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Virtual Learning Model to Support Statewide Change in Inclusive Practices

We are all experiencing the inevitable changes this worldwide pandemic is requiring of everyone and, perhaps, especially of educators.  For those of us who have long held that there is no substitute for face-to-face personal interactions in professional development, it was not only a risky endeavor, it was exposure of personal vulnerabilities when submitting to high-stakes evaluation.  After all, the computer screen seemed a distant ‘second’.   We have now had an opportunity to test that theory!

Last Spring, the Connecticut State Department of Education (CSDE), Bureau of Special Education, invited Stetson and Associates to assist in improving the amount and quality of services provided to students with disabilities in the general education classroom setting.  To accomplish this, several priorities were established. They include:

  • Increasing the skills of a leadership cadre of twenty-three highly knowledgeable special education consultants engaged in either statewide work or work in the defined regional areas of the state. This is to be achieved through certification as trainers in our Step-by-Step for Inclusive Schools program of professional learning and on-site technical assistance in the schools.
  • This request was in response to their analysis of Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) data which identified specific districts across the state needing to increase the amount of time students with disabilities spend in the general education setting.

The state has two broad priorities:

  • Train-the-trainer sessions for participants to replicate the sessions and to provide on-site technical assistance follow-up services at participating schools; and
  • A set of sessions to be offered by Stetson and Associates’ consultants on a variety of related topics throughout the state that would reach a broader audience of educators and schools.

Our History with CSDE

Over the years, Stetson and Associates has enjoyed a strong relationship with the CSDE and SERC in advancing inclusive practices and building leadership skills.  This group is impressive to work with due to their ranks of highly qualified education leaders, a data-driven approach to selecting priorities for improvement, and for developing processes that foster systemic change.  When invited to join with CSDE to accomplish the above tasks, numerous dates to provide face-to-face training and coaching were established.  

The Problem

In February, as COVID-19 restrictions were enacted, a different plan was needed.  This was particularly needed as the state was committed to a short timeline and therefore creative solutions were needed to avoid long delays.  

The Solution

It was quickly determined that virtual learning strategies were our best solution.  The new plan included:

  •  A series of  interactive webinars which would provide attention to deep content, training methodologies and the ability to respond to participant questions;  
  • One-on-one online coaching to build individual cadre member expertise in the content and training process;
  • Personalized feedback to develop master-level skills; and,
  • Relationship building as a necessary facet of effective adult learning.  

“As coordinator for this project in CT, the virtual option allowed us to keep our training going so that our trainers-to-be will be ready to roll in the fall of 2020.  My group felt the one on one coaching sessions were so valuable to help them with their content and training skills and the webinars were great to enhance our content knowledge.  We thoroughly enjoy our continued partnership with Stetson and Associates!”

–Nicole Hendry, Consultant, State Education Resource Center

The Results

Success!  Here are the results of a follow-up survey from participating cadre members.

“A great sense of community was created.”

“Considering our current stay home, stay safe status this allowed us to continue to train. I truly appreciated that our learning could continue during this trying time.”

“The feedback was specific and personal, delivered in a constructive manner that was well received.”

These results validated that webinar sessions and online coaching through Zoom were effective solutions to an unplanned set of circumstances. Kudos to the skills and adventurous nature of the CSDE training cadre!

*Individuals from the Connecticut State Department of Education (CSDE), from the State Education Resource Center (SERC), and from the state’s six Regional Educational Service Centers (RESCs).