Nashima HarveyI’ve invited Nashima Harvey to share some tips for helping teachers remove the stigma from special education through building positive relationships with students and families. Nashima is a New Jersey certified educator with over 20 years experience working with kids and families. She’s the founder of the Little Green House LLC, global awareness learning collective that helps build a bridge of 21st Century learning for families within the community. Thank you for sharing your expertise with us, Nashima!

While getting your degree, you may have learned in your classes about the importance of family involvement in education. I know for me, we had a brief class on it and it was fairly interesting, however compliance, data and test taking strategies were always considered more important. Now that you’ve probably been teaching for some time in the trenches, you may have realized something. Parental involvement is key in the success of your students, especially your special needs students and  compliance, data, and test taking strategies may be enlisted as the supporting cast.

According to A New Wave of Evidence, a report from Southwest Educational Development Laboratory (2002),“When schools, families, and community groups work together to support learning, children tend to do better in school, stay in school longer, and like school more.” Are you surprised? Probably not! It takes a village to educate all children.

overcoming special education stigmas

The problem in special education is  that it is notorious for having stigmas and damaging labels. Here are just a few you may have experienced:

  • Students believing they cannot learn and will be singled out
  • Parents feeling uninformed and becoming stressed and unresponsive
  • Parents/students believing that their teachers do not understand their situation

Although there are many more stigmas and labels regarding special education, I will say that things have changed within the past decade. Special needs classrooms in many schools are now being integrated with the general student body and inclusion classrooms are being utilized.

Many teachers are embracing the role of “family liaison” and creating fun and exciting ways to encourage positivity within an inclusion classroom.

 Here are top 5 strategies that I have used within my learning environment to help bridge the parental involvement gap while releasing at least some of the stigmas associated with special education.

1. Host events and activities that bring families into the school.

Who doesn’t love a potluck event? I know I do! Your classroom is your intimate domain and a great place to host a “Discovery Day” event where parents bring food and you provide hands-on ice-breaker activities to help all members of your classroom community get to know each other better.

2. Communicate with parents frequently using a variety of methods.

Make contact with all parents and families prior to the beginning of the school year and keep the conversation going all year. Remember, communication may be about a resource for a parent and anything that you may think would be of interest in regard to keeping a parent informed. Communication may come in the form of the old fashioned handwritten letter, emails, phone calls, texts, or an in person conversation. Do one or all, and keep it fresh and interesting!

3. Create a warm, welcoming, respectful, and culturally/socially aware environment.

An open door policy is a great idea to build relationships and trust. A great way to do this is by creating an environment that encourages parents, students and the local community members to add to the culture of your room. This helps to build a rapport and families/community members will feel more encouraged to get more involved in supporting all your students. I like to put up flyers, posters and other items showcasing the exciting things happening in the community.

4. Provide a variety of resources for parents.

Learning your child may need special services may be very stressful for the parent and student alike. In order to help lessen the stress, create a classroom website where you offer tips on how parents may assist their special needs child at home. There is no magical manual that tells parents how to handle dealing with a child  with special needs. Often they are just as stressed as you are if not more and may look toward you for the answers. Your class website can be a place where you keep parents up to date about the latest research and resources for special and general educational support. You can also try to have a member of the child study team or a special education teacher available during Open House to help explain how special services work and how parents and students may effectively utilize their resources and understand their rights in the beginning of the year.

5. Be flexible when accommodating families and parents.

Parents and families in special education are often asked to come to meetings about their child in school. I found that many parents worked and often could not come into school for a meeting. So, accommodations are needed for not only your students with special needs but also their parents. Offer accommodations such as phone or Skype conferences, or supervision of their younger children while in a mandatory meeting.

Special education services may feel intimidating to parents and educators alike. Nevertheless, building a classroom community that supports parents in being involved and informed will allow for the stigma of special education to become less threatening. Remember, every child is “special” and it takes a village to raise and educate them. Happy engaging!

Thanks again, Nashima, for sharing your experiences with us. Nashima and I would love to hear from you in the comments–any questions? How do you build relationships with kids and parents and help them overcome the stigmas associated with special education? 


EP 23: Looking to earn extra money this summer? Why not create long-term passive income for yourself through sharing your teaching ideas! In this episode, you’ll learn how you can establish yourself as an expert in the education field and start getting paid for your teaching ideas and resources. Explore different possibilities that can help you not only earn extra income to support your family, but also help other teachers and impact education on a greater scale.

This post is based on the latest episode of my weekly podcast, Angela Watson’s Truth for Teachers. A podcast is essentially a talk radio show that you can listen to online or download and take with you wherever you go. I release a new episode each Sunday and feature it here on the blog to help you get energized and motivated for the week ahead. Learn more about the podcast, view blog posts for all past episodes, or subscribe in iTunes to get new episodes right away.

So we’re heading into a time of year when teachers tend to have more free time to pursue projects and also when teachers tend to look for ways to earn extra income. I get emails from teachers all the time who see that I’m doing speaking events, workshops, consulting, writing books, selling curriculum resources on TeachersPayTeachers, and they want to learn more about these opportunities.

And I’m happy to share what I know. In fact, this summer I’m building out an entire series of online courses that teachers can take to learn more about educational consulting. I want to help experienced, passionate classroom teachers share what they know so they can make an impact in our field on a bigger scale. So many of the people out there doing teacher trainings and writing curriculum are not experienced teachers –we’re missing the voice of educators. When you leverage your expertise into products and services, you are helping other teachers and you’re helping kids. Your voice is needed.

Not only is it meaningful work, but it can be lucrative work, too. Yes, I miss classroom teaching. I do not miss the crappy pay. I had to supplement my teaching income with other work, and eventually that income surpassed my teaching salary and became more rewarding to me because I saw I was having a bigger impact. I was creating change on a larger scale, and providing the teachers the support they really need.

So I want to share some ways that you can supplement your teaching income while building your resume in education. Most of us do something to earn extra money beyond full-time teaching jobs, and I think it’s much more valuable for teachers to leverage their skills and expertise as an educator into related projects than to just take a small hourly wage working in retail or some other regular part-time, supplemental job. You can create passive income for yourself that pulls in money all year long, and you can earn money doing things that make you more marketable in our field, or in any other field you choose to enter later on. And these side pursuits also make you more effective as a teacher, because you’re studying and articulating best practices. Teaching something to someone else is the best way to learn it yourself sometimes.

how to share your teaching expertise and get paid for it

This is a 10 minute podcast, so I’m not going to be able to delve into specifics, although at the end of the episode, I’m going to tell you where you can get more information. This episode is just meant to expand your thinking a little bit and plant the seed for possibilities. I want to get you excited about things you could be doing. I want to give you ideas so you can think about them over the summer and start working toward them.

So, what can you start doing right now to earn money sharing your expertise? There are a couple different avenues.

The first is creating curriculum resources. There are companies and organizations that pay teachers to do this on a part time or full time basis for them–you just have to look online at the job openings in your area. Sometimes these are temporary grant-based opportunities, so the organization will hire you for a few months (often over the summer) to create a curriculum for them. This is good money and a great resume-builder.

You can also create and sell curriculum resources directly to teachers and schools. Take the things you are already using in your classroom and kick them up to the next level, and sell them in online marketplaces. The best one, and the only one I use, is TeachersPayTeachers, because it’s the largest, most well known, it’s founded by a former classroom teacher, and the people running the company truly care about the teachers who sell there. You pay a $60/year premium seller fee and get to keep 85% of everything sold. TpT does the the hosting, payment processing, and troubleshooting, which is well worth the 15% fee.

I get asked a lot if TpT is worth it. I say, absolutely. I personally know hundreds of teachers who, every single month, make anything from Starbucks money to a car payment to a mortgage payment and beyond. I started selling about two and a half years ago there and I’ve had a lot of success with it.

But I want to be real with you here. That success is due in large part to the blogging, social media, and marketing work I’ve put in. TpT is not a get-rich-quick scheme. There are tens of thousands of sellers there, and in order to get noticed, you need to have extremely unique, thorough, creative, and beautiful products. And in addition, you need to have the social media push to get your products out there. If you don’t want to blog, pin, Facebook, and collaborate with other sellers online, TeachersPayTeachers can earn you some pocket change. But if you want to make good income –like, matching or even surpassing your teaching income like I have –you’re probably going to need to be a savvy marketer. The marketing aspect is just as important as the products you create –sometimes even more so.

If you decide to start selling your teaching materials, just keep this in mind–you’ll want to have an active blog and social media accounts where you share free, helpful, valuable content, too. Those are the resources that build potential buyer’s trust and loyalty.

And those are the resources that lead to other money-making opportunities, too. I know many teacher bloggers with very small audiences who have been approached with all sorts of cool opportunities: free stuff for their classroom in exchange for blogging about it, paid posts on their blogs, speaking engagements, district licensing for their teaching products, book deals with publishers, and so on. 

If you share high-quality teaching ideas online, people take notice, and it can definitely earn you money and financial perks.

Your web presence can also lead to one of the most lucrative ways to earn extra money as a teacher, which is through speaking engagements, professional development events, and conducting school-based workshops. The daily rate for speaking and consulting is probably the highest you can earn in the field of education, up to thousands per day. You can start off by presenting in your school and district, and at local education conferences, probably unpaid, and work up from there. If you are actively connected on Twitter and social media, and are sharing helpful content on your blog or website, people outside of your local area will find you and seek you out for paid events.  So I highly recommend that you consider speaking because if you’ve developed practical ideas that really work in the classroom, other teachers want to hear them! And speaking is something that you can fit fairly easily around your teaching schedule –the pay is good once you’re established and you don’t have to do it very often to bring in a lot of money.

You can also present your ideas through online courses. Create your own videos and screencasts and post them on your blog or on a site like Udemy which lets you easily create courses. This can create excellent passive income–you create the videos and courses in your free time, like over the summer, and earn money all year from it. And, it also builds your credibility and authority and leads to in-person speaking events and all kinds of other opportunities as people see what you know and are capable of teaching.

If these are things that interest you, keep in mind that the companies and organizations offering them need to be able to find you online. They need to be able to search you out and find reputable, valuable content you’ve shared online. So if you’ve been thinking about starting a blog or Twitter account or whatever, don’t wait. Start sharing your ideas now, for free. Start connecting with other educators. Not only is that going to make you a better teacher, it’s going to make other people better, too, and it’s going to build the reputation you need for more opportunities in our field.

This is really just the tip of the iceberg, of course. Unfortunately, there really isn’t a lot of information out there on how to get started with all of this. I’ve had to figure out pretty much everything through trial and error, and through begging my friends and connections on Twitter for info over the years.

I don’t want you to have to do that. I have a special email list for educational consultants, teacherpreneurs, and “wantrapreneurs”, in other words, people who want to start doing these things. I send out a free 8-minute video on how to balance everything and trying to fit everything in as a consultant, and then after that, I send out free helpful resources just once or twice a month to help teachers earn money part time or full time in consulting. It’s nothing spammy and I don’t share the email addresses–I just like to be able to send out these resources to those who are interested without cluttering up my blog or main email list which is focused on teaching.

I’d like to leave you with a motivational quote for the week ahead that I call the Takeaway Truth. Here’s the Takeaway Truth I want you to remember this week: Your dream job does not exist. You must create it.

As a classroom teacher, you already know the problems in education and in schools. You’re inventing new ways to solve those problems every day. You know what works for your students. Start sharing it. Share the solutions you’ve found–not only can you earn extra money to support your family, but you can help other teachers. You can make a difference in education and make a difference for kids.

Next week: Truth for Teachers season 1 wrap-up and reflections

Truth for Teachers podcast: a weekly 10 minute talk radio show you can download and take with you wherever you go!  A new episode is released each Sunday to get you energized and motivated for the week ahead.

See blog posts/transcripts for all episodes

Subscribe to the podcast in iTunes

Subscribe to the podcast in Stitcher


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