By: Wendy Grove
As a parent of a young child, I often wondered whose advice I should listen to. There was certainly no shortage of advice. It seemed to come from everywhere — my mom, my friends, colleagues, the cashier at the grocery store. When you become a parent, people do seem to have a lot of wisdom to share. Given my experience in early childhood education, I could filter out the well-meaning, but outdated advice from the things I knew had some facts behind them. That does not mean, however, that I actually knew what to expect from an infant or toddler. You hear a lot of new parents joke that they wish their babies came with an instruction manual and it’s true. I used to wonder when my daughter would start walking or if there were signs that would tell me if something was not developing as expected. If I asked another person these questions, I would get lots of advice, reactions and sometimes unsolicited information. Internet searches also were available, but how could I know which sites were truly reliable? Anyone who has searched for a medical symptom online knows that search engines often diagnose a case of sniffles as a rare, deadly disease. So, where exactly can parents turn to for solid advice?
The state of Ohio just released a new resource that I wish would have been there for me when my children were small. It is called Bold Beginning! The goal of Bold Beginning! is to give Ohio’s youngest citizens a great start in life by making information and resources accessible to their caregivers. Getting early access to learning and basic needs is critical. Before we are even born, our brains begin to develop. As infants and young children, the experiences we have shape how our brains will continue to develop. This lays the foundation for all learning that takes place for the rest of our lives. The period between birth and kindergarten is the most rapid phase of development that we will experience in the span of our lives. This is the time when a child learns how to walk, talk, follow rules for safety and hygiene, develop significant relationships with trusted adults and make friends beyond their families. Everything that happens in this period of enormous learning and development has the potential to impact how that child grows, learns and experiences the world during his or her years in school.
Bold Beginning! is a reliable, online resource to learn about everything from healthy pregnancies to child development through the third grade. If parents have concerns about their children’s development or meeting their basic needs, it is a one-stop shop for resources to food, housing, education and child care. There is even legal help and links to family fun. You can enter the site as a parent or caretaker and go right to a page with specific information based on the age of your child. The Family and Community page links to all the resources available throughout the state to help families meet their basic heath, emotional, educational and employment needs.
Finally! A single site with information and resources that families can depend on. It’s not quite an instruction manual, but this is definitely something parents and others who help children and families will want to check out so Ohio’s children can have a bold beginning for a bright future.
Dr. Wendy Grove is the director of the Office for Early Learning and School Readiness at the Ohio Department of Education, where she helps develop and implement policies for preschool special education and early childhood education. You can learn more about Wendy by clicking here.
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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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By: Julia Simmerer
“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 SAFE 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 SAFE 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 SAFE 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: Kimberly Monachino
Today’s classrooms are very busy places. They are filled with students who have diverse needs and learning challenges. To meet their needs, teachers may be equipped with a variety of instructional strategies and have many other tools in their tool boxes. However, even with multiple tools, trying to meet the unique needs of each individual child sometimes can feel daunting.
One approach that can help teachers customize the curriculum to meet the needs of all learners is Universal Design for Learning (UDL). Universal Design for Learning originated with the term universal design. Originally, universal design meant creating products and environments that are accessible to individuals with disabilities. Automatic doors, closed captions, ramps and curb cuts are all universal designs. These modifications assist people with disabilities, but individuals without disabilities also benefit from these adaptations. For example, automatic doors make entering a building easier if you use a wheelchair or if you can walk but are carrying several bags of groceries.
We know that every learner is unique, and one size doesn’t fit all. The Universal Design for Learning structure is research based and aims to change the design of classrooms, school practices and coursework rather than change each unique learner. It minimizes barriers and maximizes learning no matter what a student’s ability, disability, age, gender or cultural background might be. It reduces obstacles to learning and provides appropriate accommodations and supports. It does all of this while keeping expectations high for all students. Universal Design for Learning makes it possible for all learners to engage in meaningful learning by making sure everyone understands what is being taught. Coursework developed following Universal Design for Learning is flexible — the goals, methods, materials and assessments consider the full range of each learner’s needs.
In a Universal Design for Learning classroom, students have goals and are aware of what they are working to achieve. To accomplish this, the teacher might post goals for specific lessons in the classroom. Students also might write down lesson goals in their notebooks. The teacher refers to lesson goals during the lesson itself. In a traditional classroom, there only may be one way for a student to complete an assignment. This might be an essay or a worksheet. With Universal Design for Learning, there are multiple options. For instance, students can create a podcast or a video to show what they know. They may be allowed to draw a comic strip. There are a wide range of possibilities for completing assignments, as long as students meet the lesson goals. With Universal Design for Learning, teachers give students feedback about how they are doing with lesson goals. Students reflect on their learning and think about their progress toward the goals. If they did not meet the goals, the teachers encourage students to think about what they could do differently next time.
The three major ideas in the Universal Design for Learning structure are:
- Multiple means of representation is showing or presenting the information in different ways to the learners. For example, students with sensory disabilities (e.g., blindness or deafness); learning disabilities (e.g., dyslexia); language or cultural differences, and others may need information presented in different ways. So, instead of the teacher having all the students read from a textbook or only using printed text, there are options for students based on how they best learn. Some students prefer to listen to a recording of the textbook, use pictures to understand the print or use a computer.
- Multiple means of action and expression means providing opportunities for learners to demonstrate their knowledge in alternative ways. For example, when the teacher gives students options to “show what they know” beyond paper and pencil tests. The students show their understanding by creating something such as a poster, making a PowerPoint presentation, writing a poem or making a TV or radio commercial.
- Multiple means of engagement is discovering learners’ interests and motivating them to learn. When teachers take the extra time to learn about their students’ personal interests and make learning relevant to their experiences, students often become more engaged. For example, the teacher who knows her students are excited about sports and incorporates those interests into reading and math activities.
You can find detailed information about these three principles here.
The National Center on Universal Design for Learning is a great resource for people who want to learn more about this topic. Additionally, you can explore the Universal Design for Learning guidelines here. These guidelines offer a set of practical suggestions that can ensure all learners can access and participate in meaningful, challenging learning opportunities.
Kim Monachino is director of the Office for Exceptional Children for the Ohio Department of Education. You can learn more about Kim by clicking here.
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