Ideas on Administrative Support

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This document shares ideas on administrative support.   AT teams benefit from strong relationships with their supervisors and administrators. This document discusses the purpose and role of administrative support.  It discusses the importance of planning leadership transitions and shares ideas from AT providers. 

Multiple individuals can contribute to this list of ideas about administrative support to enhance AT services and supports. If you have an idea that you would like to share, please contact the NATE Network at info@natenetwork.org  .

 

THE PURPOSE OF ADMINISTRATIVE SUPPORT 

Some people – like a school principal or special education director – are leaders because of the assigned administrative position that they fill. Others may become leaders in AT services because of their knowledge of AT devices and services. Northouse (2016) labels these two types of leaders as assigned leaders and emergent leaders. In their survey of established AT teams, DeCoste, Reed, and Kaplan (2005) found that only 20% of teams surveyed indicated that assigned administrators initiated their AT team development. More commonly, AT team activities were developed when enthusiastic service providers saw a need for AT coordination. Yet without administrative support, AT improvement efforts are likely to be less effective and more difficult to sustain. When changing the nature or style of AT service provision, assigned administrators and AT leaders can be extremely effective working together to lead change.

Because of their assignment, school administrators have authority to lead change. They have the ability and the responsibility to assign staff to specific roles, teams, and tasks; coordinate with other departments; and advocate for funding. Although administrators may not always be familiar with specific AT content, they play an important role in ensuring that a high-quality AT program is provided.

Emergent leaders in AT are those who have an AT background and may be direct AT service providers. Emergent AT leaders usually come to their leadership naturally because of their enthusiasm for the work. They are recognized by others for their passion about AT’s benefits for students with disabilities or as experts in AT. Emergent leaders often have specific information that allows them to explain AT to others, train staff members on key AT tools and strategies, share information about new and emerging technologies, and see the need for changes that can more effectively meet students’ needs.

AT programs experience the most benefit when administrators work closely with AT leaders to make changes that will improve the overall program. Leithwood et al. (2008) found that there is no loss of administrative influence in a school when the power and influence of many others in the school is increased and used. In fact, staff in schools with the highest levels of student achievement attributed their success to influence from multiple sources of leadership (Mascall & Leithwood, 2008). School administrators know a great deal about how to make the system work and are assigned to initiate actions that lead to change. AT leaders generally understand more about specific aspects of a desired change in AT services and have much to contribute in leading everyone involved to implement consistent aspects of the new approach.  (Adapted from Bowser and Reed, 2018)

 

THE ROLE OF ADMINISTRATORS

Accessibility, Mentoring and Coaching

Three things come to mind when I think of AT leadership; accessibility, mentoring and coaching.

Accessibility: Our organization is striving to provide the optimal examples of accessibility where we are creating documents and multi-presentations. This includes fully accessible PowerPoint presentations, written documents, videos with closed captions, ASL interpretation, and described video. Currently, our IT and AT staff are developing the skills to create such fully accessible media.

My goal would be to train our field based staff to create and use these materials so that they, in turn, can teach the classrooms. My challenge? Our field based staff and classroom teachers feel that this is “time consuming”. It takes an extra 30 minutes text, navigational headings, and include videos with closed captions. If staff do not see a direct “immediate need” for creating accessible materials, they will not take the extra time.

Mentoring: Mentoring and modeling go hand-in-hand. With mainstream technology (e.g., iPads, Chromebooks, and software such as Read & Write), teachers are  starting to incorporate their use into the everyday routine of their classroom. However, the use of non-mainstream devices, such as AAC, magnifiers, and braille devices are not as easily integrated. Having our field-based staff model and mentor students and staff on the use AT will have a positive impact.

Coaching: This is not just a “one-time” intro and demo of software. Team members change and the needs of the student also grow and diversify. Our aim is to learn how to incorporate more AT while empowering our field-based staff to also coach educational teams. (Contributed by Lynn Seymour-Lalonde, Nova Scotia)

 

Approach to Administrative Roles

Under each of the components of an administrators’ role (e.g., leadership, management, supervision and program improvement), I identified one thing to really target with the administration in the districts I support. For example, under management, I would like to help administrators create their own written guidelines for their district. I also want to discuss and learn how they are educating their staff on how they can request  AT. I wonder how many teachers feel uncomfortable with this, often because they are unsure of what is available in the district. I am going to share the Administrative Self Assessment with Special Education leaders. I am thinking about putting this document in a survey form. Administrators can answer the questions and hopefully, the survey will help me to identify areas of strengths and weaknesses. I would like to be more targeted in my approach.  (Contributed by Erin McManahan, PA)

 

Focusing on an AT Vision Using Stages of Concern

Our T/TAC has been working on a book study with Dr. Gene Hall, Implementing Change: Patterns, Principles, and Potholes. We want to further our understanding of system change and our role as change facilitators. We learned a process called “stages of concern” which can be used when working with an AT Team by asking the question, “When it comes to assistive technology in _____County Schools, what are your concerns?” I used this with a school division who wrongly assumed that the AT Team members were uninterested in a new district initiative, but subsequently learned that many of the AT team members were very interested and frustrated by lack of leadership. I would recommend this process as a way to identify how individual team members feel about an initiative 

Also, twice a year, at the Virginia Council for Administrators of Special Education (VCASE) Conference, pertinent legal cases and implications for schools are discussed.  AT has made the top 5 issues for the last several years. Administrators are developing relationships with families by providing AT identified by IEP teams and maintaining data on its use. (Contributed by Sharon Jones, Virginia). 

 

LEADERSHIP TRANSITIONS 

Planning for Transitions

To clarify and advance the mission of our AT Department, I looked back at our activities during the previous 5 years when I was leading the department.  I documented the activities and began to put together a 5 year report and an annual report. This fiscal year will be my final year as director. I identified actions that needed to be in place to move the department into another person’s leadership. This included writing procedures, which have not been written down previously, to prepare for the transition.

During the past year, my supervisor retired, and it was very helpful to have the 5 year report to share with the new supervisor. I shared our accomplishments and my retirement plans with my supervisor. We were able to identify a highly qualified person within our organization who could expand our abilities to support teachers in our schools. We were able to add this person as a fourth person to our team just after Thanksgiving this year. I am already seeing progress toward completion of goals that had previously languished. I am mentoring her to carry out the activities that support the department. We will work together to develop a 3 year plan that we can then further develop with the other members of our team. (Contributed by Sandra Masayko, PA)

 

BRIEF REFLECTIONS ON ADMINISTRATIVE SUPPORT FROM AT SERVICE PROVIDERS

I want to remind everyone how important it is to gain the support of your immediate supervisors. We tend to want to “not bother them” with the things we are doing, but that leads to important people – like division heads- not even knowing that there is a need. We are all looking for ways to identify more time for this important work. But often what we need is more allies.

  • We have a standard monthly “items” meeting with our administrator. I create a list of what we’ve been doing, what we are excited about, challenges that we are working on, etc. She then makes connections with things she’s heard in the larger system. She might not have known that these things were interesting to us had we not had our items meeting. It makes a huge difference.
  • In our agency, nothing is systematic or built to be sustainable. We rely heavily on personnel and personalities vs. policy, practice and infrastructure. Even our strong AT areas have gaps in skills/services. We lack a unified vision and need to begin starting the conversation with educators, peers and agency leaders, asking questions, collecting data, assessing needs, identifying resources for sustainable capacity building, and developing  a long term plan.  
  • I see our AT leaders primarily addressing consideration, managing materials, purchasing materials, coordinating assessment requests, etc. Our leaders often rely on me to help with procedures or provide them with models for this.  AT leads can use a coaching model to develop a relationship, help identify roles in AT Team Leadership so they can work together to identify needs, solve problems, develop and provide PD, iron out the steps in formalizing specific data collection, etc.
  • I like the idea of reporting the AT team’s activities to school administrators to keep them engaged in AT and aware of the efforts taking place within their schools. 
  • Yearly, we host an attorney who comes to discuss legal issues with the IEP team. He does touch upon AT if a question arises. This attorney has a subscription to Special Ed Connection where AT is discussed and resources are available. I don’t know if the Special Education Directors use this service, but I know that they have access to that information. The State does have some Desktop Reference Guides that assist Special Education directors with legal information about AT.

 

References

Bowser, G. & Reed, P. (2018).  Leading the Way to Excellence in AT Services:  A guide for School

Administrators,  Wakefield, MA, Cast Professional Publishing

DeCoste, D., Reed, P., & Kaplan, M. (2005). Assistive technology teams: Many ways to do it well. National Assistive Technology in Education (NATE) Network. Retrieved from www.natenetwork.org

Leithwood, K., Harris, A., and D. Hopkins. (2008). Seven strong claims about successful school leadership. School Leadership & Management 28(1), 27-42.

Mascall, B., & Leithwood, K. (2008). The effects of total leadership on student learning. Educational Administration Quarterly, 44( 4), 529–561.

Northouse, P. G. (2016). Leadership theory and practice (7th Ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.