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Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Serving High Needs Students

I want to serve high needs students better. I'm happy that the state and federal government makes this a priority with the new ESSA legislation.

As I think about this, I identify the following challenges and opportunities.

Transportation and Communication
It's often more difficult to reach families of high needs students. This is due to multiple issues, but it's true that it often takes extra effort to make that contact, and that contact matters. It's also often more difficult to have an impromptu meeting with families of high needs students again due to multiple issues and sometimes issues that include transportation.

In order to serve high needs students well, family-school contact is essential. How can I do this better?
  • As many good teachers recommend, build communication into your weekly schedule--make a time to check in with those families regularly. 
  • Identify these students early in the year, and make an effort to meet with those families before the school year starts or right at the beginning of the year. During that time make sure to get important contact information and best times to meet. Ask those families how you can best support their child--families know their children well and are typically eager and willing to offer advice and work with educators. 
  • Learn about transportation challenges early in the year and find ways to work around those challenges.
Identify Student Strengths and Interests
The best inroad to student learning is identifying and building on students' interests and strengths. Spend time early in the year and throughout the year to know students well, develop their strengths, and build strong relationships. Look for ways to use time and scheduling to promote student strengths and interests too.

Assessment
Use assessment wisely to identify what students know and what are the next right steps for learning. Work with colleagues to design engaging, meaningful learning paths in this regard. Often what a high needs child needs is not a direct match for a school's programming, schedules, or staffing. We often have to think out of the box to better personalize programs for children's steady, consistent, positive growth and development.

As I think of the points above and my desire to do well by these students, I will continue to support, implement, and advocate for the following teaching/learning efforts:
  • Morning Masters: A colleague introduced me to this before school open classroom idea. Essentially it's a time for students to drop in early, study, get teacher help, and enjoy each other's company. The time, to date, has been well received by students.
  • Tech Access: Our teaching team has advocated for and works towards making sure that every child has tech access at home. Thanks to the support of many, we have almost reached this goal.
  • RTI: Our current RTI approach helps us to meet the needs of these students. I hope that we can increase this two/three day approach to a five day a week approach for our high needs students. The RTI is tailored towards students' needs and interests and is typically taught by a dedicated teacher with small groups.
  • Consistent, Targeted Programming: I will continue to advocate for better programming with regard to supporting these students. I think better programming will include just right reach with regard to goals, optimal scheduling, good staffing, and perhaps a good program guide. I identified one program that may be able to serve us well in this regard, Math 180. There are many opinions as to how to teach math well, and this is a constant point of discussion in teacher circles everywhere. 
  • Homework Club: I'm thinking of starting a homework club next year to support these students. I think this could be a helpful addition to our school program. A homework club already exists for some, but I'm thinking that I might be able to extend this next year. It's too late to start this year as my room is often used after school and there are already transportation and other efforts in place that wouldn't necessarily support this effort. 
  • Early Year Meetings/Orientation: I want to work with my colleagues to think about how we might meet with families of high needs students early in the year so that we can make sure those students have the supplies and support they need.
High needs students belong to multiple groups and have "high needs" for all kinds of reasons--it's not a one-size-fits-all group. It is, however, a group that shares the common denominator of needing a bit of extra support and care to succeed in school, and we don't want to leave those students behind.