United We Stand, Divided We Fall: Tips for Increasing Parental Engagement

Parental engagement in special education is crucial for student success both inside and outside of the classroom. However, barriers sometimes hinder parents from exercising their right to engage. The educational policy and laws surrounding special education can often be difficult for parents to understand and when not explained thoroughly, the assessment and Individualized Education Program process can be intimidating.

Some parents may also have to overcome negative experiences they’ve faced in their own academic career. In these cases, it is important for educators to provide parents with the right resources and support to become active participants in their child’s education. But like parents, educators too face engagement challenges. This is sometimes due to a lack of time for parent meetings or a lack of training on how to integrate parents into the school culture.

Parent engagement is an ongoing process and initial low levels of involvement may not necessarily mean that parents lack the will to be more engaged. Barriers to increased parent engagement often present an “Us vs. Them” mentality and result in an increase in stress and a decrease in student outcomes. In order for parents and educators to ensure that students are getting the most out of the special education process, they must find a common ground. So how do parents and educators overcome these barriers and work together?

The 3 Pillars of Success

1. Knowledge is power!

When parents go through the special education process with their child, it can sometimes feel like they are entering a new country or world. The culture and language is entirely new. This can be intimidating initially  and cause parents to shy away from engaging with the school. The more parents know about special education, the more likely they are to be involved in their child’s education.

2. Communication is key.

An open line of communication can help establish rapport between parents and educators. Just as educators share in student successes and challenges in the classroom, parents should be encouraged to share in their child’s successes and challenges at home. This will allow both parents and educators to see the full picture and help students strengthen weaknesses and enhance their skills. Educators can encourage an open line of communication by developing and maintaining a communication system. This can be accomplished by sending simple notes home to parents and encouraging parents to send their comments in as well. Parents and educators can also establish regular phone calls, or scheduling time to chat during parent-teacher meetings.

3. Consistency is crucial.

Students sometimes perform or behave differently at home than they do at school. For example, a student may be able to set the table at home, but not at school. Or a student may independently zip his coat at school, but fail to do so without assistance at home. In these instances, students struggle with the ability to generalize skills, which means they may not perform in the same way when our actions change.

Here are some examples of things that might change:

Following instructions: A student responds correctly to the question “What’s your address?” but not to the question “Where do you live?”

Identifying materials: A student is able to identify a plastic penny, but not an actual penny.

Responding to instructors: A student who learns to respond to a single person initially may not always comprehend how to respond to another instructor or approach that varies slightly. This is because different instructors may use different materials or phrase questions in different ways.

Applying skills in different locations: Initially, a student might learn to respond to instructions or a request in a single location. For example, the student may learn to line up in the classroom, but is unable to stand in line at a store. Different locations may also have different materials, expectations and instructors.

Following prompts: Parents and educators may prompt or assist students in different ways. For example, when teaching a student to complete a puzzle, a teacher might use hand-over-hand guidance to assist the student in placing a puzzle piece in a specific location, while mom might simply point to the puzzle piece.

Adjusting to expectations: Parents and educators may expect different results from students. For example, an educator may expect their child to zip his coat all the way with no assistance while a teacher expect a student to zip their coat part of the way with no assistance or all the way with some assistance.

Adhering to demands: The number of demands we place on a student might be different in different settings. For example, the student might be expected to complete multiple tasks in a row at school, but minimal tasks at home (or vice versa).

All of these differences may result in the student performing differently at home than he does at school. It is therefore crucial to keep things as consistent as possible. An open line of communication is a great way to ensure consistency across settings. Remember, parental engagement in special education is crucial to student success. When parents and educators work together, there is no limit to how much students can achieve.

Using Baseline Data to Inform Instruction

It’s no secret that data can be daunting. For some of us, the word “data” means pile-high clipboards and stacks of complex data sheets or binders of reports. Data can also feel like never-ending lists of impersonal statistics that are difficult to difficult to comprehend and cumbersome to analyze.

When we look at data through this lens, it becomes impossible to see how data can improve student performance and enhance holistic education practices, but it can. So let’s break it down.

In it’s simplest form, data is a collection of facts and statistics that can be used for planning or analysis. All educators are charged with ensuring they use data to inform instruction, so students benefit from evidence-based techniques and approaches to education. Data can also be helpful in monitoring student progress and identifying areas of need through assessments.

Pre-tests, homework, attendance, grades and test scores are all data sources that help inform classroom, school and district decisions.

What is baseline data and how is it collected?

Baseline data is a measurement that is collected prior to intervention or teaching starting. It can be collected through various measures including: percent accuracy, frequency, duration, rate and intervals. When selecting a measure of baseline data collection, it is important to consider how intervention or instructional data will be collected to ensure consistency.

Percent accuracy is collected by calculating the number of target responses divided by the total number of opportunities. Some examples of this measure of data collection include:

  • Percentage of spelling words spelled correctly
  • Percentage of correct math problems
  • Percentage of items correctly identified

You can record frequency by tracking the number of each instance of a behavior. Collect frequency data with counters, tallies or a similar technique. Some examples of this measure of data collection include:

  • Number of words read
  • Number of times a student gets out of their seat
  • Number of times students raise their hands

Duration is measured by tracking how long a behavior occurs. To record duration, start a timer when the behavior commences and stop the timer when the behavior ceases. Some examples of this measure of data collection include:

  • How long a child engages in tantrum behavior
  • How long a child engages in peer interactions
  • How long it takes to complete lesson plans for one week

Rate is calculated by recording the number of behaviors per unit of time. Some examples of this measure of data collection include:

  • Number of words read per minute
  • Number of math problems completed per minute
  • Number of tantrums per hour

Interval data can be used when tracking each occurrence of behavior is not possible, or when the start and end time of the behavior is not clear. You can also use interval data to obtain a sampling rather than an exact count. Also you can measure interval data by determining a preset time interval and then marking whether the behavior occurred during that interval. Some examples of this measure of data collection include:

  • The occurrence of body rocking
  • The occurrence of staying in an assigned area
  • The occurrence of off-task behavior

Why is baseline data important and when is it used?

Without baseline data, many educators run the risk of failing to show progress in a number of student populations, such as with at-risk students, English language learners or students with disabilities.

Baseline data should always serve as a starting point for instruction. It justifies the need for behavioral intervention plans and allows for shifts in instruction that help every student achieve progress. Also it aids in proper selection of skill acquisition activities and allows educators to determine appropriate interventions with a degree of accuracy that increases likelihood of student success.

With baseline data, educators can essentially create a roadmap for students to achieve their educational goals and gain the support they need to master skills, lessons and more. Despite growing needs and changes in the educational landscape in America, baseline data continues to be a useful tool for educators to track and analyze student progress across the country. When you use data to guide instruction, there’s no telling what you’ll discover.

But one thing’s certain: You’ll create a dynamic and individualized experience your classroom that will move your students and school forward.

The Importance of Systematic Instruction

Systematic instruction is an evidence-based method for teaching individuals with disabilities that spans more than 50 years. It incorporates the principles of applied behavior analysis and allows for educators to teach a wide range of skills, including everything from academic to functional living skills. Most importantly, systemic instruction is the process of breaking a skill down into individual components so for students and identify the appropriate teaching method or prompting strategy that allow for students to fully comprehend instruction about a new skill or learning objective.

Data collection also ensures that this method of teaching is effective and results are measureable. To better understand the importance of systematic instruction, let’s break it into steps:

Step 1: Define the instructional objective. It is wise to identify your objective first and then break it down in to a single step or a chain of steps to complete. You should also review students’ prior learning history, preferences, or prerequisites skills that might assist in obtaining the skill.

Step 2: Choose an appropriate teaching/prompting strategy and materials. This will allow students to complete the skills or steps in the chain.  If you know that a student is having difficulty with instruction in a particular lesson, as an educator, you should find a way to teach or prompt them through the process to eventually get to the instructional objective and complete the skill on their own.

Ask yourself: What instructional strategy might support me in prompting or teaching my student to complete this skill? You should also consider how you will fade out teaching prompts over time and support your student so they can become independent learners.

Step 3: Determine the data collection method. This will allow you to evaluate how well your students are doing over instructional trials and whether they are gaining independence over time.  You should make sure that the evaluation method is sensitive enough to pick up on how students are progressing in becoming independent and performing the skills necessary for their success.

Step 4: Implement the instructional strategy and collect data. This step ensures that educators are implementing strategies designed for success and that, even though variations are inevitable, all individuals teaching the skill are implementing them in a similar way. It is imperative that you also determine an appropriate reinforcement strategy.  So many students have a negative experience when it comes to learning. You can make learning fun by reinforcing the benefits of correct skill usage and support students along the way. After that, you should aim to fade prompts and scale back until students become independent.

Step 5: Evaluate your data. You should do this to find out whether the strategy you are using to teach a skill is effective and whether there is an increase in student comprehension or capability.  If there is a positive trend, then continue to implement the same instructional strategy. If the trend is flat or variable (meaning it jumps up and down) you should reevaluate the data to determine if the instructional method will be effective in the long term.

Step 6: Refine the process and make decisions based on data. You should always take the results you are seeing in your data into consideration when determining whether you should adjust your instructional strategies. If the instructional objectives were attained, then determine the next step of your instruction. If the instructional objective was not obtained, then you must determine what you need to change, any additional materials required and if there is an inconsistency in the implementation of the instructional strategy. Occasionally, you might discover the instructional method you’re using needs to be broken down into a simple steps or that you need to teach a prerequisite skill prior to teaching a learning objective.

Systematic instruction is a great way to show that any student can learn. Educators are also responsible for breaking skills down to help students learn, no matter their challenges. Discovering and utilizing the power of systematic instruction can ensure that educators everywhere are helping students at every grade and le

Raising the Bar for Students with Disabilities: Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District

The Supreme Court ruling in the Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District case is now raising the bar for special education for the first time in decades. The unanimous decision, issued in favor of Endrew on March 22, clearly establishes that “a student offered an educational program providing ‘merely more than de minimis’ progress from year to year, can hardly be said to have been offered an education at all.”

The ruling came after the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on behalf of Endrew F., a child with an autism spectrum disorder and an attention deficit/hyperactive disorder, who received annual Individualized Education Programs in the Douglas County School District in Colorado. According to the case, Endrew’s school never effectively addressed his behavioral issues and as a result, he made little to no progress from year to year. In fifth grade, his parents withdrew him from the school in Douglas County and enrolled him in a private school. They immediately developed a behavioral intervention plan and Endrew has since made significant progress.

This case is important to schools and individuals who serve students with disabilities because it addresses a very grey area in the Individuals with Disabilities Act. The act offers states federal funding to assist in educating children with disabilities. Along with that funding, states must comply with statutory requirements that obligate them to provide every child a “free appropriate public education.” Until now, that level of education was interpreted by a 1982, Board of Education v. Rowley case, in which the Supreme Court determined that free appropriate education meant states only had to provide “some educational benefit” to students with disabilities who meet grade-level expectations.

Today, that thought process has changed. The Supreme Court’s ruling is sending a message that it is necessary for schools across the country to help students progress, no matter their challenges. Quality instruction and intervention is the expectation for students with disabilities and therefore, we cannot ignore or dismiss the need for IEPs and interventions to be reasonably calculated to ensure children make progress in light of their circumstances or disabilities.

Over time, we’ve seen that students with disabilities can and do learn with quality programming. With the right support, they can also make progress throughout their educational career and integrate into society by acquiring jobs and living meaningful adult lives. One of the growing expectations to accomplish this in special education is the need to utilize evidence-based practices. Endrew was placed at a school that utilized Applied Behavior Analysis as the basis of its intervention practice. ABA is a well-established evidence-based practice in education. For students to have the greatest opportunity to succeed, their educational plan or program must be proven effective. Rethink is committed to all children and educators having access to the professional development tools and resources necessary to deliver effective interventions. The intervention strategies contained within Rethink are both highly effective and evidence-based. Like the program that Endrew attended, ABA is the foundation of Rethink.

Endrew prevailed in this case because he made significantly more progress in his alternative school after regressing in the previous public school he attended. This progress was demonstrated through his behavioral intervention plan and through his private school’s ability to track his progress with quality data collection and analysis tools. As a result of this case, schools must now be prepared to demonstrate that every student is making more than de minimis progress. Progress monitoring, although required by IDEA, is an aspect of special education service delivery that teachers are often not able to implement with a high degree of fidelity. Rethink supports teachers to develop, implement and monitor instructional programs. It also helps them to feel confident monitoring progress in instruction to ensure that children are not just learning, but growing in their abilities to meet their educational goals. Educators can also use Rethink to monitor progress and adapt their intervention plans and strategies to confirm students are making more than de minimis progress to meet the Supreme Court’s expectations. While more support is still necessary for schools to serve students with special needs adequately, this ruling is certainly a step in the right direction. With hope, education will rise to the challenge and R

RethinkEd Spotlight Teacher of the Month: Tracy Shellooe

Position: Special Education Teacher                                                                                    District: Denver Public Schools, Denver, CO

Tracy Shellooe is a Special Education Teacher at Oakland Elementary in the Denver Public Schools in Denver, CO.  Oakland is one of 93 elementary schools in the district and is a Title I school with about 400 students and is what Ms. Shellooe describes as “a great school” with a team of professionals who “all work really hard to get students and families involved.”

Ms. Shellooe started her education career as a paraprofessional about 8 years ago where she worked in a worked in a high school.  She “fell in love with it and decided to go back to school to get (her) Master’s.”  She has been working with children with autism for 5 years now and is teaching a 1st through 5th grade class with 11 students. She has quite the range of abilities and developmental levels in her classroom.  She is a passionate teacher who loves her students and is motivated to be a big part of “helping them to gain a voice, help the kids grow reach their potential.”

Teaching such a large class with such a range of skills has “been a big challenge” particularly at the beginning of the year when the children must adjust to each other and the new learning environment. During this initial phase the educational team must also identify the areas of need for each student.  Ms. Shellooe has been using RethinkEd for 5 years and she relies on it heavily for tracking data in her classroom.  She uses it for herself, her paraprofessionals, and parents to “see which interventions are working.”  The Antecedent-Behavior-Consequence (ABC) data is one of her favorite pieces of the RethinkEd tool.  She states that the “ABC graphs are really great for (her) staff” and that the data “are really clear” to look at.  She bases a lot of her goals for her students based on RethinkEd goals.  She feels that “the wording is nice, and it makes it more cohesive when working on goals.”

In her classroom, they use a lot of the RethinkEd lesson plans as well as the data sheets and materials.  One specific lesson plan that she has used recently is one for tying shoes.  She likes how RethinkEd demonstrates how to start with hand over hand and then fade out prompts.  To help her paraprofessionals implement RethinkEd lesson plans, she has them watch the RethinkEd training modules and this helps them to increase their independence and help make the classroom run smoothly.

In Ms. Shellooe’s class, she has “really great parents” who are involved and work with her as a team on their child’s goals.  She uses the data and graphs from RethinkEd to show parents the progress that their child is making and what they need to work on.  She thinks that RethinkEd is particularly valuable for “setting up behavior plans with parents and being able to show them the graphs.”  She states that “it’s so much more visual for them” and some parents even “use it with home providers” or use it when “other evaluations are being done.”

The most important part of RethinkEd to Ms. Shellooe is the value that it brings to the students.  She has the children work in centers throughout the day and uses RethinkEd for many of the lesson plans.  She also engages children in RethinkEd directly by having them complete online lessons in the RethinkEd A
ctivity Center.  She says that the students “love it” and that these online activities allow them to work independently and keeps them engaged.  She likes how data is automatically collected and how the students “get excited because the system cheers them on.”  She also really likes the resources, such as the token boards, which seem to work well to motivate many students.

The system that “easy to navigate” and the time it saves for Ms. Shellooe is important to her, but, even more important is the improved quality of instruction and data collection that she sees directly benefiting her paraprofessionals, students, and parents.  RethinkEd has been “very helpful” for her and she is looking forward to continuing to use it with her students.

Techniques for teaching complex skills to children with special needs

Have you ever written a shopping list for the upcoming weeks groceries and then forgot to bring it with you to the store? If so, you will know how difficult it is to remember everything that was on the list.  The same is true when we have to remember significant amounts of information for an exam or a test.

For children with special needs; remembering all of the steps to a skill such as washing their hands or following a daily schedule can be a similar challenge.

The good news is that there is an evidence-based tool called a “task analysis” that we can use to break any complex tasks into a sequence of smaller steps or actions to help our children learn and become more independent.

 

Task analyses can take on many forms depending on how your child learns.

The examples below show written lists for how to complete tooth brushing:

If you are working with children who can read and understand directions, you can use a task analysis that has a lot of detail, such as this example for doing laundry.

If your child is unable to read, task analyses can be made using just picture cards or actual photographs to illustrate the steps of a skill. These examples following a morning routine, riding in the car and using a stapler:

 

How do I create a Task Analysis?

Here are the steps to take to create a task analysis to help your child:

  1. Physically complete all of the steps of the skill yourself
  2. Do the skill again and write down each step as you do it
  3. Compile all the steps into a sequence using words, pictures or both that your child will be able to understand and use to help them learn

There is no set number of steps to a skill.  Some children will require the skill broken down into many small steps to be able to be successful, others may require less steps. You can decide how many steps will be needed for your child to learn.

 

How do I know if my child is learning?

You can observe your child to see if they are making progress, however having a little bit of data will show you exactly how fast your child is progressing and which steps are being mastered, as well as which steps may need more learning attention.  To take data, you would note if the child completed each step correctly (independently) or incorrectly (needed help).   Here is an example for a simple data collection sheet for getting dressed:

 

Date:

March 3rd

Describe Step Did the child complete independently?

(Yes or No)

Step 1 Take off PJ’s Yes
Step 2 Put on underwear Yes
Step 3 Put on pants Yes
Step 4 Put on shirt No
Step 5 Put on socks No
Step 6 Put on shoes No
50% Correct

 

For more resources and information about using a task analysis:

 

The tools every district needs to design, deliver and monitor evidence-based practices in special education. (2015). Retrieved March 10, 2017, from http://www.rethinkfirst.com/

Developing Life Skills: How to Teach A Skill. (n.d.). Retrieved March 10, 2017, from http://www.tacanow.org/family-resources/developing-lifeskills-how-to-teach-a-skill/

Printable Picture Cards. (n.d.). Retrieved March 10, 2017, from http://www.do2learn.com/picturecards/printcards/index.htm

Says, R., Says, C., Says, J., & Says, D. W. (2015, August 27). What You Need to Know About Task Analysis and Why You Should Use It. Retrieved March 10, 2017, from http://www.autismclassroomresources.com/what-you-need-to-know-about-task-analysis-and-why-you-should-use-it/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Effective Interventions for Autism Spectrum Disorders

There are many interventions available for educators who work with students with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). But not all interventions are created equally. Educators need to be good consumers in evaluating interventions and applying those that have been determined effective and ergo have the best chance of promoting positive outcomes for students. Only some of the touted interventions are based on rigorous scientific research and have the capacity to improve a student’s development, these are called evidence-based practices (EBP).

 

Interventions established as evidence-based should be the go-to interventions for educators. Because of this, the law now requires that teaching practices be based on evidence of effectiveness to further the development of students.

(Source: National Professional Development Center)

To assess whether an intervention qualifies as an EBP, the National Professional Development Center on ASD looks at peer-reviewed research on the intervention. An intervention is also considered to be an evidence-based practice if it meets one of the following criteria:

  • Randomized or quasi-experimental design studies: Two high-quality experimental or quasi-experimental group design studies by two different research groups.
  • Single-subject design studies: Five high-quality, single-subject studies by three different research groups with at least 20 participants.
  • Combination of evidence: One high-quality, randomized or quasi-experimental group design study conducted by at least three different investigators or research groups.

While the criteria is not easy to fulfill, in this way educators and interveners are able to gain confirmation of effectiveness of a particular intervention that enhances a child’s development and supports them in a vital way. A sample of ASD interventions that are considered effective include:

  • Antecedent-based intervention: Arranging events or circumstances that precede an interfering, or problematic, behavior in order to reduce that behavior. For example, say a student repeatedly struggles to focus on her workbook exercises during class time. An instructor using antecedent-based intervention might realize that the issue is related to the student’s schedule, and offer a break before workbook time.
  • Functional behavior assessment: Systematic collection of information about an interfering behavior designed to identify circumstances that support the behavior. When an instructor uses FBA, he describes the problem behavior, identifies events before or after that control the behavior, and develops a hypothesis about the behavior. Then, he tests the hypothesis.
  • Modeling: Demonstration of a desired behavior that encourages the student to imitate the behavior. This EBP is often combined with other strategies such as prompting and reinforcement.
  • Peer-mediated instruction and intervention: Typically developing peers or help children with ASD to acquire new behavior, communication, and social skills by interacting in natural environments. Teachers or service providers teach peers strategies for engaging children and youth with ASD in positive and extended social interactions in both teacher-directed and learner-initiated activities.
  • Social skills training: Group or individual instruction designed to teach learners with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) ways to appropriately interact with peers and adults. Most social skill meetings include instruction, role-playing or practice, and feedback to help learners with ASD acquire and practice communication, play, or social skills.

Keeping up with evidence-based practices takes some extra effort, but being knowledgeable about the options available and how to implement them properly makes a significant impact. Students deserve the best education possible..

To learn more, view the updated EBP report that supports the identification of 27 ASD evidence-based practices and includes fact sheets for each evidence-based practice.

For more resources, visit The National Professional Development Center online.

Changing the Seclusion and Restraint Culture in Schools

By Dr. Patricia Wright, Vice President of Professsional Services, Rethink Ed

Schools often face many challenges when it comes to responding to students who exhibit challenging behaviors. In some cases, these behaviors can pose a serious danger to one’s self or others and require careful attention. However, in most cases, challenging behaviors are merely disruptive and should not be considered an opportunity to restrain or seclude a student. While it is common practice to discourage seclusion and restraint, these practices are still being used in some schools.

The Government Accountability Report published in 2009 by the U.S. Government Accountability Office documents multiple cases of abuse and death related to seclusion and restraint in schools. The report also found “no federal laws restricting the use of seclusion and restraints in public and private schools.” Several states and territories have policies and guidelines regarding seclusion and restraint and they are exceedingly clear that these practices are to be used only for dangerous behaviors.

But according to the GAO report, students with disabilities in some schools around the country were often forcibly restrained by untrained professionals when they were performing non-threatening behaviors. This is a clear indication that these practices are still used inappropriately. The use of seclusion and restraint also continues to be a major source of contention for educators.

In the three decades I’ve spent working with educators and students with challenging behaviors, I’ve noticed that consultations often started with educators asking “What should we do when a dangerous behavior happens?” This is an important question; however, I believe that a more appropriate question educators should ask is “What should we to do prevent a dangerous behavior from ever happening?”

Corporal punishment and seclusion can have a negative and sometimes traumatic effect on students and should never be used in cases where a student is not a threat to themselves or others. It has also been systematically demonstrated that these types of discipline aren’t as effective as the use of evidence-based behavior intervention and support, which can dramatically reduce dangerous and disruptive behaviors and prevent them from happening in the future.

Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports is an approach that establishes the behavioral support and culture necessary for students to succeed socially, emotionally and academically. It provides concrete strategies to promote skill development and reduce the likelihood of a student exhibiting a challenging behavior. Although challenging behaviors aren’t common in every student, there are a number of factors that can lead a student to perform a challenging or disruptive behavior.  This can include mood swings, difficult situations at school, sudden trigger or a learning disability.

Teaching students to engage in appropriate behaviors is well within the educator wheelhouse and teachers, paraprofessionals and related service-providers can accomplish this by simply utilizing evidence-based practices such as functional behavior assessments, functional communication training and positive reinforcement.

In order for the culture of seclusion and restraint to change, more professional development and support is necessary for educators who deal with students who exhibit challenging behaviors. Educators can also benefit from access to training videos and comprehensive resources on how to implement effective positive behavior and support strategies.

Rethink is committed to ensuring that all children receive a quality educational experience in environments that are conducive to the growth and development of students and educators. Addressing challenging behavior is necessary to ensure a safe and effective learning environment. Through Rethink’s easy-to-use platform and extensive training programs, educators can learn the basics of behavioral intervention and gain helpful advice on how to impact their school culture in a positive way.

With hope, the use of effective positive behavioral support strategies can be the key to reducing the need for seclusion and restraint and moving towards a safe and healthy environment for all.

Person-Centered Planning for Adulthood

Person-centered planning (PCP) is an approach to support individuals with disabilities in planning for their future. PCP benefits students, supporting them to define the life they wish to live and develop a problem-solving process to achieve their life goals.  The process includes a student inviting family members, friends and others to meetings to discuss their hopes, dreams and desires; inviting others to  contribute to the discussion on identifying their goals and ways to achieve them.  Facilitators play an important part in the PCP process. They keep supporters focused on the individual and ensure that the voice of the individual is heard and is the primary focus. Some schools use PCP as part of the IEP process.

Although the PCP approach helps students and families create a concrete vision and plan for a student’s future, some students require significant support to participate as fully as possible in the process. This can be due to communication limitations or a lack of maturity.

To support students’ increased participation in the PCP or transition-planning process, educators and families can:

  • Promote choice – Help students make simple choices (e.g., what to wear, what to make for breakfast, what order to complete their homework in, what they want to order for lunch, etc.) Promoting more choice-based options can help lead to self-advocacy later in life.
  • Create sampling opportunities – Provide sampling opportunities to students and help them identify their goals and preferences. This can include giving a student the opportunity to engage in a variety of activities to gauge interest. Use an assessment to identify student interests. Once a level of interest is established in a particular activity, continue to support the student in further developing skills specific to their interests.
  • Use assessments – Find and use different assessments and curriculum to facilitate the sampling process and gain support. The Assessment of Functional Living Skills (AFLS) created by James Partington and Michael Mueller is a skills assessment that encourages community participation and helps identify interests and areas where students need assistance. Once you identify these interests and needy areas, you can start to teach students skills to achieve their goals. This can empower them to fully participate in the PCP or transition-planning process.

Rethinks’ Transition Curriculum helps educators build and further enhance transition-related skills for students. It includes goal builders, lesson plans and materials to teach community, home, employment and social skills to help students actively participate in their life planning process and prepare for life beyond school. It also enables students become their own advocates and encourages them to actively participate in communities specific to their interests.

Transition lessons break skills down into simple lessons that help students understand the importance of self-care, following routines and instructions, making choices, participating in groups, accepting feedback and correction and more. These sample lessons demonstrate how skills can be used to teach students to assume responsibility for their actions and establish independence in skill-building scenarios.

The PCP or transition process doesn’t happen overnight. It’s an ongoing process that requires care and consideration of a student’s specific needs and goals. Students also vary in skill and disposition, so it is always wise to develop plans and steps to support a student throughout the process, even if he or she can clearly articulate their expectations for their own personal development. Starting early in the educational process with communication, social skills and self-determination encourages children and youth to actively engage in their future planning and will promote improved participation in Person Centered Planning.

Development and Career Advancement for Paraprofessionals

By Christina Whalen, PhD, BCBA-D Director of Research at Rethink

The role of a paraprofessional is heavily dependent on the needs of each student, and as such, their duties are ever changing. Some of the most important changes to highlight are the fluctuations in student behavior and performance that many paraprofessionals encounter. This is significantly heightened in school environments where paraprofessionals support students with disabilities and those who exhibit challenging behaviors.

To meet these challenges, it is important for paraprofessionals to learn and apply behavior analytic skills in their work. Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is an effective and commonly used approach for special education and inclusive models for students with Individualized Education Programs. It used as a means to apply interventions that help to significantly improve and impact behavior. Learning how to use it successfully can help paraprofessionals remediate disruptive behaviors, provide new learning opportunities for students and assist teachers in helping students build the skills necessary to meet their IEP goals.

In addition to managing student behavior, there are a number of additional skills paraprofessionals must master. These include:

  • Implementing behavior intervention plans
  • Using effective reinforcement to assist students
  • Using prompts after instructional stimulus
  • Using prompt-fading strategies
  • Implementing evidence-based instruction
  • Accurately recording student progress
  • Providing maintenance and generalization opportunities
  • Providing opportunities to build communication and social skills

Despite promise in the profession, many paraprofessionals who encounter issues on the job struggle to find adequate training for the skills they must possess. Many convey they are not adequately trained or prepared to take on the responsibilities that are required of their position.

Paraprofessionals also report that they are often left alone with students to make important decisions and act independently, despite federal mandates that require paraprofessionals to work under the supervision of a certified teacher. This discomfort is illuminated when paraprofessionals receive professional learning opportunities from sources that are lacking in cohesion and comprehensiveness.

Creating opportunities for paraprofessionals

Paraprofessionals can positively influence student achievement and the classroom environment when they are provided with adequate training and professional support.

This type of support means granting more opportunities for paraprofessionals to grow professionally and learn skills they can use to benefit their students and their schools. Like any job, career growth provides motivation for engagement and learning. Once basic skills are acquired through relevant training, paraprofessionals should be given the opportunity to advance their skills and advance in their career.

Here are two ways that paraprofessionals can experience high-quality professional development:

Registered Behavior Technician training

The Registered Behavior Technician (RBT) credential from the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) is for paraprofessionals who wish to demonstrate competency in behavior analysis under the supervision of a certified behavior analyst. Acquiring the credential requires 40 hours of instruction in behavior analysis, demonstration of these skills in an observation conducted by a certified behavior analyst and a competency exam. Certification also improves the confidence of administrators and parents that students are receiving quality services from paraprofessionals.

On-demand training

On-demand training provides opportunity to learn the necessary skills with flexible scheduling. On-demand professional development in conjunction with strong coaching and leadership leads to a higher quality in instructional support. On-demand training is delivered in a number of different forms, including video modeling, video self-modeling, didactic instruction via video, narrated PowerPoint presentations and assigned readings. Training includes learning assessments for those receiving training and requires teachers and administrators to monitor the progress of those engaged in training. On-demand professional development is also convenient and it can increase confidence, reduce costs and decrease time needed for training.