Seven Strategies to Make Professional Learning Effective

Teachers become teachers because they are motivated to help children learn! Every teacher can tell you that they have plenty of opportunity to hone their craft and improve their practice. For some it is learning new content to teach, for others it is developing better classroom management support, for many it is learning the new rapidly developing techniques and technologies.

However, every educator can also tell stories of the useless professional learning sessions they sat through that weren’t related to their scope of practice. Recent research shows that current professional learning practices in schools are time consuming, not budget friendly, and are ineffective. Teachers want to learn and schools are providing professional learning opportunities, the process needs to shift into effectiveness.

Here are 7 Strategies, provided by the Learning Policy Institute, to make professional learning effective and meaningful. Quality Professional Learning:

  1. Is content focused: PD that focuses on teaching strategies associated with specific curriculum content supports teacher learning within teachers’ classroom contexts. This element includes an intentional focus on discipline-specific curriculum development and pedagogies in areas such as mathematics, science, or literacy.
  2. Incorporates active learning:  Active learning engages teachers directly in designing and trying out teaching strategies, providing them an opportunity to engage in the same style of learning they are designing for their students. Such PD uses authentic artifacts, interactive activities, and other strategies to provide deeply embedded, highly contextualized professional learning. This approach moves away from traditional learning models and environments that are lecture based and have no direct connection to teachers’ classrooms and students.
  3. Supports collaboration: High-quality PD creates space for teachers to share ideas and collaborate in their learning, often in job-embedded contexts. By working collaboratively, teachers can create communities that positively change the culture and instruction of their entire grade level, department, school and/or district.
  4. Uses models of effective practice: Curricular models and modeling of instruction provide teachers with a clear vision of what best practices look like. Teachers may view models that include lesson plans, unit plans, sample student work, observations of peer teachers, and video or written cases of teaching.
  5. Provides coaching and expert support: Coaching and expert support involve the sharing of expertise about content and evidence-based practices, focused directly on teachers’ individual needs.
  6. Offers feedback and reflection: High-quality professional learning frequently provides built-in time for teachers to think about, receive input on, and make changes to their practice by facilitating reflection and soliciting feedback. Feedback and reflection both help teachers to thoughtfully move toward the expert visions of practice.
  7. Is of sustained duration: Effective PD provides teachers with adequate time to learn, practice, implement, and reflect upon new strategies that facilitate changes in their practice

Do a little self-check and ask yourself: Does your professional learning incorporate all of these practices? What could you do to move the needle on your professional learning? Every teacher wants to get better, and these strategies can make that happen!

Why we must support SEL for At-Risk Students

By Christina Cipriano, Ph.D.

Spotlight on the uninformed educator. Maybe you know one?

Who still believes in the assumption that schooling has next to nothing to do with emotions and the greater educational and social climate. Someone who is unaware of the mounting evidence from neuroscience and education that validate the role of social and emotional learning (SEL) in high quality classrooms. SEL is the key: high quality classrooms are in support of, rather than dismissal of, student emotional health. SEL is more than the foundation for student’s learning in the classroom; SEL is the brush that paints the picture of what quality instruction and learning look like.

The areas of our brain that process and regulate our emotions are inextricably tied to areas of the brain responsible for our learning and cognition. This means that when a student is angry, upset or anxious, their brain focuses its energy on how they are feeling while they are trying to attend to what they are learning. Such emotions, when unsupported and unregulated, can decrease a student’s attention to the learning processes – the ability to meaningfully attend underscores human information processing and all learning! These temporary interruptions in attention diminish a student’s ability to listen, understand, and engage in learning meaningfully alongside their peers and teachers.

But what if these interruptions happen more often than not? Some students chronically struggle with their affective responses and regulation. Underperforming students, including students with special education needs as well as students who are low-achieving, are at increased risk of emotions that can override their attention.  Unfortunately,  focusing on just academics, since their scores are low, won’t address these needs. Many students struggling in school, need support to address their social emotional health. Students with special education needs, such as those with diagnoses of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders (EBD) and Learning Disabilities (LD) can experience prolonged disruption to performance in school by their symptoms. When students are struggling and school performance is poor, they are more likely to find school and learning as a source of anxiety, manifesting in diminished self-efficacy, motivation, engagement, and connectedness with school.

Think about it. When confronted with a challenge, it may feel natural to shy away and disengage. Neurologically, tasks that are difficult, complex, and new, actually require more of our active attention to complete- it is impossible to meaningfully encode, store, and retrieve new information if you have not properly attended to it from the beginning! When learning new information, nerve impulses will sometimes travel longer and more complex pathways to make meaning of the information. This longer time requires active attention- just like the first time you ate with a fork, or rode a bike. With practice and experience, these impulses speed up and become automatic, freeing up more of our attention for more learning! However, if we are continuously overwhelmed while learning, the energy to learn and attend meaningfully can be exhausting, anxiety inducing, and demotivating.

As a result, when students are struggling and find school difficult they are less likely to pay attention even before we account for the role of their emotional processing. Unfortunately, the same students who need to attend more are also most likely to struggle with reduced attention and processing skills from the start. SEL programming specifically designed with these students in mind can help increase student availability to learn and support closing the achievement gap.

Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) in the Classroom

By Stephanie Whitley, MEd-BCBA

What is PBIS?

Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports (PBIS) is a schoolwide discipline system for creating positive school environments through the use of proactive strategies that define, teach and reinforce appropriate behaviors. PBIS is based on the principles of applied behavior analysis and is a proactive approach to establishing supports that:

•Improve the social culture needed for all students in a school to achieve social, emotional and academic success
•Makes challenging behavior less effective, efficient and relevant.

PBIS is the only approach addressing behavior that was mentioned in the 1997 reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and is interchangeable with School-wide Positive Behavior Supports.

What does PBIS look like?

PBIS focuses on a comprehensive system of positive behavior supports for all students in a school and is implemented in all areas of the school, including classroom and non-classroom settings (e.g. cafeteria, bus, restrooms, etc.).

PBIS is a tiered system of supports to improve the daily lifestyle of all by reducing the effectiveness of challenging behavior and making desired behavior more functional. Tier 1 supports are universal supports that are taught and reinforced with the whole student population. Tier 2 supports are targeted supports for students that need further explanation and reinforcement of desired behaviors. Tier 3 supports are supports provided at an individual level. This is for students that need tailored instruction and reinforcement to meet their personal learning needs.

 

How is PBIS implemented?

To establish the universal/Tier 1 supports, a campus committee is formed of administrators, general education teachers and special education teachers. The list of activities below are established:

1. A theme is chosen to help students and staff easily remember the rules. This theme either ties into the school mascot (e.g. PAW rules for Wildcats or Bulldogs) or follows the three “Be’s” (Be safe, Be responsible, Be respectful).

2. Each area of the school or community in which students frequent are identified. This includes cafeteria, gym, hallways, playground, buses, etc.

3. The thematic guidelines/rules are then applied to each identified area. For example, being responsible in the hallway is walking directly to and from your destination.

4. Visuals of all identified guidelines are created and posted in the locations identified.

5. A reinforcement system is established. This includes tokens to be used for when students are engaging in the desired behavior and a way for the students to redeem their tokens. For example, the Wildcats may create “Cat Cash” as a token of reinforcement. A school using the three “Be’s” may use “Honey Money.” The students are then able to use their tokens to purchase items in the school store or treasure box. Items can include school supplies, toys, homework passes, extra restroom passes and even gift cards.

6. At the beginning of the school year and right after each long break, such as winter break, students are provided instructions on each guideline in each area of the school/community. Instruction includes examples and non-examples of the expected behavior. For example, students are shown what it looks like to be responsible in the hallway (walking directly to and from destination), and what it looks like to NOT be responsible in the hallway (running or stopping to look in each window of classrooms as walking to and from destination).

7. Teachers and staff members are encouraged to look for students engaging in the appropriately identified behavior and to recognize those students by providing a token and naming the specific reason the student is receiving the token.

8. The students accumulate and redeem their tokens for a secondary reinforcer.

Modifications and Accommodations

Some students may need modifications or accommodations to fully participate in the PBS system. Students identified for Tier 2 and Tier 3 supports should be a small group of the total school’s population that need:

•More frequent reminders of the expectations
•More frequent reinforcement and/or ability to turn in their tokens more frequently for the secondary reinforcer
•Primary reinforcers paired with the token
•An individual chart to track their token economy
•A separate “store” of reinforcers that are based on the student’s individual preferences

The school-wide and Tier 2 and 3 supports should be reviewed regularly. Data should be collected to evaluate the effectiveness of the PBS program and plan. This data should be in the form of office referrals, the number of students accessing the reinforcement system, the students’ and staff’s ability to recite expectations and examples of those expectations, as well as, the number of students that are able to fade from more intensive supports to lesser intensive supports. As all data is collected, the PBIS committee should review and make necessary changes to ensure the effectiveness of the plan.

Rethink Ed Spotlight Educator of the Month: Mrs. Annika Morris

Position: Special Education Teacher
School District: Amarillo ISD (Texas)

Annika Morris is a Special Education Teacher at Amarillo ISD. Amarillo ISD is a large district in Amarillo, Texas and has over 33,000 students and 2,200 teachers! Mrs. Morris works with students with disabilities and their parents to ensure needs are met in the classroom and the students are

Rethink Ed Resources & Lessons

prepared for life beyond school. She has been using Rethink Ed in her classroom for two years.

Rethink Ed has helped Mrs. Morris, her paraprofessionals, and students grow and succeed in the classroom. By utilizing lessons from the lesson library and quick-start data library, Mrs. Morris can create individualized lesson plans and goals. The data sheets and printed lesson plans (in one easy location) help her and the

Mrs. Morris and her team of educators!

paraprofessionals in her classroom to work together. Entering data and detailed notes in the Rethink Ed app allows for increased collaboration.

Together, Mrs. Morris and her paraprofessionals review the data and determine if the student is generalizing the skills with another teacher in another setting and can visualize how quickly the student can respond. Because the data sheets are easy to read and use, both the teachers and paraprofessionals can efficiently document when working with students.
One of her favorite outcomes of using Rethink Ed is that it has resulted in

less questions from the paraprofessionals about what they should work on and how they should document what they do. The paraprofessionals feel more successful and in turn are students are more successful!

Mrs. Morris is excited and ready to meet her 2018 Classroom goals using Rethink Ed!

Put You Back on Your To-do list: SEL Informed Self-Care for Educators

By Christina Cipriano, Ph.D. & Tia N. Barnes, Ph.D.

More tasks on your to-do list than hours in the day? Than days left in your week? Than months left in your school year?

If you are in education, odds are your self-care is on the bottom of your to-do list (if it’s even there at all)!

Why? People who pursue helping professions (like teaching, nursing, and human services) also tend to have personality types that compel them to put the needs and demands of others before their own. Helping professionals seek to comfort, appease, please, and secure the well-being and livelihoods of others, and generally demonstrate a tendency towards compassion, giving, and selflessness. Helping professions by nature are accompanied by work conditions riddled in high stress and continuously evolving demands in the service of others. These character traits and work conditions can leave the well-intentioned helping professional thriving in their work while simultaneously overextended in time and resources to take care of themselves once all the work is said and done.

Research from the Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) movement identifies self-care as critical to stress reduction, classroom management, and overall teacher health and well-being. Self-care is engaging in activities or practices that help you limit or reduce stress. Self-care activities or practices can fit into seven categories: physical, emotional, spiritual, intellectual, social, relational, and/or promote a sense of safety and security. There is no universal Band-Aid for self-care, the key is identifying activities that minimize your stress and promote your health and well-being.

Try these five steps to put you back on your to-do list:

  1. Step 1. Evaluate Your Self-Care:
    • Make a list of everything you do- the whole day- each and every activity. Think about a typical workday during the week from the moment you wake up to when you go to sleep. Review the schedule and determine both whether you like each activity and who the activity is for- do you enjoy the activity and are you engaging in the activity for yourself or others? Then take a moment to calculate the number of hours in a day that you actually enjoy. The number of hours you enjoy in a day that are for you? Warning: This may be a disappointing number!
  2. Step 2. Consider the Possibilities
    • Next, take a moment to think about some activities that you could add into the work day (these do not have to take place on a particular day; create a list of possibilities of activities you can add into your day to increase your enjoyment and lower your stress).
    • Since we want to not cause additional stress with self-care, narrow your list to 2-3 activities that you want to incorporate more regularly and write them down.
    • Be modest in your goal to promote realistic change in your self-care practices.
  3. Step 3. Identify Your Barriers
    • Think about the barriers that impact your ability to engage in self-care currently. Generate a list of barriers- there is never enough time, money, energy, or resources! These are likely the excuses we give for why we can’t take care of ourselves right now, or ever!
  4. Step 4. Rethink it
    • Switch your thinking from dead-end barriers to brainstorming problem-solving ideas to remove those barriers. No time or money to get to the gym? Watch a free workout video at home after hours. No time to explore a hobby? Piggyback on activities your spouse or friends enjoy.
    • Generate a list of activities you can put on your list to overcome barriers to self-care.
  5. Step 5. Just do it!
    • Now take the time to put you into action.
    • Be modest and realistic- even the smallest action is starting to invest in you. The reality is, you can always find room for you if you think hard enough. Try registering for a weekly class, scheduling recurring appointments, have a standing dinner date with friends on your calendar, follow an active online social network, listen to a favorite song, get dressed up for a dinner in with a partner, a five minute mindfulness pause in the car before entering work, pack your lunch, call family members on a drive, say what you are thankful for at dinner… the list can go on as long as your creative energy will let it!

It is not selfish to take care of yourself- you can’t serve from an empty vessel. Like they say on the airplane before takeoff, secure your safety vest before helping others. Don’t cross you off your to-do list- invest in you to enable you to get it all done.