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It was such a treat this week to catch up with Amy Chambers, a special education teacher who has worked with students with all sorts of behavioral and educational needs — from kiddos on the autism spectrum to youth in a detention center — and to hear how she works to improve behavior with each student who crosses her path.

Amy believes that the way young folks behave in the classroom is their way of communicating their needs with us… the trick is that we’ve got to learn how to hear what they’re (subconsciously) asking for.

That’s easier said than done, so Amy took the time to run us through a stack of really cool, creative, and psychologically studied (links below!) techniques for managing behavior in the classroom.

Granted, this shouldn’t be the primary job of a teacher or an SLP — because we all have specific goals in our wheelhouses. But finding the sweet spot of discipline vs. authenticity in the classroom is where we get the best buy-in from our kiddos and make the most headway toward our SLP goals!

The goal is that by making some of these mindfulness, collaboration, and communication techniques feel like clockwork in your relationships with students, you’ll be able to give “behavior management” less headspace, and just choose the tool that’s going to get you and the student on the same page today.

…And, of course, that tool might be different from the one you chose yesterday, because, SLP life! 😂

Either way, there is a ton to learn from this week’s episode. So grab your beverage of choice (I’ll have a chai latte!), put your feet up, and listen in.

Key Takeaways + Topics Covered

– Behavioral issues in class as a symptom of unlearned skills or unsolved problems
– Measuring progress incrementally in behavior management, not just an on/off switch
– Trauma-informed practices
– Growth mindset
– “Professional” behavior as the goal, since “respectful” behavior is more subjective household to household
– Temperature checks
– Calm spots
– Alternative seating
– Behavior contracts

Links Mentioned in the Podcast

Lighten Up Teaching on Facebook
– Ross Greene – Collaborative and Proactive Solutions
– Carol Dweck’s Growth Mindsets
The Art of Possibility by Rosamund & Benjamin Zander
Glitter washi tape for celebrating mistakes!
Two x ten strategy
– Naomi Burke Harris TED Talk – How childhood trauma affects health across a lifetime
MindUP curriculum
Zones of Regulation
Yoga ball chairs & bouncy bands
Five Love Languages for kids

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Thanks so much!


Marisha: Hello there and welcome to the SLP Now podcast. I am so incredibly excited to have Amy Chambers with us here today. She has been a long time friend. We met back in the day on Periscope and she is a special education teacher who just shares the most wonderful tips for behavior. She has helped me tremendously with my previous case loads and students and so I'm super excited to be connecting with Amy again to share all of her amazing tips and tricks with you, and just a little bit more about Amy. She is the CEO and founder of lightenupteaching, a business based on helping educators and parents bring mindfulness and social emotional techniques to students.
Amy is also a national board certified educator with over 18 years of experience and I'm super excited to hear more about all of the amazing things that Amy is doing because that's definitely a very, very tiny snippet, but without further ado, let's jump in. Hi Amy.

Amy: Hi Marisha. I'm so glad to be here.

Marisha: Yes, I am so incredibly excited. It's been far too long.

Amy: Yes.

Marisha: Like I gave a little bit of a snippet of what you do, but can you tell us a little bit about your experience as a special education teacher, and kind of your journey there and where you ended up?

Amy: Sure. I actually, went to college a very long time ago to be an art teacher, and kind of as part of my study, I knew that I would be teaching all the kids in a school and so I always kind of sought out experiences to work with kids with special needs and I ended up babysitting a lot in college and I kind of got on the list of moms that had kids with special needs who I was willing to babysit. I ended up working at an autism camp the summer after I graduated and as I was doing my student teaching and art, I was spending a lot of time with the kids with special needs and I ended up starting to take classes in special ed and so I started out in a autism classroom with students who were mostly nonverbal, lots of communication devices and the 2003 version of communication devices which are a lot different than what we have now.
I did a couple of years in that really intense middle school classroom with kids with pretty significant autism or significantly affected by autism I guess, and then I taught art for a little while after that and then I went back into more self-contained classroom in elementary and I've been at the school I'm at now. This is my 14th year and I moved from the self-contained setting to more of a resource classroom and now I kind of have a blend of separate setting resource, mostly second and third graders but I've had experience with pretty much any kind of special education that you could think of at this point, I think.

Marisha: That is so amazing and I'm really excited to be able to learn more about how all of those experiences kind of shaped all of the things behavior for you but I feel like you're kind of recognized as a behavior expert, especially in the teacher groups. How did you come to learn so much about behavior and like what led to you to that?

Amy: Well, as a special educator, and as an art when I taught art, it was actually to center for young people who are detained, so it was like a juvenile detention center. I've pretty much always had caseloads in classes with lots of intense behavioral needs and it's just been very clear to me from the beginning that these were really sweet, wonderful kids who wanted to do well and didn't know how to do well. I really don't believe that kids come to school and want to make you have a hard day as their teacher or therapist and so I've just really... I'm very curious person so I've always done a lot of research and I try things pretty much as soon as I learn about them and so I've just put a lot of things into practice over the years and it's just, I feel like helping kids with behavior is one of the best ways that you can impact them in school and in their life, so it's just something that I feel like I can share with other educators too to kind of help the whole school community be improved.
And so much of it is communication and I think that what you guys as speech therapists do is very important and that's a lot of what I'm doing with behavior, is helping kids communicate more effectively about what they need.

Marisha: Yeah it's so true because behavior is a form of communication and I feel like a lot of times... like a lot of the students on my case load are the ones that teachers like in the teacher's lounge or whatever, those were the students that they'd be pulling their hair out about because they didn't have... they weren't able to communicate what they needed to communicate and so then that manifested in terms of their behavior.

Amy: Absolutely.

Marisha: So yeah, I think it's amazing when teachers and speech therapist can collaborate and work on behavior together because it's such a... yeah so this is a perfect conversation to be happy. And then how would you... like, let's start kind of broad first. I think you started touching on it already, but how would you describe your approach or your philosophy when it comes to behavior?

Amy: Well, yeah, like I said, like I really feel like most people, most kids especially are doing the best that they can and so when a kid is having behavior problems at school that is something that is not just the kid's problem, it's the adult's and the students need to work together to help solve that and I just really like being able to help kids be as successful as they can be at school and also for teachers to be able to do the work that they have gone into education to do and I really like Ross Greene who does proactive and collaborative solutions. He's a behavior expert and he said that all disruptive behavior is a result of either lacking skills or unsolved problems and I really enjoy that challenge of helping to figure out what skills could kids need to help them have more success at school and what problems they're having that we can help solve for them. It's a great challenge and I really enjoy helping kids be more successful.

Marisha: Yeah. I feel like that mindset or that philosophy makes it much easier to start troubleshooting and work towards solutions instead of... because I think it's easy to... I feel like I saw this happening a lot in the schools where children were just labeled as being difficult or having behavior issues and there wasn't as much of that digging to really understand the why behind it and figuring out how we can support but it's totally doable. Like you and I worked together on some of my students who were really challenging, but just after... even the most challenging students after some initial digging and sometimes it did take a little bit more time but it wasn't... like by showing up in that way, I think the students really respond to it and we come up with some pretty amazing solutions. So, yeah.

Amy: Absolutely. Yeah and I think one thing that kind of goes under my philosophy, but I know that sometimes when teachers or therapists or people working in the schools have a student with a behavior problem and the behavior is really causing a lot of issues for them in a classroom, they don't see it as fixed unless the behavior totally goes away. Whereas we know if we're teaching a kid sound or we're teaching them a new skill, we measure progress and we take those small steps and see that as progress and one of my philosophies with behaviors that help teachers notice progress with behavior and not just when the kid is no longer disrupting class at all because that might not even be a reasonable goal, but helping kids learn how to manage their own behavior and how to make those little steps and improvements I think is another really important part of my philosophy, is looking at it just like you would a therapy goal for a sound.
You wouldn't expect a kid to master it in one session. I don't know that much about speech therapy, but I would think normally it's not just a one and done situation, so helping to come up with ways to measure that progress and celebrate that I think is really important.

Marisha: I totally agree and I think that like speech therapist experience with writing those goals does give us a little bit of an advantage when it comes to... because we're already in that mindset and we're looking-

Amy: Absolutely.

Marisha: ...for crosstalk progress. I love that you mentioned that because we conduct... like especially if a student is struggling, we should be able to celebrate the small wins and progress because we're heading in the right direction and that's amazing.

Amy: And I think that's an important part of our role with the regular education teachers is to help them recognize that progress too, because we do get that smaller group setting or that more intensive look at just one or two kids and so that's a really important thing that the SLPs can bring back to the other teachers in the building. As you know at the beginning of the year this was happening X amount of times during our group and now it's happening 50% fewer times or whatever because I think you're right. I do think the therapists are much more ready to recognize that and that is a good thing that we can do for the kids, is to point that out to others around us.

Marisha: Yeah. And are you ready to dive into some of your favorite strategies and tool?

Amy: Absolutely, yes.

Marisha: And is there one that is absolute favorite that you'd want to start with?

Amy: Well, I think the overall umbrella that I kind of work everything into now is mindfulness and just using trauma informed practices because I think we're learning more and more about a lot of the persistent behavior problems we're having at school are having to do with things that are not just related to school. Just really incorporating mindfulness in my classroom at all times so things like having an agenda to check off, like a schedule or just an agenda for what you're going to do in that session for the day is really helpful for kids who don't always know what to expect in their lives or have had unpredictable situations in the past. I find that to be a really easy thing that helps me stay on track and it also helps the kids feel more calm and relaxed in our time together.
That's one of my favorite things that works for all kinds of different situations. It never hurts to have an agenda to check off for your group and that's a really great mindfulness strategy. That's not too wuwu that pretty much anyone can get behind so I also think that that is a really good thing to just start out with and to implement off the bat, and I really like using growth mindset language. I assume most people are probably familiar with that at this point but there's a book called Growth Mindsets by Carol Dweck and she's done a lot of research on praising effort rather than smartness or ability and that's just such an important thing in the work that we do because we are working with kids that have skill deficits and so a lot of the times they're comparing themselves to others in their classrooms and so really using a lot of growth mindset language and teaching kids to say yet, like I can't do this yet or I haven't mastered that yet and really praising effort and growth is such an important thing and that has really changed my teaching.
I know, you had mentioned I like to really celebrate mistakes in my classroom and this is a really fun thing to do. I read a book a few years ago called The Art of Possibility and it was all about growth mindset and different practices to use when working with people and one of the authors was a conductor and he taught the people in his orchestra to celebrate their mistakes by throwing their hands in the air and saying how fascinating every time that they hit a wrong note or something because mistakes are how we learn and learning from our mistakes helps our brain grow. All these kinds of things I say all the time in my classroom now.
A lot of years I'll train my groups to notice when they make a mistake and to say how fascinating and it's really great when a kid really latches onto that and really does start to get excited about their mistakes. One of the things, I've done, like if we're doing writing together, I have lots of washi tape. I really like to do crafts so I have an overflow of craft supplies so I take them to school, and I had some glittery washi tape that will cover up our mistakes with a magic tape and so it's something that they can literally see and get excited about when they make a mistake to help them learn to find that process exciting, that process of making mistakes and learning from it.
That is something that I think works really well and could be easily incorporated, especially with younger kids. I think you can get older kids behind it but I've worked with elementary for so long. My husband actually teaches middle school, so I started to test things out through him to see what still tracks with seventh graders.

Marisha: That's amazing. Like what have you found that you... were there things that you think wouldn't work or that did work or that were surprising-

Amy: With the older kids?

Marisha: Yeah.

Amy: Well, he had a mindfulness club last year where he did different meditations and everything, different kind of mindfulness practices and he had several kids sign them because they really liked it. He uses GoNoodle a lot in his classroom, with the movement brain breaks and I definitely feel like GoNoodle is geared toward younger students, but his kids love it when they use GoNoodle in his class. I think that's really fun that that works for them. He uses the professionals in training a lot with middle school and what that is is instead of teaching kids to have respectful behavior since respectful is kind of a subjective term and people may have a completely different type of meaning of respect in their home than what we might think of as respectful, but everyone can kind of get onboard with the idea of we're learning how to be professionals, we're learning how to have a job one day when we're not in school.
Instead of saying that behavior's rude or bad or wrong or disrespectful, that's not professional. He uses that a lot with his seventh graders and I think it helps him feel a lot more like he's not just making arbitrary rules and just... I think it helps them be a lot more consistent to just say that behavior is not professional. We are working towards getting a job one day and we need to learn how to have professional behavior when we're in the school setting.
What I do when I do that with my kids is I really talk to them about what they think they would like to do when they grow up or what they could see themselves doing as a job one day and so I'll even have them like draw a picture or write it down and keep it on their desk so that... actually had a student today and we had clubs at school and he really wants to be a chef and we were baking and he spilled the sugar on the table while he was measuring it out and he picked it up with a singer and put it in his mouth. I was like, well, you have to go wash your hands and he got really upset with me and I said, I understand like if you're at home and you're baking, it's one thing, but when you're baking for other people, like different people in the school are going to eat this. You have to wash your hands. That's professional behavior.
It's not that I think it's right or just something that I made up but you have to learn if you want to be a chef at your own place or in a restaurant, you have to wash your hands. That's a really important rule and he's really upset with me at the outset, but he did come back around and understand what I was saying and that was a really good framework for us to work in later on when we discuss the behavior, and kind of debriefed and learned from our mistake because growth mindset really applies to behavior just as much as learning an academic skill. I try to apply that growth mindset with our behavior talks too and not just that I know the rules and you don't and I'm right and you're wrong. I really try to kind of meet the kids on a, we both have something important to say and so I really try to meet them where they are and not just act like I'm the teacher and my way or the highway kind of thing.

Marisha: Yeah, that makes sense and I love that you mentioned professionals in training. That's one thing that I learned from you and that I've used a lot over the years because I think it's so incredibly helpful. Like especially with students who are getting older and who are a little bit over speech in the context of being a speech therapist, like-

Amy: Absolutely.

Marisha: ...crosstalk get tired of their goals, like they're tired of coming. That we can talk about how it relates to how their goals will help them and it's even better if we can involve them in the discussion from the beginning and if they can be involved in like picking their goal but when I first started using it, like the students already had their goals and so we got to have the discussion about what do they want to be when they grow up, and then we got to map their goals on to that so that they have like that motivation behind it too. I think it's like a little bit different from what you described but I latched onto that and have definitely been able to use it with my students inaudible so far.

Amy: Well, and that's the thing about it, it's so applicable in all kinds of different ways. It also, I feel like just being at school in general or yeah, going to speech outside of school or whatever, we know that it's the law that kids have to go to school and most people that end up working in these types of fields really valued school when they were kids and their families really valued education but a lot of the students that we're teaching don't really know why they're there. They just kind of think that's what you have to do. They're not necessarily motivated to do well just because someone told them they had to go.
I feel like when you put it in that lens of we're here to learn how to be grownups one day, then it really... and when they're thinking about what they want to do as a professional, you can help hook them in and make everything more meaningful to them which is how you get kids motivated to work hard and do their best and all of that, so the professionals in training is definitely something that applies to all ages and to all different types of situations at school.

Marisha: Yeah, I completely agree. And then is there anything else that you wanted to add in terms of the middle school pieces that your husband is doing or should we jump onto some other...

Amy: I think the professionals in training is the biggest thing he uses and he also uses a Two-by-Ten strategy a lot, which is a behavior strategy where basically every day for 10 days in a row of when you're in the same place as the kids. If you see them at school they come to you every day. You spend two minutes talking about things that aren't related to school or behavior or anything to do with your school goals, but just talking to them about their life or their favorite football team or their best friend or just connecting with that kid as a person outside of whatever our agendas are in terms of school.
I mean, I feel like that one is a biggie. Like if you can just take some time to check in with the kid and show that you care about them not just because it's your job to teach them something. I think that's been really useful and it also works for the adults. If you're having difficulty professionally with someone else in your building, just kind of taking some time for a few in a row, finding out about their life or asking them how they're doing, that can be really useful across ages.

Marisha: I've definitely seen that work too. I love that that strategy inaudible the Two-by-Ten.

Amy: Yes.

Marisha: It's perfect.

Amy: So yeah, two minutes a day or 10 days in a row.

Marisha: 10 business days, I guess. inaudible. No, we're going to go call up these students on Sundays. Okay, awesome and then... okay, and do you mind if we circle back to the mindfulness piece, because I know... like I love the agenda checkoff thing. I think that's something that a lot of SLPs can get on board with that. I'm curious like what else that looks like in your classroom and whether it's wuwu or not. I'd love to hear what that looks like for you.

Amy: What mindfulness really means is just paying attention to what's happening right now, being present in this moment. That can look a lot of different ways and I've done some training with compassionate schools, which is a lot about trauma. There is a great TED talk by Naomi Burke Harris about the adverse childhood experience survey, which I would really recommend that people that want to know more about trauma informed practices. Watch that TED talk it's about 15 minutes, but there's so much that affects the way kids learn that has to do with their home environment or what kind of background they've come from and it's actually been shown that trauma can make a kid look like they have ADHD when really it's the result of these traumatic experiences that they have gone through.
I do a lot related to that of just like really asking the kids what's going on, setting up things like temperature checks, which is where I have like a thermometer in my room and it'll either go from zero to five or zero to 10. I usually do zero to 10, but for some kids it's kind of hard to, that's maybe too many choices, but zero is like the worst day of your life and 10 is like the best day of your life like you went to Disney World and I just kind of have them stop and think about how they're feeling and what their temperature is and they can just hold up their fingers so it's not really public and I just notice if someone's five or below, I know that I need to kind of circle back and check in with them.
And even in one class we had the kids write their number on a sticky note and just stick it on their desk if they wanted us to know what their number was so that, that way I knew if a kid had taken the time to put that on their desk, that I might need to check in and see what's going on. I did talk to a middle school teacher who does this temperature check as like a check in on a computer. She has a Google form and she asked the kids like a couple of questions like, how are you doing? Have you eaten today? They rate their mood from one to five or one to 10 or whatever and she has the form set up so she gets an alert if they're below a certain number so she doesn't necessarily read all 100 of her forms every day since she has so many students but she's alerted to the kids who have said there's a problem or is there anything you want me to know?
That is a really useful mindful strategy. I also have these little trash cans that are really cute, they're like pencil boxes. I got them at the Dollar Tree and I just kind of have one up in my classroom and that's where our worries go. Anything that a kid's perseverate about or worried about or just really excited about and they can't calm down, I teach them to kind of put that in the trash can.
It's not that we're getting rid of it, we're just going to hold it safe there so that we can move on with whatever we need to do in our time together and that is really helpful to a lot of kids and I have a few of them so if like I have a kid who's having a lot of emotional trouble and they need to take a trash can with them to keep in their classroom, I have enough where they can do that. That's been really helpful for some kids and it helps them stay mindful in this moment at school and not have all that anxiety of all the other things going on. They're not carrying that around with them all day.

Marisha: So much good staff.

Amy: Yes. That's been really useful and I could really see that being useful in a situation where you only have the kids once or twice a week and you really only have 30 minutes to get done what you need to do. You need to have some kind of way to honor their experience without having to sidetrack your whole group. The little trash cans are great and you could draw one or whatever but the little ones from the Dollar Tree are really cute. It's okay since the kids love them.

Marisha: Yeah, if it's cute, it makes it that much more fun I think-

Amy: Absolutely. For sure.

Marisha: I hadn't used the trash can idea yet, but I definitely use the thermometer check and I think that was super helpful for me. It's like an integral part of my therapy routine, like the students walk in and just check in to see how they're doing and I think that really helps set us up for success because then I know if a student is that a two, they're not going to participate in the session so just taking... or they're not going to benefit or get the most out of it.
Just knowing that right up front and being able to do... like a lot of times it's just a quick fix. Like what are some things... so like when you circle back, can you give us a couple of examples of like when you circle back to the student, like what do they tell you and what do you do to help them? What does that process look like?

Amy: Sure. Like for example, sometimes I'll ask the kid did you get good sleep last night? And sometimes they haven't gotten good sleep and then they're worried that they're going to get in trouble in their classroom. I used to have a morning mindfulness club where the kids would come to me before they went to class, which was great and I would help them maybe like I'd say, is there anything I can do to help you with that? And I would help them like write a note to their teacher to say, dear so and so, I had a really hard time sleeping today and I'm kind of grouchy and I don't want it to affect me in class. Is there anything you could do to help me with this? Or just that like process of writing that out I think helps the kids notice what's really going on with them but then I think it's such a valuable skill to teach them how to communicate with the people that they're working with that I'm not at my best today and I realized that and I could use your help with it.
I model that with my students a lot too when we do temperature checks. I give them my temperature too and every once in a while I'll tell them I didn't sleep well last night. I'm feeling kind of grouchy and I don't want to be a mean grouchy teacher. Is there anything you guys can do to help me with that? And they're they're usually extra nice or they'll give me a compliment or do something to help us have a better day and they're really sweet about it but I also just think that modeling that is really important because there's days sometimes where it's really hard to be patient with kids when other things are going on in our lives. It doesn't happen very often, but I do try to model that with the kids when I have a day like that.
I'm trying to think what I have. These pictures is just like a profile outline of a head and it says what's going on in your head? And I'll laminate those sheets and just the kids can just write out at the beginning of a group what's going on and one day a kid was really sad because he lost his iPad at home then he was sad that he lost his iPad. Sometimes it's just acknowledging, oh that's really hard. I'm sorry to hear that and sometimes they're hungry and I can give them a snack or... yeah, it's usually things like that or something really sad has happened and I can help them write a note with the counselor to the counselor to help the counselor check in on them.
There's all kinds of different things that you can learn from kids, but often I just want to know that you care about them as a person and a lot of times just that process builds your relationship to a point where you can get a lot more accomplished.

Marisha: Yeah and I feel like that works with adults too. Like if I'm having a bad day and someone takes a second to like check in with me and just ask how things are going or offer support makes that a huge difference.

Amy: Yeah. And that reminds me one thing I've really tried to do, especially in the past couple of years, is to not ask a kid how they're doing unless I actually have time to listen to their answer. I went through a divorce a few years back and it was really painful and one person at school asked me how I was doing and I said something like, or not great and he said, great and he just kept walking and I thought, I don't ever want to do that to a kid. I don't want to ask them how they're doing when I don't actually have the time to listen to what they're saying so I try to say things like, good morning or it's good to see you or I'm glad you're here and I try to save the how are you doing for a time when I can really listen to them because they usually just say fine, but sometimes they have things going on that they want to share and I want to be present for them if that is something that they need to talk about.

Marisha: Yeah, that's a really good point.

Amy: It's very hard to not say how are you? It's like so ingrained.

Marisha: Yeah. I love the others options that were like, I'm glad you're here. It's good to see you, or giving them a compliment or whatever it may be. I feel like that's almost more meaningful because how are you just gets thrown around so much that it's just like fine, fine. No one really... it's just kind of noise.

Amy: Absolutely.

Marisha: crosstalk breaking that. I think it's super interesting. I love that. Okay. Man, we talked about a lot of things and like when I didn't... I just did another podcast about mindfulness and it was very different and so when I was thinking, when you started talking about mindfulness, I thought it would be more like that, but there's some like really simple things that we can do, like having that agenda, the thermometer check and I think like teaching kids to identify how they're feeling is huge. Like I feel like as an adult I struggle with that so that absolutely makes sense and like many trash cans and what's going on in your head.
I love all of those strategies and those are all really simple things that we can implement to help students develop that mindfulness about anything.

Amy: Another thing that we have as part of our compassionate schools project is every classroom in our school has a calm spot and it doesn't have to be a huge... I tend to have a couple in my room because I tend to have kids with lots of emotional challenges but every teacher has a calm spot and it could be just a chair or a spot in the corner and just a little place where kids know they're safe to go for a couple of minutes if they need to regroup.
This is our third or fourth year with the school inaudible calm spots and it's so cool now to see the different kids that use it and how they use that spot. It's not a timeout and it's not a punishment but it is a place where I can invite the kids too if they're having a hard day. Do you need a couple minutes in the calm spot? Would that be useful? Do you need me to find someone to take a walk with you? That kind of thing and that I feel like in most therapy rooms, so it would be easy to set up a spot where the kids can go and kind of regroup.
I use a calm spot sometimes in my classroom. Again, it's kind of that modeling, we're never going to get this all figured out like we've got to be gentle with ourselves too. The calm spot is a really great thing to use. And I also... we have class mission statement school wide and for me what I found at works with the resource groups where they're coming in and out is to have each group write a mission statement at the beginning of the year and that's really helpful when we start to get off topic or if kids are kind of not in control of their bodies, I can just say what's our mission? And we can use that mission statement as the redirection instead of that mission statement that we wrote together.
I would think for SLPs that would be really useful, like it's our mission to learn to speak like professionals so we can be better readers and writers or whatever it is that you're working on because sometimes I think the kids don't know, but we're working on in my groups and... so the mission statement has been really useful and it's a good way to set the tone for the group. Like we say the mission statement together before we get started. That's been a really good mindfulness-

Marisha: crosstalk.

Amy: our class and it's really fun to write it together.

Marisha: Yeah and do you do like display it in the classroom or what does that look like?

Amy: Yeah. I have them like outside of my door for each different group and when we get to the room, I don't have an actual door so when we get to the opening we like stand on the line and the carpet and say it together and I'm not the most structured regimented person and once I do this for a couple of weeks, the kids will remind me if I'm kind of getting harried and forget to do it, the kids will remind me to read the mission statement and it's a really great thing to do to regroup if we're getting really off track or the kids are being super silly, is to go back and regroup and read the mission statement and then you don't have to be like, hey, we're not doing... we're supposed to be doing and be all angsty. You can just redirect to the mission statement.

Marisha: Yeah, that's perfect and do you have anything else that you'd want to share under the mindfulness umbrella?

Amy: I just think it's really good to remember that mindfulness doesn't necessarily mean doing yoga or breathing all the time, although those can definitely be parts of it and I think movement and breathing techniques are really helpful but I think just anything you do where you're keeping the kids present and you're honoring their experience is using mindfulness in your classroom. One thing that I have done in the past couple of years is kind of remind kids that they're the person that's going to be with them all the time so they're kind of their own best friend and helping them learn how to like live with that best friend and advocate for that best friend and just be their own bestie, I say.
I'm their advocate at school but I want them ultimately to learn how to be that advocate for themselves, so all these things that we're learning are things that we can take out into the world and help us all have a better experience.

Marisha: Yeah. That's so amazing and I love... because you've given so many examples of how you model that for the student and how you scaffold that so that they are learning those skills and are able to achieve that. I love that. Okay. So a couple more questions. I'm trying to just inaudible to start. Because we touched on growth mindset and you mentioned that Carol Dweck book which is inaudible thinking and talking about like celebrating mistakes and I love your literary washi tape idea. I had so much fun using that when you taught me that several years ago but what about... because the MindUP curriculum is part of that too, right?

Amy: Yes.

Marisha: Can you tell us a little bit about that and what that looks like or how you like incorporate more elements into the growth mindset?

Amy: Yeah, the MindUP curriculum, it was actually developed by the Goldie Hawn Foundation several years ago and there are three volumes. There's a K-2 curriculum, a 3-5 curriculum and then a middle school curriculum. It's just probably 20 bucks on Scholastic. They have all kinds of mindfulness lessons, like mindful eating, mindful walking. It has book recommendations and all kinds of great lessons and it's really nice if you like more of a step by step curriculum and they're short lessons, most of them are 15 to 20 minutes so there's definitely things you could implement into any type of setting at school and that as another one of those things that kind of crosses the age ranges.
I've really enjoyed using that a lot. There's a lot of great ideas in there. I also really like the zones of regulation, which was developed by an occupational therapist. I can't remember her name at this moment. It's Leah and it starts with a K. But it teaches kids how to kind of classify different feelings they are having into different zones, different colors and we use that a ton in my classroom and it's really helpful and we can apply that when we're reading books and talking about feelings of a character. Oh it looks like they're in the blue zone. Just really helps the kids kind of classify what they're feeling and what type of strategy might help them the most. Like different things work when you're feeling low or sad or when you're feeling excited and restless, so that's been really useful.

Marisha: Ooh, that is so good. Yeah, because I know a lot of SLPs have heard of the zones of regulation, that's something that is used pretty frequently, but I love that idea of incorporating... like identifying it that in book characters and modeling it that way because like if a student is having a meltdown and we're like, you're in this zone, they're going to... they won't, but they won't have it.

Amy: It's not the best time.

Marisha: Yeah, I love that idea to model it in that way and that's something that... like I love using books in therapy and I think that is something a lot of speech therapists do, so awesome strategy there. This was one of my... jumping back to the MindUP curriculum too, because this was one of my favorite things that you talked about but well first of all, you get like a giant brain poster crosstalk right?

Amy: Yes. I love my brain poster. Yes. That's worth the 24 bucks right there.

Marisha: Yeah. And so how do you use that brain poster?

Amy: One of the main things about MindUP is it teaches the kids about the three part... I mean, there's more than three parts of your brain, but it teaches the kids about the hippocampus which that cause the scrapbook where you store your memories and your learning that you've mastered and then the amygdala is like your security guard and then the prefrontal cortex is the part that helps you make good decisions and kind of keeps you following the guidelines of good social skills and all that and it really helps teach the kids about how when you flip your lid and you start acting out of control or even just getting really wiggly and unfocused, that's your security guard acting up, or being overactive.
I always tell them if a bear walked in the classroom, our security guard would take over and we would get away as fast as we can without thinking about how we're supposed to behave or any of that but most of the time we're safe and so we need to help our PFC or the prefrontal cortex keep us safe and making good decisions and helping us have that good social behavior. I really teach the kids a lot about their brain and which parts of the brain are working for different things that we're doing and it's so fun to teach the kids words like amygdala and prefrontal cortex.

Marisha: And then they will go into the other classrooms or they go home and like my amygdala is crosstalk.

Amy: Right. Exactly. Yeah.

Marisha: Oh I love it.

Amy: Amygdala is probably a good speech challenge word too.

Marisha: Yeah. No, those are awesome. I love that. Okay, cool and then I think we're... One thing that you also talked a lot about was alternative seating. Can you tell us a little bit about how you set that up and how you navigate that and use it as a strategy?

Amy: Yeah. I kind of view my resource classroom as like a lab. I try things in my classroom to see if it will help the kids in regular ed or in their classes that they spend more of their time in but I have... I don't love for me yoga balls for the kids to sit on because I find those to just fly across the room a lot of the time but I have some yoga ball chairs that have like solid metal legs and those have been great and the kids... it's like an experiment for the kids to figure out which seating really helps them the most and I have some standing desks that a lot of the kids really enjoy and some of my kids really prefer regular chairs and the rule is that they have to keep at least one foot on the floor.
I got some gardening stools at Lowes that rock really nicely that were very inexpensive and the kids pick their seat when they get there. That's good for their learning and as long as they're showing that they're using it well, that is the seat that they get to use. I use a tally system for the groups, so if the group earns five or gets five tallies, I should put a tally up if the kids are not using the chairs appropriately. If like there's unsafe behavior, I don't really call people out. I just put a tally on the board and when there's five tallies, we take a vacation from the chairs. I let kids sit in the floor with clipboards but it really helps the kids feel like they have some ownership of the classroom and I'm not just directing all of that.
When I need to do a lot of work, I don't sit in a hard chair with a straight back. I usually go to Starbucks or sit on the couch. It's just another way of helping the kids learn what works best for them and how to use something different in a responsible way.

Marisha: Yeah, it makes a lot of sense and I love all of the different ideas that you gave, like the yoga ball chairs with solid legs. You are right that they just fly everywhere. Standing desks, sitting on the floor, like the gardening stool and I've seen... like if you Google an alternative seating, there's lots and lots of crosstalk-

Amy: Yeah, it's definitely taken off in the last several years. Bouncy bands are pretty inexpensive and you can just hook those to the chair or the table and then kids can kind of bounce their leg while they're sitting in a regular chair. My students tend to like those too.

Marisha: Yeah. Okay, that's a good one.

Amy: And with all of this I teach them it's a tool not a toy, we're using to help grow our brain, to help our learning and not just to play.

Marisha: Yeah, that's perfect and then I'm curious too, like we're almost at the end of our time so we can start wrapping up. What would you recommend to a speech therapist who like... because they obviously listened to 50 minutes of this podcast already, so they're definitely wanting... they might be struggling with some behavior issues in their speech room or wanting to implement some of this... because you could just threw out a lot of different things. What would you tell an SLP in that situation? Like what advice would you give him or her or where would you suggest that they start?

Amy: I think using the agenda is an easy thing to start and just maybe doing a mission statement if not with every group with those groups that they are kind of keeping them up at night, wondering how they're going to get them to behave, I guess for lack of a better word. If I'm having more of a difficulty with just one student, I really like to do contracts and we call them win-win agreements, where I talk to the kid about what's going on and I ask them what they need from me and so we kind of each say my goal is to help you with in this way or like I'm not going to say your name in front of the group.
Like it's kind of the teacher will do something and the kid will do something and then it's a good way to kind of take data and I also really like doing the love languages for kids survey which... it's like The Five Love Languages. Gary Chapman I believe is the author. There's a kids survey and so you can give the students that survey and then you really have a good idea if a good incentive would be to eat lunch with you or to have some sort of tangible prize or if they would love like a note home with positive feedback about their behavior because each kid really is motivated by different things.
I really find that like finding what motivates a student, especially if you're kind of having, you need to zero in on one student that's not being as successful as you want and if it's more of a overall management I think mission statements and agendas and just finding some way that feels good to you for measuring progress and tracking is really helpful.

Marisha: Yeah. And then what would you suggest, so like an SLP is doing the agenda and mission statement inaudible working while, in terms of the other strategies, I assume that you approached like any new strategy as a little bit of an experiment.

Amy: Absolutely.

Marisha: Like how long would you recommend trying a strategy before deciding it's not a good fit and like how do you navigate that decision making process?

Amy: Yes. Well, it normally takes about two weeks to tell if something is working or not. If it's something that I just thought might be fun and I'm finding it cumbersome then I don't usually stick with it because I know there's no point in finding out that if it's not working great for the kids right away, then it's just kind of taking up valuable time for me. I can usually tell pretty quickly if something is just not working with my style because it's really important that you match the strategies that you're using with your personal style as an educator. I like to have fun in class but I'm not a goofball telling jokes all the time. If using humor was my strategy, that would be really challenging for me every day on top of just having a challenging job anyway.
It's really important to try to fit something that matches your style. Like if you're more of a old school, really all about structure and having like a really calm classroom, doing a lot of dancing and wiggling and all that kind of stuff all the time just isn't going to sit well with you. I think it's important to go outside of your comfort zone a little bit, but not so far that you're just stretching your limits too much if that makes sense.

Marisha: Yeah, that does make sense and I love that suggestion to try something for two weeks, then it doesn't work on day one and we still don't have a true answer.

Amy: Absolutely.

Marisha: ...crosstalk that's helpful but then also we get to use our clinical judgment and just like personal values and style to kind of guide those decisions too. So awesome. Well, I feel like... I hope everyone walks away with a lot of new ideas and things that they can try and just feeling motivated and re-inspired to tackle some of these challenges potentially or just have things ran a little bit more smoothly in the speech room. Thank you so much Amy for sharing all of this inaudible was done and can you let us know where people can find you if they want to learn more?

Amy: Absolutely. You can go to So That's my website and there you can sign up for my newsletter, which is going up about every other Tuesday. I am at lighteupteaching on Instagram. I have a mindfulness in the making course that launches about once a month that I would love to have some of your SLPs be a part of and you can email me at If you have any questions about anything that I've shared, I would love to hear from you guys and I really appreciate you having me, Marisha. This is so much fun.

Marisha: Yeah, so much fun. Yeah, and you can find all of the links that we mentioned today. Like I'll get links to all of the different books and resources as well as Amy's contact information in the show notes and you can find that at and thank you again, Amy. You are so amazing.

Amy: Thank you.

Marisha: We will see you next time.

Amy: All right, thanks.




Hi there! I'm Marisha. I am a school-based SLP who is all about working smarter, not harder. I created the SLP Now Membership and love sharing tips and tricks to help you save time so you can focus on what matters most--your students AND yourself.

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