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.
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.”
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.”