Top 5 Teaching Blogs to Follow

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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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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Spotlight Teacher: Scarlet Belonie

IMG_3504School 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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4 Tips for Building a Successful Relationship With Your Child’s Teacher

iStock_000026636782_XXXLarge

A successful relationship with your child’s teacher can have a positive impact on learning

By Maria Wilcox

Raise your hand if the start of the school year makes you want to head for the hills and not turn back until November when things have settled down, routines have been established, and your child is happy and thriving in their new classroom.

New or unfamiliar situations are overwhelming and challenging for parents and kids. The good news is that by adequately preparing ourselves for this transition and remembering a few pointers, teachers and parents can work together and ensure a smooth start to the school year for everyone!

By now we know that strong, collaborative parent and teacher partnerships are critical for meeting the needs of students. Communication, mutual understanding, and a good rapport can make resolving tough situations while engaging in challenging conversations much easier, helping us maintain focus on our purpose, student success.

Whether your child is starting school in a totally new environment this year or returning to a familiar room and routine, the following ideas can take the school year from daunting and impossible to positive and successful.

  1. Get to know one another. Remember when you were a kid and would see your teacher at the grocery store? It was hard to believe that they existed outside of school. In our fast-paced world, it is easy to be abrupt and to the point in our conversations, making it imperative to share information or ask for something as succinctly and directly as possible. Challenge yourself to slow down occasionally. Ask the teacher how he or she is doing, what is happening in their lives, or even what their favorite coffee drink is. This small effort helps break barriers and lets teachers know you value them not only as your child’s teacher but also as a human being.
  2. Open the lines of communication. Something I always did as a teacher was ask parents their preferred way of communication for day-to-day needs. Was a work schedule something to consider when calling a cell phone or is email the best way to get in touch during the afternoon? Then I always knew how to contact parents of students. Ask your child’s teacher what works best for him/her. Is email most appropriate or would they prefer you leave a voicemail during school hours? Find out and going forward, communicate with them that way. Busy schedules often leave every second of the day accounted for; establishing and following to communication protocols with your child’s teacher will help them respond to you in a timely manner.
  3. Be a partner in learning. In the grand scheme of life, school goes by very quickly. The skills and abilities that are developed during these years will be with the student long past the time they spend in the classroom. As a parent, working with your child to generalize or further develop what they are learning at school is invaluable. Ask your child’s teacher what you can work on at home and how. Or if there’s something you do as a family and want to help your child learn, their teacher may have ideas for how to teach that skill. Rethink’s Transition Curriculum has a number of different skills that can be utilized by parents or caregivers in the home environment.
  4. Share success. There is no greater joy than seeing a child succeed at something they have been working really hard toward. Whether it is tying their shoe or graduating high school, teachers want to cheer students on as much as you do. Including teachers in these moments can help bridge the home and school divide and build relationship between teachers, parents, and students that will last.

A relationship with a child’s teacher is most valuable when it can be fostered during their time in school. We rely on teachers to provide education and care for our students for a relatively large portion of their everyday lives. A positive, collaborative relationship will not only make the difficult task of transitioning to another school year much easier, but will also support your child further down the road by helping them build a support network of their own. I hope that these ideas spark some thought for you and ways to continue building a positive relationship with your child’s teacher and school.

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10 Tips for Setting Up Your Classroom Environment for Success

A Classroom Environment Optimal for Student LearningHow to set up your classroom environment to positively impact student learning.

If you are a classroom teacher you are probably already drawing up blueprints for how you’ll be setting up your classroom this fall. The classroom environment is an important part of instruction and can have a meaningful impact on student behavior and academic performance.

Earlier this year, Rethink’s Jennifer Wilkens hosted a webinar on how to set up your classroom environment for success. Below are some pointers from the webinar for how to arrange and structure your classroom in a way that is optimal for student learning and for engaging students in positive behavior.

Arrange space, furniture, and materials that create the context for learning and helps set behavioral expectations.

When laying out out your classroom, the layout should represent the behavioral expectations associated with each section of the room and what kind of instruction is happening in that section. For instance, you want to clearly delineate play & leisure areas from instructional or transitional areas, not only through physical markers but through furniture and visuals. Ensure that each section of your classroom is easy to move around in, promotes engagement, and assists with classroom control.

Here are some tips for structuring your classroom:

  1. Situate independent learning stations far from play & leisure areas and group instruction areas to cut down on distraction
  2. Clearly delineate space using classroom furniture like bookcases and desks, using colored tape, or using area rugs.
  3. Try situating your 1:1 teaching stations next to your independent station so you can easily monitor students during independent work while you are teaching
  4. In independent work stations, provide students schedules and instructions and ensure that materials are organized in clearly labeled boxes so that students know exactly what is expected of them when working independently
  5. Make all spaces age appropriate.  If you are working with older students, for instance, you may want to have bean bags instead of pillows in your leisure area
  6. Repurpose spaces.  If you have limited space, have your leisure area double as a social skills space
  7. Be sure to have a transition area clearly delineated.  You can do things like use yellow tape where you want students to line up, or place footsteps in front of student schedules so they know exactly where to go and where to stand when it is time to transition

Use Visual Supports to build independence and increase understanding of learning and behavioral expectations.

When setting up the individual sections of your classroom, consider how visual supports can help students build independence and communicate clearly to students what the expectations are for each section of the room.  Some types of visual supports you may consider are daily schedules, visual instructions, and reinforcement schedules.

  1. Daily Schedules:  Daily schedules can come in many different shapes and sizes and can be used classroom wide and for individual students.  You can create schedules using objects, like color-coded boxes or velcro strips, picture schedules with a picture representing each portion of the day or activity, or written schedules with visual cues that indicate current activities.  Remember to place schedules where students can easily see and access them, be sure to be diligent in reviewing schedules frequently–several times of day if needed, and always give students a visual way of understanding where they are in the particular schedule.
  2. Visual Instructions: Visual instructions can be a powerful way of building student independence. When creating visual instructions consider precisely what you want the student to accomplish and how much of it needs to be accomplished.  Also ensure that students have a clear way of understanding the progress they are making and what to do after the activity is accomplished.  You can create visual instructions for academic tasks, but also for things like how to blow your nose (place picture instructions on the tissue box), how to water plants (with visual indicators next to plants of how much water to put in each), or how to put together a Mr. Potato Head with step by step instructions with pictures of each step.  You can place visual instructions throughout the classroom, attach them to a student’s backpack, place them in a folder for the student to bring home, or place them on boxes of materials designated to certain activities.
  3. Reinforcement Schedules: As students complete activities and tasks in the classroom, you can create individualized reinforcement schedules that help them track their progress on activities throughout the day.  Consider creating individualized reinforcement schedules based upon student interests.  Does your student like Super Mario or dogs?  Create reinforcement schedules that will engage them and keep them motivated.  Always consider ways of using visual supports, like pictures of dogs or Super Mario, to make these schedules more engaging.

Watch the Webinar On-Demand

Click here to watch the entire webinar and enhance learning in your classroom.

View Webinar

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The “BeAttitudes” of Supporting Classroom Teams

Supporting Classroom TeamsA Best-Practice Guide for Local Trainers, Support Teams and Administrators on Supporting Classroom Teams

Whether you are an administrator, instructional coach, teacher on special assignment, or supporting classroom teams in some other capacity, your direct support can have a tremendous impact on student outcomes. Sharing your expertise promotes best-practices and increases teachers’ use of effective teaching strategies that will lead to greater student success. Here are a few guidelines for effective consultation!

Be Present: When classroom teams see you in training workshops and in their classrooms, they know you value the work that they do and are invested in their success. Observing teams in action provides you knowledge on how to deliver effective support.

Be Positive: Even when assisting a team with a challenge. find something positive. It’s important that the classroom team hear something they are doing well, even if they are struggling in other areas.

Be Friendly: You want your classroom staff to be comfortable around you so that the support you give is well-received and effective. Addressing classroom teams in a friendly and warm manner will set a precedence for positive interactions. Try to avoid technical jargon. Engage your team with everyday language that they connect with.

Be Prompt: If someone needs your help, responding quickly demonstrates that you care about your team and their students’ success.

Be Current: Stay up-to-date on best-practices in the field. Just because you are not providing direct instruction to students, it’s important that you can speak a teacher’s language and understand their concerns.  Attend conferences, subscribe to journals, read the news.

Be Knowledgeable: Make sure to know what the challenges are in the classroom.  Keep an eye on student progress and pay attention to the feelings, attitudes, and challenges of the classroom staff so that you can offer support quickly and efficiently in identified areas of need.

Be Resourceful: Always remember that if you don’t know the answers, there are others that probably do.  Consult other administrators, coaches, or building personnel. Make a point to foster your own professional learning network so you always have somewhere to turn.

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How Students with Autism Can Benefit from Social Emotional Learning

Social Emotional Learning for Students with Autism

While Autism presents social challenges, making Social Emotional Learning a priority can help

by Patricia Wright

For the first couple of decades of my career I often heard “people with autism don’t want to be social. It is part of their disability.” Fortunately for the last decade people with autism have informed the professional community that this just is not true. The nature of experiencing autism includes social difficulties but people with autism want to engage with others, develop friendships, and participate in romantic relationships.

I was recently reading a Huffington Post blog about a dating site set-up specifically for people with autism. This quote from a man with autism was spot-on – “I wasn’t really able to understand other people’s perspectives, especially early on, which led to a lot of misunderstandings when I was in relationships.” Indeed understanding your partner’s perspective is required for a healthy relationship.

Social Emotional Learning in schools has been getting a lot of attention lately. Educators are embracing the belief that social and emotional skills need to be taught and taught in school. This is great news for students with autism. Students with autism need to be explicitly taught social skills. Teachers are looking for resources on how to teach these skills. Lots of teachers feel confident teaching literacy, math and science but you move into the social realm and it can get a little muddy.

Rethink focuses heavily on social skill instruction: everything from joining an ongoing conversation to using assertiveness to ensure personal safety and wellness are skills that are a part of the Rethink curriculum. We hear from our customers how valuable these lessons are for their students. When students increase their social acumen they are able to engage with others, develop friendships and participate in romantic relationships.

Every person deserves to live a life enriched by meaningful relationships. Every student, and especially those with autism, needs specific social skills instruction and teachers need the resources to effectively teach social skills.

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Using Incidental Teaching to Engage Children in Summer Learning

 

Mom utilizing and incidental teaching opportunity with her daughter.

Take Advantage of Teachable Moments with Incidental Teaching

Whether you are a parent or a teacher, you probably worry about summer learning loss, which frequently occurs when children are out of school for extended breaks. And while learning loss over the summer is common, the good news is that learning isn’t seasonal. There are things you can do to ensure that children remain engaged in learning over the summer.

Life is full of learning opportunities. As parents and teachers, we just need to know how to take advantage of them.

Last week, Rethink’s very own Stephanie Whitley hosted a webinar discussing an ABA teaching strategy called “Incidental Teaching.”  Incidental Teaching is a strategy that can be used anytime and anywhere and can help families and educators of children with disabilities take advantage of teachable moments to ensure that learning continues, no matter what time of year it is.

During the webinar, Stephanie discussed what ncidental teaching actually is, how it differes from other evidence-based teaching strategies, and took a look at specific examples in which parents and educators can use incidental teaching to support learning.

What is Incidental Teaching?

In layman’s terms, Incidental Teaching is the process of taking advantage of teaching opportunities as they arise in daily life in order to teach a new skill to an individual or help them maintain or generalize a previously learned skill. Incidental Teaching evolved from Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) and can be used to teach new skills for which it might be difficult to simulate or role play (ie. teaching a child to stand up to bullying) or to generalize or maintain previously learned skills (ie. making eye contact or shaking hands).

When people think of ABA they often think of Discrete Trial Teaching. In Discrete Trial Teaching a child is often situated in a 1:1 setting with a teacher or a therapist and being tested, prompted and reinforced in a highly structured way.  Incidental Teaching relies upon the same principals of prompting and reinforcement, but takes place in a more natural setting.

While Discrete Trial Teaching is adult initiated in a highly structured environment utilizing specific teaching materials, Incidental Teaching is child initiated, takes place in a low-structured or play-based environment, and typically utilizes objects naturally occurring in this environment.

Why Use Incidental Teaching?

You can choose to use Incidental Teaching for a variety of reasons.  Incidental Teaching can support language expansion, can help children generalize skills, and can support them in building relationships and developing social skills.

How Does Incidental Teaching Work?

Incidental Teaching can be broken down into 4 easy-to-follow steps.

    1. Seize the Moment or Contrive Opportunity: Incidental teaching can be initiated by either seizing the moment – that is, waiting for a child to show interest in something and taking advantage of it — or by contriving an opportunity –setting up a situation or activity in which you think the child will demonstrate interest.Seize the Moment:  Look for cues that the child is interested in an item or an activity.  Are they pointing, reaching for, looking at, or asking questions/making comments about an object? If so, this is a learning opportunity!Contrive Opportunity:  If the child is not immediately or independently taking interest in items, you can contrive opportunities.Some ways you can contrive opportunity are:
      • Start and  stop:  Start a fun activity and then stop activity once interest is shown or engage the child in play until they begin to show interest. The use this as an opportunity to have the child.  This can be a great chance to encourage language
      • Engage in play:  Elicit interest in items or toys so that the child will then ask to play.  When the child does ask to play, request for the child to complete a skill.  For instance, if a child asks to play with their toys with you, ask them first to count the toy.
      • Engage and Entice:  Put out some snacks.  When the child asks for a task, ask them to complete a task first and then reinforce with the desired snack.
      • Arrange the child’s environment: put desireable items on shelf or in containers that are difficult to open.  The more access a child has to something, the more satiated they will be and the less opportunities you will have for contriving interest.  If a child needs to ask for an item, this can be an opportunity for Incidental Teaching.
      • Incorporate High Interest Topics:  Use materials a child is interested in – cartoon characters,
      • Offer Choices:  Offering choices allows a child to remain in charge of their own motivation and interest.
      • Engage in everyday activities:  Common events that a child particiaptes in regularly are excellent opportunities for learning. Grocery shopping, getting ready for school, setting the table, or going on a family walk all have built-in learning opportunities.  Read more about some of these teachable moments here!Seize the Moment or Contrive Opportunity: Incidental teaching can be initiated by either seizing the moment – that is, waiting for a child to show interest in something and taking advantage of it — or by contriving an opportunity –setting up a situation or activity in which you think the child will demonstrate interest.
    2. Wait!  Once you have seized the moment or contrived an opportunity, the next step is to wait for the child to respond. 3-7 seconds is a good amount of time to wait for a response.
    3. Support: If the child does not respond within 3-7 seconds, they may need a prompt. It’s important to have a plan for this step so you can give the child the right level of support.  Prompts should only be used to support the child when necessary, not to fill in quiet space when a child is processing.There is a hierarchy to prompting, and it is important to have a plan for fading prompts when they are no longer necessary.Physical prompting, as in guiding your child’s hand to perform the requested task, is the most intensive form of prompting.  Verbal prompting, such as reminding the child how to ask for the cookie, is the next level of prompting. And non-verbal prompting, such as pointing, gesturing, or nodding, is the least intensive form of prompting.  Be sure to give the child the correct level of prompting and fade or eliminate the prompting as it is no longer needed.
    4.  Confirm:  The last step to Incidental Teaching is the fun part: positive reinforcement. Providing the child confirmation that they performed the skill correctly is key to ensuring that the child engages in the skill again.  Reinforcement can come in the form of a high five, a hug, any kind of verbal praise, or even access to an item or activity of interest!

Prompting Hierarchy for Incidental Teaching

 

For practical examples of situations in which Incidental Teaching might be appropriate, check out the slides below or the recorded webinar here!

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Arkansas Administrators Gather Around SEAS Conference to Explore Best Practices

Arkansas Administrators Explore Best Practices

How Arkansas Administrators are Empowering Educators and Improving Outcomes

The work of an educator never stops. This is especially the case when it comes to school administrators, who use the summer as a time to plan and strategize for the upcoming year, attend conferences for training sessions, and network with other administrators.

This week, administrators from across Arkansas gathered in Hot Springs, AR to attend the annual SEAS Conference.  The conference is hosted by SEAS, a company specializing in education plan management software for schools, and one of the state’s IEP most popular management systems.

The conference is a wonderful place for Rethink to connect with districts across the state who use both Rethink and SEAS.  These users benefit from an integration that allows them to develop and customize IEP goals and objectives in Rethink and seamlessly pull them into SEAS at the click of a button.

Professional Learning Communities

Arkansas administrators utilizing Rethink in their district met as a professional learning community to share best practices, discuss successes and challenges in special education, and strategize for the upcoming year.

The Challenges and the Solutions

One of the most valuable aspects of the event was the opportunity for administrators to openly discuss the challenges they have faced in implementing new technology and come up with constructive solutions. “It’s so good to know that we are not alone and that other people are struggling with some of the same issues that we are,” said Brigid Bright from Harrison Public Schools

As with any new technology, teachers and administrators had to get over some initial hurdles. “One of the biggest challenges teachers face is time,” said one administrator.  “The teachers go into the Rethink training and see that it is going to work, but with all the other demands on their time,  they feel like they don’t have the time to get all of their students set up.”

Several members of the group were able to share how they had been able to support teachers in investing time into Rethink.

Nancy Rahn from Cabot Public Schools (CPS) in Arkansas explained how in their district, they have a week of professional development at the beginning of the year, some of which is not always relevant to their special education teachers. To encourage teachers to utilize Rethink, they designated one day to training them on the platform, at least part of which was set aside for teachers to assess their students and set up student profiles on Rethink.

A teacher from Clinton School District (CSD) in Arkansas explained how she builds the time needed for data collection into her classroom rotations.  “Our paraprofessionals rotate from student to student in 15-20 minute rotations,” she explained. “We designate most of that time to teaching a specific skill, and then a few minutes at the end to inputting data so I’m not having to spend hours catching up on it at the end of the week.”

Another related challenge districts discussed was securing teacher buy-in.  Because teachers are not always involved in purchasing decisions, the group agreed that a part of the reason some teachers don’t invest time into Rethink is because they don’t immediately understand how it will impact them and their students in a positive way.

One administrator explained how she addressed this issue by encouraging the teachers in her district to start by setting a small portion of their students.  “They start a few students at a time, begin to see the value in it for them, and then teachers start wanting to use it with more students.”

Rahn at Cabot Public Schools is having one of her most successful teachers present alongside Rethink at the staff training because, as she explained, “sometimes teachers will be more receptive to their peers than administrators.”

She also offered her staff incentives.  To encourage her teachers to collect data regularly, she had them compete for IPads.  The district gave away 3 IPads last year to the teachers who had taken up the challenge. They also provide regular “shout outs” to teachers to acknowledge their hard work and provide positive reinforcement.  “They are really beginning to come up to speed with our expectations,” she said.

Arkansas Administrators Lunch and Learn

The Success Stories

While all districts faced their own set of unique challenges, each also had their own success stories to share, large and small.

Siloam Springs School District (SSSD),  who began implementing Rethink this past January were able to train their entire paraprofessional staff using the Rethink Training Center, which features 11 video modules reviewing the principles of Applied Behavior Analysis.  “One of our main goals for the district was to ensure that everyone was educated in ABA research-based strategies,” said Doris Henderson, Special Education Supervisor at the district.

Henderson described how impactful the Training Center was for the district’s paras. “Watching the modules really made a difference for our paras.  It was like a light came on.  It was really hitting home with them,” She explained. “You can tell someone something several times before they really get it, but with these videos, the paras were watching them just once and they were hitting home right away.”  The paras also had the opportunity to engage in collaborative groups where they were able to discuss the videos with one another and share ideas about how they might apply to specific students.

Because paraprofessionals are typically paid per diem, it can be difficult to find the time to train them without taking them out of the classroom and disrupting student routines. SSSD decided to offer to pay their paraprofessional staff an hourly rate if they wanted to come in for a few hours on specific days set aside for monthly meetings. “I paid a few people overtime for 2 months” she said, “but most of them voluntarily did it on their own time. I feel so much more confident in them having the knowledge base that Rethink’s Training Center provided.”

One of CPS’s most surprising successes was how they were able to engage school principals in the work their special education staff are doing with Rethink. Julie Ward from CPS explained how the district began sharing Rethink reports with the school principals at monthly meetings.

“Seeing that data was an ‘aha’ moment for principals,” she said.  “They realized that Rethink provides the classroom curriculum for our teachers, tracks student’s progress and the reports prove to the state that kids are making progress. That’s helped us get buy in from the principals and make the teachers feel more supported.”

Arkansas Administrators from Cabot Public Schools Share Best-Practices for Implementing Technology

Administrators from Cabot Public Schools Share Best-Practices for Implementing Technology


What’s Next?

The new school year brings new goals and initiatives for all the districts involved in the Arkansas Professional Learning Community.  As the event wrapped up, districts looked at their current implementation plans to ensure that they included solid expectations, clear outcome measures, and incentive plans for encouraging best practices for staff.

Some of the goals for the upcoming year for the districts involved include expanding the program to paraprofessionals, using data to make decisions and inform instruction, and exploring ways to get general education teachers and administration involved.

At Harrison Public Schools (HPS), Brigid Bright sees Rethink’s potential for all special education students. “It’s easy to see the connection between Rethink and self-contained, but there’s so much more that Rethink can do. In our district, we want every special education teacher to be using Rethink for data collection so we can more objectively measure student outcomes for everyone.”

In SSSD the goal is to not just to collect data, but to use it. “One of our weaknesses has been using the data to make decision about teaching,” said Henderson.  “Going forward, we are going to be monitored by the state not just on compliance, but on student outcomes. I don’t want to start paying attention to student outcomes because we have to, but because it is the right thing to do. We need to know where students are so that we can set appropriate goals for them and ensure that they are learning.”

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Rethink Spotlight: Ernie Els Center for Autism

Earnie Els center for Autism Team Photo

The Els for Autism Foundation was established in 2009 by the world class pro-golfer Ernie Els and his wife Liezl several years after discovering that their son Ben was profoundly impacted by autism.  The foundation now runs two entities: The Els Learning Center in Florida and Ernie Els Center for Autism in South Africa (EEC), founded in 2011.

 

Ernie and Liezl Els started EEC with the goal of creating a service that would allow lower-resourced families of children on the spectrum in South Africa with free access to effective treatment. The EEC recognizes that every parent and family member plays an important role in helping their child reach his or her fullest potential and that every child deserves access to best-practice treatment. EEC does this by offering families comprehensive guidance on how to implement best practices in education and autism treatment through Rethink.

The EEC trained facilitators use Rethink to provide customized interventions for each family. They are a small team of 3, but currently serve over 110 families across the country.

Ernie Els and Ernie Els Center for Autism

“Through working with Rethink we can truly say we are empowering families and communities!” 

-Shani Lits, Director of Ernie Els Center for Autism, South Africa

Of the many families EEC serves, the story of one young boy and his family stands out for EEC Director, Shani Lits who told us the story of Siqhamo.  Siqhamo was 7 years old when he first began using Rethink through EEC in 2012.  Siqhamo’s entire family-brother, sister, mom and dad-would drive over 4 hours to attend training sessions at EEC.  At the time Siqhamo was non-verbal and demonstrating a great degree of non-compliance. Using Rethink’s library of lessons, the team at EEC worked closely with the family to develop an individualized program that would support Siqhamo and their needs as a family.

Siqhamo has made amazing progress since he first came to the center in 2012.  Using Rethink lesson plans to teach Siqhamo, EEC and Siqhamo’s family have been able to teach him such skills as following instructions and making eye contact, and have even seen him expand his communication skills. “We have come a long way,” said Siqhamo’s mother. “Ernie Els and the Rethink program have empowered us in many ways.”

For Shani, one of the most amazing things about Siqhamo’s story is how the tools, resources, and training made available through EEC and Rethink have empowered his family.  “We recently received a home video with mom getting Siqhamo to match foam letters to refrigerator magnets, along with pasta letters!  Toward the end of the video we could hear that Siqhamo was ready for his final big reinforcement, as he told his mom: I want popcorn! This family has come through some difficult times and emerged so successfully, and we could not be prouder.”

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