5 Christmas Gift Ideas for your Paraprofessionals

I am beyond blessed to have four amazing paraprofessionals that work in my classroom. I sometimes laugh when I think about what my class would be like without them. I would lose my sanity. More importantly, I could not do my job. During the holidays, I buy or make each of my paraprofessionals a little something to remind them of how important they are to me and the kids. Often, parents will get me a gift and, without even thinking, completely forget to get my paraprofessionals something. Over the years, I have purchased my paraprofessionals several different items for Christmas, the beginning of the school year, or other holidays. Here are five of my favorite practical paraprofessional gifts! Since, I have four paraprofessionals, I tried to be careful of the price as well. I have included Amazon referral links. If you end up purchasing a gift that is listed below, please use the referral link!


1. Winter Scarf


My paras have to meet the students at the buses each morning at 7:10. During the winter time, it is very cold, which is why a thick winter scarf is a practical, cute, and sweet gift for your paras. I love these from Amazon because you can get them in a variety of colors.



2. Tumblers


At the end of last year, I purchased each of my aides a mason jar tumbler, placed Kool-Aid packets inside, and made signs that said, "Thank you for being such a Kool Aide. Have a krazy and kool summer!" You could easily adjust this for the holidays.


This year, I purchased my aides the vacuum sealed tumblers and purchased vinyl names to personalize each one. I love these because they keep drinks cool or warm for a significant amount of time. My aides can use them throughout the school day.




3. Jewelry


I found these adorable autism necklaces and bracelets on Amazon this year. While I did not purchase these for my paras, I did purchase them for a few of my special education teacher friends. They are absolutely adorable.
         

4. Lotion and Socks


I always try to think of something that my paras will utilize during their break...something that will help them relax and enjoy their break. I also know that my paras wash their hands a million times during the day, making them dry and in need of lotion. Lotion and socks are always a sweet gesture for your paras. You can get lotion on sale at Bath and Body or through a local Mary Kay consultant (if you are looking for a consultant, let me know). Look at these adorable socks on Amazon!



5. Apron (for the classroom) 


I purchased minion, spiderman, and Dr. Seuss aprons for me and my paras at the beginning of the school year. They have come in so handy! No more searching the classroom for a pen, goldfish, hand sanitizer, or kleenex because we an have them on us at all times! Also, they are so cute. The kids like them too. You can purchase the aprons on Etsy here. 

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Time Management for the Special Educator



If you are anything like me, your typical day looks a bit like this....get up, get dressed, spill coffee, get dressed again, drive to work, organize paperwork, teach, fill out paperwork, manage behavior, fill out more paperwork, stuff your face with food, connect with your staff, do more paperwork, lesson plan,  drive home, eat dinner, socialize with loved ones, stress about work, try to stay awake, watch half of a tv show, fall asleep while watching a tv show, go to bed....

Some--- most--- days, I feel like am barely keeping my head above water with the responsibilities of a being a special education teacher and, well, a human being in general. I am a special education teacher, but more importantly, I am a Christian, a girlfriend, a daughter, a sister, a friend, a creator, and a small business owner. With each of those roles, comes responsibilities, duties, and the demand for time! With all of the craziness of life and living, there has to be some sort of system for time management, right?! To be honest, I have a difficult time managing my time and my stress. I have not mastered time management by any means, I have found a few techniques and tips that can help keep you feeling in control and on top of things.

1. Know your priorities! 


I am a special education teacher. Sure, I would love to be the BEST special education teacher in the world or even at my school, however, I have quickly realized that in order for me to be the BEST special education teacher I would need to invest my entire life, finances, and time to teaching. I am being realistic when I say that is not going to happen. With that said, I CAN be a happy, healthy, well-balanced teacher for my students. I CAN be the best teacher that I can be for my students, providing them with a loving, safe, and stimulating educational environment each day. While teaching is my "calling" and my "vocation," it is also only one aspect of my life. I have found that when my priorities are properly aligned, I am a happier, more balanced person. Stop for a moment and write out your priorities (1-5+). What is the most important thing or person in your life. What is the one thing or person that you feel deserves a significant amount of your time, energy, and thoughts? Is it God? Is it your family? Is it your spouse? Is it your children? Write a list of your top priorities and then reflect daily on that list. Did your actions line up with your list? What do you need to change in order to make the people or things at the top of your list more of a priority? Do you need to spend less time lesson planning so that you can spend more time with your children? Do you need to spend less time shopping online so that you can spend some quality time with parents? Do not be too hard on yourself if you managed yourself poorly one day. There is always another day to try again.

2. Learn to say "no."

I am currently reading the book entitled, Present Over Perfect: Leaving Behind the Frantic for a Simpler, More Soulful Way of Living, by Shauna Niequist. In the book, Shauna states, "The very thing that makes you you, that makes you great, that makes you different from everyone else is also the thing that, unchecked, will ruin you." As I was reading, that sentence stood out to me. The very thing that I love so much, teaching, could also be the thing that ruins me. Teaching, the thing that brings me so much joy, could somehow become the same thing that sucks the life and joy out of me. How could that be? I will tell you how. It all starts by being scared to say "no" in the small moments of the day. It starts by being scared of saying, "No, I will not stay at work past 5pm another Friday night."  It starts by being scared of saying, "No, you cannot have that attitude while working in this classroom" to a paraprofessional that is working in your classroom.  It starts by being scared of saying "no" to another committee or team or Teachers Pay Teachers product idea." It starts by by being scared to say, "No, I'm not a perfect special education teacher, but I am trying my best." It's okay to say no. In fact, in many circumstances, it is good to say no! Learn to embrace the word "no" and use it wisely throughout your day. It is okay if that adapted book is not laminated or if the Christmas decorations are only partly put up. It is okay to praise and CORRECT the behavior of your staff in a professional matter. It is okay to put your family, friends, or sanity before a leaders

I highly recommend the book mentioned above for anyone who struggles with being a perfectionist like me. You can purchase it for under $15 on Amazon. Please use this referral link if you purchase:

                                                                           



3. Utilize your break and lunch.

This is something that I learned from my master teacher when I was student teaching. I am so thankful that I learned this lesson early. Take your break (if you are given one) and your lunch (if you are given one). Get OUT of the classroom, STOP working, socialize with other teachers, or just sit in your car. The class will survive without you, and if they do not, then there are bigger issues that need to be addressed. This does not mean you have to just sit and stare at the ceiling, but it does mean utilizing your break and lunch for YOU! Do you need to run to the bank? Do you need to check your grades for your graduate class? Do you need to check-in on a photo order? Do you need to get gas in your car?  Do you need to get some Starbucks? Use your breaks and lunches to 1) relax, get away from the classroom for a moment, regroup and 2) to take care of personal business. 

4. Use a planner.

I am not sure about you, but I find satisfaction in writing tasks and events down and then crossing those same tasks and events off once they are finished. With that said, I always invest in a planner for each year. This year, I bought a Recollections planner from Michaels on Black Friday for under $10. Some people love Erin Condren, others love Paper Plum. Whatever, your planner of choice may be, it's important to keep your to-do lists and events written down or typed out somewhere. It is also cool to look back at an old planner and read all of the things that you have done and accomplished that year.


In addition to a planner, I utilize a few other sheets from my Personal Planner to keep me organized and balanced. For example, I am challenging myself to be healthier this year. With that said, I utilize a workout planner sheet for keeping track of my goals and progress. At the end of a month, if I have met my goal of going to the gym XX many times, then I will reward myself with a new clothing item. Check out my Personal Planner on my Teachers Pay Teachers Store here. It is on sale today and will cost you less than $2!




It includes: Weekly Planner Sheets, Meal Planner Sheet, Workout Planner Sheet, Blog/TPT Planner Sheet, Personal Devotion Sheets, and Expense Sheets. 
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Sensory Integration in the Special Education Classroom

I am a huge fan of sensory integration in my classroom. Sensory integration gives my students what they need, allowing them to feel better, behave better, and learn better. The more I teach students with significant disabilities, the more I understand how important sensory integration is. It has truly changed the dynamics of my classroom.

I know that some teachers are not a fan of sensory integration in their classroom because they believe it is messy, they believe it requires additional staff, or because it is unconventional.  

With that said, here are some tips and trick to integrating sensory techniques into the classroom! 

                              

How I Incorporate Sensory Techniques into My Classroom:
1)   Morning Sensory Spin: Every morning, we do attendance, find our names or write our names, and sing each student a song. While we are singing about a particular student, we allow that student to either spin in my desk chair or bounce on the yoga ball. This allows EVERY student in my classroom to receive some sensory input to start off his or her day. I have found that almost every student loves spinning in my desk chair and many love bouncing on the big yoga ball. Last year, we also had the option of jumping on the trampoline while we sang.

2)   Sensory Seating: This is a common one. I have yoga balls that the students can sit on. I allow my students to sit on their chairs backwards. This allows for them to receive pressure on their abdomen without moving their desk across from leaning on it. They lean on their chair instead of the desk. I also have seat cushions that my students are allowed to sit on. See the list of tools/equipment for more ideas.

3)   Sensory Center: I had a sensory center last school year. I had eleven students and five aides, making for a very busy classroom. In order to cut down on volume and distractions during centers, I had one of my wonderful aides run a sensory center outside. The center consisted of riding scooter boards up and down the ramp outside, spinning in the spinning cone, tossing balls back and forth, writing with chalk, and blowing bubbles. My students loved it. This year, my sensory center will be during free choice time. Instead of having free play, I will be focusing on sensory input (bouncing on the balls, rolling on the peanut ball, and spinning in spinning cone).  ***Additionally, I HIGHLY recommend the books listed below for ideas for you sensory center or for P.E.

Spinning Cone, a favorite in our classroom

4)   Sensory Break: Some of my students require more sensory input than others. For those students, I allow them to have a planned sensory break during their instructional day. This is more personalized and direct sensory integration. It looks different for each student.

5)   Movement Breaks: Typically, during a 30-minute group lesson, we take 3 dance breaks. We love GoNoodle in my classroom. This allows for my students to receive visual, auditory, and physical stimulation. Also, I try to incorporate movement into my daily activities (rotations, flag salute, music, and etc.) We repeat the same videos over and over again. This helps with skill development, confidence, and even speech (they can sing along if they know the song). 

6)   Quiet Time: After recess and lunch, times that have a large amount of sensory stimulation, I make sure to give my students a break. After recess, we sit and watch educational YouTube videos and songs while we eat our snack. After lunch, we sit and watch Signing Time. Many of my students just need a few minutes to unwind and relax before moving on to direct instruction. 

7) Sensory Boxes: I recommend creating sensory boxes for those students that need fidgets or sensory tools throughout their day. Each student can have a box filled with whatever sensory tools they need (putty, puzzles, lip whistles, etc.) Sensory boxes are especially helpful for oral motor tools, helping prevent the spreading of germs and saliva from student to student. Remember to clean oral motor tools every day and keep them clean and dry when storing.

Sensory Tools/Equipment that I Love: (click on the words for Amazon purchasing information)

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Sensory Resources that I Love:

THESE TWO BOOKS ARE AMAZING! I HIGHLY RECOMMEND! 
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My Favorite Unique Learning Systems Lists and Lessons for Students with Significant Disabilities

I just finished my second year of teaching. I have learned so much over the past two years. I have found so many wonderful Teachers Pay Teachers products, have become familiar with common reading and math curriculums such as, Edmark, SRA, and Touch Math, and have created many of my own supplemental materials. With that said, my absolute favorite resource that I have access to in my classroom (and at home) is Unique Learning System (ULS) and News 2 You (n2y).  I have found that when used together, the two curriculums are entertaining and engaging, aligned to Common Core State Standards, easy to use, comprehensive, and appropriate for a variety of learners. When I first started using ULS/n2y I was a bit overwhelmed because of how much content there is on the website. I am still learning more and more about the curriculum and discovering new activities and resources, but I have become very familiar with some activities and lessons. I am teaching ESY and I am using it as a time to try out new lessons and activities with my students. For those of you that would like to do the same, the summer units are FREE. Check them out here.


Before I Begin Planning: 

1) I print out the Suggested Monthly Plan ONCE for the entire year. This is a monthly plan that was created by the company. Because each classroom is unique, you will need to adjust the plan as needed for your classroom. My classroom is composed of Level 1 Learners. I take that into consideration when planning. I can use this Monthly Plan for my entire year. I currently use the curriculum for whole group instruction, but hope to begin using it for small group instruction as well this upcoming school year. We use ULS on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays and n2Y on Wednesday and Fridays. The Suggested Monthly Plan includes a blank planning page for you to use as you would like. 



2) I print out the Supply List each month. This a "cheat sheet" of all the supplies that I will need to complete the lessons and activities for the entire month. This saves me from making multiple trips to the store each month. Hey! I can even order from Amazon and be done with one click of a button. 


3) I print out Supplemental Reading List each month. This is a great go to sheet for books to read during Morning Meeting (my calendar time) or during those random transition times that you need something to do. All of the books are leveled and relate to the monthly theme. Some of them require a subscription, but some are free! 


4) I print out the Printing Guide each month. This is my favorite sheet. I actually do not print out many of my ULS lessons and activities. Most of the activities we do using the computer and projector or an iPad, but I love this sheet because it allows me to see all of the activities for the entire month. I can check off the activities as we do them and color coat the activities we will be doing by month. 


My Favorite Lessons on Unique Learning Systems: 

Lessons 1&2: These lessons are sweet and simple. We read a book as a class and then answer five comprehension questions. We do these lessons several times throughout the month. We work on predicting what the book is going to be about before we read, identifying the author and illustrator, and reviewing the book. The level 1 comprehensions questions in Lesson 3 are absolutely perfect for my students. We project the questions, have the computer read them to us, and I call one student at a time to the board to answer a question. I prompt them to answer as needed.

 
Lesson 7-9: We read the words together. I review the initial letter and the sound that the initial letter makes. Because none of my students can write (the lesson below is far too difficult for the majority of my class), I am hoping to practice typing the words and stamping the words by modifying some of the worksheets and activities in Lesson 8 & 9.



Lesson 11: BINGO. Lesson 11 contains vocabulary word cards (calling cards) that I am planning on putting up on my pocket chart each month and simple bingo cards that can be used over and over again to review the vocabulary words for each month.


Lesson 16a: We practice counting objects that relate to the theme. We match the number and then talk about concepts such as, less, more, and same. 




Lesson 24: I appreciate the patterning worksheets on ULS, but I like the patterning worksheets on n2y even better. My students have gotten so great at patterning over this past year that I am going to have to move on to the more difficult lessons.

Those are my favorite lessons and activities. I have heard several people mention that unique is just too difficult for their students. I agree that some activities are difficult, but they can easily be implemented with modification. I have students of all levels in my classroom and all of them can interact with this curriculum in some way. If you have several Level 1 learners and non-verbal students, be sure to check out Active Participation Guidelines and Active Participation Scripts. After reading those instructional guides and reflecting on my own classroom, I developed this AT Checklist as a way for me to remember what I need to do to make each monthly unit accessible to my non-verbal/more impacted students. My iPad communication application of choice is Dynavox Compass, but you can use whatever device that you have access to. 


You can download my assistive technology to-do list here. 

How do you use ULS/n2y in you classroom?
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State Reports for Special Learners

My class had a blast studying the beautiful state of California. I teach a moderate to severe 4-6th grade special education class. As you know, studying state history is part of the 5th grade curriculum. In hopes of making it possible for my students to participate in the general education curriculum, we studied our beautiful state and even completed state reports. It also was a really fun theme for Back-to-School Night! I hope the following pictures can be inspirational and helpful for your own state history unit.

My students watercolored on the California map. Then, my aides and I cute them out and glued them on black paper. This created the cover for their state report book (upper left square). The pages of their state reports were created using Teaching Special Thinkers Spring Easy Art Pack. I modified it a bit to correlate with California's flower, butterfly, and bird. 

The state report books were displayed on their desks for Back to School Night. 


I printed out pictures of various missions in California. Each students was able to choose a different mission. The students then watercolored them. They looked beautiful when they were done. 
Below the "California Missions" bulletin board is a California timeline utilizing magnetic numbers. 


We had so much fun building our mission! 



We also panned for gold and talked about the difference between "Golden Good Choices" and "Rocky Bad Choices."


 We cannot forget about Hollywood! Each student received an award and got a fun candy ring.
My students also put their handprints on the Hollywood "window" and took pictures on the red carpet.



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