Monday, July 15, 2024

DeSoto Parish special education improves following year-long training by LSUS pair 

by BIZ Magazine

SHREVEPORT – After receiving nearly a year of specialized training from a pair of LSUS faculty members, LaTonya Sandifer says she’s seeing improved results in her North DeSoto Lower Elementary classrooms. 

Sandifer is a paraprofessional who works in pre-K special education classrooms while also assisting those students in transitioning to general education classrooms. 

The 11-year veteran was part of a cohort of DeSoto Parish special education teachers that received training based on behavior analysis from an education and clinical perspective throughout 2022-23 school year, and Sandifer said she’s using what she learned. 

“We learned the lingo that goes with the techniques, and because we (paraprofessionals) trained with the teachers, we were able to brainstorm together what we should do when a new behavior arises,” Sandifer said. “We trained as equals, and we learned that both parties are just as important to improving student behavior

“I am more confident this year because (the LSUS faculty members) visited us throughout (this past) year to provide feedback.” 

All special education teachers collect data on their student’s behavior, and Sandifer used one particular student (Student A) to illustrate the effect of the training. 

“Student A decreased the aggressive behaviors and replaced that behavior with appropriate behavior,” Sandifer said. “The student was able to remain in the regular education classroom setting longer without those aggressive behaviors.” 

For Francie Woods, DeSoto Parish Supervisor of Special Education, students’ ability to attend general education classes leads to improved academic performance for special education students. 

Schools that participated in the training include North DeSoto Lower Elementary, Mansfield Elementary and Logansport Elementary. 

“This allows (students) access to the curriculum delivered by the highly qualified regular education teacher,” Woods said. “Most of our teachers are seeing a reduction in behavioral issues

“Our teachers and paraprofessionals are better equipped with strategies to implement in their classrooms, which has reduced the number of requests for outside assistance from our office.” 

LSUS assistant professors Dr. Rosie Cooper and Dr. Margaret Gifford teamed up as paid consultants to provide the extensive training and follow-up observation, teaching and coaching to DeSoto Parish this past school year. The consultation work is not affiliated with LSUS. 

Both are board certified behavior analysts, with Cooper bringing a background in K-12 education while Gifford comes from a clinical behavior analysis setting. 

“My specialty is in severe problem behavior, and I’ve worked with kids that engage in aggressive behavior,” Gifford said. “Now that my full-time job is at LSUS, I don’t have enough time to be in a clinic

“I was looking for opportunities to use some of the clinical skills I’ve learned. Every kid that engages in problem behavior is in a school, so I use the clinical strategies I’ve learned combined with Rosie’s school expertise.” 

The training started over the summer with an intensive 18 hours over three days, a hands-on training that allowed teachers to role play and explore different scenarios in the classroom. 

“We really saw the need to provide teachers and paraprofessionals with better classroom management support and strategies to address problem behaviors,” said Cooper, who spent 16 years in K-12 education before teaching at LSUS in the education department. “What’s unique about our training is we train teachers and paraprofessionals together, which allows them to work as a team in the classroom. 

There’s typically not a lot of training and support across positions.” 

Gifford added that frequent visits (once every two weeks) throughout the year to these DeSoto Parish classrooms allowed for further instruction about specific techniques and situations that teachers encountered. Gifford and Cooper visited both special and general education classrooms as part of the feedback process. 

“This is not just a ‘sit and get’ training, we worked with (teachers) directly throughout the year,” Gifford said. “This was about us giving teachers the tools to directly impact students right away.

“We also prioritized what teachers wanted to learn based on what they thought would be most helpful in the classroom. That is a big difference from other training models.” 

Cooper said deepening teachers’ understanding of behavior allows them to more efficiently select an intervention to implement. 

“We were training them how to understand and identify functions of this behavior,” Cooper said. “If I’m throwing this intervention at the problem and not seeing any change in the behavior, maybe I’m identifying the wrong function of that behavior

“We changed the mindset around how teachers look at behavior in the classroom.” 

Woods emphasized the combination of the education and clinical backgrounds of Cooper and Gifford is a key factor. 

“The clinical side (of behavior analysis) is so important to give our teachers a foundational knowledge and understanding of basic behavioral principles and how these principles can bring about positive outcomes,” Woods said. “The classroom side is important because the actual application of the behavior principles and strategies may look different in a functional classroom setting. 

“Teachers must not only have a foundational knowledge but must be able to apply those skills in the classroom setting.” 

Creating a safe and consistent classroom environment also leads to improved behavior. 

“A big part of classroom management is to encourage teachers to build systems where kids know what’s going on and what to expect,” Gifford said. “Systems that are consistent and reliable, something that’s going to be the same every day, can be impactful especially when the kids might be getting that at home

“When you have fewer behavioral issues in the classroom, you can actually teach more.” 

Cooper added that problem behavior in students is the biggest reason why teachers are leaving the profession in droves. 

“Why not provide teachers with these tools before their frustration level hits ‘I don’t know if I want to do this anymore,’” said Cooper, who added that this model can be applied to regular education classrooms as well. “School systems have to be willing to provide ongoing training around the number one thing causing teachers to leave. 

“As local college partners, we want to make sure that we’re providing skills and tools to help teachers stay in classrooms.” 

Cooper and Gifford are interested in bringing this model to other school districts. Portions of this training could be done through community service. 

All 13 of the teachers and paraprofessionals surveyed by Cooper and Gifford responded positively to the training model, indicating they had a better understanding of behavior analysis and could more confidently implement strategies and techniques in the classroom. 

Professional colleagues concurred when Cooper and Gifford presented their model at the Louisiana Education Research Association’s annual conference this past March. LERA consists of college faculty and educators/administrators from early childhood up to the high school level. 

“We presented our model combining the classroom and clinical perspectives along with some of our other strategies, and people were really excited about it,” Gifford said. “We want to keep doing this because it was so much fun.” 

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