3 Tips for Back to School: Teacher’s Edition 2018

Back to School often means entering a new school, meeting new parents, and learning new school year expectations- an intimidating process for everyone. Here are three meaningful ways that teachers can get ready for back to school 2018.

  1. Presume Positive Intentions: Parents want to work with you. They also want what is best for their child at school, at home, and in the future. So often, parents have had negative previous experiences with IEP meetings or team members and that leaves a bad taste for future experiences. Combative attitudes, accusatory words, and cloak and dagger communication are toxic to the team and are often the result of misinformation or unsavory experiences. Keeping in mind the parent’s point of view is instrumental in resetting the relationship and starting everyone off on a positive note.A great technique is for parents to share their vision of the future for their child or if possible, have the student share his hopes and dreams with the IEP team. It will remind everyone why they are there and part of the team.
  2. Address Conflicts and Disagreements:Recognizing that there is always the possibility of disagreements as part of a team is an important fact of the team-based approach. There are a variety of legal protections as part of the IEP process that protect both the student and his/her family and school teams. However, before any formal conflict resolution takes place, teams should commit to informal problem-solving protocols. For instance, a mutually agreed-upon facilitator can listen to both sides and bring clarity to the issue. Again, at the heart of the conflict are the best interests of the student which sometimes requires all team members to take a step backwards and adjust their perspectives.
  3. Involve Early and Often: Going back to Chief Justice Robert’s statement that the IEP is not a form, serves as a great reminder that the IEP is not a “one and done” deal.At the start of the school year, teams should collaborate to determine how to best involve all members, including parents. Communication should always be priority and should include language and interpretation, with ample opportunity to connect via email, phone, or text. Schools need to ask parents their opinions, share student successes, and partner with them to support student through their learning experiences (both good and challenging). Special education team members share a lot of power in the student’s future therefore it is important that everyone is on the same page to ensure the best and most meaningful outcomes for the student.

What are the benefits to digital data collection? Move into the 21st Century: From Paper to Digital Data Collection

By Patricia Wright, PhD, MPH

The world is changing, and data can now be collected electronically, on the fly with an app and a portable device such as a tablet or phone. In the last decade, we have all lived through the movement from paper medical records to digital and the medical community is reaping the benefits. Now is the time for Education to take the next step and join the revolution.

Digital data management is here to stay but as educators and school systems move from paper to digital, some are approaching this frontier with gritted teeth.

Special education is data rich especially when it comes to progress monitoring IEP goals and objectives. Special educators develop IEP documentation, including IEP goals and objectives. These documents are stored digitally, but educators must also collect data to progress monitor and evaluate student’s achievement of their IEP goals and objectives. Historically, this data has been collected by pencil and paper, graphed by hand or more recently graphed in excel – it was A LOT of work and still is!

You may be thinking: Why Should I care? What are the benefits to digital data collection? There are 5 major benefits of digital data collection:

  1. Data is analyzed instantly! With electronic data collection the data can be graphed and analyzed instantly. No more calculating by hand and moving data into a spreadsheet.
  2. More Time to spend on other projects! Every teacher wants more time, using digital data collection for progress monitoring can buy you some valuable time.
  3. Say goodbye to transfer errors! We all like to think that we are perfect but transcribing numbers from paper to a spreadsheet leaves room for error.
  4. It’s green! You won’t have endless stacks of papers that need to be shredded and recycled.
  5. Timely Instructional Decisions! Simply press the record button and data analysis is available immediately. No more waiting until the end of the quarter to adjust instruction. Instructional decisions can be made in a timely manner for maximum benefit.

Join the revolution, start collecting your data digitally!

Rethink Ed Data Recording App! Download in the app store today!

I’m a Teacher not a Data Analyst: Five Easy Steps Towards Making Data-Based Teaching Decisions

By Patricia Wright, PhD, MPH

The educational system values and uses data to inform everything from the evaluation of individual students and entire school districts to educator’s performance-based pay and the success of curriculum. Teachers play a role in every single one of those decisions, yet teachers are often not comfortable with data analysis. In fact, 72% of districts cited lack of teacher preparation as a barrier to increased use of data systems. With so many benefits of digital data collection (think less time on IEP documentation!) it is vital that teachers, specifically special educators, start increasing their understanding of data-based decision-making.

Here are 5 simple steps you can make towards becoming a data analyst AND a better teacher:

  1. Write measurable goals and objectives
  2. Develop a data collection system and collect data
  3. Represent the data visually (usually with a graph)
  4. Evaluate the data
  5. Adjust instruction as guided by the data

Step 3 is an important one: Represent the data visually (usually with a graph)

It is difficult to analyze data if it is not represented visually. Graphs help define what is happening. For example, graph one instantly demonstrates the progress and learning a student is making.

Rethink Ed Graph 1

In the graph below, we can quickly determine that the students’ performance is variable and learning really isn’t occurring. With graphs you can evaluate the data (step 4) and adjust instruction (step 5) as guided by the data to better meet student needs. In this below example, the teacher can look at the instructional experience the student is having and discern what is inhibiting his learning.

Rethink Ed Graph 2

Graph your data – become a data analyst!

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!

Family Engagement & Preparing for School Breaks: School Vacation Projects to Extend Learning

By Tranika Jefferson

When school is out, many students lose knowledge and skills, particularly in mathematics and reading, contributing to the achievement gap (McCombs et al., 2011). Unfortunately, low-income students are at a higher risk of school vacation learning loss than their peers (McCombs et al., 2011). It is vital that students continue learning throughout the entire year. Especially, students with disabilities given that they may have difficulty transitioning from the regular school year to vacation.

There are lots of ways to keep students learning! The perfect time for students to discover that learning is fun and not always based on instruction from a teacher is when students are outside of the classroom.

One way to help students learn during school vacation is to plan a school vacation project! Any project that you plan, may help a student generalize knowledge and skills learned during the school year in a variety of different situations and settings. These projects create learning opportunities for students to maintain knowledge and skills all vacation long.

4 examples of school vacation learning projects:

Write in a journal or notebook. Students can write about family adventures, short stories, or build on a full story from start to finish throughout the break.

Plan what books you child will read. This can be initiated at the beginning of the break by selecting a variety of preferred books that will be read throughout the vacation.

Have an old-fashioned lemonade stand! Let’s not forget about the multiple skills it takes in making and running a lemonade stand. The student will be required to create and write a poster, read, measure and follow a recipe to make lemonade, count money, and add and subtract to issue the correct amount of change.

Most importantly, keep it fun and be creative! For example, the student can make different patterns and shapes from common items around the house (straws, sticks, beads, etc.) and label or match them to identical objects.

School vacation projects can be done anytime and anywhere, therefore parents involvement in their child’s out of school learning is crucial to the child’s success. It is important to remember that parents are their child’s #1 educator.

Most schools, especially schools attended by low-income children are set up to teach at the mass scale, not individually. In addition, unless the child is attending summer school, schools play a limited role in summer learning of students. “Children are in their families and neighborhoods year-round, but they are in school episodically” (Alexander, Entwisle & Olson, 2007). Ultimately, parents are tasked with the responsibility of ensuring that their children are learning all the time. Therefore, parents need to provide opportunity and reinforcement of their child’s appropriate behavior, whether in school or out of school.

References
Alexander, K., Entwisle, D., & Olson, L. (2007). Summer learning and its implications: Insights from the Beginning School Study. New Directions For Youth Development, 2007(114), 11-32. http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/yd.210

McCombs, J., Schwartz, H., Bodilly, S., Mcinnis, B., Lichter, D., Cross, A., & Augustine, C. (2011). Making summer count. Santa Monica, Calif.: RAND.

Difficulty Educators Have Addressing Behavior Problems: A Quick Look at a Token Economy

By Tranika Jefferson

Token Economies are great tools for educators since they have both an immediate and delayed component. In a token economy the students’ appropriate behavior is immediately reinforced with tokens. Students can later redeem these tokens for preferred items or activities. The token economy is known to be effective because the tokens symbolize reinforcers that they only get for engaging in desired behaviors (Miltenberger, 2008). They are often used with individual students or large groups of students to increase or maintain appropriate classroom behaviors and decrease inappropriate and disruptive classroom behaviors (Gallagher, 1988; Zirpoli & Melloy, 1993).

Identifying tokens is a major component in setting up a token economy. Tokens should be transferable, durable, and not something the student has easy access to on their own. They range from coins, stars, poker chips, or a stamp on a card. Tokens should be kept age appropriate when possible. For example, a younger student may like stickers of Peppa Pig while an older student may like to use a punch card.

Check out some of Rethink Ed’s motivation boards in My Resources. Here is an awesome example of pizza pieces as tokens on a pizza token board!

It is important to remember that as teachers one of your primary responsibilities is to teach positive and adaptive skills. Therefore, even when using a token economy your goal should be to reinforce and help maintain the appropriate behaviors that your student displays. In Myles, Moran, Ormsbee & Downing (1992, p 164) review of token economies, they cite the following:

“Whenever possible, focus should be placed on teaching appropriate, positive skills rather than attempting to prevent the occurrence of an inappropriate behavior. For example, the behavior students must raise their hands before talking is more positive than students cannot talk out in class.”

Too often, we get caught up in focusing on intervening and providing consequences to the problem behavior. However, children repeat behaviors that work for them and that get reinforced, whether appropriate or inappropriate. A simple way to think about this is emphasizing the desired behavior to eliminate the negative behavior. Keep these things in mind when building your token economy in your classroom!

References

Gallagher, P. A. (1988). Teaching students with behavior disorders (2nd ed.).
Denver, CO: Love.

Miltenberger, R. (2008). Behaviour Modification. Belmont, CA. Wadsworth Publishing.

Myles, B., Moran, M., Ormsbee, C., & Downing, J. (1992). Guidelines for Establishing and Maintaining Token Economies. Intervention In School And Clinic, 27(3), 164-169.

What We Don’t Say: A SEL Approach to Helping Your Students Understand “Take a Knee”

By Christina Cipriano, Ph.D. and Lori Nathanson, Ph.D.

Even if you are not a football fan, it’s likely you’ve seen images from the NFL in the past few weeks. The action captured occurred before kickoff; players and coaches across the country have “taken a knee” or linked arms in solidarity during the national anthem. These powerful photos elicit a wide range of emotional responses that may contribute to conflict in our schools, homes, workplace, and on social media.

But they don’t have to end with conflict. Controversy can provide an opportunity to be constructive if we look through a social and emotional learning lens. Social awareness –the ability to take another person’s perspective and feel empathy– is a core competency of SEL. This competency is critical for creating and maintaining supportive relationships. It requires understanding social norms (how do I act in this situation or place?), as well as an understanding and appreciation that people have different backgrounds, cultures, and experiences and they may be different from one’s own background, culture, and experiences. This issue, these photos, and our emotional responses offer an opportunity to develop social awareness.

Have you heard (or said) the proverb, “A picture says a thousand words?” Explore with your students the kinds of emotions we can identify in these photos as well as the emotions these photos elicit in the viewer. Photos may show intense emotions, vehement disagreements, and sometimes violence, but for this purpose, let’s focus in on the individuals in these photos and what types of emotions we see expressed.

Consider this task. Give each of your students an index card. On one side of the card, ask students to identify one person in the photo and write down how they think that person feels in the moment captured. They can use emotion words, note body language, draw pictures or phrases to indicate how they perceive the person feels.

Next, direct your students to turn over the index card and write how they feel when they see the image of the athlete taking a knee. Again, students can use emotion words, draw pictures, or write phrases to express how they feel about the image.

• Are your students younger? Do the activity as a group or in small directed groups with larger pieces of paper. Use emojis or have them draw their own!

• Have more time? Have students trade their index card with another student. Review each partner’s responses and decide which perspective (Self or Photo) it represents. Take 3 minutes to review and decide which perspective each side represents. Have students discuss with their partner what went into making their decision. What did they notice that was the same? What words or interpretations did they have that were different?

• Are your students older? Have them work individually, collect the index cards from your class, shuffle them, and redistribute them back out to the class. Have your students read aloud the perceptions on the index cards.

Take it one step further. Combine all the reactions to make a word cloud or word wall; have each student place their reactions or those of their classmates up on the wall. Note, these will be mixed now that they are no longer the ones owning their perspective. As a group, decide if there are any emotions or descriptions that are missing and add them on index cards to the wall. Doing so will enable your students to recognize and identify the feelings and perspectives of self and others during group discussion.

Lastly, debrief with your students. In the activity, we focused on how the people in the photos felt or our reactions to the photos, but let’s take a minute to assess how we feel after spending time looking and analyzing the possible perspectives of those in the photographs, ourselves, and our classmates. Close your eyes if you are comfortable and sense what’s going on in your minds and bodies. Are thoughts swirling or calm? Does your body feel hot or cold or in between? Is your heart racing or steady? By moving your students to a debrief scenario, you will increase their social awareness, which promotes their ability to prevent, manage, and resolve interpersonal conflicts in constructive ways.

When faced with controversy, teach our students to see and feel what we don’t say; empower a future generation of empathetic thinkers. Share with us how you applied social awareness skills to support students with processing the “take a knee” controversy, or other powerful images and moments in history.

3 Tips for Making Data-Based Decisions like a Pro!

By Jennifer Bessette, Director of Professional Services

Data. Some people love it. For others, it can be a real four-letter word. Whether you love it or hate it, data is here to stay! It is CRUCIAL to student success. Without data, we have no way to objectively analyze student progress. However, simply collecting data without pausing to reflect & make decisions gets us nowhere. Check out these great tips to ensure a successful data-driven school year!

1. Collect a Baseline
Prior to teaching a new goal to your students, it is a great best-practice to begin by collecting baseline data. You can think of baseline data as a pre-test: we’re simply testing the student to see what he already knows before we begin teaching. Imagine you’re planning on teaching a student to identify community helpers. Without collecting a baseline, you likely don’t know if the student knows some community helpers, all community helpers, or no community helpers at all. This would make it difficult to know where to begin. Once you collect some baseline data, you may discover that the student can already identify the police offer, the fire fighter, and the doctor, but cannot identify the postal worker, the construction worker, or the teacher. You now know where to begin your lesson!

Baseline data also documents the awesome work you’re doing teaching your students. Without baseline data, someone might wonder if you actually taught this skill to the student or if he already had this skill to begin with. If your baseline data shows the student cannot accurately and reliably perform the skill, but after you begin teaching, he now has the skill, you are showing that it is your teaching that made the difference!

2. Be Specific
Analyzing data can be quite difficult if you were not specific during data collection. Take the example of teaching your student identify objects. If the student is not mastering this skill, why not? Take a look at the following graph:

What do you know about this student by looking at this graph? You can see student has not been able to perform this skill with more than 66% accuracy. Why? Honestly, it’s difficult to know the full story looking at this graph. Let’s take this same data, and present it in a different way:

Looking at this graph, you can now see the student is able to identify the ball and the car, but is struggling to identify the block, book, and doll. Now you have a much better sense of the student’s strengths & challenges, and know where you should focus your efforts moving forward!

3. Check for Pre-Requisite Skills
Sometimes students struggle to make progress on all aspects of the goal no matter how hard you try. This can be frustrating for educators, parents, and the student. Imagine a student has been learning to tell time, and has shown very little growth on this skill.

One question you might ask at this time is: Does the student know all of her numbers? If not (or maybe she’s forgotten), telling time would be a very difficult skill for her! This would be a great time to stop & test for the pre-requisite skill of Identifying Numbers.

Clearly, you can see the student did not have this pre-requisite skill. However, after pausing to teach this skill, it looks like the student can now identify all numbers 0-12. Let’s return to the Telling Time lesson.

There! That did the trick. Now that your student can identify all numbers 0-12 and she is able to tell time to the whole hour. Success!

What are your favorite tips for making data-based decisions? Let us know in the comments below!

7 Research Based Facts about Differentiated Instruction

By Jennifer Wilkens M.A., BCBA; Director of Professional Services

August Theme of the Month: Differentiated Instruction

•Contemporary student populations are becoming increasingly academically diverse (Gable et al., 2000; Guild, 2001; Hall, 2002; Hess, 1999; McAdamis, 2001; McCoy and Ketterlin-Geller, 2004; Sizer, 1999; Tomlinson, 2004a; Tomlinson, Moon, and Callahan, 1998).

 

•The inclusion of students with disabilities, students with language backgrounds other than English, students with imposing emotional difficulties and a noteworthy number of gifted students, reflect this growing diversity (Mulroy and Eddinger, 2003; Tomlinson, 2001b, 2004a).

 

•Learning within the inclusive classroom is further influenced by a student’s gender, culture, experiences, aptitudes, interests and particular teaching approaches (Guild, 2001; Stronge, 2004; Tomlinson, 2002, 2004b).

 

•Tomlinson (2005), a leading expert in this field, defines differentiated instruction as a philosophy of teaching that is based on the premise that students learn best when their teachers accommodate the differences in their readiness levels, interests and learning profiles. A chief objective of differentiated instruction is to take full advantage of every student’s ability to learn (Tomlinson, 2001a, 2001c, 2004c, 2005).

 

•Tomlinson (2000) maintains that differentiation is not just an instructional strategy, nor is it a recipe for teaching, rather it is an innovative way of thinking about teaching and learning.

 

•Contemporary classrooms should accept and build on the basis that learners are all essentially different (Brighton, 2002; Fischer and Rose, 2001; Griggs, 1991; Guild, 2001; Tomlinson, 2002).

 

•Research supports the view that curricula should be designed to engage students, it should have the ability to connect to their lives and positively influence their levels of motivation (Coleman, 2001; Guild, 2001; Hall, 2002; Sizer, 1999; Strong et al., 2001).

Walking the Line Between Non-Evaluative Feedback and Teacher Evaluations

Three Tips to Keep You on Track

By Maria Wilcox, Professional Services Director

Across the United States, the role of the instructional coach continues to gain momentum, change forms, and redefine itself to meet constantly evolving educator needs. As such, it is difficult to clearly outline the role and its responsibilities. One thing that is consistent and a critical component of the success of coaches is that coaches remain non-evaluative in their work.

Elena Aguilar, who wrote the popular book “The Art of Coaching: Effective Strategies for School Transformation,” states “coaching tied with evaluation is a recipe for disaster; in order to be able to work with a coach and really learn, you have to be able to feel like you can really take risks. And if coaching is tied to evaluation, it’s not going to even be possible.” This piece of advice embodies the spirit of a successful teacher-coach relationship in that for professional growth and learning to take place, a supportive and feedback-rich environment is necessary.

However, in the age of high-stakes testing and increased teacher accountability, coaches are often brought in to address gap areas discovered during teacher evaluation processes. To ensure that truly meaningful coaching occurs, here are three tips for coaches to ensure their relationship with teachers remains supportive and fosters growth:

1. Outline roles and responsibilities of all professionals involved in the coaching process; this includes the coach, the teacher, and the principal or evaluator.

Ensuring that everyone knows their roles, the limits, and expectations creates a culture of transparency and honesty. If a teacher trusts the promise that coaching conversations remain confidential, he is more likely to be open with the coach and begin the work needed to change. Conversely, a principal’s respect of the growth process is critical.

2. Coaches should approach their work as a facilitator and learning guide, leaving agendas and ultimatums at the door.

When a coach approaches a teacher with an open mind and without ulterior motives, it allows the teacher to guide their learning process, select their outcomes, and be their own agent of change. Allowing teachers to do this fosters reflection and emphasizes reactive teaching, which drives them to further examine their practice critically and analytically. A coach should be there to listen, suggest, encourage, and provide feedback.

3. Approach coaching with student outcomes in mind; choose the coaching approach that best fits the district’s vision and needs.

There are a variety of coaching models; cognitive, inquiry-based, instructional, and student-centered. One is not better than the other and at the heart of each is the desire to improve student outcomes through effective and meaningful instruction. This cannot happen without honest and reflective practice from both the coach and the teacher.

Instructional coaching as a practice in schools, shows no signs of slowing down, nor are teacher evaluations going anywhere soon., It is our duty to grow as professionals to provide the best education and experience to our students. Instructional coaches have a unique and profound opportunity to guide a new generation of educators into the future, build capacity in our schools, and see kids succeed. As the saying goes, “behind every great person, is a great teacher”, and just maybe, an instructional coach too.