Protect Yourself and Document

I want to share with you one of the most taxing and emotional experiences I have had in my three decade long career as a teacher. I work with a very challenging group of students who all have aggressive, violent tendencies and have significant struggles in learning socially appropriate skills they need to function in their day-to-day lives. As their teacher I am faced with the task of helping them develop self-regulation strategies, teach them how to interact with peers and adults in a safe and respectable manner and of course move them forward on the academic continuum.

In September, one of my students was struggling with complying to simple adults requests and would often escalate to verbal barrages of profanity in an attempt to goad me and/or my team into an argument. We of course would not buy into his behavior, so that student decided to further escalate the scenario to aggressive acts of throwing things, kicking things and yelling insults. Once again we remained calm and focused on our message of coaching that student to calm. On this particular occasion, the student chose to completely ignore us and began to punch a wooden bookshelf. At that point our team was faced with the burden of having to remove the rest of the students and physically intervene in order to stop the student from certain injury. My colleague and I then moved into a physical restraint that lasted for about 15 minutes at which time the student calmed and we were able to move forward with our debriefing session.

When the student was calm I checked for injuries on the hand that had punched through a wooden bookcase. We administered proper first aid, fully documented the scenario that had took place in our classroom, had kept our principal informed throughout the process and finally called the parent to update her on what had occurred and the status of her child. Throughout the day we monitored the student’s hand, updated the parent and continued on with our inclass model of assisting the student with solving the problem that was created.

That evening I was informed by my principal that the police had been called by the parent and that Family and Children’s Services was going to conduct an investigation into the allegation the next morning. I immediately contacted my ETFO President to seek advice. Over the next 12 hours I was on an emotional roller coaster. I checked and rechecked all of our documentation, went over the  child’s safety plan that we had followed and prepared to the best of my abilities for what was to come.

The next morning I participated in a meeting that included my principal, our superintendent, my ETFO President and the worker from Family and Children’s Services. Over the next three hours I answered questions, shared my documentation, toured my class where the scenario had taken place, shown them the damaged book case and then waited for what seemed like eternity for a decision as to whether I would be deemed safe to return to my professional responsibilities.

Fortunately for me, the evidence was extremely clear that my team had not only acted in the best interest of the child to ensure that further injury did not occur but had also had used our Behaviour Management System training and safety plan appropriately. BUT, had it not been for there being two adults there, detailed and ongoing documentation, clear and open communication to all parties and support from ETFO I am sure that this could have easily turned into a larger nightmare for me.

So once again, I encourage you to safeguard yourself against the possibility of false allegations by familiarizing yourself with safe practices as outlined by our provincial office. If you have any questions please seek support from your union. I hope that my experience can help ensure that other teachers do not ever have to face what I went through.



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Updating the IEP

With the end of Term 1, comes the IEP review and update process. While the intention is that the IEP is regularly reviewed and updated, many IEPs lay stagnant all term and are dusted off at reporting time to be updated. Teachers are excellent at setting goals, supporting goals, working with children to achieve goals, and even revising and modifying goals along the way. We often slip up in the record keeping portion of the process. How many times have we called the parent of a student on an IEP to talk about how they are doing, what they can be working on at home to support progress, etc., and not logged it in the IEP contact record? I often forgot to include that until it was IEP review time and then I would grab my communication binder and update. It is so important to keep the IEP up-to-date always. If you set a goal for a student to be able to count up to 50 and notice that they can count to 60, that goal needs to be changed on the IEP immediately! The whole point of the IEP is to have goals that are attainable, but not too easy. The hope is that we will push the student beyond their current ability level to extend their knowledge, hopefully closing the gap between where they are currently working, and the level their class is working at.

When recording communication, goals, assessments, accommodations, etc. on the IEP, I find it helpful to include as much detail as possible. Many IEP engines have drop-down menus, check boxes, etc. This might not always provide you with everything you need to paint an accurate picture of the student. Don’t be afraid to use the “other” box and explain. If you are doing something that is “outside of the box” for a student and it is working, document it!

We like to think that those students will be at our school forever and so will we, but that is not always the case. Unfortunately, families move, teachers move, people get ill, things happen. If you are suddenly not able to be at school, it is important that those records are up-to-date. Last year, I became ill and was quite abruptly sent home from work to await surgery. I was given next to no notice that I was not going to be at work, and the duration was undetermined. In the time that I was gone, two of my students moved. Had I not had their records up-to-date, I would have had to come in off of my sick leave (which might have jeopardized my leave) to collect up my data to update their records. Keeping things thorough and detailed also means your colleagues who have the student in the future know what things have been done for the student, what works, where the strengths are, etc., without having to track down previous teachers. With Lay-Offs, School Surplus, Transfers, etc., the staff in a school can change pretty rapidly. That document might be he only thing left in the school that really knows a student by the end of the staffing process in a given year.

There are lots of sites that will help with writing goals, scaffolding to ensure goals are progressing toward a larger goal, etc. It is often easy to get the IEP completed once you sit down and get to work. It is feeling the urgency and the importance that the document holds that really motivates a teacher to keep the IEP updated on paper, not just in their daily planning.

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Record Keeping

I am the worst for keeping records!! I always have been. There are so many templates online for keeping documentation of student work, parent contact, meetings, etc. – there are so many things to keep records of!! When you first start out, it will take some time to figure things out, but eventually, you will find things that you like, and you will personalize them as you go, and your “system” will evolve over the years until you have your own method.

Some things to consider when developing your own system:

1. Try to be consistent. At the very least, if you are consistent, you will be able to compare notes, you will be able to file things in a regular manner, and you will be able to rely on your notes from  months ago as being accurate if you are using a consistent format.

2. Put things where they belong immediately. There is nothing worse than finding student assessment notes on a post-it stuck to something months after you are done a unit and realizing that you had to re-assess that student because you thought you didn’t know what was on that post-it! File things immediately. If you are using post-its to keep track of student work, keep a file folder for each student on your desk and quickly put their post-its in the file at the end of each day to make sure you have them all. Then pick one planning time period a week to be your post-it planning and make sure you go through them and log them somehow.

3. Back up. If you are going digital, which many people are, back it up! Use a cloud storage system and just don’t use full names. I number my class so I just need to have numbered files. Evernote is great for storing student work and is user-friendly as a computer app and on an iPad or other device. You can snap pictures and videos of student work and tag other students if it was group work so it can be shared in multiple folders. This also saves your work in the cloud so it is accessible from anywhere! No lugging bins of student work home to work on report cards!!

4. Date everything!!! Make sure you put a date on things. I finally picked up a date stamp and it was the best $7 I ever charged to my school account! You don’t want to pull out a note that says you spoke with Julie’s mom about her math and refer to it if it was 5 months ago. Make sure know when things took place.

5. Make it as easy as possible on yourself. If you are going to go paper-pencil, make up some forms that have some of your key information already there, so you can easily fill things in when you need to. Colour-coding those pages might help too (i.e., blue for student records, pink for parent contact, etc.).

Whatever you decide to do, make sure you are as organized as possible. My records are getting better, but I still don’t have one perfect system. Your system will evolve. You will probably never find a blog post with someone’s record keeping system laid out and adopt it 100% without any modifications. It is a great idea to read up on other systems though to get ideas, even print off some forms, etc. to have on hand in case you need them. Record keeping is an overwhelming, but essential part of teaching, so it is so important that you take your time and do it properly. It could save you in the event of an allegation, or other situation.

Photo of Lisa Taylor

Behaviour Management – is there one magical system?


How you decide to manage behaviour in your classroom will in the end be up to you. There are many, MANY blogs about the topic, and many are worth reading, if not to get great ideas and resources, but to hear about what not to do! Pinterest is full of links to blog posts, posters, resources, etc., that you can use in your classroom. In the end, it will depend on what you are comfortable with, and the group you have.

When I first started teaching, I tried a marble jar. I made the mistake in my first year of taking marbles out when my kids were misbehaving and this was an awful mistake on my part. I totally lost their trust. If you use a system where you give something, if at all possible, don’t take it back. They have earned that and no future behaviour should impact past positive behaviour.

There is more than just a marble jar out there now! I am going to list a few systems I have used, and some I haven’t. Keep in mind that each of these systems needs to be rejigged to fit your own needs for your teaching style, and the group of kids you are working with.

Class Dojo

Class Dojo is a digital app that is great for tracking behaviours and students and parents can check their progress from home. If you are absent a lot (I was often out on union business, personal illness, and supporting an ill child), it is a great system as you can leave it for

an OT and you can “check in” on your kids and see how they are doing throughout the absence. You get to choose a monster/alien/creature for each student. When I created my class the year I used this app, I chose one colour for my high fliers. I didn’t tell the class this, but it was an easy way for the OT to remember what students needed more positive reminders.

The thing I don’t like about Class Dojo is that it is a token economy where you can give and take points away. Students can actually be in the negative. This is very discouraging for students. It has always been my philosophy that if a child has earned some positive reward of sorts, that they should keep it. If you feel this same way, this app might not be for you, or you would just not use the deduct a point feature.

I have also used this app to track behaviours (secretly – not as a whole class management system). I had a student who was struggling with several severe behaviours – hands on, calling out, personal space, etc. We set him up on Class Dojo and the EA that was in our room would track with positives and negatives as it gave us an excellent print out of his trends. You can change the “behaviours” that it starts with, so you can make them as specific as you need. We even changed one to keep track of ticks in another student.

“Pick Me” Coins

A few years ago I read a blog post about a coins system that I used in my Grade 2 class and absolutely loved! Here is a link to the blog post  – I numbered my students, got some counters (many schools have these in great abundance, but you can get them from most education stores for about $5-10 for enough for the whole class). Each time I saw someone doing something awesome, I would give them a “Pick Me” coin. They would then get to put it into my “Pick Me” bin. I just used a small spaghetti sauce container, or pizza sauce container. Something that will fill up quickly and make a nice sound when you shake it. That way my kids knew I was on the lookout. They put their coin into the draw and then whenever I needed a helper or helpers for anything – attendance, hand things out, collect things, water the plants, run something to the office, etc., etc., etc., the list truly does go on, I just drew a number. This was awesome for two reasons – 1. I never remember to change the “jobs” on the job chart and then the one kid in the class that is on a sucky job like sort the garbage complains relentlessly and you feel awful; and 2. There is never any need to pick anyone for anything and have to think about who has been doing a good job, etc. The system does it for you. My only added rule was that they had to be on task when I drew them. If they weren’t, their number simply went back into the draw for next time. I would empty the “Pick Me” jar at the end of every week.

This is also how I taught my entire probability unit!

I even started letting my kids nominate each other for Pick Mes. I made a form up and they could fill it in and submit it to me. I introduced it during persuasive writing and it was a huge success – and a great way for my kids to start to look for the positive behaviours in others!

This was an amazing system and my class loved it. The second year I did it, my Grade 2s did not buy into it as much and I had to use something else entirely. Every class is different.

Stop Light

My daughter is in Grade 1 right now and she comes home every day saying, “I was on Green all day!” – her class is doing a stop light system. My understanding, from my 5 year old, is that when someone makes a bad choice, they move down to the yellow light, and then down to the red light. “When someone makes to to the red light, Mme calls home!”

Clothes Pin Charts

I have seen variations of the clothes pin names moving around. The thing I am not crazy about with clip charts, is that it really singles out the kids who struggle. Those kids who have IEPs and behaviour plans are going to really lose out in this system. It is really easy to get discouraged and give up if you know that every day you are going to end up at the bottom. Set those kids up for success – catch them doing something awesome to move them up as often as you can to start the momentum early. If you can get them moving toward outstanding early in the day, you will be less likely to end up at Parent Contact. If you leave it to them, they will likely end up at the bottom.

NOISE and Decibel Reader

I used this idea for snack time mostly. Put the letters to the word NOISE up on the board. Erase a letter each time the kids need a reminder that it is getting too loud. When it gets to just NO – that means there is NO Talking. It took a few times for them to get to the No Talking part to realize they needed to keep it down. I have paired this with an app that shows the decibels of the room so the lunch helpers don’t have to guess, and have just given them an upper range and when the class goes over that limit, take down a letter. I project the app on the screen so the kids can see where they are as well – add a little science to their snack time!

When it comes down to it, there is no one perfect behaviour management system. Your behaviour management system won’t solve your classroom management problems on its own. It is all in how you use it and manipulate it to serve your purpose. Keep in mind that positive reinforcement is far more effective than negative.

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Communication with Parents – Part 2

Getting the word out to all parents can come in many forms. Some teachers choose to Tweet classroom updates, while others use a texting service like Whatever you choose to do to contact all of your parents, should be consistent, and you should be sure to only use it when contacting the whole group.

When you need to address an issue/concern with a parent directly, there are a number of ways to go about doing it. Whatever way you decide to use, make sure you document everything. Document every attempted call, every agenda note, every email you send (and don’t forget to CC your admin when you do contact them through email!). Documentation can become very important if a parent comes to the school upset that something caught them off guard, or claims that they were never informed. Having your documentation can protect you. Record dates, times, type of communication, and the reason for the communication. If you get in touch, record the outcome of the interaction as well. If you are doing this digitally, try not to use full names (instead of saying, “Contacted Lisa Taylor to discuss issues with her son Andrew Taylor….” you may want to code it as, “Contacted L. Taylor to discuss issues with her son AT.”). This just adds a level of security. If you are keeping these files in paper format, make sure you store them securely, as you may be recording the details of sensitive conversations.

So how do you actually make contact? There are several ways you can go:

Agenda Message – don’t include details of a concern/incident in the agenda, as they can often get left on the school bus, or read by other students. Just put a message that requests that the parent either contact you to discuss, or give some dates of when they can meet/when they are available to receive your call.

Phone Message – if you call and get the parent, great! Discuss away. If you get a voicemail system, if it clearly states the family name and you are 100% confident you have dialed the correct number and this is that family’s answering machine, you should still consider only identifying yourself and asking if the parent can call you, or send a message in the Agenda of times that would be good to meet/call. Do not leave details of a concern or situation on the voicemail system, as you don’t know who will listen to it, nor do you know if someone else might overhear it. You also do not want your own voice recorded, sharing information about a student, as this could put you in some hot water. Just ask the parent to call back. If the “concern” is to remember to bring a permission slip, or a forgotten library book, these messages can be left on a machine.

Email – if you decide to email a parent, treat it like a digital Agenda, and just request times for a meeting, or phone call. Do not use names in the communication (i.e., “can you let me know when you are available to chat about A’s progress at school?”), on the off chance that you have mistyped the email address. Also, always CC your principal, both to keep them in the loop, and so that there is a 3rd participant in the conversation. This is more about protection for yourself. If a parent is upset about something, they may try to take email comments out of context. If the admin has been included in the conversation all along, they will be able to defend your choices, and support you without any difficulty.

In-Person – this is always the best way to do it. Body language, tone, expression, some or all of these things are lost in the other forms of communication. If at all possible, try to just use the other 3 types to get to an in-person meeting.

Don’t forget, no matter how you communicate, make sure you document everything. Everyone is different in how they keep that information, but the most important thing, is making sure you are keeping track of the communication with as much detail as you can. These notes not only help you to remember what was discussed/decided, but they also may help you if there is a dispute or concern.

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IEP Creation and Implementation

What Is an Individual Education Plan?

An IEP is a written plan describing the special education program and/or services required by a particular student. It identifies learning expectations that are modified from or alternative to the expectations given in the curriculum policy document for the appropriate grade and subject or course, and/or any accommodations and special education services needed to assist the student in achieving his or her learning expectations. For additional information on creating or understanding the IEP, use the following Ontario Ministry of Education link:

The IEP can have a variety of focuses from academics, accommodations to behaviour and/or social skills. It is essential for students who have been identified as exceptional through the IPRC process. They are also used for students to whom the board feels require special education programs or support to meet curriculum expectations. The IEP is developed within the first 5 weeks of school. It is critical for teachers to seek out as much data about a student as possible (report cards, previous IEP, formal and informal assessments, OSR and any other diagnostic assessments that you are able to complete with a student).

The IEP is drafted by the classroom teacher (usually with support of a school’s Special Education Resource Teacher) and then shared with the parent/guardian for their feedback and finally signed and becomes the legal document by which a student is assessed. It is a detailed document that requires a lot of time to create. It is revisited after each assessment period and adjusted according the progress or lack of progress a student has made toward the target expectations.

This is a critical component to helping each and every child be successful as it epitomizes the need to teach to each child’s needs and not just to a curriculum standard. I highly advise that teachers take the time to familiarize themself with the IEP process.

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Long Range Plans – Are they ever really done?

Some teachers dive right in over the summer and plan their whole year out! I have never been that kind of teacher. Not only do I not have the patience, I am simply not organized enough to get everything laid out in advance. I find it especially difficult to get long range plans together before I have met my students.

I have tried doing a spreadsheet with a few words in each box to outline what will be happening and have each cell represent a 1 or 2 week block (pictured above), I have tried doing all of the different strands on their own page with the whole year laid out, I have even printed the curriculum document for each strand I teach and cut each expectation out and then paired them with similar expectations (i.e., in Grade 2 Science the students look at the changes of states between solids, liquids and gases, this could be paired with measuring temperature in the Math Measurement Strand, and even volume). Then I tape them all down in groups and go from there.

Last year I went with a template that gives a full 2 page spread with a row of cells for each week. At the beginning of the year, I planned out general ideas for each month/week (i.e., I would focus on data management – graphing for the first 2 weeks, picking a just right book, and writing a retell to be connected to the Social Studies curriculum of Celebrations). Each page started out very general. As the year went on, I could use each page as more of a detailed planning spot where I would go in and “beef up” the plans for that week. Adding in the specifics of what I was going to be doing. I found this was excellent, as it acted as a long range plan and my general daybook. In many cases I would even write in the strands that we had accomplished as we finished them up for my own records.

Handing in my long range plans was difficult, as they were very thin to start. I sat down with my principal and walked him through my plan. I had taught Grade 2 before so I was pretty familiar with where the curriculum would fit together, and I had worked with my grade partner to pair up on some things and make sure we were not overlapping on others (i.e., we didn’t want to both be working on certain strands at the same time as we shared resources, but others we would want to do at the same time to bring our classes together, etc.). My plans were not overly detailed, but they had genera ideas for when I would be working on different strands, etc.. I explained to him that they are not really, “done” yet. He demanded that I finish them and submit them. It took some explaining, but in the end, I was able to create my plans the way I wanted and share them digitally through Google Drive. This way, he could pop in at any time and see where my class was headed and it was always up to date.

Not only did this format work exceptionally well for me, my principal was quite pleased in the end because my plans were the only accurate ones he had by May! We change where we are going with our teaching all the time, it is just what happens in a classroom! You get an email from a local theater company that they are putting on a show in January that would fit perfectly with something you were going to teach in May: you change your plans to accommodate. You find out that they materials you needed for your awesome unit are booked up for the month you were planning to teach it: you change your plans to accommodate. Long Range Plans are as much a living document as any other document we work with! Let it be organic and know that there will be times where you planned to work on something for 2 weeks and at the end of 2 weeks, they still don’t get it! Accommodate and move forward!

Below are some pictures of the plans I submitted last year to my principal as they looked at the end of the year – they were changed A LOT between September and the end of the year! If a box was left empty, it was because I would be continuing what we had started the week before.

At the beginning of the year, the page for these weeks might have said: Days, punctuation, predicting/retell, writing routines, read numbers and locate on number line, and 2D geometry. When I got to that week, I beefed those weeks up a bit, elaborating on what I was going to do each specific week to build on the concepts, etc.

Math in Play-based Learning

Math is integrated into most of the learning centres in the classroom. Although glancing around the room, it often looks just like play. To ensure that I am continually assessing for math, I keep a clipboard of observations sheets accessible. I prefer observation sheets that have a square with each child’s name that I can fill-in with any pertinent information I want. Then, by glancing at the sheet, I can easily see if there is a blank box and ensure that I seek out that child to observe. Looking around the classroom, I may see children measuring at the water table, sorting in the drama centre, or comparing shapes in the building centre. I approach and listen. Often, I can record their understanding with a phrase or a brief description. Then, I am able to clarify or extend their learning. For example, if a child is counting animal figures and gets stuck at 15, I may direct them to the number line to show them what was missed. Observation and recording them at play allows for assessment of their current understanding as well as an opportunity to support their learning.

At the beginning of the year, some parents may ask about the math program, as they do not see generic math sheets coming home in the backpacks. It is therefore a good idea to take photos of the children engaged in mathematical activities as you are observing them in the classroom. These can be added to a website to communicate to your families what math learning looks like in the classroom. Or you can print them to display in the hallway, add to a student’s portfolio, or keep for a parent interview.

Recording comments during circle time is also another way to demonstrate a child’s understanding of math. Last week, when the children were considering a number line together, one student pointed out that there were kid numbers and teenage numbers. He said, “The 1-10 are like kid numbers and the 11-20 are like teenager numbers!” Another day we did a group activity when reading the book One Monday Morning by Uri Shulevitz. Using connecting cubes we represented the characters, as someone new arrived, each day of the week. When the concrete graph was finished, a student observed, “It looks like stairs going up!” By recording these comments, I am able to add them to their math profile when writing reports or planning for further learning.

The photos show what math looks like in a play-based learning environment:



This child is using 1:1 representation with counters on the light pad to represent each individual in our class photo (her idea!)






This child has sorted the animals into two groups and is then counting them as she places them on the top of the drums (her idea!)






These students are measuring volume by filling a larger container with a smaller one.






The children grouped like objects, sorted them, and displayed them on wood blocks using 1:1 representation.




There are also opportunities for children to write mathematically throughout the classroom with pencils and paper provided, as well as number lines and number displays of quantity. They use magnetic numbers to put in order on white boards and they learn to recognize their phone numbers at the carpet (after learning their first and last names), then write their phone numbers at entry during sign-in. Children enjoy songs with counting and books with sequences. Math is happening all around the classroom and children are intuitive with math. When teaching Kindergarten, it is important to see it, name it, and record it!



Photo of Alison Board

Reflecting on Reporting

After spending the last week or two working on reports, I have asked myself what I can do to make the reporting process more efficient next time. My dining room table was covered in piles of workbooks, an array of notes, observations, and my assessment binder. More than enough right? Well, maybe because I am very visual, (and thorough), I needed something more to assure myself that I had considered the “whole child” as Tina had referred to in an earlier post. So I went to the computer and opened my file of photos from the classroom. Here were some images that captured demonstrations of learning skills and showed understanding of the curriculum in a different form.

This photo of the girls weaving makes teamwork visible, as they share the task of weaving with one piece of fabric.

Another photo (see below) shows a student demonstrating independence in her learning. She is using both the text and the world map to find information about a community in Pakistan.

Photos like these are a form of documentation. Documentation can be used for reflection as well as planning. Documentation can be shared with the children, the parents, or colleagues. We see children in the classroom every day demonstrating learning, and often don’t think of taking photos of such every day events. However, during report card times these photos are an invaluable part of the assessment process. Next term, I plan on using my camera every week!