The State of My Field: Special Education in the COVID-19 Era

by Dr. Kurt Hulett, Author, and Special Education Advocate

View the webinar that was moderated by Kurt Hulett on 05.15.2020


“We need to worry less about compliance and checking boxes and more about meeting the needs of children during this turbulent time.”

Phyllis Wolfram

On April 15, 2020, Rethink Ed brought together several of the nation’s leading experts in special education. The panel discussed the state of our field during the COVID-19 crisis and delved into issues facing special educators during this unprecedented time. I volleyed the panelists’ questions on everything from how we might begin to address ESY’s to the SEL implications of supporting students with disabilities through remote learning.

The advice given ran the gambit from covering the newly created CASE principles to how we should check in on the emotional wellness of students we cannot see. The panelists shared a wealth of technical information and several heartwarming suggestions for navigating this crisis together as a family of educators. Several common threads emerged during the panel discussion, but perhaps the most important is that we are all working tirelessly to support one another and the people we serve. The other consistent and compelling messages are as follows: 

  • First, make sure each child is safe and secure. Academic needs should take a backseat to the health and well-being of each child, both physically and emotionally.
  • Children need predictable and structured schedules and learning environments during this time. Consistency of schedule and routine helps children to feel safe and secure.
  • Educators must be vigilant in checking on their students’ social and emotional well-being. Without having children physically present in class, the traditional cues are gone and thus harder to track each student’s emotional health.
  • Communication with parents is critical. Rely on input and guidance from them to understand their needs and level of comfort with home instruction. By reaching out often, we can collaborate with parents as true partners. Using these communication channels, we can avoid overwhelming parents as well as missing any new and pressing needs.
  • Worry less about compliance and focus on the needs of each child. IDEA did not anticipate nor plan for COVID-19 and a few timelines and checkpoints may be missed along the way. Instead of worrying about checked boxes, ensure that each child is progressing on their goals and that they are healthy and safe during this time.
  • Problem-solving is critical. IDEA was not built for COVID-19 and it is taking significant amounts of critical-thinking and problem-solving skills to (remotely) meet the needs of each child.
  • Take care of your teachers and staff. It is extremely easy during a time like this for teachers to become stressed and overwhelmed. We need to check in with teachers and staff often to make sure we are all taking care of one another.

Dr. Hulett is a leading special education advocate and educational consultant based in Central Texas. He works extensively on behalf of children and families engaged in the IEP and Section 504 process. He is well-known for his ability to navigate difficult situations and secure the educational services, goals, and desired outcomes for the parents and students he serves. In addition, he trains principals and administrators in the utilization of both best practices and legal approaches to special education management. Dr. Hulett is the author of the best-selling text “Legal Aspects of Special Education.” He is committed to helping all stakeholders meet the needs of students with disabilities.

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!

Early Intervention and Beyond: Top 5 Tips for Teaching a Child with Autism

iStock_000028867426_XXXLargeAbout this FREE Webinar

Early intervention can be crucial in helping children with autism be successful in school and in life, but effective intervention can begin at any age. Teaching a child with autism can be easier than you think and fun for you and your child or student!  Whether you’re an educator, parent, or caregiver, there are practical things you can easily do to integrate effective teaching into your everyday routine. In this free, 60-minute webinar, Rethink’s Angela Nelson, MS, BCBA will discuss practical tips for educators and parents who want to learn more about how to effectively teach a child with autism in a fun and natural way!

Attendees will:
  • Gain practical knowledge on effectively teaching children with autism
  • Learn how to make teaching effective AND fun
  •  Learn easy-to-implement strategies for successfully motivating a child with autism

Wednesday, March 22nd, 12pm EST  REGISTER

Wednesday, March 22nd, 6pm EST  REGISTER

About Our Guest

Angela Nelson currently serves as the Executive Director of Family and Clinical Services for Rethink, conducting trainings for educators, therapists, and administrators on how to utilize Rethink’s platform as well as consultation and support on how to implement a robust platform such as Rethink in both small and large school districts.  She also provides consultative services to families utilizing the program as part of Rethink’s Employee Benefits program.  She has devoted her career to supporting children and adults with a variety of disabilities in their classrooms, homes, and communities for many years. Angela holds a Master’s degree in Educational Psychology and Counseling from California State University, Northridge, a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from UCLA, and is a BCBA (Board Certified Behavior Analyst).  Aside from her interest in Applied Behavior Analysis, Angela enjoys spending time with her daughter and husband, going to the beach, and playing sports.

 

Spotlight Teacher of the Month: Kristy Byers

School District:  Volusia County Schools, Florida
Position:  Special Education Teacher

Kristy Byers began using Rethink at the beginning of the 2014/15 school year. What she has found most valuable about Rethink is its capacity to facilitate collaboration: “With Rethink, my whole team–paraprofessionals, speech therapists, etc.–can easily keep up with each child’s progress and work with them on appropriate skills,” Kristy explained.  She has also had success collaborating with parents.  By sharing Rethink’s graphs and reports, she has found it much easier to keep parents abreast on their child’s progress and encourage participation in their child’s growth.

1041“Rethink makes collaboration so much easier.” 

26412496-a514-42e4-bf8e-179b5d716fcbIn the relatively short time that Kristy has been using the Rethink program, she has seen significant progress in some of her students with the most intensive needs. For instance, at the beginning of the year one of her students came to her with severe echolalia–communicating only by echoing or repeating other people’s speech.  Using Rethink strategies and lessons, Kristy collaborated with the student’s learning team to set up a plan and began to work on teaching him appropriate greetings.  “One day, after we’d been working with the student for about 2 weeks,” Kristy explained, “he entered the classroom, and when I said ‘good morning’, he said ‘hi!’ It was so exciting!”  Now, 2 months later, he is communicating independently with very few (if any) echolalic phrases and his whole world of communication has opened up to him.  His parents are thrilled because his learning has carried over into the home environment as well!

 

 

Inclusion: Making it Work

Story timeBy: Meredith Ouimette                                                           

What is inclusion?

According to the Council for Exceptional Children, “all children, youth, and young adults with disabilities are entitled to a free and appropriate education and/or services that lead to an adult life characterized by satisfying relations with others, independent living, productive engagement in the community, and participation in society at large. To achieve such outcomes, there must exist for all children, youth, and young adults a rich variety of early intervention, education, and vocational program options and experiences.”

What are some strategies that work with effective inclusion programming?

With many schools that have district wide inclusion programming, the following have been strategies that have helped them make inclusion work!

  1. Collaboration, team work, and co-teaching with special education and general education teachers
  2. Use of evidence-based practices with all students in inclusion settings
  3. Strong leadership and administrative support at the school and district level
  4. Differentiated instruction for all students in classrooms
  5. Additional and ongoing teacher and paraprofessional support and professional development

In a classroom setting, Rethink can help teachers COLLABORATE and make inclusion successful!

  1. Determine what skills a student needs to be successful through Rethink’s Inclusion Assessment
  2. Determine what level of support is needed for success
  3. Select inclusion plans and videos for teachers and paraprofessionals to use when teaching students
  4. Provide support through teachers, paraprofessionals, and peers

lesson lin

 

 

 

Explore Rethink’s Inclusion Curriculum today!  Have other questions about effective strategies with inclusion programming? Leave a comment below and get the conversation started!

Mind Your Ps and Qs: Teaching Social Skills to Reduce Challenging Behavior

Group of happy elementary friends togetherAbout this FREE Webinar

Challenging behavior in the classroom is one of the most highly discussed topics in public education. Teachers frequently report that disruptive behavior is their greatest concern and has a significant impact on their job satisfaction. This session will focus on what teachers do best – facilitate student learning and teach students new skills.  Direct instruction in social skills promotes skill development in pro-social behaviors and reduces challenging behavior. When students have social skills in their repertoire they don’t have to rely on challenging behavior.

Participants will leave the webinar with:
  • A better understanding of how social skill development can impact behavior
  • Specific teaching strategies to promote social skill development in their classrooms
  • Ideas for teaching social skills 1:1 and in groups

About Our Guest

Dr. Patricia Wright, is Rethink’s VP of Professional Services and a Board Certified Behavior Analyst. Prior to joining Rethink, she was the National Director for Autism Services at Easter Seals, one of the largest social service providers for individuals with autism. Dr. Wright has a passion for education and has dedicated her career to ensuring that individuals with disabilities are fully included in society.

Click the button below to learn more about social emotional wellness with a FREE on-demand webinar!
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