General education teachers aren’t often provided the training they need to effectively reach children with disabilities in their classroom, but there are simple things they can do to gain more expertise at working with these students. In this episode, we discuss information why and how teaching programs fail to prepare gen ed teachers for working with students with disabilities, break down a few common myths about students with disabilities, and give teachers actionable ideas and strategies for building student agency with their entire class. Our guests are two NWEA experts in special education: Douglas Buttorff (content designer) and Elizabeth Barker (accessibility research scientist).
Jacob: Welcome to "The Continuing Educator." I'm your host, Jacob Bruno. Teachers never stop learning. And this professional learning podcast is crafted with that in mind. We're glad you're here, to listen in on a series of compelling conversations with influential and expert folks in teaching, learning, assessing, and the myriad of factors that influence student growth and mastery. As we share these conversations, we aim to provide directional context for you in your classrooms to help inform your teaching strategies. We intend to share research and perspectives that can help you grow as a professional, develop your practice, and show you what success can look like. As a reminder, this season of "The Continuing Educator" is focused on building student agency. So far this season, we've explored student agency from different angles and perspectives, dissecting what student agency is, how to give students a sense of efficacy and, frankly, a say within their learning journeys. We've explored the role that equity, supportive environments, and culturally responsive teaching can play in laying the groundwork for agency. We've explored the role of student agency within mathematics and ELA. And in our latest episode, we examine building agency with emergent bilingual students. These many conversations have been dynamic and have offered a lot of perspectives and insights to help influence student ownership within your classrooms. If you've missed any conversations, I encourage you to loop back and listen where the topics are most relevant for you. Here in the sixth episode of this season, we're going to explore the concept and practice of building student agency with a lens of accessibility.
Let's get into it today. I'm happy to welcome my guests, Dr. Elizabeth Barker and Douglas Buttorff. Dr. Elizabeth Barker is the accessibility research manager at NWEA. She focuses on accessibility, equity, and growth modeling. She began her career in education as a middle school and elementary special education teacher, specifically of students with mild to moderate disabilities in Michigan and Colorado. She received her doctoral degree with an emphasis on growth trajectories for students with learning disabilities and mathematics and reading comprehension from the University of Oregon. Go, Ducks. Her current research focuses on how growth trajectories vary among students with visual impairments, deafness and hearing loss, and other disabilities. She's also a board member of Decoding Dyslexia Oregon and is an adjunct professor at the University of Portland. Go, Pilots. Welcome, Elizabeth.
Dr. Barker: Thank you. Thank you for having me.
Jacob: Glad you're here. And our next guest is a practitioner in the field. Douglas Buttorff is currently a high school mathematics teacher in Medford School District in Southern Oregon. He served as the school's Special Education Department Chair. He earned his degrees from Southern Oregon University. Go, Raiders. Douglas has specialties in health, physical education, outdoor education, and teaching students who are eligible for special education. He's taught in a self-contained classroom with students that have high behavior needs. And he's currently a member of the NWEA professional learning team. Welcome, Douglas.
Douglas: Thank you. Excited to be here.
Jacob: I'm glad you're here. So, accessibility and student agency. And lemme just pause. Let's think of student agency within this context of empowering students to act on their own behalf within their learning. So I'll start with this question. We'll go to Elizabeth and then Douglas. Why does accessibility and student agency together? Why does this work matter to you? Elizabeth?
Dr. Barker: Oh, good question. Thank you so much for asking that. You know, I think it's really important, and why it matters to me is there is a balance between understanding students with disabilities and understanding what it is that they need and giving them a voice to move forward. It's important to me because we need to hear our students, we need to listen to our students. And this is no different with students with disabilities.
Jacob: Compelling. I agree with you. Douglas, what would you add from your perspective?
Douglas: I agree with what Elizabeth started to say, and I think the other piece to add is that we only get students for a finite amount of time in K through 12 education. We are eventually releasing them to the world. And we have to arm them with the ability to advocate for themselves and negotiate their world. And that's where agency comes in.
Jacob: Well said. So I have this impression of the accommodations within accessibility is, really supports generally focused on academic or disciplinary needs or behavioral needs, and thereby really focused on their growth and achievement within disciplines. But when we overlay a focus on student agency, my question to you, as special education experts and practitioners, is that focus on building agency secondary or often an afterthought? Douglas, why don't we start with you this time?
Douglas: I think it can be, and I think it varies from district to district. I think we are moving forward as a profession. But oftentimes, IEPs are done around students as opposed to with student voice. And I think that's one of the biggest markers for a student being equipped with agency moving out of the high school system, is, are they a regular participant in their IEP meeting to say, "This is what I need and this is what I don't need"?
Jacob: Ah, that's fantastic. Elizabeth, what are your thoughts?
Dr. Barker: Yeah, I think that Douglas hit on something that's really important, and that's the fact that really understanding or helping that student, especially in K5, K6, K8, all the way through, understanding what accommodations they actually feel are needed. There's a real important factor that we need to be considering, and that's the universal design within the classrooms. Accommodations are made for a student to... Could almost feel like an exclusionary practice. It can make a student feel excluded from certain things. And so we have to be careful. There are times when a student may not want to use their accommodation, and we should actually listen to that. And that can get tangled in this...oh, I would say tangled with the fact that we're trying to support and coach and listen to the student at the same time, but, unfortunately, peer pressure can become a barrier as well. So allowing that student to kind of handle their natural consequences to deciding when or when not to use an accommodation is also an important factor that we need to consider with student agency.
Douglas: I think also the interplay between what's needed during instruction, just the general day-to-day of the classroom, and then what's needed on assessment, sometimes those can be the same, sometimes those can be different. And teaching students to know when they need what, whether this is an instructional accommodation or an assessment based on accommodation or both.
Jacob: You know, we've talked a lot this season... Thank you, both. I mean, it's super thought-provoking. And so just allow me a moment of reflection. We've talked a lot this season about self-efficacy, student efficacy, student agency, the environmental context or conditions that are fertile ground for developing student agency. We haven't really talked about, to the stage, self-advocacy, which I hear already this coming out in your conversation. What a useful add to this idea. And certainly, maybe that's embedded in efficacy. I really wanna sit with this for a second. You know, individualization is at the heart of building student agency. At least I'm putting that out there for your reaction, but while there are commonalities and approach that are good and necessary for all students, I see the notion of IEP or exceptionality or accommodations, etc., reminding us that there is this bespoke or highly tailored element that is required to help students with disabilities, and really, I would say, to help each and every student build their sense of advocacy, agency, and your valuable input, their self-advocacy. So I wanna ask this question, how should I think about building agency with my student or my students as...and Elizabeth, I'd like to ask you, from lens of a special education teacher? And Douglas, I'd like you to take the lens of a gen ed teacher. We'll start with Elizabeth this time.
Dr. Barker: Oh, that's a great question. So when I think about this, start with student agency from a special education standpoint, is that we really need to understand the individual student to support them, right? Every student is different, every student has different needs, and there needs to be a practice from the beginning of kind of being a mentor or a guide with that student because, especially if they are identified early on, right, they are going to need a lot of attempts at what is going to help them in school. And they are going to need to work through that. There are certain accommodations that teachers think are or should be generalized to every type of disability. "Oh, so this student struggles with reading, we should absolutely give them text-to-speech." Not always, and not always for every subject. But that needs to be a balance between the teacher and the student. The student really needs to give some input. And they are figuring it out as well. They are not going to know right from the beginning what is going to work from them. And it's going to change. Over time, that will change. And it will change depending on subject, it will change depending on who the teacher is, who they feel comfortable with. But that needs to be allowed, and it needs to be allowed to be investigated and explored and learned. And that will give the student agency to be able to go forward and advocate, not only for themselves, but for others.
Jacob: I wanna stick there for a second, Douglas, before we go to gen ed teachers. And certainly, before we go there as well, Douglas, you know, you're an expert here as well, so I'd love your feedback on the role of the special education teacher. But Elizabeth, I'm hearing you, and it's making me think that part of the role of the special education teacher is, is this fair to say, the foreman of the scaffolds, the flexible scaffolds that change depending on the context and as the student grows and develops advocacy, efficacy, agency in their learning journeys, within a class or across classes or across years. Is that a fair summary?
Dr. Barker: Yes, Jacob, because here's the thing. A disability is a mismatch between the student and their environment, right? And so once we know that and we know the disability, we need to manipulate the environment in order to support them and remove barriers with accessibility. And that's going to change. It's going to change over time and with that student, so we need to grow with them. So, yes, I think it's a fair summary.
Jacob: Helpful. Douglas, what would you add? And if you're ready to go to gen ed, we can do that as well.
Douglas: I would just add, I like the idea here that we're talking about is manipulating the environment due to a mismatch. And I think your comment about the foreman, being the special education teacher, is right on. I think another way to look at that is instead of a special education teacher, I'm a special education facilitator. I'm helping facilitate that student's movement through multiple environments. And some students are managing seven different environments, eight different environments because they have eight different classes in a day. Or if they're on a rotating schedule, they have seven different classes over three days, and that can be very overwhelming when you're constantly mismatched to your environment. The other piece is I'm also a special educator in that I'm providing specially designed instruction. So in my classroom, I'm backfilling skill development for unfinished learning or looking closely at that diagnostic reasoning for the mismatch. But then as that student exits my classroom and goes out into the regular ed, I'm back to that role of facilitator.
Jacob: Well, before we pivot to gen ed, I wanna stick with that notion. And thank you for that addition, Douglas. And we'll get here again later, so I apologize if this comes redundant as we get into the conversation, but this facilitator notion, are there moves that are common to special educators and/or that should be that engage? Again, I'm really compelled so far in this conversation by this idea of student voice within the flexible, ever-changing scaffolds to match. You know, you talked about the mismatch. The match that's needed. Are there moves that special educators make or should make to really underline and be intentional about the building of the students' ownership of their trajectory there?
Douglas: I think so. And I think we get very occupied by quantitative data in school districts. Test scores, great outcomes, assessment results. And those are important indicators. But what those lack is the student voice. And so I think one of the big moves for special educators is to add that qualitative piece, student interviews, student responses, and student reflections. And so I think a good way to look at that is after an assessment in a general ed classroom, hear what worked for you. You gotta be on this assessment, and that gives me a quantitative measure of your proficiency in a given subject area or a given learning area. But I also wanna know how you felt about it. Did you feel confident in your answers? Where did that come from? Did you feel like you had access? Did you understand what all the questions were asking? I think a line of questioning or an interview strategy with your students who are in special education can provide that voice. And it's also a model as we go through that process year after year, assessment after assessment. We are modeling how to give yourself a voice and then exercise that voice in a public forum.
Jacob: Can we pivot to the general education teacher? So now, let's switch hats. You are not that specialist, but you do have, in an inclusive environment, you know, students with accessibility needs, ever-changing as they might be. Douglas, let's start with you. How should I think about building student agency with these populations, these students within my general ed classroom?
Douglas: I think there's a variety of strategies. I think the initial response to general education teachers seeing those IEP flags pop up in their classroom is there's a little bit of anxiety or panic. How am I supposed to prep for all of these individualized needs? And often, my response wearing the special education teacher hat is what works for these students will typically work for a variety of your students. Students will struggle to have agency and have access to learning materials, whether they're in special education or not. And so the list of accommodations that you're receiving from your special education teacher is a legal requirement. But you could also work those into your lesson planning to provide general supports to all students. So if, for example, you have a student who's struggling with writing and they're receiving specially-designed instruction from a special education teacher in the special education environment, they need sentence starters for their accommodation. Chances are, several other students in your classroom will also benefit from having those sentence starters, and it will create an access point. And then I can survey my class as a whole after that assignment or assessment and say, "Hey, how did the sentence starters work for you all? Is that something that you would like to see continue?" And just that very question alone starts to build that dialogue within your classroom of students have a voice in what supports they get as they try to access materials.
Jacob: I love that. And, you know, as you were speaking, I was thinking tailored for one, but good for the many, right? And to Elizabeth's earlier comments, so many times, things become, I forget the exact phrase, so forgive me, but exclusionary where these students are concerned. And there's broader good to be had and really the sharing for all students. So, Elizabeth, what would you add from a gen ed perspective?
Dr. Barker: Oh, I love what you're saying, Douglas, especially your first comment about the quantitative data also reminded me of what Brene Brown would say, and that's giving a soul, right, to the data, giving it a voice. And then to the general education part, I really love this concept that, Jacob, I wish I could repeat what you just said, but I can't, good for some, but... What was it? Tailored for some, good for many, I think that's what you said.
Jacob: Yeah, it's verbal jazz. It was something like tailored for one and good for the many, but yeah, whatever. Let's roll.
Dr. Barker: Yeah, it was great because I think that really points to the universal design for learning, right, out of cast. Where if you are flexible and really thinking about your purpose, your purpose of what it is that you're instructing or wanna get to, it allows you to open up and decide what it is that you can accept. And I think the more flexible you are and the more willing that you are able to allow for various ways of input, various ways of output from a student, that you give that access in that exclusion or, you know, making that student, that other student who may need a variation or accommodation or something slightly different, not feel excluded, right? Because everybody's going to need a little bit slightly different thing in order to access that information or to output it, right? But really thinking about the purpose of your assignment, really thinking about the intentional purpose of your assessment allows you to be more flexible. Is it, you know, writing with punctuation? Does the writing starter matter? Probably not. You know, if you're looking for a structured essay, what about those structured essays do you need? Can they do the structured essay verbally, as long as they are showing the parts of writing that are needed? Can they do this on a computer? Can they do this with a writing stencil? What is it that you can allow for to give them as much flexibility in your classroom as possible and that allows for all students to feel comfortable and safe in their environment?
Douglas: One of the things that I really appreciated about what Elizabeth is saying is that self-reflective piece as a teacher of, what do I truly want the outcome of this lesson or this unit to be? And releasing some of our own personal ego. And that's tough. As being the master of your classroom, there is a lot of ego associated with that. But releasing some of that and doing that self-reflection, I think you find that a lot of supports are available to your students that will still allow them to hit that target you're intending. And one of the great analogies that I make that was made to me when I was first starting out in my master of arts in teaching program was, have you ever used a curb ramp before when you didn't need to? Have you ever used an escalator before when you didn't need to, or an elevator when there was a set of stairs right there? We all use supports and accommodations that were built around idea of universal access and universal design. We need to let our students experience that as well.
Jacob: I'm just gonna take a moment to pause and say I appreciate so much interacting with experts and practitioners such as yourselves that are able to represent your thinking and possibilities so clearly. There are so many tangents right now in this conversation I wanna pull on, I know I'm gonna lose one. But permit me a little, the next verse in the verbal jazz. I wanna stick with this idea with...of general educators for a moment and really underline...and I'll say it slightly differently, but, Douglas, I love what you're calling out. Elizabeth, I love the additional ways you painted this. Can I say instructional pliability, this flexible nature of, as a teacher, not being married so much to, "This is the way I teach this lesson, I teach it the same for everybody," or, "This student has this accommodation and ever shall it be so," you know. But there's this element we talked about a couple of episodes ago when we were looking at student agency and disciplinary practices.
And every teacher knows this at this stage, right, that there is this power in modeling interacting with adversity, the challenges that you face in the learning journey. Jen Shipley [SP] once said, and I'm sure others have said it too, but, "We have jobs because they don't know," right? Students will run into challenges in their learning journeys just as we all run into challenges in life. And so allowing students to see us struggle, to have...again, and Douglas, your comments made me think of teacher clarity in, "Here's what we were doing, we're gonna pivot, and this is why." Or a student, to advocate to your earlier point, Elizabeth, "I need to pivot from this accommodation that I don't need anymore. I don't need it in this context or in this classroom, hypothetically." I think there's such power there and such a great reminder for us, as educators, that role of modeling and the instructional, dare I say freedom, that we have to navigate learning alongside our students and pivot as needed. All yield because that's, you know, kind of Jacob's rant. Any reactions to that thinking?
Douglas: I think you're right on. And I think one of the pieces that we haven't talked about yet today is where students are at when they come into our classroom, who has prior knowledge in this area, who has cultural competence in this area, who was fed and clothed this morning when they arrived at school? None of those are necessarily special education issues, but they all impact learning outcomes, and they all need some support.
Jacob: I love a good segue, Douglas. And you are serving them up, sir. So let me say, we've talked about the instructional side, but I know something that's near and dear to both of your hearts and your expertise is assessment and assessing special education, students assessing with accommodations. Can we take a moment here? I'd love to hear from each of you. Elizabeth, we'll start with you. The opportunities for us, as educators, to think about student agency and opportunities there within the assessment processes.
Dr. Barker: Yeah. Thank you for asking that question, Jacob. With special education, there's a lot of assessing, a lot of assessments that happen, and for various reasons. And I think that's where you really have to hone in on the purpose of what it is you're trying to get at with students. There are time and place for certain accommodations to take place. And also allowing that student to have time to practice. Sometimes we say, "Oh, they need this accommodation." An example would be extra time. The assumption, quite frequently, is made that a student needs extra time. We need to know if that's true or not. A student may not need extra time. A lot of times, they don't need extra time. A lot of times, they don't want the extra time. So really understanding what, when, and where, and who, or why that accommodation is needed. And you can do that by including it into your instructional practice, right, and giving them extra timing and asking them if it worked or not. And I'm thinking of other accommodations on top of that, one of them being text-to-speech, another one being if someone needs a magnification system, there are time and place that a student may not want to use it, right?
We see in the data on assessments that text-to-speech, it's typically not even assigned to our students in middle school. Is that a student's choice or did the teacher decide not to assign it or the proctor? How was that decision made? From that point on, it's up to the student whether or not they wanna use it. Now, they may decide not to use it because they don't want to put a headgear. They may not wanna look different. So really deciding kind of that purpose of the assessment, what it is that you want to see from that student, or how to have a conversation with that student that you may feel needs the accommodation, but allowing them to make that decision, it's really important that they feel trusted. I know, for myself, text-to-speech was an accommodation that I still use to this day, I used it through college. but I didn't use it for everything. There were certain texts that was really challenging for me to follow with audio because I constantly had to pause. And then there was other texts that I really needed it in order to consume what was happening, especially if it was new vocabulary. But that is something that a student, you take time to learn. And you only do that if you're given that time to learn. I'm kind of going off on a tangent. I'm gonna stop there.
Jacob: No, I think a valuable one, but I'll pass the tangent to Douglas. Certainly pick up anywhere Elizabeth left off and/or take your own route here, sir.
Douglas: I think that assessment does put a new lens on what a student needs in terms of access through accommodations. And it starts going back to our previous conversation of that internal self-reflection by the teacher of what is it that I'm actually assessing? Again, I'll draw from one of my go-to examples in speaking with staff and then when I was in my master of arts in teaching program, is if I'm a math teacher and I give a test that is based around story problems, I'm assessing their ability to pull out the information, create equations and solve those equations, solving in context. However, that test has a lot of text on it. And in fact, I'm not actually assessing just math at that point. I'm also assuming a certain reading level for those students. And a student may get an F on my test, and it may be no indication of their ability to do math, maybe an indication of their reading level. And so that's when accommodations come on line. Again, we have that idea of mismatch environment. And so the assessment process is critical for accommodation because if a student has a reading barrier, I need to accommodate that reading barrier, but not necessarily the math barrier.
Jacob: Wow. Thank you, both. The thing I love about this show, you know, I always go in here, and you guys know because your guests, that I didn't give you any forewarning what the questions were gonna be. I love the dynamic nature of a real human conversation. And your expertise jumps off the screen at me, obviously, probably jumps out of the headphones, or whatever people are listening on, to the listeners. This idea that, you know, you brought it up, instruction, I think it's coming up again now in the assessment space. There is the flexibility of the educator, the intentionality of the educator in what accommodation, when and why, but also this element of self-advocacy from a student perspective. That does not happen...I would propose, and again, I'm pressure testing here, that doesn't happen accidentally. That is a learned skill that I would imagine, as educators, we need to look at our practice and ensure certainly for our students with disabilities, but likely for all students, that we are helping them practice, exercise, gain confidence in that advocacy so that they can receive the accommodations that they need when they need them. And, you know, Elizabeth and Douglas, both of your examples resonate with me, I didn't, going through schooling, have any identified accommodations or anything, but I've learned, through my many years of life, that text-to-speech, I use it all the time because I've learned I'm an auditory learner. I retain better when I hear something versus when I read it. And this isn't about me, I know, but just calling out this thing that I wish I could have advocated for earlier in my education career. So let's pause for just a second. And the intentionality of teaching kids elements of self-advocacy, be it within instruction, be it within assessment, where their accommodations are concerned, any advice you have for educators there? Douglas, we'll start with you this time.
Douglas: This was actually something that I didn't think about until one day I just had this moment of donning comprehension. Elizabeth, I'm sure, can relate to, there's a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes between the general education teacher and the special education teacher. A lot of emails, a lot of blow by classroom visits, all of those things. And I was working with a student who needed an accommodation on a science test. And I got up from my desk and I started to walk over to the science teacher's classroom, and I stopped myself because I was going by myself. And I realized that I should bring the student along with me and start having those conversations with the student present. And that was a moment that started that modeling idea that we've talked about before is my first piece of advice for special education teachers and general education teachers is to have student conversations with the student present so that they can see the modeling of advocacy that happens between the two adults, but also have that space to turn and ask the student questions, make sure they're tracking the conversations. And then as that modeling happens more often, we can gradually release responsibility to the student themselves.
Jacob: Great. Elizabeth, do you wanna pick that up?
Dr. Barker: Yeah. I agree with everything Douglas said, and I love that example about bringing the student along. That was pretty powerful. And I think that, just to add, you know, I'm gonna keep hitting on this, and I can't stress it enough, is really asking that student and really gaining the trust. I think there needs to be a lot of trust that needs to be built so that student feels safe to advocate. The example in my head that I'm thinking of is one of my dear friends who has a visual disability. And when she was growing up, the teacher kept making her sit in the front of the class, right? Kept pulling her up to the board. That is not where she wanted to be, right? A, it excluded her from the group, nor did the teacher ask if that's what she needed, when really all she wanted was to use her magnification system. And I think it's little things like that where we think we're doing good as teachers, where we think we know this is what the student needs because they need to see the board. But really stopping ourselves and saying, "Is this what they need? What do they need? What do they want?" And understanding that that student is way more than capable to answer that question. And probably with some guidance or suggestions, especially if they're younger, of various options, but really kinda getting to that root so you can build trust so that agency comes along and then that advocacy piece. Because they are in a world that really wasn't built for them in a lot of times, in a lot of places in their life. So it's really important to get that trust to build that confidence to lead to that agency and eventually their own advocacy.
Jacob: That's so thought provoking, you know, and isn't it one of the hoped for consequences of building agency that students not only can navigate their learning journeys, but they can navigate their lives, right? You know, as both of you speak, and I love both of these examples, it makes me think of the old adage of assumptions, and I won't say that here, but, you know, the implicit power as educators we have when we operate on assumption, the unintended consequences of our unchecked assumptions about what's best for kids made in the vacuum of our minds, right, is something we really need to attend to. I'll pivot here because, you know, both of you have brought up this notion. And I'm gonna include students. I was gonna ask the question around on teacher collective efficacy. But let's talk about collective efficacy more broadly, including the student, the stakeholders with the student at the center of their journey. When we think about serving students with accessibility needs, there's often, okay, an identified or built-in team to support the students' needs and hold the teaching and learning ecosystem accountable. So we've named the special education teacher. I know some folks call it a case manager. Think about the paraprofessionals that work in and around the classroom, the gen ed teacher, parents, and, to your very good point, the students themselves. How can we intentionally bring this group together? And I know we've shared the example. And Douglas, your example in the science classroom was a good one, but let's expand this a bit. How can we intentionally bring this group together to create efficacy between all of us engaged in this process to help students develop and recognize their own agency, their own advocacy, their own efficacy as learners?
Douglas: I think one point that I would start with is so much of our conversation today has been built around school. That's only eight hours of the day, maybe. It's a 24-hour day. The advocacy and special education team needs to build on both what's happening at school and out in life and home and with peers and other places. And so I think we so often silo school and life, but really trying to build connections between there. And a good example of that, I think, is communicating with parents about what the student is doing at home. So if they're doing a chore at home, if they're doing homework at home, if they're interacting with relatives at home, those same accommodations can help facilitate those interactions as well, and there's a little bit more practicing happening outside of school.
Dr. Barker: Yeah, I love that. I mean, even the reverse of that as well, right, teachers asking parents and the support system what it is that they could be doing in the classroom to support them. What has worked at home, right? What is kind of that dual relationship between home and school and the community, as you were saying? I think those are really important. I think we can learn a lot. Yes, 8 hours isn't 24 hours. And the parent in the support system definitely has a lot more experience and time time with their students. So really including them, involving them, and not just with the annual IEP meeting, really making sure that touching base and staying connected to allow for that integration of both.
Douglas: I think also something that we did in the Medford School District that has been successful is Medford School District uses the DuFour PLC, Professional Learning Community model. And having special education visits to the general education PLCs to talk about accommodations or upcoming assessments or project-based learning or things like that. So, as Elizabeth said, not just the annual IEP when we all get together, but we are building bridges to the actual planning process and the unit design process through the PLC meetings.
Jacob: Seems that this notion of community around and including the student is central to our success or would be success here. In calibration, I wanna stick with this idea for a second, because, you know, you talk about IEP teams and the stakeholders that are involved there, including the parents and the students. And so those are very focused on an individual student and rightly so. Can we extrapolate that? So Douglas, I'm really interested in this PLC, our learning teams model with the ed staff. Can we decouple what we're talking about with student A, to go back to earlier in our conversation where we're talking about there's good here for the many, there's learning across? What would be your recommendations there around collective efficacy for the community of learners, not just the individual learners, with accommodations in the classroom?
Douglas: And I think that involves data-driven conversations amongst gen ed teachers who are teacher alike subject. For example, if all of the freshman English teacher gave an assessment, let's look at that data and look at the bell curve that emerges from that data. Who was successful? Who was not successful? And asking those questions about not just special education or ELL or specialized groups, but looking at your entire class data or data from multiple classes and seeing what could we do to create access for those students who are maybe a couple standard deviations off of where we want them to be.
Jacob: So appreciate that. Elizabeth, your thoughts?
Dr. Barker: Yeah. It just keeps bringing me back to that quote of giving data a soul, right? Giving it a story. And it reminds me of a time when I was teaching and I was talking with one of the first-grade teachers. And we were just in conversation. And the PE teacher came in. And she said, "Hey, I have a question for both of you. How is so and so doing with their reading? Because in PE today, we were doing a scavenger hunt, and they were struggling with following multiple directions. I also noticed a few weeks ago when we were doing this sequence of events that they couldn't remember which one to do first and what came next. How is their reading?" And it was just amazing that here we have a community of teachers really looking out for everyone and then coming with the data that they are collecting about this student and asking how it's translating to other areas, right? And so I just think that that really bringing the data to the group of students or to the, excuse me, the teachers, to the community, to the parents, and asking the good questions about life to give it that soul is really important. So I appreciate you bringing that up.
Jacob: I do as well. Thank you for this conversation. I'd like to turn. I'd like to get tactical. I'm interested, and I know our listeners are as well. And we've talked about a lot of these things. So permission to highlight things we've mentioned before, but also let's bring out some new things. What tips, tactics, and strategies do you recommend to the educators and support networks around the students with accessibility needs to help them in their learning and particularly to foster the potential of lasting agency? So we'll go to whoever would like to start first. Let's boil it down. Things that teachers can take away from this conversation that you would recommend they begin doing to build agency with students.
Douglas: I think that the first part is falling on the special educators is once an IEP is written, there's a specific page in the IEP called the service summary that details out the amount of time that they spend in the special education environment for specially designed instruction, but then also goes on to list all of their accommodations. And getting students to know that page is key. We want them to know their entire IEP, but I think that's a starting place for advocacy is these are the supports that you get out in gen ed. And on the service summary, it'll say specifically where that is implemented and by who. So arming students with that information so that they know, "Here's who I talk to about these things," and then modeling those conversations with students. You can practice them in the special education environment, or, as I said, take a student with you when you go talk to a gen ed teacher.
Jacob: Love that.
Douglas: On the gen ed side of things, I think same idea. Starting with the service summary. You're going to have students who have an IEP in your class, printing out all those service summaries and laying them out and seeing what common elements are there in terms of accommodations that need to be applied to several students. And then thinking about your design processes. Is this something that I could then turn into a universal support for everyone? And then I think just having that sole piece that Elizabeth keeps mentioning is after I actually implement an accommodation, whether it's individualized to a student or universal support, have a quick conversation or a Google form or something like that that says, "Hey, how did this go for you? Was this successful?"
Jacob: I really appreciate that, Douglas. And sorry for jumping in there. You guys are bringing up so many great ideas. I can hardly contain myself. Elizabeth, I'll pass it to you.
Dr. Barker: Yeah. So the one thing that keeps crossing through my mind is really making sure that we are not making assumptions, right? That when we think we have a student with a disability, that we are not assuming that that disability manifests in the same way for every kid, which means that not every single accommodation that we think would support that student with that disability is going to support that student with that disability and to really include that student, right? So there's that piece. I also think there are three things we can constantly think about. How is a student inputting the information in your classroom? So can they access it? Are there any barriers to even accessing the information, whether that's verbally, visually, auditorialy, kinesthetically? You know, are there any barriers to the access of the information? Number two, output. Are there any barriers to the output? Can you be flexible on how and what is delivered, right? So, again, can they use a different variation? Can they use verbal? Can they use kinesthetic? Can they use auditory in order to output the information? Does it have to be so rigid? And the last one is engagement, right? And all of these fall under the universal design for learning concept and really having that flexibility of engaging our students in a way that is beneficial to as many as you can get. So those are the three things that I think are easy for me to keep in mind and help me in my instruction. So hopefully it will help others.
Douglas: I just wanted to piggyback off of what Elizabeth was saying. I think that's a great series of points. And talking to other general education teachers about what they're doing to create input access, output access, and engagement access for students, we often had this saying, when I was in MAT, and when I was teaching at the graduate level, beg, borrow, and steal. Look for what's working in other classrooms for students and try to adopt those into your own classroom.
Jacob: You were both frequent bloggers on our "Teach. Learn. Grow." blog. And Douglas, I was reviewing your recent "3 Ways Gen Ed Teacher Can Support Students With Disabilities" blog. You call out there the intentional use of gradual release methodology. Is that also something you think that, you know, comes into play here with building agency?
Douglas: Yes. I think special education services in and of themselves are critical to create that facilitation for the mismatch. But we also want students to develop what's called an adaptive behavior set, is they, again, are gonna leave our environment and go out and experience new environments. They have to adapt and grow. So at some point over the course of high school, I need to release responsibility to you to take on that adaptation measure that I may be facilitating as a special education teacher or a general education teacher. And so those trial and error pieces are really important. And having that dialogue with students about trial and error is really critical. This may not have worked for you this time, it may work this time. This was really successful for you, do you wanna continue using it?
Jacob: Thank you for that, Douglas. And thank you both for joining us today for this conversation. It has been so informational, so compelling, and enriching. I know that our listeners will agree. So thank you again for coming on "The Continuing Educator."
Dr. Barker: Thanks for having us.
Douglas: Thank you for having us.
Jacob: So thank you again, Elizabeth and Douglas, and thank you, listeners, for tuning in. Share this podcast with somebody you know. To this idea of collective teacher efficacy, we serve students better when we grow together. So encourage those around you in your school, your teaching partners to listen to this episode if you found it useful. And follow our blog, "Teach. Learn. Grow." We've got a couple more episodes this season. They're gonna be great. And we look forward to seeing you again on "The Continuing Educator."