I’m going to take a different look at “needs” in a distributed learning environment coming from the perspective of special education and exploring questions related to meeting  student “special needs” in my new work environment.  As a part-time (one-day per week) School Based Resource Teacher, I have been allocated time to support a school of about 120 enrolling k-12 students, with an approximate case load of 12 students identified with a ministry designation and 5 additional students with significant academic and/or social needs. My guiding questions are: What is my role as a resource teacher in a DL environment?  How do I meet student “special needs” in the DL environment and /or support parent/guardian implementation of individual education programming/planning (IEP)?  What is ministry criteria regarding meeting specific student needs in a DL environment and how can I shape my work time to adequately meet the requirements?  What barriers currently prevent participation and what would reduce these barriers? What practices and/or technologies exist that can support my students?  What structural changes are required to provide services to a diverse group of distributed students?

The target audience is the students who have been identified by our school based team with special learning needs, ranging from ASD, chronic health conditions to learning disabilities and unidentified learning challenges.  Stakeholders who are highly influenced by the needs/structure of the programming include:

  • Parent/guardians
  • Teachers
  • SBRT
  • Administrators
  • Outside agency supports (i.e. counselling, OT/PT, SLP, behaviour specialists, etc.)
  • District based itinerant support teachers (i.e. technology specialists, school psychologists, resource teachers – district based supporting extra load demands on SBRTs)

The time allocated to serve these students must be used creatively and wisely to be adequately meet student needs. What is reasonable support when in a DL environment?  I have been advised to provide “minimal” support given the small allocation of time to our program.  The current case load far surpasses my ability to adequately meet student needs.  Is it my responsibility, parent/guardian, district, and/or others to help move our DL students forward?  Fear abounds when questioning what is in place right now and concern regarding funding to meet needs, and then be accountable for correct use of these funds (i.e. impending audit probability, accountability to ministry policies) is real.  What can be used to bring all stakeholders together to improve communication, build capacity, collaborate, improve structures and meet student learning needs?

2 Comments on A “Special” Needs Assessment

  1. Kerrie says:

    Wow! You clearly outlined the challenges you face. The caseload is certainly unrealistic. This seems to be the case for many of us ‘part-timers’ in the education system these days. I too have a “part-time” position (which is supposed to require only 12 hours a week which includes the 6 hours in classroom). All of the planning, course redesign, administration, grading, student support for the two courses is supposed to be 6 hours. Added to that, I have ended up with more than 60 students (more than any of the time faculty) in multiple modes (f2f, blended, online). At the end of week four, I have identified several students who are at risk – but that intervention is something that I just do not have time to provide. I am already working more than double what I am supposed to do just to keep up with the basic teaching duties.

    Although it does take additional time (time that I haven’t had up to now and I’m sure that you haven’t either), beginning tomorrow I am going to try to start documenting the time I spend each day on all tasks (every student contact, responding to emails, etc. – in the same way a lawyer would do). What I would suggest is that you consider trying to do the same – make note of every contact and every action you take (along with time/date/etc.). At the end of the day, we need to be prepared. We also need to be able to clearly show that more time must be allocated if we are to provide an adequate level of student support. We can do our best, but at the end of the day, no matter how committed we are, we are not volunteers. By not addressing this, we are just creating problems going forward – the workload will not be addressed or may even be increased further. Recently I had to be direct and tell an administrator that I am not a volunteer. All of the unpaid time and work I do above my 0.5FTE comes at significant personal cost – my inability to take on other “part-time” work so that I can earn enough to support myself. If student success is the goal, then workloads must be realistic. In your case, student support should not completely fall on your shoulders. As you mentioned there are a number of other stakeholders who must be actively involved in supporting the students. Perhaps it would be good to discuss and formally identify what role each of you will have, what you will be responsible for, how you will communicate with each other, what the student will do, etc.

  2. Nic says:

    Wow! I truly appreciate your support and can understand the position you find yourself in as well. What a great suggestion re: documentation of time and service. It certainly is easy to “say” that I don’t have enough time, but if I were to provide concrete evidence of where my time is spent and what I am able to accomplish then perhaps that will lend more weight to my argument. I believe very strongly in the type of education we provide our students, and know from previous experience, information from parents/students and from the stories I hear from my colleagues that DL is a valuable, and necessary option for some learners. Once it is better recognized and supported from the perspective of individualized programs, and personalized learning plans as per the BC curriculum initiatives, then perhaps I will be able to “adequately” meet needs. In the meantime, prioritizing, documenting and having boundaries with my personal time will be necessary. It’s certainly hard to do when you know and work with the “real people” involved. Best of luck to you with what sounds like very similar challenges.

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