4 Training and Professional Development Resources for Paraprofessionals


Paraprofessionals at P396 in Brooklyn, New York participate in an ABA training with Rethink

A look at who is at the forefront of providing paraprofessionals with access to training and professional development

Education Week reporter Christina Samuels published a story about efforts across the country to provide paraprofessionals with much needed training and professional development.  The story was published in the wake of the release of a study the previous week calling into question the effectiveness of one-to-one paraprofessionals in the classroom. The study found that in the nearly four-dozen autism support classrooms observed, paraprofessionals were engaged in instruction or support only 57 percent of the time.

With more than 400,000 FTE paraprofessionals engaged in special education, paraprofessionals are pivotal to the success of special education students.  And while these professionals are engaged in everything from providing physical care and assistance to students with health-related needs to ensuring that students get on the bus safely after school,  97% report providing one-to-one instruction to students, often with little or no training.

The Education Week story explores several new programs, initiatives, and resources across the country that are seeking to change this:

1.) Institutional Research Centers

The Paraprofessional Resource Center, run out of the University of Colorado in Denver, was founded in 1994 to study the effectiveness of paraprofessionals and explore how to provide adequate training.  Amongst other projects, they developed what is known as the CO-TOP (Comprehensive Training Opportunities for Paraprofessionals ) Model, a research-based model for providing district-run in-service training to paraprofessionals working with infants and toddlers with developmental delays.

2.) Online Resources

The National Resource Center for Paraprofessionals is a great website designed just for paraprofessionals with news relevant to paraprofessionals, a library of resources, and different means for paras to access training independently.

3.) College Programs

The article also mentions how some institutions have also started creating programming specifically designed for paraprofessionals. For example, Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids, IA has created a specific program where individuals preparing to become teachers paraprofessionals can access introductory training..

4.) Educational Technology

Finally, edtech is also playing a key role in helping paraprofessionals access training.  The article mentions how Rethink, an online software program that provides special educators access to research-based video training modules, is empowering paraprofessionals across the country with on-demand training in the principles of Applied Behavior Analysis.

Supporting paraprofessional staff with high-quality professional development should be a priority for all school districts. Not only do training and professional development opportunities enable paraprofessional staff to feel more empowered in the work that they are doing to support our students, but by law every special education student is entitled to high-quality instruction and support from trained professionals who understand their unique needs. An investment in paraprofessionals is an investment in students.

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Rethinking the Silo Mentality in Special Education

Rethinking the Silo Mentality in Special Education FundingHow a More Holistic Approach to Education Can Create Opportunities for Blending and Braiding Funds

As a condition for receiving access to federal funds, districts have recently been required to submit increasing amounts of data and evidence on how the funds will be used to positively impact student performance.  If you are a district leader managing or implementing programs utilizing federal funds, being able to prove with data that the funds are being used efficiently and effectively should become a top priority, not only in continuing to secure these funds, but also in ensuring that the funds are there to secure in the first place.

The reasons behind this tightening of the federal belt are myriad and perhaps obvious.  

  • For one, with the widespread use of digital technology in education and the emphasis upon data collection, there is more data than ever available for scrutiny.  With this abundance of data, it is easier than ever to determine whether the programs utilizing federal funds are actually impacting student outcomes.
  • Nationally, there is also a long-term fear over federal fiscal scarcity, especially as our country’s population ages. Whether or not these funds are actually helping students learn will be a top concern in whether or not they continue to be available.  The outcomes must justify the spending.
  • Finally, there is little evidence that recent reforms in education have been effective at all. Case in point, the latest test results released by Smarter Balanced point to record-high achievement gaps in California, despite a litany of expensive reforms that have been implemented over the past decade.

School Discipline | Special EducationNot surprisingly, recent data pertaining to discipline policies across the country, specifically suspensions, are fractured along similar lines as academic achievement, with gaps persisting between whites and minority and general and special education students. This brings to light an even larger concern beyond whether reforms and programs have been effective: have federally funded programs inadvertently disadvantaged the poor, minorities, and those with special needs? Have they, in effect, done more harm than good?

Educating the Whole Child

Given the lucid relationship between academic achievement, discipline, and behavior and corresponding issues of dis-proportionality amongst minority and special education students, the education world is slowly undergoing a sea change in its approach to improving student outcomes, with more emphasis upon educating the “whole” child, which has lead to increasing interest in programming related to social emotional learning, behavior support, and restorative practices.

As holistic approaches of education become more prevalent, how the federal government provides funding to districts and how districts are expected to use these funds is also undergoing a change. New guidance on Title I from the Department of Education released in July 2015 optimized the flexibility of how districts can use schoolwide funds. To similar effect, the Association of Government Accountants distributed guidance earlier this year on the importance of blending and braiding funds to finance unique programming.

Behavior Support and the Silo Mentality in Special Education

When it comes to looking to more holistic approaches to education and funding, paying attention to how districts are funding behavior support programs is the perfect place to start, as providing effective behavior intervention and support has cross-cutting benefits for all students, including those who benefit from Title I, IDEA, and general education funds.  Additionally, research continues to indicate a direct relationship between decreases in problem behavior and improved student outcomes.  

NAFEPA Insights:  Funding Behavioral Management Survey

To better understand how districts are funding behavior support programs and whether or not this holistic approach to funding has taken hold amongst district leaders, Rethink commissioned the National Association of Federal Education Program Administrators (NAFEPA) to conduct a survey of district administrators.  

What the survey found was not surprising.

  • First, behavior support programs tend not to be district-wide, but are instead school based and supported by local funds.  Due to obsolete categorical funding rules, behavior support programs tend to be silo and have not been incorporated as a part of a broader strategy.
  • Second, the reason most district leaders maintain the status-quo as far as funding is concerned is not an issue of policy, but one of personality and politics: “This is how we’ve always done it,” sang the chorus in unison.

Special Education Funding Key Takeaways

So how do we get out of this silo mentality, both in how we develop programming and in how we fund it?

Chrisandra Richardson, the associate superintendent, Office of Special Education and Student Services at Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS), former director of their Title I program, and vice president of NAFEPA says it starts with a willingness to collaborate. “At the district level, we have to take the responsibility for getting out of chairs, walking down the hall, and aligning with our Title I colleagues,” she explained.

Throughout her tenure at MCPS, Richardson has worked hard to resist falling into the silo mentality by collaborating with her colleagues in Title I and Early Education to develop creative district programming that paves the way for the blending and braiding of funds.

Below are some of the ways MCPS has taken a more holistic approach to educating their students and has blended and braided funds in order to do so.

  • Professional Development Across Certifications and Specialties:  

“All teachers need to be teachers of students with disabilities, just like all teachers need to be teachers of English Language Learners” explained Richardson.  

This mentality has opened up opportunities to use funding in unique ways, particularly in regards to professional development. If the goal is for all students to be included, then ensuring that general education teachers receive professional development in how to effectively teach students with special needs is imperative to their success.

One example of how MCPS has been able to provide PD to non-special education teachers using IDEA funds is through the implementation of a successful math intervention program in their Title I schools. The district began by looking at some data to identify Title I schools that were under-performing in math. They then used IDEA dollars to go into these schools and provide job-embedded professional development for teachers, ongoing coaching, and opportunities for teachers to have the time for reflection and sharing student work and student data.  Title I dollars then supplemented the effort.  If there were materials needed for specific interventions for instance, they would use the Title I dollars to buy the necessary materials and the IDEA dollars to pay for teacher substitutes or for the coaches.

“We saw just what you’d hope to see,” said Richardson, “not only changes in student achievement in mathematics, but also really clear changes in teacher behavior in terms of planning together and appropriately matching instruction to the student.  It wrapped up all those best-practices we talk about when it comes to professional development and put them together.”

  • Centralized Behavior Support:

Like most districts, MCPS’ PBIS programming is funded through local dollars, but it is centrally operated and supplemented with other Behavior Support programming at the district level. Specifically, they use their IDEA dollars to provide a core of their staff in every one of their schools intensive training in de-escalation strategies.  Even though PBIS is funded locally and not by federal dollars, it really supports all students in the schools where it is being implemented, including those with disabilities, providing yet another example of blended and braided funding to support all students.

MCPS also used the 15% of their IDEA funds they were required to set aside for early intervening services to provide teachers training in cultural competence to address issues of disproportionality in special education, again pertaining to behavior support.

Richardson says that focusing first and foremost on school climate can help districts and schools determine the best ways for providing effective behavior support.

  • Full Day Head Start:

One of the most creative ways the district has been able to blend and braid funds to support education of the whole child is through a full-day Head Start program.

Beginning with the data and the research on the importance of pre-school for students with the high rates of poverty, the district decided to make full-day Head Start available for all students in the district’s Title I schools that offer Head Start. Federal head start dollars funded a 3-hour Head Start program with Title I dollars going toward funding the remaining hours of the day. Local dollars went into ensuring that all teachers in the Head Start program were certified. And because many special education students were also attending Head Start, MCPS was able to use IDEA dollars for any supplemental needs these students required (a speech therapist for instance).

  • Looking Across the Government for Additional Funding:

In response to recent research about disproportionality in suspension data, the state of Maryland recently changed its policy around suspensions, and started thinking about suspension as a last result.  In response, MCPS looked at the certain data around suspensions, including how suspension relates to the so-called school to prison pipeline and began to think creatively about what they could do to reduce suspension and put interventions in place before students get suspended.

As Maryland was changing its regulations, the district began thinking about how they could change their practices.  They ended up focusing more on implementing a restorative practices model.  To fund this program they were able to access some grant money through the University of Maryland.

The Department of Justice has also put out projects the last two years looking at alternatives to suspending students.  While MCPS did not receive a DOJ grant, Richardson stressed that it is worthwhile for districts to look beyond the department of education and across the government for competitive funding.

When it comes to getting beyond the silo mentality and blending and braiding funds to educate all students, several things are required: first, district decision makers must commit to educating the whole child, whether this means investing in non-academic support for Title I students or professional development for general education teachers in educating students with special needs. It is also crucial that programming decisions are informed by the available data. Using research on effective programming alongside data collected by schools can make all the difference on the ROI of the dollars being spent.  Finally, none of this can happen without people being willing to talk to one another, collaborate, and think of themselves as a team working with one goal in mind:  helping all students reach their personal and academic potential.

To hear Chrisandra Richardson talk more in depth about how she has blended and braided funds in Montgomery County Public Schools, view Rethink’s recent webinar on finding creative ways to fund district-wide behavior support.

View Webinar

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Best-Practices to Motivate Student Learning

Learning Best-Practices to Motivate Student Learning

How Reinforcement Strategies Can Motivate Student Learning and Improve Outcomes

Discovering what will motivate your students to learn is the first step in making real gains in student achievement. Investing real time and effort at the beginning of the school year into determining what motivates each student individually is not only best-practice for creating an inclusive and individualized learning environment for every student, but can make a marked difference in everything from decreasing challenging behavior to increasing student learning.

By definition, motivation is the desire an individual has for a given consequence. When a child is truly motivated, they will engage in desired behaviors in order to obtain this given consequence, whether it be computer time, a snack, or social time with friends. Motivation is critical to student learning as it helps students direct their behavior toward specific goals, can energize students to put more effort into engaging in specific tasks or behavior, and can ultimately enhance their performance. As a child’s teacher, an important part of your job is determining what motivates  each of your students individually.

So how do I determine what motivates my student to learn?

When trying to determine what motivates an individual student it is important to keep an open mind and pay attention. One of the most important things to know about motivation is that motivation is individual.  What motivates one student won’t necessarily motivate another student, and likewise, just because something motivates you, doesn’t mean it will motivate someone else. For this reason, when you first meet a student at the beginning of the year, pay specific attention to what the student likes and dislikes. If you do not make an effort to determine what motivates each student individually, you risk inadvertently reinforcing undesired behaviors, as what may be reinforcing to one student may be punishing to another.

Communication: To determine what motivates a student, one of the first things you can do is communicate with the student’s family, former teachers, or other people (including peers) who know the student.  Oftentimes there is no better resource at your fingertips than a student’s parents, as they typically know their child better than anyone else.  Talking to families at the beginning of the year can save you the time and the headache of determining what motivates a child, especially when it isn’t necessarily obvious.

Preference Assessments: Preference assessments are a simple and straightforward way to identify a student’s favorite things so that they can be used as rewards or reinforcers for desired behaviors.  There are several different kinds of preference assessments you can use:

  1. Interview or questionnaire: Interviews or questionnaires are quick and easy ways to gather information about a student.  You can use open ended questions, comparison questions or surveys.  While these are the easiest kind of preference assessment to implement, they may not be the most accurate.Screen Shot 2015-09-29 at 11.42.24 AM
  2. Direct Observation: This consists of presenting an individual with free access to items he/she will like and recording the amount of time the student engages with the item.  These help you determine the strongest preference your student may have out of a group of items. These take a little more time and effort than a questionnaire or interview, but tend to be more accurate as you actually get to see a student engaging with an item.
  3. Systematic Assessment: Presenting objects or activities to a student as single objects or pairs of objects. This will help you determine the level of preferences for a student.  This type of preference assessment takes the most effort and the most time, but it is also the most accurate.  

It is important to update preference assessments frequently to avoid boredom with highly preferred items.  You don’t want a student to be utilizing a reinforcer too often that they get bored with it.  The goal of the preference assessment is to determine the reinforces for your student that you can use to motivate student learning and increase appropriate behavior.

The Rules of Reinforcement

Once you have used a preference assessment to identify what you can use as a reinforcer, it is time to start teaching and using this knowledge to motivate student learning.  When using reinforcers, here are a few quick rules to follow:

    • Individualize:  As discussed above, individualizing reinforcement is the first step to ensuring that it is effective in motivating your student. Taking the time to use preference assessments and speak with people who know the student is invaluable in individualizing reinforcement
    • Limit Access: You want reinforcement to be meaningful.  To do this it is important to ensure that reinforcement is always and only contingent upon a desired behavior. This will keep your students motivated to learn and engage in positive behaviors.
    • Provide Novelty and Variety: In order to ensure that your students don’t become bored with reinforcers, and therefore unmotivated, you want to make sure you rotate and vary reinforcers. Once again, this is why spending time carefully determining what your student’s reinforcers are is crucial.
    • Systematically Fade Reinforcement Over Time: Eventually the goal is to have your students be able to complete tasks and engage in positive behavior without reinforcement. To avoid your students becoming dependent upon the reinforcer to engage in the task, it’s important to gradually fade the reinforcer over time.

Remember that positive reinforcement is perhaps the most valuable tool you have as a teacher to promote positive behavior and student achievement.  Knowing how to determine what motivates each of your students individually and how to effectively use reinforcement is one of the most valuable teaching skills you can bring to the classroom.

To learn more about reinforcement strategies and to find out about other tools and resources you can use in your classroom, check out the slides below and watch our most recent webinar!

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4 Things I’ve Learned About Working Collaboratively with My Paraprofessionals

How a Shared Passion for Students has Helped Me Build an Effective Classroom Team with My Paraprofessionals

by Sarah Sibal

Sarah and her Paraprofessional Team! Pictured left to right: Mrs.Sibal, Mrs.Fentress, Ms.Berwanger

As a special education teacher in a 4-5th grade classroom for students with autism, I learned quickly that having a strong classroom team is key to my effectiveness as a teacher and the success of my students.

My classroom is supported by 2 paraprofessionals and we each play an essential role in the classroom, from the actual teaching and leading of small group activities to helping students transition between tasks. For new teachers working in a special education classroom with paras or for veteran teachers who are looking to build a more collaborative team, I think there are 4 essential things to keep in mind:

1. Focus on Building Positive Relationships

I’m a firm believer that positive relationships with your colleagues, especially those you work with on a day-to-day basis, is the key to a successful working environment and to the success of the students. Building these relationships with your paraprofessional staff needs to happen right off the bat. With my paras, I do this by making it clear from the beginning that we are a team. I involve them in planning and establishing classroom routines.

I have an open policy when it comes to how we go about setting up classroom routines and expectations, for instance. I welcome their feedback and do my best to get them involved in decisions I make about the classroom. At the beginning of the year we meet together as a team and discuss what has worked before or what we need to improve on and go from there.  We all take accountability and responsibility.  I make sure to tell my paras that it is better to be upfront and honest with challenges or conflicts that we encounter in the class. We talk about it and find ways to compromise immediately.

2. Communicate Clear Expectations

It’s important to set out clear expectations for the paras right from the get-go. If a class has a well-established routine and everybody is doing what is expected of them, a lot of confusion is eliminated. This is important for us as the classroom leaders, of course, but it is especially important for kids with autism. They tend to respond well to routines and well-defined expectations.

At the beginning of the year, we meet as a team and present to review schedules, classroom routines and most importantly, we discuss students IEPs. I make it clear to my paraprofessionals that it is imperative that they know the students we are working with.

3. Differentiate

Differentiation can happen at all levels of instruction, and can even involve how you involve your paraprofessionals in different aspects of classroom learning.  I tend to think of my paraprofessionals as co-teachers.  If you were to visit our classroom, you wouldn’t know who the lead teacher was, as we are all taking a lead role in working with our students. I’m fortunate to have worked with the same two paraprofessionals for 2 years now. We have learned about one another’s strengths and weaknesses and have had to work at building the collaborative team we have now.

Each of my paras have different academic strengths and unique relationships with each of our students. I do my best to utilize their academic strengths to benefit the kids. If one para is strong in teaching math skills for instance, I’ll make sure their skills are being utilized to help our students excel in math. It is also essential to know who works well with whom. If one of my paras has a good relationship with a student, I use that relationship as tool for managing behavior in the classroom. Last year we had several behaviorally challenged students. Each one of us really had to bring our A Game every day to keep up. Knowing who worked well with each of these more challenging students was a key aspect to keeping the behaviors under control.

4. Keep the Students Heart and Center

At the end of the day it comes down to helping the students, which is why ensuring that each one of our unique set of skills is being directed at supporting student growth is a top priority in the classroom.  As I mentioned earlier, knowing the students personally but also knowing the ins and outs of their IEPs, their learning challenges, and the ways that they learn best is at the heart of every decision we make in the classroom. As we work toward building relationships, establishing routines, and differentiating teaching, remembering that these things are the “how” but the students are the “why” is ultimately the glue that holds us together as a classroom team.

About the Author:

Sarah Sibal is a Special Education Teacher in a 4th-5th grade Autism Classroom in Norfolk Public Schools in Virginia.  She has been using Rethink in her classroom to standardize data collection practices and track goals on student IEPs for the past 4 years.

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Bridging the Gap Between Home and School: 5 Ways to Engage Families in Student Learning

home and schoolHow to Build Relationships with Families and Create Continuity Between Home and School

By Katy Lernihan

Throughout my career, I’ve often heard teachers and administrators discuss the struggle to effectively engage parents and families. Teachers know the importance of creating consistency between home and school and parents often have a lot on their plates in raising a child with a disability. A student’s educational team should make family engagement a primary focus when developing and implementing a student’s IEP. For children with disabilities, making expectations and routines clear and consistent at home and school promotes success.

Being engaged in student learning goes beyond participating in the development of the student education program. It takes applying planned learning approaches, interventions and accommodations across all settings, including learning opportunities outside of school. Easier said than done, I know.

What does family engagement in a child’s learning look like? Here are some key things I’ve found effective in getting parents involved and briding the gap between home and school.

How to engage parents in student learning

1. Build Rapport—Communication is the key to collaboration, which is the key to consistency. In this era of technology, here are multiple modes of communication available. Many of these are designed for daily communication and sharing of information.

Here at Rethink, we have features that allow for parents to actively review their student’s progress just by logging on to our website, at their convenience. With much the world dependent on cell phones for information, many educators have begun using cellular texting platforms to keep parents engaged. This allows educators and parents to have a direct line of communication without having to dig through a messy backpack for a note.

Check out this recent blog post for tips on using technology to engage parents.

2. Teach both students and parents— As educators, we are constantly being asked to attend Professional Development sessions. Why not take the time to share some of those resources with parents? Set up opportunities for parents from the Special Ed population to have hands-on instruction through a workshop, mini training event, or back-to-school night. This will not only provide resourceful information for parents to take home, it will help build relationships!

3. Personalize Communication – The good ol’ classroom newsletter. We have all done it, and it can be valuable! However, supplementing classroom wide communication with frequent, personalized communication can make all the difference in the world. Recently, Matthew A. Kraft of Brown University and Todd Rogers of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government completed a study focused on low cost, school improvement strategies. The study took a group of 435 high school students who were enrolled in a summer credit recovery program for failing students in a large urban school district. The study concluded that parents who received weekly, personalized messages citing what the student needed to improve upon were 41 percent less likely to fail the course compared to the control group.

4. Focus on the positive— We all need a little positive reinforcement to keep us motivated. This can be true for parents as well. Instead of calling when a student has had a bad day, give them a call when their child has done something fantastic! This keeps parents focused on what is going well in the classroom rather than the problems. You don’t want parents to think that every time the school’s name comes across their caller ID that something bad has happened. You can help families and students create positive associations with school.

5. Create a community—Last, but not least, create a community for your students’ parents and families. The first school I taught at scheduled monthly coffee socials for parents and teachers. This allowed for parents to gather in our school as a community, and support one another. If you feel like you are on your own island try to schedule a small gathering for the parents in your classroom or in the special education department. Shared experiences are the basis of relationships. Together, you and your students’ families can create impactful support networks for your students that can lead to positive outcomes in school and later on in life!



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Posted in Community, Tips, Tools, & Tech

Spotlight Teacher: Alexis Gebb

Rethink Spotlight Teacher: Alexis GebbSchool District: San Francisco Unified School District
Position: Special Education Teacher

Alexis was first introduced to Rethink as a paraprofessional a year-and-a-half ago. As a teacher in training, she was able to experience the benefits that Rethink offered for taking data in the classroom and was excited to make Rethink a key component of her own classroom the following year.

Alexis is now beginning her second year as a classroom teacher and has been empowered by her success last year in using Rethink to establish classroom routines and systems that lead to real progress for her students.

Getting Started

One of the first things Alexis did as a new teacher was complete the training modules in Rethink’s Training Center, along with each one of her paraprofessionals. After completing the modules, Alexis noticed an immediate difference in how the paraprofessionals communicated with the students.

“Right away I noticed that my paras started talking to the students differently,” said Alexis. “I started hearing them use ‘first, then’ language and breaking down tasks into simple and concise steps for the students.”

To get her staff used to tracking progress and importing the data, Alexis focused on using Rethink to provide behavior support and track data on behaviors. Her paras quickly picked up on taking ABC (Antecedent-Behavior-Consequence) data and she soon found that data collection had become a consistent component of classroom routines.

“Rethink is so easy to use and organizes the students’ information and goals so clearly. It makes collecting data easy.”

Rethink Materials

Rethink Materials Used in Alexis’ Classroom

Thanks to this consistent data collection, Alexis was able to present data around a student’s behavior to a parent who did not understand how often the behavior was occurring throughout the school day.

With this clear and objective information, the parent began to understand more of the needs of her child. This parent also began tracking data on her child’s behavior and now the parent and the classroom team are able to share information about the frequency of the behavior across the school and home environments.

Expanding Data Collection

This year Alexis plans to introduce Rethink data tracking for academic goals related to Language Arts and Math to her paraprofessionals. They will be taking data twice a week using the paper-pencil data sheets and Alexis will transfer the data to Rethink.

“I came across a lot of data tracking systems in my graduate program, but Rethink is so easy to use and organizes the students’ information and goals so clearly. It makes collecting data easy,” she said.

1041Alexis recently completed her training to become a Rethink Trainer for SFUSD, meaning she will now be able to train other district staff in how to use and implement the program and supporting teachers through training and coaching each month. “I thought becoming a Rethink Trainer would give me more opportunities to collaborate with other teachers and also help me become more confident in my own practices,” Alexis explained. Through becoming a Rethink Trainer, Alexis will be able to support other teachers while also building her own leadership skills as she shares her knowledge and passion for teaching individuals with autism.

We appreciate and applaud Alexis’ passion and all the work that she does for her students! Thank you for being this month’s Rethink Spotlight Teacher.

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5 Ways to Leverage Technology to Build Relationships with Your Students’ Families

Building Relationships

Using Technology to Build Relationships with Families Benefits You, Your Students, and Their Families

Communicating with our students’ families is a core responsibility of all educators. Not only can positive open communication with students’ families make our jobs in the classroom easier, but it can also lead to higher student achievement, improved behavior, decreased drop-out rates, regular attendance, and more positive attitudes about school.

With the school year in full swing, now is the perfect time to begin building rapport with your students’ families.

In a recent webinar, Dr. Patricia Wright, Rethink‘s VP of Professional Services, shared some practical ways that educators can better leverage technology to build positive and effective relationships with student families.

5 Creative ideas for using technology to connect with families
  1. Social Networks can be a great way to connect with other professionals and experts. Social Networks provide unique opportunities for families, care providers, and educators to share peer support and consult professionals.

 One great network for families and care providers of children with autism is called My Autism Team. It’s a great place for families to gain emotional support and practical advice. If you are a teacher of a child with autism, it’s a perfect resource to recommend to parents.

 When deciding whether to join a social network, the three main questions you will want to ask yourself are:

  • Is it helpful?
  • Is it mostly positive/supportive rather than just a place to vent?
  • And is there a high degree of interaction?
  1. Simple Communication can include everything from email and text messaging to Skype and live video interaction.

A study conducted in 2013 indicated that home visiting accompanied by text messages and phone calls increased parenting strategies and child engagement and reduced challenging behavior over home visits alone. This small piece of research points to the fact that supporting whatever efforts you are making with a child with simple text messages and phone calls can have a meaningful impact on parenting and on a child’s learning.

For educators, one of the primary barriers to communicating with parents and families is time. Research from 2005 indicates that using email can be an effective and time-saving tactic for communicating with families. Don’t underestimate the power of what is now an obvious and ubiquitous tool of communication.

  1. Video Learning is supported by years of research touting its effectiveness in everything from helping families improve the social communication skills of their children with ASD, increased knowledge of ABA for parents and improved implementation of ABA with their children, and increased parent learning and improved child behaviors.

Rethink provides an ABA Training Center featuring 11 video-based ABA modules reviewing the principals of ABA as well as over 1,500 video-based exercises modeling how to apply these principals in practice. These can be a valuable tool for providing ABA training to families and professionals and for ensuring consistency between home and school

  1. Video Upload/Feedback can involve asynchronous video review in which families parents can film themselves working a child and review with one another later.

One tool powerful tool you can check out is called Behavior Capture. Not only does Behavior Capture allow you to record your interactions with your child/student, but it also allows you to pin certain segments of the video so you can quickly and easily go back and review with a child’s family or teacher later.

  1. Web Access to Child Progress can help ensure that families and educators are on the same page with how a child is performing. The great thing about graphic analysis is that graphs are universally understood. Using the universal language of a graph can be extremely valuable when working with parents and care providers who do no share a primary language. This kind of positive communication can also increase a family member’s confidence in interacting with their child’s school or teacher.

 In addition to Rethink’s video-based ABA curriculum, Rethink also provides sophisticated tools for data collection with automated graphs and reports that can easily be printed or emailed for sharing with parents or care providers.

Communication and engagement with families is one of the core constructs of special education. IDEA is very clear that parents are pivotal to a child’s success at school. As you begin the new school year, consider one or two small ways that you can better utilize technology to engage your students’ families!

You can watch Dr. Wright’s full webinar here or check out the slides below:

View Webinar



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Top 5 Teaching Blogs to Follow

Top Teaching Blogs

Follow Teaching Blogs to Grow Your PLN and Access Best-Practice Tips From Talented Educators

As we kick off the new school year and look to enhance our classroom practices and freshen up our repertoire of resources, lesson plans, and technologies, turning to the blogosphere can be a great way of gleaning new ideas from those who know best: fellow teachers.  

There are hundreds of bloggers out there and it can be difficult to sift the wheat from the chaff.  Below are 5 exceptional blogs that can help inform your teaching practice, from introducing new tools and resources and reviewing technologies to best-practice tips for improving student outcomes and growing professionally.

Check out the top 5 teaching blogs that you should read:
  1. About.com SpecialEd Blog: Special education teacher Jerry Webster’s blog is a treasure chest of resources for special education teachers in any kind of classroom.  Having worked in early intervention through high school settings, and as an inclusion teacher, a self-contained autism teacher and even a general ed teacher, his posts come from years of experience working in diverse settings.  
  2. His posts are typically focused on research-based methodologies and manage to be sophisticated, specific and firmly practical all at once.  For a taste of his expertise, check out recent posts on IEP prep for the new school year and how mand and manding can be used to open the gateways of communication for students who have difficulty acquiring language.

  3. Life In Special Education: This playful and personal blog run by a veteran special education teacher is a great mix of quality-of-life tips for teachers (ie. occasional posts about planning meals that include recipes) and practical ideas for the classroom. One recent post, for instance, reviews how she goes about teaching classroom routines and procedures at the beginning of the school year.
  4. Cool Cat Teacher: This award-winning blog is run by Vicky Davis, a full-time teacher as well as a writer and speaker.  This ambitious blog covers best-practices for teachers, with special attention given to technology. The topics covered on the blog are applicable to a wide variety of educators and are not specific to special education.  But great posts on how to better build relationships with parents to tips for saving money when preparing for back to school will resonate with all teachers everywhere.
  5. Edutech for Teachers: If you are interested in doing more to integrate technology into your instruction, this is the blog for you.  Specifically focused on the practical application of technology in the classroom, this tech savvy blog won Edublog’s Best Teacher Blog of 2014. The blog does an amazing job highlighting specific applications of technology and how they can enhance best-practices in the classroom.  A recent blog post reviewed a tool called ThingLink that can be used to create unique visuals for enhancing learning in the classroom.
  6. Reality 101: The CEC’s (Council for Exceptional Children) blog is a perfect go-to for new special education teachers looking to glean ideas from more experienced educators as well as from new teachers like themselves.  The great thing about this blog is that, unlike the previously mentioned blogs, it features a variety of voices from across the special education field.  The blog includes personal success stories and challenges, best-practice classroom tips, and opinion pieces on trends in special education.  Check out this great back to school post by a teacher named Ann-Bailey about how important it is to teach with goals in mind.

Blogs are just one of the many ways to build your professional learning network and access knowledge from other professionals in your field.  For information on how to use Twitter to build your PLN, check out this post on the Rethink blog from last spring.  Happy back to school!

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Posted in Tips, Tools, & Tech

3 Tips for Building an Effective Classroom Team with Your Paraprofessional Staff

An Effective Classroom Team Collaborating

How to engage your paras in building an effective classroom team

Building a collaborative classroom team with your paraprofessional staff is some of the most challenging and valuable work you can engage in as a special education teacher.  Unlike other educators, as special educators we are lucky to work in classrooms where an entire team is devoted to supporting student learning.

We don’t have to do it all ourselves. Knowing how to effectively engage your paraprofessional staff in classroom routines and teaching and build a positive collaborative team can have a powerful impact on student learning and can also help you better manage your workload and use your time and skills more efficiently.

Below are 3 best-practice tips for engaging your paraprofessional staff in the classroom:

  1. Recognize your paraprofessionals talents and abilities: Identifying the unique strengths of each of your paraprofessionals is the first step to making effective use of the resources they bring to the classroom. You may find that one of your paras enjoys accompanying students on community-based instruction while another may be detail oriented and is great at collecting and entering data. In the same way that we differentiate instruction for our students, supporting our paras in discovering their unique strengths and finding ways they can put them into practice makes your classroom more efficient and supports student learning.  It can even help boost morale by providing your paraprofessional staff increased work satisfaction.
  2. Involve your paraprofessionals in setting expectations: Before the school year begins it’s crucial that each member of your classroom team knows exactly what is expected of them. Involving your paraprofessionals in setting expectations (e.g. everyone is going to collect data, the teacher will create the classroom schedule and paraprofessionals will let the teacher know if the schedule needs amendments) for themselves can help set a precedence of collaboration and help you ensure that everyone is engaged in meaningful work where talents are being best utilized. Involving your paraprofessionals in setting expectations can also encourage them to be more confident in and engaged in classroom routines, which can lead to their valuable constructive feedback in ensuring that classroom routines are working.
  3. Make student success the goal of everything you do: While it is important to accommodate the preferences, needs, and talents of all of your classroom staff, ensuring that everyone operates with the assumption that student success always come first can make your paraprofessionals more open to occasionally engaging in tasks they don’t enjoy. For instance, collecting data may be tedious to some, but if everyone understands that data is crucial to evaluating student progress and helping kids learn, your staff may be more up to the task.  Ensure that your paraprofessionals understand that some of the decisions you make in the classroom may be not be their preference but are always in the best interest of the students.

The most important thing to remember when building your classroom team is that everyone in the classroom is a professional and comes to the table with strengths, challenges, and talents.  As the classroom leader it is your job to find out how to build upon these talents to help students succeed!


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Posted in Community, Tips, Tools, & Tech Tagged with: , , , , ,

Spotlight Teacher: Scarlet Belonie

Scarlet, Spotlight TeacherSchool District: Clinton School District, Arkansas
Position: Self-Contained Classroom Teacher

6 years ago Scarlet Belonie went to her administrator in tears. She was growing increasingly frustrated at the lack of tools and resources she needed to really make an impact on her students and was considering leaving her role as a self-contained special education teacher. “I just didn’t have peace of mind that what I was doing was working,” said Scarlet. While she was seeing some students thrive, there were others that she just couldn’t seem to reach.

That summer, Scarlet and Deb Swink, the Special Education Supervisor at Clinton found out about Rethink. They were interested in the program for several reasons, including the standards-aligned curriculum, the video demonstrations, and the data collection tools. Scarlet hoped Rethink might be the key to turning things around in her classroom.

Since Scarlet began using Rethink 6 years ago, she has seen a major transformation in her students, her paraprofessional staff, and her own instructional practice. She now uses Rethink lessons as the core curriculum in her classroom. Her paraprofessionals teach in a rotation schedule, each focusing on one content area (ie. academics, receptive language, daily living etc.). The students rotate to different stations where the paraprofessionals teach them skills using Rethink lessons and materials.

Rethink materials at one of the teaching stations in Scarlet's Classroom

Rethink materials at one of the teaching stations in Scarlet’s classroom

In addition to the Rethink lessons, Scarlet regularly utilizes the Student Activity Center in her classroom. Twice a week students will complete activities on the Student Activity Center pertaining to what they are learning from the paraprofessionals in the teaching stations. Scarlet and her classroom team will then use the data from the Activity Center to evaluate whether students are generalizing the skills they are learning in the classroom.

“The data I receive from Rethink is extremely valuable,” Scarlet said. She uses it to track progress for every student and to determine whether a lesson is appropriate for a given student’s level. She also uses the Rethink data at Parent/Teacher Conferences and to demonstrate whether or not a student needs to attend Extended School Year.

“Rethink changed the whole dynamic of my classroom by providing consistency between myself and my paras in regards to how we are teaching our students.

1041Seeing students progress and achieve is the greatest indicator of Rethink’s success in Scarlet’s classroom. One little boy came into her classroom a few years ago and was completely non-verbal. For the first 2-3 months of the school year Scarlet and her team used gestures to communicate with him. As the months went by he became more and more comfortable in the classroom and began to come out of his shell. “One particular day this little guy decided in his mind that it was time to talk and he looked at my paraprofessional, Anna, and said, ‘Anna! I want to talk! Anna!’ All the work Scarlet and her team had done using Rethink to enhance his communications skills and confidence over those months truly paid off. This student went from being a non-verbal student in Scarlet’s self-contained classroom to a student who speaks and interacts with his teachers and peers and is now included in the general education classroom for certain activities.

Keep up the great work, Scarlet!

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