• Recording in Progress

    Posted by Rachel Herron on 3/12/2021 7:00:00 AM

    I was having a terrible day. Actually, it started the night before when a tiny thought got bigger. I lost sleep and my brain spun out of control. Normally, I am not a “night spinner.” I tend to melt down long before the “what ifs” take over, so when my alarm clock went off at 6:00, I was in for a rude awakening.

    The next hour of the morning was a full-family calliope of sharp words, tears, impatience and stress. Even the cat was a jerk.

    By the time I arrived at work, I was worked up, to say the least. My next-door office mate and friend checked in on me and her simple words, “Are you okay?” were met with a repeat performance that ended with “fish on dry land” gasping and another round of tears.

    “I just can’t today.” I responded, as she closed my door. 

    Do you ever have those days when your emotional you takes over? 

    Knowing that I needed a minute, my coworker disappeared. I worked without interruption for several hours and recovered. I moved through my stack of work, breathed and took a beat. When I finally got up to get a cup of coffee, I noticed something incredible and intuitive on my door: 

    Recording in Progress Picture







    No one wants to interrupt a recording.

    I have a sign on my door that indicates where I am, if I am in a meeting or out of the office — but I don’t have a sign that says, “I just can’t today.” For some reason, that kind of sign is too much to admit. It indicates defeat to anyone who walks by. Why is my own mental health — what I need emotionally — something I am willing to ignore? Why, at 48, do I find the stigma of being overwhelmed and overwrought too much to reveal to others.

    I talk a lot about the tools I use to provide self care. Relax Melodies, Antistress  and Gravitarium apps allow me to decompress when I need a break. MyLife gives me an opportunity to check in and prescribes a meditation or workout that might help when I need to regulate. What I need is an app that gives me permission to take a minute when I need it without fear of what others think of me.

    My friend gave me the gift of not having to face colleagues with a tear-stained face. She made sure my emotional well-being was being considered and gave me uninterrupted time to get on top of my work load, which was the only thing I felt I could control that day.

    Sometimes we all need permission to “record.”

    Rachel Herron

    Rachel Herron, SDI Facilitator

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  • Intent Assigning and Treadmill Writing

    Posted by Rachel Herron on 1/15/2021 7:00:00 AM

    As the countdown began on New Year’s Eve, I began to formulate my resolution. Usually my promises to myself are focused on my physical or mental well being or relationship building. This year I resolved to think about the intent I am assigning to situations and statements made by others.

    Reading a student file that states, “refusal to work” in my field is not an unusual activity. We are educators, so we know how it goes. Each year at least one student simply says, “No.” As an educator I have responded to this action more times than I care to admit with an immediate assigning of intention.

    Intention is a personal thing. I am the ONLY one who knows why I make the decisions I make, no matter how much someone “understands my motive.”

    This year I was having a conversation with a high school student about writing. The amiable conversation took a sharp turn when she responded with a pained expression.

    “When are they going to figure out that it is not that I won’t do it...I can’t do it.” 

    Her response brought tears to her eyes...and mine.

    This moment got me thinking. If this had been my student, what would I think of the act of not completing writing assignments?

    Would I wonder if writing was hard for her? Would I consider the physical aspects of her writing and whether it was laborious? Would I think about her organizational skills or how she felt when she sat down in front of a blank sheet of paper? Would I talk to her about voice typing versus handwriting an assignment? 

    Would I wonder if she had been fed that morning or if she had gotten into an argument with another student, leaving her brain preoccupied? Would I label her actions as defiant or take the interaction personally?

    Is she a behavior problem...somebody who exerts power over her teachers? Or is she  somebody whose confidence has been shot through adult expectations that force her to respond in a specific way in order to show what she knows.

    The student tearfully told me about her history of having writing challenges and feeling beaten down after years of not being able to complete the task successfully. I began to wonder if the years of assigning intent to her actions has prohibited her success — creating a vicious cycle of educational failure.

    As I am writing this article, I'm walking on a treadmill desk utilizing Google Voice Typing in Google Docs. I am getting my steps in, which is an additional New Year's Resolution, and I'm thankful that my office has a treadmill desk. It's almost impossible for me to type while  walking but dictating my thoughts and editing my article later allows me to feel productive, active and accomplished.

    Is this wrong? Is my ability to write a blog entry with my voice versus my hands cheating? I still have to organize my thoughts, edit my work and check my grammar and spelling. I have to identify the issues voice dictation has when it does not pick up exactly what I am saying. I have to add all punctuation with a verbal command. I've gotten really good at this -- especially since I prefer dictating text messages versus typing for ease and preference. 

    While in my car,I can literally create a text message, assign who receives it and verbalize what I want with a voice command. The phone will read my text back to me, checking to make sure it is what I meant to say and then will send it when I am ready. Is my text message not valid because I chose a different mode to create it? I know that police officers also prefer my mode due to Indiana’s hands-free law!

    I am grateful that I have the ability to type or handwrite projects. I am also grateful for the option to do what makes me a better writer. Sometimes simply getting words on paper is the challenge. I can honestly say that I stared at this blank document for a long time before I decided to dictate it and edit later.

    My daughter is in the 4th grade and was challenged this year for the first time to write a multi-paragraph paper. She did all of the pre-work through handwriting but, when the time arrived to write the final draft she sat at the table frozen and frustrated with the daunting and overwhelming feeling of the task. 

    I took the computer and turned the screen away. I handed her the handwritten rough draft and quietly turned on Google Voice Typing. I encouraged her to read what she had written without looking at the screen. She dicatated her paper and was able to go through and edit paragraph by paragraph for her final draft. She caught things she wanted to change and corrected them independently. Her smile and visible confidence proclaimed her sense of accomplishment. 

    Just think of the negative intent I would have assigned my struggling daughter’s actions.

    Resolutions do not need to happen on New Year's Day. You can decide to evaluate how you assign intent today.

    Rachel Herron

    Rachel Herron, SDI Facilitator

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  • Milkshake and All That...

    Posted by Rachel Herron on 10/23/2020 7:00:00 AM

    If this year has not been strange enough, last month things got even stranger at the Herron/Clark household. Our year-old cat, Milkshake, tore a hole in our screen door, caught a chipmunk and promptly chased a squirrel up a 90-foot tree. I learned a lot about kitty nature that week and also made some unusual student connections.

    Cat in Tree The first thing I learned is that cat claws are built for climbing up. They are physically shaped like a hook to grip a tree, but they are curved the wrong way for climbing down. When a cat “figures out” how to come back down, it is rarely head first. When I was trying to process how my cat was going to learn a task that would hopefully save her life, without a teacher in an unfamiliar and new (maybe scary) environment, I started thinking about how our students are learning right now. Some of our students are at home, trying to adapt to a two-dimensional platform during a school day that is different from anything they have ever known. If they are at school, all of the rules have changed. Masks are required to keep students safe, but the safety of being able to see a facial expression or the lip movements connected with words could possibly cause unrest for a student who relied on them. Students are not allowed to be close to each other or touch one another. They are sitting with the same students for contact tracing. All of the safety precautions are in place for a reason, but learning a new skill while you are still trying to figure out how to manage the new external factors can be problematic for some of our students. Almost like being up a tree, swaying at 90-feet, being able to see the people you love but not access them.

    The second thing I learned is when situations get tough or scary cats have an instinct to move to higher ground. This is an instinctual coping strategy. As much as I wanted Milkshake to come down the tree when she was at 30 feet, 60 feet, 75 feet, she was doing what her body was telling her to do. Climb up to safety. Our students have instinctual coping strategies they utilize in times of unrest too. Fight or flight, acting up in order not to feel they can’t do something other students can do, fleeing classrooms when they are not comfortable or being the “bad one” instead of the “incapable one” are all examples of this.

    The third thing is no matter how much help I provided my cat...we put food at the bottom of the tree, called to her day and night, hired a tree trimmer with a 65 foot bucket and a tree climber who risked his life to climb the additional 25 feet.. outside factors are going to override if coping strategies are not in place. Students who are taught coping strategies have a better chance when they are in a heightened emotional (or physical) place of using that strategy if they have been practicing it before the moment of truth. Daily practice of Social Emotional Learning (SEL) gives each student a backpack of options they can take with them on a daily basis. Preparing kids with skills to face the worst can help when bumps appear in the road.

    As for Milkshake...when facing an unfamiliar environment, a skill that had not been taught and a stranger trying to lure her the opposite way her instinct directed her...she jumped - 90 Feet to the ground.

    The remarkable thing about cats is they have a better chance of surviving a high fall than a shorter fall due to science mixed with a mathematical equation I won’t take a stab at (see my article What is 6x7?) and terminal velocity. Be sure to check this science out in the video How Do Cats Survive High Falls?

    Our students are also resilient. As long as we pay attention, teach coping strategies on a daily basis and form relationships, we can help prepare our students for the worst case scenario. You can locate hundreds of strategies to help fill the backpack through Goalbook. If you need help finding them, I am happy to help.

    Milkshake not only survived to tell her tale (TAIL), but did so without a single broken bone. Her scraped-up lip was the only outward scar, although she still wistfully stares at the tree, shuddering slightly when she hears the crows.

    Safe Cat


    Rachel Herron

    Rachel Herron, SDI Facilitator

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  • What is 6x7?

    Posted by Rachel Herron on 8/21/2020 7:00:00 AM

    Multiplication tables have been the root of deep seeded angst for most of my life. How is it that I am in my 40s and still cannot tell you what 6x7 is off of the top of my head? I consider myself an intelligent person and have several degrees under my belt, but 6x7? That question brings out my fingers to count.  

    The truth is, I have known for a long time that I transpose numbers and have a really hard time retelling number sequences. I have considered for a long time how I could be the lead in a play, memorizing page after page of text, but could not remember my social security number without  a mnemonic. Word to the wise...never dictate your phone number to me if you actually want me to call you. However, if you show me your keyboard, I can remember the visual pattern of your number as well as my phone number when I lived in Texas when I was 8 years old (235-4948).

    As an adult, I have a lot of thoughts about this and the education I received by well-meaning, traditional teachers. I was not identified as having a learning disability, yet I struggled. I realized that my inability to do math the way I was taught shaped me. 

    Educationally it shaped my ability to continue successfully in math because many of the gaps I had were part of the foundation I needed to move forward. 

    Emotionally it also shaped me. I was defeated before ever entering a class. I said things like, “I am not good in math,” and “Why should I even try?” I felt a large amount of shame in this area, and even now if you know me - you will hear me say, “I was told there would be no math” when someone talks about the budget, or insurance premiums.

    I have realized some things over the years. I can quadruple recipes in my mind and have the amounts turn out correctly. I can tip 20% to the penny without a calculator. 

    I just learn differently.

    THIS is why I am such an advocate for Universal Design For Learning (UDL) being a guiding force in every classroom. According to the Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST), Universal design for learning (UDL) is a framework to improve and optimize teaching and learning for all people based on scientific insights into how humans learn.” 

    To me, UDL levels the playing field for students by making sure educators are thinking about the tools, strategies and ways a large variety of students are engaged before they even arrive at school. Asking questions about how a student needs to move, sit or receive information prior to teaching is an important part of packing for the road trip. Considering whether a different mode of learning or choice of activity might impact how a student is able to accept and/or express that information is just filling up the gas tank.

    This year my goal is to have conversations that get to the crux of what makes student learning even better with educators across our member districts. Goalbook Toolkit, a resource available to all of our special educators, has an endless list of evidence-based and fully vetted UDL resources. We have this incredible resource to take with us on our journey. Finding strategies that speak to individual students, enhancing the natural gifts that allow them maximum achievement, is the vehicle. When we reach our destination, we will find answers...beyond computing 6x7.

      Rachel Herron

    Rachel Herron, SDI Facilitator

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