Spotlight Teacher of the Month: Tracy Niccum

Position: Special Education Life Skills Teacher
District: School District of Washington, Missouri

Ms. Niccum is a Special Education Teacher from Washington West Elementary School.  Washington West is one of seven elementary schools in the School District of Washington in Washington, Missouri. Ms. Niccum educates students in grades 2 through 6 and has used the Rethink platform for two years.

As a second-year teacher, Ms. Niccum was initially hesitant to implement Rethink with all the work teachers are required to do during the year. So she started small.

“I focused on one or two students and realized I could link their behavioral plans and Individualized Education Program goals to Rethink,” Ms. Niccum said. Once she learned how Rethink could improve her classroom, she started using it more.

Ms. Niccum now uses Rethink regularly and said she feels “The most valuable aspect of Rethink is the ability to collect data and link Individualized Education Program goals and behavioral plans to the platform.”

One of the toughest challenges for Ms. Niccum as a teacher is improving her data collection process and encouraging student independence within the classroom.

“Data collection is a huge part of education and when you have a self-contained classroom, it can be very overwhelming,” said Ms. Niccum.

Rethink’s easy-to-use platform makes it seamless, said Ms. Niccum, with printable data collection sheets, graphs and summary reports. Rethink webinars and on-site visits provide her with the extra support she needs to implement individual schedules for students and help them succeed.

Her students also use the Activity Center to practice specific skills that align with
their IEPs. One of Ms. Niccum’s students uses the Activity Center twice a week and takes the lead setting up her own schedule on the platform, which she enjoys.

Ms. Niccum regularly selects different math and reading activities for her student to complete that align with her student’s IEP goals and the curriculum she teaches.

This integration, Ms. Niccum said, makes it easier to track progress and is important because teachers “have to be able to show student growth on IEP goals.” Teachers in her district must also indicate how students are improving on each goal at the end of every quarter.

The process can be riddled with paperwork, but Ms. Niccum said Rethink makes it much more manageable for paraprofessionals and teachers at her school.

Ms. Niccum on tracking student progress and IEP goals using the Rethink IEP builder

“The most valuable aspect of Rethink is the ability to collect data and link IEP and behavioral plans to the platform.”

Ms. Niccum said she plans to implement Rethink programs and activities for all her students so she can track student progress and IEP goals in the most effective way.

She hopes other teachers and principals consider subject areas in their schools that need improvement and discover how Rethink can help them. Ms. Niccum also believes that Rethink is especially valuable to special educators.

“We are always looking for ways to reduce the abundance of paperwork we have to do on a daily basis,” Ms. Niccum said. “The process goes much quicker when you can just click a button and pull up all the data. It’s all right there.”

Keep up the fantastic work, Ms. Niccum! Congratulations on being this month’s Spotlight Teacher!

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Need to Know News: Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District

Rethink Commends the Recent Special Education Decisions to Promote Quality Services and Supports.

Last week a unanimous decision was handed down by the court providing increased opportunities for students with disabilities. In Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of a higher standard of education for children with disabilities. Chief Justice Robert’s written opinion contained strong words:

“When all is said and done, a student offered an educational program providing ‘merely more than de minimis’ progress from year to year can hardly be said to have been offered an education at all,” Roberts wrote. “For children with disabilities, receiving instruction that aims so low would be tantamount to ‘sitting idly . . . awaiting the time when they were old enough to “drop out.” ’ ”

In Texas there has been significant discussion around the so-called cap that implied that Texas schools should maintain an 8.5% or below qualification for special education. Given that the national average is approximately 13% this low eligibility cap is problematic. Earlier this month it was announced that this arbitrary cap is being removed.

Since its inception, Rethink has been committed to the assumption that with effective, evidence-based instruction children with disabilities can make progress and achieve their highest potential. It is with great positivity that we now have the Supreme Court demonstrating this shared belief and Texas making a commitment to serve all students in need of special education services and supports.

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Shifting the Professional Learning Model to Improve Teacher Retention

An extraordinary shift is upon us in the field of education. Students are accessing information and demonstrating their capacity to learn differently. They are learning and using skill sets far different from past generations to prepare for life outside of the classroom. Indeed the fast-pace of change regularly revolutionizes the skills needed for adult success. The landscape for students is changing , and the landscape of what we ask of educators who teach and prepare students for the world and the workforce is also changing.

Our collective expectations of teachers extend way beyond organizing lessons and measuring student performance. We expect teachers to cater to individual student needs, use different learning techniques, incorporate technology and cater to the social and emotional needs of students.

These expectations are common threads for teachers who vary in practice and disposition. They also make the teaching profession much more difficult. Although teachers do a great job helping students succeed, the intricate demands and lack of professional development on the job has led to a decrease in the amount of teachers who choose to remain in the profession after their first five years.

Why do teachers leave the profession?

There are a variety of reasons for natural attrition in jobs including relocation, family matters, different schedules, salaries or distaste for management. The decision to leave for others stems from issues or concerns they feel cannot be resolved. According to the National Education Association, this includes:

    • A lack of support
    • Unfair demands and mandates
    • A lack of assistance with student discipline
    • Underfunded programs and low salaries
  • A lack of influence or respect at work

 

The National Center for Education Statistics identified 7.7% of teachers left the profession at the end of the 2012-13 school year with this number on the rise. The same study found that 46% of those who left the profession said opportunities for professional development in their new position outside of education were better. Although the answer seems simple, increasing the quality and access to professional development for teachers continues to be a challenge .

How do we retain more quality teachers?

Many districts are responding to this data and other statistics by reshaping the professional learning experience. Professional development is also becoming more relevant, personalized and useful. When translated on a larger scale, districts can use research to not only to improve teaching practices, but to increase teacher retention and buy-in for the profession. Developing custom professional development options for teachers with different skills, levels of experience and areas of interest can help increase teacher commitment to learning communities and help them take an interest in giving back to those communities.

Taking professional learning to the next level

Educators should always have a choice in how and what they choose to learn. This can include classroom modeling and access to different learning activities, platforms and online learning communities. Social media channels such as Twitter can also be a great tool for encouraging discussion among educators. Other methods to engage teachers in professional learning opportunities can include summer learning institutes and year-long campaigns to help them find joy in implementing new practices.

Of course some teachers still enjoy learning in a traditional lecture environment, but the important thing to consider is their right to choose the most accommodating option for them.

A common framework to keep in mind is one developed by  , which follows four stages:

  • Engagement – Ensures teachers have buy-in to what they are learning.
  • Learning – The environment content is delivered in, which helps move teachers from knowledge acquisition to application.
  • Support – Ongoing refinement of skills into successful practices that lead to improvement in teaching and student learning.
  • Measurement – The data collection on the teacher’s practice or commonly known as educator evaluations.

This four-stage framework can be applied to any professional learning opportunity and will help keep teachers on track when they embark on their own learning path. The hope is that with enough reflection on the benefits of more opportunities for teachers, we’ll start to encourage the best educators to stay in the profession with more support and room to grow.

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Strategies for Instructional Coaching

Experience tells us, and the field of andragogy confirms, that adults learn differently from children. Andragogy refers to the adult learning theory and was coined by American educator Malcolm Knowles. Instructional coaches need to employ principles of andragogy as they support teachers in improving their practice.

The four principles of adult learning are:

  • Adults need to be involved in the planning and evaluation of their instruction.
  • Experience (including mistakes) provides the basis for learning activities.
  • Adults want to learn about subjects that have immediate relevance to their job or personal life.
  • Adult learning is problem-centered rather than content-oriented.

How do these principles apply to coaching teachers? It’s simple. According to the Annenberg Foundation for Education Reform, “effective instructional coaching encourages collaborative, reflective teaching practice.” For example, if a teacher organizes a lesson a successful coach can help the teacher reflect on strengths and areas that need improvement. The best coaches offer guidance and resources related to teaching the subject or improving the delivery of lessons in a way that aims to tackle challenges in the classroom. An effective coach should also help teachers reflect on what they’ve learned during evaluations and help them apply it to their work with students.

It is equally important for teachers to use data to inform their practice. Data is a useful tool for understanding student challenges and identifying areas in need of focus. Sometimes isolating the right areas of focus can be difficult for teachers. In those instances, it is wise for the instructional coach – to support teachers to self-identify a focus area. The University of Kansas’ Center for Research on Learning provides a framework for coaches and teachers to decide where to start. It’s called “The Big Four.” These four focus areas include classroom management, content, instruction and assessment for learning.

Coaches can use these four focus areas to help teachers choose where to start. Support can expand to sharing data and monitoring progress with them over time. Applying current research in the area of focus as well as modeling research-validated instructional strategies for teachers is also helpful.

Five strategies to help translate research into practice from Jim Knight’s book, Instructional coaching: A Partnership Approach to Improving Instruction:

  • Clarify: read, write, talk
  • Synthesize different sources
  • Break it down
  • See it through teachers’ (and students’) eyes – What does this look like in the classroom?

Finally, just as teachers should reflect on their area of focus, instructional coaches should reflect on their experience too.

We hope these strategies help guide your experiences helping teachers succeed.

Good luck and happy coaching!

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Why Self-Directed Professional Development Matters for Educators

As the role and function of schools continue to change, so do duties and responsibilities of educators. Educators are often asked to help students succeed amid challenges including growing class sizes, new tests, new rules and new evaluation measures.

Educators must choose appropriate resources to help prepare for the challenges they will face during their career. Effective professional development provides educators training in meaningful and important aspects of their job. Through active engagement in professional development educators improve the quality of classroom instruction, grow professionally and strengthen their practice.

Professional development sometimes carries a stigma. It is viewed as inconvenient, not comprehensive enough and often ineffective. Indeed much of the professional development in education has been deemed costly and ineffective. Single-day professional development opportunities limit the ability of educators to ask important follow-up questions, access knowledge banks after sessions or learn in-depth strategies and skills that take time to master.

Unlike traditional professional development, self-directed professional development opens learning possibilities for educators in any place and at any time. It allows educators to acquire a wide variety of skills and gain access to training outside the classroom at their own pace.

Why is self-directed PD important?

  • Educators gain access to quality instructional materials, similar to receiving training from master teachers or high-quality instructional coaches. Video modeling is particularly effective in this professional development model.
  • Educators can review difficult concepts without fear of running out of time or not grasping complicated concepts.
  • Related service providers, who often don’t have access to classroom educator professional development, can discover new and inventive ways to help students with special or social/behavioral needs. This comes in handy for those who implement behavioral intervention plans or serve students with Individualized Education Programs.
  • Self-directed PD can solve challenges associated with integrated co-teaching. Teachers can learn highly effective techniques and use them to strengthen classrooms where students with special needs learn alongside general education students.
  • Teaching assistants can access professional development as they are often excluded from professional development provided to credentialed staff but are pivotal in supporting students with disabilities.

Time is a valuable commodity for educators. Self-directed PD may just part of the answer. When progress is measurable and professional development produces effective outcomes, it is meaningful.

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Literacy for All

Read Across America Day is just a few weeks away! On March 2nd, Dr. Seuss’ birthday, thousands of schools, libraries, and community centers will bring together kids, teens and books, which is exciting because we all know how important literacy is in relation to adult success.

Part of an educational experience is exposure to books and literature and instruction in reading and writing, but many students with disabilities do not receive effective literacy instruction. Per the Learning Disabilities Association of America (LDA), “Many children, including children with learning disabilities, do not learn to read in the first grade because they lack the basic readiness skills or the school’s method is not appropriate for them. They may be allowed to fail for two or three years without effective intervention. Unless these children are identified early and appropriate instruction provided they may be passed along in school until basic reading instruction is no longer available.”

Literacy has been targeted as in-need of improvement and future focus, particularly for those with more significant disabilities.Teachers need support to ensure all students benefit from literacy instruction and Rethink is here to help with supplemental supports which are incredibly helpful in addressing the diverse needs of students in a classroom. Be sure to check the Rethink Academic Curriculum Library, which includes differentiated lessons plans and teaching resources to support students with disabilities.

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Spotlight Teacher of the Month: Ginny Gilbertson

Position: Special Education Teacher
District: School District of Washington

Ginny Gilbertsen, a Special Education Teacher at the School District of Washington in Missouri, has been using Rethink in her classroom for just over a year, and she and her paraprofessionals are loving it!

According to Ginny, there are so many ways in which Rethink has helped her, but the most valuable aspect to her instruction is the variety of materials and lesson plans. She says that when she is stuck writing a few goals, all she has to do was research on Rethink. Not only is she able to find goals, but the objectives help her pace her teaching. Ginny says this is especially helpful for her because she teaches grades K-6 and because of this, “The need to individualize instruction is great. It is difficult to be an expert in every area for every child but Rethink makes this a reality! I am able to plug in IEP goals, research and teach,” she says.

But, she adds, it isn’t just her who benefits from the platform, but also her paraprofessionals. One paraprofessional, in their first year, was struggling to come up with ideas to guide his student; but according to Ginny, “After watching videos that Rethink provided, not only did he have more ideas, but he felt more confident in his abilities.”

Ginny and her paraprofessionals are not only in agreement about the benefits of the program, but also about the benefits of the app. The RethinkEDU app allows them to track data effectively and efficiently to ensure that their instruction is always data driven. Not to mention, Ginny adds, the fact that, “Carrying around clipboards with several sets of papers clipped to it is cumbersome and frustrating. Rethink solves that problem.”

Great Job, Ginny and keep up the good work! Congratulations on being this month’s Spotlight Teacher!

Posted in Community, Tips, Tools, & Tech

Data Are Everywhere: The New RethinkEDU App Is Launching

RethinkEDU APP

The New RethinkEDU App Makes Life and Data Collection Easier

You’ve been asking for it and we know how important it is to be able to take behavioral and skill acquisition data on the fly; Rethink is thrilled to announce our new App – RethinkEDU.

Quality education service delivery requires data collection and data-based decision making.

Data Collection Made Easier

In special education, data is collected and analyzed for every IEP goal and objective and for every behavior intervention plan created. Educators can then review the data and make informed decisions about what is working and not working for each student.

With current caseloads for educators these days, Rethink makes the data collection and analysis process as easy as possible. RethinkEDU is one more step towards easy data collection.

RethinkEDU APP
With RethinkEDU you can do it all! Teachers who make decisions based on data can:

  • Adapt instruction based on the student
  • Evaluate progress
  • Highlight successes and weaknesses

Rethink aims to place evidence-based treatment solutions in the hands of every educator, clinician or parent working with a child with special needs. Here at Rethink we take pride in our ability to listen and respond to our partners and customers as we work towards this goal.

Download RethinkEDU

RethinkEDU will be available in IOS, Google Play and Amazon App stores starting on December 20th. Mark your calendars to download this revolutionary app! As a reminder, the current Behavior Tracking app will no longer be available and all existing data must be synced by December 19th.

Coming soon- available December 20th

Posted in Tips, Tools, & Tech

Discussing Professional Development at OCALICON 2016

Join Rethink as we Discuss Paraprofessional Professional Development Best Practices

Paraprofessionals support students and are pivotal to promoting educational success for learners with disabilities. Paraprofessionals need access to quality professional development. Professional development is a critical responsibility for both administrators and educators, professional development is often overlooked as a luxury rather than a necessity.

OCALICON 2016

Join our Vice President of Professional Services, Patricia Wright, Ph.D, MPH, as she discusses Leveraging Technology to Support Paraprofessional Professional Development. The 60-minute presentation will take place during OCALICON 2016 and is set to begin at 2:45pm EST. Click here for more information!

The session will provide go-to strategies for effective paraprofessional training. Learn how school districts, including large urban and small rural schools, have paired on-demand video-based training with on-site coaching to increase the knowledge, skills, and effectiveness of paraprofessionals supporting children with ASD and other developmental disabilities.

This session provides:

  • An overview of the models and strategies utilized to promote success
  • Quantitative and qualitative outcome data
  • Application strategies to successfully implement professional development

No longer will paraprofessionals be overlooked. They are an integral part of the classroom that, when trained correctly and effectively, improve classroom climate and are an incredible support to teachers. Teachers need support; teacher burnout is an ever-growing issue that we have yet to conquer. Paraprofessionals can be part of the change schools need to ensure all students achieve their highest potential.


View an On-Demand Webinar to Support Paraprofessionals for Success!

Learn how to implement a simple and powerful training model to help Paraprofessionals succeed.

In this webinar, Angela will highlight the key responsibilities of paraprofessionals, and review how the “No Child Left Behind Act” defines their roles. She will also help you learn successful models of professional development and discuss important limitations.
View Webinar

Rethink offers an award-winning online platform that is uniquely designed for teaching students with autism spectrum disorders, developmental disabilities, cognitive disabilities, and for students exhibiting problem behaviors. Our platform supports curriculum planning, on-demand professional learning, and the tracking of student progress towards IEP goals, skill mastery, and positive behaviors. Rethink helps educators more efficiently personalize evidence-based instruction, collaborate, and make data-driven decisions.

Our on-demand platform is a professional development resource to access both foundational and comprehensive training in evidence-based strategies and instructional practices. The evidence-based curriculum is grounded in deep research with student’s progress being monitored. Rethink provides school officials a view into what’s happening in classrooms while seeing student progress tracked and graphed.

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Paraprofessional Training- Where to Find the Time?

In today’s public schools, finding time to provide the much-needed training for our Special Education paraprofessionals can be challenging. Although most states mandate the number of professional development hours for teachers, professional development for the Special Education paraprofessionals is not as clear cut. ‘

teach-pd-quoteGenerally individual districts plan their own professional development and identify specific days throughout the year for the training. Some professional development may focus on Special Education topics, such as mandated dyslexia training, but most professional development is geared to the general education teachers and professional staff. Many states do not even require training for Special Education paraprofessionals. This seems at odds with common sense, considering that the paraprofessionals play an essential role in supporting our students and teachers. Paraprofessionals provide support for students in a variety of settings, but are often not given paraprofessional training specific to these responsibilities.

Rethink’s online Training Center has a solution to providing this much-needed professional development for Special Education paraprofessionals. The online Training Center now offers two series of professional development trainings. The Basic Training Series introduces the principles of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) through 11 video-based modules. Each 7 to 10-minute video is supported with guided notes and a concluding assessment.

The Advanced Training Series offers 27 video trainings that provide the 40 hours of training needed to qualify for the Registered Behavior Technician (RBT) Credential (see http://bacb.com/rbt/ for more information on the requirements for the RBT Credential). Both training series provide a rich, on-demand resource designed to increase instructional awareness to help the paraprofessional support engagement and learning for our students. The format of the online Training Center allows Special Education teachers and paraprofessionals access to quality and convenient professional development anytime and anywhere.
RBT Training

We all know that good teaching results in positive outcomes for students. Rethink’s convenient, online Training Center is one way to provide your Special Education staff with quality training on their schedule, to make quality teaching possible.

Discover new strategies for implementing a rewarding professional development model to support paraprofessionals in our on-demand webinar!

Take Your Paraprofessional Training to the Next Level and Become RBT Certified!

Have a question? Send us an email!
Posted in Tips, Tools, & Tech