If you teach in Rochester Public Schools you have access to an invaluable tool: an Instructional Coach. Each of our schools has at least a 0.5 Instructional Coach and a designated Special Education Coach. The reason that our district has invested in this resource is summarized by the table below:
It is clear that coaching is the method of training that has the greatest impact on outcomes. Here are some of the unique ways that teachers are using Instructional Coaches in the RPS district:
This post brought to you by Heather Willman, APOSA overseeing Secondary Curriculum and Instructional Coaching
If your college education was anything like mine, your preparation for teaching involved little to no discussion about how to work collaboratively with a paraprofessional assigned to work with students in your mainstream classroom. In part it is because of this lack of training that in my second year of teaching, when I first had a para assigned to my room, that I had no idea what to do with him. He was there to help ensure that three EBD students stayed on task and behaved appropriately; for this reason, I just had him sit in the back of the room and watch his three EBD students. Yep, he just sat there... He sat there for about a month, and then he stopped me after class one day.
"Heather, I feel like all I do in your class is just sit and wait for behavior issues. Are there other things I could do to help?" he asked.
Yes, I thought, there are tons of things you can do to help. But where do I start? What is he allowed to do? I thought he could only help those three EBD kids...
So, I asked him, "Tony, what kinds of things would you like to do?"
Tony's honesty, combined with my simple follow-up question, began a collaborative relationship that I will never forget. He took small groups of students who were struggling with a task out into the hallway and worked with them one-on-one, he jumped into class discussions to provide perspectives that I did not have; he monitored students while they watched a film or did in-class reading so that I could have one-on-one discussions with students about missing work. We developed systems so that Tony could come in to the room at the start of the hour and know instantly what I was planning do that day and how he could help. We learned what made the other tick and soon became a well-oiled machine. Sure, there were times when Tony had to pause and deal with one of his three EBD students, but most of the time we worked together in a way that benefited all students, not just his three.
This experience with Tony led me to try and recreate it with other paras in the years that followed. After some trial and error, I finally stumbled upon a four part system that worked well for me and those paras with whom I collaborated.
A Shift in Perspective
I first needed to shift my own perspective. During class periods when a para was present, it was no longer my classroom--it was ours. We were working together on a shared focus: together we wanted to ensure that all students were successful. I just knew that I had to do the planning, or at least the bulk of it, because paras worked in multiple rooms with multiple teachers and had no prep period: by default, that made me the lead teacher, but it didn't mean a para couldn't assist. We needed to be a team, and that meant I had to see each para as an asset to my class as a whole, not just to the few students they served.
In order to work collaboratively, you need to have a way to communicate your vision and preferences with your paras while also providing a way for them to communicate the same with you. This is complicated by the fact that you likely share no open time together, so one-on-one communication is often out of the picture unless you can squeeze it in during the class hour. Therefore, you have to devise a way to communicate that works for you both. For me, this meant creating a survey that I would have paras complete at the start of a semester (shown and attached below): it opened the door toward clear communication.
Going hand-in-hand with communication is having a clear system for working together. For me, that meant having a "Para Box" on the back counter of my classroom that a para would check at the start of the period. Here I kept the agenda for the day with notes regarding what my para could do to assist, a stack of sticky notes so he could easily communicate concerns to me mid-period without having to verbally interrupt me, a notebook where he could leave notes at the end of the hour regarding things I needed to be aware of or ideas for the next day, and supplies that would likely be needed during the hour. Of course, the "Para Box" is not the only possible system--I have colleagues who send an email to their paras at the start of each day, who use a clipboard as a means to share plans and ideas, or who have a designated time and place during the class period where they verbally touch base about the class period. Any system, as long as you have one and it works for both you and your para, will help add clarity and enhance productivity.
Get to know each other
In the past when I struggled with a certain paraprofessional, it was often a result of clashing personalities. In these situations in particular, I found it ideal to shed a little light on what made each of us tick. There are many free, easy-to-take, online personality tests that can help a teacher and para better understand each other: I would occasionally use these with my paras. Each of us would take the survey and then share our result; this often opened up a dialogue between us that had been otherwise stilted. (If you wish to try it, my personal favorites are the DIRT Temperament Survey and the 16 Personalities self-assessment.)
This four part system helped me to collaborate with paraprofessionals over the past 17 years: by working together we bolstered student success. Prior to working together--during the month I just had Tony sit in the back of my classroom--my students weren't gaining much, if anything, from having a para in the room. Not to mention the fact that Tony was underutilized, often bored, and very unsure of his role.
Should you have any questions about how to collaborate more with your paras, please do not hesitate to reach out to me for more ideas and resources.
This post brought to you by Heather Lyke, Secondary Implementation Associate
I have two children who are students in the Rochester Public Schools system. My simultaneously shy, but social daughter struggles to balance a busy schedule and homework. My sweet, bright son does well academically, but needs extra guidance when it comes to social situations. Both of my children have a mom and dad cheering them on, advocating endlessly, and fighting the fights they are unable to find the courage to tackle. What I mean to say is my kids are lucky. Really lucky.
Despite the social and academic challenges they face as individuals, my children have everything they need to face the school day with success. They sleep in warm beds at night, have access to food on a daily basis, are provided with reliable transportation, and have available to them all the comforts of home—including a place to do homework. If one is a student who is not as lucky as my children—if one is a student who might not have access to a place to sleep, food, or a home—how do students face the challenges of a school day? How do students do homework when you have no home?
The McKinney-Vento Law is legislation that helps to guide school districts in the process of identifying and serving students who may be experiencing homelessness. At of the date of this post, more than 400 students in Rochester Public Schools have been identified as living in unstable housing situations. These students live in one of our three local shelters, stay in low-cost local hotels, or live with relatives because of an economic hardship. They often lack access to the internet and do not have a reliable device on which to check Moodle, Google Classroom, or Skyward. Beyond the traditional electronic struggles, students experiencing homelessness may not have the basic supplies (like notebooks, backpacks, and art supplies) or a place to keep the items they need to complete the daily work assigned.
As the Transitions and Fostering Connections Coordinator, I work to provide school stability for students whose living situation may not be stable. Through the Transitions Program we can provide transportation to a student’s school of origin, access to free breakfast and lunch at school, access to community resources, assistance with school supplies, and a connection to a student’s school social worker. In addition, RPS works collaboratively with many community resources and organizations that assist with housing, medical and dental needs, food resources, and much more.
In order to provide these resources though, identification is key. There are a few ways that each school professional can help identify students who might be experiencing homelessness. Here are a few tips for educators from the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth (NAEHCY):
Through identification, we are able to provide support. Through support, we may be able to provide the only stability a student knows. My children have what they need to face the challenges of the school day, imagine what is possible if all students were to have access to what they needed!
If you have a question about resources available for students, please consider reaching out to me.
Also, for more information on the McKinney-Vento Act, watch this video created by Anoka-Hennepin Schools:
This post brought to you by Melissa Brandt, the Transitions and Fostering Connections Coordinator for Rochester Public Schools
Connect with Melissa Brandt via email or by calling 507.328.4230
The midpoint of the year is a good time to evaluate our teaching practices and plan for implementation of new strategies for the new semester. Sometimes our classes don't meet our own expectations and require us to look inward at our teaching style, strategies, and methods. Second semester is what could be called "re-time" in our classes: redo, rethink, retool, reboot, reflect, and so forth.
The start of the second semester is the perfect time to reflect on our own practice. What is my own philosophy for teaching and learning? How do I see my philosophy reflected in that of my students? Do I see any patterns in student learning? Are any of these patterns based on gender, class, ethnicity in the students I have? How can I adjust my practice to address these patterns?
Rearrangement of the desks or students offers a perfect opportunity for reestablishing expectations for behavior. When students move to a new location in the room they feel less at ease and in need of reassurance of expectations and norms. Use this opportunity to reengage students in resetting and redefining their classroom norms. Finally, now that you have established the norms, remind students of expectations each time you transitions into and out of group activities. Reward students after the transitions for their good behavior with praise.
Reject the idea that student teacher relationships are set in stone because they evolve and change throughout the year. Find opportunities to reconnect with your students by giving them group tasks that require communication with you as the instructor. For instance, assign students to the role of group communicator in charge of relaying information between you and the student group during activities. Use each of these small interactions to build relationships.
Finally, take care of good old number one. Find time outside of the school to enjoy time with friends and family. Reengage in the recreational activities that help you to rejuvenate, relax and recharge. In taking take care of yourself; you are re-energized and ready for your students.
This post brought to you by Dan Devine, Secondary Implementation Associate
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