Listen More

It has been a while since I’ve blogged! Jeez – it amazes me how time flies. How busy we get, how overcommitted we are and before you know it, it’s the end of October!

But I’m back. I’m feeling slightly more balanced after being so singularly focused on finishing National Boards.

And I’ve got a lot on my mind!

Just this past week, I spent the week learning about dispute resolution, mediation and just learning how to become a better listener at the CADRE Symposium in Eugene, Oregon. CADRE is an organization dedicated to the dispute resolution process by creating strong partnerships and collaboration. (Side note: if you are a SPED teacher or parent or an admin, I strongly encourage you to check out their resources on their website at

As I have been sitting in sessions listening to presenters, I’ve been thinking more and more about how I can improve and strengthen my partnerships with parents. What could I improve and do better? How could I make them more actively involved?

Creating strong partnerships, requires building relationships.

And building relationships takes work.

And listening.

We often think about our relationships with parents and cringe. Parents have complaints, and needs and take up our time. But at the heart of their need, lies some important truths: their children matter and are important to them, they are worried and concerned, they want the best for them and they often look to us as educators to provide them with answers and comfort and our time.

In one of the sessions this past week we learned about the importance of letting parents just talk — to just share what they need to say, to be heard- without the listener trying problem solve and offer solutions for them or passing any judgment.

True confession: I can’t remember the last time I just made time and sat and listened to a parent without being in the middle of a meeting, without trying to solve their problems, without all of the noise that too often distracts me during conversations.

Truly listening is hard.

I need to be a better listener.

And just listen.

Not plan, not formulate, not drift off.

And then I started thinking about my partnerships with students. What have I done to build those partnerships? I have a perception that I have a good relationship with my students. Perhaps they would agree with that assessment. But, perhaps not. As I have been thinking this past week and been immersed in a culture of listening and truly hearing those we are listening, I started to wonder: when was the last time I just listened to my students?

True confession: I can’t remember the last time I just made time and sat and listened to a student without being in the middle of a class, without trying to solve their problems without all of the noise that too often distracts me during conversations. I don’t remember the last time I had TRULY taken time to listen – I mean REALLY listen. Not just our typical conversations we have during the day listening, but listened just to hear what they had to say.

I need to be a better listener.

And just listen.

Not plan, not formulate, not drift off.

Listening is hard work when you feel overwhelmed, overstimulated and overcommitted.

I need to be a better listener.

It is so easy to take our relationships for granted – especially our easy ones. But it is easy to quickly use up all of the savings that you have deposited in the relationship bank when you neglect to make any deposits.

Making deposits to a relationship bank requires work and effort.

And listening.

It is also impossible to do this when you aren’t taking time to listen to yourself and when you aren’t making the time to listen to the people that you love.

It’s impossible to do when you, yourself do not feel heard.

This week I spent a lot of time thinking about how unheard my students must feel – by teachers, by me, by their parents, by their friends. How often do students with disabilities feel isolated and alone because they are different or can’t communicate the way that their peers do?

Friday morning I listened to a panel of students who had gone through school without ever having felt listened to and heard by anyone around them and had barely made it through school. Their message to teachers was to stop and listen more. They talked about needing help, asking for help and having the people who had the power to help them not hearing what they were asking for. They felt ignored, they felt voiceless, the felt powerless.

I hated hearing them say this because I don’t ever want to do that to my students.

I want to be a better listener so that my students never feel ignored or voiceless or powerless. And I want to teach them how to make sure that they are heard. Most importantly, I want them to know that they always have someone who will listen.

As professionals, we are busy beyond belief, we are overburdened with tasks that take away from our time with our students and stretched to the limit with our numerous professional and personal obligations.

But we must make time.

We must make time to listen to our students biggest fears, their joys, their worries, their wishes and their dreams.

We must make time to make our students, NO MATTER THEIR AGE, part of their own IEP meetings so that they feel heard, valued and powerful.

And I need to make time for my students. I need to give them my undivided attention, let them talk.

And I will listen more.

Just listen.

Thanks for taking the time to read my ramblings.

Have a wonderful Sunday!




Diving Deep in to Professional Practice

Ahhh free diving! Something I’ve never tried, but something I admire.  The simplicity, grace and appearance of effortlessness make this form of diving so unique.  It is also one of the most challenging forms of diving.

A good teacher, in my opinion, also makes it look like diving a free line – easy, effortless and graceful.  Behind the scenes is a different story however.  There are so many ways good teachers are going above and beyond to improve their practices.

This year, my focus is all about diving deep into my professional practices as I strive to be a better special educator for my students, their parents and my colleagues.

Boards, Boards and more Boards!
They say that the process of National Board Certification makes you grow as a teacher; that the reflection, planning, preparation, evaluation and thorough dissection of your teaching practice would teach you more about yourself as a teacher and as a professional. At this point, I don’t disagree with this statement. But I think this process has brought me even more.
As I comb through the last two components I need to complete – strategizing, planning and hoping for a much needed moment of clarity, I was thinking about what makes me the most effective as a teacher in my classroom and where I can become stronger.  Reflecting is perhaps the hardest part of our practice.  Whenever you have to take a magnifying glass to examine your flaws, it can make for some uncomfortable, difficult  revelations about yourself as a teacher.  It’s hard to be objective and to open yourself up for others to criticize.

Boards or no boards, teachers should always continue improving their practices and reflecting on where they have been and where they still need to go. I feel like I am a much better teacher now than when I first started 11 years ago, but man oh man do I have areas I where I could focus on for improvement.
We all do.
What the National Boards process has helped me see is that I already do a lot in my practice already. What I need to work on now is on refining, reflecting and providing the appropriate evidence for my successes. Every piece of new research I read, every insightful tweet, every unique challenge that is thrown my makes me dig deep, try harder and takes my thinking to a whole new level.
It is incredibly easy to get into a rut teaching. It’s easy to fall back on what you know, take the path of least resistance and keep it simple. For some things, it feels nice to have a very solid set of routines and procedures. Heck, just having had the same room for the last four years has made life much much easier! I didn’t realize what a toll moving all the time was taking on my professional practices. It is hard to be an effective teacher when your stuff is always in boxes!
As I have grown professionally, I’ve realized there is always more to learn, more challenges to be tackled and new ways of thinking, learning and doing to be explored.
I’m sure I will be exploring much more deeply as I hash out my entries for Components 3 and 4!
What’s Next for Alphabet Soup
This year I am going to spend time looking at the processes I could update and revise. One of these processes is writing more effective, meaningful IEP goals. I will be focusing extensively on my goal writing process. Two years ago, I attended the LRP conference in Denver.  Since then, my brain has been working overtime to try and wrap my head around a way that I can create a system of writing goals that is more meaningful to all stakeholders, including and especially my students.
I am also planning on delving deeper with executive function and the effects weak executive function skills have on students in the classroom – more importantly how significantly do these skills impact their learning and what can I do to improve these skills. Last year I did a presentation for Hawk Parent University and that presentation really got me thinking about how I could take what I had taught parents and make it more teacher friendly. Stay tuned for more on this in a later blogs.
My last area of focus for the upcoming year is parent communication. I communicate with parents regularly but I have been thinking a lot (thanks NBPTS!) about how I can improve this communication. I want my parents to know what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. Part of this will come from streamlining and improving my data collection processes. I also want my parents to understand how to advocate for their students and how they can best help them at home. I want to build better, stronger partnerships with parents and the community assets they need to know exist to support students with disabilities.
That’s a lot on my plate! But truly worthwhile and important endeavors. Part of the issue with special education, in my opinion, is that the processes, jargon and excessive testing make it inaccessible and inefficient. I think we can do better for our students.
What do you do to improve parent communication and increase your transparency? And what do you think special education could be doing better for students? What are you going to be more purposeful about this coming year?

I’d love to hear your thoughts! You can find me on twitter @mscrawford101 or drop me  line!