• Ants

    Posted by Stephanie Lawless on 4/19/2019 7:00:00 AM


    Over my years in education I have received many cards, each one held a small message that someone wrote specifically for me. And while I live a fairly clutter free existence, I have always found a place to tuck these cards away and save them. I think it is important to hold onto the positive notes because I also keep all of the criticism I have received.  Criticism gets a special place in my head, and it pops back in my mind when I need it the least. All the things I have been told that reflected my biggest insecurities, also made me question my abilities. Thoughts that make me feel like I wasn’t trying enough or couldn’t push though. These thoughts are always waiting for me to shake my focus so they can make their way back to creep in my brain.  I know I am not the only one who gets them either. When I was teaching I could see the same thoughts in my students. That moment when they remembered they couldn’t do it or maybe they shouldn’t even try.

    Dr. Daniel Amen wrote Change Your Brain Change Your Life, and in this book he defined ANTs- Automatic Negative Thoughts.  In one of the many clips on YouTube, 3 Quick Steps to Stop Negative Thinking Now,  Dr. Amen discusses how he came up with the acronym ANTs after having a hard day at work then came home to an ant infestation in his kitchen.  He related that infestation to the unhealthy thoughts we have in our head. Dr. Amen provides specific strategies on how we identify when we are experiencing ANTs and how we can teach ourselves to stop ANTs from getting in the way of being successful.  Captain Snout and the Superpower Questions is a kids book to introducing the topic and start talking to students about ANTs. There are different ways these thoughts manifest, all or nothing, always thinking, labeling.

    It is important to teach students that ANTs happen and how we can get rid of them.  In the classroom I used to hear students mumble under their breath, “no ANTs!” while they worked.  We had posters with pictures of ants with a cross on them, and we trained students the employ the positive statements to replace the negative ones when they were feeling the ants creep in.  

    Learning about ANTs helped me understand that I was not the only one that had these thoughts of self-doubt and that I could be empowered to stop them.  It made me focus on holding on to the good things and trying to let go of the bad. It started my habit of keeping my cards. Each message, just for me, is exactly what I need to get the ANTs out of my head.  This summer, while you have time out of your classrooms and offices, I encourage you to focus on your thinking and see how often ANTs invade your thoughts. Equip yourself with strategies to prevent ANTs and come prepared in the fall to share them with your students.  


    Stephanie Lawless, Assistant Director

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  • He can be taught! Just not by me.

    Posted by Stephanie Lawless on 2/8/2019 7:00:00 AM

    A few articles ago (April 2017 to be exact) I mentioned that I had been struggling with toilet training my youngest son.  I had tried EVERYTHING I could think of. Sticker charts, incentives, timers, reinforcement schedules, big rewards, small rewards, modeling, having his older brother train him, letting him pick his own underwear, salty snacks and movie days, and letting him run around with nothing on.  So I got advice from co-workers, family, friends, his pediatrician, past co-workers, and everyone had advice to offer. It was all great advice, and I tried most of it, but just could not get him to consistently use the toilet. I finally decided I was going to stop trying. I figured when he got tired of diapers, he would stop using them. I had tried everything and he was just too stubborn to take to it.  This was difficult for me because the majority of my professional career has involved changing behavior, in myself, staff and students. In an effort to preserve my self-esteem, I decided it was his issue and not mine.

    Then my mom came back to visit. She arrived at our house on a Friday and by about Wednesday he was toilet trained. In underwear and staying dry. Just like that. Through gritted teeth, I smiled and said how thankful I was that she was able to train him.  And, while I am extremely grateful the job is done, a large part of me is super irritated that she was able to do it so easily. I mean, like SUPER irritated. In few days she was able to do something that I had not been able to do in over a year. The hardest lesson I learned from this experience was that it was not my son’s fault I could not teach him. I had to accept that my strategies, my approach, did not work. Maybe I was getting too emotional, or giving up too soon, maybe my expectations were too high, whatever it was, I was not able to get the job done.

    My son, at three years old, had bested me for over a year, and my mom came in and fixed it in four days. As much as I hate to admit it, a big part of me wanted her to fail.  That would prove it wasn’t me.

    I remember teaching some really difficult students and being so overwhelmed. Begging other staff to come into my room and do an observation, tell me what I was missing because I had tried everything.  I would be so frustrated when people would ask, “did you try a sticker chart?” I wanted to yell, “Of course I tried a sticker chart!” This is not my first hard student!” When it came down to it, everytime I had to ask for help I was admitting I could not figure out this kid. I always felt like a failure and that was hard to take. When someone provided a suggestion to me it was another reminder of something I could not figure out on my own.  

    Angela Watson wrote, Extreme student behavior: 7 traps to avoid when NOTHING seems to work and I could see that as a teacher and a parent I have made several of these mistakes. There is no “silver bullet” strategy when it comes to changing behavior. No one suggestion can account for all of the variables that impact our success.


    Stephanie Lawless, Assistant Director

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  • Changing Times

    Posted by Stephanie Lawless on 1/11/2019 7:00:00 AM

    A few days ago I heard someone on the radio say, “thirty is the new twenty” which immediately made me think, “twenty must be the new ten.”  Then, because this is how my brain works, I started thinking about how much we change in the span of ten years. The difference between zero to ten and ten to twenty is such drastic changes. Watching my boys growing up I find all of their changes infuriatingly wonderful.  In my article about the Motivation Formula I shared how difficult it is to motivate my youngest son (still not toilet trained by the way). There are day to day challenges, we also see long term changes. Things that worked last year don’t work this year. Both of my boys know how to open the child locks on our doors and can take down the babygate faster than their grandparents.  Everytime we have new babysitters we start off by telling them the new tricks to get through the night. Each stage of development brings a new set of challenges and a new strategies for parenting. And while this might make me want to pull my hair out, I know it is an important part of growing up.

    Let’s just pretend for a moment that I am one of those organized people who actually writes down directions for a babysitter. When she came to my house I could give her a sheet and say, “This is everything you need to know about my boys and how to keep them calm, quiet, and happy.”  She would know what to expect and what to do.

    Now, fast forward a year. When she shows up to babysit, I would not be able to hand her the same sheet of directions and expect everything to work. My boys would have changed, grown, progressed.  She would need an updated plan to address their new needs. (Realistically, I might say, “Pizza is on the counter, B knows how to open the child lock on the door now, oh and by the way, we got a dog. Good luck.”)

    Shifting to the classroom model

    Option One: I have a student in first grade, who struggles with behavior. I use the new FBA/BIP guidance to write a fantastic behavior intervention plan. I progress monitor, I follow the plan, and I do everything right. He improves. Then he moves to second grade. The second-grade teacher follows the plan, but maybe not so closely because it is starting to not work as well.  Third grade, the plan does not work anymore so the third-grade teacher does other things. The fourth-grade teacher doesn’t even know there was a plan. She tries to do the things the third-grade teacher thought might help, but is really struggling. The fourth-grade teacher is getting very frustrated. Somebody asks if the student has a behavior plan and suggests an FBA. They do some digging and find he had a BIP in first grade. They try to put the plan in place but it does not work anymore. Must be a bad plan, must be a bad kid.

    Option Two:  I have a student in first grade, who struggles with behavior. I use the new FBA/BIP guidance to write a fantastic behavior intervention plan. I progress monitor, I follow the plan.  I do everything right. He improves. When he is transitioning to second grade I meet with the teacher and we talk about how this plan can be adapted to fit his needs in the second-grade setting. We adjust the plan, we follow the plan, we progress monitor. He struggles a bit at the beginning of the year but settles in quickly. The second-grade teacher adjusts the plan and revisits in January to make sure it is still on track. At the end of the year, the team meets with the third-grade teacher. They review the plan to see if adjustments are necessary to meet the current needs of the student and the third-grade teacher’s teaching style. They adjust, they follow the plan, they progress monitor. He struggles a bit at the beginning of the year but settles in faster this year than last. The third-grade teacher does not have to do much adjusting because the student has benefited from consistent follow through and exposure to new skills. The fourth-grade, team meets and feel that he might not need a behavior plan for the next year, but they will keep it for a few months to make sure. They progress monitor, then start to fade the interventions. The team meets again to identify a few accommodations, but they decide he no longer needs a formal behavior plan. The fourth-grade teacher feels successful. The student feels successful.

    As kids grow, their bodies change, their brains change and their interests change. Our plans, strategies and approaches to behavior have to change too. Change can be difficult, but it is a necessary part of life. We can choose to ignore it or go with it and enjoy the ride.


    Stephanie Lawless, Assistant Director

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  • Flow Charts Drive Me Crazy!

    Posted by Stephanie Lawless on 11/16/2018 7:00:00 AM

    When I was in college our professor gave us a flow chart outlining how students learn how to read. We had memorize the process for an upcoming test. I remember trying everything I could think of to memorize that stupid chart. About five minutes before the test, as I was desperately trying to memorize where all of the circles and arrows went, my friend told me to just make it into a list. She grabbed the paper, jotted down a list of numbered steps.  By the time the professor prompted us to clear our desks for the test I had memorized the list and passed the test. That was when I understood the importance of adjusting your teaching style to match your audience.

    Fast forward, after college when I got into administration, I found more often than not I was asked to produce a flow charts. Although I find them easy to make, a small part of me dies every time I have to draw an arrow to a box.  

    When we worked on creating a flowchart for the new FBA/BIP process I kept looking at it and wondering how we could find a way for people like me (flow charts haters) to understand the simplicity of the new process.  Because, while there a more choices and more boxes, the new system is really quite simple. You just have two big questions to answer: 1) Is there a problem; and 2) what are we going to do about it?

    It was not until School Psychologist extraordinaire, Lori Houston, told us she needed straight lines that we developed a new visual for helping people to understand the FBA/BIP process.  In this much simpler version, the user is asked two questions and then determines the best answer. You can find the Linear FBA/BIP Procedures, along with many other resources to help with the process at Earlywood.org: Employees:  FBA/BIP Processes and Forms. However, if you look at this new form and also think, “This does not help me one bit!” then I urge you to send me an email and let me know how you need to see it.  Chances are, if you need to visualize it another way, someone else does too. We all learn in our own special way!

    And don’t forget, the next FBA/BIP training is coming up on February 7th, register here


    Stephanie Lawless, Assistant Director

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  • New & Existing Data, What is the Difference?

    Posted by Stephanie Lawless on 10/5/2018 7:00:00 AM

    While the new Special Considerations section has stirred up some confusion, one question that constantly comes up is, “What is the difference between new and existing data?”  Besides, when we use it, it is important to understand what the actual difference is. We know we need to look at some kind of information to make decisions, but what that is is sometimes confusing.  Distinguishing between “New” and “Existing” data is an important part of the FBA process. For more details on when to determine which type of FBA to consider refer to the Guidance Document.  For now, we are only talking about what new data IS and what it is NOT.

    For a printable version of this document click here!

    New Data: “Unique to this student”

    Requires parent’s signed consent

    This is data that the team is systematically and intentionally planning on collecting specifically and only for one student.

    If you are conducting an FBA for a student with “New” data, you must have informed parent consent before beginning to collect the new data.  

    This data could be:

    • Any data that is not associated with a current IEP or BIP which specifically targets a behavior.
    • Student observations with the intent to monitor and write down behavioral data, such as ABC charting, frequency charting and other data collection techniques, that you are not doing for everyone.  
    • Any specific assessments as defined in 511 IAC 7-32-6, norm or criterion based assessments that are not given to all students.

    What is consent?

    511 IAC 7-32-17 "Consent" defined

    Sec. 17. "Consent" means the following:

    (1) The parent has been fully informed, in the parent's native language or other mode of communication, of all information relevant to the activity for which consent is sought.

    (2) The parent understands and agrees in writing to the activity for which consent has been sought, and the consent:

    (A) describes that activity; and

    (B) lists the records, if any, that will be released and to whom.


    Existing Data: “This type of data exists within the school system for all students.”
    It Does NOT require signed parental consent
    Written parental consent is not required when a functional behavioral assessment reviews existing data regarding a student.
    511 IAC 7-40-4
    (i) Parental consent is not required for the following:
    (1) To review existing data as part of an educational evaluation;
    (2) To administer a test or other evaluation that is administered to all students unless, before administration of the test or evaluation, consent is required from parents of all students;
    (3) To screen students if a teacher or a specialist is using the information to determine appropriate instructional strategies for curriculum implementation; or
    (4) To collect progress monitoring data when a student participates in a process that assesses the student's response to scientific, research based interventions as described in section 2 of this rule.
    511 IAC 7-40-8
    (1) Review existing evaluation data on the student, including the following:
    (A) Evaluations and information provided by the parents of the student;
    (B) Current classroom based, local, or state assessments, and classroom based observations; or
    (C) Observations of teachers and related services providers.

    This could be:

    • Attendance records
    • tardy records
    • Nurse visits
    • bathroom logs
    • Office referrals
    • Gradebooks

    Classroom management data (like class dojo, token economy, sticker charts…)
    This list could go on for a very, very long time.  Schools are FULL of data, everywhere you look, from the work on the walls in the hallway, to the stickers on a student’s desk. Data is everywhere around you. However, sometimes picking out what to look at can be a little like finding a needle in a haystack.  If you feel like you are a little overwhelmed with the immense amount of data you have to shift through, let us know. We are happy to help!


    Stephanie Lawless, Assistant Director

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  • New FBA/BIP

    Posted by Stephanie Lawless on 9/6/2018 7:00:00 AM

    When I was young, I loved the choose-your-own-ending story books.  I would read them over and over, trying out all of the different outcomes.  Lucky for me the new behavior section in IIEP is kind of like a choose-your-own-ending book as well.  Depending on the option you choose, a new path opens up, guiding you through the FBA/BIP process. It is beautiful and overwhelming. The Special Considerations section of IIEP has needed a facelift for sometime and it has its moment in the sun.

    First, let me just say it is a lot different, but it is not anything new. It uses all the same information we have always needed to have, but we now have more scaffolding to ensure that we don’t miss something important. Embrace it, love it, use it. Once we get used to it I think it will be a great tool.

    My tips for transitioning to the new form:

    • If you have not already done so, I suggest you open a copy of the FBA/BIP Guidance on the Earlywood web site. This is like your road map to help with decision-making the first few times you try out the new system.  
    • Look at the guidance and the new form BEFORE your first case conference using it.
    • Attend a training, either at your local district, a neighbor district, or call us and we will come walk you through it.
    • At the minimum, make sure you transfer the current FBA/BIP info (from the old three boxes) into the new section.  If you a have a student who previously had “Yes” selected for Behavior Impedes learning, the OLD version of the FBA/BIP will show. Scroll past the old boxes to the new section below and enter the information.  If you don’t, the old information will be gone when you save the new IEP, and your current IEP will say “behavior does not impede learning.”
    • Ask questions and reach out for help. If you don’t know what to do, don’t guess. There are some new options that could might trouble if you’re not careful.

    You will also see we have a few new options to consider that we didn’t have before:

    • We can identify that there is a behavior of concern which does NOT impede learning.  We can still talk about concerns and document steps to keep the concerns from escalating.
    • It gives us options for how we plan on capturing the FBA process, with new data, with existing data, or reviewing a current FBA.  It also gives us an option to identify a plan that supports the student without a FBA… but be really careful with this option. If you are going to consider this option, check with your local director/coordinator first.  
    • It gives us a place to document how we will support the student WHILE we conduct a FBA.


    Stephanie Lawless, Assistant Director

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  • Welcome Back!

    Posted by Stephanie Lawless on 8/17/2018 7:00:00 AM

    Welcome back! I hope you all had a wonderful summer. One thing I always enjoy about coming back to work is hearing about everyone's vacation adventures.  We did a lot of nothing over the summer, which I consider a good thing. Sleeping in, having strawberry pancakes, picking flowers, chasing fireflies, and roasting marshmallows.  We had no shortage of bike rides, car races, muddy boys and pretty much everything you hope from a summer vacation. To celebrate our Nation's birthday we went to downtown Franklin and watched fireworks and fireflies in the park.  I remember sitting there thinking this was about as good as it could get. Families gathered together for a collective celebration. A warm evening full of color, smiles, laughs, ohhhs and ahhs.

    A couple of days later my husband and I spent a few nights in Nashville TN. We went to the rooftop patio of the hotel where we stayed and looked in amazement at the scene around us. Skyscrapers looked like treetops fighting for sunlight.  Through the storm clouds sunbeams snuck through causing wet windows to sparkle and shine. I felt an overwhelming sense of being small amongst all of these giants.

    Right before I went back to work we took an impromptu camping trip to Covert Michigan. We piled our camping gear and boys into the car and took off.  I immediately fell in love with our little campground snuggled in the trees. After a short hike we were standing on a beach looking at Lake Michigan for the first time. And once again I was struck by the beauty. I grew up living by the ocean, and my heart missed the waves. I was so happy to see that Lake Michigan had waves lapping softly on the warm sand. We spent the day playing in the waves, building sandcastles and destroying sandcastles (boys!). Tired and sleepy we wrapped up our day by cooking hotdogs on the campfire and crawling into our tent.   Our sleepy boys giggled and played with glow sticks in the tent until all we heard was silence. Laying there listening to them breath, feeling the warm sun still on my skin and the sand in my sleeping bag, I was blissfully happy.

    Over a few weeks I had three completely different experiences.  Each one moved me and filled me with the same feeling of peace and satisfaction.  If you ask me what makes me happy, I can start a long list because there is not just one thing.  There are many paths I can take that all get me to the same end. Like they say, “there’s more than one way to skin a cat.” (sorry cat lovers…) In education we learn this pretty quickly. I love to see the variety in the classrooms and schools.  Each child is unique, and we never know what will reach them. Each teacher puts their personal touch on their space. They all get to the same end, students learn, teachers teach.

    If you have not noticed yet we have a new behavior section in IIEP.  This form looks a LOT different than the old form, but it is still the same end.  We are still addressing lagging skills to create a plan that supports students and staff.   The old form was like standing on the beach and the new form is like standing on a skyscraper.  There is more to process, but it is still a beautiful thing. Over the next several months we will learn the new form together, but the process and the thinking is nothing new.  If you are overwhelmed, take a deep breath and let us know. We are here to help!


    Stephanie Lawless, Assistant Director

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