Improving Educator Well-Being and Reducing Burnout and Stress Using SEL Professional Development

by Christina Whalen, Ph.D., BCBA – Director of Research



Rethink Ed believes in nurturing educators and students, and advocates for empowering and supporting teachers and building an SEL culture to create a school climate that keeps the teachers as well as the students engaged, learning, and making progress.


Christina Whalen , Ph.D., BCBA

The COVID-19 pandemic led to increased stress and burnout for many educators. One study reported that more than 40% of educators surveyed reported experiencing a component of burnout in the 2020-2021 school year and are now considering leaving the field of education altogether. Education is a high-risk career in the United States due to its stressful workload as well as the frequent lack of social supports, training, and resources. About 50% of teachers leave the education profession in the first 5 years equating to roughly 500,000 each year. Teacher stress and social-emotional competencies (e.g., emotion regulation, stress management, cultural competence, self-awareness) can impact student behaviors, academic performance, and relationships.

Does SEL Impact Our Educators?

Social Emotional Learning (SEL) is not only important for student outcomes, but it is also essential for building SEL competencies in educators to help reduce emotional exhaustion and burnout and improve self-efficacy and job satisfaction. In fact, taking care of educators’ well-being may be one of the best things that schools can do for students because the people who are spending the most time with students and taking care of them must be also taking care of themselves. Professional development in SEL has been shown in multiple research studies to improve teacher’s well-being and to reduce burnout and stress and improve student outcomes. For example, mindfulness-based SEL training has been shown to have a lot of promise for decreasing teacher stress and burnout and improving their emotional regulation and ability to tackle challenges in the classroom.

How Can Rethink Ed’s Professional Development Modules Support Educators?

In a recent study conducted across 10 of our valued partner districts and involving 1,090 educators, the completion of the Rethink Ed Social Emotional Learning PD modules were compared to educator ratings of burnout, stress, and well-being. Similar to other studies, surveys were used to evaluate the perceptions of burnout, stress, well-being, and job satisfaction.

What Did This Study Find?

  • Almost one-fifth of the participants reported having feelings of stress and burnout.
  • Educators completing the SEL PD modules (an average of 29 short modules) rated overall more positively and with significantly less stress and burnout than those who completed 0-5 modules.
  • Educators who completed the SEL PD modules rated better well-being, school connectedness, and job satisfaction than those who did not complete the modules.

Research supports the fact that teachers who feel more positively at work have better student outcomes and are less likely to leave the field. Teachers must take care of themselves to be able to nurture and teach their students. It is important for schools to take care of their teachers to promote engagement, connectedness, passion, and productivity. Rethink Ed believes in nurturing educators and students, and advocates for empowering and supporting teachers and building an SEL culture to create a school climate that keeps the teachers as well as the students engaged, learning, and making progress.

In Conclusion

The outcomes of this research support the findings that professional learning in SEL may have a positive impact on teacher well-being and reducing burnout and stress. Training educators in SEL not only supports improving student outcomes but may also impact overall school climate and the teachers’ feelings of acceptance, belonging, and willingness to address their own biases and limitations.

Research supports the fact that teachers who feel more positively at work have better student outcomes and are less likely to leave the field. Teachers must take care of themselves to be able to nurture and teach their students. It is important for schools to take care of their teachers to promote engagement, connectedness, passion, and productivity. Rethink Ed believes in nurturing educators and students, and advocates for empowering and supporting teachers and building an SEL culture to create a school climate that keeps the teachers as well as the students engaged, learning, and making progress.

For more details about this research read our White Paper on Professional Development in Rethink Ed’s SEL Relates to Less Educator Stress and Burnout and Better Perceptions of Well-Being and School Connectedness.  



Dr. Christina Whalen,
Ph.D., BCBA

Dr. Christina Whalen, Director of Research, is a psychologist and behavior analyst and lives in La Jolla, CA. At Rethink Ed, she is the primary author of Tier 3 curriculum for Social Emotional Learning and assists with the development of professional development videos for educators. She has over 20 years of experience working with children, teens, and adults with special needs. She is the author of the book Real Life, Real Progress for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders: Strategies for Successful Generalization in Natural Environments and has presented at numerous education, behavior analysis, and psychology conferences. Dr. Whalen was the initial founder and creator of TeachTown, a computer-assisted behavior analysis intervention for children with developmental disorders. She also worked for various clinics, schools, and research programs. She received her Ph.D. from the University of California, San Diego, and did post-doctoral training at UCLA and the University of Washington.

The SEL Effect: How, Why, & When

A Review of Supports for Social and Emotional Learning in American Schools and Classrooms: Findings From the American Teacher Panel

by Christina Whalen, Ph.D., BCBA


A strong, evidence-based curriculum paired with strategies for implementation is essential for an effective and consistent SEL adoption, the known benefits of which grow with every study and survey conducted.

Christina Whalen , Ph.D., BCBA

What do educators think about social-emotional learning (SEL)? Laura S. Hamilton and Christopher Joseph Dross felt that was a question worth answering. They recently released information from the American Teacher Panel on a 2019 Survey and found that:

  1. Most teachers were confident they could improve SEL for their students but felt that variables outside their control had a greater influence on students’ SEL than they could counteract.
  2. SEL curriculum is more commonly implemented in elementary schools. Secondary school educators more commonly relied on informal community engagement, check-ins with students, and involving students in school decisions.
  3. Educators who thought their state or district has adopted SEL standards used SEL practices more than those that thought they did not. Additionally, educators with SEL professional development opportunities used SEL practices more than those without, this was also reflected in educators’ sense of overall well-being.

Let’s break down these takeaways into some useful strategies, tools, and practices that can be used by educators, administrators, and parents & caregivers.

Variables Outside Their Control

The pressure on teachers to improve students’ academic performance makes spending time on SEL in the classroom challenging. This highlights a problem: Students have a social emotional need, but the time, resources, and prioritization have not been given to meet it. The greatest influence on student wellness outside the classroom is their home life, this is advantageous when parents and caregivers have the right tools:

Bring the Lesson Home:

• Engaging in SEL activities at home greatly improves a student’s understanding of the principal at play in the lesson. Engagement is improved when the principal is displayed in action.
• Rethink Ed SEL provides home connection letters to help parents and caregivers reinforce SEL learning that students are doing in the classroom.
• Home connections include conversation prompts, exercises, and activities that adults can do with their child to promote, develop, and reinforce a new SEL skill.

Elementary vs Secondary

While social emotional learning curriculums for secondary students should include community engagement exercises, opportunities to check-in with students, and activities designed to practice responsible decision-making, these alone do not make up an effective evidence-based SEL program. Much of the disparity in SEL adoption between elementary and secondary schools was attributed to the level of school support received. How do we bring together administrative support and an evidence-based SEL program?

SEL Programs for Secondary Success:

• Use an SEL program that provides grade-level curriculum for students K-12 to support secondary school teachers in effectively teaching social emotional learning principals.
• To ease educator workloads, look for curriculums with guidance on promoting SEL during every class. Rethink Ed SEL includes Academic Connections that provide teachers with strategies for integrating SEL into academic activities.
• Secondary students need to participate in community activities that help them better understand their social roles. When those activities correlate directly with an SEL lesson, the impact is two-fold. Rethink Ed includes discussion questions, journaling prompts, writing activities, and student leadership opportunities within student lessons.

Supporting Educator Wellness Through SEL Standards

Half of the educators surveyed were unaware of state or district-level SEL standards. Educators who thought their state or district had adopted SEL standards (whether they had or not), used SEL practices more than those that thought their state or district did not. What is the best way to go about communicating SEL standards to educators, and might there be more reasons than just increased SEL adoption to do it effectively?

Implementation, Equity, & Professional Development:

• Keep educators informed of SEL standards by involving district leadership in equipping SEL school leaders with the necessary resources. Successful SEL program implementations include guides, roadmaps, and even live hands-on support.
• Increased use of SEL practices is positively associated with an educators’ sense of well-being. Educators in lower-poverty schools report higher levels of well-being compared with their counterparts in higher-poverty schools. The survey writers highlight the importance of continually monitoring these disparities and encourage the development of resources and strategies for educators to address their own social and emotional well-being.
• According to the survey, only 3/4 of educators received training that addressed SEL during 2018-2019. Supporting educator adoption of SEL standards starts with SEL PD. That’s why Rethink Ed includes a professional development library that not only teaches strategies for SEL implementation but builds up the educators’ SEL knowledge so they can incorporate it into their daily activities. Rethink Ed’s professional development curriculum covers a wide variety of topics, including the ones that are least covered according to the survey: adapting SEL practices to different cultures and using student SEL data.

In Conclusion

The survey highlights the need for more teacher support, feedback, and perspective in SEL curriculum, professional development, and implementation. Teachers need clear communication about what their district and state require and what resources are available for them, their students, and the parents & caregivers they collaborate with. A strong, evidence-based curriculum paired with strategies for implementation is essential for an effective and consistent SEL adoption, the known benefits of which grow with every study or survey conducted.


Dr. Christina Whalen, Director of Research, is a psychologist and behavior analyst and lives in La Jolla, CA. At Rethink Ed, she is the primary author of Tier 3 curriculum for Social Emotional Learning and assists with the development of professional development videos for educators. She has over 20 years of experience working with children, teens, and adults with special needs. She is the author of the book Real Life, Real Progress for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders: Strategies for Successful Generalization in Natural Environments and has presented at numerous education, behavior analysis, and psychology conferences. Dr. Whalen was the initial founder and creator of TeachTown, a computer-assisted behavior analysis intervention for children with developmental disorders. She also worked for various clinics, schools, and research programs. She received her PhD from University of California, San Diego and did post-doctoral training at UCLA and University of Washington.

Enjoying the Holidays During a Pandemic

by Angela Nelson, MS, BCBA
Executive Director of Clinical Services,
Rethink Benefits

A guide for families raising children with learning, social and/or behavioral challenges

Rethink suggests following the recommendations of your public health officials for guidance on holiday gatherings during the COVID-19 pandemic.


As the winter holidays approach, you might be wondering how to balance supporting your child’s learning, social and/or behavior challenges and adapting to the unique circumstances of celebrating during a pandemic. Our team has compiled a list of ideas we think you’ll find helpful. There are many holidays across cultures, worldwide, during the latter months of the year. This time of year is often filled with fun, family, great food, nostalgic movies, traditions and maybe even presents. This season can also create a wave of stress – a lot of stress. There are more people to see, more events to attend and prepare for, more decorations and distractions, time off from school/work/therapies – the list goes on. Now with 2020 being in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, we may also have to deal with modifications and changes to our usual celebratory routines. This can be hard for some kids (and adults, too!). Holidays often requires extra preparation, organization and logistical planning in order to keep stress to a minimum. Let’s take a look at some examples of how families can maximize the holiday cheer this year:

Prepare Ahead

Teach valuable skills your child will benefit from having now, so he/she can participate in holiday activities. These include:

  • Motor skills — Practicing spinning a dreidel, crafting, unwrapping and wrapping presents
  • Language skills — Using manners (Please, thank you), following instructions (Don’t touch!)
  • Academic — Budgeting and purchasing presents, baking, counting up on an Advent calendar
  • Social skills — Turn taking, sharing, gift giving, playing games, having a conversation with unfamiliar people
  • Self-help skills — Tolerating winter clothing, trying new foods, sitting at the table
  • Physical distancing – Role playing safe distances
  • Mask wearing – Practicing wearing masks for increased durations of time

Plan Traditions Carefully

Decor Tips:

  • Set presents out right before opening to reduce temptation
  • Involve your child in decorating
  • Add decorations slowly or scale back what you put out if change is difficult for your child
  • Be mindful of safety (plastic vs. glass ornaments, fake vs. real menorah candles)

Celebration Tips

  • If you won’t be celebrating in-person with others, consider telling your child sooner rather than later to help him/her cope with a possible upset
  • Consider writing a social story (an illustrated teaching story in first-person) to help your child understand how this year’s holidays may be different
  • Get your child involved in brainstorming “distance” holiday games and festivities that might be fun to do over video conference, or select alternative activities to do at home
  • Practice attending religious ceremonies via video conference so when your holiday comes, your child will be more familiar to this format
  • If you plan to attend religious ceremonies in-person, practice going, stake out a spot and plan an escape route if this is not a regular occurrence for your child
  • Practice being around more stimuli (smells, candles, music, etc.)
  • Place a picture of the gift’s recipient instead of name tags on gifts, so your child can participate in gift giving independently if he/she cannot read
  • Wrap up toys/gifts your child already owns if your child is overwhelmed by new/unknown items, so he/she can still participate with others
  • Prepare an event book of past pictures/descriptions to help your child anticipate this year’s festivities, especially if they will look similar
  • Use a visual schedule/calendar to set expectations for things such as when a Christmas tree is coming/going, the dates of Kwanzaa, etc.

Keep Behavior Protocols Running

  • Work with teachers/therapists to help you prepare and suggest ideas to maintain skills
  • Ask for help from your support network to keep protocols consistent (child-care workers, etc.)
  • Keep exclusive reinforcers handy (items, toys, snacks that are highly motivating but are restricted) for long car rides and behavior expectations during events
  • Use visuals such as sticky notes or a reminder on the refrigerator of what behaviors you are working on with your child and what they are earning, as it’s easier to forget during holiday time

The Day of the Holiday or Celebration

  • Define social expectations for your child if you will be around other people and if there are any rewards associated with appropriate behavior
  • Define social expectations for the caregivers to alleviate confusion and frustration (e.g., take turns between child monitoring/play facilitation vs. family/friend socializing)
  • If mealtime is difficult for your child, give yourself permission to eat ahead of time to avoid food struggles
  • Brief family members of any special requests (pets out of the room, lower the music, need a quiet place for a home base, etc.)
  • Give yourself a pep talk. You are prepared and doing the best you can. This is your holiday, too!

During the Festivities

  • Stake out a quiet spot for your child to find retreat, if needed
  • Introduce your child slowly to family/friends
  • Use a concrete visual aid (e.g., an ornament) to signal when it’s someone’s turn to open a gift if impulsivity is a challenge for your child
  • Watch for behavioral precursors, as they may come up more quickly in stressful situations
  • Give tasks/jobs so your child feels included (e.g., helper in the kitchen) • Allow staggered gift giving or reserve for later if your child gets overwhelmed
  • Inform unfamiliar/new people of your child’s needs and how to act around them
  • Watch for safety hazards as not all environments or homes are child/baby proofed the way your child is used to at their own home
  • Reserve special one-on-one time for your child to help him/her feel safe
  • Allow breaks or give special roles during eating if your child cannot sit for long periods (e.g., the “roll passer” or the table interviewer)
  • Enjoy yourself!

Overall, this time of year can be sprinkled with stressful scenarios and, while we can’t prevent everything, practicing, preparing and planning ahead can help to make for a more enjoyable holiday season for everyone. We invite you to reflect on some of these tips to see how you can personalize them to your family and the holidays you enjoy.

Additional Resources:

How to prepare your child with special needs for Chanukah

13 Holiday Survival tips for your child with special needs

How an autism family prepares for Thanksgiving


Angela Nelson has more than 15 years of experience working with individuals with developmental disabilities and their parents. She is the Vice President & Executive Director of Clinical Services at Rethink Benefits, overseeing a team of clinicians and generating content to support and empower families. Angela has a master’s degree in Counseling and is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA). She lives in sunny Los Angeles, has 2 daughters and loves the outdoors.

Top Take-Aways From Webinar on Meeting the Needs of Children with Behavioral Challenges Virtually

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


View the webinar that was moderated by Kurt Hulett on 10.7.2020

“Remember, it is relatively easy to teach social skills and provide social-emotional supports via web-based technologies. School districts need to be creative in figuring out new ways of reaching and teaching students.”

Kurt Hulett

Take-Away #1:  The Law has Not Changed in Light of COVID-19:   

The Department of Education has made it clear since the beginning of COVID-19 that the requirement of FAPE will continue as it has since 1975, although it may look different as far as how services are provided and determined. As we move forward, it is believed that hearing officers and courts may offer some grace to school districts for the spring of 2020 and the implementation of IEP’s; however, this is only as it relates to the “how” of services. The expectation is still that FAPE must be provided as outlined in each IEP and progress toward goals are made and monitored.

Take-Away #2:  Always Progress Monitor and Document Evidence:

The importance of progress monitoring was recently enshrined in the landmark Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District (2017) Supreme Court case. The High Court noted, “To meet its substantive obligation under the IDEA, a school must offer an IEP reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances.” The High Court continued, “A child’s IEP need not aim for grade-level advancement if that is not a reasonable prospect … every child should have the chance to meet challenging objectivesIt cannot be right that the IDEA generally contemplates grade-level advancement for children with disabilities who are fully integrated in the regular classroom, but is satisfied with barely more than de minimis [trivial] progress for children who are not” (emphasis added). The issue of progress monitoring has been identified as one of the most critical issues to come out of the Endrew F. case, and one issue that has the potential to place school districts in hot water. Legal experts predict that the field of special education, post-Endrew F., will see an increase in state complaints and due process cases around the issue of progress monitoring.  At the end of the day, and at a minimum, school districts must follow each and every child’s IEP, document the services provided, and document the progress made toward goals and objectives.

Take-Away #3:  If Confusion or Lack of Clarity Exists in the IEP — Take Action and Revise

According to the panel, every school district should have a robust plan to ensure the implementation of FAPE. It is clear, however, that certain behavioral goals — which were written for implementation in a classroom interacting with other students — will be impossible or extremely difficult to implement and progress monitor in virtual environments. In these circumstances, the panel recommends reconvening the IEP team and amending the IEP goals and/or short-term objectives. The new goals and objectives need to focus on the unique needs of the child and take into account his or her physical setting. If virtual, each and every goal should appropriately address each child’s needs, while also being relevant and reasonably progress monitored. Remember, it is relatively easy to teach social skills and provide social-emotional supports via web-based technologies. School districts need to be creative in figuring out new ways of reaching and teaching students.  

Take-Away #4:  Student and Parent Engagement is Critical  

Parents and students need to be provided with the instruction and supports to develop the skills necessary to advocate for themselves. Schools should reach out to families and offer training in the area of self-advocacy. So often we expect students and parents to inherently possess these skills, whereas the great majority of the time they simply need to be taught the skills. In addition, parents of children with behavioral challenges may be facing increased and elevated levels of stress as they are losing daily (in-person) supports, in addition to being the primary provider of daily supervision and even, potentially, instruction. Schools need to reach out directly and regularly to both parents and students to see how they are doing and to see what the school can do to support them. Even if it is simply engaging in conversation and providing human interaction, these touch points can go a long way to supporting folks in a homebound environment. Remember, parents want the absolute best of their children, but sometimes they need support to know how to best proceed. As well, the regular touch points can help teachers to evaluate the mental and emotional health of students and to continue to assess his or her needs. We must remember the importance of human interaction and direct communication during this new norm.

Take-Away #5:  Virtual Doesn’t Have to be Less

Unfortunately, due to many variables and perceptions, virtual instruction and services are often considered inferior and less desirable to in-person learning. In many circumstances, the services that have been traditionally provided have only been done so in-person. As we focus on the individual needs, however, of each child — in particular students with behavioral challenges — the panel noted that many kids are actually flourishing with virtual learning. Many students come to school with social anxiety and other disorders that are aggravated by significant over-stimulation; therefore, a number of students nationwide are adapting well in this new environment. By removing the social and behavioral challenges presented for some students during in-person learning, they have more capacity, time, and energy for learning new skills and content. If we look closely, we can find silver-linings in even a pandemic!

Learn more about how Rethink Ed’s Social Emotional Learning Platform, Skills Platform, and Behavior Success Suite serves students, educators, and families in fully remote learning environments. If you’re a school leader that would appreciate a look at how our team could serve your community, request a demo.


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.

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

class1

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!