Lessons Learned in Maryland: Looking Back and Going Forward
SWIFT partner schools in Maryland learned two vitally important lessons about creating equity-based inclusion for all students:
1) Changing mindsets changes practices.
2) Relationships matter most.
Changing mindsets changes practices
The mindset of fitting children with unique needs into specially prescribed programs has given way to the belief that every child is unique and therefore interventions need to support students’ individual learning styles and challenges—in the regular classroom, alongside their peers, with full access to the general education curriculum. In the past, students who struggled with reading relied on pre-determined programs for support. Now the focus is on an instructional match for interventions delivered in the classroom and based on students’ needs. An example of this changing mindset is West Side Elementary in Allegany County. After carefully looking at student data and evaluating student outcomes, educators found that the programs were not always meeting students’ individual learning needs. Once educators began looking at the unique profiles of students, they began matching the expertise and talent of various educators to the interventions.
In addition to literacy instruction, this changing mindset allowed educational personnel to view academic and behavior screeners, not as tools for compliance, but rather as learning opportunities to examine what successes are occurring and what opportunities are needed in order to identify and provide the best supports and interventions for all students. A focus on data and an investment in problem-solving protocols resulted in “just right” academic and behavior tiered supports. School transformation teams lead and support teacher collaboration, coaching, and professional development. To illustrate the mindset of thinking about each and every child as unique, a middle school in Queen Anne’s County capitalized on the winter administration of a behavior screener to provide a follow-up professional development session, using a video based on the school shootings in Sandy Hook . This professional development opportunity generated important discussions about getting to know every child’s strengths and needs; being proactive with supports and interventions; and most importantly, building relationships with all students.
Relationships matter most
Relationships among educational personnel, students, families, and community members led to a sense of shared responsibility for the successful outcomes of all students. This feeling is particularly strong among families and community members. While their involvement was a goal from the beginning of Maryland's SWIFT partnerships, it wasn’t until schools started asking what family and community members are able, willing, and interested in doing, and deeply listening to their responses, that families and communities gained a voice in the school. Family members are now recognized as valuable members of the team in mutually beneficial relationships. Parents are asked what is needed, not just informed about what is good for themselves and their children. Educators are taking the time to ask parents and families about the hopes and dreams for their children. Parents serve on instructional leadership teams and provide input to determine future direction and activities. More surveys are going out to families and schools, looking seriously at their input and how they can improve the academic and social outcomes of all students and the health and well-being of families and communities.
Positive relationships among school and district leaders are also growing. Principals are part of cross-functional District Implementation Teams and all are engaged in understanding the value of implementation science when thinking about new innovations and initiatives. Conversations and collaboration have changed from just a few voices to all viewpoints being valued and leading to shared decision making. For instance, in Allegany County, the four SWIFT partner school principals have been advisers to the Chief Academic Officer; in Baltimore City, three principals attended the District Capacity Assessment and provided valuable feedback around district long-range planning, communication structures, and strategies for enhancing coaching supports. Similar shared decision-making opportunities are occurring in both Cecil County and Queen Anne’s County.
Since becoming a SWIFT partner state, everyone in Maryland’s SWIFT partner districts is focused on positive outcomes and takes responsibility for student achievement and success. Maryland SWIFT partners do their best to include everyone in their efforts to achieve equity-based inclusive education and improve the academic, behavioral, and social outcomes of all students. From the school administrative staff to the custodians, from teachers to paraprofessionals, every adult is involved in every child’s learning.
Mindset shifts and relationships matter in Maryland!
- Linda Ann Rohrbaugh