Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Thoughts from the Back Porch: Summer Post 1

School officially ended for me on June 16th and let me tell you, I was ready! I love what I do, really, I do, but this year was quite challenging. I completed a TON of evaluations, IEPs and assorted other paperwork. It seems I was scheduled for a meeting before school nearly every day! Consider the math; an extra 30 minutes every morning times 180 days amounts to 90 additional hours per school year!  If I was to be more conservative and cut that down to three mornings a week (atypical), that is 90 minutes per week times 36 weeks (180 days ÷ 5 weekdays= 36 weeks) yields 3,240 minutes converted to a whopping 54 additional hours! Add to that the 1-2 hours added to the end of the day to catch up on lesson planning, writing those evals, and anything else that needs completing! It seems the expectation to silently consent to extra, extra, extra has become our new normal.

I prefer not to carp and would like to be part of a positive work environment, so I went through the proper channels and was effectively shut down. I suggested the flexible service delivery model, dedicated meeting days, etc. I was told, "nothing is going to change." How should I respond to such stonewalling? What do I say while trying to maintain professionalism and grace under fire? Speech-language pathology, and in larger part education, can be such a joy, and yet, it is often disappointing to be part of a bureaucracy. I crave the respect that is afforded to other professions. I often feel cornered into behaving like a petulant child ("Well, I guess I just won't be available before school any longer!")

The above scenario illustrates what I would consider thinking from a fixed perspective. I am reading Mindset by Carol Dwerk, Ph.D. and LOVE IT. I began reading it at the suggestion of Jennifer Hatfield, MHS, CCC-SLP of Therapy and Learning Services, Inc. (who is helping us with executive functioning as a family. More about that in a future post.) This is what I have gleaned so far; I spent a good part of my life in a fixed mindset, not accepting challenges for fear of failure, thinking I lacked innate abilities, seeking validation from others, etc. At some point that all changed. I remember a very distinct turning point. I was at bootcamp and I shared that I had decided to run a half marathon. Someone asked me "Why?" I responded, "I don't know why. I just think I can." That to me exemplifies a shift toward growth mindset thinking.

You might be wondering, what does this have to do with WORK? In as much as I have approached my personal life of late with a growth mindset, I truly believe much of my work life has been viewed through the lens of a fixed mindset or at the very least a "mixed" mindset. This past school year I saw much of my situation as untenable, never changing, out of my control, and that resulted in considerable anxiety. As I reflect on the stresses that come with my position, I am thinking, much of it was created by my thinking. Yes, we are often asked to complete tasks with herculean strength, but what if I can view these tasks as an opportunity for growth? No...what if I CHOOSE to view these tasks as an opportunity for growth?  I, more than likely, won't feel that crushing sensation in my chest.

I am very fortunate. I get to spend my summer recharging my batteries, passing many restful hours on my back porch. I read.  I look at my flowers. I watch the butterflies and hummingbirds. I ignore the begging chickens and I think.
This provides a wonderful opportunity to reevaluate the previous school year. What worked? What didn't? This school year has allowed me to see that when the pressure mounts, I struggle to maintain a healthy balance, I get cranky and "fixed." As part of my growth mindset practice this summer, I am setting goals: attainable, realistic goals that allow me to capitalize on my momentum. For instance, last week my goals were to run 11 miles (not all at once), transplant some deeply entrenched perennials, bake and read three chapters of Mindset. CHECK!! I found having clear expectations of what I wanted to accomplish helped me stay the course.

My approach toward the stresses of my job can be growth oriented too, just as it is for my personal life. In fact, it really should be. So as I look at my math computation above I can reframe my thinking from "I have added anywhere from 54-90 additional hours of work to my job," to "We haven't found a solution to the meeting debacle...yet, but we will!"

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Rush Hour for the Win!!

I have not had a moment in the past three weeks to blog! I thought about it every few days, but could not muster the time or the brain power to put pen to paper, or at least finger to keyboard. Interestingly, I found I missed connecting and sharing ideas! I suspect your end of the year activities have you completely immersed as well.

As the end of the year approaches, I feel the need to stay sane and centered, so I print less, create less, and depend on the tried and true more. I have written before about how adapting games for multiple speech and language targets is a win-win. It's great to use games kids already know the rules for and infuse them with language rich content. One of the games that provides a real bang for the buck is Railroad Rush Hour.  This game involves arranging train cars on a plastic tray and then maneuvering them in order to get a little, red engine out. The version pictured below is the Rush Hour Jr. edition, where younger players move vehicles in order to get an ice cream truck out of a traffic jam.

What you can do:
  • Have your students verbalize each move they make in a grammatical sentence. They can practice verb tenses, pronouns, and word order.  Students can also verbalize what you or other players are doing.
  • All descriptions can be accompanied by perfect speech (or almost perfect).
Describing/Sentence Formulation
  • Have one student describe the arrangement of the vehicles as they are displayed on the card to another student. The emphasis can be on size, color, directional orientation (horizontal, vertical), positional concepts (under, beside, over). After all vehicles are in place the puzzle can be solved.
  • The solutions to each puzzle are depicted on the back of the cards. Have one student give verbal directions as to how to solve each puzzle to a partner, referencing the solution. The solutions are in a sort of code that the student has to interpret.  For instance, if U3 is pictured on a green locomotive, it means move the green locomotive up three spaces. 
Concept development
  • Number, size, color, position, and direction concepts can all be incorporated while playing any of the Rush Hour games.
Listening and Following Directions
  • Have students become the hands of a Rush Hour puzzle solver. This involves attentive listening and comprehension of directions and concepts.  Students can also be encouraged to use listening strategies such as requesting clarification and repetition.
Executive Function Skills
  • Puzzle solving is an amazing opportunity to talk about planning, action, and review as well as brainstorming possible "road blocks."
Add on decks are available. For a little variety try Safari Rush Hour, too! Happy driving!