• The Color of My Clothes Matter

    Posted by Angie Balsley on 3/12/2021 7:00:00 AM

    You may have noticed organized efforts to wear certain colors in support of public education. Typically, public school supporters don red on Wednesdays in support of “Red for Ed.” But on February 24th, Hoosier public school advocates wore black to demonstrate “the darkness facing Indiana public schools and educators.” As I pulled on my black top that morning, I wondered how wearing a specific color could help make a difference on education policy and what else I should be doing to have an impact on proposed legislation.  

    Activity in the state legislative session this year has caused many of us to wonder how to best advocate for students and our profession as public school educators. Our concerns are shared by advocates of public schools in other states as well. In an effort to support our work, the Council for Exceptional Children released a timely article in their Jan/Feb 2021 edition of Teaching Exceptional Children titled “Legislative Advocacy for Special Educators.”  The authors, Fisher & Miller, identified ten steps for legislative advocacy. In a highly summarized recap you are urged to stay informed, stay engaged, connect with others, take a stance, and speak up. Educator advocates are important because our drive is based on practical experience and a passion for change that we believe is warranted. We have personal stories that can shape practice and legislation.

    So how does the color choice of my wardrobe on designated days make a difference? It keeps me engaged, prompts me to connect with others, and sparks dialogue about legislative issues. It is through these shared conversations and the resulting action that we will make a difference over time. The truth of the matter is that if we aren’t involved in the conversation about education policy, others without knowledge and skill in the area will make the decisions for us.


    Dr. Angie Balsley, Executive Director

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  • Building Resilience in Children

    Posted by Angie Balsley on 1/15/2021 7:00:00 AM

    Much of 2020 was spent coping with the scary realities of the pandemic and racial injustices. As we lean forward into this new year, we focus on recovery for ourselves and our students. An important part of recovery is resilience, which is defined as the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties. 

    The article In a Time of Calamity, What Do Children Need From Us, Justin Minkle shared four things we can do to help children learn resilience. 

    1. Teach them to look for helpers. Looking for helpers allows kids to see that there is good in society to balance the bad. It also shows them that when horrible things happen, they don’t have to either look away or succumb to despair. 
    2. Teach them to be helpers. We can do this by providing kids concrete ways they can contribute to making things better. Acts of kindness often make us feel a greater sense of agency. Kids need that agency too.
    3. Listen. Give children an opportunity to bring up the questions weighing on their spirits. 
    4. Be there. Even if we don’t have the solutions, our presence can be powerfully reassuring. 

    The authors of this study explain that resilience skills can be learned and strengthened. They suggest the following eight intervention strategies to build students’ resiliency skills. 

    1. Teach problem-solving skills
    2. Encourage children to express their feelings
    3. Engage in positive interactions
    4. Foster self-esteem through meaningful responsibilities
    5. Teach optimistic thinking and perspective taking
    6. Teach cognitive strategies such as thought stopping and changing channels
    7. Teach relaxation and self-control techniques
    8. Teach parents that the critical factors in fostering resilience  in children are warmth, limit setting, and consistency

    In reviewing the resources I selected for this article, I reflected upon my own resiliency. While I identified with many of the strategies and influences, the three that I believe I’ve relied on most are seeking mentors, having confidence in my ability to make use of resources and opportunities, and viewing hardships as learning experiences.  2020 provided limitless “learning experiences.” In 2021, I’ll be connecting with my mentors and leveraging resources and opportunities to put into practice what I’ve learned. I ask that you teach children to do the same.


    Dr. Angie Balsley, Executive Director

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  • Tips for Successful Virtual Meetings

    Posted by Angie Balsley on 10/23/2020 7:00:00 AM

    I simultaneously love and hate virtual meetings. I miss the personal connections that are only possible when the team is in the same room. Even when others in the meeting have an available webcam and enough bandwidth to use it, I still struggle to interpret non-verbal communications. On the other hand, virtual meetings are an efficient use of time and resources. I’ve been able to meet with people in a variety of locations within the same morning thanks to ease of connecting virtually. The reality of our situation has led me to ponder how I can make virtual meetings more successful. 

    Forbes published  12 Tips for Making Virtual Meetings More Professional. Their suggestions include:

    Create a professional remote office

    • Work from a quiet, carpeted room
    • Use a neutral background
    • Create good lighting 
    • Use a laptop, not a phone

    Ensure technical setup is sound

    • Test the technology
    • Place your webcam at eye level
    • Use a good microphone
    • Position the conference window near the camera

    Make virtual meetings feel real

    • Dress the part
    • Turn off notifications
    • Look at camera, not screen, while talking
    • Avoid multitasking

    The Progress Center at the America Institute for Research recorded the webinar Tips for Facilitating Successful Virtual IEP Meetings During the Pandemic and Beyond. The Center also provided  Virtual IEP Meeting Tip Sheets. Information from these resources stress the importance of being creative to ensure that parents of children with disabilities are able to meaningfully participate in their child’s case conference meetings. Some of their tips include:

    Before the meeting

    • Connect with parents to become familiar with their access needs and potential barriers for their participation
    • Inform parents of how they can share information and documents in advance of and during the meeting
    • Have a back-up plan for connecting the participants

    During the meeting

    • Use video when it is available
    • Pause often and allow enough time for participants to ask questions and provide feedback
    • Display the IEP or other documents being discussed on the screen
    • Discuss and agree upon a method for obtaining signatures

    After the meeting

    • Conduct a follow-up call with parents to answer any questions or concerns and debrief how the meeting went
    • Provide parent and team members with a finalized copy of the IEP

    Just like Natalie, Jo, Tuti & Blair from the Facts of Life (80’s sitcom), “we’ll take the good, we’ll take the bad, and there we’ll have the facts of life.” Virtual meetings are a fact of our lives which I believe will last far beyond the pandemic that spurred their wide-spread use. In the meantime, I’ll apply some of these tips to ensure the success of my virtual meetings.


    Dr. Angie Balsley, Executive Director

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  • Understanding Our Needs

    Posted by Angie Balsley on 8/21/2020 7:00:00 AM

    The 20-21 school year is underway. First and foremost, I want to say thank you for what I’ve seen and experienced over the past five months. 

    • Thank you students for your resilience and adaptability. 
    • Thank you parents for your grace, understanding, support, and communication.
    • Thank you teachers, therapists, support staff, and administrators for your tenacity and exceptional problem-solving. 

    This spring, the Council for Administrators of Special Education outlined four priorities for special education during the COVID-19 pandemic. These four priorities have been a keystone for my decision-making. 

    Four Priorities of Special Education

    With these priorities in focus, Earlywood remains committed to our mission, vision, and guiding principles. One of our principles is about collaborating  and being responsive to the needs of those we serve. My one piece of “back to school advice” is for everyone to share your needs and understand the needs around you. Keeping open communication about our needs and working together with understanding, compassion, flexibility, and grace will be critical to a successful school year.  

    This will be an exceptional year in many ways. We will face exceptional challenges and we will respond with exceptional solutions. I look forward to learning your needs and working together to make the 20-21 school outstanding.


    Dr. Angie Balsley, Executive Director


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