Training Teachers and Offering Tools to Support Diverse Learners in General Education Classrooms
More than 10 years after Hurricane Katrina decimated New Orleans’ school system and New Schools for New Orleans (NSNO) was established, the organisation continues its quest to ensure an excellent public school for every child. Its grant is supporting special education coordinators as they train general education teachers to anticipate and respond to the diverse learners in their classrooms, and introducing the use of learner profiles in growing numbers of schools.
“The collaborative nature of [our Oak-funded programmes] have allowed us to leverage the best parts of our decentralized system—the ability to partner and learn from schools with the flexibility to design their own programing—to ensure educators at every level are better equipped to provide high-quality services to our most vulnerable students.”
– Mikal Anderson, NSNO School Talent Development Director
ABOUT THE ORGANISATION
NSNO has helped drive significant improvements in student achievement in New Orleans, Louisiana, over the last decade. As a strategic city leader, it makes targeted investments that build school and teacher capacity and injects vital energy into a range of school improvement efforts. Thanks in large part to NSNO’s and its partners’ efforts, in a city where 60 percent of students attended schools designated as “failing” in 2004, now, only 13 percent do. But there is still more to strive for; for example, a quarter of all students still do not graduate high school, and only 60 percent of students with disabilities graduate on time.
ABOUT THE OAK FUNDED PROJECT
NSNO is addressing diverse learners’ needs by implementing an intensive, two-year fellowship for special education staff, as well as expanding the use of learner profile tools. Teachers rely on school staff known as “special education coordinators” for assistance with differentiating lessons. Through the Special Education Leadership Fellowship, or SELF, coordinators are developing stronger skills for providing high-quality special education services. They are also learning to better train and support general education teachers to anticipate and respond to the diverse learners in their classrooms. In addition, NSNO is initiating local pilot projects and leveraging national expertise to create a multi-year plan to drive adoption of learner profiles in partner schools citywide. Learner Profiles map each student’s academic, metacognitive, and social-emotional strengths and weaknesses, as well as their goals, interests, and learning preferences, to help teachers better customize the delivery of required curriculum for each student.
QUESTIONS & ANSWERS
What have you accomplished through your Oak-funded programme that you’re most proud to share with your colleagues?
SELF has allowed special education coordinators from across New Orleans to build a strong community of practice and develop a peer program review rubric. The programme has also been able to strategically address compliance and content knowledge deficits to ensure everyone who works with students with disabilities—from coordinators to general education teachers—understands how to best serve all students. The Learner Profile collaborative of six schools across the city has begun designing and beta testing a digital learner profile tool that will provide schools and students with a customizable, more central way of tracking student growth.
What’s the most interesting challenge your Oak-funded programme currently faces?
SELF has been working on both how to do meaningful landscape analysis of other regions like our own and how to identify strong programs here to ensure these inform practice. The organization is thinking deeply about how to share these learnings not only within the program, but across the entire system of schools. The Learner Profile collaborative’s biggest challenge is figuring out what information is most informative to teachers and striking a balance between comprehensiveness and user-friendliness.
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Oak Foundation commits its resources to address issues of global, social and environmental concern, particularly those that have a major impact on the lives of the disadvantaged. With offices in Europe, Africa, India and North America, we make grants to organisations in approximately 40 countries worldwide.