Big Things

When I accepted the job as a self-contained DD teacher three years ago, a dear friend of mine explained that this job was going to be about the “big things”.  I did not understand what she meant at first and I asked her to elaborate. She told me that I would be spending my time with the students focused on things that will have a direct impact on their ability to be happy, healthy and contributing members of society. Your impact will go beyond the walls of the school and even the walls of their homes. The lessons you teach them will be “bigger” than any math or social studies lessons you have ever taught in your career.

Three years have passed, and I can say with absolute certainty that my dear friend was right. These past three years have been all about the “big things”.  As I come to the end of my time with the best class a teacher could ever ask for, here are the “big” lessons that we have learned over the past three years.


  1. Sometimes things are not going to be about you. For many of my students, they have had a lot of attention as a child in school and at home because of their unique learning profile. It has been important for them to think about others in their class, family, and community and how they can contribute meaningfully to all three places.
  2. A healthy body contributes to a happy outlook on life. Having a healthy body provides so many opportunities to participate in activities with families and friends such as riding a bike, playing sports, and going on a hike. It also provides students with a lot of independence in their life as they have the coordination and strength to do things like walk up the stairs and get up from a chair. It opens so many positive doors.
  3. A positive tone in your communication builds relationships. Some of my students have speech impairments and when I first met them, they would speak very harshly to me and others in the class. We have learned to take our time and speak kindly to others and it has opened the door to many new friendships.
  4. Losing is a part of life. “Good game” is our catchphrase in class that we say at the end of every game. It reminds us that no matter whether you win or lose, you are thankful for the time that you had with your friend or family member today.
  5. Independence in daily living gives us pride and confidence. Being able to do many daily living tasks such as ordering in a restaurant independently or selecting items for cooking really develops a sense of confidence and pride.
  6. Take Two! This is my most common catch phrase in class. I probably say it about 5 times every day and my students use it just as often. We use this phrase as a reminder to let the small mistakes role off of our back and to give it another try.
  7. Exceeding our own expectations is the best feeling in the world!


My students have learned a lot of big lessons over their time at middle school, but I also learned one very “big lesson” as an educator.

The energy that you bring into your learning space sets the tone for all who enter your class.

Working with kids with exceptionalities means working with a whole community of people to provide the best learning opportunities for the students. This may include, Educational Assistants, SERTs, Occupational Therapists, outside agencies etc… It is imperative, as the leader in the space, that you set the tone for everyone who enters. You will be amazed at how quickly people adapt to the positive environment and your students will have a more positive experience at school as a result.

Fauja Singh Keeps Going

Once in a while, a book comes out that gets you so excited that you practically knock over your students with your animated read aloud to your class.

This is how I feel about the book released in 2020 called “Fauja Singh Keeps Going” by Simran Jeet Singh.


I understand that my initial enthusiasm for this book is clearly connected to my love of running and obsession with one day being able to complete a full marathon, however this book is so much more. It has so many excellent themes and lessons to examine that this book will be a staple in my future programming for many years to come.

For those of you that are unfamiliar with the story, Fauja Singh is the oldest person to complete a marathon. At the age of 100 (yes, you read that correctly) he competed in and completed the Toronto Waterfront Marathon in a time of 8 hours, 11 minutes and 5.9 seconds. Unbelievable! But that is only one part of a truly phenomenal story that is captured so well in this book.

This book shares his entire life’s journey and begins with an incredible forward written by Mr. Singh himself about overcoming obstacles. There are so many themes that could be explored while reading this book. Below are just a few:

Perservance/benefits of hard work: Fauja Singh was unable to walk as a young child. He did not take his first step until after his fifth birthday. He was home-schooled for much of his elementary years because he could not walk to school. But he never gave up and committed himself to learning to walk. Hard work allowed him to set numerous records and take pride in becoming a world class runner. Every day he just put one foot in front of the other.

Be open to trying new things at any age: At 81, Mr. Singh got on a plane for the very first time and moved to England so he could be closer to family. While there, trying to find something to do to pass the time, he saw some people running on TV and decided to give it a try. It is a good reminder to all of us that we should be open to trying new things and not to be afraid of new opportunities in life.

The impact of racist words: One of the first times Fauja Singh doubted his ability to run was when he was verbally attacked by spectators at the New York City Marathon. The racist words and phrases that were shouted at him at the start line really impacted Mr. Singh and he ran his slowest race that day. He began to ask himself “Maybe this is too hard. Maybe you are too weak.”

Overcoming limitations set by others: Throughout Fauja Singh’s life people told him he couldn’t do things. However, his strong sense of self helped him overcome the limits that other people thought he should have.

Self care of ones mind, body and soul: Mr. Singh focuses on care of his body, mind and soul. This is what ultimately helps him to do what many people believed would be impossible.

On the very last page of the book is a list of Fauja Singh’s records. The records are extensive and amazing! However, there is a very important statement that is shared on this page that would be the perfect impetus for an inquiry assignment. The book states “While many running organizations have recognized his records, the Guinness Book of World Records has yet to officially honor Fauja Singh as the world’s oldest marathoner. Guinness does not accept Fauja Singh’s government documents and requires a birth certificate-even though India did not begin registering births until 1969, 58 years after Fauja Singh’s birth.” This statement could really be at the center of a class study on structures that exist in organizations that are exclusionary and limiting.  It could also be an excellent tool to explore what can you do about a structure that you don’t agree with. The possibilities are endless.

Overall, a really fantastic book that could be used to inspire students of all ages.





New Spec Ed AQ- Teaching Students with Intellectual Needs (DD)

I just signed up for a brand new AQ that ETFO AQ is offering this spring. It is called Teaching Students with Intellectual Needs (Developmental Disabilities). This AQ was created to support teacher’s professional growth in meeting the needs of their students with Developmental Disabilities.

As a teacher of students with Developmental Disabilities (DD), I have often been approached by colleagues throughout the province asking for help and suggestions on how to meet the needs of their students in inclusive settings. The questions have been plentiful and frequent which tells me that there is a great need for an AQ like this one. Students with DDs are amazing, vibrant, and fantastic members of our classrooms. They bring a unique perspective on the world. They also need a very specialized and individualized program in order to be successful at school. This AQ will give teachers some foundational information to begin to understand the unique needs of students with these exceptionalities.

In preparing for this blog, I was fortunate enough to speak with one of the writers of this new ETFO AQ, Lindsay Freedman. She has been a teacher of students with Special Needs in a variety of settings for many years in the Peel District School Board and is currently a Lead Instructor for ETFO AQ.

Lindsay shared with me that it is important for teachers to take a course that focuses on students with Intellectual Needs for a couple of reasons:
a) Throughout your career, you are going to have a student in your class with an Intellectual Disability. It is not a matter of if; it is a matter of when. This AQ will allow you to be proactive, prepare to meet the needs of these students and learn about the policies and history that will impact your programming decisions.
b) This AQ is important as it will help teachers with inclusion practices. Most school boards in Ontario have a full inclusion policy for students with special needs. This AQ will begin to give teachers the tools to be able to effectively support these students in the classroom and provide an environment that will benefit all learners.
c) If you are an educator that holds Special Education qualifications, this AQ will further expand your knowledge specifically with the many exceptionalities that fall under the Developmental Disability classification. As Lindsay shared, many educators are choosing to specialize more deeply in a specific area such as Behavioural Needs or Communication Needs (LD or ASD). By offering this course, ETFO AQ has really answered educators’ need to go beyond general Special Education courses by continuing to expand the choices available.
d) This course will support you in writing IEPs and transition plans and many of the other mandatory requirements for educators in Ontario. If you have never written either of these documents before, this course will go through step by step how to effectively prepare documentation with a focus on equity and well-being. Personally, I have written IEPs for years and I am really looking forward to seeing if there are any parts that I can refine and improve on.

Knowing that a part of the course focuses on history, I also asked Lindsay, why it is important for teachers to know the history of people with Intellectual Disabilities in Canada?
Lindsay shared with me that to really understand where we are in education, teachers need to realize that there was a shift from institutionalization to inclusion that happened with Bill 82 in 1980. Knowing how people were treated, the absence of services and lack of choice that parents had before this change, provides clarity and empathy. Understanding the history really brings focus to why we have inclusion in Ontario schools. It also highlights how important program and placement choice are for families. During this AQ educators will learn about some of the challenges, awful names and horrible conditions that people with Intellectual Disabilities had to endure and why it’s important for parents to have the right to make choices about their child’s education.

The history of people with Developmental Disabilities is closely connected to many of the policies that were implemented throughout the last 40 years. Educators must understand many of these policies so that they are able to support students correctly. The policies impacting students with Developmental Disabilities will be studied in this new AQ.

Finally, I asked Lindsay, should a new teacher take this course?
She stated that the course will benefit all educators, regardless of teaching experience. It is presented in a very sequenced and practical format so that you are continuously building your skills. For example, when writing an IEP, educators will have access to examples and will be supported to write each section until they have completed an IEP. By the end of the course, teachers should feel confident in the skills they have developed. Lindsay shared that all ETFO AQs are written by teachers for teachers and are easily accessible for teachers at any of their stage of their career.

ETFO AQ is one of the two course providers for this AQ. This AQ is being offered during ETFO AQ’s spring sessions. Registration for the Spring session closes March 30th at 5pm and the course will run from April 6th to June 18th.
You can register here:

Transition Planning

After three years together, many of my fantastic students are transitioning to high school this year. When I think about them moving on, I am incredibly emotional as they have grown so much over the past three years and I am really going to miss them! But before I can sit down and have a good cry about their departure, I must complete something called a transition plan for all my students.

With the introduction of PPM 156 in 2014, a transition plan is now required for all students who have an IEP, whether or not they have been identified. Transition plans are often embedded within the IEP and are reviewed as part of the IEP review process. Transition plans can be made for in class, grade to grade or school to school transitions. In some circumstances, the board may decide to create a transition plan for a student without an IEP but who is receiving Special Education supports. In addition, PPM 140 outlines the mandatory use of ABA methods to support students with Autism Spectrum Disorder in all aspects of school including transitions.

PPM 156 outlines what must be included in Transition Plans. They must include: goals, support needs, the actions required to achieve the goals, roles and responsibilities, and timelines. The aim is to have students develop independence skills so that they can be successful in moving through their school career in Ontario. Below are some examples of transition goals I have used for students in the past.


Goal: Student will independently transition between activities within the school day.

The actions required to achieve the goals: Student will use anxiety reducing choice board when feeling overwhelmed during transitions.

Roles and Responsibilities: Teacher and Educational Assistants will develop choice board in consultation with the student. Teacher and Educational Assistants will support student in identifying times in the day when the choice board will be beneficial.

Timelines: Choice board created in September. Used as needed throughout the school year.

Goal: Student will transition to a new school

The action required to achieve the goal: Student will receive a social story about their new school.

Roles and Responsibilities: Teacher and Educational Assistants will review the social story in class with the student. Parents will review the social story over the summer prior to the transition to a new school.

Timelines: Prior to the transition.

According to PPM 156, transition meetings are not a mandatory part of the process of transitioning between schools. However, if you are able to arrange to meet with teachers who have taught your students at another school or who will be teaching them in the future, it is very beneficial. In the past two years, I have presented my students to high schools and I have attended many presentations for my incoming students. These presentations are very beneficial because they allow time for questions and discussion about how to best support the student’s needs.  If you have never presented a student at a transition meeting before, here is some information that I highlight:

  • Background information: name, date of birth, IPRC identification, language(s) spoken at home
  • Supports: Information about any support being provided in or out of school such as Speech and Language Support, Occupational Therapy, Behaviour Therapy etc..
  • Student’s Strengths and Needs
  • Medical Information: medication that the student takes, allergies, special equipment that they use.
  • Communication: verbal, assistive device, augmentative communication etc.. Also, what kind of supports they have to support their understanding in the classroom such as visual schedules, social stories, choice boards, independent work system bins.
  • Interests, Motivators, Reinforcements, Dislikes
  • Literacy and Numeracy Skills: letter, word and number recognition, ability to write and recognize personal information such as phone number and address.
  • Assistive Technology: Boardmaker, Clicker 5 or 6, iPad, touch screen, wireless mouse, SMARTBoard.
  • Mobility: outline support needed for student to move around the classroom and school such as adult assistance or a walker.
  • Behaviour: Outline any physical aggression or challenges with self-regulation.
  • Personal Care: level of independence with eating, dressing and toileting.
  • Transportation: requirement of a travel assistant or harness to successfully ride a bus to school.

Additional Resources:

Niagara Catholic District School Board created a great resource to support with transition planning. There are many great examples of transition plans in this resource and is a great tool to use if you have never written a transition plan before.

A group of school boards collaborated on a one page support guide for educators about writing transition plans.

The Ministry of Education has created a resource that is an overview of Special Education in Ontario.

My students are tired!

My students who are engaged in online learning are tired. This past week has been the most difficult for them since the pandemic began. They had difficulty focusing, answering questions, and staying positive. It has been a lot for them. All my students have an Intellectual Disability and communication takes a lot of effort for them. They have difficulty understanding me with my mask on and have a hard time understanding each other. Up until this week, they have done a great job of meeting every day with a positive smile and enthusiasm for learning but they are running out of steam.

To be honest, I am running out of steam too. It is difficult to teach in a hybrid model where you are constantly going back and forth between being online and in person through out the day.

With the announcement of the delay in March break and the realization that we have 6 weeks together before a break, I decided to try and add some excitement to our online sessions together. I asked my students on Friday to choose the themes for our morning sessions for the next six weeks. They had some great ideas and I hope that this will help us stay engaged through these very challenging times. Below is an example of one of the upcoming morning meeting presentations and how it supports my student’s IEP goals.

The theme for next week:

We start off every meeting with a welcome song.

Many of my student’s have communication goals that connect to speaking to others. The next part of our gathering everyone will be picking someone to say good morning to and sending them a shooting star with their hands.

Many of my students continue to work on developing their literacy skills. Each day throughout the week, we will listen to a different story and have a discussion about it. The first story is really exciting as it is told by an astronaut from the International Space Station.

The IEP goals of many of my students are connected to building skills counting and recognizing numbers. The planet choice board has links to Boom cards that practice those skills. Students will take turns deciding what planet we will be going to visit for our math each day!

Next in our online learning session we focus on movement.

Finally, we practice our reading skills.

Then we end just like we began, with a song.


What are you doing to keep your students motivated through these next six weeks?

Numeracy Tasks around The House for Students with Alternative Goals

To make numeracy practice more engaging online, I have added a new segment to our daily routine. This segment supports my student’s alternative goals of counting and/or number identification but is more exciting than just counting. The daily tasks all use items from around the house and allow students to connect numeracy to their daily lives.

Below you can see some of the tasks we have completed. My students require visuals to support their understanding of tasks, so I have made a series of Youtube videos that I show the students before each task. The tasks are straightforward, but you could add to the complexity of the assignment by graphing, comparing, or fractioning the data. We often spend time identifying the numbers as a class and for those able we figure out the biggest and the smallest numbers recorded. These tasks are designed to include all types of dwellings. These tasks are also designed so that they need little parent support.

The tasks:

Count how many steps between your device and the refrigerator and back.

Count how many doors are in your home.

How many shoes can you count in your home?

What number can you find in your home?

Who is the tallest/shortest member in your home?

Have a great time with Math at home!!


Physical Health in students with Developmental Disabilities

If you have a student in your class this year with a Developmental Disability, I’d like to share some statistics today to help you make some decisions about their programming. Students with a DD have a different set of needs than the rest of the students that goes beyond academic programming.

Here are a few statistics taken from the Journal of Intellectual Disability Research:

Adolescents with autism and Down syndrome are two to three times more likely to be obese than adolescents in the general population.

Secondary health condition are higher in obese adolescents with IDD including high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, diabetes, depression, fatigue and low self esteem.

Obesity presents a higher incidence of health problems including decreased social and physical functioning, reduced quality of life, difficulty forming peer relationships and increased likelihood of depression.

Clearly some of our students with Developmental Disabilities are more vulnerable to becoming overweight or obese. Much of the time they have so many things working against them like a disability that has obesity as a symptom, greater medication uses or altered eating habits related to their disability. However, that does not mean that as educators we cannot support students and families to manage their fitness levels.

As educators, we can:

  • Have an excellent relationship with the family of the student. You will NEED their help to ensure the wellness of their child.
  • Ensure that parents know how to access community programs that offer activities that include physical fitness. In addition, help connect parents with community supports that offer funding for these programs. (During Covid, many of these programs are not running as the requirements for physical distancing can’t be maintained with makes the next two points really important)
  • Talk about and model physical activity often. When we meet online, we speak almost every day about activities that we are doing at home.
  • Most importantly, include physical activity into the daily routine of your class. The government of Canada recommends 60 minutes of physical activity every day. During a pandemic, that is tough but encourage your student(s) with a Developmental Disability to move during class. You need to get their heartrate up and a good sweat going on!
  • When you go back to school, prioritize physical fitness for these students. Walking, running, biking, stairs, games, dancing. Put it ahead of many other programming goals to help get these students get back to daily activity.

Anecdotally, when some of my students returned to school in September their physical fitness had dropped significantly. As mentioned above, organized sports for these students did NOT open back up during the summer and my athletic group of students who used to run circles around me struggled to move for 5 minutes at a time. From September to December, I added a segmet of the daily routine that focused only on physical fitness and by December they were back to being very active for an hour at a time.

For many of us beginning any kind of physical program can be tough and motivation can be VERY low. Make sure you have a solid reward program based on anything the student likes (that hopefully is not food). For some of my students it was stickers, for others it was hot wheel cars and my other student was obsessed with Baby Shark colouring pages. Find whatever works and reward them for movement. Start with a couple of minutes at a time and keep increasing from there.  As our students begin to return to learning at school, this is going to need to be a priority for these students to protect their long-term physical health as well as their mental health.

As Hal Johnson and Joanne McLeod used to say “KEEP FIT AND HAVE FUN!”

Calls to Action for Educators: Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls

As part of the 2019 Final Report on the Inquiry of Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls, there was a list of calls to action created. As elementary educators our call to action is very clear:

We call upon all elementary, secondary, and post-secondary institutions and education authorities to educate and provide awareness to the public about missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people, and about the issues and root causes of violence they experience. All curriculum development and programming should be done in partnership with Indigenous Peoples, especially Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people. Such education and awareness must include historical and current truths about the genocide against Indigenous Peoples through state laws, policies, and colonial practices. It should include, but not be limited to, teaching Indigenous history, law, and practices from Indigenous perspectives and the use of Their Voices Will Guide Us with children and youth.

Here are three resources to use in your classroom in 2021 to teach your students about the tragedy of Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls:

If I Go Missing by Ojibwe author Brianna Jonnie is an incredible adaptation from a letter that Ms. Jonnie wrote when she was 14 years old to the Winnepeg Police Service. At the time of the letter, Ms. Jonnie implored with the police to “do better” when investigating cases of missing Indigenous peoples. It uses a graphic novel format with incredible artwork by Nshannacappo. The artwork combined with the poignant text tell a very impactful story, especially for those students in the intermediate grades.  The book is also incredibly powerful as it challenges the common narratives of Indigenous girls and the messaging about them in the media.



We are More Than Murdered and Missing is an important TED Talk by Tamara Bernard. She shares her personal story of the intergenerational impact of her great grandmother being taken and the legacy of trauma that it had on her family. She also speaks about the portrayal in the media of Indigenous women and girls and how that shapes the self perception of many young Indigenous girls.  Ms. Bernard touches on some of the historical policies that created a system for Indigenous women to be devalued. This TED Talk would be valuable as an educator tool or for use in an intermediate classroom.



Their Voices Will Guide Us is an education initiative of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. This Resource is for educators to begin to embed lessons in their program about the systemic causes of violence against Indigenous women and girls in order to take collectively responsibility for their safety. If you are an educator who has wanted to begin to introduce these kinds of lessons but have been hesitant because of lack of knowledge this is an amazing resource for you. It clearly speaks to the need for all educators to continue learning and to not let fear or not knowing everything be a deterrent of starting to introduce this very important topic to your classroom. The educator section is extensive and will provide you with many avenues to continue your learning. The resource also has sections for grades K-4, 5-8 and high school. In each section there are a list of themes that you may want to focus on in your lessons and a list of resources to support your instruction.

Weekly Plan for Online Learning: Special Education Classroom

Here is the plan for our first week of online instruction in January.

Have a wonderful first week back everyone!!

9:30-10:00 Small group instruction using a combination of Google Jamboards and Boom cards. Below are some pictures of the activities that we will be using.

10:00-10:30 Exercise Time!! All students will join in and do an exercise program to get moving and get our heart rates up!!

Here is my New Year’s Playlist for our excercise time this week:


Warm up/Stretches

  1. 20 seconds Running on the spot
  2. 20 Jumping Jacks
  3. 20 Leg lifts
  4. 20 Body Twists
  5. 20 push ups on the table or wall

Dance Break

Do at least 1 more set of movement exercises. 2 if time permits

Cool down/Stretches

Remind parents that their child needs a place to move, some running shoes and comfortable clothes. It is going to be a 2021 party!!

10:30-11:00 Morning Meeting- All students gather. We practice communication, math, reading and life skills through a series of slides and songs.

11:00-11:30 Small group instruction: focus on communication, functional mathematics and functional language.

Similar to the first period in the morning we will be using a combination of Boom cards and Google Jamboards. Jamboards are ideal if your students are able to click on a link in the chat box and move to a new page. If your students are unable to do that, Boom cards are a much better option.

11:30-12:30 Lunch

12:30-1:00 Small group instruction:focus on communication, functional mathematics and functional language.

1:00-1:30 Afternoon Meeting- All students gather. We practice communication, math, reading and life skills.

1:30– Art/Creation/Friday Favourites-

Art: We do a simple drawing that works on student’s listening skills and fine motor skills. I have found that having the students use either markers, pencil crayons or crayons works best as everyone has different materials in their home. I use pastels when showing the students as it shows up better on camera.

Creation: With everyone at home, it is time to get out the lego and other materials that work on fine motor skills.

Friday Favourties: What is your favourite sport?- Every Friday we take a poll about some of our favourite things. We graph the results and work on our communication and numeracy skills. Here are a few pictures of previous Friday Favourites.



Fun times in a Special Education classroom

I currently work in a class for Developmentally Delayed students in a hybrid model. This means that I am teaching both students online and at home at the same time. Last week, my one student had a very difficult day. She cried for much of the morning and just generally was in a bit of a funk. After a very tough morning, I asked her to come outside with me to chat. After a few minutes, she turned and told me what was going on.

She said, “I hate home right now. I am not allowed to have any friends over. I am not allowed to see Kelly or Puneet. I am not allowed to see our family. I want to see Greg and Nancy. I can not see them right now. I am bored at home. I want to see my friends.”

This student captured how most of us are feeling right now.  I wish that I could have all her friends in our class come back to hang out but since that is not an option, making school fun is the best I can do.

Here is how we are beating the blues by making school fun right now!

Drawing pictures and writing letters for our friends that are learning at home. For one week, all the staff and students wrote letters and coloured pictures to send to our friends so that they know we are thinking of them. It was an exciting activity and we can’t wait to hear back from everyone.


We have hyped up our daily TV show at my school. We watch our school TV show every morning and enjoy the teacher who is the anchor of the show. He does an amazing job interviewing students and staff and it is just what we need during these difficult times. My students love him! We use his catch phrases often in our class. We asked for an autographed picture of him to hang in our class and we are interviewing him next week online. We are so pumped.

We decorated the classroom A LOT. This year we are not having a gathering at my home for the holidays so we took all of my home decorations and put them everywhere in the room. On the decoration day, I did have to laugh that my student who is obsessed with Halloween showed up in her pumpkin shirt to decorate for Christmas.

We are taking any chance to celebrate. Lucky for us, we have a few birthdays in our class at this time of year. We went big with the birthdays this year with lots of decorating and a big covid friendly celebration.

We have been reading some epic books and I have been taking book requests. My one student has read a lot of the Little Golden books. She is quite the expert on Lightning McQueen and Mater.

We have also started “Favourite Fridays” for both our online and in school students together. Every Friday we become Siskel and Ebert or Rolling Stone Magazine and give thumbs up or thumbs down to things that we like or don’t like. Last week was all about our holiday songs.

We also have added some exciting lights to our relaxation time!

In these times, keeping the excitement and energy is tough but as teachers that is about all we can do to ease our students woes.