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2/22/2019

Superintendent for a Day… Leader for a Lifetime!

By: Staff Blogger

As students prepare for the next steps on their learning journeys, Ohio Department of Education staff members are always thrilled to hear how these plans will help others, positively impact their peers and shape the future of our state. One central Ohio student’s career aspirations will certainly shape education, but from a position that may not be on typical high school senior’s radar. Andrew Knox’s goal is to become the state superintendent of public instruction.

Andrew reached out to State Superintendent Paolo DeMaria to share that the Department was a planned stop on his career path, so he may fill Ohio’s top seat in education and one day become the state superintendent. On Feb. 20, Andrew took one step closer to his ultimate career goal when he reported for duty at the Ohio Department of Education and assumed the ceremonial role of state superintendent for the day.

Andrew’s resume certainly is not limited to his single day tenure as state superintendent. As a student at the Ohio School for the Deaf, Andrew already has made a profound impact to address the challenges faced by Deaf Ohioans and is an advocate for shaping the ways in which these areas can be addressed. Prior to serving as Ohio’s state schools chief, Andrew helped change the course of state history with his contributing efforts to support the passage of legislation in 2017 to declare Ohio Deaf History Month (March 13-April 15).

Much like Superintendent DeMaria encounters daily, Andrew kept a full calendar of connections with partners to continue strengthening the learning opportunities for Ohio’s 1.7 million K-12 students. From meetings with other state agency directors and members of the governor’s cabinet to sharing his positions on policy during a mock interview with a Columbus Dispatch reporter to lobbying for additional funding for early literacy education for Deaf students, Andrew’s critical thinking, creativity and collaboration skills were on full display.

Our team extends gratitude to Andrew for sharing his ideas, inspiring our work and spending the day with us at the Ohio Department of Education. Follow Andrew’s entire day below through Superintendent DeMaria’s Twitter feed!

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11/29/2018

New Kid at the Conference…What I Learned When I Stepped Outside of My Comfort Zone

By: Virginia Ressa

GettyImages-618766306.jpgI always enjoy going to conferences. Spending time with colleagues, discussing content and pedagogy issues and debating the latest concerns always renews my commitment to education. As a social studies teacher, I looked forward to the Ohio Council for the Social Studies conference every year. I looked forward to having lunch with old friends and talking about our shared struggle of making ancient history interesting to seventh-graders. I really enjoyed participating in this conference and similar conferences, like the Ohio Council for Law-Related Education’s Law and Citizenship Conference, each year. I knew people and was comfortable in those settings. But, looking back, I wonder if I was really learning anything new. I heard updates from the Ohio Department of Education, learned about new resources and maybe picked up some ideas on how to teach certain topics. There was a great deal of value in the renewal and re-energization those conferences provided, but was I really stretching myself? Did these conferences really challenge me to grow professionally?

My last blog post was about attending the Future Ready Ohio conference. I chose to write about that conference because I got so much out of it. Maybe it was because the content was new to me, and I didn’t know what to expect. I ventured out of my comfort zone and, as you might expect, I learned a great deal. This month, I attended all three days of OCALICON. Do you know about OCALICON? Some quick background: Here in Ohio, we are lucky to have a nationally recognized organization that works to improve achievement for students with disabilities. OCALI (formerly known as the Ohio Center for Autism and Low Incidence) holds an annual conference that attracts more than 2,000 participants from across the country and even internationally. Since 2007, participants have come from all 50 states and 17 countries.

This year, the Department’s Office for Exceptional Children partnered with OCALI to hold its Special Education Leadership Institute in conjunction with OCALICON. It was a great pairing and allowed Ohio’s attendees to participate in some Ohio-specific events and access all OCALICON’s rich content. Participation was up to about 2,900 attendees! I was one of the new attendees, and I felt the mild tension of being in new territory.

When I was a content area teacher, OCALICON wasn’t on my radar. None of the special education conferences were. Yet, all my classes included students with disabilities. I had their individualized education programs (IEPs) and knew what kinds of accommodations I was supposed to make. That seemed like enough. I never realized how little I knew about students with different disabilities and how to support them in accessing grade-level content. By attending conferences only related to my content area, I was limiting my learning and my ability to improve my practice and meet the needs of all the learners in my classroom. At OCALICON, I found myself outside of my comfort zone — and it was great. There were a few familiar faces and session topics, but most were new to me.

Of this year’s 2,900 attendees, only 60 were general education teachers. This number grew slightly from last year’s 38. Still, the majority of attendees are special education teachers or intervention specialists and special education directors. I’m beginning to think we are approaching conferences in the wrong way. I’m a social studies teacher and know a lot about history because it is something I’m interested in. I read books and watch movies about history all the time. What I don’t know enough about is how to support students with multiple disabilities. What I don’t know enough about is how to use technology to provide students with intellectual disabilities access to grade-level content. About 80 percent of our students with disabilities can, with accommodations, access grade-level content. This would be much more doable if our intervention specialists were not the only ones who knew how to do it.

So, what have I learned? I’ve learned I should attend conferences that focus on content I don’t know a lot about. This is one of those “aha!” moments when I realize I’ve been looking at something the wrong way for years. I wouldn’t sign up for a course on something I already know, so why keep going to the same conferences? I know our content area conferences are valuable for networking and refueling, but I would argue that attending conferences outside of our comfort zones has a great deal of benefit as well. Conversely, for special education teachers and intervention specialists, that would mean attending a few social studies and mathematics conferences.

My challenge to you is to open your mind to a new, authentic learning experience by finding and attending a different kind of conference this year. For instance, you might consider attending the next Ohio Council for Exceptional Children conference. Without a doubt, you also will want to save the date for OCALICON 2019.

Virginia Ressa is an education program specialist at the Ohio Department of Education, where she focuses on helping schools and educators meet the needs of diverse learners through professional learning. You can learn more about Virginia by clicking here.

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10/25/2018

Safe, Inclusive Schools Prevent Bullying Before it Starts

By: Kimberly Monachino

GettyImages-950957410.jpgAs I walk down the halls of schools, I am always intrigued with the creative and empowering messages that appear on bulletin boards. Especially those messages that focus on inclusive school culture and creating positive learning environments. One tagline read, “Do the right thing even when no one is looking.” Another illustrated a colorful box of crayons with each crayon representing an individual child’s face with the caption “We are a box of crayons, each of us unique, but when we get together, the picture is complete.” Another bulletin board emphasized “Put a stop to bullying! Making others feel bad is never okay!”

I mention these observations in light of October being National Bullying Prevention Awareness month. This year’s Bullying Prevention Awareness Month marks the 10th anniversary of its initiation by PACER's National Bullying Prevention Center. Since 2006, the event has grown to an entire month of education and awareness activities that are being recognized by schools and communities throughout the world.

I am going to provide a basic definition of bullying, along with specific tips for teachers to prevent bullying. The tips are intended for all students, but with an emphasis on students with disabilities. We know that children who bully others also often target children who seem “different.” Children with disabilities are sometimes more likely to be bullied than children without disabilities.

First, let’s start with the definition of bullying. The word “bullying” is applied to a lot of different situations that may or may not necessarily meet the definition of bullying. Stopbullying.gov defines bullying as unwanted, aggressive behavior among school-age children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. The key in this definition are the words real or perceived power imbalance and the behavior is repeated over time.

Bullying is not when children have a conflict or argument. There are always going to be times when children do not get along with each other and situations of disagreement occur. This is part of healthy childhood development and teaches children the important skills of managing their emotions. It helps them develop coping skills.

Teachers play an important role in preventing true bullying and can create safe, bully-free zones in their classrooms. Teachers also are aware that students with disabilities are more likely to be bullied than students without disabilities and often are the first line of defense. Here are some tips on ways teachers can be proactive in preventing bullying of all students, with an emphasis on the unique needs of students with disabilities.

Champion                                                                                                     
Be a champion of preventing bullying by making sure you know your school and district policies on bullying and work to make sure they are implemented. Resources are available to help district develop their local policies.  

Build self-advocacy
Teach students who have disabilities how to advocate for themselves. Help students who struggle with social skills to recognize when someone is being hurtful, and give them language to use to help them respond.

Teach tolerance
Teach students self-awareness and empathy through literature. Books like The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka or The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt teach self-awareness and review multiple sides of a conflict in a story or scenario. Literature with protagonists who have disabilities, like Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key by Jack Gantos, Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine and Wonder by R.J. Palacio are wonderful for building students’ awareness of specific disabilities. These stories also build empathy that transfers into real-world scenarios.

Build positive classroom climate
Create a positive class climate that is predictable, consistent and equitable. Take time at the start of and throughout the year to model problem-solving and communication. Go out of your way to recognize each student for his or her unique strengths and talents.

Respect
Let your students know you care about and respect them. Show your students you are available to listen and you want to help them.

Activities to promote prevention
Develop activities that focus on identifying bullying in books, TV shows and movies. Use teachable moments from these to discuss with your students the impact of bullying and how characters resolved it.

Morning meetings
During morning meetings, empower students to talk about bullying and peer relations. It is important to allow students to take leadership roles in planning and leading the meetings to help them gain critical-thinking and problem-solving skills.

Teach students to be “upstanders”
Students need to know that when they don’t stop someone from bullying, they’re contributing to it. Teach your students to be upstanders by showing them how to quickly recognize bullying and basic techniques to stop it — like not creating an audience or inviting the victim into their group.

Share experiences through multimedia
Challenge students to create multimedia projects that express their thoughts, opinions and personal experiences with bullying. The technology encourages creativity and individualism, and the ability to share their experiences builds students’ communication and advocacy.

Supervise hot spots
We know bullying is more likely to occur when teachers aren’t watching. Figure out your school’s “hot spots” for bullying — the places with less supervision and more students. It is important to ask others in the building, such as custodians, office assistants, cafeteria workers and bus drivers where they see problems.

These tips are meant to begin the conversation on how we can make each and every child feel welcome and accepted in our schools. The actions and behaviors you demonstrate contribute to the success of every child. Always remember the power you have as an educator to make a difference in a child’s life.

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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8/9/2018

A Parent’s Hope for the New School Year

By: Wendy Grove

GettyImages-531229189.jpgThis week, I am writing not as an education professional, but as a parent. My daughter is the child that made me a mother for the first time. Last week, she turned 11 years old, and I want to tell you about her. She is brave, creative, artistic, smart, stubborn, self-centered and difficult. She likes singing songs, watching anime, reading Percy Jackson books, snuggling with her two dogs, swimming and showing off her new polka-dot tennis shoes.

My daughter is in special education where she gets help learning because she has dysgraphia. This is a learning disability where her brain does not translate her ability to tell you a story or read a book into writing with a pencil. She cannot spell or write words, sentences or paragraphs like a child her age is expected to. In addition to this learning disability, she is diagnosed with extreme generalized anxiety. Her anxiety is with her everywhere, not just in specific situations. Recently, as a fifth-grader, she received a brand new diagnosis of attention deficit disorder. This means she struggles to pay attention, especially during instruction. She also has been identified by her school district as gifted in science and accelerated in math, reading and social studies.

In less than a month, my baby starts middle school. A new school. A new social situation. A new routine. New teachers. A lot of new kids. My heart is racing just listing all the new things coming for her. I wonder, how will she do with all that newness? My daughter has an individualized education program (IEP) that gives her academic and social supports. Staff from the middle school met with me, and the IEP is in place and ready to go when school begins. They told me she will be supported and wrote down how and when and who will provide the support. I want to believe this so badly. I remain hopeful, but my mother’s heart wonders if she really will be okay. Really, I wonder if she will be more than okay — I want to know if she will thrive. Will my daughter thrive in middle school with everything that makes her so uniquely her?

In partnership with her school’s educators, I am trying hard to make sure my child gets to be her best self, even on her most difficult days. I am sharing this with you because I want you to know us. I want you to hear my hopes and dreams as an educator and as a mother. I hope that by sharing my story, I can encourage other parents to partner with their schools to ensure their students’ success.

Maybe you have a child going through a similar transition. Maybe, like me, you also are tired. And, maybe you have not had a great experience at the school or with a person who works there. But, let me assure you this: educators care. They became teachers, principals and school counselors because they want to help kids. They genuinely want success for our children. They want our children to feel safe and supported in their learning. For these reasons, I must believe that she will thrive. I believe her teachers will spend time getting to know who she is as a student, so they can help her achieve her goals. I also know my role in this is important, as a partner, communicator and a support to both my daughter and her teachers.

I want to encourage you to think about what kind of partner you have been, or could be, with your child’s school. What beliefs do you have about teachers based on your experiences? Whatever the past experiences have been, this year is a fresh start. Take time to tell your child’s school about your perfect baby girl or boy. Tell someone there about your concerns and what you hope for your child. Be brave. Use your voice, and be confident that you know your child and your contribution to his or her success is critical. Be present. Be open as a partner with your child’s school. Trust in the educators’ knowledge and experience and to the underlying goodness of their intentions to do right by your child. You’ve got this! We parents can do this! Together with the schools, we can positively shape the experience of school and make sure our kids thrive.

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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4/26/2018

Co-teaching...Two Teachers in One Class Equals Success!

By: Kimberly Monachino

GettyImages-638711984.jpgAs you walk down the hallway of a school and peek in and out of classrooms, you may see two teachers in a classroom instead of one. Often, the scenario is a general education teacher and special education teacher working together to teach all students in the classroom, including students with disabilities. These teachers work together, sharing their ideas and planning lessons. Both teachers support each other and work as a team. This type of teaching model is referred to as co-teaching. In a co-teaching classroom, there is a mutual respect and partnership between both teachers to present learning in diverse ways based on the needs of the students.

Co-teaching simply means two teachers working together to deliver instruction. However, there are different ways that two teachers work together to deliver instruction in a co-teaching classroom. One approach is called one teach, one observe. In this model, one teacher delivers instruction while the other observes student learning. The second teacher walks around the classroom checking to make sure the students understand the lesson. A second approach is called one teach, one assist. With this approach, one teacher takes the lead role and the other teacher rotates among students to provide support. This model allows one teacher to respond to individual students in a quicker manner. A third approach is parallel co-teaching. In this model, the two teachers divide the students in two groups and teach the same lesson. This allows for each teacher to have fewer students and focus on specific skills. In the fourth approach, station teaching, both teachers are actively involved in instruction as the students rotate from one station to the next, learning new materials. The fifth approach is alternative teaching, which allows one teacher to take a small group of students and provide instruction that is different than what the large group receives. The last approach is the complementary teaching model in which one teacher instructs the students while the other teacher offers an instructional strategy that supplements or complements the lesson. For example, the first teacher may model note taking on the board as the second teacher presents the lesson. If you do a Google search for co-teaching diagrams, you will find many images illustrating of the various co-teaching models.

There are many benefits for all students with using any of these models. Particularly, students with disabilities can access the general education curriculum and general education classroom setting. Students with disabilities benefit from being part of a classroom with high academic rigor with a teacher who understands the academic content and a special education teacher who can adjust the instruction. Lastly, students with disabilities may feel more connected with their classmates in the classroom and community.

Next time you walk down the hall of a school, take a peek in a classroom. You might be surprised what you see. Remember, two teachers may be better than one for all students.

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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3/8/2018

Universal Design for Learning Equals Learning Opportunities for All

By: Kimberly Monachino

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Source: Brookes Publishing Co.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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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Last Modified: 6/1/2016 4:16:44 PM