The focus of this session is, strategies for building capacity at the district level for supporting inclusive schools and today we’re just going to focus on four strategies briefly. Communicating a clear message, providing focused campuses support, assessing our own personal needs and then finally providing leadership to sustain change.
The first strategy that I wanted to talk about is communicating a clear message. If the message coming out from the district office is muddy or confusing, then it’s really going to impact the ability of the campuses to provide inclusive support so we need to think about common vocabulary. Are we all using the word inclusion in the same way? If there’s a district expectation for how services for students with disabilities are going to be determined, are we all clear on what that expectation is and is it being communicated to campuses in a way that everyone is clear. Are we communicating shared ownership from the district level or are we still talking about “our students”, “their students”, “your students“ and “my students”. We need to communicate a shared ownership. All students are first and foremost, general education students. There may be some students that have a disability that warrants some special education service, but first and foremost everyone is a general education student. The second strategy to look at is focused campus support.
There’s no one protocol for providing help to campuses that will meet every school’s need so I need to clarify campus needs. I might need to meet with the campus principal, find out what their initiatives are, what are the principals goals for their campus for the upcoming year and how can you support those goals. I might need to conduct some structured observations to actually see how service is being provided. I might need to review data, how has that campus performed on the indicators that are important within your school system or within your state.
From that information I can develop an action plan that really lines out how I’m going to provide support to that campus in the upcoming year. Finally in that area, if you’re providing support to multiple campuses you may need to prioritize support. You could have some campuses that have been providing inclusive support for a number of years and have worked out a lot of the kinks in the armor and are really doing a great job. They need a different kind of support than a campus that is just starting to think about inclusion. So prioritize your campuses. Make sure that you’re spending your time where it’s needed the most.
The third thing to think about is assessing your own personal needs. The skills that are needed by a district level or a central office support person today are different than they might have been five or ten years ago. So I need to think about what kind of support my campuses need and am I able to provide that level of support. Is there professional development that I might need or that the entire team might need to raise our skill level? Some areas to think about might be knowledge of general education curriculum. Are we competent and capable in the area of general education curriculum because all instruction now is standards based? What about models of support other than traditional pullout? Are we comfortable in advising campuses on the different models of support that might meet the needs of students with disabilities? How about instructional coaching? If in your analysis of campus needs you found that there were some teachers who actually needed you to come in, observe and coach them through the instructional practice, are you able to do that or do you need to get some training in that area? What about having difficult conversations? It’s not comfortable but sometimes we need to have conversations with campus administrators or with teachers that really guide them toward the improvement that they need. So is that an area that I need help in or that my whole central office staff might need some training in?
The fourth thing I wanted to talk about briefly is providing leadership to sustain change. Once campuses have made growth then we want to be able to sustain that growth from year to year and keep moving forward. As a central office or a district level staff member, you have more influence than authority many times. So how do you increase your influence at the campus level so that campuses want to make the changes that you’re recommending? Well I think first you build trust. Think about the people in your life that have influence over you, it tends to be people that you trust. So how can I build trust at the campus level? I think first by establishing relationships. If the central office or the district level support person is just someone who blazes in now and then, but I really don’t have a relationship with them, then as a campus person I may be less apt to adopt the things that they’re telling me to do. I think you stay focused on your campus goals and your district goals. Don’t leave the message. We talked in the first of this session about communicating a clear message. Stay focused on the district expectations. That will help your campuses stay focused on the clear district expectations. Continuously monitor progress, provide feedback to campuses, celebrate the things that they are doing well and help keep them focused on the areas that they can continually improve so that we stay focused on student achievement because in the end it’s all about students. Keep your support focused on the individual student and how the campus can best serve that student so that they can achieve at higher levels within inclusive settings.
So in summary, there are many things that district level staff members can do to support inclusive instruction at the campus level. We’ve talked today about just four, communicating a clear message, providing focused campus support, assessing our own personal needs and getting the training that we need so that we can be effective support personnel and then providing leadership, establishing relationships, building trust at the campus level so that we can be as efficient and effective as we can at meeting the needs of students in inclusive settings. Thank you so much for watching today. Be sure and look at the inclusive schools network. There are many tools that would be very helpful to central office or district level staff members as they provide this very important support to inclusive schools. Thank you.