A Fabulous Friday: Chilton’s Progress

This piece originally appeared in the Spring 2014 Inclusive, a newsletter published biannually by the CLC Network Advancement Department.
Chilton and Mom

When teachers and a student have a day this good, it’s worth sharing. “We called it a Fabulous Friday, because it went so incredibly well,” shares Andrea Tejchma, Chilton’s first grade teacher, and Jessica Tysman, classroom aide at Grand Haven Christian School in Grand Haven, Michigan. “There were schedule changes and other challenges, but Chilton went with it and then blew us away with his progress.”

Chilton Giaimo is a first grade student, and the prior few weeks had been a little up and down. He has Autism Spectrum Disorder, which makes it difficult for him to demonstrate verbal and social skills at the same rate as his peers. He had been uncomfortable interacting with other children and typically preferred to spend recess by himself.


“He was very proud of his wacky hair for the school-wide Wacky Hair Day, and ate lunch with the other students in the gym,” his teachers share. “At indoor recess that Friday, one of Chilton’s friends had to go and finish work with a teacher. Chilton waited patiently, and then used words to ask this friend to play. They were running around and giggling the rest of the time.” This was the first time his teachers had seen him initiating play with other kids, plus he demonstrated his verbal skills!

Spelling Test

Later that day, Chilton got every word right on his spelling test, using an iPad. His teachers explain, “He had struggled with pencil and paper, so we learned that he knew the words and it was much easier for him to type.” As his mother, Ginger, shares,

“It’s important to never underestimate how special kids are, no matter
what they may be struggling with.”


During the next break time, Chilton would usually go to one page in a particular book that he liked to review. Over the course of a few weeks, his teachers were putting sticky notes on other pages, then rewarding Chilton with a treat when he read them. On this Fabulous Friday, Chilton read through three whole books!

Chilton quote large.fwPrayer

At the end of the day, Chilton volunteered to close the class with prayer. “We can usually understand the first few words when he prays, but then it can become mumbling,” explains his teachers. “Afterwards, one of his classmates told us, ‘It’s okay that we don’t know what Chilton is praying, because God knows.’”

“’Jesus Loves Me’ were some of his first words, and he sang the entire song through,” remembers his mother, Ginger. “It’s wonderful to have a Christian community to encourage him to grow and develop. All of his progress has come from pushing him to go beyond what we might think he’s capable of, and every time he steps up and meets the challenge.”

To read more stories of inclusion in church and school communities, check out the latest Inclusive newsletter on the CLC Network website

Elizabeth pictureElizabeth Lucas Dombrowski is the advancement director at CLC Network. 

Ways to Make Your Church Inclusive on Easter

Ways to Make Your Church Inclusive on EasterIf you’ve visited a new church for the first time, you can likely relate to the confusion and unfamiliarity in these sentiments:

  • Do I stand or sit during this song?
  • I forgot my Bible. Is there one under my seat? Do I need to grab one from the usher?
  • How do we take communion here? Is it open to everyone? Is there a common cup?
  • Where is the bathroom?

With the approaching Easter service, many churches will have an influx of new attendees as well as changes in the typical service routine as we remember the crucifixion and celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

How can your church welcome all? Offer a preview with your website. 

Take full advantage of your church website. Just as many of us Google our hotels and vacation spots so we can see what they look like ahead of time, many individuals benefit from a preview of what to expect at church.

What can a church website show before a person ever visits?medium_3493485063

  • Show a collage of people worshiping: Can you raise your hands? Is there a piano? Band? Organ? Do you use hymnbooks and where are they kept?
  • Play snippets of the music. Perhaps include a song you will actually sing on Easter Sunday.
  • Offer a picture tour. Include the sanctuary, hallways, classrooms, or a layout of the building. How can you help people feel comfortable before they even walk through your doors?
  • Show how communion works. Let people know the process, what it means to your church, and who and how you participate. Does your church medium_5100092467offer gluten-free options for those wishing to participate in the Lord’s Supper?
  • Provide a schedule. Do you know the order of worship for Easter Sunday? Some people benefit from a schedule. If you click on that schedule, people may even be able to print it off on their home printer and take it along so they know what comes next. If you include words and pictures of the event, readers and non-readers can enjoy the schedule. (WARNING…I suggest you not include times, but only a sequence of events. Some individuals get upset if you are off by a minute or two if the time is listed.)
  • Think about Sunday School. Will Sunday School students have a special role in the Palm Sunday or Easter service? Are they singing a certain song or acting out a scene? Some children benefit from previewing their role ahead of time through pictures (or even a story, think of the Church Welcome Story) of the event. Help them anticipate and understand their role by providing visuals beforehand (online or in person).
  • Who’s who? Are there key people identified by a name badge or special clothing? Do you have an area where you can ask questions? Make sure your website covers that and even includes pictures and names of key people that visitors may meet on Easter Sunday.

Photo - Easter BookFor more ideas, explore The Easter Book from Friendship Ministries, which contains a plethora of activities, crafts, and tips to help persons with unique needs respond to the love of Jesus.  If your church wants to help individuals preview your church in a more personalized way, walk them through the Church Welcome Story. We shared ideas for communicating the Gospel and the love of Jesus with persons with disabilities in these previous posts, Sharing Jesus with a Child with Down syndrome and Sharing the Christmas Story with Kids with Disabilities.

Offering a preview can help in areas outside of church too, like before a family vacation. Learn how to create a preview of your family vacation so it can be enjoyable for all family members.

photo credit: freefotouk via photopin cc

photo credit: khrawlings via photopin cc


Barbara J. Newman photoBarbara J. Newman is the director of church services and a teacher consultant at CLC Network. She also teaches at Zeeland Christian School and is the author of several books, including Autism and Your Church, The Easter Story, and Body Building: Devotions to Celebrate Inclusive Community.





ToryWhite01Tory White works in the Church Services Division at CLC Network. By God’s grace, she has been a part of the inclusion support staff at Zeeland Christian School since 2005, and has spent nearly a lifetime working in children’s ministry.





JackiSikkemaJacki Sikkema has a background in Special Education and currently serves in the Church Services Division at CLC Network.



Behavior Management 101

Earlier this week, Phil Stegink shared a review on the documentary, “Who Cares About Kelsey?”, a high school student that struggles with behavior and emotional challenges. In today’s post, he shares how schools can address behavior management and create a positive and supportive school community.

Stegink blog post poster cropKelsey’s story, that of a student who brings challenging behavior to school, is told and retold each day in schools throughout our country. Young students tell the story when they do not follow classroom routines and rules, and when they do not comply with expectations. Her story is told by older students, who, like Kelsey, run afoul of school codes of conduct and who receive frequent suspensions and expulsions. In the documentary, Who Cares About Kelsey?, Dan Habib describes how educators and parents are left to wonder “Who cares about my kid?” and “How can I care about my kid?”

Paradigm Shift

Very often we conclude that students who bring challenging behavior to school do so because they lack motivation to change or because they willfully choose to behave poorly. We describe their challenging behavior as “making bad choices.” In this paradigm, our response to challenging behavior is to provide a consequence that will cause a student to avoid, or simply stop doing the challenging behavior. Essentially, consequences are designed to extinguish inappropriate behavior, hopefully leaving good behavior in its wake.

This paradigm is a time-honored tradition. For years we have written rules that we expect students to follow. School rules are common-sense rules designed to promote an orderly flow of educational business. And, in the face of egregious behavior, we establish zero-tolerance policies intended to eradicate negative and dangerous behavior targeted to either oneself or others. Unfortunately, statistics suggest that negative or challenging behavior has not declined; rather, the data suggest that challenging behavior has maintained a robust status or has increased (Boccanfuso and Kuhfeld, 2011; Skiba et al., 2006). Clearly, punishing students for negative behavior is making a limited positive impact at best or is even counter-productive. There is another way.

Lost at SchoolRethinking How We Respond

In the book Lost at School: Why Our Kids with Behavioral Challenges are Falling Through the Cracks and How We Can Help Them, Dr. Ross Greene presents an important paradigm shift in responding to challenging behavior. Greene asserts two radical and critical points on which we can re-think how we respond to negative behavior, including the kind of behavior shown to us by Kelsey.

Classroom - FlickingerBradFirst: “Kids do well if they can.”

Greene makes the case that students know they are supposed to behave appropriately. They know they are to follow rules and that they are to comply with social norms that keep society functioning, particularly the society of a classroom and a school. He suggests that students will do well if they can, because

“doing well is always preferable to not doing well, but only if a kid has the skills to do well in the first place” (p. 11; italics added).

For many of us, this is a radical shift in how we interpret challenging behavior.

Second: Lagging Skills    

Greene suggests that students present challenging behavior because they lack skills required to function in a particular situation. Greene calls these “lagging skills” and when we understand which skills a student lacks, we will be better able to

  1. Anticipate situations where the challenging behavior will likely occur;
  2. recite-19096-599400518-1fs31h0Teach the student the lagging skills, thereby equipping him or her to function in the situation. Greene describes challenging behavior as maladaptive behavior, meaning the behavior is not appropriate for the situation. Put another way, challenging behavior is behavior that occurs when the demands of the situation (or the task) exceed the student’s capacity to respond.When that situation arises multiple things can happen, including:
    1. Resorting to a challenging or maladaptive behavior that has been used before, because no other option is known to exist in the student’s repertoire
    2. Or “choosing” challenging behavior, because the student has not other behavior option from which to choose (such as a behavior that adaptive or appropriate to the situation).

Behavior as a Skill Set

Greene tries to get us to see challenging behavior as a lack of skill so that we rethink our response to it. Viewing behavior as a set of skills required to navigate the world of social interactions opens us up to consider that challenging behavior represents a lagging skill set that must be taught or retaught. If we want maladaptive behavior to become adaptive, we must teach the student the missing skills.

Just as beliefs about classroom teaching have changed over the years, so has the idea of teaching associated with teaching lagging skills that lead to behavior.  In Greene’s model of teaching lagging skills, he makes the case that it is essential that students and adults work cooperatively to solve the problem of challenging behavior. While Greene has worked out this model in considerable detail, for our purposes it includes the following elements:

  • Empathy:  Here the adult seeks to find out why the student is engaging in this behavior. The adult starts a conversation with some form of the observation and question, “I noticed … What’s Up?”
  • Problem Definition: In this step, the adult and the student each identify their problem. Both problems must be on the table in order for both participants to own the partnership of problem solution.
  • Invitation: Brainstorming potential solutions to solve both problems. Both problems must be addressed, not solely the problem identified by the adult.
  • Summary: “I heard us say …” and “When shall we begin?” and “Do we think this will work?” are three questions that highlight this part of the model.

Greene’s argument is that if we are to help students make enduring change to their challenging behavior, we must engage them in the process of learning new skills for troublesome situations, just as we teach reading or mathematics in using methods that engage students as active participants and constructors of new learning.

In Kelsey’s story, she reports that she is a “… mean person …” supposing that she is mentally disabled …” I wonder whether and how her teachers or her parents would support Kelsey if they reframed their response to her challenging behavior as a result of “lagging skills.” Instead of suspending and expelling her from school, what would have been the impact if adults who attempted to support her throughout her school career had interpreted her challenging behavior as an example of demands that exceed her capacity to respond, rather than as bad choices on her part? What if they had worked with Kelsey to identify the situations and associated lagging skills that led to maladaptive behavior?

The problem of challenging behavior is not new. Challenging behavior has been challenging for many years. Our approach to creating positive and supportive communities of learning for all students reflects our beliefs about students, behavior, and choices. Our practices in responding to challenging behavior will determine whether we give the gift of true change to students or whether we focus our efforts on managing challenging behavior.

How have you managed challenging behavior? We’d love to hear your thoughts!

Phil SteginkPhil Stegink is the director of educational services at CLC Network and an assistant professor of education at Calvin College.

photo credit: flickingerbrad via photopin cc

photo credit: Sara Björk via photopin cc