Brenda Hallgren, special-education teacher at Groves High School, in Beverly Hills, Michigan, whose students range from having severe learning disabilities and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD) to autism spectrum disorder and mild cognitive impairments, is unfazed by students who scream when they can't find their pencil or cry when they've forgotten their lunch money. She's seen it all, but those classroom meltdowns haven't hardened her against teaching and helping students reach their potential.
When my daughter, Mackenzie, walked into her classroom on her first day of high school, I don't know which of us was more anxious. Brenda picked up on it and reassured me through daily e-mails: "Yes, Mackenzie had a tough day, but we worked through it."
Brenda is invested in the success of her students. One of Brenda's many gifts is seeing the world through a student's eyes, and coming up with the accommodations that will help them: "I believe all my students can learn and grow."
Work With Your Special Needs Students
When Mackenzie started ninth grade, she was anxious, dependent, and a crybaby. Not knowing how to express her frustration, she would sink into her chair and start weeping.
Brenda didn't judge her, but learned from her. She found out what was holding Mackenzie back -- her executive function skills were impaired, and her short-term memory was unreliable. Brenda set up visual cues and reminders to keep her on track. Each day, she posted Mackenzie's schedule on the board, and gave her a written copy to tuck into her backpack or jeans pocket. Meltdowns were avoided by encouraging her to "use her words."
Best of all, Brenda taught her to have self-confidence. The girl who was afraid to raise her hand in class became the young woman who, four years later, led the class in daily journaling and current events.
Says Brenda: "Look at the whole student and be her fan and cheerleader!"
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