I recently read an article called “96 edtech predictions for K-12 in 2019.” Several of these innovations really jumped out to me, in part due to our current new ventures at the Elizabeth Lee Black School.
Increasing Parent engagement is one of our school’s strategic goals. In recent years, we have seen an increase in parent engagement. Interestingly, the article mirrors our own conclusion that using digital platforms for communication has resulted in an overall higher level of family response and/or involvement. Last year, we began an opt-in to receive text messages from our early childhood program and had enormous participation. Since then, we have worked on expanding this to all of our families in the hope that we can continue to improve the relationship between school and home.
SEL (Social Emotional Learning) is considered by most education professionals to be the industry’s latest buzzword, as more of us begin to recognize the critical role a child’s emotional state plays in influencing his/her ability to learn and develop. Last year, we spent a great deal of time exploring the idea of trauma; not only by expanding our understanding of what is considered traumatic (for example, living in poverty is a traumatic experience), but also in acknowledging the potentially huge influence that these traumas have in our students’ lives. Sadly, nearly half of our students experience the trauma of living in poverty. In response to this need, our behavior department initiated a “Trauma Informed Care” Professional Development program for all of our school staff, to help us better recognize signs and symptoms of underlying traumas, as well as methodologies we can use to help work through these occurrences.
Similarly, we also implemented a relatively new crisis management program known as UKERU. This technique, developed for children and adults, offers safe and restraint-free techniques for working during a behavioral crisis. As a result, we have seen a significant decrease in our use of restraints and our staff have reported that they feel better trained to meet the needs of our very behaviorally challenged students.
Another recurring theme highlighted the increased focus on “models of learning” rather than “methods of teaching.” Immediately, this brought to mind a favorite quote of mine: If a child cannot learn in the way we teach, then we must teach in a way the child can learn. Children with special needs require us to look beyond the traditional methods of teaching and instead focus how they learn best. This important shift in perspective is at the foundation of our school and is, in large part, the reason behind many of the most innovative technologies and techniques at ELBS.
Of course, the developments made in interactive apps, iPads, virtual reality, robots, and beyond continue to astound me. These technologies have become more engaging and interactive than ever before, bringing with it an excitement – yes, excitement! – to learning. A child who may not be motivated by a paper pencil task will light up at the prospect of completing the work on a device… this has made a world of difference in forward progress. We also continue our partnership with the engineering departments of a local university as they develop a virtual reality app that will help children with ASD in socialization and communication.
It is truly an exciting time for the education world!