That’s Not Fair! Teaching Kids the Difference Between Fair and Equal

By Barbara Gruener

That’s not fair! Teaching Kids the Difference Between Fair and EqualYou’ve probably heard cries of, “That’s not fair!” a time or two in the recent past. Let’s face it: Life doesn’t always seem fair, especially to our young people. Once they adjust their thinking, however, and can understand and appreciate the simple fact that fair doesn’t always mean equal, it doesn’t seem as insurmountable an issue.

But, how do we effectively concretize that abstract concept?

Start by using the eye-opening example of wearing prescription eyewear. After asking students if fair means equal (their typical response is a resounding, “yes!”), respectfully demand that everyone with glasses remove them because it’s not “fair” if some have glasses while the rest of the class doesn’t. This will challenge their thinking about fair meaning we’re all the same.

Then, use the one-size-fits-all bandage metaphor. Ask students to share aloud the most serious injury they can think of: a broken leg, a concussion, a laceration that requires stitches. As they share their answers, hand each of them a small bandage to fix their injury, no matter how big it is.

Finally, announce that you’re giving a WOW Award. Watch how straight and tall students sit as you contemplate who the recipient will be. Select someone who has something like you, maybe blue eyes, brown hair, or a white shirt. Explain to them how you chose that person and expect shouts of, “That’s not fair!” Let students explain why it’s not and what they think would be a fair way to determine criteria for an award.

Unpack each of these examples to check for understanding before asking again if fair means equal. It’s likely that their thinking will have changed a little bit.

In all fairness, we must teach students two key words and their definitions from Merriam-Webster to better understand the idea of fairness:

Equality: the quality or state of being equal; the quality or state of having the same rights, social status, etc.

Equity: fairness or justice in the way people are treated

Dealing with Unfairness: Six Tips for KidsYounger students will likely need your help understanding the difference. Simply put, fairness isn’t about everything being equal, but about leveling the playing field so that people get what they need when they need it.

Once students understand and can discern between equality and equity, glean examples from their everyday life and use them as prompts in a game of “Fair or Foul?” Do these scenarios hit a fair ball or a foul ball in the game of life? If foul, how can they be changed to make the situation fair? Some scenarios you can use are:

  • Your older sister gets to stay up later than you.
  • Your brother got money for his birthday and you didn’t.
  • Your friend brings her ball to school but won’t let you play with it.
  • Nick always gets to be the line leader.
  • You save a seat for someone in the cafeteria.
  • Your friend lets you cut in line in front of him at the drinking fountain.

Once you’ve played a few rounds, let your students supply the next few prompts to get a sneak peek into their world. Then, turn to literature to find more models for what’s fair and what’s not. Use the following titles to help students reflect on how the characters in these stories resolved their fairness frustrations:

A few more strong titles include:

Finally, keep the lines of communication open and give students permission to discuss their thoughts and feelings when life doesn’t seem fair. Ask them what they want or need to resolve their conflicts. Help them become problem solvers by listening to their concerns and offering equitable options to help strengthen their voices and choices as they work to negotiate life so that it feels fair for everyone.

Bonus! Download Dealing with Unfairness, a free printable page from What’s Up with My Family? These six tips will help kids keep their cool when life isn’t fair.

Barbara GruenerCurrently in her 32nd year as an educator, Barbara Gruener, a school counselor and character coach at Bales Intermediate School in Friendswood, Texas, has had the pleasure of working with kids from every grade level. Author of the blog The Corner on Character and the book What’s Under Your Cape? SUPERHEROES of the Character Kind, Barbara enjoys positively influencing change through her inspirational keynotes and interactive workshops. When she’s not working, you can bet Barbara is knitting, baking, writing, reading, walking, gardening, napping, or spending time with her husband and their three children.

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

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Posted in Character Education, Early Childhood, Teaching Strategies | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Every Child Is Different: Possible Signs of Sexual Abuse

By Allison Wedell Schumacher

Every Child Is Different: Possible Signs of Sexual AbuseIf you’re a parent or early childhood educator, you don’t need me to tell you that every child is different, meaning behavior that signifies a problem in one child may signify absolutely nothing in another. Is she suddenly refusing to eat green beans, which were her favorite food up until last week? Maybe she’s coming down with the stomach flu or some terrible allergy. Or, maybe her best friend at preschool told her green beans are what vegetarian zombies eat and no normal person should touch them (yes, I’ve actually heard this one).

Nobody Knows Them Better
Vegetarian zombies notwithstanding, my point is that although this blog post is about recognizing signs of abuse in young children, what it’s really about is recognizing signs of abuse in your young child. And since no one knows your young child better than you do, no one else is better qualified to recognize a red flag than you.

Depending on your temperament, this could get you dangerously close to paranoia. Believe me, I get it. I slept (although “worried” is probably a more accurate verb) on the floor beside my daughter’s crib when, as an infant, she got her first cold. That kind of paranoia is not what I’m hoping to invoke here, which is why, before I provide you with a list of possible signs and symptoms to keep an eye out for, I’m going to tell you the single best way to find out what’s going on in your child’s life.

Sorry. It’s not a magic bullet. You had probably already guessed it, but it’s so unbelievably important it bears constant reiteration: The key to keeping children safe is talking with them.

This actually comes in two parts, especially for young children:

  1. Keeping the lines of communication open.
  2. Giving children the vocabulary to tell you something if they need to.

Part 1: We’re Listening
My husband and I have personally found that the best way to keep the lines of communication open with our daughter is to make it clear to her that we’re listening to all the trivial, unimportant stuff (“Tara’s mom bought her new Sketchers, but she doesn’t like the color so she’s not gonna wear them!”). That way, she knows she can tell us the important stuff as well (“Miss Mindy gave us a big secret and told us not to tell,” after a small heart attack, I calmly confirmed that the secret was not a touching secret or anything that could hurt my daughter. It turned out to be a secret art project she was making for her dad and me for Christmas. We then had a long talk about the difference between secrets and surprises.)

Part 2: The Right Words
Studies show that sometimes the reason young children often don’t disclose sexual abuse is because they don’t have the vocabulary to do so. This is why it’s important that young children know, for example, the correct words for their private body parts. Having these conversions frequently makes them less uncomfortable and less stigmatized.

Now that we’ve talked about talking, let’s talk about symptoms that could signify abuse in younger children. Below is a summary of signs of abuse enumerated in a Committee for Children article on the same subject, which is part of a greater suite of short videos and articles all about how to talk to your child in ways that can keep him or her safe from sexual abuse. If you see these symptoms, talk to your child about them. If they persist, discuss them with your doctor or the counselor at your child’s school.

Behavioral Signs
Here are some examples of behavioral signs to watch out for that could indicate your child has experienced abuse or some other trauma or stressor:

  • Pretending to be younger or expressing a desire to be younger
  • Sudden fear at being with a certain person or certain type of person (men with beards, for example)
  • Change in attitude toward touching (not wanting hugs, for example)
  • Sexual content in play or drawings
  • Anxiety, anger, or depression

Physical Signs
Similarly, there are certain physical signs that could indicate sexual abuse or other trauma for your child:

  • Change in appetite
  • Change in sleep habits
  • Soiling or wetting clothes and/or bed
  • Pain or itching in genital area

Take a Deep Breath
None of us wants to imagine our child experiencing something so awful and traumatic as sexual abuse. For me, that makes it tempting to stick my head in the sand and pretend it’s not going to happen at all. But I know it’s a very real danger, and the best way to avoid it is to talk about it with my child. And if the worst does happen, I want to know the signs so that I can get help for her immediately and make sure it stops.

Allison Wedell SchumacherAllison Wedell Schumacher is a freelance writer, editor, and mom whose diverse work focuses on child abuse prevention, bullying prevention, social-emotional learning, fitness, and theater/acting. She is the author of Shaking Hands with Shakespeare: A Teenager’s Guide to Reading and Performing the Bard (Simon and Schuster, 2004), and her work has been featured here and at,, and Committee for Children. You can find her on LinkedIn.

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How to Find Work-Life Balance as a Teacher

By Andrew Hawk

How to Find Work-Life Balance as a TeacherThe concept of an eight-hour workday was designed long ago to help employees find an appropriate balance between work and family. The idea was simple: eight hours to work, eight hours to be with loved ones, and eight hours to sleep. Though the idea is basic, it is very effective to help adults live lives that are both happy and productive. The problem is that some professions do not always give their workers the opportunity to capitalize on the eight-hour system.

Teaching is one such profession. It is possible, at times, for a teacher to fit life into the eight-hour system. Theoretically, a teacher can capitalize on planning times to complete a large portion of his or her grading and resource preparation. The teacher can then use a portion of the weekend to complete weekly lesson plans. This may take two to four hours on Saturday and Sunday, depending on the teacher and teaching position. All of this is possible, and a system like this probably works for many teachers.

Pieces That Do Not Fit
However, there are parts of teaching that have not been factored into this equation. These factors include things like being a member of a school committee, being a sponsor for an extracurricular activity, offering tutoring services for struggling students, attending professional workshops (often a yearly requirement), being placed in charge of an optional project, grant writing, and of course, continuing education (a legal requirement in some states). These are the professional factors. Personal factors can be anything from an extended illness to the death of a loved one. Personal factors are unavoidable and often place teachers in impossible situations where they are expected to complete highly scrutinized tasks while in the midst of stressful situations.

The Danger of Burnout
In the middle of all of this, teachers must be able to find the appropriate balance between work and life, or they will fall victim to the dreadful teacher burnout. Once teachers reach that point, they either leave the field or struggle to continue teaching (often with a less than desirable attitude). I teach in the state of Indiana. We currently have a shortage of teachers that have more than ten years of teaching experience, and teacher burnout is widely accepted as the cause of this situation. Here are a few Do’s and Don’ts that can help teachers stay fresh and continue working toward perfecting their craft:

Do Realize There Are Times You Will Be Out of Balance
Teachers must recognize that there are going to be phases of the school year when their lives are out of balance. The reasons and times for this will vary from teaching position to teaching position, but it will happen at some point. This is okay, and these periods can be overcome with little or no struggles if you have the right plan, which brings us to my next “Do.”

Do Plan Long Term
How far in the future you need to plan will depend on your individual position. Being a special education teacher, I start off the year writing the necessary dates for my IEP meetings on a calendar. This way, I can identify what times of the year I will have the most extra work to complete (drafting the IEPs). I have had periods where I had to host ten IEP meetings over a series of three days. Each IEP can take up to four hours to prepare, depending on the student’s needs. IEPs are highly scrutinized legal documents. Completing them correctly is crucial to my position. When I have IEP meetings in clusters, I make and follow a strict schedule to space out the period over which I draft them. This helps me prevent being overwhelmed and overworked.

Similarly, I can remember being an elementary classroom teacher preparing for parent-teacher conferences. This presented the same kind of challenge as I tried to finish report cards, collect work samples, schedule the conferences, and still complete all of my typical tasks. No matter what teaching position you hold, there will be a time when you are overworked (hopefully for only a short period of time). Planning and prioritizing is the best way to handle these periods.

Do Include Your Family in the Planning
One family member being overworked can really upset the balance of a happy home. If you have family at home, talk to them about the periods when your work will put your life out of balance. Often, teachers can lean on their family for support if the family understands the reason for and duration of the extra work. Merely entering into these periods and assuming that family members will know what is going on will often lead to friction in the household.

Do Plan Brain Breaks for Yourself
These short periods that teachers often offer to their students are important for adults, too. It’s hard to stay engaged in professional tasks for long periods of time. Plan something mindless for yourself to do when your mind is numb from work-related tasks. I have heard teachers say they enjoy doing something that takes little or no concentration, such as washing the dishes. Adult coloring is something that is becoming very trendy right now. You can find coloring books geared toward adults, and coloring is said to be very effective for helping people decompress.

Do Choose the Right Continuing Education Program
Many teachers pursue a master’s degree at some point in their career. It’s important to find one that is going to be the right fit for you. Traditional and online programs both have advantages and disadvantages. Some online programs are self-paced with no hard deadlines for work completion, and some traditional programs offer classes only on the weekends to accommodate teachers’ work schedules. Working on master’s level classes is a major commitment that should not be entered into lightly. When the time comes, this is another situation where planning with your family will be vital to a smoothly running household.

Don’t Be Afraid to Say No
It’s important to know your limits. If you’re feeling stretched thin and your principal asks you to take on an extra duty, just say no. Even if he or she is disappointed, it is still better than having your work performance drop across the board.

Don’t Keep Working Once You Reach “That Point”
That point is different for everyone, but most teachers will know what I am talking about: It’s the point when your focus is diminishing. When you reach this point, call it a night and start fresh the next day.

Don’t Always Put Your Family Second
There are always going to be tough choices for teachers. Do I go to my sister’s birthday party, or do I go to my school’s family night? Prioritize and let your family win at least half the time.

Andrew HawkAndrew Hawk has worked in public education for fourteen years, starting as a teaching assistant in a special education classroom. He has taught first, second, and fifth grade as a classroom teacher, and for the past three years, has worked as a resource room teacher, providing services for fourth and fifth graders. Working as a special education teacher has given him the opportunity to work with a variety of age groups and exceptionalities. In 2011, he earned his master’s degree in special education from Western Governor’s University. When Andrew is not preparing for school, he enjoys spending time with his wife and daughter.

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

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Strategies for Successful Co-Teaching

By Kelli J. Esteves, Ed.D., and Elizabeth Whitten, Ph.D., coauthors of RTI in Middle School Classrooms: Proven Tools and Strategies

Strategies for Successful Co-TeachingWe asked middle school teachers to share the questions and concerns they have about co-teaching in schools that have implemented response to intervention. The questions they asked get to the heart of what it takes to make co-teaching successful while meeting the diverse needs of the students.

Do you have suggestions for helping classroom teachers become open to the idea of co-teaching?
—Ashley Ristau, special education teacher

Co-teaching has the potential to make a profoundly positive impact on learners. An inclusive classroom can lessen the social stigma associated with segregating students who struggle academically and/or behaviorally from their peers. It lowers the student-to-teacher ratio for all students, and it offers the opportunity to model collaboration, something we routinely ask of our students.

When considering these benefits, why do some teachers resist the idea? First, make certain your colleagues know what you mean by “co-teaching.” To many, co-teaching involves one teacher carrying the heavy load of planning, teaching, and assessing while the other wanders aimlessly around the room, silently judging and critiquing his or her partner. Who would be open to that type of partnership? Make it clear that you are suggesting a partnership that involves encouraging and supporting one another in a shared effort to teach all students. Suggest different co-teaching models that meaningfully and actively engage both teachers and all learners in the lessons. Point out the potential for real-time, in-context professional development. Teaching is so wonderfully dynamic and complex that, regardless of your career stage, you have something to offer and something to learn. If a colleague is not initially open to the idea of co-teaching, suggest that it could be a chance to strengthen one another’s pedagogy. When you are co-teaching, notice an aspect of teaching that your partner does well and intentionally study it. Don’t forget to tell your co-teaching partner how you are learning and growing based on the time spent together.

Of the five models of co-teaching (complementary, station, parallel, alternative, or shared), what do you feel is the best one to use at the middle school level?
—Margaret Livingston, special education teacher

All five models can be used at the middle school level. Both teachers’ knowledge and experience as well as the lesson plan drive the choice of the model or models used during a lesson. Complementary teaching is perhaps the most traditional approach to co-teaching. The lead teacher takes primary responsibility for teaching the lesson but is supported by input from the support teacher. Often, when a co-teaching team is new and/or the special education teacher is in the beginning stages of exposure to the content, a complementary teaching model is most beneficial. A more experienced co-teaching team may begin the lesson with a complementary teach and then, for the last twenty minutes of the lesson, move to a parallel teach that benefits from small group delivery and instruction. In the parallel teach, the students are divided into two or more groups to reduce the student-to-teacher ratio allowing the teachers to generate a higher student response rate.

Examples of Using Co-Teaching Models at Each RTI TierWhen introducing new content with multiple objectives, it may be most effective to utilize a station teach model by chunking the information and dividing the class into groups that rotate through the stations. Students who do not understand the content can be pulled into an alternative teach after the lesson or at some point during the school day. This alternative model of instruction takes on a different form to better meet the individual learning needs of the student. Shared teaching is used when the content of the lesson is jointly delivered to the whole group. Often, co-teachers use this model in combination with other models.

Once you become familiar with the five models of co-teaching, don’t be afraid to experiment with the models by using two or more during one lesson. Use the models to enhance your lesson and ensure the students comprehend the content. A successful co-teaching experience can make teaching exhilarating!

Bonus! Download Examples of Using Co-Teaching Models at Each RTI Tier from RTI in Middle School Classrooms.

I know co-teaching requires co-planning. How can I best and most effectively co-teach if my co-planning time is limited?
—April Enicks, special education supervisor

Co-planning involves relationship-building, and both aspects are essential for successful co-teaching partnerships. Ideally, co-teachers will find a large block of time early in each semester for long-range planning. Meeting face-to-face for in-depth discussions will pay off in the long run. Daily or weekly check-ins will also be necessary, but these can be done electronically if face-to-face conversations are not possible. Using cloud-based systems like GoogleDocs, Evernote, or Dropbox for lesson planning and assessment can be very helpful.

Co-planning involves more than designing lessons. Early on in co-teaching partnerships, educators should take time to get to know one another personally and professionally. Discussion of topics such as why you chose to become a teacher, your educational philosophy, and the expectations you have of teachers and students will build empathy and understanding. In order for co-teaching to work, you don’t need to have perfect alignment of ideologies, but you do need to have an understanding. You can even agree to disagree. These efforts will go a long way in building the level of trust needed for planning, teaching, assessing, and reflecting together.

Co-teaching with multiple partners can make this level of investment difficult, and you may need to find other ways to get to know your colleagues throughout the school year. Because so much time and energy goes into relationship-building, a strong case can be made for co-teachers to stay together from year to year. When there is continuity, teachers can work more efficiently and effectively.

The reality is that you will need to make time for co-planning and relationship-building. Once you create it, you need to protect it because it is absolutely necessary for co-teaching to be successful.

How do special education teachers share a general education teacher’s classroom without stepping on his or her toes?
—Mindy McNulty, special education teacher

If you have already co-taught, then you know there are a range of obstacles to overcome, from lack of administrative support to personality conflicts. Often, teachers are not given the choice on whether they co-teach, and as a result, the attitudes of teachers toward co-teaching may hinder success. First and foremost, if one or both of you do not feel adequately prepared to engage in this form of instruction, the success will be hindered. Frequently, this can be addressed through schoolwide professional development.

Another key ingredient to avoid stepping on each other’s toes is ensuring you have adequate time to engage in lesson design and evaluation. Toes are most likely to be stepped on when you have not had the time to plan your lessons and delineate your roles and expectations.

What can co-teachers do to educate themselves on the best practices of co-teaching?
—Evelyn Phillips, special education teacher

Support for co-teaching is a reciprocal process—general and special education teachers learn and support one another as they plan, teach, assess, and reflect while co-teaching. Some activities to support this process are as follows:

• Attend a professional conference together to gain more knowledge on best practices. This experience not only allows you to learn from the conference content, but you also have an opportunity to spend time together and strengthen your relationship.

• Read the same article or book that focuses on effective teaching, collaborative practices, or a specific area of need at the district level. Share reflections of the reading through GoogleDocs, Evernote, Dropbox, etc., or talk about it over coffee or lunch.

• Plan together and present a short in-service for your staff on the models of co-teaching with examples on how you have co-taught.

• Share a strategy of the week with each other to increase your bank of evidence-based strategies. Keep the list of strategies at hand to draw from when planning your co-teaching.

There are many more activities in which co-teaching partners can engage, but it is best to pick one that appeals to both of you and stick with it for nine weeks or a semester. Most importantly, don’t give up!

If you have questions about RTI and co-teaching, please let us know. Contact us at and

Kelli J. Esteves, Ed.D.Kelli Esteves, is an assistant professor of education at Butler University in Indianapolis, Indiana. Kelli has experience as a special education teacher and reading specialist in the Rockford (MI) Public Schools.

Elizabeth Whitten, Ph.D.Elizabeth Whitten, is a professor of special education and literary studies at Western Michigan University. Prior to her eighteen years in higher education, Elizabeth was a teacher and administrator.

Free Spirit books by Kelli and Elizabeth:

RTI SuccessRTIinMiddleSchoolClassrooms

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

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Posted in Teaching Strategies | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Friday Link Roundup

Free Spirit's Friday Link Roundup“Relationships matter,” says Free Spirit author and executive director/CEO of ASCD Deb Delisle. Students, especially disadvantaged students, face great challenges these days. What adults can do is listen, offer support, and make the learning environment a safe one. You’ll be touched by some of the stories of teachers maintaining connections with students for years after they’ve left their classrooms.

Same chorus, different song: Edutopia names “3 Things Students Desire to Hear From Teachers.”

Research and a multitude of success stories show that mentors and other adult role models can have profound positive effects on the lives of disadvantaged teens. As David Shapiro, the CEO of The National Mentoring Partnership, said, “Just as the federal government can see something like health care as a basic need, mentoring should be that, too.”

You may remember reading about Buddy Benches not too long ago. A Buddy Bench is a place on a school playground where kids can go sit if they’re feeling lonely or want someone to play with or talk to. When other kids see someone on the Buddy Bench, they know that person needs a buddy—so they fill the role. Well, Buddy Benches are still going strong, as this story on Teaching Tolerance points out: There are now at least 1,000 Buddy Benches on playgrounds worldwide. It’s a great way to encourage an inclusive school environment, as you’ll see from the stories at the link.

From 2E Educator, here are tips for managing the “often puzzling and sometimes disruptive behavior” of twice-exceptional kids.

If you have a child with LD who’s in or approaching middle school, it’s important for her to begin learning to advocate for herself. The first step is to help her accept her learning differences. Smart Kids with LD provides tips for helping your child accept LD.

Also from Smart Kids with LD: Parents of kids with LD need to be able share their child’s learning profile with other adults in his life, from teachers and healthcare providers to friends and family. Here’s help with “Educating Others About Your Child’s LD.”

Educator Jeremy Knoll tells of an encounter with hate speech at his school mere minutes after winter break ended. His approach with the two students involved—as well as a personal story he tells from his own past—illustrate just how pervasive and powerful this kind of language can be. (Warning: post contains a homophobic slur.)

A few Ed Tech notes:

Here are four ways to make good use of the cloud.

Teen-founded nonprofit Project CODEt hopes to close the gender gap in computer coding.

Parents dread them, kids love them: snow days. But, some districts are passing measures to reduce snow days by moving learning online when the weather prevents students from getting to school.

Special Ed accommodations are supposed to help kids, but sometimes the technology designed to help them works against them.

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

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