Prairie Central Junior High Special Education teacher Lisa Bounds was recently selected to represent the Illinois at the National Council for Exceptional Children Special Education Convention and Expo in Tampa, Fla., on Feb. 7 to 10. According to the CEC, the event is the largest special education professional development event for educators.
    “This honor is well-deserved by Mrs. Bounds,” said Prairie Central CUSD Superintendent Paula Crane. “She continually goes above and beyond for her students to ensure they get the best education possible. Lisa is a lifelong learner who brings what she learns back to her colleagues so students district-wide can benefit from her expertise. Lisa is extremely dedicated to the students of Prairie Central.”
    Bounds has been teaching junior high special education students for 20 years.
    “I work with a variety of different students,” she said. “Some have learning disabilities, some have emotional or behavioral issues, some were diagnosed with ADHD — most of them have multiple issues. Although it’s considered a special education classroom, my students fall in-between regular education classrooms and a classroom for the severely disabled.
    “We have a lot of inclusion kids who are taking regular education classes but have Individualized Education Programs. They get accommodations and support, but they are able to understand and participate in the regular curriculum.”
    Bounds’ approach to working with students who are falling behind in school is to recognize that everyone learns differently. Her goal is to be open-minded and flexible with the needs of her students.
    “Often it means being able to think on your feet,” Bounds said. “Sometimes it’s not even something I put in the lesson plan. While I’m teaching I get to know the kids and their struggles. Instead of focusing on whether or not they are using the proper techniques to get to the answer, I am more interested in whether or not they understand the material enough to come up with the correct answer.”
    Once she recognizes that a student knows the answer, her goal is to essentially help them find a workaround that helps them get to that point.
    “A lot of our students come in with a chip on their shoulder,” she said. “A lot of them would like to prove to themselves and to their classmates that they can do the work that everyone else is doing. I know they comprehend what they’re learning, my goal is to find that little step that makes everything click for them.”
    One technique that Bounds has found a lot of success with began when the junior high started implementing Google technology in the classroom.
    “While I was learning how everything worked, I came upon this program that would turn speech into a text document,” Bounds said. “At the time we had a student who didn’t like writing and I told him about the program. It has made a huge difference for some of the kids who absolutely refuse to do their writing work. Kids have been getting more homework done and learning better because they aren’t held back by their limitations.”
    Although Bounds is learning education techniques that can benefit a large number of her students, she also recognizes that each student is unique. Therefore, her approach is always changing.
    “Often, I’ll suggest an idea that has worked for someone else and sometimes it’s a complete disaster. But I won’t give up, I remind myself that it’s about finding the one kid that it does work for.”
    One educational technique that works with all students is support. Bounds says it’s important to help students understand that if they are willing to meet her halfway, she is willing to do what it takes to make sure they succeed.
    “Years ago, I had a student and as a joke, I told him that I had signed him up to do a speech at graduation,” Bounds said. “Although I let him know it was just a joke, the student had already accepted it and got it into his head that he would be giving this speech.
    “He ended up giving a speech at graduation that was absolutely fabulous, but I can say I had listened to that speech numerous times leading up to graduation. He knew that I thought he could do it, even though I was joking at first. I find that when students see you’re seriously willing to do what it takes, they’re willing to do whatever is expected of them.”
    Bounds said receiving the Clarissa Hug Teacher of the Year from the Illinois Council for Exceptional Children was a complete surprise, but ultimately a great experience.
    “I was nominated by one of my former Illinois State University professors for multiple classes, Dr. E. Paula Crowley,” she said. “I keep in contact with her off and on and when she said she had nominated me for this, I didn’t think anything of it. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to represent the state at the national conference.”