms. These could include breathing exercises for both daily practice and emergency usage. We might also include some physical activity at the beginning and end of each day. Even something as simple as a walk – a quarter mile or less – can be a good starting point. If we focus on those activities first, we can then move toward the nutritional component. If we start in the wrong order, all the work we might do with nutrition and portion-controlled eating can go right out of the window the first time any stressful event occurs.

Another issue surrounds something we addressed above and that is dealing with stress and anxiety. An individual may not be overeating or have weight issues when anxious. Instead, they may have escalations which can be detrimental to themselves or to others. A “Best Me Ever” plan looks at the causes of these escalations and addresses activities, like breathing, that can be used in several different ways. We are teaching life skills to our individuals in this case and encouraging them to deal with their stress and anxiety in positive manners.

Exercise is another aspect of the “Best Me Ever” plan. Again, we want to start with what the individual can do and build off that. We then want to move into areas that might interest them and let them add more activities to their own exercise portfolio. A slow build of exercises along with directing them toward lifelong activities is most beneficial here.

Notice what we have been doing throughout this blog. Let’s start with the “Best Me Ever” designation. Our foundation is that we are already good and that we are moving to the “best” version. That is not only a positive move but can be improved upon each year. We are not focusing on the negative aspects of our life. Instead, we are looking at causes and how to handle them in a healthy manner. We want our individuals to be excited for these plans and apply them daily to life. We don’t want them to feel they are failures by setting benchmarked numbers which may or may not be reached. We want them to begin to have healthier approaches to life and the other issues or concerns will be addressed as a positive side-effect.

As enter into 2024, we still have until September 30th to spend the ESSER III funds. All Assistive Technology is eligible to be purchased using these funds. Assess what you are already using in your school or district and bring in technology which may fill in some gaps. Look to create your own AT Assessment/Trial kits that can be utilized by teachers, therapists, AT Specialists, and yourself in the future. Consider making AT as transparent as possible in the buildings by re-visioning how to use some of the older AT in standard classrooms or offices, e.g. using a QuickTalker 12 as a support with a book like Goodnight Moon to let students “read” to themselves at the press of a button. Bring in new AT to support the current student population with an eye toward future students as well. We can use these funds to help so many students and don’t want them to go to waste. If you have questions on what might be good to have in your building or would like some ideas of how to use your current AT in other ways, please feel free to reach out to me at rheipp@schoolhealth.com.

2024 will be the best year for all of us! What is your “Best Me Ever” plan going to be?

The Holidays Are Not Always a Wonderful Time for Some Individuals

 

As we enter the holiday season, we find excitement and lots of activities that go beyond our normal routines.  Starting with the schedules that we see in schools and at home, changes to routine become more routine than not!  As parents, we learn to verify what the actual breaks from school are so that we know how to best prepare.  For example, when I was a student in the 1970s, we went to school the Wednesday before Thanksgiving up to the 22nd or 23rd of December before any breaks took place.  Things have changed greatly since then.  As an administrator in the late 1990s and early 2000s, we saw that we needed to add the Wednesday before Thanksgiving due to the lack of attendance.  We also learned that the time off at Christmas needed to be two full weeks and had to work around potential weekends.

As fun as time away from school might sound, it does create issues for individuals who crave routine.  Even within school days or therapy sessions, we may see different scheduling of classes or decorations which can draw attention and cause issues around focus.  For some individuals, this could lead to sudden escalations around things we might not have considered, like having to walk around a decorated area instead of walking through it.  

What can we do to become more aware and help to spread that awareness to others?  First, recognize that we can only control what we can control. As our individuals leave our buildings, there are other disruptions that can be problematic.  With that in mind, I recommend “Holiday Sensory Kits” for the parents and guardians.  These kits can be used throughout the year; however, I am making suggestions that will help to address the constancy of change over the next few months.  To start, have the parents consider putting this together in a backpack or drawstring bag so that it can be portable without being obvious to others. In this backpack, a pair of noise reducing earbuds or headphones will be important for many. I like the Vibes as they really do appear as earbuds, yet give that reduction in ambient noise that might be encountered outside, in malls, or in larger gatherings.  For some, those might need to be noise cancelling headphones.  

Depending upon where you live, you also want to consider sudden changes in weather.  Having a pair of gloves and a knit hat in colder regions is also a good idea.  I have even seen some groups go as far as to recommend hand warmers in their kits.  This can be a good idea, as long as the individual who might be using them understands when something is too hot as well as why something like this should be used.

The next things to have in the backpack are a range of sensory support items that are socially appropriate for situations.  The Sensory Tangle Toy is one of my go-to items for both recommending and having available for myself.  I actually have one on my office desk and will utilize it during longer virtual meetings when I cannot get up and move around. This is a good choice as it does not make noise, can be used under a table or close to the body, and is better accepted by the external community for stress relief.  I also recommend that this is not the only item one has for sensory release.  In some cases, if an individual is not prone to throwing items, a squeeze ball can also be helpful.  Again, it does not make any sound and they are socially acceptable.  I do recommend for any sensory object to have more than one in the backpack in case something gets dropped or lost.  

A small first aid kit is also something to consider in the backpack.  Why? I have had stories shared with me where individuals began to escalate in a situation and either fell or crashed into something.  Having bandages and some antiseptic is always a good call.  The First Aid To Go Mini First Aid Kit is a nice choice for this.  

Finally, we do want to look at something with a little bit of weight (2-4 lbs. max) like Theo the Therapy Dog, the Manimo Weighted Lizard, or a Washable Weighted Lap Pad, adding the dynamic of having a weight that can be placed on the lap or shoulders.  For younger individuals, animals are acceptable.  For some of our older individuals, the lap pad is a more socially acceptable choice.

Think about also having some juice boxes, a filled water bottle, and some snacks.  For some individuals, they may need to have something that they are used to eating or drinking when the situation is strange and somewhat overwhelming.  I have spoken to parents who regretted not taking simple things like a favorite juice or snack along, along with presuming a food court or refreshment stand would have something that might assist in de-escalation through food or drink.  Hot chocolate is a great treat but may not help to calm someone who has been triggered in a new environment.  

In Gabe’s Access Angle blog, he addresses some of the outer wear which may be good during these months. Having lived in the Midwest for most of my life, I always urge to take layering into account if the individual is comfortable with that.  Think about things like thermal tops and pants to go on as the base layer and then build out from there.  The nice thing about layering is that one can always remove a layer if it begins to get too warm.  Temperature and other weather conditions can play a major role in escalations as well!

Those of you who have spoken with me or read my work before know that I am big on preparing our individuals to decorations and changes in advance.  I know of some families and schools who slowly transition into the holidays with inside decorations.  One mother described the fact that they have pumpkins around the house from the beginning of October until the day after Thanksgiving for Halloween, along with fall decorations.  The day after Thanksgiving is the changeover day.  In the morning, they say goodbye to the pumpkins and put away the fall decorations while bringing out their Christmas tree.  They only set up the tree on that day to start the transition.  On Saturday, the lights go on the tree.  Then on Sunday, ornaments go on the tree, decorations come out, and the outside is decorated.  This mother stated that even with only a 24-hour gap, it is enough to assist in the transition and not create escalations.

Furthermore, be aware of the places you are traveling to.  Prepare the individuals by explaining to them what they will be seeing and experiencing.  Be ready to take things slow.  Whatever you are doing, make sure that you include the whole family.  Inclusion in all activities is so essential to overall fulfillment and happiness in our lives.  Lack of inclusion can also cause escalations.  Be aware of the focus of the individual and what they are hoping for.  I learned this the hard way one Christmas, when my son was much younger.  He and I slept on a pull-out couch in the room with the Christmas tree as he was intent on catching “Santa.” Well, “Santa” woke up at about 3:30 am, brought out the gifts, and filled his stocking.  Santa also ate the cookies which happened to be my…  I mean HIS favorites and tossed the carrots outside for the reindeer and animals to eat.  “Santa” was feeling pretty good about things until my son awoke and had one of his worst escalations ever.  He was inconsolable for almost an hour because he didn’t catch “Santa.”  Take time to understand their needs beyond what we might believe those needs to be!  He did learn soon after that the spirit of “Santa” lived on in all parents.  In the future, he was able to catch “Santa.”  It did mean that lots of noise had to be made or “Santa” had to even “accidentally” shake his bed to wake him.  

The most important thing when helping individuals is to take care of yourself first.  When you are feeling stressed and overwhelmed, it can take its toll and not allow us to be present in the moment.  Make sure you are engaging in self-care as well.  When we focus on ourselves and preparing our individuals for various activities and changes in routine, we can make this the most Wonderful Time of the Year!

Lessons of Hope

By: Dr. Raymond Heipp

 

For the 41st year, Teachers, Special Education Directors, Therapists, and so many others gathered in Minneapolis for the Closing the Gap Conference. This conference brings together people from all over the world for presentations and discussions that focus on multiple aspects of assistive technology and pedagogical applications. For four days of crisp fall weather, people came together and shared their ideas and devices which help so many individuals. Allow me to share some of the discussions which reverberated through the halls of the conference.

The first topic that came up in a number of places focused on products and devices that the students would want to use. The issue seen in many schools throughout the country is that some individuals do not wish to stand out to their peers and become resistant to utilizing certain products or devices. Even at the cost of not having the proper support or accessibility, some individuals would prefer to remain as anonymous as possible.

How do we make assistive technology as inconspicuous as possible? In my presentation, I addressed this idea by speaking about how to create a level of transparency with assistive devices, as well as incorporating sensory supports for all students. Talking with others as well, we described how the start of the process begins. We want to start incorporating various devices into usage within inclusive classrooms in the early years. Simple activities like using a Quick Talker as a way of having books “on tape” allowing all students to “read to themselves,” having a “You Are Awesome” Big Mack in your office, or utilizing Talking Brix2s as a way to have directions or other information at locations in the classroom can have lasting effects on demonstrating how those devices are simply technology which anyone can use.

Another topic on people’s minds was the ability to use devices for more than just one individual or one activity. This follows from our thoughts above. Because most devices are used in specific instances or only with specific individuals, the training for alternative uses of these devices is almost non-existent. This under-utilization of devices leads to cabinets full of assistive technology that are simply collecting dust. There really are many ways those devices can make a difference in the classroom. When you have questions about those cabinets full of these devices or want some other ideas as to how you can turn your current devices into multi-purpose devices, feel free to reach out to me. There are so many things that you can do with those devices and be able to work on desensitizing neurotypical individuals to the use of those devices.

One topic which was part of many presentations and had people talking was the usage of sensory supports and how they can best be shared by all students. Understanding the variety of sensory tools and promoting the use of the proper tool for each student is critical here. Using sensory tools which are both socially and classroom appropriate, along with the right tool for the individual will be of the highest benefit. Another important point to consider is the use of sensory tools for better focus and attention in both therapy settings and classroom settings. Again, you want to consider those sensory tools which are non-disruptive and simply provide sensory input.

An important discussion for many of us surrounded the proper support and training of teachers and therapists. We need to make sure that our professionals are not left to fend for themselves when having to introduce or support their individuals with devices. There are so many great trainers who do so much for overall training. Individuals like Kelly Fonner, Mo Buti, and Kelli Suding provide schools with professionals who share their experience and make it understandable for all. You also want to work with groups who will supply the training you need for specific devices like utilizing the experience of our own Jodi Szuter who understands all the intricacies of various types of reading pens and is an expert with the Cosmo. The critical piece is to find someone who is respected in the field and not aligned to a specific product or manufacturer so that you can have the best support tailored to your needs.

When we look at better understanding how we can use the technology in multiple manners and create environments which are supportive of our students through sensory tools, we find that our schools can be both a safe space, as well as a space which gives all the opportunity for access to learning. When we use those devices that are already in the classroom, we are maintaining levels of familiarity for both the teachers and the students. So even if we change the routine of how we use them, the change is not as overwhelming as in the introduction of new devices. Teachers have such amazing abilities, if we can just give them the tools and proper support around those tools, their classrooms become an even more arena of excellence.

The hope surrounding these ideas is real. As I spoke with so many, we agreed that there is so much potential in the future. By utilizing the ESSER III funds, looking ahead for how we can best support our students, and using the networks we have developed, we can enhance what we are doing and make the world a more accessible place for all.

Is ESSER III Right for Me?

 

As we enter 2024, we also enter the final months for the availability of ESSER III funding. This funding technically ends on September 30, 2024. However, the products that you are using the funds for must be purchased and delivered by that date. I have also heard of some districts that are seeking to have the funds encumbered by the end of this academic year to allow time for the shipping and receiving of products. I have been asked a lot of questions about these funds, so let’s address some of the ones that are asked the most.

How much money does my school have? Monies were distributed to districts, so how those funds might be allocated can vary. One thing to do first is to check your district website. Most districts have a page on their site that outlines how much funding they received and how those funds are being allocated. If you cannot find the web page with the correct answer, the next question may give you that information.

Whom should I contact about these funds? This is the most common question I was asked by both teachers and administrators. The reality is that ESSER funding is from the Federal Government. You want to reach out to the Director of Federal Funding in your district with questions. Many moderate and smaller sized districts may not have a specific individual with this title, so you may have to contact the Treasurer or CFO of the district. I have seen many districts where the funding was then allocated to schools and programs where there was a secondary lead figure. This is an important person to know as the remaining funds have more flexibility in what can be purchased.

Can I buy whatever I want? The simple answer is no. You want to work with your district leads to make sure that what you are hoping to order fits under both the federal and district guidelines. Unfortunately, some districts ran afoul of the government with ESSER I funds as those had very specific purposes. Anything outside of those purposes was misuse of the funding.

So, what can you use the funds for? You can use the funds for anything that supports students through overcoming any potential loss from learning that may have occurred on account of the pandemic and is still hindering the student’s ability to learn. This is where I have seen devices like the Reader Pen2, ScanMarker, Livescribe Pen, and switches or tools for access have been able to be purchased. Assistive Technology is one of the areas where fund usage is permissible.

What is covered under the idea of supporting mental health? This question has arisen from many districts. The implementation of sensory/calming rooms has demonstrated positive support for all students, especially those prone to escalation. Sensory room products can be purchased. The caveat is groups that want to include other classroom furniture. I have worked with some districts who thought that any chair or desk could be included. That is not always the case. Always work with your district to make sure that what you are getting again lies within the guidelines. In this case, a beanbag chair is acceptable while a standard desk chair may not be. Don’t think that you can only buy sensory room packages. Work with the groups that you trust to help in the design of a room that best meets your needs and the needs of your students. Both Jodi Szuter and I are available to support you with questions and recommendations.

I have time so do I have to worry about this now? Please start thinking about your plans now. Your district may have an end date for the encumberment of these funds. I know of several districts where that date is around the end of this academic year as I mentioned in the first paragraph. When you are dealing with federal funds, the end date means that you have already ordered AND received the products. If an audit were to be conducted on the following day, you could show the auditor the products or, at least, the boxes they are still in on district property. That is an important distinction as with other types of funding, the items simply need to be ordered and invoiced. There is a difference here and those in your district overseeing the funds will be focused on that. Another reason I bring this up is because there is still a global chip shortage. For example, there are still schools waiting for chip-driven devices like some types of screening devices and AEDs because of the lengthy delays in getting chips. We are seeing production of these chips going up, but still not catching up to the demands over the last few years. Be sure to work with your sales representative to determine if the products are available and will be able to be delivered on time. Another point to be aware of is the fact that some products are not even being manufactured anymore. That discussion with your sales representative will help to guide you the correct way.

There are a lot of groups speaking about “ESSER-approved” products. Is there a list somewhere? Please reach out to your lead in the district about this. There are some districts which are being more restrictive about the funding to protect everyone legally. There is no list of “ESSER-approved” devices, generally. Some groups may simply be referring to what other districts have purchased. It is better to ask the folks in your district first before simply placing the request with them. When I work with groups, we look at products that support potential learning loss, assistive technology, items that maintain a healthy physical environment (including air purifiers), and products which support mental health and well-being, like sensory products. Your district will have any specific information you might need.

Should I just stock up on cleaning supplies? The short answer is no. Utilize these funds to get those devices and products which best support the students and think about purchasing multiple items of products that can work for many students. I have seen large deployments of Reader Pen2s and ScanMarker Readers because of the overall impact devices like these have on learning. By utilizing these funds and thinking ahead, you can support the next several classes of students. I have seen some districts utilize their funds by purchasing AAC or access devices to have back-ups in case a student breaks or loses one. Think about what was difficult to purchase in the past and buy now. Cleaning supplies and simple items can be purchased annually when this funding ends.

If you do have any other questions, feel free to reach out to me at rheipp@schoolhealth.com and I will support you as best I can!

Simplifying the Start of the School Year

 

I ran into a former colleague of mine at a local community festival last week. After some quick catching up, I asked how the preparations for the new school year were coming along. He responded with, “It is not like it used to be. Remember how the first day of teacher in-service was the plenary meeting followed by the trend of the year training, lunch, and then department or grade level meetings? Day two was simply setting up your classroom, textbooks, and lists. Ah, the good ol’ days!”

So, I asked him what his upcoming teacher in-service days were going to look like. He shared that day one was going to be a series of technology trainings focused on logging in to the new school system daily, proper email access, the new student management system and how to handle grades with attendance, updating and maintaining a webpage, and the proper methods for digital documentation for any classroom or parental issues. Day two was going to have the morning filled with state and federal updates (I did clarify that the blood-borne pathogens video would be part of these sessions!) while the afternoon session was a brief one led by the counselors on how to support the students.

To say I was shocked was a mild understatement! Where are the meetings with the departments or grade levels? Where is the focus on the student and the teacher – not on the administrative tasks? Now let me also state that there are many districts with whom I have spoken where more student-centric sessions are being conducted. I also know of districts where the conversations are focused on access and holistic support. Unfortunately, those do not appear to be the norm.  Even my son, who has entered the ranks of substitute teachers this year as he pursues his acting career, shared with me that he had a two-hour session completely focused on the “acceptable” ways to interact with students. The videos all focused on what not to do, without giving solid strategies for positive interactions. At the end of my meeting with my former colleague, he asked, “How would you recommend the school year start? Let me know as I will look to start next year differently.”

All of the described topics are very important for teachers, administrators, substitutes, and other staff to understand. Focusing on those at the beginning of the year does not always set a good tone for what we are attempting to do in school though – educating our students. These topics can be interspersed with other important student and teacher-centric topics as well as be presented in a virtual format with accountability measures built in to know that the material was reviewed. How can we align topics like the ones above with solid professional development at the beginning of the year? Simplify!

What I mean by simplifying is not to water down information or minimize it in any manner. Instead, review what needs to be shared and the way that information can be shared. After my conversation, I connected with colleagues throughout the country to see how they were handling the start of the year.  Major topics varied from district to district and state to state.  here were several that stood out, though, and those will serve as the basis for our simplified start to the school year.

1. Focus on the teachers - I had a couple of interesting ideas from administrators regarding this.  The one that stood out to me was an administrator who sent out a message in July asking each teacher to list out their three most important ideas for the upcoming school year. All the ideas were placed on a list and the suggestion mentioned the most was given a 90-minute block for discussion and idea sharing. In this school, there were eight suggestions that received four or more people bringing it up. Obviously, the first suggestion had its own session for everyone. The other seven sessions were each given a classroom and two 60-minute sessions.  her day was divided like this:

  • 8:30-9:00 introduction to the day
  • 9:00-10:30 most mentioned topic
  • 10:45-11:45 Session 1
  • 11:45 – 12:30 Lunch
  • 12:45-1:45 Session 2  
  • 2:00-3:00 Session 3

Each of the sessions contained seven rooms with each room dedicated to one of the other ideas. By the end of the day, teachers had attended four sessions, three of which they selected on their own. That was purposely done on day one so that the teachers knew they were being heard. Day two began with a 60-minute session by the administrator on the most important updates she had to share along with a link to videos she and others created to go more in-depth on those topics. There was also a two-hour session which focused on mental health support for the students and faculty. After lunch, there were brief grade level meetings and then time for classroom set-up.  

2. Create Sessions that can be used with all students - Years ago, some of us would see sessions that focused on specific groups of students or sessions that had great ideas but limited examples of how to utilize them throughout the year. Think about any experiences you might have had with interesting and potentially great sessions which died on the vine because the ideas were presented in a vacuum with no follow-up by anyone. Don’t minimize the time allotted to these sessions either. If the session and idea behind it is important for the students, then it is important enough to have significant amounts of time given to it initially and on a regular basis

3. Give Teachers the time for their own preparation - I remember back in the mid-80s, the first day of school was relegated to handing out textbooks and writing down the correct textbook number by each student’s name as well as developing a seating chart. Imagine that the first day of class was filled with administrative tasks for the students! We have come a long way.  However, teachers and administrators alike need time for the final touches on classroom and student preparation. Build that into the in-service days as well. That takes pressure off teachers by not having all classroom prep be done on their own time at the end of the summer.

4. Make the Classroom as User-friendly as possible - Set up the classroom with an organizational mindset to help facilitate the classroom behaviors you wish to see from them. Use color-coded areas for things like homework or daily activities. Have visual cues throughout the classroom to assist in understanding what goes on in certain areas. Have some simple AAC devices like Talking Brix2 or Big Macks in places where auditory reinforcement would be helpful. Finally, as you are creating presentations and videos for the students, make sure they are accessible with captioning and alt text to enable a larger number of students and their parents the ability to access them through different media. By creating accessible materials initially, you set the tone of inclusivity along with having materials that can be used and easily updated for years to come.

5. If it can be done and accessed by video, MAKE A VIDEO! - Administrators, review some of the administrative topics you must make sure the faculty and staff understand. Can you turn what you were going to say into a video? If so, do it and put it into a library where only individuals with permissions can access them. Speak to your IT people as well and learn if you can also receive reports on when people accessed these videos. That way, you have a record of their viewing. A question I get asked often is, “What if they simply turn on the video and walk away? Then they did not learn what they needed to learn.” My response to that is you have no way of making sure that they would be paying attention in person either. So, use your time with them for information to which they will pay attention.  

Teachers, make accessible videos for your students with instructions and guides that they can refer to at any time. These videos are helpful for those with processing issues as they can go back, watch, and listen to your information multiple times.

There are five ideas to help simplify the start of the academic year by focusing on what we can do to best support our students. Again, the other administrative information is important, but can also be shared in ways that support the members of the school community. The old days weren’t always better, and we did not have all the advantages that faculties have today because of technology. In the same way, the advantage we did have is that there was more simplicity in approach, and we did not have the same levels of information or anxiety as individuals have today. Simplify and your year will begin well!