Guest post by Nikody Keating
Times changed almost overnight in early 2020. We were thrust into a situation that we had never prepared for as a country, much less in education. Remote learning became a necessity, and teachers across this country scrambled to pick up the pieces of the remaining school year. For special education, this task was not just challenging but near impossible.
I’ve had the privilege over the last two years to talk to educators across the country, and over the past three months to hear how exceptional efforts have been made to not only help children in special education learn but help them cope with the loss of the support tools they had access to in the classroom. Whenever I have a conversation with a teacher or administrator, I always ask them to tell me about their work with kids and where they are finding success and challenges. I have heard some truly inspiring stories.
For example, every day a special education teacher in New Mexico would wake up, have a quick touchpoint with one of his paras, and pull up the list of students. For this teacher, he knew his students were facing a significant challenge, and that one Zoom meeting a day with each student wasn’t going to be enough for them. He would start at the top of the list, working his way down, and his para would start at the bottom. Every day they would work long hours, doing Zoom meetings with each child to make sure they received support and education. After spending all day on Zoom, he would plan the lessons for the next day, go to sleep and start all over again the next day.
This teacher and his para took it upon themselves to find new and different ways to help their students, and their effort was amazing and self-sacrificing. While extraordinary efforts like this should be admired, I believe it can’t be expected of all of our teachers and the long term, it’s not sustainable. We as a special education community must find a way to gather and deploy all of our resources innovatively to help students, without burning ourselves out. This is an achievable goal, but it requires that we change our perspective on what the role of a special education teacher is.
In an inclusive school environment, the classroom teacher is like the quarterback of a football team, coordinating with support providers, administrators, and parents, as each plays their unique role in a student’s education. Team members continually educate themselves on how best to serve the child’s needs. In the remote learning environment, the role of the special education teacher has now expanded beyond being an individually contributing player on the team, to now also being a coach. When special education students learn at home, their families are now having to provide direct support, rather than a paraprofessional or aide. So the special educator in many cases now consults with parents in a new way, helping them better understand and respond to their child’s learning needs in this novel scenario. The game has changed, and more challenges are to come.
At mytaptrack®, our mission is to be part of the solution for special education. It’s clear to us that what special educators really need in order to support families in the remote learning environment is real-time behavioral data which they can check at any time to help families navigate the challenges they face. We believe that making data easy to track while making it immediately available and easily understandable, are necessary aspects of a behavior tracking approach if it is to effectively bridge educators and families in addressing students’ needs across settings. This kind of coordination, which is helpful day-to-day, will also facilitate smoother transitions between learning environments in any scenario, from a hybrid school model that has a student participating in multiple settings at once, to full remote learning that eventually shifts back to in-person learning.
The mytaptrack® system, which will release Track 2.0 this fall, is designed to help students in any environment. A simple click of a button is all that’s needed to record behaviors. When the person working with the child sees a behavior, they can click the button once for one behavior, twice for another, and so on. Transcribed notes can be taken by holding the button down, capturing contextual information at the time a behavior occurs. And since tracking only requires a button click, teaching families how to use the system is easy. The data collected can be viewed in pre-made graphs and charts available through a secure web portal, allowing team members to stay on top of a student’s behavior trends, no matter where they are. The system allows educators to readily identify challenges and offer supports to families, which can keep the student’s learning moving forward in these uncertain and changing times.
By obtaining this level of detail it allows for the child to receive better support continually throughout the day, while also capturing vital information that can be used in planning for when students transition back into the classroom. While there are questions as to if data tracked by families can count towards data tracking of IEP goals, I would reframe it as having some form of data tracking (even if it’s not perfect and won’t count legally) is vital for the success of our students as we’re going through these uncertain times to help them continue to strive toward their goals.
Remote learning will be a reality in some manner for many schools in the 2020-2021 school year, and the ability to transition between distance and in-person learning will be essential for all educators. To learn more about how mytaptrack® can help, visit us at www.mytaptrack.com.