Teacher Self Care

We all have heard the saying that "You can not pour from an empty cup".  We know how important self-care is, but sometimes as teachers (and moms), we sweep it to the side so we can continue to do our mountains of paperwork.  As special education teachers, we often work with kiddos who are behaviorally and/or emotionally challenging.  With these challenging situations, we could experience "compassion fatigue"  This can lead to increased depression, emotional exhaustion, decreased happiness at work, difficulties with our personal relationships, and loneliness.  The stress we experience can also impact our concentration and attention (Shapiro, 2007).  When we take care of ourselves it shows not only in our appearance and emotions but also in our teaching and classrooms. This needs to be something we focus on DAILY, not just once in a while.

I asked my coworkers how they practice self-care and they came up with a great list.

  • sleep, going to bed early no matter what
  • pedicures 
  • drinking lots of water
  • meal planning for clean eating
  • water aerobics
  • alone time
  • watch mindless tv
  • read 
  • dipping into the candy drawer during planning
  • new pens
  • teaching Jazzercise
  • walking 4 miles daily
  • morning/nightly walks with lots of talking and laughter
  • a husband who cooks
  • girls night out
  • daily stretching
  • Chocolate
I know what you are thinking, "Caitlin, this list is great, but how do I fit it in?"  My number one  answer, make it a priority.  Just like getting your IEPs written, reports filed, and lesson plans completed are a priority, self care must be added to that list.  I schedule a pedicure once every 1 -2 months.  I put it on my google calendar and then share it with my husband.  That way he knows that I am taking that 1 hour for me.   I do the same thing with a girls night out.  I also take 10 - 15 minutes every morning to stretch or do some minor weight lifting.  This helps me get ready for the day and focus on what I need to do.  Every night, I read before I go to sleep.   How do you practice self care?  Please share in the comments!

I started a teacher self-care board on Pinterest.  Check it out here for more ideas on how to take care of you!


Tracking behavior in preschool

In my opinion, one of the hardest things to help students with in preschool is modifying their behavior.   In order to know if they demonstrate behaviors (okay, usually this is obvious) that need modification and to know if our interventions are working we need to have some kind of tracking system. I have talked about data collection before and I know that one system doesn't work for everyone.  I switch my behavior tracking systems sometimes multiple times throughout the year.  Today, I wanted to share some ideas that work for me.

First things first, you need to identify the behavior you are targeting.  Once you have your target behavior you can move onto one of these methods.


 I have said before and I will say it again.  This is a great system of you can keep up with it.  In my current position, I find it difficult to keep up with.  You can find out more about that by checking out this post.


Sometimes I find the easiest way for me to track is a simple tally sheet.  Currently, I am doing this to keep track of the number of times I need to redirect a student during circle. One of my coworkers shared a how many times sheet she found at this website (Really, there a few great tools here).

Rubber band or paper clips: 

Something else I have talked about before.  Put paperclips in your pocket or rubber bands around your wrist.  Move them to the opposite pocket when the behavior is exhibited.  If you need to track multiple students or behaviors you can use a different color for each.

Task analysis: 

Sometimes we think a task analysis is just for teaching a student to do a task.  However, right now I have the perfect example to use for behavior.  One of my kiddos refuses to use the bathroom at school.  This student is completely potty trained.  We decided to break down the task of using the toilet to figure out what may be the reason behind her behavior.  We now are tracking how they do with each step and finding that the act of standing in the bathroom is not the issue.  To track this, I have a sheet that lists each step and then a space next to the stop for the date, level of prompting, success rate, and reinforcements needed.

The biggest thing you have to remember is to do what works for you.  If you don't like it, you won't do it.

Organizing for Small groups

I don't about you, but being a special education teacher, I tend to run a lot of small groups during the day.  While running groups, I have little to no transition time so everything has to be ready and at my finger tips.

The first way to do this is good planning.  I have a weekly planning sheet for each group. Nothing grand, but it works for me.  Next is your set up.

I have a set of 10 drawers and each drawer is labeled.  In the drawers are activities by group, various alphabet activities, the books for my Orton-Gillingham/Wilson assessments, paper, and other resources.  This makes it easy for me to grab what I need quickly.

On the white shelf, I have a plethora of materials.  The small drawers hold letter and word card for quick drills for each group. On the very top is a utensil organizer I found in the clearance section of target that I use to keep pens, pencils, glue, scissors and those kinds of things that I need to use.  I also have a small 9 drawer organizer where I keep brads, paperclips, binder clips, etc.  The little containers hold reinforcers (because in special education editable reinforcers are often a necessity).  On the middle shelf, I have white bards, games, dice, and "teacher" books.  On the bottom shelf, I have a basket with my gel boards, a basket of whiteboard markers, colored pencils, crayons, and a box with my word cards.

So that is it, everything is all over the place, but I can get to it and use it quickly which is what I need.  I find that by the end of the week, my space is a disaster area so cleaning up after myself is always needed.


Social Stories 101

Social Stories.  We say it a lot, but do you know what they actually are and how they can help your students?

What are Social Stories:

 The concept of Social Stories is attributed to Carol Gray. She began developing the concept in the 1990's and if you look on her website she has a few articles explaining the history.  In short, a social story is a learning tool that is used to provide social supports for individuals. Social Stories are evidence-based and help the individual using the social story understand some of the little things in life that we often know innately. If you are doing a true Social Story, then you follow Carol Gray's protocol.  Honestly, I think the ones I write do not follow the protocol, but they work!

Why should I use Social Stories with my students:

Social Stories are great ways to help students understand expectations, routines, behaviors in a specific situation.   Social stories can provide visual/pictorial examples of expectations and are usually in story form which makes them more interesting to our students. 

Which students should I use Social Stories with?

All of them!  Ok, so I know typically we that that social stories should be used for students with Autism, but I have found that they work with all of my students.  Sometimes, just have those expectations written out is a reminder of what the student should be doing. 

How do I write social stories?

I promise it is not as hard as it seems.  A great way to start is a good old google search for social stories on ou specific topic.  I usually don't find exactly what I need, but I then can sometimes get some ideas and make the story fit my situation. I like to use real pictures and will go around taking pictures of set up situations for pictures to demonstrate what behavior I want.  For instance, I have a student who is having a lot of difficulties getting on the bus.  My first step was to take a picture of the bus drive, bus aide, the seat the student sit in, and the bus.  I then was able to write the student a story about getting on the bus, riding to school, getting off to see all their friends and having fun at school.  Guess what?  Getting on the bus has been much easier.  

If you want to know more about the prescribed way of writing a Social Story, this article from PBISWORLD is useful. 

I wrote it, now what?

Introduce the story to your student in a non-stressful time.  For example, a story about how we handle name calling should not be presented for the first time as a reaction to the student being called a name.  It should be introduced beforehand so the student is familiar with the story.  It can then be pulled out in that specific situation.  The story should also be reviewed at various times to remind the student of the expected behavior.  I often keep a copy of the story in the student's desk or book box, a copy in my classroom and I send a copy home.  This provides lots of opportunities to practice the skills and allows parents to be an active participant. 

Where can I find more information?

Here are some websites where you can find out more about Social Stories or find some examples:


Data Collection in ECSE

Data Collection can be tough.  Between teaching, behavior management, bathroom routines, nursing services, speech, OT, PT, assistive technology and who knows what else how are we also supposed to collect data?!?  Well, guess what.... we don't have a choice. (Ha, I know you all know that, but sometimes we need a reminder).

Embedded Instruction:

 The number one thing I do to make sure I can collect data while wearing all of my other hats is to embed my instruction.  When you embed instruction into your daily routines, you can collect data on the things you need.  Embedding instruction means that you purposely plan and teach through your daily activities.  I wrote a whole blog post on this.  You can find it by clicking here.


I like using a matrix to collect data in my ECSE classroom and when I am teaching K-2 self contained.  A matrix allows me to see what I need to work on all at a glance and take data right on the sheet.  I keep a copy of my matrix on a clipboard that I or another adult can easily access and add data points.  I then transfer the data to a graph for the individual student.   You can find a little more out about a matrix ( and how it links in with embedded instruciton) at this blog post

Be Ready to Collect Data:

Have copies of your data sheets ready to go.  I keep a binder. clipboard, or a hanging file folder (depends on the year) filled with the data sheets I need.  I also keep the items I need to assess with the sheets.  For example, if I need Alphabet flashcards those are kept in a drawer with the needed sheets.  I recently did an alphabet check on my preschoolers using the PALS quick check.  To make sure I could do this quickly, I have all of the sheets that I need preprinted and in a binder.  I put the sheets that the kids read off of on a page protector.  Then I assess as one of the center rotations.  There are usually 2-3 kids in a center so I work with one and the other one does an activity like puzzles or a fine motor box.  I wanted to share a picture of my binder, but we have had a larger than expected snow fall and I didn't take pictures ahead of time (#bloggerfail). 

Don't make it to hard:

Do not get yourself in a frenzy tryign to collect data. If you make it to hard, you will not do it.  If you need to, go back to the simple ways .  Put a pile of paperclips in one pocket  and everytime a student exhibits a behavior, move a paperclip to the other pocket.  You can do the same with rubber bands.  I even know teachers who have kept data on their arm with a pen or put a sticky note on their body to collect data.  I have also been known to wear a teachers apron (a nail apron from the hardware store works awesome also) and I keep whatever it is I may need such as sticky notes and pens in that. 


Preschool Holiday activities

We have been having a lot of fun in my preschool ECSE class.  The kiddos are super excited about Christmas and  I have been using that to my advantage. 

We have been using playdough to work on our fine motor skills and imagination.  We used popsicle sticks and playdown and tried to make trees.  Later in the week after reading and the Gingerbread Man, we used gingerbread man cuts out (laminated!) and made faces, buttons, etc.  The kids were then having their gingerbread people talk to each other.

This tree has been a huge hit!!  I found the felt tree at the local thrift store for $4.  I then used cut outs that I received from Carson Dellosa (Part of the Holiday Fun Collection) as ornaments.  The kids have loved these cutouts! They are not only using them for ornaments but as cookies in the play kitchen.

What have your been doing in your classroom to keep the December peace?


Flexible seating in the Special education classroom

Ever been to a professional development and after sitting and listening for an hour you just need to move?  So you cross and uncross your legs, tap your pen, then get up and go use the bathroom because "Hey we are adults and we don't need to ask to use the bathroom".  Well, guess what?  Our students need that movement also.  Studies have shown that students focus more on instruction when they have opportunities to move and sit in a position that is comfortable for them.   As their teachers, we need to help these little people find the best learning position for them.  The best way to do this is to offer a variety of options.  

Set Boundaries/Guidelines:

Before I let me students try different seating options, I set the guidelines or boundaries for the option.  If you don't follow this, you don't get to use.  Period.  For example, if sitting on a wobble stool students are not to stand on the stool or spin around.  If using a wiggle seat, they are not to poke it with a pencil.  You have to set up what works for you.  All teachers have different expectations and personal limitations.

Types of Seating:

Wobble Stools:

These have been a hit with my 4-year-old students through adults. (Yes, I sit on them).  Students love to sit on them while working on puzzles, doing word work, in small groups etc.


Really any type of stool is awesome.  One of the teachers I worked with last year wrote a grant to get 5 stools that were used at one of the small group tables.  The kids loved the option. 


Yes, standing needs to be an option.  Some kids just need to be able to stand.  Sometimes I will give boundaries on the floor in the form of a tape box that they need to stay in when they stand.  You can also use a standing desk or take a regular desk and adjust the legs as high as they will go.

Sitting on the floor:

Sitting on the floor is for more than story time.  You can lower a table and students can sit on the floor and still work.  They could also use lap desks or clipboards. 

Wiggle Seats (AKA Stability/Exercise disk):

These awesome seats were originally designed for exercise, but the kids love them.  I let my students use them in chairs and on the floor.  You can find a variety of types with different types of textures.  Change how much air in each one to meet each child's needs.  If you do look to buy these lookup stability disk or exercise disk as those prices are often cheaper. 

There are so many more options and this is just scratching the surface.  I hope this gets you thinking about how you can offer other seating options to your students.  I would love to hear, in the comments, how you use flexible seating in your classroom.