News from Across Virginia
Working Smarter Not Harder – The Benefits of Professional Learning Communities
Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) are becoming more commonplace within many school divisions as school personnel strive for improvement and to keep up with the demands of an ever-changing educational landscape. The characteristics of successful PLCs include: collaboration, desire to learn, willingness to take on tasks to increase group learning, respecting and valuing the opinions of colleagues, and a drive to grow professionally. Being a part of a PLC can have many benefits. It can reduce feelings of isolation and enhance understanding of content material and evidence-based practices used with students with autism spectrum disorder. It can also result in strong collegial bonds between co-workers.
Over the past 2 years, several of the divisions in which VCU-ACE Technical Assistance Associates are embedded have implemented a variety of PLCs to meet the professional development needs of their educational staff who serve children and youth with ASD. These groups were initially jointly led by VCU- ACE and division staff; however, divisions have now taken over total responsibility to sustain and even expand them. PLCs are located in the all of our divisions: Botetourt, Wise, Newport News, Hampton, Henrico, Greensville, Richmond, Arlington, and NNRSEP. A few highlights from selected divisions include:
Two PLCs are available for participation in Newport News. The first targets social skills and social competence at the middle and high school level. A team of approximately 10 teachers and specialists get together to discuss social skill lesson planning and special events, and to problem solve social skill issues present for many adolescents with ASD. The second PLC addresses evidence-based practices (EBPs). This group of educators works diligently to develop materials, train other staff, and provide support to others who teach individuals with ASD.
Henrico County is developing social skills classes for students with ASD at the middle school level. The two pilot programs implementing this intervention have developed a PLC to provide information to assist other educators to develop similar programs.
In Greensville, autism specialists have developed a paraprofessional PLC to provide training and an opportunity for paraprofessionals to problem solve and learn new strategies and practices for working with students with ASD.
Arlington City has developed a PLC to support the use of both a Social Skills Inventory and the use of assistive technology for their Speech Language Pathologists.
The consensus among all VCU-ACE divisions is that Professional Learning Communities provide a venue for collaboration, training, and problem solving. In addition, there is great value in collaborating with other professionals who share a given situation and similar interest. In the case of educators serving students with ASD, the PLC model has allowed people who are interested in a specific topic (e.g. social skills, evidence based practice, communication) to develop their skills in collaboration with their peers.
Henrico County Public Schools and VCU-ACE Initiate Preschool Assessment and Support Project
In their second year of embedded Technical Assistance (TA), Henrico County Public Schools (HCPS) staff turned to VCU-ACE TA
Associates to seek guidance on evaluating and improving quality within their preschool ASD program. Currently, this program consists of six self-contained classrooms distributed across the division. The students from these classrooms feed into their zone programs with the goal of needing less intensive supports on arrival. The critical areas of improvement desired were increased independence with self-care skills, functional communication, and instructional control (the ability to follow simple directions, attend to teacher, and sit at a table for academic tasks.)
The Henrico County staff became inspired during the Community of Learning in Autism (CoLA) Summer Institute when they attended the session presented by Newport News Public Schools (NNPS) and VCU-ACE staff discussing how that division had worked the previous year on an all-school wide effort to assess their self-contained classrooms for students with ASD utilizing the Autism Program and Environment Rating Scale (APERS). This tool lends itself quite well to examining various domains of a classroom in order to strategically plan for targeted professional development and intervention.
HCPS and VCU-ACE Technical Assistance staff have spent the first part of this school year observing each of the six preschool classrooms and gathering information from teachers, paraprofessionals, related services staff, and parents. Staff have noted that it has been a pleasure to spend so much time with each teacher and to get to know all of the incredible young students in the program. The process is currently in the analysis phase, and the next steps are to roll out the results with all ASD preschool staff, create individualized training and coaching plans for each teacher in areas in which they chose to focus, and to provide other training opportunities to various staff on targeted evidence-based practices.
The positive effects of this robust project will expand into HCPS elementary schools and beyond as these students with higher levels of independence and pre-academic skills will be able to reach their maximum potential in future grades. Kudos to Henrico County Public Schools for making such a difference for their students with Autism!
Wise County Public Schools Share Their November “Autism Tip of the Month!”
The “Wise County Autism Tip of the Month” is one of many ongoing products that the Wise County Autism Services Improvement Team (ASIT) has developed with the goal of systems-change for all students with ASD in their division. This monthly tip is sent by the team to all school administrators and special education teachers. For the month of November, the division’s autism coaches sent out a summary of some of the most important things that they have learned along the intensive systems-change journey that started a little over two years ago with the VCU-ACE Technical Assistance grant. Thank you Wise County Public Schools for sharing your November “Tip of the Month!”
“The monthly tip for November is actually a reflection on the ‘Top Fifteen’ most important things we have learned since we began our journey to improve services to students with autism a little over two years ago. Along the way, we have discovered that all of our students have benefited from the sharpening of our skills. This list was created by the autism coaches.
1. The first visual support that should be considered is the arrangement of the room. Make sure that physical boundaries are clear to support structure.
2. Everyone needs a schedule. This is a life skill.
3. Before prompting, have a plan for fading prompts.
4. Be quiet! Verbal prompts are the most difficult to fade. Choose other options when appropriate and avoid pairing verbal prompts with other prompts.
5. Teach social skills lessons with the end in mind. Plan the teaching of social skills just as you would an academic area. Look at the long range goal; do a task analysis of what you need to get there; teach each step or skill required systematically; and finally, bring them together and help your student meet his/her goal.
6. All goals should include a baseline, if progress is to be measured.
7. Data should drive all of our decisions.
8. “A picture speaks a thousand words,” so graph it.
9. When teaching communication, begin with mands (requests.)
10. The VB-MAPP is an awesome tool for assessing the communication skills of our students and provides a road map for teaching new skills.
11. Errorless teaching works and it can be implemented in all settings.
12. Transition begins with the first IEP.
13. Literacy is for everyone.
14. Reinforcement is a powerful force that is always at work (either for us or against us.) Make it work for you.
15. Teaming and systematic planning are essential to effectively addressing the learning and behavioral needs of our students.
Thank you for working hard to make sure our kids have the best!!!!!”
Great News for VA in the Area of Early Screening and Diagnosis of ASD!
The Partnership for People with Disabilities at Virginia Commonwealth University recently received funding for a project titled "Autism Spectrum Disorder Screening and Diagnosis: Early Systematic Training in Effective Practices (ASD Early STEP)." The grant project is a collaborative effort with the Partnership, VCU-ACE, and Commonwealth Autism Service. The project provides three years of funding to train professionals who serve young children, including early interventionists, pediatricians, and others, in three state locales. Family members of children suspected of having ASD will also receive training and support. VCU-ACE is excited be a part of this grant opportunity!
Learn More About the ACE-IT in College Program!
In 2010, Virginia Commonwealth University was one of 27 universities across the U.S. to receive funding for a 5-year demonstration grant from the federal US Department of Education, Office of Postsecondary Education. ACE-IT in College is a collaborative effort between the Rehabilitation Research and Training Center (RRTC) and the Partnership for People with Disabilities in the VCU School of Education. ACE-IT in College provides an inclusive, on campus, college experience for young adults with intellectual disabilities. The main outcome of the program is competitive employment in an area of interest for students which is developed through VCU coursework, internships, and employment. Please visit the ACE-IT in College website to meet the students, hear from faculty and families, and learn more about this comprehensive program.
VCU Offers Post Baccalaureate Certificate in ASD!
Registration is Open!
The Virginia Commonwealth University School of Education offers a Post Baccalaureate Certificate in Autism Spectrum Disorder. The four course sequence is designed to enhance knowledge and build skills in professionals who support a person with ASD. This includes special education and general education teachers, administrators, employment specialists, in-home therapists – anyone who wants to provide effective services! All courses are offered online to meet the needs of busy professionals! The first course, Understanding ASD, is offered Fall 2013. It provides a detailed overview of the characteristics of ASD throughout the lifespan and discusses key educational considerations as well as methods for evaluating practices and making sound intervention decisions. For more information please view the VCU School of Education website, or contact Dawn Hendricks, Ph.D. at firstname.lastname@example.org.