Instructional Foundations: Staffing and Professional Development
A collaborative teaming process is the cornerstone of The Bridge School educational model. Given that The Bridge School was founded through a collaboration of parents and professionals, we have always strived to make the team approach work for the benefit of each of our students and the ongoing development of our program as a whole. Parents and family members are most knowledgeable about their student(s) and their participation on the team is critical. It is our belief that our students' success lies in the recognition that:
- Parents and family members are our students' primary communication partners, and the home and school environments must be working together for optimal learning and establishment of effective means of augmentative and alternative communication.
- The home and community are key environments for learning and communication development to occur.
- The family is the only "constant" on a child's educational team - the only individuals who will play a role on that team throughout a child's educational experience.
With that in mind, our educational approach features:
- Collaborative teaming of teachers, speech-language pathologists, assistive technologists, occupational therapists, instructional assistants, families, school district representatives and outside agencies working together to plan and implement instruction, services and supports to develop the learning potential of each student.
- A co-teaching model where our teachers and speech-language pathologists work side-by-side with highly trained instructional assistants in both classrooms to plan, deliver and monitor instruction. Pull out services occur rarely and only for very specific purposes. Importantly, our co-teaching model helps our staff improve instructional practices by reflecting on feedback during classroom collaboration for planning and delivery of instruction and creates a learning culture and norms of collaboration and reflective practice within our school.
- Special education instruction and related services utilizing staff members who hold current, valid credentials or licenses to render special education and related services as required by the California Department of Education. Each professional staff member has met requirements for state certification or licensing that apply to the area in which she or he is providing special education or related services. Our two classrooms are each regularly staffed by a teacher, a speech-language pathologist and three instructional assistants for a maximum of 7 students per classroom. This ratio of staff to students greatly exceeds the California Department of Education's requirements for preschool and elementary grade programs.
- Job-embedded professional development activities that build from the strengths and needs of our students, families and staff to develop and document Bridge School practices and provide direction for a range of dissemination activities including participation in and presenting at local, national and international conferences, developing tools and materials to address needs of students with severe speech and physical impairments (SSPI) and developing our website content for multiple audiences.
Collaborative Team Approach
Our classroom staff members each fulfill distinct yet overlapping and complementary roles that together form a collaborative, transdisciplinary team that is necessary for the education of children having severe speech and physical impairments. Each student's team consists of individuals who possess specific competencies that encompass specialized instruction and physical management of our students in the educational environment, curricular adaptations, augmentative and alternative communication and assistive technologies for learning and mobility. Each person has met requirements for state certification or licensing that apply to the area in which she or he is providing special education or related service.
Our classroom teachers are qualified and authorized by the California Department of Education to design and provide instruction to students having physical impairments. They have specialized knowledge and skills to design and monitor instruction that concurrently focuses on core curricular areas together with the learning and use of techniques, devices and strategies to support our students' academic and social participation across curricular areas.
Our Speech-Language Pathologists are licensed by the State of California and certified by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association to evaluate and deliver services for individuals having speech, language and communication difficulties. They have specialized expertise in developing and supporting augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) needs of our students.
Assistive Technology Professional
Our Assistive Technology Professional is certified by the Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America (RESNA) to provide a broad range of assistive technology supports and services to our students. Areas of expertise include assistive technologies for seating and mobility, AAC, computer access, environmental modification and electronic aids to daily living (EADL).
Our occupational therapist is certified by The National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy to assist our students in their access and participation in daily activities in natural environments with special emphasis on school-based needs in areas of mobility, seating and positioning, communication and computer access.
Our Instructional Assistants work as members of a classroom team comprised of a special education teacher and speech-language pathologist. Under their direction, they assist in meeting the instructional and physical/health care needs of our students.
School District Representatives
We actively collaborate with school district representatives including Special Education Directors and Program Specialists who are responsible for implementing and monitoring the IEP process and can commit district resources for educational supports and services, tuition and the purchase of assistive technologies and equipment for individual student use. Importantly, together with family members, we collaborate with school district representatives to identify potential classroom settings and supports that will enable our students to be successful when they transition back to their respective school district programs.
Consultants and Related Service Providers
Some of our students may also require the services of additional professionals who are not employed by or hold a contract with The Bridge School, but play a significant role in providing a comprehensive program that meets each child's identified needs. These individuals are members of the student's team and work collaboratively with Bridge School staff. Due to limited space, most outside service providers do not provide direct services to children at The Bridge School, but schedule their services outside of school hours. These may include:
- School Psychologist - applies principles of educational psychology, developmental psychology, clinical psychology and/or community psychology to meet the student's behavioral health and learning needs in a collaborative manner with educators and parents.
- Teacher of the Vision Impaired - certified to assess functional vision and recommend accommodations, modifications and strategies to best use and build vision.
- Orientation and Mobility Specialist - certified to provide instruction to develop skills and concepts needed to travel safely and independently within and among learning environments.
- Rehabilitation Engineer - offers expertise in application and modification of workstations and electronic or mechanical aids and devices.
- California Children's Services (CCS) - a state program for children with certain physical or health challenges. CCS service providers connect children up to 21 years of age with the health care, services, adaptive equipment and assistive technologies they need at home. We often collaborate with CCS physical and occupational therapists to meet the seating, positioning, mobility, feeding and access needs of our students.
- Nurse Consultant - provides vital information for the educational team concerning our students' physical and medical conditions and their effects on the students' educational program. She also provides information and training to the staff regarding specialized physical health care procedures.
Meet the Staff
The organization and structure of The Bridge School staff promote the development of the individual within the context of a multidisciplinary team. The decision-making process includes input from staff members who will be impacted by the area under consideration and the leadership team is involved with staff members in discussions regarding the educational program for the students, the physical environment of the facility, plans for professional development and participation in the generation of materials for dissemination.
The on-site leadership team consists of an Executive Director, a Director of Education and Research, a Director of Education and Transition and a Director of Technology and Outreach.
The classroom staff includes special educators and speech-language therapists supported by an assistive technology specialist, instructional assistants, an occupational therapist and external consultants with specialized areas of expertise such as cortical vision impairments, vision impairments, physical impairments specific to a given student and a registered nurse.
Instructional assistants play a critical role in the classrooms at The Bridge School. Their responsibilities range from providing personal care (toileting, feeding, etc.), developing instructional materials under the direction of the professional staff, designing and implementing one-to-one and small group instruction and contributing to the team meeting discussions on goals and objectives for the students.
The Transition Team consists of a special educator, an assistive technology specialist and a speech-language pathologist. This team has the responsibility of working with the classroom staff to monitor the students' progress toward transitioning out of The Bridge School and returning to their respective home school districts; developing, implementing and publishing a self-determination curriculum for all students and working directly with families, school district personnel, agencies and students to ensure that the students can actively participate in their educational placements.
The administrative support staff is composed of an administrative assistant, an executive assistant and an accountant.
The programmatic support staff has a digital media specialist who is responsible for documenting classroom activities, student participation, research related objectives and preparing the media for publication. This team also includes an internal technology support specialist who is responsible for maintaining all classroom equipment and administrative related technology support.
Job-embedded Professional Development
Bridging the gap between research and informed practice is critical to providing optimal outcomes for our students. Viewing research as a resource to guide our practice, we adapt and customize instructional approaches, curricular activities and assistive technologies in ways that best suit our students in The Bridge School context. In doing so we draw from, integrate and apply relevant research findings from a broad range of fields that include communication development and disorders, speech-language pathology, education, early intervention, linguistics, occupational therapy, assistive technology and rehabilitation engineering. We achieve this through job-embedded professional development activities such as action research, staff observations and conferencing, study groups, data collection and analysis, building our bank of electronic resources and materials on our server and though mentoring by experts in relevant fields. Within these ongoing activities, we adapt research findings to The Bridge School context, explore our students' needs, consider our staff's strengths and expertise to build our educational program, document how The Bridge School practices are actually implemented and reflect on how The Bridge School is able to contribute to the broader field.
Collaborative Staff Development Activities
Ongoing collaborative staff activities are a regular aspect of the work lives of our classroom staff. We hold educational team meetings to discuss individual students on a weekly basis and our speech-language pathologists meet weekly as a group to discuss AAC system development and communication strategies. Additional professional dialogues deepen staff expertise on given topics of school-wide importance by having subgroups research them and lead discussions on how they relate to our practices and inform our thinking. Relevant topics of school-wide interest have ranged widely and have included attention and attention management, representational strategies for instruction and communication system development, cortical vision impairment, self-determination, approaches to written language instruction and our use of upright hands-free mobility devices. We routinely pool staff expertise and resources to meet our common need for materials and ensure alignment of our curriculum, instruction and other Bridge School programs.
Action Research, Data Collection and Analysis
Job-embedded action research allows us to engage the talents of small groups of our staff in addressing a school problem of special concern on an ongoing basis. As one example, given that over half of Bridge School students have a diagnosis of cortical vision impairment (CVI), our classroom staff engaged in action research to adapt, track and assess the effectiveness of an intervention approach for children with CVI. A similar process is used throughout the year when data is needed to make mid-course adjustments and decisions for students, such as IEP goal development, progress reporting and the determination of accommodations such as assistive technology for computer access or clinical trials to evaluate Speech Generating Devices. Collection and analysis of relevant data is especially useful when the larger classroom staff feels constrained in its ability to move forward without supporting data. We use additional internal data collection and analysis to determine classroom scheduling and instructional groupings, equitable distribution of personal care routines and lifting transferring responsibilities and for decisions around our purchase of assistive technologies for evaluation or instructional purposes and more.
Bridge School invites experts from relevant fields to provide consultation and training for our staff and families. Our consultants have specialized knowledge and expertise in areas such as augmentative and alternative communication, adaptive seating and positioning, independent mobility, technology access, adaptive play, language and literacy development and cortical visual impairment. Consultants work alongside our staff and students and also lead focused group discussions with our staff and families.
Consultants who have made significant contributions to our organization include David P. Wilkins, Caroline Musselwhite, Janet Sturm, Christine Wright-Ott, and Christine Roman-Lantzy. Dr. Wilkins worked together with our staff in the development of an observational tool intended to help teachers identify and address issues of attention and attention management with students who use AAC. Dr. Musselwhite addressed communication strategies during adaptive play routines, social skill development, and communication strategies when optimal positioning is not possible. Dr. Sturm collaborated with our staff as we developed our own variation of the Writer's Workshop approach. We are fortunate to have ongoing mentoring from Christine Wright–Ott who is an expert in areas of seating, positioning and mobility for children with severe physical impairments. Dr. Roman-Lantzy worked with our students, staff and family members to assess vision issues of students with cortical vision impairment and provided training to our classroom teams to guide their development of accommodations for our students with CVI.
The impact of these activities are realized as informed practices to improve student outcomes, a growing collective knowledge base among our staff, the development of a learning culture of collaboration and reflective practice within our organization and deepened staff expertise on given topics of organization-wide importance. Together we have created a centralized, internal source of materials and resources for our staff. In addition to increased access to student records and materials, as a professional development activity, organizing centralized documentation on a shared server has contributed to shared understandings among staff members about our curriculum development and other organization-wide objectives.
Bridge School's informed practices that have been developed through job-embedded professional development activities are externally disseminated via our website, in publications and at professional conferences.
- Website - Many sections of our website are outcomes of job-embedded professional development activities such as our written course of study, our adaptation and implementation of our preschool curriculum for students with severe speech and physical impairments (SSPI), our Home-School Connections including "I Know About That!" and "Home News", the development of our self-determination program, Bridge School's adaption of Writer's Workshop and many more.
- Conferences - Our staff participates in local, regional, state, national and international conferences that address issues relevant to the education of Bridge School students. Some of these conferences include:
- AAC by the Bay - The Bridge School biennial conference held in the San Francisco Bay Area
- ATIA Conference - Assistive Technology Industry Association annual conference held in Chicago, Illinois
- ASHA - American Speech-Language-Hearing Association annual convention
- Closing the Gap - Assistive Technology Resources for Children and Adults with Special Needs annual conference in Minneapolis, MN
- CSHA - California Speech-Language-Hearing Association annual state convention
- CEC - Council for Exceptional Children convention and expo
- CSUN - California State University Northridge's Center on Disabilities' Technology and Persons with Disabilities conference
- ISAAC - International Society for Augmentative and Alternative Communication biennial conference
- The Bridge School Teacher-in-Residence follow-up presentations in India, Singapore, Poland, Mexico, South Africa and South Korea