Monday, March 30, 2020

Embracing Teleservice

Things have changed overnight for schools, educators and families. Remote learning is taking place in many states, with varying degrees of preparedness, from elementary schools through college.
Teleservice, or the application of telecommunications technology to deliver professional services at a distance, is not new for many itinerant educators and in this uncertain time, it’s essential. With teleservice, we can maintain quality service delivery to our students who are deaf or hard of hearing; connect with families and school staff; and interface with our colleagues.
Today, I made some hot coffee and sat on my couch with my computer, ready to contact students and consult teachers right from the comfort of my living room.
            Usually one to see possibilities and solutions, when initially presented with the opportunity to work with students through teleservice, all I saw were problems and reasons why it wouldn’t work. How can I build authentic connections with students virtually? And before we transitioned to all distance learning during this public health emergency, I wondered: how could I possibly offer modifications for instruction when I’m not in the classroom? How would I ever get a genuine sense of the students’ academic skills and social relationships with peers if I couldn’t observe those moments? What kind of accountability would there be when I wasn’t able to pop into classes and see how my student was carrying over skills? And, I hate computers. Why on earth would I want to spend my day sitting at a computer when I chose this career in part because of the social interactions, constant change in scenery and schedule flexibility?
            Much to my surprise, I’ve quickly come to embrace this new model of itinerant services. I’ve found that all of my initial concerns have been quite easy to address. As with any new challenge, I researched what had been done in terms of teleservice with other organizations. I spoke with a colleague who had used this method. And I decided to simply embrace it. Below are my tips for starting out:

·      Determine your model. A hybrid model includes some in-person visits and some teleservice visits, versus a pure teleservice model where there will be no in-person visits. Distance is often the determining factor, or in this case right now, closed schools.
·      Familiarize yourself with the platform you’re using. It’s important you adhere to any guidelines and regulations put in place to maximize accessibility for the population(s) you serve. I’ve found that most schools use Google, and GoogleMeet is easy to use. Skype, Facetime, Zoom and any other accessible method also work well. Additionally, Google classroom works on X-box and PS4 for students who have gaming consoles but not computers.
·      Connect with your school team (including the student and family)and set clear goals for the sessions. Will you meet with the student or just the team of teachers? Right now, meeting with students in their homes virtually will also require coordinating with parents or caregivers.
·      Send materials in advance. When I meet with students directly, I communicate with my school team leader and the parent or guardian  ahead of time and send any resources that the student will need (such as when we are working on advocacy and completing scales or making goal plans) so that the student can have the materials in front of them as we go over things. If I will need materials that the student has (such as academic resources from class), those can be scanned by the teacher and sent to me through email, or sometimes I can access them directly from the students school account.
·      Create resources for your mainstream educator colleagues working remotely, if possible. Anything that can be done live can also be done virtually. Consider recording an in-service so that staff can watch it on their own with your actual narration. This was a tip from my colleague which is quite simple but also very effective. My presentation can now be used over and over without any extra work on my part and teachers appreciate having the opportunity to go back and review as well as being able to watch it at a time that works for them.
·      Leverage Email. Email becomes even more valuable! I am able to email resources and observation follow up notes, the same way that I do when I physically drive to a school to consult. With teleservice being a new model for most schools and students, my expertise in the technology and accessibility features (e.g. live captioning) as well as what my students need in terms of access (e.g. visual access, direct connection of the HAT system to the computer for auditory access) has made consultation with teachers and school teams just as critical as when I’m visiting schools in person during the year.

I’m still figuring out the nuances of this practice but as more and more students with hearing loss are requiring support services, teleservice may very well be the wave of the future. During the pandemic when most schools have gone online, I’m hopeful that even more resources and strategies will emerge.

Live captioning for Google Slides:

Tips for creating a virtual classroom in Zoom:

A list of companies offering free educational subscriptions due to closings:

Accessibility strategies for deaf/ hard of hearing people in remote meetings:

Friday, March 13, 2020

Staying Healthy, Being Prepared

Clarke takes the threat of a COVID-19 outbreak seriously and is dedicated to ensuring proper protocols are in place to protect staff, students and family. Updates and CDC resources for the Clarke community are regularly posted at

According to Education Week: “as of March 13, 2020, 11 a.m. ET, at least 18,700 schools have been closed or are scheduled to close, affecting at least 8.1 million students.”

In the event of school closures, self-quarantine or a transition to online learning, here are some helpful resources for students who are deaf or hard of hearing. These may be helpful for families advocating for their child’s educational needs, as well as mainstream classroom teachers and support staff:

·      Best practices for making online learning accessible to children who are deaf of hard of hearing

·      COVID-19 and students with disabilities

·      Talking to Children about COVID-19: A Parent Resource

Take care and be well

Friday, February 21, 2020

Making the Grade

Preparing Your Students (and Yourself!)
It’s midterm and finals time for all of my junior high and high school students. I’ve worked with my schools to make sure accommodations are in place for students who will take their exams in separate settings. I’ve met with the staff who will be administering the exams, and I’ve arranged my schedule when I’ll be the one administering. I’ve worked with my students to create comprehensive study plans, and most importantly: I’ve made sure that teachers, families, and support staff understand that the work must be done by my students.
            I’ve often found that the staff supporting students with different learning needs feel that the students’ grades are a reflection of their abilities as support staff and educators. While I also want my students to succeed, I do not share this belief. Here are some helpful reminders for what can be a stressful time of year:

·      I will work hard to teach my students the literacy, language skills and strategies that they need in order to access curriculum.
·      I will work with teachers to modify tests and assignments to meet the language levels of my students.
·      I will support my students in advocating for their learning needs.
·      In the end, their grades are not a reflection of my abilities as a teacher of the deaf, but a reflection of their abilities as a student.

Offering Support , Encouraging Independence
            I can provide resources for my students and teach them how to use them. I cannot make my students use these materials. I can instruct my students in how to study effectively and effectively for exams. I cannot go home with them and make them implement these practices. Some of my students are strong academically and in honors or AP-level classes. Some students struggle more and are appropriately placed in more basic or even remedial-level classes. While I want everyone to do well, it is not to the benefit of my students if I “give” them answers or overly support them, especially during exams. This creates an unrealistic picture of the students’ true abilities and skill levels, and can lead to incorrect placement or expectations in future classes.

It is not my job to make sure all of my students get As, but it is my job to ensure that they have access to the curriculum, and that I am teaching the skills needed in order for that to happen. When grades are lower than expected—or desired—I work with my students to analyze why that is. Did the student apply the study strategies we discussed? Did they take advantage of the tools, accommodations and modifications available to them? Did they advocate for what they needed? Did the teachers provide agreed-upon support tools? And of course, no matter what the final grade may be, I always try to emphasize that a grade is just a grade. It gives some academic information but does not define my student as a person.

So here’s to finals! How do you support your students and educational teams?