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By: Guest Blogger
A definite highlight of my teaching career also was spent on tennis courts coaching our student athletes and making positive connections with students. A fundamental rule for any tennis player is to stay out of “no man’s land”; the area between the baseline and the service line of a tennis court.
So, the goal is to either stay back at the baseline or play near the net. Getting caught in the middle makes for hard shots and being less able to get to the ball. As a coach, I saw players hesitate when making their move from the baseline to the net. They stop in the middle convincing themselves it is safe, while they wait for another opportunity to advance. Instead, great tennis players realize that when you want to move forward, you have to commit and move with intentionality, or you’ll get stuck in no man’s land.
The same goes in leadership: when you commit, make your move forward and don’t get caught in no man’s land. To help you stay out of the middle, consider these four But Nots to staying out of no man’s land:
But Not #1: Being in a meeting but not speaking up.
Meetings are a chance to learn, clarify, communicate, dialogue and discuss. For whatever reason, it’s natural to make excuses not to speak up and share your opinion, point of view or question. By being in the meeting, make it your mission to be an active contributor. Avoid the parking lot conversations or meetings after the meeting. Commit to using your voice to share your experience, insights and point of view to help the team make the best decision for students.
But Not #2: Taking a leadership position but not taking ownership.
Regardless of whether you have a formal title or not, we are all leaders in our areas. At some point, we have to own our responsibility in the decision, the action or helping to solve a problem or need. There’s also a tendency to delegate things that might be out of our comfort zone. While we can’t be the expert at all things, it should still be our goal to learn and grow. Commit to take ownership of decisions and areas in which you work to make it better for students.
But Not #3: Managing issues but not leading others.
It’s easy to quickly get caught in the role of putting out the fires that seem to come up constantly. The same can be said about filling time just responding to emails that come at all hours of the day and night. While emails and responding to issues will never go away, the real work is in moving forward to proactive action. Commit to being proactive in developing and leading your team by addressing areas that support and grow all students.
But Not #4: Talking about changes but not executing them.
There’s a doom-loop mentality when we create meetings to plan for the meeting to plan for the meeting. T-shirts and posters fill our schools with positive affirmations and slogans that bring power and energy for change to take place. Yet, when action is necessary, there seems to be a void or disconnect between the conversations and the action. While gathering input and ensuring clarity is crucial before you can make decisions, it’s easy to get caught on the baseline, unable to move forward. Commit to making plans in how decisions will be made and communicated.
Tennis players playing out a point at the net is the most exciting. The game is fast-paced, and the reaction time to respond is even quicker. To get to the net, the player had to have made the commitment to run through no man’s land. Once the decision was made to leave the baseline, doubt and uncertainty had to be extinguished. Leaders making decisions to move forward have to possess that same unwavering commitment. The next time you decide to make your move, watch out for the “but not” trap in no man’s land.
Neil Gupta, Ed. D. is the director of Secondary Education for Worthington City Schools. He oversees middle school and high school programs and leads the academic and safety work with the building principals. You can read Dr. Gupta's full bio and his blog here.
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By: Staff Blogger
School district superintendents and central office personnel from across Ohio assembled for a two-day seminar as part of the Ashland Leadership Academy. In conjunction with Ashland University, the seminar provides professional development, networking and team-building opportunities. Paolo DeMaria, superintendent of public instruction, spoke to the group on Jan. 5 about Each Child, Our Future—Ohio’s Strategic Plan for Education.
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By: Marva Jones
I first heard about Ohio’s Strategic Plan for Education when I began looking for my next gig at the Ohio Department of Education. As I read the plan, I thought: Now here is something I can sink my teeth into and make an impact. Honestly, I believed the Department needed something to guide its work, make policy decisions and connect with families, communities and partners to reach each child and affect their future. So, I read on.
There are more than 134,000 full-time educators serving in 3,600 public schools and educating approximately 1.7 million school children in Ohio. The strategic plan was built by Ohioans for Ohioans and launched by Ohio’s superintendent of public instruction and the State Board of Education in the summer of 2018. More than 150 Ohio-based partners worked to develop the plan. Approximately 1,200 Ohio citizens — including parents, caregivers, preK-12 educators, higher education representatives, business leaders, employers, community members, state legislators and, of course, students themselves — attended meetings across the state to review the plan and provide feedback. In total, more than 1,350 Ohioans helped develop the plan.
The plan made me think of my teaching days, but more importantly, it brought up memories of when I became a principal early in my education career. Being the head of a school combined my favorite aspects of education: student interaction, implementation of curriculum, mentoring and supporting teachers, achievement gains, reducing behavioral issues, and partnering with parents and community members. Everything we did focused on how we could positively impact the lives of the children. This sounds just like the strategic plan components.
Specifically, I had a flashback to when I became a new principal in 2006-2007 at Dueber Elementary in Canton City Schools. Being the youngest of 24 principals in the system, I thought about the monumental goal of educating each child. To do this, one of my main missions was to create partnerships with families and community members. I wanted the school to be a great place for students and a place where teachers loved working! That became my mantra.
This document provides an excellent summary of the strategic plan. It highlights that the strategic plan encompasses the following components:
Four Learning Domains — Foundational Knowledge & Skills, Well-Rounded Content, Leadership & Reasoning, and Social-Emotional Learning.
One Goal — Ohio will increase annually the percentage of its high school graduates who, one year after graduation, are: enrolled in post-high school learning; serving in a military branch; earning a living wage; or engaged in a meaningful self-sustaining vocation.
Three Core Principles — Equity, Partnerships and Quality Schools.
10 Priority Strategies — 1) Highly effective teachers and leaders; 2) Principal support; 3) Teacher and instruction support; 4) Standards reflect all learning domains; 5) Assessments gauge all learning domains; 6) Accountability system honors all learning domains; 7) Meet needs of the whole child; 8) Expand quality early learning; 9) Develop literacy skills; 10) Transform high school/provide more paths to graduation.
The state-level vision provides an aspirational guide for students, parents, partners and the education system: In Ohio, each child is challenged to discover and learn, prepared to pursue a fulfilling post-high school path and empowered to become a resilient lifelong learner who contributes to society.
My mission as a principal more than 20 years ago included many of these components. In my coming blogs, take a stroll down memory lane with me and discover how aspects of the strategic plan always have been sprinkled liberally throughout my career. I hope this will help educators see how the work we do aligns with the plan and helps us recognize the difference we are making for each child and the future. In my next blog, I’ll share my thoughts on partnerships.
Marva Jones is senior executive director for Continuous Improvement for the Ohio Department of Education. You can learn more about Marva by clicking here.
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By: Guest Blogger
Editor's Note: September is Attendance Awareness Month. A few weeks ago, staff blogger Brittany Miracle shared tips for districts to improve attendance in their schools. This week, we hear from a career center that recognized the importance of student attendance and created a program to improve attendance.
Twenty-one days — the amount of time research shows a person needs to establish a new habit. That’s the foundation of a strategy to improve student attendance at Scarlet Oaks Career Campus in Cincinnati.
Scarlet Oaks launched Play 21 in 2017 to help students be more accountable for attending school consistently. The concept is simple; students sign a chart in their first and second period classes and when they’ve reached 21 consecutive days of attendance, they can enter a drawing for prizes. Posters around campus serve as reminders of the program.
At the end of the quarter, prizes are awarded to 21 students whose names are drawn. The prizes are relatively small: $10 gift cards, special parking privileges or early release to lunch, for instance. Recognition, though, is a real motivator. The school posts the winners’ names on video monitors throughout the campus.
Through Play 21:
- Students can see their progress each day and know when they’re reaching the 21-day goal;
- Students who falter—who miss a day during that period—can start over and still succeed during any given academic quarter;
- Students who win prizes get public recognition for their success;
- Students develop new habits.
“We’re trying to change the culture from punitive to positive,” said English instructor Stephen Tracy. That is, instead of focusing on punishing those who miss school, the Scarlet Oaks staff celebrates those who attend regularly.
The Scarlet Oaks Attendance Committee, comprised of a group of instructors (both academic and career technical), administrators, a counselor, a custodian and a cybrarian (librarian), wanted to eliminate the mindset that schools take for granted that students will attend. “Some of our students have barriers they have to overcome just to get to school in the morning,” said Roger Osborne, an exercise science instructor.
Osborne said Play 21 helps to provide an incentive for students to give extra effort. One student, for instance, missed the school bus but paid for an Uber ride to get to school on time.
And though Play 21 resulted in 10 students having perfect attendance in 2017-2018, that’s not necessarily the only goal. “We’re recognizing good, improved AND perfect attendance to school,” said Assistant Dean Ramona Beck.
Play 21 takes a holistic approach to attendance, combining student responsibility, teacher encouragement and administrative support. “The sign-in sheet is a daily check for both the teacher and student,” Beck said.
The hope is that, in just 21 days, students are developing good habits for a lifetime.
“They’ll be going to work when they leave us,” said Osborne. “We’ve got to get them ready. This aligns with our mission of preparing students for real life.”
Jon Weidlich is director of Community Relations at Great Oaks Career Campuses in Southwest Ohio. He has worked with and written about students of all ages, as well as schools, parents and communities for more than 25 years. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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By: Staff Blogger
Mark your calendars!
September is National Attendance Awareness Month. Regular school attendance is so important it gets an entire month of recognition and celebration! (Not that National Taco Day on Oct. 4 isn’t cause for celebration, too.)
Did you know?
- Good attendance is important starting in kindergarten. Children with good attendance in kindergarten and first grade are more likely to read on grade level in third grade.
- By grade 6, poor attendance can be an early warning sign for students at risk of dropping out of school.
- By ninth grade, good attendance can predict graduation rates even better than eighth-grade test scores.
- A student’s attendance in the previous year can predict his or her attendance in the current school year.
Students miss school for many reasons. They may be absent sporadically due to illnesses, college visits or planned family events. Other students may face more significant barriers to regular attendance resulting in more frequent and long-term absences. Some absences may be excused and others are unexcused. Regardless of the reason for the absence, every day in school matters because some lessons cannot be made up at home.
Attendance has a significant impact on achievement throughout a student’s school career. How can schools help students get to school regularly? It’s simple — talk with your students and families about the value of regular school attendance!
Building a school culture that recognizes the importance of regular and improved attendance, rather than perfect attendance, keeps students’ eyes on the prize throughout the entire year. Schools can provide individualized resources and friendly reminders about regular attendance to empower students and families to improve their school attendance.
September is a great time to start talking about attendance with your students and their families and caregivers. Use these tips when writing attendance messaging for your school:
- Mode: Share your message using a variety of methods, such as social media, email, radio ads, postcards, magnets and newspaper ads.
- Partnerships: Emphasize that schools and families are partners who share a common interest in students’ success. Build partnerships throughout your entire community to share your attendance messaging.
- Comparison: Use charts, graphs and positive language to show individuals how their attendance is changing over time or how it compares to their peers. This is effective when communicating with a student about individual attendance or when encouraging friendly competitions between classrooms to meet attendance goals.
- Individualize: Consider students’ unique needs when talking with students and families about how to improve attendance.
- Accumulation: Highlight that a couple of absences per month add up over the course of the year.
- Self-efficacy: Focus messaging on how parents influence their children’s attendance. Empower older students to adopt strategies to improve their own attendance.
- Simplification: Write in friendly language that is easy to understand and free of legal jargon.
- Frequency: Communicate early and often — before students develop attendance problems — to underscore the importance of getting to school regularly. Start your messaging with the first day of school and continue through the end of the year.
Check out Attendance Works’ website to see which districts across the nation are participating in National Attendance Awareness Month and get ideas to promote attendance in your school. Share your attendance activities with us this month and all year long on social media by tagging @OHEducation on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.
Brittany Miracle is a program administrator at the Ohio Department of Education. She coordinates school improvement initiatives and student support strategies—including efforts to improve student attendance. To contact Brittany, click here.
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By: Julia Simmerer
Editor's note: This blog was originally published on March 22, 2018, but some things are so good they deserve another look! We are re-running the post so everyone gets a chance to read this staff favorite and educators can take advantage of the LMS this summer.
"The most important attitude that can be found is the desire to go on learning.” – John Dewey.
Everyone is born with a natural desire to learn about the world around us and an eagerness to thrive in the world. The motivation to learn never ends — it continues throughout our lives and our careers. A recent Gallup poll revealed that 87 percent of millennials say job development is important in a job. Essentially, we crave opportunities to learn and grow throughout our lives.
Today’s technology also has made us crave media that is available at our fingertips. With streaming video services like Netflix, we can watch movies anytime and almost anywhere. Internet-connected smart phones put the answer to almost any question right in our pockets. While an internet search can provide quick responses to basic questions, it isn’t the best method for developing our professional skills.
The Ohio Department of Education recently introduced a new tool that both helps educators meet their learning goals and is readily accessible anywhere there is internet. The Department’s Learning Management System for Ohio Education, or LMS as it is commonly called, is a free, online learning system for actively credentialed educators. By logging in to their OH|ID accounts, educators can participate in high-quality learning anytime — available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The Department designed the current courses based on input from Ohio’s educators. The LMS allows districts to collaborate with each other through interactive discussion boards and activities. Each course covers specific skills that match an educator's job assignment. Traditional professional development courses in school settings offer “one size fits all” learning opportunities. This system allows users to select courses that are specifically relevant to their teaching assignments. The courses within the LMS also offer strategies that teachers can use immediately in the classroom.
Having spent several years as a classroom teacher, I recognize the benefits that free, online training brings to Ohio’s educators. Some of these benefits include not missing a day from class to participate, not needing a substitute teacher to cover your class and the flexibility to work from home at a time that is convenient for you. Now that I work for the Department, I appreciate that the system allows us to make sure everyone taking the course receives a consistent message and instruction — no matter where they are in Ohio.
To take a course in the system, educators sign in to their OH|ID accounts and select Learning Management System. From there, educators can search the Course Catalog. Some of the topics covered by courses in the system include:
- Instructional practices;
- Evaluating digital content for instruction;
- Transition services for students with disabilities;
- Educator evaluation systems;
- Instructional coaching;
- The Resident Educator program; and
- The OhioMeansJobs resource.
Participants can complete reflections and time logs throughout the courses. This allows them to potentially earn credit for working on their Individual Professional Development Plans. (Educators should review each course’s syllabus for the recommended procedure for submitting their work to the Local Professional Development Committee.)
Currently, the Department’s Office of Educator Effectiveness is offering the following courses:
- Ohio Teacher Evaluation System (OTES) for Teachers;
- Learning About the Ohio School Counselor Evaluation System;
- Ohio Principal Evaluation System (OPES): Essentials for Educators;
- Resident Educator courses;
- Formative Instructional Practices, (FIP) Series (seven courses available);
- Coaching for Self-reflection and Instructional Change; and
- Using the Ohio Standards for Professional Development.
If you have any questions about the LMS, feel free to contact Alison Sberna at Alison.Sberna@education.ohio.gov or (614) 369-4071. In the meantime, log in to your OH|ID account now and take a tour of the Course Catalog. Instead of “binge watching” TV shows, let’s do some “binge learning” on the LMS.
Julia Simmerer is senior executive director of the Center for the Teaching Profession at the Ohio Department of Education, where she oversees the implementation of policies and programs that support Ohio’s teacher and leader corps. You can learn more about Julia by clicking here.
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By: Steve Gratz
“Those Were the Days” was in heavy rotation on the school bus radio when I boarded during the 1969-1970 school year. I was in elementary school and my big brother, Kevin, was a senior. We went to Bluffton, a small school in northwest Ohio in Allen County. I remember that Kevin would leave school early to go to work at Lima Lumber as part of his DCT program – Diversified Cooperative Training. You see, Bluffton was a small agricultural community, and vocational agriculture, home economics and shop class were still a strong part of the curriculum. I don’t know when the DCT program started, but it was for students whose interests were outside of the vocational agriculture, home economics and shop classes.
DCT taught students job readiness skills in class and then all students were released early to go to their places of employment. My brother and his friends worked in various job sectors. While I don’t remember much about the program or when it ceased to exist, I do recall that my brother really enjoyed the class and the work experience at Lima Lumber.
I’ve shared this memory with Department staff on numerous occasions. In fact, the more I shared it, the more I thought, “Why not consider bringing this program back?” This past September in Cincinnati, we had a team attend the fall convening for our New Skills For Youth grant. During our “team time,” we dusted off the DCT program from years gone by, gave it a face lift, added a few new dimensions and started thinking through how we could roll it out for the 2018-2019 school year. Our creative staff came up with a modernized name to replace the DCT moniker – Personalized Professional Pathways or P3.
I sat down with staff and we started to flesh out the P3 program to ensure it would be successful. Parallel to the development of the P3 program, staff also were working on developing the OhioMeansJobs-Readiness Seal, and it was a logical decision to blend the two together.
Similar to the DCT program, the P3 program will consist of a class on employability skills, with the foundation of the course aligning to the 15 professional skills that are part of the OhioMeansJobs-Readiness Seal. All students will be required to have work-based learning experiences. Ideally, the work-based learning experiences will be aligned to students’ career aspirations. Leveraging Ohio’s Credit Flexibility program, students’ work-based learning experiences will require training plans aligned to one of Ohio’s 39 career pathways. As a result of this alignment, students will earn career-technical education credits and possibly postsecondary credit.
Developing a traditional pathway program can be a little daunting as you consider which pathway will meet the needs of a majority of your students. Once the pathway is decided, you need to select a sequence of courses, determine classroom and laboratory space, purchase equipment and recruit enough students to make the program feasible. Many schools find this challenging due to the diverse interests of their students – especially smaller schools. Instead of choosing one or more pathways, the P3 program meets the needs of students’ various career interests and has very little startup costs.
Department staff are working with educators to develop a course outline for the P3 program that embeds the 15 professional skills on the OhioMeansJobs-Readiness Seal. This course outline will serve as the foundation of the in-school program. The essential part of the program hinges on student work-based learning. The P3 program requires the student, along with coaching from the instructor, to find employment in a sector aligned to his or her career aspirations. The instructor then works with the student and the employer to develop a training plan (resources can be found here) aligned to a career pathway course. This training plan ensures that the work-based learning experience is more than just a job – it is an authentic, work-based learning experience aligned to the content standards of the course.
A student enrolled in the P3 program will earn credit for the in-school class and credit for the work-based learning experience aligned to the student’s training plan. The employer ensures that the student is learning the technical content standards, so the student can earn course credit and be prepared to earn industry-recognized credentials aligned to the program. Students even have the ability to earn postsecondary credit through Ohio’s robust statewide articulation program (Tech Prep). The magic of the program is that it allows one teacher to help students earn credit in a variety of courses. Schools no longer have to choose which pathways they want to implement in their schools.
Staff still are finalizing plan details such as teacher qualifications, EMIS requirements and accountability aspects. I expect that to be available within the next few weeks. You can fill out this interest form to receive information about P3. Feel free to contact Cassie Palsgrove or Leah Amstutz should you have any questions on the P3 program.
And my brother, Kevin? He still works at Lima Lumber, but today, he owns the company!
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By: Staff Blogger
It’s graduation season and finding the answer to the age-old question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” is becoming critical for many students.
How exactly are schools preparing students to be ready for their first steps after graduating? Do students have the tools to move through the fog of decisions and challenges that await them after high school?
For me, these questions are more important now than at any other time in my adult life. My daughter is about to graduate high school, and I want her to be confident in her next steps!
If we expect our high school graduates to walk confidently across the stage at graduation, we need to prepare them in advance to make sound decisions about their futures. This preparation takes time and support from parents, teachers and community members. You can encourage students in your life to begin exploring careers and evaluating their talents well before graduation. OhioMeansJobs K-12 is a free, online resource that students can use to help them explore careers that match their interests and start conversations about their futures.
You also should know that this week is In-Demand Jobs Week. This is a celebration of jobs, industries and skills that are in-demand in Ohio. In-demand jobs pay well and have a high rate of growth projected for the future. Schools, colleges, universities, businesses and communities are working together to highlight and celebrate the many pathways to success our students can follow right here in Ohio. During this week, talk to your kids about the jobs and skills they think will be important to their futures. You can use OhioMeansJobs K-12 as a starting point.
Beyond just opening the discussion about in-demand careers, many schools are providing opportunities this week to help students understand how their interests and abilities can lead to careers. Students are exploring what careers are growing, identifying the problems they could help solve in their careers and learning how to prepare for those careers.
Schools are doing this through special events, but many also are making career planning a regular part of the school culture and academic programming. Check out these districts and schools around the state that are routinely incorporating career planning in their schools.
Our kids don’t need to have every decision made when they graduate, but they should be actively working toward long-term goals and know the next steps along their paths. They also should know what jobs will pay well and have openings when they graduate from high school or higher education.
I will be forever grateful to the school, community and business people that provided my daughter with the opportunities and experiences she needed to be able to make plans for her future. She will graduate confidently with a plan for her future in place. With tools like OhioMeansJobs K-12 and exciting events like In-Demand Jobs Week, other students in Ohio can have that same advantage.
Tisha Lewis is the administrator for the Department’s Career Connections office. Click here to contact Tisha.
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By: Staff Blogger
Tracy Hill is the executive director of the Office of Family and Community Engagement at Cleveland Metropolitan School District and one of the 2014 Education Week Leaders to Learn From. The first time I heard her say, “Family and community engagement is something that good schools do,” it just clicked. She made the point simply and powerfully. Family engagement and community engagement are not separate from the everyday work of schools and districts. They are, in fact, critical to the success of that work. Research even shows that effective family and community engagement can result in better grades, test scores, attendance and enrollment in more challenging courses.
Because engagement with families and communities is so critical to school success, it is a part of any quality effort to improve schools. For example, when a district carries out the Ohio Improvement Process, the district must work with families and communities to collect data, determine needs, develop an improvement plan, work the plan and evaluate the plan. As the district does this work, it develops mutual relationships with families and community members. This allows everyone to recognize their roles in improving students’ education.
At a webinar I attended in August 2017, Ron Mirr, president of the Center for Active Family Engagement (CAFÉ), shared this process in simpler terms. Below are the five steps he outlined for meaningful and organized engagement:
- Commit: To get buy-in from the community and families, districts and schools must clearly define family and community engagement. Districts should develop policies that create a clear direction for engagement. Districts and organizations in the community must develop and subscribe to shared beliefs about family and community engagement.
- Assess: Districts and schools must assess the environment they operate in. To do this, they should survey stakeholders, review what they are already doing and identify opportunities for growth.
- Plan: Districts and schools should develop a team of parents, caretakers, students and community members. Writing a plan that includes all parties establishes a foundation of mutual trust. To be successful, schools and districts also must provide training to staff about how to engage families and the community.
- Implement: Districts and schools must move beyond traditional professional development and provide coaching. Their plans must include processes for checking progress and provide the necessary resources for success.
- Sustain: Engagement is not a one-time event. School and district teams must routinely review data and, if needed, adjust what they are doing. They should openly create and share the next steps in the process with their stakeholders.
These steps align to the Ohio Improvement Process. They also are accessible to parents and community members. Intentionally engaging families and communities establishes trust. Trust leads to meaningful collaboration and support in other areas.
The draft of EachChild=OurFuture, Ohio’s five-year strategic plan for education, includes Eight Guiding Principles that recognize the importance of family and community engagement. The goal of the strategic plan is to help each child become successful with the guidance and support of caring, empowered adults. The plan itself is the product of engagement with more than 150 preK-12 educators, higher education representatives, parents and caregivers, employers, business leaders and philanthropic organizations. In fact, the draft is still being discussed at public regional meetings around Ohio. You can read more about EachChild=OurFuture and comment on the draft here.
Ohio and the nation are realizing the importance of family and community engagement. It is the perfect time for our state to be the meeting place for the 2018 National Family and Community Engagement Conference. The conference, hosted by the Institute for Educational Leadership, will be in Cleveland July 11-13. More than 1,300 people are expected to attend, and there will be more than 75 workshops. This is an excellent opportunity to see how schools and communities around the country are realizing mutual goals and making the most of family-school-community partnerships. Participants will leave the conference with strategies, tips and tools they can immediately apply to their work. To learn more, please visit the conference website or contact me directly.
Tom Capretta is the family and children community coordinator at the Ohio Department of Education. He supports districts in their efforts to implement effective family and community engagement strategies and serve vulnerable student groups, including students in foster care. To contact Tom, click here.
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By: Guest Blogger
I’m going to be open and honest here. The staff and students of Indian Lake Local Schools have experienced the suicides of two high school students in the past five years. I was serving as the high school principal during these tragedies, and it was, without a doubt, the most challenging time of my professional career. Both deaths were sudden and unexpected. Reactions were painful and raw. Our young people and experienced educators were grief-stricken and asked, “What signs did we miss?” and “How can we prevent this going forward?” Making matters worse, there was an overall increase of suicides in our community during this time. These events emphasized the critical need for emotional support in our schools.
Although traditional first-aid training is not yet mandatory for all educators in Ohio, I would venture to say that most teachers and school staff have taken at least one first-aid course at some point in their lives. When you are responsible for the care of others, it makes perfect sense to be knowledgeable about lifesaving techniques should a medical emergency arise. First aid gives individuals the skills to provide basic medical treatment, often saving the person’s life, until a professional can take over.
After the tragedies that Indian Lake School District witnessed in the school and the community, we decided to apply first-aid principles to our own mental health. As adults, we often focus on our physical well-being. We regularly go to checkups to ensure we are healthy. We model this behavior for students. We encourage them to eat right and exercise frequently. However, it is still common to neglect and even be afraid to address our own mental health. It is even more difficult to confront others — like the young people in our care — about their mental well-being. We often do not have the skills or confidence to address these issues. However, the data clearly indicates that youth need mental health support. One in six students experience mental illness, and suicide is the second leading cause of death for 10-24-year-olds. Locally, our school counselors also report an increase of students who need mental health services. Counselor responsibilities continue to expand, making it nearly impossible for them to adequately support all the students’ needs. At Indian Lake, we decided to address this problem as an entire staff.
I transitioned to the superintendent’s position in the summer of 2017 and began serving on a committee where I met Steve Terrill. Steve is a mental health advocate, community activist and a member of the Mental Health Drug & Alcohol Services Board of Logan and Champaign Counties. He introduced the Mental Health First Aid program to me. With support of the board of education and the administrative team, we quickly began planning a training event that included every district employee. Bus drivers, food service staff, teachers and office staff — everyone attended.
The training is much like medical first aid. Participants learn to provide lifesaving assistance until appropriate professional resources are available. However, instead of providing medical attention, Mental Health First Aid assists someone who is developing a mental health problem or experiencing a mental health crisis. During the eight-hour course, trainees determine how to apply the five-step action plan in a variety of situations. The situations could be helping someone through a panic attack, engaging with someone who may be suicidal or assisting an individual who has overdosed. An important component of the Mental Health First Aid course is the opportunity to practice the intervention strategy rather than just learning about it. Role-playing makes it easier to apply the knowledge to a real-life situation. The training builds an understanding of mental health and helps the public identify, understand and respond to signs of mental illness.
Certified instructors teach the nationally-accredited Mental Health First Aid program. The training occurs in either two four-hour sessions or one eight-hour session. There is a maximum of 35 people in each session. At Indian Lake Schools, we trained more than 230 staff and community members during a professional development day. Our philosophy is that all staff members should work together to improve the student experience. We believe that recognizing the signs of mental distress is vital to a safe school environment. It was imperative that EVERY staff member participate in the training. In return, staff received continuing education units and a three-year credential that is valuable on any resume.
The most difficult part of organizing the training was finding enough instructors to serve our entire staff on the same day. I contacted Kathy Oberlin, director of the Ohio Mental Health Network for School Success, and she provided trainers and workbooks free of charge through a grant called Making Ohio Aware: Building Statewide Mental Health First Aid Capacity. Even with the support of the network, we were still short on trainers. We turned to The Ohio State University Extension in Hardin County for assistance. Many extension agencies across the state have certified instructors on staff. In most cases, extension agencies charge a modest fee to cover their mileage and the workbook fees. The workbooks typically cost $20 each.
The training was well-received by our staff, although I will admit that the morning doughnuts and free lunch probably helped to sweeten the deal! We also opened our training up to the community. There were 20 extra people in attendance, including an Indian Lake Board of Education member, educators from other districts, a Logan County commissioner, and State Board of Education Member Linda Haycock. We have plans to coordinate additional community events in the future, and the next phase is to provide training to students.
Mental Health First Aid credentialing is only available to people ages 18 and older. Karey Thompson from the Suicide Prevention Coalition will help us provide Mental Health Gatekeeper Training to our middle school and high school students in April. Gatekeeper training lasts approximately 90 minutes. It teaches students to recognize their own mental health struggles and to understand warning signs in their friends. The main idea is to “Acknowledge, Care, Tell” or to “ACT.”
Focusing on mental health has helped to develop a shared sense of caring in our school district and in the community. Additionally, it has answered many of the questions our staff members faced after experiencing the heartache of student suicides. Finally, parents and community members know that we are doing everything we can to protect the overall health our most valuable assets — our students. I am truly thankful to all the agencies and volunteers that came together to make this training happen. The response has been extremely positive, and I am confident that our district is well equipped to support student mental health, although there is still much work to do.
If you are considering an event in your district or community, feel free to contact me by email or at (937) 686-8601. You can contact Steve Terrill by email, at (919) 623-0952 or on Facebook. Kathy Oberlin also is an excellent resource. I would encourage you to get to know the behavioral health authority in your county. You can find a directory here.
Robert Underwood served as a teacher, principal and coach before becoming the superintendent of Indian Lake Local Schools. To contact Superintendent Underwood, click here.
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Last Modified: 5/17/2019 3:20:37 PM