By Renea Bartlett Pope & Will Randall, Support Services Coordinators at The International School Nido de Aguilas
International schools around the globe grapple with questions of how best to serve their children with specific learning needs. At the recent AASSA Educators’ Conference in Santiago, Chile, we engaged with many colleagues and shared some of our experiences with effectively growing our model to meet the needs of diverse learners.
Regardless of where your school is in the process of building supports for your students, we have found there are three crucial areas that teams need to consider when creating or refining support services: articulating philosophy, building programs, and enhancing systems.
Know Your Goals: Philosophy
Very few of us have the benefit of articulating philosophy before getting to work. Instead, many of us are building our ship at sea, without a map that charts our final destination. It is imperative that schools revisit their Mission, Vision, and Values to ensure that the daily work of supporting struggling students is in alignment with the school’s philosophy.
Leadership and faculty need to have a map for student support and know where the school is headed before embarking on their journey. In 2015, we began our self-study phase with one guiding question: How do we best serve diverse learners, in terms of breadth and depth, within Support Services? To look at that question in a comprehensive way and use the answers to guide refining our philosophy, we worked with our leadership team and other stakeholders to explore the following questions:
Is our Mission and Vision inclusive for all types of learners?
Do we have a clear picture of the needs within our current population?
Does our leadership team have clearly articulated short-term and long-term goals for Support Services in the Strategic Plan?
Is the current Support Services model adequately funded and staffed through our standard tuition fees and/or additional revenue streams?
Do we have a comprehensive admissions process that sufficiently addresses linguistic diversity and students with special needs?
Know Your Now: Programming
Oftentimes, we are too busy trying to meet the needs of our students with poorly designed systems and are not taking the time to properly map out a fully articulated program that comprehensively supports all of our learners. This is particularly true at large schools in which Support Services faculty and leadership may be focused on divisional issues instead of recognizing larger trends and needs that are pervasive throughout the school.
Understanding student need through an organizational perspective is crucial before initiating any changes. For this section of the work, you need both the quantitative data and a qualitative understanding of your students. When undertaking a self-study of this depth, patterns will emerge that you will be able to incorporate into your gap analysis. In short, the path between where you are and where you want to go will become much clearer when you can answer the following questions in as much detail as possible:
Do you have a clear system and process for identification of students with special needs? Does this system provide accurate data or can it be improved?
Describe the current student support programming at your school. Does that programming sufficiently meet student need throughout your school and do you vertically align the framework of your supports?
Do you have a common language for student support, including protocols around process, procedure and documentation? Does your staff receive annual training in order to build a common understanding of student support programming?
Describe your data analysis and information management systems. Do they meet your needs for tracking student information, storing data, sharing documents efficiently and ultimately supporting students?
Know Your Next Steps: Refinement
Just when we were patting ourselves on the back for all of the foregoing work with philosophy articulation and program analysis, we realized that the real work is just beginning. Good programming cannot be based on individuals but must be part of the school ethos. In order to create a schoolwide sustainably effective program, schools need to create a systems approach for consistently analyzing, refining and enhancing programming by engaging in the following:
Conduct an annual gap analysis with your leadership and student support team in order to get from where you are to where you want to be. After this, you must establish your short term and long-term goals with completion dates and persons responsible.
Work with the leadership team, enrollment office and business department to ensure your changing model continues to be financially sustainable.
Seek consistent feedback from stakeholders, including students, parents and teachers regarding effectiveness of programming and use this information in your gap analysis before making any future goals.
It is possible for any school to reach new horizons with the proper systematic approach when designing student supports.
Will Randall currently serves as the secondary divisions Student Support Coordinator for The International School Nido de Aguilas in Santiago, Chile where he has been living with his family for the past three years. Will has had many roles in over twenty years of education, including classroom teacher, Learning Support Specialist, educational psychologist, and district level RtI program manager in Monterey, CA. Will’s professional interests are supporting students through effective systems, developing MTSS frameworks for international schools, and partnering with other international schools to help them improve their supports for students. Prior to living in Chile, Will and his family were in Stavanger, Norway. This is their second international post and they are loving the adventures and lifestyle that international education has provided them.
Renea Bartlett Pope
Renea Bartlett Pope currently serves as the primary divisions Student Support Coordinator at The International School Nido de Aguilas. Renea began her career in the Atlanta area and has taught students from early years to high school in three countries in general education, EAL, and literacy intervention with a focus on dyslexia. Since 2012, she has also worked in professional development through consulting and teacher preparation at a local university in Santiago. Renea’s particular professional interests are in program development, women in leadership, and looking at the intersection of language development and learning needs for international students. Renea and her family love Chile and take advantage of traveling around South America.