Agents of Their Own Success: Self-Advocacy Skills and Self-Determination for Students with Disabilities in the Era of Personalized Learning
2:00 pm – 3:30 pm EDT Gerard and Lilo Leeds Conference and Advocacy Center
Agents of Their Own Success:
Self-Advocacy Skills and Self-Determination for Students with Disabilities in the Era of Personalized Learning
Mimi Corcoran, President and CEO, NCLD
Amanda Fitzgerald, Director of Public Policy, American School Counselor Association
Joey Hunziker, Program Manager, Innovation Lab Network, CCSSO
Lindsay Jones, Vice President, Chief Policy and Advocacy Officer, NCLD
Will Marsh, Graduate, St. Joseph’s University
Winsome Waite, Vice President of Policy to Practice, Alliance for Excellent Education
Ace Parsi, Personalized Learning Partnership Manager, NCLD
On June 05, 2018, The National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD) and the Alliance for Excellent Education held a Webinar about how personalized learning can provide students greater voice and choice in their learning, including opportunities to advocate for how, where, and when they learn best. This emphasis on student agency, self-awareness, and self-advocacy is important for all students, but especially for students with disabilities who will have to more proactively advocate for their needs in higher education, the workforce, and community life. The challenge is that self-advocacy skills and self-determination must be learned; they are not innate. Simply utilizing personalized learning does not ensure that all students will develop these abilities.
During the briefing, a group of distinguished panelists offered actions that students, parents, community members, educators, and policymakers can take to ensure self-advocacy and self-determination are integrated into personalized learning systems.
Panelists addressed questions from the live and online audiences.
Please direct questions concerning the webinar to Ace Parsi at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are unable to watch the webinar live, the event will be recast on Understood.org on June 11 at 12:00 p.m. (ET), and the video will be archived on this page as well.
NCLD is a national non-profit organization whose mission is to improve the lives of the 1 in 5 children and adults nationwide with learning and attention issues—by empowering parents and young adults, transforming schools and advocating for equal rights and opportunities. We’re working to create a society in which every individual possesses the academic, social and emotional skills needed to succeed in school, at work, and in life.
Follow NCLD on Twitter (twitter.com/NCLDorg); Facebook (facebook.com/NCLD.org)
The Alliance for Excellent Education (All4Ed) is a Washington, DC–based national policy, practice, and advocacy organization dedicated to ensuring that all students, particularly those underperforming and those historically underserved, graduate from high school ready for success in college, work, and citizenship.
If you are interested in renting the Alliance’s facilities for your next meeting or webinar, please visit our facilities page to learn more.
Mimi Corcoran: I’m Mimi Corcoran, President and CEO of the National Center for Learning Disabilities. And I want to start by thanking our partners at the Alliance for Excellent Education. We’re so pleased to work with such a great organization and those who collaborate on our effort to bring laser focus on equity and inclusion to the national education reform conversations. I’d also like to thank the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, who made NCLD’s work on this project possible.
Last but not least, I would like to thank all of you, both those of you who have taken time to attend this event in person, and those of you who have taken time to attend this event in your home or your office. And this also includes our parent audience watching this event on our Understood daily expert chat. We’re so glad you decided to join us. I’m excited to be with all of you here today to discuss how personalized learning systems can better serve students with disabilities, and in particularly, more intentionally help them develop the self-advocacy skills and self-determination capacities.
Did you know that more than 40 states have advanced some type of policy around personalized learning? These policies, by their nature, create opportunities for all students to make more choices about where, when, and how they learn. These additional choices open up new doors for students with disabilities, and if done well can provide great opportunities for students to develop skills that will help them throughout their lives. But they also come with risks.
For students to seize the benefits, educators and policymakers must carefully consider how we support students with disabilities to ensure they get what they need to succeed. Our conversation today and NCLD’s recommendations are an essential tool for systems and educators to ensure they’re implementing personalized learning effectively and inclusively. At NCLD, we’re committed to empowering the one in five individuals with learning and attention issues to succeed in school, at work, and in life.
We do that through Understood dot-org, which empowers parents of the one in five to unlock child’s strengths and full potential. We’re working to support educators and deepen their understanding of learning and attention issues by providing them with actionable resources and training so they can support all students, and we’re driving policy that can make empowering students easier for all those who are involved in the work.
Self-advocacy skills and self-determination are common threads across our work at NCLD, and we’re grateful in your partnership in advancing this important educational and civil rights’ issue. So I’m excited to hear more from our experts in this great panel today and from all of you. Let’s get this conversation started. I’d like to now welcome Winsome Waite, a friend and colleague, the vice president for Policy to Practice at the Alliance for Excellent Education.
Winsome Waite: And thank you, Mimi. Thank you all for joining us today at the Alliance for Excellent Education for this very important conversation, whether you are virtual or whether you’re here in the audience. We, at the Alliance of Excellent Education, are pleased to host this even with the National Center on Learning Disabilities. It’s an organization with which we’ve partnered and we have learned from on very crucial education issues in education related to students with learning differences.
The issue of equity is at the heart of the alliance’s mission. We believe that every student, regardless of their learning differences, can leave high school prepared to enter post-secondary to advocate for themselves and to pursue their own goals. The central theme in NCLD’s paper is around helping students to be agents for their own success by strengthening their skills to advocate for themselves and to be determined to reach their own goals. This is the job of educators.
One way to do this is through personalized learning. We’re absolutely committed to raising the success not just for some students, but for all students. And we know that one size does not fit all. Therefore, we, both organizations, advocate for more personalized learning opportunities. This comes with the need to focus on shaping policy and promoting equable practices based on both the strength and needs of the students who learn in different ways. That’s why this conversation today is of high priority.
We can’t afford to simply say students should be empowered and they need to be prepared. We need to collaborate purposefully with our parents, other educators, and policymakers to support all of our students. And we need to engage students themselves, particularly those students at the secondary level to be an advocate for their own self and for their education. We need to rethink, maybe even reinvent the way we personalize learning specifically for students with learning differences.
It is now my pleasure to introduce, or to bring to the podium, Lindsay Jones; she is the vice president and chief advocacy officer for the National Center on Learning Disabilities, to discuss the background of NCLD’s personalized learning project. Thank you, Lindsay, and thank you all for being here.
Lindsay Jones: Hi. Thank you so much for having me. I’m really excited to be here, and we’re so excited to be partnering with the alliance as we have for many years on this work. So I want to let the members of the audience know that we have cards if you have questions at any point during the presentation, please feel free to write down your question and you’ll see one of us running through able to grab it. If you’re watching online, you can submit questions through Twitter. You can also submit questions in the chat box on the webinar as you see this.
And if you’re watching this event rebroadcast on our sister website Understood dot-org, you can be putting questions into the chat feature there. It’s gonna be broadcast on June 11th. So we’re excited to get talking about why we’re here. And I want to give you a little context for why learning – why NCLD is interested in personalized learning. I think most people don’t know that today most children with disabilities spend almost all day in general education classrooms. That’s very different than it was even ten years ago.
Our general educators are carrying a lot of – a caseload. We have lots of different diverse students in their classroom, and we haven’t put a lot of supports in place for them. So when we look at achievement gaps and we see this is just one example of NAEP scores. And when we see the way that students with disabilities are performing, the large bars that say they’re below basic in many of these categories, that’s happening in a general ed classroom with help and support from a special ed teacher.
But we need to change something about that environment. I think we can all look at that and agree we need to find some new education, new ways to do that. So that’s why NCLD is extremely excited to be talking about personalized learning. We don’t all learn the same way, and our classrooms need to reflect that. So I want to just let you know, we excited, especially, to hear from our panel today about how – the promise of personalized learning for students with disabilities in developing their self-advocacy and self-determination skills.
But we’ve been looking at personalized learning as an education reform for many years. So we started in January of 2015, and we conducted a literature review to try to determine what was out there in research about personalized learning in kids with disabilities. There was almost nothing so that was a quick literature review [laughter], although extensive. And then we basically started conducting site visits at places that were implementing personalized learning and obviously had children with disabilities in the classroom.
We met with incredible educators all across this nation; teachers, administrators and others, working really hard to bring children with disabilities in, and feeling the promise of their ability to provide accommodations, and their ability to personalize in ways that are needed for kids with disabilities, and needed for all of us, but especially our children with learning intention issues. So we then brought together, in a national convening, special ed experts, disability experts, civil rights experts, and personalized learning experts.
And we brought them into the same room to say, wow, let’s get these great minds together talking and thinking about how we can customize and personalize, and make sure these environments really work for kids with learning and intention issues on disabilities. So from there, we determined that personalized learning looks really different even school-to-school, but also state-to-state. It’s being implemented very differently based on the leadership in the state, the agenda, the investment.
So we chose three different states; Colorado, New Hampshire, and North Carolina, in really different phases of implementation to get into those states and say how can we help state policymakers, state educators and others really include students with disabilities in these programs? And so we released a set of recommendations. And the one thing I’ll also say about that is we put together some case studies because a lot of people will say to us, well, what does it look like? I don’t really get it. I don’t know what it – what does it actually look like in a classroom.
So we have these case studies that just describe it. What does it look like all around in different programs? And then we had clear – the purpose of today and what we want to talk about, it was clear from the beginning that personalized learning, and people working in it were very interested and student voice and choice. They talk about student-centered learning and building on the student experience. Well, for here, for years, as you’ll hear, we’ve looked at, in special education, we talk about self-advocacy and disability. It’s important.
Individuals with disabilities have to ask continually through their life for different accommodations and other things. We need to be baking that in for our children as early as we can. So the purpose of today is to explore that conversation and our recommendations around that. What is personalized learning? I think there is a lot of different definitions of personalized learning, and this one we sort of landed on.
Throughout our work, we’ve used it. It shares a lot of the same commonalities with every different definition. Students learning experiences, what they learned and how, when and where they learn it are tailored to their individual needs, skills, and interests, and enable them to take ownership of their learning. And that’s really what we’re talking about here is teaching them to take ownership, what that ownership can look like for their life.
The final thing I want to say about NCLD’s work in general on personalized learning is that the one key takeaway, I would say, is if you are somewhere, and you are implementing personalized learning, don’t wait to include students with disabilities. Sometimes, we see – people think I will wait to include students with disabilities, maybe English language learners until I figure it out for these other children. That is not working. We don’t – what happens then is you end up retrofitting a whole system for this group of students.
And in the meantime, if you’ve customized those systems and think of them, initially, from the get-go, you’re able to build a system that’s more responsive to all of your learners. So that would be my one take away before I introduce this amazing and stellar panel, who I would like to invite to the stage right now. So if the panelists, and Ace, our moderator, would come up. Let me – be careful. It’s a little creaky. [Laughter]. Maybe it’s just me. It could just be me. I know. [Laughter].
Okay. So I just want to introduce our panel and then we’ll get started. I’m gonna actually hand that to you. And right next to me here is the moderator of today’s event, NCLD’s own personalized learning partnership manager, Ace Parsi, who has led this work, and has been with us for a couple of years. Had, prior to joining us, had led the 21st Century learning initiatives at the National Association of State Boards of Education. And before that, he worked here at the Alliance for Excellent Education on career and tech ed policy. So he will be moderating today, and we’re excited that Ace is able to be with us.
I’m gonna go down to Joey on the other end. Joey Hunziker works with Innovation Lab Network, ILN network, at the Council for Chief State School Officers. The ILN is a group of states working to advance policies and best practices that support personalized and deeper learning across the country. Before work at CCSSO, the chiefs, Joey worked in the Office of the State Superintendent of Education here in the district of Columbia in the early learning division. So we’re excited for Joey to be with us.
And next to Joey, we have Amanda Fitzgerald, who is the director of public policy for the American School Counselor Association. She has worked with the association since 2003 in various capacities. While she serves as a liaison for community partnerships, she primarily focuses on government relations efforts for the national office. And she serves as a liaison for congressional offices and the department of education.
And, finally, next to Ace, right in the middle, Will Marsh. Will is a recent graduate of St. Joseph’s University where he studied political science and education, and now works at that university, yea, as a Web developer with a focus on accessibility. Will is a great and longtime friend of NCLD and a wonderful self-advocate, I would say. On campus, he is involved with helping in the Office of Students with Disabilities on various different projects.
And off campus, he’s an avid advocate for dyslexia and has been involved in advocacy activities at the local, state, and federal levels. In 2015, he was awarded the Remy Johnston by the International Dyslexia Association. So we’re excited to have such an incredible stellar panel with us led by the amazing Ace Parsi, and I will hand it right over to them. Thank you.
Ace Parsi: Thank you so much, Lindsay. And it just feels like my whole career is going full circle here because I used to have an office maybe like 20 feet that way, and it’s great to see how the alliance has grown and that we can all continue that partnership. So thank you. So let’s just start by talking about our terminology because I think terminology – especially, I think, if you’re in the Understood parent audience, you get so many terms thrown at you in this conversation.
So let’s just talk about what we mean when we say self-determination. So when we talk self-determination, this is the research-based definition, that the person is the origin of his or her actions. They have high aspirations. They persevere. They hit challenges, and they persevere through those challenges, and they also learn from those challenges. And because they do that, they have multiple varied options. And they have an overall better state of well-being.
There’s four different criteria we use on that. That’s the person is acting autonomously so they’re the ones that make things happen in their life and their learning. That they are self-regulated. They regulate their behavior. They regulate their emotions. They initiate and respond to actions rather than just waiting for those things to happen to them. And they act in a self-realizing manner.
Now, when you look at these criteria, there’s two things that come up. One is that like this is not the same exact criteria or every single disability. So if you have like a severe cognitive disability, that might affect how we would think about you acting autonomously. Or if you have an emotional behavior disorder, that might affect the self-regulation. But every single student, it is our belief, and the research shows, can act in some sort of – exercise agency in some way over their learning and their life. And that is what we’re advocating for.
So self-determination includes a variety of different competencies that includes goal-setting. It includes problem-solving, and it includes for the purposes of this conversation, self-advocacy, which is gonna be a real focus for us. So the definition we use for self-advocacy, the person knows their disability. They know their rights. They can communicate on behalf of themselves. They can communicate on behalf of their group as a whole.
Now, these two things seem pretty basic, like we want every kit to have them. Like, this morning, I was at the doctor’s, and I was, you know, an hour late, and I had to self-advocate for myself in order to get here. [Laughter]. Otherwise, I would have had to self-advocate for a new job. [Laughter]. So we all use these capacities every day, and we know that this is so fundamentally important to personalized learning systems.
But if you’re – as Lindsay mentioned, if you’re a kid with – a student with a disability, and you go into post-secondary education, and you don’t have these kinds of capacities, and you are leaving your IEP team and your K-12 education, you have to go and ask for an accommodation. You have to do that in the workforce. You have to do that in civic life. So it is important, it’s paramount, for all of our students. But it’s particularly important for our kids with disabilities.
And it’s also – this is our opportunity moment that this is – personalized learning opens the door in new ways for us to do this. It gives the option to students, agency to choose where they learn, how they learn, when they learn, from who they learn. This is our opportunity to have our students with disabilities have these skills if we’re intentional about it because it won’t happen without that level of intentionality.
So let’s talk a little bit about just the brief historical context of this because it matters. It was not that long ago in our nation’s history when you had credible voices that were talking about whether individuals with disabilities even had the right to exist. So think about that in the context of self-advocacy. What did that mean in that period? I mean, if you want to just Google Teddy Roosevelt and disabilities. There’s just things that will horrify you in our own nation’s history.
So that meant something in that context. We had individuals come back from WWII, a lot of them had disabilities. We started heading more into a rehabilitation lens. And we were trying to fix people’s disabilities, essentially. And there was self-advocacy in that context meant something that said we don’t need to be fixed. And then we entered into this inclusion, post-mindset, and post-IDEA. And we focused more on how do individuals in general ed classrooms advocate for themselves and their needs.
So throughout that history, it’s important to recognize that we can’t talk about the Black Lives Matter Movement, for example, without talking about the history of Jim Crow and slavery. We can’t talk about self-advocacy in this way without talking about these issues in our past because they’re build into biases in terms of how adults think about students, how they interact with students, and how students eventually think about themselves.
So it’s important to think about that in that context, and think about how we are more explicit, and we don’t just take it for granted that we have a personalized learning system that students are making those active decisions about their learning and lives, but how do we build that into our education system? How are we intentional about that? So here’s the bad news/good news. We know from the research that students with disabilities have less self-advocacy skills and less of a capacity for self-determination.
We know that whether it’s a personalized learning system or a traditional system. But we also know we have really strong research that shows us that we can affect these outcomes. That’s the implementation of this. And that we know that we affect these outcomes in a fundamental way that we improve those students’ outcomes in terms of academic achievement, graduation and high school, and a whole range of post-secondary and life outcomes.
So this is our opportunity in this moment as we – as schools and districts and states move to a personalized learning system, how do we seize this as an opportunity to build self-advocacy skills and self-determination into these systems so that all of our students really succeed, that this isn’t just about – that our students at the margins, these systems are designed for them. And by designing a system in that way, we serve all of our students more effectively. So important for all students, but we need to be intentional.
Just a quick – to talk about our recommendations, what we came out with from this process. Three categories of things. So one is that we can’t just have a conversation and say self-advocacy and self-determination is important. We have to signify that this is important. We have to intentionally value it in our system. So anything from your teacher preparation systems to Capstone requirements in states to performance assessments. We show that this is a performance that we value in our system.
And on a practical level, on a practice level, we can empower our teachers to do more formative assessments of this process. We can incorporate it into our student IEPs and our personalized learning plans making it accessible because for all our talk for voice and choice, if the system is not accessible, it doesn’t mean anything for all of our learners. So we have to be intentional in terms of building principles of universal deigns for learning at the very outset into our systems so that systems can engage and represent and demonstrate their learning in different ways.
That we can empower in our schools, coaches, and individuals, that can connect students to opportunities both inside and outside of school. That we can, in our procurement contracts, when a district or a state is procuring technology or any professional development modules or whatever else that support personalized learning, we can be intentional about making sure that those systems are accessible to all learners.
And then, lastly, none of us learn self-advocacy and self-determination by reading a paragraph in a textbook. We have to actually give our students opportunities to apply these skills and personalized learning systems. So that can be opportunities in terms of work-based learning and service learning. We’ve gotten a lot of questions before the event coming in from those of you who are registered of how this relates to careers.
We can incorporate that into our work-based learning experiences. We can do that through internships and intentionally help and support our students in terms of developing these capacities. We can also have explicit instruction in our general ed classrooms and special ed classrooms on developing these capacities. And we can eventually help lead a system by which our students, the IEP process is not just this bureaucratic exercise, but actually we’re empowering our students to lead and facilitate those IEPs.
There are a lot of opportunities within these personalized learning systems as we shift the narrative of how education is delivered to do this better for all of our students, and especially for those with disabilities. Right now, I want to just do a transition to – we’ve done a lot of talking at you. So I want to show what this looks like for an individual student. So this is a video that was produced by our Understood, which NCLD is the managing partner for. And it shows a student, Elijah Ditchendorf, and his experience with us.
[Video from 0:25:20-0:27:30]
So, yeah, well, I just want to start with you. I’ve watched that video and I’ve actually included it in numerous presentations, and it always just strikes me. Like, how do you relate to that? Do you relate to Elijah’s experience? Did you have similarities? Yeah, tell us a little bit about your experience.
Will Marsh: Definitely can relate to Elijah’s experience. One of the things that always is pointed out in – to that video for me is not less but learning differently. So not thinking as yourself as someone who is of less but you just learn differently. And to carry on that idea of strength that you’re not less at all. You just learn differently.
Another thing that I can relate with Elijah is – although, it won’t be math and science for me because I’m not good at either of those but having the ability to move up and down the different levels of the courses. So in high school, in high school, I was, like I said, not good at math. So I was in a lower level math, so I had that support, but I was in AP Euro because history was my strength. So it’s balancing that ability to break out of the tracks that are implemented in our schools to really allow that personalized learning, and to showcase your strengths and play to that strength as well.
Ace Parsi: So we throw around some of those research-based definitions, but from your practical experience, like when you’re thinking about how you apply self-advocacy and self-determination, whether it was in your K-12 experience or afterwards at St. Joe’s, how would you define those terms for you? Like what do they mean?
Will Marsh: Again, when I share those two terms, I immediately think of two incidences. One in sixth grade, and then one as a freshman in college. So for sixth grade, it’s that transition from elementary school to middle school, which is never the easiest. However, that year as we were in a course that’s meant to prep us for the latest standardized test in the state, there was a teacher who didn’t have that understanding of dyslexia and how it affects my learning style and my process.
And so I got yelled at in front of the class about getting a problem wrong, and just immediately shut down feeling that sense of defeat. And when I went home that day, I just remember crying to myself, telling myself that I was stupid, that I was done. I e-mailed my mother at work and told her I was literally done with school at sixth grade. As I sent that e-mail, my brain was going down the tube. But it’s in that moment where my self-advocacy was born.
The knowing that this is not right. I shouldn’t feel this way, and I need to talk about it and to really advocate for myself to get the supports. Next time I saw my mom, we went and set up an IEP meeting. But it was in that moment of fight or flight, and I chose to fly, to get out of it, and not to fight. But that’s one of the things that self-determination and self-advocacy helps with is learning how to fight and making sure you get what you need to be in that supportive environment to succeed.
The other instance that I remember is in freshman year. I decided to take Latin. Don’t ask me why [laughter] especially as a dyslexic. Let’s say I got out of that class quick. But an accommodation that I had was extended time. And so not knowing the process of requesting extended time in class, nor did my professor at the time, he knew that I had an accommodation because every teacher is notified of all my accommodations.
He thought it was a good idea to just take me out of the class and pull the desk out into the hallway for me to take my test. That didn’t fly. The fact that was the first idea of trying to help me, but in another way of just really calling me out did not sit well with me. So I immediately spoke up for myself again, and said, well, the writing center is right around the corner. Can we see if we can set up a place in there? And they took me in for that.
So that was another moment of self-advocacy and self-determination and talking about that also with our disability services director on campus and figuring out how the system works, how to request that time and get it sent so you go to a different room at the time. I mean, it was also a quiz at the time so it’s shorter than a regular exam.
But one of the two key important things about those two stories are the people who are involved, and that is one, my mom, and another one is the director of disability services as people who could also advocate for myself, for me. And to learn from them how they’re advocating for me and how to model that. So having that person to also to be in your corner as you start developing your self-determination and your self-advocacy skills is very important.
Ace Parsi: Yeah. I mean, there is also some other people that I hear in that story. There’s just a well-intentioned adult who thought that they were going to help you but didn’t know exactly clearly how. And then there is just the system. I mean, you shouldn’t have to force a young person towards fight or flight for them to succeed in that way.
So I’m wondering if you have any advice in terms of thinking, you know, for parents who are watching for educators, for policymakers, like what do you want them to do to make this more a reality so that other students don’t have to get to that point, that bottom that you did to get better.
Will Marsh: Right. So I think one of the important key things is talking about the disability or the learning difference and knowing the knowledge of how you learn and what you need from when you first realize that you have a learning difference and to be in all of the key moments of that. So while I wasn’t in the actual IEP meetings, I was there afterwards. And so my parents and my case manager briefed me and involved me to make sure that I understood what my accommodations were, what my rights were, all throughout my education.
And then another thing that my mom also did a lot was reminding me of my strengths and not my weaknesses. And so when I was really little, I would have a list of all my strengths. And so right before I went to bed, I would look at those strengths. And so having that repetition of knowing this is what I’m good at, that’s what I can go to when I have these moments of flight or flight, this is what I remember. And, trust me, in college as a political science major and with dyslexia, there were moments of fight or flight but I have the idea of how to actually fight this time.
Ace Parsi: Yeah. As a political science major, I know I have fight or flight, too. [Laughter]. So I need to know what I’m gonna do after college. And, Amanda, when you hear the story, how do counselors – where do counselors fit into this? How do they create those kinds of empowering experiences for students like Will and Elijah?
Amanda Fitzgerald: Sure. So I think, a lot of times, I think if I ask the people in this room and online what a school counselor does, I think we’d get a lot of different response. And just like before we started this panel, there was some negative [crosstalk] [laughter] about how the counselor did you wrong, which, unfortunately, I hear all too often. And so one of the things I’m gonna talk about is what best practices are in the field and sort of the shift the field has actually made in the last 15-20 years to be more uniform.
So that you shouldn’t go and the role of the school counselor looks completely different school building-to-school building, or state-to-state. As Lindsay mentioned with personalized learning, there are different – depending on state and local policy, depending on investments, you’re gonna have different scenarios in terms of what the staff and the school do. However, I would hope that even – especially right now, I would say the school counselor has two really big roles, and one is to advocate for students, and two is to teach students to advocate for themselves.
So those, as we’re talking here under the lens of special education, really, the role of the school counselor is to work with all students. So all students need these skills. So it’s not necessarily understanding your disability and what accommodations you may need, it’s understanding all of your abilities. And those strengths and weaknesses, the strengths, the activity is something we see school counselors work with students a lot.
Like, let’s list your strengths and let’s have some self-talk, and talk to yourself about what those strengths are. What are some areas that I can try harder on and learn from, and what are some areas I need help with and how do I ask for that help? So school counselors work under three content areas, which we refer to as domains. There’s academic domain, personal domain, and personal/social, or socioemotional.
And so those domains, school counselors deliver to all students in three different ways: whole class lessons, small group interactions, and individual student planning. So all three of these delivery services would be excellent areas to where self-advocacy skills could be a topic of discussion starting, and I think Lindsay pointed out, also, in the earliest grades. Sometimes if they don’t know how to ask for help, they go without. They just – they sit there and they don’t know to ask about help in the math classroom.
They don’t know where the bathroom is. If they have an accident, they don’t know how to open their snap. They don’t eat. These are all examples of how students need to be explicitly taught where the person is that can help them, and what activities they might be able to accomplish themselves if they work a little harder or have practice. So these are all examples of how school counselors work with all student to do these things.
And I think in terms of the scenarios we see, it’s heartbreaking to hear that students were told just in a one-off comment that you’ve reached your full potential, or that you won’t be in advanced class, and you have no say in that or your parent has no say in that. And I hope, in general, we’re moving away from that model. I know it still very much exists.
But the reform measures with personalized learning but also the individual student planning components of school counseling would get at the areas, where you sit down and talk about career pathways as early as middle school and talk about what you want to do, what you see your postsecondary goals as, and start talking about what course or what interests or what work-based learning experiences are out there that can help you achieve that – all students.
And I also think school counselors get the rap that they’re just there for college admissions and shuffling through the financial aid forms and the recommendations. And, really, that domain, I said, was career development. So everybody has a plan after post-secondary. Some of those plans might be a certificate, or the military, or college. But school counselors should work with students individually to really help shepherd their interests to see what’s going on.
And that conversation should also be with the family and it should be happening ongoing. So, also, I think some people, the perception is school counselor only with certain populations, the at-risk students or the college-bound students. And, again, this is a conversation that should be happening, or you go to the school counselor when something bad happens.
And so there’s the stigma with I hope my kid doesn’t see the counselor. And, really, the counselor should be going to your student more than once all the time. They should have this relationship. So in adequately staffed school, where school counselors are given the autonomy to not spend time on non-counseling duties, they should have these relationships and they should be able to really get to know your students in terms of helping them with all of these skills that we’re discussing.
Ace Parsi: I think you mentioned – you hit on a lot of different things that took me through my past job, especially like even here at the alliance when I was doing career technical education work and thinking about how do we create that connection for students in industries, students in out of school learning opportunities. And you’re highlighting that school counselors are a resource within schools to do that.
Now, you mentioned that the lack of effective capacity to do that. Can you touch up on like what do you mean by that, like, especially in light of these what personalized learning models that put so much more impotence on creating meaningful rigorous out of school learning opportunities.
Amanda Fitzgerald: Sure. So there’s two different areas where the capacity becomes a problem. One is just ratio. So the recommend ratio is one counselor to every 250 students, and right now, we’re about at 490 students nationally. Some states, Arizona and California typically are the worst, and they’re upwards of 800-900, some years they’re 1,000 students to one counselor. So you can imagine that you’re not getting very much one-on-one time.
There’s a lot of kids following through the cracks in terms of who gets that dedicated time with the counselor. Many times, that professional is just putting out fires. So that’s one reason. We just – about half the states don’t mandate elementary school counselors so those states that have really high ratios probably don’t have any elementary school counselors. And we’ve all discussed how these skills and a myriad of others need to start so much earlier.
They need the universal services that all students benefit from but especially students that come from trauma, that experienced trauma, that have students with disabilities, students with learning differences, students with English language learners. All of these students need these services and interventions as early as possible to help them get onto a great path for success.
So that’s one of the things, just sheer numbers. It is not a personnel shortage. We graduate enough school counselors to be employed. It is a budget shortage. So states and schoolboards are making decisions how to staff their schools, and they’re not – they’re coming up short in terms of especially elementary school counselors. Second is a little bit of our – I see our principal colleagues in the room. A little bit of education on how you utilize your school counselor.
So this might surprise all of you. Your school counselor should not be your testing coordinator. And I think that’s happening in more schools than not. So you take a school counselor in charge of state testing, they’re now out of capacity, out of commission from April, May, June, sometimes as early as March. And then you have no one working with those students. So that’s one thing. Knowing the appropriate roles and how to best benefit from your school counselor and allow them to do the actual counseling services is another way that we can help support them doing this work.
Ace Parsi: Good. Thank you so much. So I want to just do a plug so if you go to NCLD dot-org/self-advocacy, you’ll find a bunch of little briefs in addition to the larger port. And we cobranded a publication with ASCA, the American School Counselor Association, around self-advocacy and personalized learning systems. And just related that, you know, as school counselors, that this really relates to the mindsets and behaviors that we want all counselors to have in these systems.
But I think as Amanda highlights, these are particularly important in these personalized learning systems. I think one of the things I’ve seen in the research and effective implementation is thinking about how we rethink, how we staff schools. So the counselors, the case managers, and others, this should be a real team effort, and every one of those individuals needs a specific capacity and training to be able to implement and play on that team to make sure that we’re implementing personalized learning inclusively.
So I think that one of the challenges, and Amanda highlighted it, is why we put so much of this work on teachers, but really how do we as school leaders and district leaders and state leaders rethink the staff modeling, and how you as a parent can go then and advocate to your school to rethink that staffing model so that your child’s needs is most effectively served.
So that, I think, is a good segue to Joey. Joey, first, I think that we often throw around a lot of acronyms here in D.C. I think we export them as our leading export. [Laughter]. Tell us a little bit about the Innovation Lab Network from CCSO first.
Joey Hunziker: Sure. The Innovation Lab Network is a network within the council of chief state school officers of state education agencies. So every state in the country, including our territories, have some entity that is responsible for standards of implementation, assessments, state accountability systems, and support to educators, and school principals and school counselors to some extent.
And so the members of our network are really focused on what are the actions that state agencies can take or employ to be able to support personalized learning efforts and competency-based education efforts happing at the local and district level, and think about it from a system’s perspective, what are the polices that either need to be implemented or revised to support innovation.
What are the behaviors that a state agency can use to help connect good practice in one district to good practice in another district? And, ultimately, in my opinion and where CCSO is moving is that the role of a state education agency is really to play a really supportive role in establishing guardrails for equity and access for students as they are experiencing personalizing competency-based education.
Ace Parsi: Great. And so in that, and we’ve been really happy to be a partner with you on that effort, can you talk a little bit about as states are thinking about these reform-type strategies in like personalized learning, where does the intentionality around self-advocacy and self-determination fall within that conversation?
Joey Hunziker: Yeah, I think it really points to attention. I’d say for the first – for the last decade, the whole concept of personalized learning was seen as an innovation, and how a lot of states, and a lot of legislatures, in particular, saw their role was just sort of get rid of policy, get rid of legislation that was a barrier. And what it did is it sort of incentivized high flying or high capacity districts to take some really great bold leaps and left no support or guidance for lower capacity districts or districts that were really struggling with supporting their most historically underserved students.
And so you see a huge variation in support for students and support for educators as they’re doing personalized learning. And more and more recently, the conversation that we’ve had with state agencies is focused on, okay, we know that these systems haven’t been designed around sort of inclusive practices and the needs of most historically underserved students. How do we actually change that?
And socioemotional learning has become an essential topic within those conversations, and the real tension in that is, okay, personalized learning can help develop self-advocacy skills. But if a student doesn’t have those already, are they going to be excluded from great opportunities because they can’t advocate for themselves yet?
So there’s that real tension for state leaders to think through is my role to really like provide guidance to districts and schools to say, actually, here are the essential self-advocacy skills that are needed for students to pursue personalized pathways that can help them get to a successful college pathway or career pathway. Or do you actually have to use personalized learning as a mechanism to help them develop those skills first?
And there’s no real conclusive [laughter] agreement on that. I think that some states are being really thoughtful about this. We know that personalized learning can very easily just transition into sort of tracking, and that historically has not been good, particular for students of color, students with disabilities…
Ace Parsi: Can you talk a little bit about what – for those who might not be familiar, what tracking is?
Joey Hunziker: So tracking would be sort of using sort of the student’s test scores or how they’ve done in classes historically to make them make decisions about where they should go. So Will’s example, you know, not being able to take a certain class. That video of Elijah elicited for me, like I kept ricocheting back and forth between advanced math and regular math, between sixth grade and ninth grade. And I was just like someone just tell me what I can do. Like, I just want to know.
So that’s one of the risks that we might just start tracking kids especially the risk being – tracking kids based off of certain character traits of themselves, like their skin color or their ability to speak English as a primary language, or their learning differences might be tracking them into certain sort of low resource or low capacity educational experiences.
But, in particular, what states are thinking about is as we’re developing pathways, we don’t want to just know like which cool pathways schools and districts are developing, but like how are students persisting. And I think that’s where this discussion of self-advocacy and self-determination skills come in. Like they actually – students need those skills in order to persist throughout a pathway, and to be successful, but also those pathways could exacerbate if a student is not able to self-advocate for themselves, and it might just be another exclusionary tactic.
Ace Parsi: Yeah. And I think that that really raises the stakes for what Lindsay was presenting on in terms of the retrofitting. How do we make sure our states, districts, and schools, with the best of intentions, just are – and with the advocacy of parents are just so frustrated, they want to do something different. But that different doesn’t necessarily mean closing the opportunity gaps until we’re intentional about it.
So let me just – and I want to encourage everybody, one, just to tweet – live tweet about this event, and we’re using this #self-advocacyforall, and also for those both in the room and also watching at home to submit your questions if you have questions for the panel. So before we go to the audience questions, I want to just ask a few questions of you all. Joey, you mentioned the issue in terms of what state policymakers are thinking.
And I know that, again, like there’s a lot of just laypeople and parents that are watching this. I’ll pose this question to all of you. What do you want them to know about – well, in your case, you, but also Amanda and Joey, in your case, your constituencies, what do you want them to know about your consistency in this context, and what should they do with that knowledge? So maybe, Will, if you want to – if you’re ready to – yeah.
Will Marsh: I think it’s to know more about how to implement ways of encouraging self-advocacy, not so much in the natural practice of it, but also having the background of it. So as I was saying before, discussing the learning difference from a young age, and just really start knowing how you learn because then that way, it can build up to being self-determined and be that self-advocate that you can be for yourself. I think that’s what really is the takeaway is the knowledge of everything.
Ace Parsi: Yeah. And I think you also highlighted one very explicit thing that your parents had to do with that. Amanda, what about you? Thinking about the counselors and all those other educators that work in the school.
Amanda Fitzgerald: So I didn’t highlight before that school counselors actually have their own set of standards. We call them the mindsets and behaviors. So the mindset, if you think about it, is the psychosocial way you approach learning. So how you think about your actions in learning, and also three behavior standards. So learning strategies, self-management skills, and social skills.
So these are operationalized into actual competencies so school counselors actually embed them into their curriculum, and they also partner with classroom teachers to explicitly teach them to or highlight them across the curriculum, right. So working with the English teacher to get them in. All of these, the mindsets and the behaviors are all about really self-determination, having the confidence and knowing exactly what your capabilities are, and knowing that learning can be a growing process.
And everybody can grow in some capacity and where can you grow best. Also, the behavior standards are very much what some people refer to as soft skills. I didn’t coin this term, but I heard other people call them unemployability skills, which I like a lot better. Everybody needs them. Everybody needs to know how to interact with others to maintain those relationships, to do all that.
So, Ask, 2015, revised our standards to make them these mindsets and behaviors. They are on our website. They should be embedded in schools especially if your school has a comprehensive school counseling program. And if not, I would encourage parents and teachers to check those out, and make sure that some staff have them. They have a lot of socioemotional learning sort of built right into them, and that is one way that I think you can start moving this work forward in a nice structured way.
Ace Parsi: Yeah. And I think, for parents, that is a good thing that is a good thing to go to in terms of any of the teaching, also, and the counseling, that there are best practices in the fields that you can ask your school whether they’re someway providing professional development or if it’s already embedded in what they do. And if not, why not? And I know we had NCLD also have professional development toolkits around personalized learning so you can also look into that as well.
Joey Hunziker: Just to add to what Amanda said. You know, increasingly in the 21st Century, learning is multidimensional. You don’t learn sort of discrete topic areas, necessarily. We are – especially in schools that are engaged in personalized learning, there’s a synthesis of content areas with socioemotional skills or 21st Century skills, or transferable skills, and many terms out there.
And that’s because, increasingly, state leaders, district leaders, school leaders, and educators, and parents and communities are understanding like these things can’t happen discretely or in sort of competition with one another. That the way you learn math is actually in pursuit of social skills to be able to use math in an integrated manner in a career or in your college life.
And so many states are moving towards competency-based learning where those academic skills, the knowledge, the content, and the skills are being integrated alongside of transferable or socioemotional skills in a way so that students are able to demonstrate mastery along both of those dimensions of learning to really showcase that they’re a well-rounded student.
And that they’re mastering the essential skills and knowledge, and not just sort of moving through at a regular pace because they sort of were complying and did what they were told but they’re actually focused on developing skills of mastery. I think the last thing I’ll say that is important for folks to know is that at the policy level, there’s very few things that state agencies do, but also legislatures do, but they are important signals.
So one is multiple opportunities for students to demonstrate their learning through different types of assessment portfolios, Capstones, things like that. The way our accountability systems are set up and structured to incentivize multiple demonstrations of learning for students and different dimensions of school quality. I think those are really important for folks to keep in mind.
What happens at a sort of policy level and what happens at the actual on the ground and in a school, there’s a connection. It’s often bifurcated or [laughter] interjected by boards and other actors. But it does have an impact over time, but there’s probably not as clear of a link as people think.
Ace Parsi: Yeah. And coming from a – working for a state board’s association, I’m glad that you’re in your seat and I’m in my seat. [Laughter]. So I guess, yeah, for parents and for others watching, here are a lot of things I think Joey and his team have supported a lot of states in terms of innovation efforts to look at whether your state is one of those states, and, you know, how are they defining their success in that state.
And you can maybe use that as some leverage and seeing whether your school or district can be part of that, a pilot system in a state or how your specific school or district is meeting those standards and goals. So, now, I’m going to just take some of the questions that we had from the audience. The first question I’m seeing is – and it gets off the point, I think, Amanda, you were making – you and Joey were making, around the measurement.
Sometimes, we call these things soft skills, and it’s so much easier to sweep them under the rug when you use that type of terminology. How do you measure these skills, and how do you respond to criticism that it’s difficult to measure? Amanda or Joey, do you guys have any thoughts on that?
Amanda Fitzgerald: Sure. So I can speak from the school counseling perspective. So we have, first of all, the school counselors should be evaluated on their own evaluation tool, however, many local school districts and states actually are evaluating them on a teacher scale, which is a bit problematic. But in terms of, again, we have standards that they should be implementing with competencies saying these students should know these things.
So there’s different ways you can gather that data, whether it’s pre and post-test, whether it’s explicit roleplay, whether it’s, again, embedding it with a classroom teacher into the language arts curriculum, or the math curriculum, or working on – in a collaborative project, and having it have some sort of benchmark, however that should be, a letter grade or a portfolio, or whatever in terms of presentation styles or –.
Again, I think some of the moves to these larger Capstones have a lot more flexibility in terms of just getting away from a paper and pencil test. That would be harder to measure some of these skills. But I think if you – I think there’s a lot of opportunities in terms of the reform efforts coming through in terms of project-based learning and other wise.
Ace Parsi: Great. Will, there’s a question for you that says, “My son resists talking about his challenges because he does not want to appear different from other kids. How can I help?”
Will Marsh: That is a good question. So I always think about looking different when I’m hearing a question like that is back in middle school, we had what was called an Alpha Smart, which was a word processor. So it had very limited features. It looked like a toy, and I stood out. While every other student was writing in their notebooks, I wrote my notes in this little keyboard thing. And so I had to deal with that in middle school, which, again, like I was saying, that transition is not the easiest to begin with.
So, again, to look at that as more of this is how you learn. This is what you need to succeed. So going back to the strengths really hit home with that when you’re talking to your child about looking different or seeming different. Because at the end of the day, it’s just how you learn. You learn differently, and there’s no shame in that at all.
Ace Parsi: Did that change for – and we’ve got some questions, I know, beforehand about K-12 versus higher ed. Did that change for you at all when you got to higher ed?
Will Marsh: It actually changed more so in terms of that example in high school because the high school I went to, all students had laptops. So that was one of the reasons why we chose this high school was the fact that that just made that difference gone instantly. It also prepared me for taking notes in college, which surprisingly enough, a lot of professors don’t allow laptops anymore. I wonder why with distractions of the Internet.
Ace Parsi: [Laughter].
Will Marsh: But, again, I stood out again. But it’s just how I learned. So while my fellow classmates were writing in their notebooks about their notes, I was probably, most of the time, the only one with a laptop so I would always get that question in the beginning of the semester, like why are you allowed to have a laptop? Well, I need my laptop because this is how I need my notes. If you see me write in a notebook, you’re not gonna get those notes ever again because they’re gonna be all over the place.
Ace Parsi: Yeah. And my father-in-law is actually a faculty member in higher ed in law school, and we have this conversation all the time of how do we –. And I think that it’s like sometimes you just don’t know any better. There’s a specific mindset with we apply for all students that can be challenging. This actually was a great segue to this next question that we got. I think, Joey, maybe, Joey, this one is for you. It says, “In my community college setting, personalized often means doing it on a computer. Is this common and how do we address it?”
Joey Hunziker: I think it’s common that the terminology has been adopted by multiple folks to represent things that are personally relevant for them. And I think that’s okay. I don’t want to tell someone your definition is wrong. I think technology is not the solution. It’s a component of how we help students. Just giving a student a laptop or a tablet actually won’t address a) if they have different learning needs, and b) it’s actually there’s no – like learning is social.
There’s a role for an educator. There’s a role for parents. There’s a role for school administrators. You sort of take out that sort of – the aspect of social connectiveness when you just think of it as technology. I think there is a component to help with sort of formative assessment or micro assessments for students to be able to demonstrate their learning through technology that is adaptive. And if you want to use that information, getting back to the measurement question, if you want to use that information to inform different instructional strategies or different supports you offer in the classroom or at the school or district level, I think those are useful.
But just technology on its own, I think the way state education agencies think of personalization is not the component – is not the role. For us, it’s really thinking about what is the relationship between the student and the educator, how is that flipped? Educators are increasingly in a personalized learning environment. Educators are increasingly paying more of a counselor role in some instances, really thinking about what does this student need and how can I help them achieve or fulfill those needs?
What are the skills that a student is bringing into a classroom? What are their strengths? And how can we build on those strengths to help them be successful. And that sometimes technology does play a role in that. Sometimes, you need students to be able to do lessons online while other students are doing a project or other students are participating in maybe a group discussion or things like that.
Ace Parsi: Yea for human beings. Yeah.
Joey Hunziker: Yeah. [Laughter].
Ace Parsi: No, getting over that misconception that we’re replacing our educators, but really providing them the tools to do their job better. Amanda, this question is for you. It says, “how can we support school counselors who are working with students on self-advocacy and behavior issues?” I think you’ve addressed this a little bit but do you have any further thoughts on that?
Amanda Fitzgerald: I mean, I think as an advocate, whether you’re a teacher or a parent or a fellow school counselor, I think understanding the role of the school counselor can go a long way. So I think if you go – if you understand what the school counselor should be doing, and if the school counselor in your building isn’t, maybe that gives you a little bit of leeway to have a conversation.
And knowing what we’ve just discussed and what the mindsets and behaviors say, I think there’s a lot of – the role of the school counselor fits so nicely with these types of skills that, again, work with all students, then I think that as the general public understands that better, it allows the capability for school counselors to do it.
So, first of all, we need more school counselors in the building, so whether that’s working at your local schoolboard, addressing the ratios, and then, two, allowing school counselors to do their role that they’re actually trained to do instead of picking up sort of the slack in all the other areas; handling discipline issues or do just adminstrative tasks. Sometimes, we get some slack on, oh, the school counselors complain that they’re always doing lunch duty or bus duty or hall duty.
And we do talk about fair share roles. So if all teachers are chipping in and doing bus duty, lunch duty, and hall duty, school counselors should do that as well. So it’s not saying that they should do none of that, but they should have ample time to spend 80 percent of their time working with students and doing those direct services.
Ace Parsi: Right. So to add to that, I think there’s a – this question gets back to that terminology of like for school counselors and other educators in the school. So the question is personalized learning a program that individual teachers can teach or do they need to wait for a plan to be – for implementation of the school or district initiative? So like can this be done by – I feel like we’ve all had experiences with a great teacher who’s changed our lives. Like can this happen in an individual classroom or do we have to wait for the broader initiative? I wonder which of you wants to take that? Joey, it seems like you’re…
Amanda Fitzgerald: Sorry. Yeah. [Laughter]. I mean, personalized learning is not new. Like if you look back to educator preparation programs and key competencies back from the eighties and nineties, like differentiation was a component of that. And many educators feel like they are being able to personalize in many ways given variety of skills and challenges that students bring into a classroom.
And there’s not – there may be educators who are waiting for a district administrator or a school administrator to say, yes, you have this approval, but many educators are making these decisions on a daily basis based on the students that they have in their classroom. It really comes down to, I think, what support systems are set up within a school, within a district, to enable this and to give teachers agency, and to give students agency over their learning and over their classroom environments.
You know, thinking about self-advocacy skills, students can exert their agency by being leaders within their school communities, and advocating for different school interventions or personalized learning like at that level for themselves as well. I feel like because there’s such a wide variation within different contexts, folks are doing it all across the US. It’s really just like who’s making decisions that these initiatives are aligning to what I believe are what I value.
Ace Parsi: And I don’t know if you attended one of these schools that have these specific personalized learning initiatives, but you had educators that like seemed to believe in that idea. So like what is – if a student is going to a school that hasn’t fully embraced this a model of reform, what do you wish like educates within those schools would do despite that to better serve you and students like you?
Will Marsh: So for high school, I was in a school that there were tracks but they allowed you to go in-between those tracks. So that is one case of a schoolwide implementation of personalized learning to some degree. But like having the ability to choose how you’re assessed. So, for instance, I’m not the strongest writer at times but what if I made a video to explain it because I’m a better speaker.
That would be a great way to start implementing that in a classroom at a classroom-based model. Another one would be, again, using ways to build up into a portfolio, having these multiple little assignments, but it’s bringing up into one final major project. I sort of have that in my senior thesis. I’m having a flashback of that. [Laughter]. In which it was easier to tackle this 20-page paper, which is the longest paper, surprisingly enough, that I’ve written, when it was done in steps. And so you had these check-ins.
And the professor, your advisor is checking in to make sure you’re on task with what you need access to for your project. So also having this personalized meeting with your advisor, who knows you by your face and not like a number is also very beneficial in terms of being in that classroom setting at the higher ed level.
Ace Parsi: Joey, there’s a question on here in terms of the – we know that our students aren’t just one thing. So they have one – lumping them as disability doesn’t capture what their needs are. But we also know that beyond that, students may have multiple disabilities. We know that a student with a disability could also be an English learner or have trauma.
The question here is what do you do in terms of to make sure that those kinds of needs are accounted for. And I think you all have actually done some research on that in terms of how do you incorporate those kinds of things into personalized learning systems.
Joey Hunziker: Yeah, so I think it’s really important to think of student through an intersectional lens that they are bringing multiple skills, multiple needs into the classroom. You know, and, increasingly, policy likes to serve, sort, and label, and say, for a good reason – [laughter] I’m not discrediting that, you know, and it serves a purpose of the – from a national perspective to be able to collect data, to share, and use that to support students.
But I think some work that we did in support with NCLD was to look at what are the – through a lens of historically underserved students, so English learners, students with disabilities, students of color, and students who are living in poverty and have experienced trauma, what are the opportunities to support them through personalized learning?
And, first of all, the research to the work that you did, there is very little out there. We’re not researching this. [Laughter]. We’re not really investing in that type of knowledge gathering. But I think, you know, there are really good examples where whole schools are going through different initiatives to think through sort of an inclusion lens, not just as like we’re gonna do a specific thing for our students with disabilities. But if we design at the right size for the most historically underserved students, it’s actually best practice for all students.
And, in particular, I know that NCLD and Unitas Sudas has also – you all have done some really great work together. I’d recommend those policy recommendations on the research that you all did there as well. And I think the last thing. From the national lens, you know, we think of IDEA sort of as a floor and a really good floor to build off of in implementation and support for districts and schools.
It shouldn’t be the bare minimum that we do, but it should at least be a check for schools and districts and state leaders to say we can’t go below this but what’s above this? What do we do that actually is inclusive of students who are bringing multiple dimensions of skills and needs into a classroom, and how are we designing around them inclusively?
Ace Parsi: Yeah. And I think that brings about a great need for advocacy to talk about that these laws are the floor. They’re not the ceiling, and how do we then push our educators and our schools and recognizing that and give them the resources to be able to do that well. Amanda, did you have any thoughts in terms of issue of that intersectionality from the counselor or educator standpoint? Like how do we address it?
Amanda Fitzgerald: I think you covered a lot in terms of looking at where the needs are and where the school is, and then being able to figure out a way policy-wise how to get there. And, again, there’s such a change from what the policy says to actually what the practice looks like. So I think understanding what services are out there, what services should be there, what services do you have access to, and how do you advocate for those as a parent or as an educator in terms to get the best for your student.
Ace Parsi: Thank you. The last question I have on here is around accessibility. I wonder if each of you could kind of – we’ve touched upon it, and we really – I mean, as NCLD, obviously, we think that this is a really important issue: accessibility. But why is accessibility so important to that self-advocacy skill conversation for you and how can we address that at different levels? So I wonder if each of you can talk a little bit about that issue of accessibility, how you experience it or how your specific constituencies address it. Will, do you have any thoughts on that?
Will Marsh: In terms of what way of accessibility? I guess the gaining access [crosstalk]. So one of the great things that I was able to experience in my education in college was working with multiple departments throughout the university. And so having that experience as a student worker, at that time, allowed me to view my university, my education differently. I understood how other areas work, especially in terms of accessibility in general and how there are downfalls that we are doing, and what we can do to help enhance our classrooms and our campus as well.
But that also allowed me to move throughout the university to get this more wholesome view of it. And internship became a career for me. And so in that time of having that work-based learning transferred over into the classroom to me, and then vice-versa into the workplace. So the ability to have access to use different opportunities is definitely something that was beneficial for me.
Ace Parsi: Amanda and Joey, we have just one or two minutes. Do you have any thoughts on that in terms of accessibility?
Amanda Fitzgerald: I would just say that I think that school counselors, again, we’ve switched this focus from a reactive where people come to you to where they should be going out and reaching out. So the access should really be to all students because it’s initiated by the office in that respect.
Joey Hunziker: I’ll just add two things. One, increasingly, states are being – are viewing access not through the lens of like permissibility, you know, getting rid of barriers, getting rid of policies or enacting new pilots, but actually making sure those pilots are being implemented well, and that these initiatives are supporting districts that are lower capacity, lower resource, that have higher student – that have a higher percentage of students who need more support and guidance in order to do this work.
And that’s something we’re increasingly working with them to really be intentional about goals for access and equity, and particularly around setting goals for quality and rigor. Not just seeing this through the lens of like, oh, they’re doing personalized learning, that’s great, which could just be giving a kid a tablet. But actually thinking about it through the lens of like what is – how is it a quality experience for students to access, and what data are policymakers using to be informed about whether or not these innovations are working, whether or not personalized learning is helping drive student achievement, and whether it’s helping close opportunity gaps.
Ace Parsi: Thank you. So I just want to take a minute to thank our panel for giving your time and expertise throughout this whole process with us. So if we can give them a round of applause.
We’re really grateful to have you all as partners and so many of you also in this room as partners. I do want to say as one of the people who wrote the report and had Amanda and Joey’s help in that process, that the last thing that would be a failure if ten years from now, this is just another one of those things that’s like gathering dust on a shelf. We really want this to be a springing off point of the conversation, and we need your help and input in that process.
Self-advocacy is a big goal of ours at NCLD. So I want to just encourage people to see your own individual role in this process. Go to NCLD dot-org/self-advocacy. I think one of the things that we’ve come out with in this process is that every single individual in your school, whether you’re a parent, or whether you’re a counselor, an educator, caseworker, student yourself, we all have a role to play. And there’s specific actions in that document for everybody. So there’s things there.
But we also want you to share information with us. How are you using that information to promote self-advocacy for students that you work with? And we really want your help. We want your ideas. We want to see how you’re using the report and to have this be a continuing conversation. So I want to thank everybody who presented, who tuned in, including the Understood audience who’s doing this in the future for your time. And I want to invite Winsome to close this off.
Winsome Waite: So my closeout is thank you. Thank you. Thank you for being here with us. This is truly an important issue for me, personally, being a former classroom teacher, school leader, district-level school improvement specialist in a variety of jobs that at the center of those have been students with learning disabilities or learning differences. It’s extremely important as Ace said and I know that you know that I was part of coalescing around the information to draft this report.
And then, of course, a great team took it forward and wrote it. But how do we live by it? So back there, one of the founders of the Alliance for Excellent Education on the wall, Lilo Leeds, there’s a quote, “Don’t tell me what you’ve learned today, tell me what you’re gonna do with this on Monday.” So channeling Lilo, who has now passed. Thank you for coming, and for sharing, and for reading the report.
More importantly, thank you for doing with policy, with practice, with advocacy, the information that it’s in this report. How can we really make it happen for students with learning differences? Thank you so very much for being here. I think we have some refreshments back there. I hope you mingle. And come to the alliance. We are here. We welcome you. We do this work with you arms in arm. We want to graduate all of our students. Particularly, today, let’s focus on graduating for postsecondary readiness for all students with learning disabilities. Have a great afternoon.
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