EdCamp Reflections

The Intervention Ziggurat vs. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

The more you know, the more you realize you have to learn. This was never more clear to me than on June 21, when I attended my second #SpedCampOH. An edcamp is a professional development opportunity where the agenda is set by the participants when they arrive. One session I attended was dealing with “difficult” students with IEPs, which spanned the gamut of emotionally disturbed students to autistic students.  Although it has been a few years since I have taught a student on an IEP, I decided to join this session anyway.

I heard some amazingly helpful suggestions for any student and teacher relationship, regardless of label. Participants brought up the concepts of Restorative Justice to rebuild relationships among students and staff. They suggested administrators allow students and teachers private moments of conversation to rebuild trust after students return to the classroom. They suggested maintaining and sharing places for students to decompress after a confrontation, in classrooms that are not their own. They suggested the importance of observational data, to determine what triggers off-task behavior, and working with students to problem solve issues before they started. But the most interesting I heard that was totally new to me was The Intervention Ziggurat.

Much like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the Ziggurat is pyramid shaped and deals with the idea that a student cannot focus on learning new information until they have their basic needs met. Just as Maslow acknowledged the physiological needs of a student must first be met, that a hungry student cannot learn, so does the Ziggurat discuss biological needs. However, unlike Maslow, the Ziggurat acknowledges that some students need their sensory needs met, too. Harsh lights, uncomfortable textures, loud noises, all of these stressors can make learning difficult for some students.

In retrospect, this makes total sense. I know that when I switched off the fluorescent overhead lights and switched on my lamps, with their natural light bulbs, the classroom dynamic completely changed. It helps that I painted over the salmon colored cement block, changing one cement block wall to a dark, midnight purple and the other to a bright, clean white. It helped that I provided floor cushions and pillows, rolling chairs and tables, in addition to my traditional desks. And should it be that I have students with sensory issues next year, hopefully I will have provided a room for them to learn.

If not, I will know to pay attention and determine what is triggering their behavior so I can help them be successful. I’m glad I attended #SpedCampOH so that I could learn how much I still have to learn about students.

“Desk with lamp, pitcher, and vintage books,” by Unsplash, is shared under Public Domain.

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KRLitClub Begins!

How do you get your principal who hates rocking the boat to sign on to controversial YA Lit book clubs? Well, let me tell you a story…

My principal and I have known each other for almost ten years. He knows that I love to try new things, from flexible seating to taking students to hear a Holocaust survivor in the final year of his life. He also knows that he’s gotten parent complaints about the new things I’ve tried, like the year I tried to flip my classroom instruction. And he hates parent complaints with a passion.

So when I heard about Project Lit Community and its philosophy I knew two things up front.

  1. My students desperately need to know what the world outside is like. Their parents and grandparents fled Appalachia for the factory rich town we live in, and those factory jobs have dried up. Even though almost all the staff I work with grew up here, our students can’t stay here. Not and have a high paying, satisfying job, that is.
  2. My principal is worried that exposing them to the outside world, with its diverse cultures, would upset parents.

I did what any rebel teacher would do. I did it anyway. And I held my breath, to see if anyone would push back. They didn’t.

It helped I started small, with five books for my dual enrollment Intro to Literature class to choose from: Beloved, The Other Wes Moore, and three modern, controversial books: Dear Martin, The Hate U Give, and Long Way Down. The students got to pick. They discussed their choice in small groups, in the last three weeks of school. I listened in, and when they needed some help making connections, I helped them with comments in their required written reflections.

And then I went to Project Lit Summit 18. And I knew I wanted more for my students.

Today was my first day back. And he asked me how the conference went. The perfect time to ask.

His first comment? “Just be careful which books you pick. You don’t want any controversy.”

Well, if you know anything about Project Lit Community, you’d know that they deal with the lives of kids today. That means there are books about LGBTQ kiddos, Pakastani kiddos, Latinx kiddos, African American kiddos, kiddos in poverty, and all kinds of folks my principal would say is controversial. So I knew I work to do.

Luckily, before the summit we had talked about a book I recently read, The 57 Bus. I had talked to him about how rich the informational text was, mixing a strong narrative with LGBTQ concepts. And thanks to the wonderful advice from Nic Stone, author of Dear Martin, I knew what to say.

“John,” I said, “you know some of our students are gender fluid. It’s really important that they see themselves in the books they read. They need to know that their stories are important, too. Remember the book I talked to you about? Project Lit books reflect more than the world they know. Our students need to know what the real world is like.  And besides, if their parents object, they can just skip the book for that month.”

It was enough. He agreed! And now, for the planning, the fundraising, the work. And I don’t have to fly under the radar anymore.