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The Diet Connection: Ways to Teach Your Child Healthy Eating Habits

Over the years, there has been differing opinions about the connection between behavioral issues in children and their diet. As early as the 80’s, families that found themselves raising complex children were encouraged to consider the diet connection (Wender, 1986). Over the years, this idea gained traction. Although many theories exist as to what the connection may be, enough of a pattern presents itself to some parents to make it a priority to keep the diet clean of certain ingredients. While that may not feel necessary for all parents, what are ways we can easily teach children to enjoy and eat food that is nourishing for their growing bodies? Here are some ideas:

  1. Look for products that have five or fewer ingredients. These items tend to be cleaner.
  2. Look for ingredient lists that are in plain language. Of course, the advent of some ingredients has enhanced our food’s shelf life ability, but it doesn’t always make it a healthy choice on a regular basis.
  3. Shop the outer aisles. Unprocessed food tends to be situated here. And when you do enter the inner aisles, take a list with you to keep you focused on the items you are going there to get and keep yourself to that list.
  4. Pay attention to sugars in the foods you purchase and become aware of “hidden sugars” that sound healthy, but really aren’t, such as beet sugar.
  5. Allow some flexibility in your diet. If you are not dealing with a food allergy (IgE activated) or specific medical concern related to food, allow yourself some flexibility in including some treats. If you notice a pattern of behavior related to a food item, explore that with your child’s pediatrician or a specialist.
  6. You are your child’s best teacher when it comes to food related habits. Think aloud around your child in regards to the habits and food choices you build for a healthy lifestyle. Even teenagers are listening far more than you would ever guess! The conversation should never be shaming. Focus on being healthy rather than being a particular weight. Talk with your child about what certain foods can do to your body if consumed too much, but focus on quality of life and health, not size. Healthy bodies can look more than one way and this is a message your child needs to hear.
  7. Allow your child to participate in picking a new fruit to try (dragon fruit…how cool is that!?) or a new recipe to make together. See how many fresh ingredients you can put together to make a new favorite combination. Think of it as making new additions to your diet and encourage your child to think of it this way, too.

Families are their child’s first teacher. When you teach, you touch the future and that’s a pretty amazing place to be!

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Practical Ways to Prevent the Deficit Model

Yesterday, I discussed the deficit model, a specific phenomenon that happens when a person’s challenges, perceived challenges, or characteristics outside the cultural “normative,” are focused on and used to make decisions about the individual.

One example of this is when young adults of diverse cultures are discouraged from taking advanced placement courses, despite their demonstrated ability and motivation. Another example might be when a student who has a learning disability but also has gifted characteristics, is delegated to the “extra support group at all times,no matter what their ability is in the skill being taught.

Today, I want to give some practical suggestions for how to identify deficit model pitfalls and how to combat them.

  1. Students whose family culture is outside the “cultural norms” may need extra consideration to feel safe and included in the classroom space. For example, some children may come from a home culture where quiet respect is highly valued. They may not feel comfortable speaking out in class, especially at first. If you have a child in your class who, for whatever reason, is reserved, find ways to include them in small group dynamics that may feel more comfortable to start out with. After awhile, their comfort level may grow.
  2. Watch for students with asynchronous development, meaning the are advanced in some ways but delayed in others. If a student is reading high above grade level, but struggles to turn in work, make sure that student’s strengths are being addressed and praised. Although, it is critical to address and scaffold support for the child’s difficulties, children who are not placed in learning situations according to their true ability may demonstrate maladaptive behaviors. It is our responsibility as teaching practitioners to make sure we can see behind executive functioning challenges such as turning work in and understand the child’s true ability level.
  3. For language learners, it is essential that an appropriate learning environment is provided to ensure their level of comfort. Students who are acquiring English as a second language often benefit from small group work, where they feel safer to make a language mistake and can participate in what is known as peripheral participation, where they are free to observe other student’s or the teacher who has language mastery.
  4. Allow a student who may be struggling academically to showcase another talent or strength. Children are incredibly adept at understanding unspoken dialogue and doing this communicates that the child’s other skills are also valued as part of the school community.
  5. Most importantly advocate for diversity in gifted education. Advocate for students who are twice exceptional, who may not be able to “make the grade” but could far surpass the straight A students in an IQ test. These children are a precious resource and we absolutely cannot let them fall through the cracks!

When you teach, you touch the future and that is a pretty amazing place to be!

For more ideas, please contact me at deanna@deannawestedt.com I am available to speak to school staff for professional development opportunities in the area of providing equity in the classroom.

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How to Recognize the Deficit Model and What to Do About It

In previous posts, I’ve talked about how students enter the classroom space with unique multi-cultural fingerprints that influence the way they think and learn. In fact, every single person is composed of many different categories that overlap in a unique way to shape their perspectives and viewpoint. Understanding the way this plays out in a classroom and how to create a classroom culture that honors this cultural wealth is a passion of mine.

Within this concept of understanding each unique cultural identity of each child, there is some fundamental ideas that need to be unpacked. The first is the idea of culture. The term culture is most often used synonymously with traditions, often traced back to race and/or ethinicity. And this is a tremendous part of culture, but it is so much more. We must recognize that our age, gender, and life experiences all swirl together to form our lens . In research, we call this positionality and it is incredible important. One of the first steps in a research journey is to identify one’s own positionality that may influence the way the researcher approaches the topic. But this concept also applies to our classroom, and it is imperative that we understand this deeply in order to best serve our children.

Unfortunately, there are some identities a child may have that contribute to what is known as a deficit model. What is a deficit model? A deficit model is usually based on constructs (unspoken contrived ideas) of our society that focuses on what is “normal” for that society. Any identity that strays outside of that norm is perceived (incorrectly) as a deficit. Thus the deficit model, of which there are two types:

1.Where an emphasis is placed on a child’s challenges rather than their strengths. We do this all the time when we make sure that students who are struggling get extra support, but do not take time to focus on strengths of that same child.

2. Where part of a child’s identity is perceived in a way that prevents them from accessing certain aspects of educational opportunity. Research indicates that boys are much more likely to receive a designation of “Special Ed.” That increases substantially if the boy is black. Additionally, there is a huge lack of representation of our minority communities in the Gifted and Talented Programs, often because they may access the curriculum differently or be “perceived” differently. As these students make their way through our educational halls, they often encounter discouragement from taking advanced placement courses. Unacceptable.

Join me tomorrow, where I will discuss ways you can make a impact in your own classroom and school. And if you are interested in a presentation at your educational institution, please contact me at deanna@deannawestedt.com. I am passionate about depth of knowledge equity for our children!

When you teach, you touch the future and that’s a pretty amazing place to be!

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Allergies in the Classroom: Myths and Misinformation

I have been a member of the allergy community for about 17 years (actually this week is my allerversary, when I first developed a very serious reaction known as anaphylaxis to a food product that for most is completely harmless). Navigating the allergy world for myself and then later, also my child, is a challenging universe.

Here are some important fact that every teacher should absolutely know:

  1. Allergies exist to almost every thing known to man. We hear so much about peanuts and the “top 8” that many do not realize other allergies exist to almost anything that is edible. More over, and please read this sentence twice, any allergen can be a trigger of anaphylaxis ( a life-threatening reaction which causes the airways to swell, the blood-pressure to drop, and can lead to cardiac arrest). Wheat, dairy, soy, etc. can have a range of reactions depending upon each individual. And yes, dairy and wheat (or any other allergy) can trigger anaphylaxis. If a child in your class has a declared allergy, it is imperative that you make yourself aware of what their symptoms are and what to watch for. Make sure you understand what previous reactions have been and if they have a history of anaphylaxis. Just because it isn’t peanuts or tree nuts, don’t assume that the reaction will be “mild.”
  2. Know the child’s emergency plan. This is a plan that is put in to place by the child’s allergist. You should know when to EPI and what the recommendation is about giving antihistamine. Often times the answer is EPI NOW, ask questions later. But again, that is a conversation to have with the school nurse in regards to that child’s specific plan.
  3. Don’t assume anything. I never gave any food item to a food allergic child without first having the parent approve the ingredient list. I once found that a peanut product was used as a stabilizer in a giant tub of plain chocolate ice-cream. Also, trust me when I say that as food allergic individual, we become the experts of label readers. An allergen can be in a “hidden ingredient” that the average person would never suspect. Let the experts (ie. the parent) do the checking!
  4. Don’t send home treats with kids to be checked out by their parents. The child may decide to eat it en route and what’s worse not have help near by if needed.
  5. Better yet, don’t have food based treats in the classroom at all if possible. Please and Thank-you!
  6. Watch for allergy based bullying. There have been instances where children have becoming dangerously ill because they had their allergen thrown at them. (Yes, any contact with a mucous membrane may trigger a reaction). Additionally, mental and emotional harm is very hard to reverse. Children with food allergies already walk a very difficult line of feeling isolated and feeling safe. Make it your goal to make sure your classroom is a safe environment for that child and do not allow their physical, mental or emotional well-being to be threatened.
  7. Become educated. Food allergies are often associated in pop-culture as being “uncool” (okay, they are a bum deal, but it doesn’t make that person uncool). They have even been the butt of jokes on kid or comedy shows. Understand the emotions that come with allergies. While, individuals with food allergies may report higher feelings of anxiety, it is not the anxiety that triggers the food allergy but rather the food allergy that triggers the anxiety.

Remember, the food-allergic person is only one mistake away from a potentially life-threatening experience and many have already experienced that in their young lives. That is a lot of weight to bear. Let’s make our classrooms allergy friendly.

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Celebrating Our Children’s Non-Academic Victories

by Deanna Westedt, Ed.D.

There’s a saying in the fitness world: “non-scale victories.” I personally love this phrase because it identifies that there is so much more to being healthy than a number on a scale. It focuses on quality of life issues and brings a healthier lens to the fitness world. This short phrase packs a positive punch because it shifts us to an understanding that there’s a holistic picture.

I’ve thought a lot about how this phrase transfers over into the educational world. In a system so focused on numbers to the point that schools can receive sanctions from the state for not meeting numerical benchmarks, it is critical for us to remember that we are teaching living breathing humans, our future, so much more. Just as in a weight measurement, these standardized numbers are one-dimensional, but so much importance is placed on them. In my twenty-one years of teaching, I have had the privilege to work at many school sites and I can testify to the fact that higher state testing numbers did not always represent a healthy school environment, or even that more learning was going on. I could really take a deep dive into the glaring problems of making important decisions on these numbers alone, but I didn’t come here to do that today: I want to shift the focus to our students’ wins, no matter what their report card says!

Now, I am not coming here to tell you that low grades or tests shouldn’t concern you. I am telling you to balance any concern you may have with the whole picture. So, what are non-academic victories? They are evidence that we are preparing students for life!

Here are some examples:

  1. A student who previously struggled with organizational skills learned some strategies for keeping track of papers and now turns in a higher percentage of assignments (Notice, I did not say ALL assignments…teaching and parenting is all about progress not perfection).
  2. A child discovers a new passion or interest and begins to pursue it whole-heartedly. Friends, this is where genius that blesses the world often begins.
  3. An opportunity to demonstrate compassion and kindness plants a seed of service-mindedness in children.
  4. A student who previously avoided reading is now taking an interest in some books, even if they only want to read the same books over and over.
  5. Students learn how to truly collaborate with each other and how to have self-efficacy.

The message of non-academic victories is especially important right now. In a year that has looked so different than others, some found their academic footing and others did not. Look for those non-academic victories and take a moment to savor them. Often, they lead to life lessons that a student will remember long after the facts they memorized for a test fade away.

When you teach you touch the future and that’s a pretty amazing place to be!

If you like my message and want to hear more, check out my website deannawestedt.com to see the different opportunities I offer for speaking engagements and professional development.

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How Do I Know If My Child’s Spelling is on Grade Level?

A common question I would get as a K-3 teacher was the question of whether or not a child’s spelling was ‘okay.’ Parents often expressed concerns that their child’s attempts to represent the spoken word had too many spelling mistakes and that their spelling didn’t follow the conventional rules.

Children’s spelling develops along a continuum, just as in most any area of development. Their ability to apply phonetic knowledge to writing is based on a couple of things: their knowledge of phonics and of the phonetic principle.

While knowledge of phonics is based on which phonetic sounds and combinations the child has been exposed to through instruction and exposure to reading, the phonetic principle is understanding the letter to sound correlation and the ability to use this understanding to represent sound. This skill starts long before most realize it as young children play with language through rhymes, silly songs, and sound manipulation (Danny Danny Bo-Banny, anyone?) So when a child identifies the “sh” sound and identifies the two letters that make that sound and know where to place it in the word, that is the phonetic principle at work.

As a teacher of young children, I reveled in their invented spelling. I lovingly referred to it as “inventese” and I delighted in it! As a teaching PRACTITIONER, it gave me the inside scoop on which sound students not only recognized but could actually apply to their spelling. Many parents worry about their child’s invented spelling, worried that they will get “stuck” that way or that it represents that they are “behind.” The truth of the matter is that spelling that is on grade level only requires a student to apply the sounds they’ve been taught up to that time in the school year. In other words, if the digraphs such as /sh/, /ch/, /th/, etc. have not yet been taught yet, then if they do not use them in their spelling, they are not behind.

So, what’s a parent to do? Well, the first tip is to let yourself off the hook as your child’s dictionary. If they haven’t yet learned about the silent e at the end of the word, don’t jump in and correct them. Enjoy the “inventese”, it won’t last long. Typically, by third grade it begins to fade more and more through exposure to text and phonetic mastery.

If you are unsure of what sounds have been taught, don’t hesitate to ask your child’s teacher to clarify where they are at with phonics in the curriculum and ask which sounds they’ve already learned. This will help you see which sounds your child has truly grasped.

Families are a child’s first teachers. When you teach, you touch the future and that’s a pretty amazing place to be!

If you would like more guidance from the perspective of an expert in curriculum and instruction, email me at deanna@deannawestedt.com.Whether it be conducting parent sessions for a school or one on one consultation appointments, I’m here to serve your needs to help your child grow in learning.

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Want to Make Curriculum Accessible to All Students? Here’s Where to Start

There’s been a lot of talk lately about ‘equity,’ to the point where I fear it may become an empty word that is, in actuality, very significant. Equity is a complex concept, with a simple meaning. To provide equity means that students get what they need to succeed and that every student’s needs are going to look different from one to the next.

The conceptual background of equity is grounded in the idea that each student has a unique multi-cultural fingerprint that impacts the way they view the world. In turn this view or lens affects they way they are able to utilize the curriculum and learning environment to acquire new academic skills. When students are able to function within the learning environment and acquire new concepts the way they are being taught, we say that the student is “accessing the curriculum.”

Understanding that each student will view the world differently and that the view they bring with them impacts the way they learn best is critical in creating a learning environment that is truly equitable. In this context, we think of the overlapping cultures that each individual brings with them into the classroom as all of the various influences they have in their lives and their identities. For example, it is easy to understand that a student who is designated with a learning disability (or who has not been identified yet, for that matter) may have difficulty accessing the curriculum in the same way as a student without a learning disability. Taking that one step further and understanding that a student’s learning disability overlaps with other identities they have such as gender (or perceived gender), age, giftedness, language learning status, and race/ cultural influences, we can see the importance of viewing a child as a whole person (not just their learning disability or other label). This concept also emphasizes the importance of getting to know each child.

Overlapping identities may be permanent or not. An example of a shifting category that may impact a student’s access to the learning might be whether or not they had time to eat breakfast that morning or if the morning was smooth or rough. Obviously, these factors may change from day to day. Yet, this still emphasizes the role the teaching practitioner holds in their classroom each day to know if there are underlying emotions that may impact the way a child learns that day. Approaching children from this angle immediately shifts the classroom from being a place of intimidation or fear to that of compassion. And children learn better (i.e. access the curriculum) when they feel safe and secure in their environment.

As I wrap up this post, I encourage all teaching practitioners to go the extra mile to know their students. It could be as simple as giving a chance for students to show a thumbs up sign or thumbs down sign to understand what mindset they have when they’re entering the classroom. Taking note of students who may need a little extra space or TLC that day. It might mean recognizing that a child’s home culture may differ from the one they are surrounded by daily in the classroom and considering ways you can make the classroom environment feel welcoming. This is the foundation for equity of learning. It is when and only when we address the foundational issue of providing a safe learning environment where all children can access the curriculum in a way that honors who they are, that we can then set our eyes on the academic goal.

When you teach, you touch the future and that is a pretty amazing place to be. For more ideas about how to see the classroom through a lens of accessibility for all students, check out my website deannawestedt.com. I would love to collaborate with you or your team of educators to provide a deeper path to accessible learning in the classroom.

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Preventing Mental Burnout: The Importance of Taking a Rest Day

We currently live in a fast-paced society that demands more and more. With every convenience we have added that should open up our schedules for more time to relax and connect, it appears new demands are placed upon us that replace what appliances and smart phones now do for us.

The concept of a “Rest Day” or Sabbath, long-associated with religion, is one that often gets further and further removed from mainstream culture, yet the benefits of taking time to not only physically rest, but mentally reset are becoming better understood.

Here are some tips on creating space for a rest day and why it is important:

  1. Mental exhaustion can be just as taxing as physical exertion. Decision fatigue in which we are constantly being called upon by the fast-paced rhythm of life to make decision after decision can stretch the brain to the max. Taking time to do something mindless can help to clear the brain and improve chances of solving whatever problem is stressing you out.
  2. Keeping track of our “to-do’s” takes up a LOT of mental energy. If there are tasks or an unsolved problem weighing on you that can be pushed off a day, jot it down for tomorrow. It will still be there to solve. I always think of my daily planner like an unloading bin that holds my to-do’s in place until I can get back to them, therefore freeing my mind for other things.
  3. There is no one right way to do a rest day. It is completely up to you. For example, I may allow myself 30 minutes or so of blogging (like right now) because it is something I enjoy, even though it is related to my life’s work. A rest day is what YOU and your family need it to be. There will still be tasks we need to attend to. If you find it difficult to break away from the to-do list, prioritize one area that you will allow yourself to postpone and take a step back from expending mental energy.

When you teach, you touch the future and that’s a pretty amazing place to be. Don’t forget how amazing you are for working with young minds and that you, too, deserve to be physically and mentally well-rested.

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Access to Elite Curriculum: Why our Public School Charges Deserve to be Prepared for an Ivy League Education ( If that’s what they want)

If you have spoken with me about the possibilities of engaging learning for all students, you know I am passionate about the topic. So much so, that I embarked on a journey of research for my doctoral dissertation that focused on how to serve students whose learning needs don’t quite fit inside that traditional classroom box. Yet, it is my firm belief that providing this is within our reach and an unparalleled challenge to ensure that all students access the curriculum in a way that suits their personal fingerprint.

Recently, state legislation surfaced that intended to redirect funds from charter schools. Some go as far as to say that even privatized education should not be allowed. But I put a challenge on that: instead of shutting down those opportunities, even if they appear to only serve the “elite,” let’s bring these opportunities to our public school system for those that need them.

At the end of the day, it isn’t the fabulous gymnasium with fancy equipment, state-of the-art stage and lighting, or gourmet cafeterias at elite schools that produce Ivy League scholars. It is the curriculum. It’s the expectations. And students in our public schools who find themselves on that path, who show the potential for acceptance at such schools, deserve the opportunity to access curriculum that will prepare them to compete with students who have attended the prep school. In other words, for students who need that type of preparation, let’s find out what is working to prepare students from prep schools and bring it to our public school charges.

Instead of trying to squash charter schools, let’s look at why some leave the traditional public school system in favor of a charter school. The way to grow stronger is to learn from those having success. What purpose does it serve to force individuals to stay in a system that may not work for them. Of course, there are plenty of students who may thrive in the current educational system. But clearly, data indicates there are many who do not. Education is not a one-size-fits-all and it is about time that the truth of providing more tailored learning opportunities for students is spoken. Students who are ready to work ahead, deserve to do so. Students who need extra support in an area, deserve to receive it an an effective, research-based way. Students who learn better with alternative seating, deserve the opportunity to explore that option, while those who need a more formal setting, deserve that as well. While this topic is truly a complex labyrinth and necessitates looking at the importance of early intervention and proper learning disability designation, as well as true identification of the gifted amongst us, the idea that by blocking access to some will somehow provide equity is a path that would like to avoid the hard work to provide our kids with what they truly deserve. Our world is changing all around us. Let’s make sure our schools keep up!

When you teach, you touch the future and that’s a pretty amazing place to be!

If you would like more ideas on how to apply differentiation and making curriculum accessible for all students, check out my website or contact me at deanna@deannawestedt.com.

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What if My Child is Behind?: The Inside Scoop on How to Do Early Intervention at Home

Yesterday, I talked about the importance to have a reset this summer after the upside-down year we have all had in education. You can find that article here: https://deannawestedt.com/2021/06/03/summer-learning-what-parents-need-to-know/.

But for some children who are struggling and behind grade level in a way that is significantly impacting their access to the curriculum, it may be necessary to take time this summer to help them be ready for the upcoming school year. Some examples of this are a student who has just finished second grade and is still struggling to decode and comprehend basic text, conduct basic math, or a child about to begin first grade that is struggling with their alphabet letters, sounds, or number recognition. In such cases you might consider some steps that close these gaps.

Early intervention is key to preventing later challenges in school. I often compare the ongoing scope and sequence of school to a gigantic snowball of grade level standards that must be mastered. And like any snowball, it initially starts off small but gains mass as it rolls down the hill. The obvious statement is that it is easier to stop a snowball when it is small and this statement rings true with grade level expectations, which tend to build upon each other. So much so, that core skills are identified in each grade level that are critical to success in the following grade level.

So, back to our earlier examples: if a child going into third grade is still struggling to blend words and use grade-level appropriate spelling (not perfect spelling), then it is time to step in. With that said, it is important to do it in a way that is not overwhelming to the child.

Watch “unspoken dialogue.” Remember, children are masters at deciphering unspoken messages. Try to pick resources that are age appropriate, especially if your child is significantly delayed. An accidental message of “I can’t learn” can impact a child long after they have uncovered the key to reading.

Pick resources that are age-appropriate. This is one of the most significant challenges for working with a child who is behind grade level or delayed. Their maturity and interests are still the same as their grade-level cohorts and we can easily risk “insulting” a child’s level of developmental maturity.

Use resources that grab their attention and are fun. For example, if your child is behind the game with frequency words or letter/ number recognition, the Preschool Prep Series may be just for you! I used these videos all the time in my kindergarten classes during snack and sent these videos home with students who were struggling. Plus, I used it with my own kids to marvelous results. You may feel like pulling your hair out after hearing the same letter, number, etc. repeated for the billionth time but the kids love it and they are like magic: it works! Plus they have these videos for all the different things that kids need to learn to recognize and you might just get some quiet while the kids are learning something and entertained at the same time…there is no downside here!

Let it be natural. Depending on the skill, maybe workbooks are the answer. However, I encourage parents to make it a fun time with hands on activities. Lego building is a great time to talk about shapes or counting. Geometric boards can help build spatial skills and are great even through grade 3. Use a egg carton to make a ten frame (just cut two off)…hello, common core math! Play with alphabet letters. Shake out syllables by doing a little dance or count the number of sounds in a word. Play “Guess My Word” by saying each sound in a three to four letter word by itself and having your child blend it back together. (By the way, this is one of the most crucial pre-reading skills!)

And most importantly: Read! Read! Read! Visit the library and stack up on lots and lots of books! Point out words that your child knows when you read. Let their finger trace each word as you read. Let them re-read books.

Early intervention is critical to prevent the challenges we see later on in learning in middle and high school and parents are their child’s first teacher. When you teach, you touch the future and that is a pretty amazing place to be.

If you would like to schedule a consult with me to go over intervention activities for your child, please reach out to me at deanna@deannawestedt.com