Written by: Ellie Grose, Academic Collaboration Team Director at Democracy Prep Public Schools
At Democracy Prep, we know meaningful access to education via specialized services is an integral part of a well-rounded education and active citizenship. At the core of our mission is the deep desire to give all scholars access to equitable learning opportunities and high-quality educational services, not because we must, but because we want to empower each and every scholar to find their voice, cultivate their skill sets, and grow into positive and productive members of society with an understanding that individuals not only require but deserve differentiated opportunities in life.
During times of traditional brick and mortar learning, our Academic Collaboration Team (ACT) teachers (special education teachers, English language instructors, and support staff) receive consistent professional development to grow their crafts. For example, during the summer, ACT teachers are introduced to the systems and routines embedded in our school structures so that they understand the non-negotiables around ACT compliance. As the school year progresses, professional development sessions are designed to enhance individualized learning experiences, present multiple modalities to teaching strategies and outcomes, and/or cover progressive mechanisms for building strong social skills and school culture. As the school year continues, our team members continue to grow and change and require more advanced and differentiated means of learning. The culmination of our scaffolded professional development is our annual ACT Expo, a large professional development opportunity for teachers and staff to present resources and ideas to each other in a central forum, where making connections, sharing, and collaboration on doing right by scholars is the driving force.
Since our work has shifted to being remote, sadly we will not be able to have an in-person ACT Expo this year, though we look forward to sharing that experience again with each other in the future. However, we find ourselves with a new opportunity in a new forum for learning. In this remote space, we see that ALL educators, like ALL scholars, require a differentiated and creative space for learning. This move to remote learning has made more educators available and eager for creative ideas and strategies for learning, especially because as instructors our new online reach increases our access to some of our more typically struggling subpopulations. Some of our remote coaching levers include the following:
• Asynchronous lesson plan feedback, with a lens specifically for scaffolded learning for all scholars
• Collaborative lesson building, in consultation with ACT coaching managers and integrated co-teaching teams
• Synchronous zoom lesson observations, sometimes with live coaching opportunities or the offering of guest co-teachers for particular lessons
• ACT team meetings for troubleshooting common issues, with a focus on reaching scholars that may be struggling with access or engagement, particular technological platforms, or particular areas of content
• Offering departmentalized or whole school professional development sessions with a focus on accessibility or multimodal learning
These different coaching opportunities have helped us re-envision our professional development sessions and share updated tips for teaching with online learning in mind. Some schools are accessing “Using Circles to Build Community” in new ways each week in efforts to remotely connect with their teams and families. Other schools have already implemented the strategies embedded in “Exploring the Core 4 Supports, or Hacking Differentiation” after robust whole-school online PD opportunities. Teachers participating in this session had quick, low lift strategies to incorporate into their weekly lessons for the following week, making material even more accessible immediately. Check out the Core 4 Supports, below:
• Incorporating Visuals
• Giving Clear and Explicit Steps
• Providing Choice in Instruction
ACT at Democracy Prep, as before but particularly now in this space of remote learning, is working to increase the impact of specialized education in the charter sector by sharing best practices. Whether they are shared with scholars via synchronous learning opportunities, or with teachers through remote school-based PD opportunities, or with external stakeholders, we are thrilled to see the learning push on in new and creative ways for both scholars and staff.