Does this new school year feel different to you? I hope so. I know it does for me.
At long last, we have dedicated time each week for professional development, parent engagement and other professional work. Under our new contract, collaborative planning and review of student work are listed as “appropriate Other Professional Work for any period of time… during which Parent Engagement and/or Professional Development activities are not taking place.”
These provisions are particularly valuable for school staffers who work with students with disabilities since one of the biggest concerns that I have heard from members during my 25-year tenure as vice president for special education is that there is no time for teachers, related service providers and paraprofessionals to meet, discuss and collaboratively plan for their students.
So now we have the time, but how best to use it?
The ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) Nest program provides a valuable model. One of the practices that make the ASD Nest program so successful is the careful, structured and intensive collaboration between special education teachers and general education teachers and between teachers and related service providers. Another is the ongoing, two-way communication that takes place between the staff and student families in each school.
The creators of the ASD Nest program understood that collaboration doesn’t just happen; it takes work. They also understood that even when time is available, it is important to use it productively. For these reasons, team meetings in ASD Nest schools have a specific structure and participants have specific roles.
The weekly meeting, which lasts about 90 minutes, has three components: 1. program business, which includes information about issues such as busing, fire drills, class trips and supplies; 2. case conferencing, which is devoted to discussing individual students, their progress and needs, and developing or modifying interventions; and 3. professional development, which may include sharing information from conferences that team members have attended or expertise from the perspective of the particular team member’s discipline. Case conferencing occurs at every meeting, but the time devoted to the other components may vary.
To make sure that the time is well spent, team members have roles. The agenda keeper organizes the rotation of students to be discussed, collects business from team members and prepares an agenda that is shared with all team members the day before the meeting. The facilitator reviews the business of the meeting and keeps the meeting running smoothly. The note-taker keeps the minutes of the meeting and also the case conference notes, which are kept in a binder with the child’s IEP. The timekeeper makes sure that time is allocated to discuss all of the items on the agenda. These four roles rotate so that every team member develops the skills.
The case conference is the heart of the meeting. Every student in the program is discussed multiple times during the school year. Usually, two students are discussed at each weekly meeting. During the conference, the notes of the prior conference are reviewed. The team discusses how the child is functioning, addresses any new issues that have come up and develops new objectives and strategies as needed. Each team member contributes information about the child’s social, emotional and academic progress and needs from the perspective of his or her own discipline and interactions with the child.
Communication between school staff and the home is another key component of the ASD Nest program. This, too, dovetails with the parent engagement provisions in our new contract.
One of the first ways the ASD team connects with parents is through a structured interview. A team member, usually the social worker, asks the family what they want the school to know about their child. This includes things like the child’s favorite activities, what they are good at, whether certain things upset them and whether they are aware of dangers. They also inquire about the family’s goals for the child for the school year and how the family addresses situations that are stressful.
Ongoing communication throughout the school year is maintained through email exchanges or a notebook that is sent home in the child’s backpack. Staff also organizes group meetings and workshops for parents on relevant topics and makes sure that ASD Nest families are included in all school activities.
I have heard from my colleagues that schools are coming up with exciting and creative ways of using the new time for professional development, parent engagement and other professional work. If something is going on in your school that you think would be valuable for students in other schools or you have an idea of your own that you would like to share, please send it along to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m all ears!
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We’ve received a number of complaints about Integrated Co-Teaching classes with more than the permissible number of students with disabilities. The number of students with IEPs in an ICT class may not exceed 40 percent of the total class register with a maximum of 12 students with disabilities. The 40 percent and 12-student limit includes any student with a disability in that class, regardless of whether ICT services have been recommended. If an ICT class in your school does not meet these requirements, please let us know by filing an online UFT special education complaint.