Prior to implementing improvement work, we conducted classroom observations over a period of 6 weeks throughout the months of September and October in order to identify root causes contributing to the academic failure of students with disabilities. Along with my team of three para-educators we observed teacher instructional spaces and documented student behaviors on data collection charts.
Preliminary findings revealed much. As teachers were setting up instructional spaces and familiarizing themselves with IEP accommodations for their student populations data collected allowed me to put together behavioral strategies in order to provide struggling students with access to the curriculum. However, as the weeks went by, two areas which overwhelmingly required attention and improvement was in teacher knowledge of student IEP goals and accommodations and the implementation of research based behavioral and instructional practices for students with disabilities.
As I began to make connections with teachers in an effort to build collegial relationships, it was obvious that we were all interested in learning something new. I was interested in the instructional approaches teachers implemented to engage students and they were interested in learning effective behavioral and instructional strategies that might better support their student population. Based on these concerns, we decided to create small learning communities where education specialists and teachers could come together in order to examine research on improvement work and collaborate.
The first professional development meeting I facilitated on differentiated instruction was held in September. This meeting, which was an entrée into what would soon follow in the area of differentiated instruction, set the stage for our NIC. The following questions were posed by teachers during the meeting held in September:
- Teachers wanted clarification on instructional accommodations vs. modifications.
- Teachers wanted more information on the role of the education specialist in co-teaching models.
- Teachers wanted a clear definition on DI.
Teacher opportunities to learn “something new” could only happen if collaboration time increased amongst special education and general education teachers. Based on the information provided by teachers, as well as my experiences coordinating my schedule with general education teachers, we knew that we needed time to communicate. The goal being that collegial relationships would be built and that general education teachers would receive information regarding special education practices and I would become familiar with the content being delivered in teacher programs.
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Network Improvement Communities in action!
In order to ensure that teachers had opportunities to collaborate and common plan, we knew our workshops needed to be structured and we needed to ensure that we remained on task, following agenda items so that each teacher’s time was respected. In addition to this, we knew that building relationships with others was an important piece to this process.
Our goals were clear. We endeavored to build a Networked Improvement Community (NIC), in which a team of teachers would commit to making improvements to their learning environments as well as examine current research in the area of differentiated instruction and implement research based instructional strategies into their programs for the sole purpose of building classroom models that would serve as the standard at our school site. In doing this, we hypothesized that we would design engaging lessons taking into consideration the unique learning styles of our students, particularly students with disabilities, ultimately leading to students making academic gains, achieving their Individualized Education Program (IEP) goals, and raising their GPA scores. If implemented with fidelity, we projected that students would remain on track to graduate and that they would graduate on time with their peers.
We're Getting There, We're Getting There...