Taking Parent Fear and Anxiety out of the Evaluation and IEP Process

by John Peterson

Talking with numerous educators over the years, I have heard many colleagues express significant concern regarding how anxiety- and fear-provoking the initial special education evaluation and IEP development process can be for parents and caregivers, especially when the area of autism is being considered. Instead of focusing on the hope that comes with the collaboration between home and school and improving specific communicative skills, educators often feel like they are walking on eggshells around parents and caregivers when it comes to the initial evaluation process and IEP development for autism.

According to Rethink Ed, even though students with autism make up only 9% of all students with disabilities, they account for 25% of all due process hearings in special education. With this statistic in mind, it is no wonder that educators run into parents and caregivers who are experiencing a variety of negative emotions when they first hear the word autism. In some cases, the emotions are so intense that I’ve even heard educators question, “Should I even bring up the ‘A-word’ to the parents?”

What is amazing is the stark contrast in how educators view these same students being evaluated for autism. Educators see:

  • Strengths that the students possess and how the IEP team can build upon these strengths
  • Unlocked potential that they cannot wait to tap in to
  • And, most of all, hope for a promising future

So as educational leaders, how can we flip the script and take parents’ and caregivers’ focus away from fear and anxiety and guide them towards strengths, untapped potential, and hope for a promising future? Simply put, the answer lies within how we assess our students with autism and how we interact with their families throughout the evaluation and IEP process.

Avoid Subjectivity

When parents and caregivers are first learning about autism or even hear an educator refer to autism, they may see their child in a much different light than other members of the IEP team. The key in the evaluation process for educators is to take the subjectivity out of the eligibility determination and take the focus off the differences in perception between home and school. If the differences between home and school become the focus, the natural result more often than not is an adversarial relationship. In other words, if the parents emotions are already running high and they are not 100% trusting the educators evaluating their child, then any differences in perception of their child will only exacerbate the relationship between home and school.

Instead of falling into this trap of perceptions, educators should focus on providing objective data that compares the student with autism to his or her same age peers. Rating scales and models such as Social Communication Emotional Regulation Transactional Supports (SCERTS) yield objective data that compare students’ communicative skills to those of other students their age. This takes the subjectivity out of the conversation and supplies parents and guardians with a better understanding of what communicative strengths their child has and what areas call for specially-designed instruction. This shift naturally takes IEP teams away from the “us versus them” mentality and places the focus on skill development and goal attainment.

Communication is Key

Not only should educators focus on objective rating scales and data to compare students to their peers, but educators should also open the lines of communication with parents at the beginning of the evaluation process and continue that communication all the way through the initial IEP meeting. It often helps to know the “why” behind parents’ and caregivers’ reservations and concerns. Sometimes a listening and available ear can go a long way in reducing these concerns. On a regular basis, it also strengthens the relationship between home and school.

Strategies to help improve communication between home and school while navigating the initial evaluation for autism could include:

  1. Asking parents and caregivers if you could either stop by their home or meet them for coffee at a local cafe – this shows that their concerns matter to you and that you are willing to meet them in a location that they are comfortable with to hear about them.
  2. Offering to connect the parents and caregivers to other parents and caregivers who have gone through the initial evaluation process for autism (make sure you obtain consent of the other family before offering this up) – this shows that you are acknowledging the challenges and the variety of emotions that they are experiencing, and that they are not alone in this journey.
  3. Giving parents and caregivers an opportunity to talk with both general and special education teachers about their expectations for a student who receives special education services in the area of autism – this shows parents and caregivers that educators focus more on a student’s disability area needs and goals and NOT on labels.
  4. Remind parents and caregivers that the emotions that they are experiencing are common and that it may be beneficial to bring in either a family friend and/or parent advocate to help them separate the emotions from the issues – this shows that you are willing to work with them no matter who is at the table.
  5. Encourage the parents and caregivers to meet with the IEP team after three or four weeks of services being delivered – this shows parents that you value their feedback and are open to making adjustments to programming based on this feedback.

What is a common theme throughout all of the aforementioned recommendations is that parents and caregivers see you and the IEP team members as having a vested interest in the relationship and wanting to work with them for the benefit of their child. In the end, parents and caregivers want to know that their child is receiving the assistance that they need and are being supported by educators who truly care for them. Hopefully these recommendations and talking points help your IEP teams reduce fear and anxiety and create a strong foundation for your relationship with them for years to come.


John Peterson serves as the Director of Special Education for the Hamilton School District in Sussex, Wisconsin and has served as a special education administrator for a total of 15 years. John has previously served as the president of the Wisconsin Council of Administrators of Special Services (WCASS) and has been in leadership roles on their board of directors since 2006. John also helps mentor aspiring special education administrators by serving as a University Supervisor for Cardinal Stritch University (Milwaukee, WI) and has presented on a variety of special education-related topics at both state and national conferences.


Rethink Ed’s Skills Success platform supports educators in developing and delivering quality IEPs, addressing many of the instructional challenges currently present in special education including. Find out more.

The Forgotten Service Providers: Rethinking Paraprofessional Collaboration

by John Peterson

In delivering special education programming, it is becoming more and more common to support our students with disabilities within the general education classroom. No one will argue that students with disabilities, including those who have autism, don’t benefit from being around their general education peers and the high expectations that come with the general education curriculum. School districts often assign Paraprofessionals as the staff members that support students with autism in the general education classroom. Here is where our service delivery model often falls short for our students with autism: school districts are not training their Paraprofessionals in the skills that they need to model, support, and redirect students when they need assistance. The problem does not lie with the Paraprofessionals but with the decision-makers within a school district.

There are many skilled and passionate Paraprofessionals that serve within public education. The problem that these well-intentioned service providers face is that they are often thrown into the general education classroom without the following supports:

  • Time to review and discuss the IEPs of students that they are supporting.
  • Time to shadow someone else supporting the students that they will eventually support.
  • Formal training in communication and sensory-related supports.

All of these professional supports are essential for the success of our students with autism within the general education setting. Those who are in leadership positions should think through how they can support their Paraprofessionals in these three areas. However, for the purposes of this discussion, we are focusing only on the last bullet point: providing Paraprofessionals with formal training in communication and sensory-related supports when supporting our students with autism.

Whether a student with autism is nonverbal and requires an augmentative alternative communication device, or is verbal and struggles with reading social cues from others, he or she will often work with a Speech and Language Pathologist on communicative strategies to help overcome barriers that they may face on a day to day basis in the general education classroom. Although it is easy for an educational leader to assign a Paraprofessional to another task while students with autism are being supported by a Speech and Language Pathologist, there are several benefits of having the Paraprofessionals who work with students with autism sit in on their specially-designed instruction for communication.

The main benefit that a Paraprofessional experiences by working directly with a Speech and Language Pathologist is that they can identify what the strategies of focus are. Not only can they see the strategies that the Speech and Language Pathologist is focusing in on, but the Speech and Language Pathologist can actually have the Paraprofessional participate in the specially designed instruction. In turn, the Paraprofessional can model and reinforce these communicative strategies, supports, and accommodations in the general education classroom.

In short, this is a train the trainer model. The real growth in communication for a student with autism most likely will not occur in the 60 minutes that they spend with the Speech and Language Pathologist each week. Rather, it will occur when these strategies and interventions are implemented and reinforced by the Paraprofessional in naturally occurring environments in the general education classroom.

This train the trainer model can also be applied to a Paraprofessional working directly with an Occupational Therapist as they are providing sensory supports, accommodations, and strategies to a student with autism. The Paraprofessional almost becomes an extension of the Occupational Therapist in the general education classroom, guiding the student to the appropriate supports to help them become emotionally regulated while minimizing instructional time lost.

Besides becoming an extension of the Occupational Therapist and Speech and Language Pathologist in the general education classroom, another benefit to having Paraprofessionals sit in on communication and sensory-related instruction is empowering them to give the IEP team members feedback on the implementation of the strategies, accommodations, and supports that are being used by the student. They can share which ones are impactful and helping mitigate the student’s barriers and point out some potential adjustments and/or changes to the strategies and accommodations that are not having the desired effect. This not only strengthens the strategies being implemented, but makes the Paraprofessionals feel like valued team members whose voice is being respected and heard. In short, their feedback matters to the student with autism, the Speech and Language Pathologist, and the Occupational Therapist, and they see the impact of their feedback.

Paraprofessionals do NOT have to sit in on every minute or every session (for that matter) that a student with autism has with a Speech and Language Pathologist and/or Occupational Therapist. Often times, it helps to frontload a Paraprofessional’s time with these service providers, especially when new strategies and/or supports are being taught. From that point on, the team members can decide the appropriate frequency and amount of time for the Paraprofessional to work directly with the Speech and Language Pathologist and Occupational Therapist.

When working with Paraprofessionals to effectively support students with autism, educational leaders should take the following points into consideration:

  • Paraprofessionals can also be trained in supporting students with autism through a variety of web-based trainings in addition to working directly with service providers like Speech and Language Pathologists and Occupational Therapists.
  • Paraprofessionals can be provided with professional learning opportunities that connect them with other Paraprofessionals within your school district so they can learn from one another and serve as a sounding board.
  • Paraprofessionals can be a great source of feedback for a student’s special educational programming and for helping plan future professional learning opportunities in special education.

There is a financial investment that comes with providing time for Paraprofessionals to receive training on how to support students with autism directly from Speech and Language Pathologists and Occupational Therapists as well as receiving other professional learning opportunities. However, the benefits truly outweigh the costs, and our students with autism can make significant growth when we make this investment in professional learning for our Paraprofessionals.


John Peterson serves as the Director of Special Education for the Hamilton School District in Sussex, Wisconsin and has served as a special education administrator for a total of 15 years. John has previously served as the president of the Wisconsin Council of Administrators of Special Services (WCASS) and has been in leadership roles on their board of directors since 2006. John also helps mentor aspiring special education administrators by serving as a University Supervisor for Cardinal Stritch University (Milwaukee, WI) and has presented on a variety of special education-related topics at both state and national conferences.


For information on Rethink Ed’s professional training for educators and paraprofessionals, including our Basic ABA and Advanced ABA on-demand training series, visit www.rethinked.com.

It’s About Progress, Not Perfection: Celebrating the History of Special Education and Autism Advocacy

by Dr. Kurt Hulett

Special education, as we know it today, was born out of conflict and has continued to serve as a lightning rod for controversy and litigation since the early 1970s.  In the history of the United States few areas in the pantheon of education have drawn any where near the amount of debate, litigation, and scrutiny as special education over the past 45 years.

There was much fighting involved in the passage of P.L. 94-142 (1975) and quite a bit of conflict over the PARC v. PA (1971) and Mills v. Board of Education (1971) cases – all of which played major roles in the building of the foundations of the field of special education as we know it today.  This comes as no surprise in that all great strides in civil rights in America have only occurred after great struggle and conflict.

Today, however, as we celebrate Autism Awareness Month, we will take a moment to step away from controversy and celebrate the incredible journey of special education in America, and in particular, celebrate the advocates, adults and children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), their teachers, families and everyone else who has worked tirelessly to advance the field of special education.

Promoting Awareness

Discussing both the field of special education as a whole and ASD in particular makes a lot of sense.  The incidence rate of ASD has skyrocketed over the past half-century, and it is in large part due to the hard work of advocates for children with ASD that has driven the awareness necessary to help identify and assess these young people, and the presence of a very powerful law (IDEA) that has required the appropriate identification and evaluation of all children suspected of having disabilities.

According to Wright (2017):

The prevalence of autism in the United States has risen steadily since researchers first began tracking it in 2000. The rise in the rate has sparked fears of an autism ‘epidemic.’ But experts say the bulk of the increase stems from a growing awareness of autism and changes to the condition’s diagnostic criteria.

Although some argue environmental factors have contributed to the growth in incidence among students with ASD, it is highly likely that ASD has always existed at current levels and that we have only begun to fully and appropriately identify and assess individuals with ASD. The growth in the number of students being identified with ASD has been exponential, which is in direct proportion to the efforts and success of ASD advocates in promoting public awareness. This increase in incidence is emblematic of the success advocates for children with ASD have had in working on behalf of them.

Advocating Legally

Whether it be success with litigation or the 1990s addition of Autism as an eligibility category under IDEA, advocates of students with ASD have had tremendous success in advancing the rights and opportunities for children with ASD. They have been among the most successful groups working on behalf of students with disabilities. In fact, a recent review of litigation indicates that Autism-related court cases are more than 10 times as prevalent as those related to other areas of disability (in relation to FAPE-based IDEA complaints).

The most important recent Supreme Court case that impacts all of special education, Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District (2017), was steered to the High Court by parents, attorneys and advocates of children with Autism.

Prior to Endrew F. standards for Free and Appropriate Public Education  (FAPE) were guided by the Rowley (1982) decision, which established the “merely more than de minimis” standard for providing education to students with disabilities. However, in Endrew F., parents of a son with ASD successfully argued that his school had not set appropriately ambitious goals and that he had not made meaningful progress.  Endrew F.’s parents were able to demonstrate that in a private placement he made both academic and behavioral progress after years of little progress in public school.  The court ruled unanimously in their favor, thus establishing new standards which require schools to demonstrate ‘meaningful progress’ and ‘appropriately ambitious’ goals for students with disabilities. In this way, the Endrew F. case serves as a lasting and powerful symbol of the importance of the ASD community and the impact they have had on the broader field of special education.

How can we get involved?

Autism Awareness month is a great time to think about how we can get more involved. Here are some ways we can support the individuals with ASD as well as the overall movement to promote Autism Awareness:

  1.  Advocacy:  We cannot let up on the advocacy front.  We must continue to support and fund organizations that advocate on behalf of individuals with ASD.  The law, including both legislation and litigation, is always evolving and we, the special education community, must remain steadfast in ensuring the right cases move through the system and that IDEA and other laws are reauthorized and funded appropriately.

  2. Training and Awareness in Schools:  Although awareness and prevalence are growing rapidly in the schools, we still have a long way to go to educate all members of the school and surrounding communities about ASD and the best practices for supporting these individuals.  We must continuously promote inclusive environments and fund the training of staff and personnel at every level of the educational enterprise.

  3. Funding of IDEA:  As it is a tremendously underfunded mandate, we must urge Congress to meet the original promise to fund the law at a minimum of 40%.  The lack of funding at the federal level creates very difficult scenarios at the local levels.  Schools and communities want to do right by students with ASD; however, they need the supports, services, and funding to do so.

  4. Research on Best Practices in the Schools:  Tremendous progress has been made in the area of research and best practices. However, we must keep pushing forward to find new and better ways of supporting and helping individuals with ASD.  In particular, we need continued focus and research on interventions and methodologies that can be utilized in schools to reach and teach these students – both academically and socially.

  5. Innovation:  We need to support research in areas of innovation.  For example, Virtual Reality is demonstrating exciting advances and applications for children with ASD.  We need to continue to push the technological boundaries and push for continued innovation in research, science, and applied technologies.

  6. Focus on Inclusion in All Settings:  At the end of the day, one of our primary goals must be the successful integration of all individuals with ASD into the mainstream of society.  We must invest funding and research efforts into new approaches and methodologies for advancing this cause.

In Conlcusion

As we dedicate the month of April to promoting Autism Awareness and inclusion, let’s also remember to celebrate the many individuals in the broad field of special education who fight on in courthouses, halls of state houses, boards of education, IEP meetings and everywhere else on behalf of all students with disabilities, and in particular those who continue to successfully  advocate on behalf of students with ASD. It is time to acknowledge the tremendous success of these advocates and to say, on behalf of children with ASD, “Thank you!”


Dr. Kurt Hulett is a former school Principal and a current writer, special education consultant, and advocate whose goal is to bring educators and stakeholders from all strata together to work for the benefit of all children. He is also a member of the Center for Special Education Advocacy and hosts the Kurt’s Kitchen Table EdTalk video podcast. Dr. Hulett is the author of Legal Aspects of Special Education and is currently working on an education reform book entitled Miles to Equality, due out in 2020.

5 Ways to Ensure Social Emotional Learning (SEL) Success

by David Adams and Emily Paige of The Urban Assembly

There is a mismatch between what educators say and what they do around Social Emotional Learning (SEL) in America. According to the 2017 CASEL report, Ready to Lead, 98% of principals believe that students should be taught social emotional skills, but only 35% had a plan to do so. Of those who were implementing a plan, only 25% were doing so in a way that met high-quality benchmarks. This gap is particularly evident in high schools, where the support for a schoolwide approach to developing social emotional skills and competencies drops to 25%, as compared to 41% in elementary schools.

These trends persist despite research that demonstrates that students who have had exposure to a high quality of social-emotional development  improve academically, increase pro-social behaviors and attitudes, and are less likely to experience mental health issues, engage in risky behaviors, or be involved in the criminal justice system. Based on the experiences of the Urban Assembly Network and principals at Urban Assembly schools, here are the top five ways to ensure high quality Social Emotional Learning in your school.

1. Appoint an SEL Instructional Lead.

In order to ensure a long term impact on students,  social emotional programming needs a person, or people, for whom the quality of implementation is a key component of their responsibilities.  For example, at the Urban Assembly School for Media Studies,  Principal Bridgette Muscarella creates time and space for her instructional lead to manage her SEL team. This in turn gives the SEL team the opportunity to focus on the quality of direct instruction, integration of social emotional concepts into content areas, and organization of professional development for staff around social emotional concepts. This approach creates accountability for the work and ensures that there is ownership of the school’s stated goals in this area.  

2. Identify opportunities for ongoing professional development around SEL.

Creating a feedback loop is among the most powerful drivers of learning for students and adults. If you want your school to impact student social emotional development, professional development time must be dedicated to the topic. For example, at the Urban Assembly Unison School, Principal Emily Paige has worked to ensure that teachers have the opportunity to plan lessons around SEL and incorporate strategies like cultural relevance into their approach on a monthly basis. 

3. Ensure that all staff are equipped to support social emotional  development.

High quality Social Emotional Learning transforms the lives of children, and by extension, the schools and communities where they live and learn. Social Emotional Learning is more than a class or an assessment; it’s the process by which every student and adult in school, at home, and in the community develops the skills, attitudes, and values that form the foundation for how individuals relate to others and themselves, how they solve problems, and how they make good decisions. In order to see the investments of this work pay off, every adult in the school must have the tools to support the social emotional development of their students. For example, at the Urban Assembly School for Collaborative Healthcare every staff member in the building, including Principal Candace Hugee, teaches an advisory block where students are directly taught the social emotional skills vital to pursuing a career in healthcare. 

4. Explicitly teach Social Emotional skills to your staff and students.

In order to transfer learning from the classroom to the real world, students need to know the concept they need to learn (the vocabulary) , the skill attached to the concept (the behavior or thought process), when to use it (context for application), and have enough practice that they can perform the skill under conditions of stress or emotionality (fluency). The same is true for social emotional skills. Just as important, students need to see adults they trust modeling these concepts on a consistent basis.  This process allows students to integrate the skills into contexts different from those in which they were first learned. For example, at the Urban Assembly School of Business for Young Women, Principal Patricia Minaya has maintained a space for every freshman girl to learn the social emotional skills foundational to their future success in business. This space allows for the young women in her school to develop a common vocabulary, to give feedback to others as they practice their skills, and to recognize and deploy these skills in the workplace and the community.

5. Assess what your students are learning.

Learning requires change: a change in mental models, a change in thoughts, or a change in behaviors. Without change there is no learning, and without assessment we cannot identify change. Schools need to prioritize the assessment of student social emotional development. For example, at the Urban Assembly Academy for Future Leaders, Principal Joseph Gates has created the conditions by which students have an opportunity to self assess their social emotional development, compare that with their teacher’s assessment, and then set goals around Social Emotional Learning that will make them better leaders. Students track their goals over time so that the change is visible to themselves and their teachers alike. 


Like cooking a complex dish or running a marathon, if you feel like transforming the lives of students through high quality social emotional learning should be easy, then you’re probably not doing it correctly. And yet, when we consider the impact on the lives of our students, it’s clear we must make that commitment. And when we see the examples of those who have committed themselves and their schools to this pursuit of high-quality and impactful SEL, we know it can be done. It’s time to do it! How will you start?

Want to learn more? Join us for the next webinar in our SEL Expert Webinar Series: The Keys to Success in SEL Implementation. This free webinar will be presented by David Adams, M.Ed, Director of Social Emotional Learning at The Urban Assembly on February 14, 2019 at 1:00 pm EST. Participants in this webinar session will learn how to organize their schools and districts around social, emotional, and academic development. Register now.

Find out out what makes Rethink Ed the first choice in Social and Emotional Learning at https://www.rethinked.com/sel.

Creating a Morning Routine: What Do Values Have To Do With It?

Let’s talk about morning routines. If you’ve ever researched self-development or productivity, you’ve undoubtedly come across tons of resources about morning routines and the different activities that people engage in to help jump start their day. While there is no one size fits all method to morning routines, the clear message that spans these websites, books, and articles is the idea that having a routine can help you immensely in your quest to meet your goals.

Though goal setting and achievement are important, I want to challenge you to go a bit deeper and look at the values that are driving these goals. Examining our values is important because often they become so ingrained that we are not aware of them though they play a big part in our decision making. Taking the time to be clear about our values and to work our values into our daily lives can help us to live happier lives.morning-routine

Try these steps to help you create a morning routine that works well with YOUR values:

Step 1. Examine your Values

    • Reflect on what is most important to you and make a list of these values. For additional support, check out our values resources and practice activities.

Step 2. Create Goals and Identify Steps to Meet Them

    • Now that you have some clarity around your values, create 1-2 goals that are aligned with these values to be top priorities your morning routine.
    • Think about what steps you will need to help you meet your goals. Are you interested in fostering more positive relationships with your family? Perhaps you can take some time in the morning to write short notes of appreciation to share with loved ones.

Step 3. Create a Morning Routine Using Your Goals

    • Think realistically about how much time you can devote to a morning routine and then prescribe time allotments for your value-driven activities. For example, you may decide to spend 30 minutes doing yoga if healthy living is a key value.

Step 4. Act and Reassess

    • Start with a routine with 1-2 goals and reassess your progress at the end of the week. Make changes if needed.

Infusing your values within your morning routine provides an opportunity to wake up living a value-driven life. Let us know how it goes if you implement these steps this week.

Authored by: Tia Navelene Barnes, Ph.D.

tia-barnesTia Navelene Barnes, Ph.D., is a social emotional learning researcher. As a former educator of students with emotional and behavioral disorders (EBD), Dr. Barnes’ research interests focus on creating environments where students with emotional and behavioral challenges can thrive. Dr. Barnes received her doctorate in August 2013 from the University of Florida where she majored in special education with an emphasis on emotional and/or behavioral disorders and minored in research and evaluation methodology. She then worked at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence where her work focused on classroom environment for students with EBD and examining social emotional learning through a culturally responsive lens. She has published work in several journals including Infant and Child Development, the Journal of School Violence, Aggression and Violent Behavior, and Education and Treatment of Children. She loves engaging with educators and feels that supporting educators is key to supporting student success.

Strategies To Support Best Practices in Coaching

Effective coaching encourages collaborative, reflective practice. It supports teachers in improving their capacity to reflect and apply their learning to their work with students, promotes the implementation of learning and improves teachers’ ability to use data to inform practice (Annenberg Foundation for Education Reform, 2004). Ongoing and job-embedded professional development is key when teachers identify areas of focus for support. The University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning provides a framework for coaches and teachers, which aides in identifying a starting point for adult learning. It is referred to as “The Big Four,” which includes:

  • Classroom Management
  • Content
  • Instruction
  • Assessment for Learning (Knight, 2009a)

When teachers identify where to start and the instructional strategy they are willing to try, coaching should then continue to support the teacher through data and continuous progress monitoring.  Providing support requires explaining current research in the area of focus as well as modeling research-validated instructional strategies for the teacher.  Here are some strategies for translating research into practice:

  • Clarify: read, write, talk
  • Synthesize
  • Break it down
  • See it through teachers’ (and students’) eyes

Collaborative Exploration of Data (Knight, 2007).

As reflection is integral to successful coaching, take some time to reflect on your overall coaching experience:

  • What did you learn and how will you use it in your continued professional practice?
  • What was challenging?
  • What would you do differently in the future or to expand your personal growth?

 

References:

Knight, J. (2007.) Instructional coaching: A partnership approach to improving instruction. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Knight, J. (2009a). The big four: A framework for instructional excellence. Manuscript in preparation.

Knight, J. ( 2009b) Partnership learning: Scientifically proven strategies for fostering dialogue during workshops and presentations. Manuscript in preparation.

Knowles, M.S. (1980) The Modern Practice of Adult Education: From Andragogy to Pedagogy.

Knowles, M. (1990) The adult learner. A neglected species, 4th Edition. Houston: Gulf Publishing.

Spotlight Educator of the Month: Alyssa Dobson

Position: ALE 18 and Beyond

District: North East Independent School District (NEISD)

Alyssa Dobson, SPED Teacher, North East Independent School District (NEISD)

Alyssa Dobson is a Special Education teacher at Churchill High School in North East Independent School District (San Antonio, TX). As an educator who works specifically with older students, eighteen years old and above, the transition curriculum on the Rethink Ed platform has become a particularly valuable asset. She has a myriad of lesson plans and resources at her disposal, designed to help her students develop and master skills pertaining to the home, community, and work, to name just a few areas the platform addresses.

When asked to describe the aspect of Rethink Ed that’s most beneficial to her, Alyssa highlighted the easy accessibility of lesson materials. “In special education, it can become very hectic and it helps to look up a lesson and have those materials readily available,” she said. She touches upon an issue that many educators face when constructing lesson plans for their students. For special educators, the individualized nature of every student’s learning plan can make finding materials overwhelming; Rethink Ed has significantly simplified this process, allowing teachers to save time while lesson planning.

Rethink Ed in the Classroom

Alyssa is not alone in her excitement about Rethink Ed and the convenience of having a wide range of teaching tools available in one place. Her district, which is in its fifth year of implementation with Rethink Ed, shares in her enthusiasm, having expanded its use of the platform from a small group of teachers to over 600. Rethink Ed has successfully helped NEISD’s educators build IEPs, set goals and objectives, and collect meaningful data that allow them to track progress and make data-based decisions about their students.

For a more in-depth study on Rethink Ed’s success with North East Independent School District (NEISD), please click here.

Rethink Ed Spotlight Teacher of the Month: Colleen Washburn

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Position: Primary Autism Center Program Teacher
District: Denver Public Schools, Denver, CO

Colleen Washburn is a Primary Autism Center Program teacher in the Denver Public School District in Denver, Colorado. Denver Public Schools is the largest school district in Colorado and is one of the fastest growing districts in the nation.

One of the biggest challenges as a teacher is consistently tracking and understanding data, managing behavior, and collaborating with other paraprofessionals and teachers. However, Ms. Washburn has found that with Rethink Ed she is able to “keep up with extensive data collection and use this data to guide effective student behavioral interventions.” Over the past two years, Ms. Washburn has successfully used Rethink Ed in her classroom.

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Ms. Washburn’s Classroom

Daily, Ms. Washburn uses the Rethink Ed platform as her primary classroom autism center program. It has been incorporated in her daily behavior tracking routine for various students within the program. This data is used to create and supplement behavior plans, as well as guide the use of interventions. The data created through the Rethink Program has also allowed her to supplement IEP’s with easy to understand information for parents. This helps strengthen communication with parents because she is able to show them concrete data in the form of graphs and charts.

She began using the program with only a few select students however she quickly realized the benefits of the program like downloadable data charts and consistent data tracking on the Rethink Ed App. Now, she uses it for her entire teaching caseload and is able “to track the effectiveness of strategies, as well as determine a pattern for student behavior.” Over the past year Ms. Washburn has implemented several different Rethink Ed strategies for her students in order to find optimal behavior plans. She has even seen the beginning stages of positive changes in student’s behavior!

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Classroom Coffee Cart Business

Together, Ms. Washburn and her paraprofessionals utilize Rethink Ed to track behavioral data in the classroom. She says the ability to work with her paraprofessionals and track the effectiveness of behavioral interventions implemented in the classroom is the most valuable aspect of Rethink. Collaboration using the Rethink Ed platform allows data collection to be taken in various settings and by various individuals ensuring that students are appropriately generalizing skills. They do this by utilizing the Rethink Ed App on the iPad. The App allows them to easily collect data, continuously review data to see progress, and quickly see if an intervention is not supporting a student’s need. Rethink Ed has helped support student learning and engagement in the classroom.

Online training videos have taught Ms. Washburn and her paraprofessionals how to use, implement, and understand the program. Prior to Rethink Ed she and her paraprofessionals had difficulty organizing data and taking it with fidelity. The Rethink Ed App supports Ms. Washburn and her paraprofessionals with real-time data collection including numerous behaviors for several students. It allows them to take ownership of data collection and helps to provide a better picture of the students’ progress throughout the entire day. Rethink Ed resources and strategies continue to support Ms. Washburn and her classroom allowing her to focus more on what she loves—molding students’ lives.

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/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3 Tips for Building Your Personal Learning Network

Becoming a more informed, more knowledgable, more connected educator through your personal learning network.

It’s spring, which at Rethink can only mean one thing—it’s User Group Season! Throughout April and May Rethink has been visiting districts across the country that are utilizing Rethink in their special education programs and facilitating conversation and sharing around best practices.

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Educators share and connect at the San Francisco User Group

What becomes clear with every User Group is the incredible value for those involved. From administrators and coordinators to teachers and paraprofessionals, the user group is a wonderful time for sharing resources, and most importantly, best-practices with one another. With all the demands on educators’ time and resources, these in-person opportunities for sharing can be few and far between. This is why many educators have increasingly turned toward building their own Personal Learning Networks online.  This month, as a follow-up to User Group Season, we are sharing some ideas for building your own Personal Learning Network using one of the most popular social media sites for educators, Twitter.

1.  Follow other educators and thought leaders

Twitter is full of educators. One of the most powerful things about the Internet is its ability to bring together likeminded people with similar interests who may never otherwise have the opportunity to connect.

To build your personal network on Twitter, start by following other educators and organizations germane to what you do in the classroom or the populations you teach. Here are a few great resources that point you to some awesome special education Twitter accounts.

Also follow Rethink and our team of clinicians and educators. They are a wonderful source of information, tips, and encouragement!

2.  Join weekly Twitter chats

Twitter chats provide an opportunity to follow topical conversations live on Twitter. With a shared time, hashtag, and topic to discuss, Twitter chats bring together all of the best aspects of Twitter into a structured forum. Participants can ask questions, share topical ideas, and stay up-to-date on latest trends in education. To participate in a Twitter chat, use a tool like Tweetchat to easily follow the conversation.

A few Twitter chats you might consider joining are:

  1. #Spedchat – Mondays from 9-10pm Eastern: A chat specifically for special educators to discuss issues in special education, share ideas and resources, and connect with others in the field.
  2. #Edtechchat – Mondays from 8-9pm Eastern: A chat for all educators to learn more about best-practices for using technology in the classroom.
  3. #Edchat – Tuesdays from 12-1pm and 7-8pm Eastern: Like #spedchat but for all educators, this is a place to talk about trends, share best-practices, and connect with other educators.
  4. #EWedchat – Wednesdays from 8-9pm Eastern: A chat hosted by Education Week that discusses a different topic every week germane to education.

For more information about joining a Twitter chat, check out this blog post.

3.  Live tweet events

Liv- tweeting events, trainings, webinars, and conferences is another way to build your network and keep you in the socially connected. Many events (including all of Rethink’s public webinars) will share a hashtag with you for live tweeting. Using this hashtag to live tweet during the event helps you connect with others participating in the same event, gather succinct ideas, and chat with others online about a topic, even after the event is over.

Some examples of the kinds of things you may consider tweeting during an event are:

  • quotes or interesting ideas mentioned by the presenter/s
  • questions you have about something mentioned by the presenter
  • questions you have for other event participants
  • ideas that occur to you during the event/presentation
  • resources pertinent to the topic being discussed

Twitter is just one of many social media tools you can use to navigate the landscape of digital learning. Best of luck finding new ways to build your Personal Learning Networks and connect with other special educators. See you in the Twittersphere!