Educators: What’s on Your Bucket List?

Educators: What’s on Your Bucket List?As an educator with a new school year underway, you may already have a lengthy to-do list, but do you also have a career bucket list? That is, do you have a list of goals or desired experiences you’d like to complete as an educator before you retire?

Having a career bucket list can be energizing and motivating—sharing your bucket list can be inspiring, which is why we invited the Free Spirit Advisory Board to share their career bucket lists.

Have your own bucket list? Share it with us in the comments below.

1. Further my own education and training.
2. Conduct more research/investigations concerning the poverty cycle.
3. See the end to extensive testing.
Katie, elementary school teacher

1. Write a social-emotional curriculum.
2. Present at a conference.
3. Conduct a parent workshop.
Jenny, school psychologist

1. To teach 10,000 students before I retire. But I’m only at 6,055 and will probably retire in the next seven or eight years. (If you count my YouTube views, I’ve far surpassed that goal.)
2. To be the teacher who kids remember fondly and with love. I want them to remember what I taught them, too.
3. To get a doctorate.
4. To be our state’s Teacher of the Year.
Nancy, rock star teacher

My bucket list as an educator expands to a more micro-level. I love my role in children’s mental health and assisting children at their most difficult moments and helping them transcend their individual barriers in order to succeed by their definition of the word.
1. I would love to make a more lasting impact by continuing my education and pursuing a LICSW with a specialty in educational technology—I want to knock down as many barriers as I can between kids and education, whether it be academic education, emotional education, or independent life skills education.
2. I would love to write a book that speaks to teens in crisis that is empowering and gives these teens practical tools to access important resources, tips on how to speak with adults, and guidance for learning power dynamics between themselves and the adults in their lives.
3. I’m also passionate about emerging technology because it is so important to the newer generations, so I would love to be in a position to teach workshops and consult with youth nonprofits on improving their processes and creating more efficient ways to complete paperwork so they can truly focus on their clients.
Michelle, case manager

If I could do anything, without any thoughts to money and time:
1. Get my doctorate.
2. Tutor struggling children free of charge.
3. Start a school where I can cherry-pick the best of the best educators to work—those who aren’t afraid of change, who are innovative, who only think of the kids and what’s best for them.
Liz, district SRBI (RTI) coordinator

1. Start a money-making educational blog to help teachers.
2. Travel around the world giving workshops on gifted education.
3. See again my first class of students from the first year I started teaching.
Felicia, talented & gifted K–6 teacher

Oh heavens, my bucket list is long!
1. I’d like to create a student-led coffee shop in the school, where my SPED students could learn job skills and have social interactions with more students and staff!
2. I’d like to see our Student Child Learning Center (childcare) be remodeled to allow for new materials for student-parents and their children.
3. I’d like for every one of my seniors to have a plan for life after high school.
Rebecca, SPED counselor

I am an educator with twenty-four years’ experience. I finished my master’s degree in 2001. One of the bucket list items for me is to mentor new teachers.
Gina, music teacher

My bucket list:
Open a “hang-out” space for children and teens with ASD where there would be a meditation space, video game room, massages, and lounge with food and drinks where they could use their own money, and in this place, all of their therapies could take place—PT, OT, SLP, etc.
Rebecca, ASD behavioral coach


The Free Spirit Advisory Board of Educators is a group of professionals who provide feedback that helps make Free Spirit books be even more beneficial for kids, teens, and the adults who care about them. Interested in becoming a member? Recruitment is ongoing! For more information about the benefits and responsibilities of membership, download our Free Spirit Advisory Board flyer and our Free Spirit Advisory Board application.

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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Mindfulness Strategies for Anger Management

By Barbara Gruener

Mindfulness Strategies for Anger ManagementOkay, I’ll admit it: When I was growing up, I had no idea how to deal with my anger well. Not one little bit. During my formative years, I was sent to my room to get over my bad attitude more times than I care to admit. (Bad attitude was code for being angry.) It was so out of control that when I got to college, I overheard my sister warn my roommates: Just don’t make her mad.

I shudder to think back to those years, but I share my story to give you a glimpse at why it’s so important to me that children learn at an early age how to process their feelings in healthy ways, especially those uncomfortable ones like frustration and anger.

Looking back, I wish I’d had someone to talk through those emotions with me, to validate and normalize those wayward thoughts, to help me understand how the thoughts were connected to my feelings, and to teach me to recognize the physical cues that my anger was starting to boil. Without that point person, I was secluded in my sanctuary, where my number one bad-attitude-busting coping skill was journaling. I wrote letters, I made lists, and I scribbled. Furiously. And super hard. I found it soothing to scream and shout through the pen. When words escaped me, I drew pictures. Pictures of storms like the one raging inside of my head, heart, and hands. I found strength in the power of the pen to stay mindfully aware of what was happening in the moment and to lean into the pain of my anger appropriately.

Another therapeutic resource that I turned to during those angry years was music. Listening to new-age music during those times alone in my room helped me de-escalate and find my way back from my explosive emotions. As an alternative, I would go to my piano and bang away on the keys, furiously fingering the ivories, and emoting like crazy, until the chaos in my soul was released and a calm would move from my heart through my head to my fingertips, the tune being played changing to match my mood. Turns out, music is an instrumental way to stay fully present and in the moment as we process our uncomfortable feelings.

A third strategy that helped me work through anger was physical activity. I’d put on my workout clothes, lace up my shoes, and go running, jump rope, get on the swing in our barn’s hayloft, or hop on my bike and ride away my frustrations. It’s no secret that exercise feels good, but it also has benefits for our brains. Dr. John Medina, author of Brain Rules, likens physical activity to cognitive candy, so it follows that moving can serve as a healthy response to cognitively understanding our explosive emotions.

As you might imagine, my Mount Vesuvius behavior eventually landed me in therapy, during which a wise counselor challenged me to think about anger not as something that I was choosing, but rather as an emotion that was choosing me. He added not to think of anger as good or bad, but just to accept it as it is. What’s important, he repeatedly reminded me, is how we react when anger attaches itself to us. Once I learned some additional coping strategies to keep my angry feelings in check, life started to feel so much better for me because relationships became easier to make and keep.

What are some other ways in which we might help our children process their big feelings of frustration and anger? When we know how we want to handle our anger and when we practice these calming resources ahead of time, we’ll be more equipped to choose an effective technique when anger threatens to overcome and overwhelm us.

Ask students to highlight at least five strategies from this list that they might be willing to try next time the angries sneak up and choose them.

  1. Talk it out with someone you trust.
  2. Go to a calm-down corner and wrap up in a weighted blanket.
  3. Soak in a warm bath; blow bubbles for an added deep-breathing benefit.
  4. Take a run through a nature preserve or a park.
  5. Squeeze a stress ball or manipulate play dough, putty, or clay.
  6. Watch something funny and laugh (out loud!).
  7. Punch a punching bag, pillow, mattress, or couch.
  8. Slowly count up to 10 (or 50 or 100) and back down again.
  9. Take deep cleansing breaths. Exhale for twice as long as you inhale.
  10. Spend some time with a pet or a favorite stuffed animal.
  11. Go outside for fresh air; find a swing or a rocker to soothe you.
  12. Dance. Make it silly. Or serious. Or both.
  13. Walk briskly around a labyrinth or a track.
  14. Bake something. Then share it with someone special.
  15. Do 100 jumping jacks. Add push-ups or other exercise as needed.
  16. Dig in the dirt or do some weeding outside in a flower or vegetable garden.
  17. Paint or engage in meditative coloring.
  18. Use fuse beads to create something. Ask a parent to iron it for you.
  19. Breathe with intention through your favorite yoga stretches or poses.
  20. Write a poem or a story.
  21. Sing your favorite song. Or hum or whistle.
  22. Make a list of everything you’re grateful for.
  23. Scent rice or cotton balls with essential oils to run your fingers through.
  24. Go for a swim. Or just find a strong waterfall to listen to and enjoy.
  25. Escape with a good book.

Once students have identified the strategies they’d be willing to try, encourage them to identify two additional strategies not on the list that they think could also help them.

Since anger tends to choose us based on the thoughts we have about something that doesn’t quite seem right to us, one final suggestion to stay in the moment while processing anger is to unlock those thoughts with thought-stopping or thought-switching. To thought-stop, say “Stop” out loud each time your mind takes you back to the angry thought. If simply telling your brain to stop thinking something isn’t quite sufficient, try switching the thought to something more pleasant. Looking for the bright side, the blessings in the burden, isn’t easy to do, especially in the throes of anger, but with practice, it can be an effective way to understand, embrace, and walk through those difficult emotions without judgment before they get you sent to your room.

Consider these picture books to mindfully increase emotional literacy.

Barbara GruenerCurrently in her 34th 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.

FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2017 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved.

Posted in Counselor's Corner, Social & Emotional Learning | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

How to Help Parents Navigate the IEP Process

By Andrew Hawk

How to Help Parents Navigate the IEP ProcessHaving spent the last eleven years as a teacher, including eight as a special education teacher, I have been through the IEP process numerous times. Last month, I moved to the other side of the table as my three-year-old daughter completed the IEP process as a student with a language impairment. I have to say that even after spending almost my entire adult life working in public education, the IEP process was still stressful when it focused on my own child. It’s hard for me to imagine completing it with little to no working knowledge of special education. For that reason, teachers need to be ready to act as a parent’s guide if the need should arise. Here are some ideas to help parents navigate and better understand the IEP process that I hope you will try.

What Information to Share

  • Special Education Terms. I promise that I have never met a teacher who used a lot of jargon on purpose. Often, teachers will explain several things and then ask a parent if he or she has any questions. Some parents may not be comfortable asking a lot of questions for fear of appearing uninformed. I usually start a conversation by saying, “If I explain anything you already know, please stop me.” Some common terms that parents will need to be informed of include least restrictive environment (LRE), independent education plan (IEP), progress monitoring, case conference, present levels of performance, extended school year (ESY), due process, teacher of record (TOR), and teacher of service (TOS). Even if certain terms do not specifically apply to a student, the terms may still appear in the IEP and will still need to be explained.
  • Case Conference. These important meetings sometimes go by different names. I have heard them called case conferences, IEP meetings, and annual case reviews. Parents need to know that they occur annually, what will be discussed at them, and that the parents’ attendance is very important. In addition, parents should be informed that they have the right to call a case conference at any time if they have concerns.
  • Response to Intervention. Some schools have adopted euphemisms to use in place of the Response to Intervention Committee. My school calls this the Problem-Solving Committee. Students who are struggling behaviorally or academically are referred to this committee. Anyone can make a referral, even a babysitter or family friend. The committee usually consists of the classroom teacher, an administrator or a counselor, the special education teacher, and the parent. The committee puts research-based interventions in place to help the student be successful. The student’s progress is monitored over a period of time—how much time is up to the committee. If the student does not make adequate progress, the committee may decide to request the student be evaluated by the school psychologist for special education services.
  • Evaluation. Parents of students that are being newly evaluated for special education services are often the most anxious. The process is brand new to these parents, and it is difficult for some of them to see it as a positive thing for their child. I have found that parents are more receptive if they understand that they have a lot of say in the process. I explain what evaluations will be completed and tell the parent that, if the student is found eligible for special education services, we will discuss the services in detail. I finish by telling the parent that he or she has the right to refuse the services at the end of the process.
  • Medical Diagnosis. This is an area that gets really fuzzy. Schools regularly identify students who have exceptionalities such as a specific learning disability, mild cognitive disability, and speech or language impairment, which do not require a medical diagnosis. Exceptionalities such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD), attention deficit disorder (ADD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and oppositional defiance disorder (ODD) are all examples of exceptionalities that do require a medical diagnosis. If a parent seeks a medical diagnosis from a medical professional, the school will likely play a role in that process by filling out informational surveys about the student. However, the diagnosis will be left to the medical professional. What muddies the water even further is that schools can offer special education services without a formal medical diagnosis if a student is evaluated and found to be eligible for special education services. Many times, students who show signs of a particular exceptionality but who are without a formal diagnosis will be identified as special education students with an other health impairment (OHI).
  • Duration of Services. When my students are transferring from elementary school to middle school, parents often ask if the special education plans will remain in place. Parents should be informed that the services can stay in place all the way to college if necessary. In addition, tell parents that if they change schools, the new school will have to offer services as well (although the new school may want to make some changes to the IEP).
  • Requesting an Evaluation. Parents of struggling students are often unaware that they can request a special education evaluation at any time and forgo the RTI process. The school may deny the request if they have just cause. But in the schools where I have worked, these requests were never denied if the student was struggling and the classroom teacher agreed with the parent about the request.

How to Share Information

  • Procedural Safeguards. Legally, these must be provided to parents and guardians throughout the special education process. These booklets are sometimes called “parents’ rights.” Sometimes the writing in procedural safeguards can be too technical to be effective. I suggest offering to review these with parents in person or over the phone.
  • Parent Workshop. It is a good idea to hold a parent workshop at least once a year. I recommend making it open to anyone who wants to attend. Parents of struggling general education students often want information about the process but are unsure of where to find it. Due to the fact that special education law can vary from state to state, researching special education on the internet can be challenging if a parent does not know to look for information about his or her specific state.
  • Frequently Asked Questions. Develop a frequently asked questions (FAQ) page. These are great for parents who are hesitant to ask questions. I also recommend including the school contact information of a special education teacher in case a parent has further questions.
  • Be Approachable and Available. Special education teachers should never forget they are the experts on special education at their schools. No one likes a doctor who has a poor bedside manner. This is also true of teachers. It’s important for special education teachers to be approachable and available to parents and colleagues to answer questions about the IEP process. There will be times when new general education teachers will need some guidance with the process as well.

A great resource to recommend to parents to help them learn more about special education is The Survival Guide for Kids in Special Education (And Their Parents): Understanding What Special Ed Is & How It Can Help You by Wendy L. Moss, Ph.D., and Denise M. Campbell, M.S.

Andrew HawkAndrew Hawk has worked in public education for sixteen years, starting as a teaching assistant in a special education classroom. He has taught first, second, and fifth grades as a classroom teacher, and for the past five 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. Andrew earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education at Indiana University East in Richmond, Indiana. In 2011, he earned his master’s degree in special education from Western Governor’s University, and in 2016, he completed a second master’s degree in educational leadership, also from WGU. 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.

FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2017 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved.

Posted in Elementary Angle, Learning Disabilities | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Enter Our Holiday Manners Giveaway!

Holiday Manners Giveaway 2017This holiday season, encourage better behavior with must-have resources on the importance of learning and exercising good manners. One reader will win all of these resources:

To Enter: Leave a comment below telling us how you would use these resources.

For additional entries, leave a separate comment below for each of the following tasks that you complete:

Each comment counts as a separate entry—that’s four chances to win! Entries must be received by midnight, November 24, 2017.

The winner will be contacted via email on or around November 27, 2017, and will need to respond within 72 hours to claim his or her prize or another winner will be chosen. This giveaway is in no way affiliated with, administered, or endorsed by Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest. Winner must be a U.S. resident, 18 years of age or older.

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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Teacher-Tested Strategies for Your Behavior Intervention Toolbox

By Beth Baker, M.S.Ed., coauthor of The PBIS Team Handbook: Setting Expectations and Building Positive Behavior

Teacher-Tested Strategies for Your Behavior Intervention ToolboxEvery teacher should have a toolbox filled with their go-to strategies for managing the classroom and helping students be ready for activities. I have a few that I keep in my toolbox, always at the ready for whatever behavior gets thrown at me. Here’s what I recommend adding to your toolbox of strategies:

  1. Routines. At the beginning of the school year, teach students all your classroom routines and procedures, then practice and practice again. It cuts down on a lot of “I don’t know what to do” conversations when students know the routines.
  2. Precorrection. It sounds backward, but it is a very simple procedure every teacher should be doing. After you have taught all the routines for your classroom, use precorrection to get students ready for the next activity. For example, before going to lunch you can say, “Remember how we walk in the hallway? Who can remind us in case we forgot?” and have a student demonstrate for the class.
  3. Attention Signals. Alert students to you and the wonderful lesson you are going to teach. “1-2-3, eyes on me!” is simple and easy to remember. Kids in lower elementary will count with you. For middle and high schoolers, I like to raise my hand and not say anything—kids will get the hint and encourage their friends to be quiet. That also works well at staff meetings.
  4. Let’s Make a Deal! When I ask students to do homework for character education, I might say something like the following to avoid getting a groan: “For Thursday I want you to write down five feelings you have between now and then and the situations that caused the feelings. If everyone turns in their homework, we will play Feelings Bingo, and I will have prizes. If even one person forgets to do it, we will do a regular lesson.” Students will often encourage each other to complete the assignment.
  5. Humor. I always laugh at the jokes students tell me. I also remember corny jokes to tell them. This is a wonderful way to build relationships with students. And to a fourth grader, there is no better feeling than to stump your teacher with a silly joke. If you aren’t naturally funny, it’s okay. It’s not the delivery of the joke that matters; what matters is the relationship you are building with a student.
  6. Sticker Charts. They work well for some students. Be very clear about what the student needs to do to earn a sticker. “Being good” isn’t helpful. Instead try, “I will give you one sticker for every 10 minutes that I see you working. If you are talking, out of your seat, or drawing, I can’t give you a sticker.” This idea also works for middle and high school students, except don’t use the stickers. Monitor students privately, and have them graph the data. After a week or so, teach students to monitor themselves.
  7. Learn a New Trick. Sometimes when kids are escalated (any age, any grade), their brains get stuck on a loop and they can’t stop yelling. Have a trick in your pocket to throw their brains off track. John was a middle school student of mine who wanted to argue about his point sheet and how I cheated him out of a point. He could not stop yelling at me, and he couldn’t hear any direction. I looked at him and said, “John, do you know the song ‘Sweet Caroline’ by Neil Diamond?” He stopped yelling at me and said, “Yes, I like that song.” I replied, “Me too,” and we sang the chorus as loud as we could, with the other students joining in. Then I asked him to sit down, and he did. After about 30 minutes, we talked about the point sheet like two calm adults.
  8. Stop Behavior Shaming. Behavior charts are all the rage. The teacher lists consequences on the board, and throughout the day, students’ names are moved up (for good behavior) and down the list (for not-so-good behavior). It isn’t teaching the student anything about how not to do the behavior. What it is doing is teaching the student to feel bad about behavior. If you need to keep track of behaviors, please do so quietly—tally marks on a sticky note, moving paper clips from one pocket to another— let’s stop publicly shaming students.
  9. Fidgets. Some kids are naturally fidgety. Some adults are, too. I keep a small basket of fidgets in my desk for students who are distractible. I instruct students in the use of a fidget and my one rule: Once the fidget becomes a toy, it is no longer a tool and goes back into my desk until tomorrow when we try it again. Fidgets can be a small stone, a pom-pom, a piece of pipe cleaner, a small stuffed animal, and so on. I am a fidgeter—I always bring a pen to staff meetings, not to take notes but to have something to fidget with.
  10. Show Up. Years ago, I was teaching in a middle/high school for students with pretty big behavior challenges. We polled our students: What is the most important thing about your teacher? Their answer? That teachers show up. Be there for your students; build relationships with them. Some kids are hard and you have to dig down deep to find something to build the relationship on, but it is there. If students trust you and know that you are there for them, they will follow your lead.

Every teacher has a toolbox of tried-and-true behavior intervention strategies. What works for me may not work for you, and you may have ideas I have never thought of, too. We should be sharing these ideas and expanding the tools in our toolboxes. Behavior change is hard and often won’t happen until we find the right tool. You wouldn’t use a screwdriver when you need a hammer. Behavior interventions are the same—don’t use a sticker chart when you need a precorrection.

Beth Baker, FSP AuthorBeth Baker, M.S.Ed., is an independent behavioral consultant and intervention specialist at Minneapolis Public Schools, where she works to create positive behavioral environments for elementary students. She was formerly the lead PBIS coach for a school district in the Minneapolis metropolitan area as well as a special educator working with students who have emotional behavioral disability (EBD) needs. Beth is currently on a two-year leave of absence while she is teaching and living in Caracas, Venezuela.

PBIS Team Handbook from Free Spirit PublishingBeth Baker is the coauthor with Char Ryan of The PBIS Team Handbook: Setting Expectations and Building Positive Behavior.

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.

FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2017 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved.

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