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Texas Education Code 39.0546 requires that TSBVI annually evaluate its performance in the area of community and student engagement.  Ratings are to be assigned for overall performance and for three of the following categories:

  • Fine Arts
  • Wellness and physical education
  • Community and parental involvement
  • The 21st Century Workforce Development program
  • The second language acquisition program
  • The digital learning environment 
  • Dropout prevention strategies
  • Educational programs for gifted and talented students

In addition, TSBVI must indicate whether it complied with statutory reporting and policy requirements.

To determine our ratings, TSBVI used data from the annual Comprehensive Programs Parent Survey.  Certain Parent Survey Questions were assigned to each category. The Survey rating receiving the highest percentage of parent rating for designated questions will be assigned the following ratings:

  • Exemplary = Highest % of parents gave a rating of Outstanding on the Parent Survey
  • Recognized = Highest % of parents gave a rating of Very Satisfactory on the Parent Survey
  • Acceptable = Highest % of parents gave a rating of Satisfactory on the Parent Survey 
  • Unacceptable = Highest % of parents gave a rating of Unsatisfactory/Very Unsatisfactory on the Parent Survey

 

Fine Arts was rated Recognized

  • Parent Survey Question 1.F Recreation/Leisure Skill Development (e.g., health and fitness, games, crafts, hobbies, solitary and social activities, fine arts)

Wellness and Physical Ed was rated Recognized

  • Parent Survey Question 1.F Recreation/Leisure Skill Development (e.g., health and fitness, games, crafts, hobbies, solitary and social activities, fine arts)

Community and Parental Involvement was rated Exemplary

  • Parent Survey Question 1.J Community Participation (e.g., opportunities to work, recreate, shop in the community)
  • Parent Survey Question 3 Parent Satisfaction (Parents’ satisfaction with parents’ degree of participation in the decisions regarding parents’ child’s educational services and placement)

21st Century Workforce Development Program was rated Recognized

  • Parent Survey Question 1.A Orientation and Mobility (e.g., moving safely in the environment, orientation to rooms and other areas)
  • Parent Survey Question 1.C Communication/Language Development (e.g., functional use of a communication system; picture, objet, gestural, or tactile symbols)
  • Parent Survey Question 1.D Special Student Needs Related to Student’s Visual Impairment (e.g., braille, abacus, low vision devices)
  • Parent Survey Question 1.E Independent/Daily Living Skill Development (e.g., personal hygiene, eating, food management, dressing, clothing care, housekeeping, obtaining goods and services, telephone use, health and safety)
  • Parent Survey Question 1.G Academic Skill Development (e.g., language arts, math, science, social studies)
  • Parent Survey Question 1.H Vocational Skill Development (e.g., awareness of work, work skills, work experiences, work ethics such as being on time, staying on task)
  • Parent Survey Question 1.I Interpersonal/Social/Emotional Development (e.g., maturity, self-esteem, independence, confidence, self-advocacy, interpersonal skills)
  • Parent Survey Question 1.J Community Participation (e.g., opportunities to work, recreate, shop in the community)

Digital Learning Environment was rated Recognized

  • Parent Survey Question 1.B Adapted Technology (e.g., CCTV, computer with speech or large print, electronic voice output devices, Braille-N-Speak)

Dropout Prevention Strategies was rated Exemplary

  • Parent Survey Question 1.I Interpersonal/Social/Emotional Development (e.g., maturity, self-esteem, independence, confidence, self-advocacy, interpersonal skills)
  • Parent Survey Question 2 Parent Overall Satisfaction with the Quality of Instructional Services

Second Language Acquisition was rated Unacceptable

Since no Parent Survey questions address Second Language Acquisition, TSBVI used information about percentage of improvement in scores on the Texas English Language Proficiency Assessment System (TELPAS) Listening and Speaking assessments by our Limited English Proficient (LEP) students.

For assigning a rating, the following percentages were used:

  • Exemplary = 90-100%
  • Recognized = 80-89%
  • Acceptable = 70-79%
  • Unacceptable = 69% or less

Overall Performance Rating was rated Recognized

Overall Performance is the rating that was given to the majority of the above categories.

Education Program for GT Students

This is not applicable, since TSBVI does not provide Gifted and Talented programming.

 

In addition to these ratings, TSBVI determined that it has met compliance with state reporting and policy requirements.

Texas Education Code 39.0546 requires that TSBVI annually evaluate its performance in the area of community and student engagement.  Ratings are to be assigned for overall performance and for three of the following categories:

  • Fine Arts
  • Wellness and physical education
  • Community and parental involvement
  • The 21st Century Workforce Development program
  • The second language acquisition program
  • The digital learning environment
  • Dropout prevention strategies
  • Educational programs for gifted and talented students

In addition, TSBVI must indicate whether it complied with statutory reporting and policy requirements.

To determine our ratings, TSBVI used data from the annual Comprehensive Programs Parent Survey. Certain Parent Survey Questions were assigned to each category. The Survey rating receiving the highest percentage of parent rating for designated questions will be assigned the following ratings:

  • Exemplary = Highest % of parents gave a rating of Outstanding on the Parent Survey
  • Recognized = Highest % of parents gave a rating of Very Satisfactory on the Parent Survey
  • Acceptable = Highest % of parents gave a rating of Satisfactory on the Parent Survey
  • Unacceptable = Highest % of parents gave a rating of Unsatisfactory/Very Unsatisfactory on the Parent Survey

 

    • Fine Arts was rated Recognized

Parent Survey Question 1.F Recreation/Leisure Skill Development (e.g., health and fitness, games, crafts, hobbies, solitary and social activities, fine arts)

    • Wellness and Physical Ed was rated Recognized

Parent Survey Question 1.F Recreation/Leisure Skill Development (e.g., health and fitness, games, crafts, hobbies, solitary and social activities, fine arts)

    • Community and Parental Involvement was rated Exemplary

Parent Survey Question 1.J Community Participation (e.g., opportunities to work, recreate, shop in the community)
Parent Survey Question 3 Parent Satisfaction (Parents’ satisfaction with parents’ degree of participation in the decisions regarding parents’ child’s educational services and placement)

    • 21st Century Workforce Development Program was rated Recognized

Parent Survey Question 1.A Orientation and Mobility (e.g., moving safely in the environment, orientation to rooms and other areas)
Parent Survey Question 1.C Communication/Language Development (e.g., functional use of a communication system; picture, objet, gestural, or tactile symbols)
Parent Survey Question 1.D Special Student Needs Related to Student’s Visual Impairment (e.g., braille, abacus, low vision devices)
Parent Survey Question 1.E Independent/Daily Living Skill Development (e.g., personal hygiene, eating, food management, dressing, clothing care, housekeeping, obtaining goods and services, telephone use, health and safety)
Parent Survey Question 1.G Academic Skill Development (e.g., language arts, math, science, social studies)
Parent Survey Question 1.H Vocational Skill Development (e.g., awareness of work, work skills, work experiences, work ethics such as being on time, staying on task)
Parent Survey Question 1.I Interpersonal/Social/Emotional Development (e.g., maturity, self-esteem, independence, confidence, self-advocacy, interpersonal skills)
Parent Survey Question 1.J Community Participation (e.g., opportunities to work, recreate, shop in the community)

    • Digital Learning Environment was rated Recognized

Parent Survey Question 1.B Adapted Technology (e.g., CCTV, computer with speech or large print, electronic voice output devices, Braille-N-Speak)

    • Dropout Prevention Strategies was rated Exemplary

Parent Survey Question 1.I Interpersonal/Social/Emotional Development (e.g., maturity, self-esteem, independence, confidence, self-advocacy, interpersonal skills)
Parent Survey Question 2 Parent Overall Satisfaction with the Quality of Instructional Services

    • Second Language Acquisition was rated Unacceptable (Since no Parent Survey questions address Second Language Acquisition, TSBVI used information about percentage of improvement in scores on the Texas English Language Proficiency Assessment System (TELPAS) Listening and Speaking assessments by our Limited English Proficient (LEP) students)
    • Overall Performance Rating was rated Recognized

Overall Performance is the rating that was given to the majority of the above categories.

    • Education Program for GT Students

This is not applicable, since TSBVI does not provide Gifted and Talented programming.


In addition to these ratings, TSBVI determined that it has met compliance with state reporting and policy requirements.

Texas Education Code 39.0545 requires that TSBVI annually evaluate its performance in the area of community and student engagement. Ratings are to be assigned for overall performance and for each of the following categories:

  • Fine Arts
  • Wellness and physical education
  • Community and parental involvement
  • The 21st Century Workforce Development program 
  • The second language acquisition program
  • The digital learning environment
  • Dropout prevention strategies
  • Educational programs for gifted and talented students

In addition, TSBVI must indicate whether it complied with statutory reporting and policy requirements.

To determine our ratings, TSBVI used data from the annual Comprehensive Programs Parent Survey. Certain Parent Survey Questions were assigned to each category. The Survey rating receiving the highest percentage of parent rating for designated questions will be assigned the following ratings:

  • Exemplary = Highest % of parents gave a rating of Outstanding on the Parent Survey
  • Recognized = Highest % of parents gave a rating of Very Satisfactory on the Parent Survey
  • Acceptable = Highest % of parents gave a rating of Satisfactory on the Parent Survey
  • Unacceptable = Highest % of parents gave a rating of Unsatisfactory/Very Unsatisfactory on the Parent Survey

Fine Arts was rated Exemplary

  • Parent Survey Question 1.F Recreation/Leisure Skill Development (e.g., health and fitness, games, crafts, hobbies, solitary and social activities, fine arts)

Wellness and Physical Ed was rated Exemplary

  • Parent Survey Question 1.F Recreation/Leisure Skill Development (e.g., health and fitness, games, crafts, hobbies, solitary and social activities, fine arts)

Community and Parental Involvement was rated Exemplary

  • Parent Survey Question 1.J Community Participation (e.g., opportunities to work, recreate, shop in the community)
  • Parent Survey Question 3 Parent Satisfaction (Parents’ satisfaction with parents’ degree of participation in the decisions regarding parents’ child’s educational services and placement) 

21st Century Workforce Development Program was rated Exemplary

  • Parent Survey Question 1.A Orientation and Mobility (e.g., moving safely in the environment, orientation to rooms and other areas)
  • Parent Survey Question 1.C Communication/Language Development (e.g., functional use of a communication system; picture, objet, gestural, or tactile symbols)
  • Parent Survey Question 1.D Special Student Needs Related to Student’s Visual Impairment (e.g., braille, abacus, low vision devices)
  • Parent Survey Question 1.E Independent/Daily Living Skill Development (e.g., personal hygiene, eating, food management, dressing, clothing care, housekeeping, obtaining goods and services, telephone use, health and safety)
  • Parent Survey Question 1.G Academic Skill Development (e.g., language arts, math, science, social studies)
  • Parent Survey Question 1.H Vocational Skill Development (e.g., awareness of work, work skills, work experiences, work ethics such as being on time, staying on task)
  • Parent Survey Question 1.I Interpersonal/Social/Emotional Development (e.g., maturity, self-esteem, independence, confidence, self-advocacy, interpersonal skills)
  • Parent Survey Question 1.J Community Participation (e.g., opportunities to work, recreate, shop in the community)

Digital Learning Environment was rated Exemplary

  • Parent Survey Question 1.B Adapted Technology (e.g., CCTV, computer with speech or large print, electronic voice output devices, Braille-N-Speak)

Dropout Prevention Strategies was rated Exemplary

  • Parent Survey Question 1.I Interpersonal/Social/Emotional Development (e.g., maturity, self-esteem, independence, confidence, self-advocacy, interpersonal skills)
  • Parent Survey Question 2 Parent Overall Satisfaction with the Quality of Instructional Services

Second Language Acquisition was rated Recognized
Since no Parent Survey questions address Second Language Acquisition, TSBVI used information about percentage of improvement in scores on the Texas English Language Proficiency Assessment System (TELPAS) Listening and Speaking assessments by our Limited English Proficient (LEP) students. For assigning a rating, the following percentages were used:

  • Exemplary = 90-100%
  • Recognized = 80-89%
  • Acceptable = 70-79%
  • Unacceptable = 69%

Overall Performance Rating was rated Exemplary
Overall Performance is the rating that was given to the majority of the above categories.

Education Program for GT Students
This is not applicable, since TSBVI does not provide Gifted and Talented programming.

In addition to these ratings, TSBVI determined that it has met compliance with state reporting and policy requirements.

KC Dignan, PhD

Introduction

Each disability requires that a broad set of disability-specific skills and abilities be addressed. For students with visual impairments, the disability-specific skills are within nine domains and collectively known as the “expanded core curriculum” (ECC). When the domains in the ECC are systematically and intentionally addressed by all members of the instructional team, the student’s independence and readiness for the post-school environment are dramatically improved.

A visual impairment can affect all areas of functioning, well beyond the classroom. The ECC extends beyond reading, writing, and calculation. It includes those skills necessary to benefit from instruction in the core curriculum and to achieve functional independence.

The expanded core curriculum provides opportunities for equality for the blind and visually impaired; to NOT teach it is to deny this basic human right. (Phil Hatlen, 2005, See/Hear: An Amazing Movement.)

The ECC stems from the following IDEA requirements for evaluations:
For children who are blind or visually impaired, evaluations to document the present level of academic and functional performance for the development of the individualized education program (IEP) are required by the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). (34 CFR §300.320 (a)(1))

And specially designed instruction:
Specially designed instruction means adapting, as appropriate to the needs of an eligible child under this part, the content, methodology, or delivery of instruction to address the unique needs of the child that result from the child's disability.  (34 CFR §300.39 (b)(3)(i))

Assumptions

  • While the concepts and skills affiliated with the expanded core curriculum (ECC) have been described for many years as those needed for students with visual impairments, the term “expanded core curriculum” (or “ECC”) may be new to administrators, and possibly to VI professionals.
  • Assessment and instruction for students with visual impairments in the ECC domains may be completed by the VI professional, or other members of the educational team, including family members.
  • Districts who have not been active in ensuring that each student has been assessed in all of the ECC domains, may develop a plan to identify priority domains and timelines for completion of the assessments.
  • While all students should be periodically assessed in all of the ECC domains, not all students will require instruction in every domain every year.
  • Due to the non-traditional, but required nature of the ECC domains and the requirement in IDEA that instruction takes place in the home, school, and community, districts may need.

What does the expanded core curriculum (ECC) include?

The ECC includes nine domain areas. These are:

'The two things I use every day of my life are social skills and orientation and mobility skills. . . . Those were the lowest priorities for my teachers when I was in school.' (K. Carley, an adult with a visual impairment in a speech to the International Council for Education of People with Visual Impairments.)
  1. Compensatory or functional skills needed to access the general curriculum.
    1. literacy-related areas, such as braille, handwriting skills, low-vision devices and tactual or object symbols.
    2. communication, including alternative communication systems, such as tactile or object-oriented systems.
    3. specialized instruction, such as numerous methods to represent spatial, environmental, and temporal and/or body concepts, including those too small, large, or dangerous to be experienced directly.
  2. Sensory efficiency. Students are likely to need structured and systematic instruction in visual, tactual, and auditory skills in order to benefit from other areas of the general curriculum and the expanded core curriculum.
  3. Orientation and mobility. Safe and efficient travel throughout the environment. Travel skills start in infancy and are not restricted to only those who are mobile, blind, or are without additional disabilities.
  4. Social interaction skills. Visual impairments can socially isolate a student and affect his or her ability to benefit from innumerable non-verbal social cues. This can have an effect on the student’s personal life and future employment.
  5. Assistive technology. Access to information in “real time” is a key issue for students with visual impairments. High- and low-tech strategies may be critical for students to access the general curriculum and enhance communications.
  6. Independent living skills: The myriad of skills that assists with living is primarily learned visually. Students with visual impairments are likely to need structured instruction in personal, financial, and/or home-management skills. Family members may help facilitate learning these skills.
  7. Recreation and leisure skills. Students need to be exposed to recreation and leisure activities, as exposure may not happen incidentally. Students should be made aware of modifications needed to make an activity accessible.
  8. Career education. With limited ability to learn about employment options via observation, students need to be taught about the various types of career options and the skills necessary to achieve personal goals.
  9. Self-determination. Self-determination includes decision-making, self-advocacy, and individual responsibility. These skills lead to competence, as opposed to “learned helplessness,” and are appropriate for all students, at all ages and abilities.
Every parent wants their child to have meaningful social relationships. For parents, this is not an “optional” activity. It is critical to a satisfying life and success in a job. The ECC addresses parents’ concerns.

What does IDEA say about the expanded core curriculum (ECC)?

IDEA addresses the need for disability-specific skills in multiple ways.

From IDEA regarding evaluations:
For children who are blind or visually impaired, evaluations to document the present level of academic and functional performance for the development of the individualized education program (IEP) are required by the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). (34 CFR §300.320 (a)(1))

From IDEA regarding specially designed instruction:
Specially designed instruction means adapting, as appropriate to the needs of an eligible child under this part, the content, methodology, or delivery of instruction to address the unique needs of the child that result from the child's disability. (34 CFR §300.39 (b)(3)(i))

As per IDEA: Specially designed instruction means adapting, as appropriate to the needs of an eligible child under this part, the content, methodology, or delivery of instruction to address the unique needs of the child that result from the child's disability. (34 CFR §300.39 (b)(3)(i)) (emphasis added)

“Specially designed instruction” for students with visual impairments, and based on assessment, specially designed instruction is the expanded core curriculum (ECC). The “expanded core curriculum” refers to the knowledge, concepts, and skills typically learned incidentally by sighted students that must be sequentially presented to the student who is blind or has low vision. The expanded core curriculum areas include:

  1. needs that result from the visual impairment to enable the student “to be involved in and make progress in the general education curriculum; and
  2. other educational needs that result from the child's disability” as required by IDEA. (34 CFR § 300.320 (a)(2)(i)(A)(B)).

The presence of a visual impairment requires that these skills be thoroughly evaluated and systematically taught to these students by teachers with specialized expertise. Without specialized instruction, children with vision loss may not be aware of the activities of their peers or acquire other critical information about their surroundings. (NASDSE, 1999, p. 70).

Why is it important?

In short, systematically addressing the expanded core curriculum (ECC) makes a dramatic difference on how prepared students are for their next environment.

Consider:

  • Students with visual impairments attend postsecondary institutions at a rate that is comparable to students without disabilities.
  • 29.4% of students with visual impairments are competitively employed versus 69% youths in general.
  • 46.4% of students with visual impairments live independently versus 60% youths in general.
  • “Vocational skills training for youths with visual impairments needs to incorporate the use of compensatory skills . . .” (Nagle, 2001).
“[The TVI] used the ECC with one student last year and it was DRAMATIC . . . like TRANSFORMATIVE!” Special Education director about changing to an ECC-based program.

Having ECC skills makes “the difference between life and a successful life.” “Students who receive high-quality instruction in the ECC have a ‘richer quality of life’ than do those who do not” (Sapp & Hatlen, p. 2010).

What is my role as an administrator?

As an administrator, you have the unique role of ensuring that the ECC will be implemented in your district. Implementation will include issues related to staffing, service provision, and professional development.

Let’s get started!

Role of VI professionals in the ECC and staffing issues

Teachers certified in visual impairments (TVIs) and orientation and mobility specialists (COMS/O&Ms) certainly play a large role in providing assessment and instruction in the ECC. VI professionals are not the only key players. They provide:

  • assessment and evaluation,
  • direct instruction,
  • consultation,
  • collaboration, and
  • facilitation with community and statewide resources.

However, the scope of the competencies in the ECC and the need for instruction in the home, school, and community will require increased participation and creativity.

VI professionals and others may require periodic changes in work shifts, collaboration with nontraditional partners, and various types of transportation support.

Solid supervisory/administrative support also includes ensuring that there is:

  • evidence of ECC assessments in evaluation reports,
  • evidence of IEP goals based on ECC evaluations, and
  • evidence of ECC instruction during staff observations, including the performance evaluation.

Ways to support staff

There are innumerable ways to support this change to an ECC-based VI program. Here are just a few examples:

  • Support training for VI/O&M staff on addressing ECC needs through conferences, regional service centers, and other professional development activities.
  • Provide resources for ongoing data collection to VI/O&M staff to complete ECC checklists/evaluations as part of FVE/LMA and O&M evaluations.
  • Provide strong support and time for collaborative team discussions on multidisciplinary approaches to addressing student ECC needs. Collaboration requires time; without it, meetings collapse or become nonproductive.
  • Encourage creativity to meet the ECC instructional options.
  • Consider time outside of the regular school day to accomplish ECC instruction
    • Flexible schedules
    • Before and after school
    • Summer instruction
  • Facilitate transportation
  • Facilitate community exploration and experiences

Starting with assessment

As in other programmatic areas, a VI program based on the ECC requires plans for assessment and instruction.

Many districts find that they have not completed assessments in all areas of the ECC. The VI professional or other team member may say “She/He can do that,” but not have data to show whether target behavior is age appropriate or generalizes to other settings or environments. For example, the classroom social skills may not be the skills most desired on the playground, at church, or in a social gathering.

The hardest part is just getting started. However, armed with a plan and a timeline, completing assessments in all required areas can be accomplished.

Step 1: Evaluate student needs

Review the existing documentation on your students. Look for the following documents:

Student information needed to support either a caseload analysis or the ECC is very similar. Each will support the other.
  • Eye examination report
  • Referral and parental permission
  • Functional vision evaluation and learning media assessment
  • Additional evaluations, such as an O&M evaluation, assistive technology, adapted P.E. evaluation, clinical low-vision evaluation, and others, depending on individual students.
  • Data-driven evaluations in all areas of the ECC. Multiple formal and informal evaluations and checklists exist. Two excellent resources are Evals: Evaluating Visually Impaired Students from TSBVI and ECC checklists, including those developed by Education Service Center–Region 10. (http://www.region10.org/supplementary-services/programs/expanded-core-curriculum-ecc/)
  • In addition to checking on the existence of the evaluations, review evaluations for completeness and connectivity.
    • Do the evaluations offer a complete picture of the student’s abilities and needs?
    • Do the evaluations seem to relate to each other? Do the evaluations map a plan for the future?
    • Do recommendations provide functional activities that classroom staff and family members can understand?
    • Do the evaluations go beyond the basic requirements of regulations to meet all the current and anticipated future needs of individual students?

Step 2: Prioritize domains for additional assessment

It isn’t always possible to address all areas that may arise from your review at once. Gather feedback from students, parents, general and special educators, and support staff. Then determine a plan to address areas of concern as you build capacity ensuring that in the future all students are fully assessed. For example, set goals for the next round of assessments, including:

  • Domains that are especially sparse will be an early focus.
  • Each VI professional will complete assessments on four students.
  • Complete assessments on all 1st- through 3rd-graders this year and 5th- through 8th-graders next year.
  • Focus on new students and re-evaluations.

Step 3: Develop an assessment plan

It all starts with a plan. It doesn’t have to happen all at once.

Gather your resources

Once your priorities are set, determine how you will address the additional evaluations needed. 

  • Resources like Evals: Evaluating Visually Impaired Students (TSBVI) can be invaluable. Evals provides a detailed listing of specific areas addressed in school curricula. It specifically references the Texas Educational Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) that are basic building blocks of knowledge and skills in Texas. While the names and organizations will differ from state to state, the knowledge and skills will be equivalent. Evals has thousands of specific skills that you can use to form checklists to meet your specific needs.
  • The ECC Checklists from the Region 10 Education Service Center bring all of the Evals data into a single document. The checklists can also be used to track progress over a period of years.

An important consideration when using multiple assessment partners, especially when using checklists, is having a common understanding of the criteria for completion. This can be a common problem when one person thinks a student’s skill is “good enough” and another thinks it is still “emerging.” This can be due to expectations or issues in generalizations across environments. Regardless, consistency in scoring is a key factor to viable assessments.

One way to ensure consistency in scoring criteria is to have a common scoring tool used across as many assessments as is reasonable. One tool could be the scoring criteria developed by Functional Resources, Inc. for the Functional Skills Screening Inventory (FSSI; http://www.winfssi.com/). There is a basic one and variations for different environment and employment situations. Copies are included in the Resources section of this chapter.

Determine your assessment partners

Determine who will complete which necessary assessments. Some skills can be assessed in special education classes, including early childhood and life-skills type classes. General educators, including vocational and physical education specialists, are valuable assessment partners. Parents can assist with assessments in the home and community. Students may attend special events, such workshops or camps, where the assessments take place.

The assessment partners may need training on how to use specific assessment instruments. It may be as little as helping them understand the criteria for “independent” on a checklist, or it may be more extensive. If more extensive help is needed, professional development should be part of the implementation plan and the schedule should be adjusted as appropriate.

Access to the ECC has provided the vehicle for transforming students with visual impairments’ independence and opportunity for enhanced postsecondary outcomes. Special Education director about changing to an ECC-based program.

Develop an assessment schedule

Depending on your plan to develop comprehensive evaluations for the ECC, your schedule for assessments may be part of the re-evaluation process. Or the assessments may be scheduled to happen during the year in accordance with other academic and non-academic events. It could also take place during the summer, or while on field trips. The important thing is to have a schedule, one that is well known and viable for all team members.

Getting started with instruction

Embarking on a direct and high-quality program to support instruction in the expanded core curriculum (ECC) requires commitment and knowledge.

What do we do first?

Commit to the change.

With a clear understanding of the expanded core curriculum, you are ready to guide your program to the next step in excellence. As a team, you and the VI professionals in your district will develop the resources and skills to implement this proactive change.

The commitment to move to ECC-based programming may be a significant change and may affect many areas of the program, ranging from how educators and support staff spend their time, how professionals develop plans and approaches, to how educational teams interact. However, the result will be students who are better able to (a) benefit from the core curriculum, (b) transition to and function in their next environment, and (c) engage in a variety of social and career options with safety and confidence.

What are our next steps?

Once the information is gathered from checklists, screenings, or other evaluations, the next step is to determine priorities, both for individual students and the program as a whole.

It is possible that a review of all (or a sample of) the summary checklists indicates that many of your students have limited understanding in one or more areas. If so, then a plan to address the professional development and the acquisition of necessary resources will be needed.

What about the “time factor”?

The ECC has also made it easier for collaboration and co-treat models in for O&M, as well as speech, OT and AT. Special Education director about changing to an ECC-based program.

The first daunting question that is always asked is “How will we find the time? We are already too busy.” The challenge is to think outside of the box and find more focused means of meeting the ECC program goals; to develop and use new collaborative relationships and use available time in more varied ways.

  • Ensure that VI professionals focus and teach only in expanded core domains. Other educators have the expertise and are available to teach core topics. Why use the limited time in non-ECC activities?
  • Eliminate tutoring from the VI professional’s day. If a student is having trouble in a core area, is it because she or he doesn’t know how to use the tools needed to access the information? Or is the reason more content-driven? For example, if a student is having trouble with spelling, the TVI will help if she can’t use her magnifier to read the spelling words, but if she is having trouble remembering how to spell, someone else is better suited.
  • Examine strengths and weakness in VI professionals. When a TVI or O&M specialist is unsure or unskilled and is responsible to working in a domain, the instruction will be less efficient, less effective, and will require more time. Help VI professionals in your district access the needed professional development and ensure that the new skills get implemented into daily routines.
  • Develop appropriate and shared responsibilities of all team members. This may require new relationships, or changes in existing partnerships.

Where can I find training?

Given the scope of the ECC and the range of caseloads, it is expected that some level of professional development will be needed.

In addition to what neighboring, regional, and state educational organizations and agencies provide, an increasing amount of targeted professional development options are available. More and more organizations are offering training via distance learning options, either through webinars, compressed video networks (interactive television systems), or any combination of like approaches. Also, since many distance learning training options are either free or have a single cost attached, more members of the student’s educational team may attend, thereby incorporating the new information into a variety of learning environments.

Social skills and assistive technology are particular areas I note intense student growth. Special Education director about changing to an ECC-based program.

What are my instructional options?

For some districts, incorporating the ECC will be a big change. It may be part of a 2–3-year plan to move toward excellence. Also, given the scope of the expanded core curriculum, it may require considerations in instructional and staffing arrangements. Below is brief listing of various options for your consideration as you and your VI professionals map out this new programmatic approach to visual impairments.

  • Direct instruction with the VI professional(s)

This may or may not be different from how instruction is currently delivered. The focus of the instruction may shift. Rather than providing tutoring services, the VI professional may instead increase instruction in how to access the general curriculum using, for example, low-vision devices. Or instruction may occur more often out of the classroom, off the campus and into the community for vocational programming.

  • Collaboration with other team members, including parents and community organizations

Collaboration, or collaborative consultation, is an active process that takes place in the student’s learning environment—whether home, school, or community. The VI professional may be present in classrooms and learning environments not visited previously, such as the home economics class, work programs, or home.

Collaboration may also happen with community programs, such as Girl Scouts or various hobby-related groups, such as horseback riding or sports programs.

  • Regional and statewide events can also provide experience and instruction in the expanded core curriculum domains.

Many states have access to summer and holiday programs through a variety of sources. These may include camps, such as those sponsored by:

    • Lion’s Clubs,
    • short-term programs at residential schools
    • rehabilitation organizations
    • Lighthouse for the Blind
    • independent living centers
    • regional education service centers
  • Adult mentoring can also be a very powerful tool.  When students are connected with an adult with a visual impairment, they (and their parents) can get a better understanding of what will be expected of them once they leave the school system.

How can I support the staff?

For many districts, moving to an ECC-based program may be a big change and may require more than 1 year to complete. Here are a few tips for supporting this change:

  • Remember options for addressing the ECC.
  • Provide strong support and ample time for collaborative team discussions on multidisciplinary approaches to addressing students’ ECC needs.
  • Provide resources for ongoing data collection to VI/O&M staff to complete ECC checklists/evaluations as part of functional vision evaluations/learning media assessments and O&M evaluations.
  • Expect data collection and assessments to be part of standard instructional practices.
  • Support training for VI-related team members on addressing ECC needs through conferences, regional service centers, TSBVI Outreach, and the like.
  • When using multiple people to assess students and collect data, ensure that there is a common understanding of criteria and ratings.
  • Work with VI professionals to find solutions for addressing ECC goals.
  • Consider using time outside of the regular school day, including the use of
    • exchange and/or comp time,
    • instruction before and/or after the school day, and
    • summer instruction.
  • Provide support for
    • transportation and
    • community exploration and experiences.

Where can I find ECC resources?

Below is a listing of many ECC resources. This is just a partial listing intended to provide basic information. At this writing, resources for the ECC are being developed at a faster and faster rate. It would be impossible to develop a representational listing for the future. However, by checking with major “hubs” of information and being willing to branch off from those hubs, you should be able to find what you need.

Selected sources for information on the expanded core curriculum

Included resources

Expanded Core Curriculum Content Area Resource Mapping

A listing of resources sorted according to ECC domain. Included within each domain is a short listing of assessments, curricula, and resources. The VI professionals in your district should be helpful in finding the information listed.

Expanded Core Curriculum (ECC) Action Plan

A table that provides an overview of areas to be addressed, services, and individuals responsible.

Scoring criteria from the Functional Skills Screening Inventory (FSSI) (http://www.winfssi.com)

These criteria can provide a common understanding of a student’s abilities. It is not expected that a student must get all “4’s” to have mastered a skill. However, scores in the 50% range indicate the need for increased instruction. The original scale provided a 17-point scale. For expediency, a 9-point scale is also offered. In the shortened scales, the quarter-point options have been removed. This is a separate document to be linked within the toolbox

The following documents are available via the Internet

What is the Expanded Core Curriculum for Blind and Visually Impaired Students?

An article by Cyral Miller published in the See/Hear newsletter. http://www.tsbvi.edu/seehear/winter01/core.htm

Resources for the Expanded Core Curriculum (RECC)

The Resources for the Expanded Core Curriculum (RECC) is on the TSBVI website. This database is an annotated listing of nearly 1,000 resources and is sorted according to domain (e.g., self-determination, social interaction, independent living) and media type (e.g., website, apps for mobile/tablet, articles). In addition to the standard ECC domains, other domains regarding various student characteristics (e.g., early childhood, deafblind) and those domains of the standard core curriculum (e.g., math, the arts, physical education) as they apply to the student with low or no vision are provided, as well as domains for parents and VI educational professionals.

The RECC includes links to other websites, information developed by parents and VI professionals, resources that are free, and resources that can be purchased.

The RECC is located at: www.tsbvi.edu/REC2Web

ECC Tip Sheet: http://www.nercve.umb.edu/nhpd/index.php?page=tip2_ECC

Iowa Expanded Core Curriculum (ECC) Procedures Manual
This manual provides information for service providers and administrators. It includes information in the following areas:

  • Eligibility and entitlement
  • Program planning in all ECC content areas
  • Instruction, including lesson plans
  • Evaluation, including performance monitoring

Each chapter starts with a “Quick Look Procedure Guide” which is a table summarizing the contents of that chapter. A limited listing of useful features of this guide include:

  • an ECC needs assessment and protocol,
  • access models for students with cortical visual impairments,
  • rigor and relevance framework,
  • itinerant service delivery model,
  • ECC lesson plan framework, and
  • guidance on developing and documenting high-quality IEP documents.

The Iowa Expanded Core Curriculum (ECC) Procedures Manual is located at: https://www.educateiowa.gov/sites/files/ed/documents/032707_spec_ECC-Procedures-Man-2-07.pdf

Iowa Expanded Core Curriculum (ECC) Resource Guide

The document is much more detailed and expansive than the Iowa Expanded Core Curriculum (ECC) Procedures Manual. The resource guide includes information in the following basic areas:

  • Eligibility and entitlement
  • Program planning in all ECC content areas
  • ECC content areas
  • Forms for instructions
  • Appendices

The Program Planning in ECC Content Areas section includes:

  • information about the content areas and checklists of skills that are organized by age and/or grade clusters; and
  • forms for needs assessments, assessment protocols, action plans, lesson plans, collaboration and consultation records, and service records.

Iowa Expanded Core Curriculum (ECC) Resource Guide is located at:
http://www.iowa-braille.k12.ia.us/pages/uploaded_files/ECCResGuide%2007.pdf

Resources available for purchase

This is a very short list and limited to those resources that provide information on all the ECC domains. These publications will provide an overview and/or address all the domains included in the ECC. Innumerable publications that focus on specific domains are also available.

The Resources for the Expanded Core Curriculum (RECC) has a more complete and annotated listing of resources listed by domain. (www.tsbvi.edu/recc)

Evals: Evaluating Visually Impaired Students

Evaluation of students with visual impairments is a complex, multifaceted process of gathering information using appropriate tools and techniques. Informal evaluation should be considered an essential supplement to the use of formal measures and published instruments. To determine curricular focus and plan effective instructional programming for students, the staff must know a student's levels of functioning in all areas of academic and nonacademic need.

Evals is a five-part set that includes:

  • Two books of evaluations for the ECC areas
  • One book of evaluations for academic subject areas for Practical Academics and Basic Skills students
  • Independent Living Skills Assessment and Ongoing Evaluation
  • TAPS Comprehensive Assessment and Ongoing Evaluation

(From the TSBVI website: http://www.tsbvi.edu/curriculum-a-publications/3/1030-evals-evaluating-visually-impaired-students)

Numerous publications are also available from:

References

Blankenship, K., Coy, J., Prause, J., & Siller, M.  The Essential Assessments Rubric.  The E.A. Rubric: Essential Assessments for children who are blind or visually impaired. www.earubric.com.

Householter, C. 2014. Addressing the Expanded Core Curriculum (ECC) for Administrators, webinar developed by ESC 10 and hosted by the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired. 

Nagle,S. 2001. Transition to Employment and Community Life. Journal of Visual Impairments and Blindness

National Association of State Directors of Special Education (NASDSE): Blind and Visually Impaired Students: Educational Service Guidelines (1999). Dr. Gaylen Pugh, Project Director. Watertown, MA: Hilton Perkins Foundation, Perkins School for the Blind

Sapp, W. & Hatlen, P. 2010. The Expanded Core Curriculum: Where We Have Been, Where We Are Going, and How We Can Get There, Journal of Visual Impairments and Blindness

Texas Action Committee for the Education of Students with Visual Impairments. 2014.  2014 Educating Students with Visual Impairments in Texas: Guidelines and Standards (pdf) http://www.tsbvi.edu/component/weblinks/weblink/219-guidelines/122-2014-educating-students-with-visual-impairments-in-texas-guidelines-and-standards-pdf?Itemid=707

KC Dignan, PhD with Chrissy Cowan, Mentor coordinator TSBVI

Introduction

Mentoring has become a recognized and valued endeavor.  Many states, school districts, and certification programs require mentoring.  While the mentor concept is broadly understood, individual interpretations of what it means to mentor vary greatly. For our purposes, the concept of mentoring means to help a person new to a profession to grow in that profession in a positive fashion and to benefit from specifics.  This chapter focuses on the unique aspects of mentoring with and for professionals in visual impairments.

Texas has had a mentor program specifically designed for the unique needs of itinerant VI professionals since 1998.  It is briefly described later in this chapter.

Assumptions

  • There are a multitude of resources on mentoring available to administrators.  However, information which highlights mentoring issues as they relate to VI professionals (or other non-classroom educators) is much less available.
  • Mentoring comes in lots of guises.  Some programs are supervisory in nature; others are not.  Some programs require that the mentor and protégé have common disciplines; others do not. Some require that the mentor be in the same building; some are designed specifically for those professionals who are itinerant.  The variations are endless.
  • Itinerant personnel, regardless of their discipline (including related service personnel), have fundamental differences from classroom teachers.  These differences may include an increased emphasis on consulting, caseload management, and scheduling issues.  These differences must be addressed in a successful mentoring program.
  • Professionals who are itinerant and who participate in a mentor program face and generate unique challenges for the mentor, the protégé, and administrators.
  • For itinerant professionals, it is not uncommon for mentors and protégés to have different “home bases.” This may mean different buildings or even different communities.
  • School districts are rapidly increasing their capacity to access professional development, including using mentoring, using technology, and various distance-learning techniques and resources.
  • Although it may be sometimes necessary, the basic belief is that mentoring with a supervisory perspective can erode trust and is not encouraged.  When supervision is necessary refrain from referring to it as “mentoring.”

What is mentoring?

“One of a mentor’s chief jobs is to help a new teacher close the ‘knowing-doing’ gap by learning to apply knowledge of best practices to daily classroom routines” (Barlin, 2010, para. 7).  For VI professionals, the gap can be a bit more daunting.  It isn’t uncommon for a new VI professional to have students ranging in age from birth to 22 years, or who have mild or severe visual impairments, or who may have mild to severe cognitive, emotional, and/or physical impairments, the functional impact of which will be exacerbated by the visual impairment.  Even more so than in other disciplines, it is nearly impossible for training programs to address the individual needs of new VI professionals.  Mentors are essential for helping close the gap and address the various needs of a new VI professional.

Mentoring can occur using a variety of formats, whether face-to-face, via e-mail, or the phone. The mentor program may be required or voluntary, formal or informal, or any combination.

Where can I find additional mentoring resources?

There are a huge number of resources that a district, cooperative, or program can tap into for information on mentoring or mentor programs.  A search in a professional library or on the Internet will yield multiple sources.  Some of those resources can be found here:

National Center to Inform Policy and Practice in Special Education Professional Development

NCIPP is an Office of Special Education Programs–funded center that aims to improve teacher quality and increase commitment to teaching students with disabilities by

  • informing special education policy and practice on induction and mentoring, and
  • identifying and recommending induction and mentoring implementation strategies.

National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities

A collection of resources specifically targeted for special education programs.  Resources topics include policy, training, and others.

The Mentoring Group

This site has multiple resources specific to mentoring for a variety of professions.  Documents in the Archive section include information about mentoring in general and resources for mentors and mentees.  Topics include information on starting a program, mentoring at a distance, best practices, building relationships, and many more.

Council for Exceptional Children (CEC)

CEC is the largest professional organization with an emphasis on students with disabilities.  They provide resources on mentoring and offer a volunteer mentoring program.  The Pioneers Division has a mentoring project.

Mentoring VI Professionals in Texas

Information about the Texas mentor program can be found at the following link.  The Texas mentor program is designed specifically for new VI professionals who are working with students with visual impairments.

Many state departments of education and/or certification agencies offer resources on mentoring.  Contact your SEA for more information.

Mentoring New Special Education Teachers: A Guide for Mentors and Program Developers. Mary Lou Duffy and James Forgan, Authors.

Provides information, including forms and questionnaires, to help administrators develop and sustain mentor programs for special educators.

Quality Mentoring for Novice Teachers.  Sandra Odell and Leslie Huling, Editors.

Provides comprehensive information about mentoring from acknowledged pioneers in educational mentoring.  The information may be especially useful for those setting up a mentoring program.

Why do VI professionals need a mentor program?

There are many reasons why a VI professional will benefit from access to a mentor.  In some scenarios, a mentor is not only beneficial, but necessary. Reasons to use a mentor include:

  • Itinerant nature of the job
  • Student diversity
  • Changes in VI caseloads
  • Working under a probationary certificate
  • Access to professional development
  • Special issues for O&M specialists

A sense of isolation as the only teacher certified in visual impairments (TVI) or orientation and mobility (O&M) specialist in the district or coop

In addition, VI professionals are specialists in the expanded core curriculum (ECC).  The ECC is a large and diverse field of knowledge that directly relates to students with visual impairments. (More information about the ECC is included in Chapter 11, when available.)  Professional preparation programs do not have the capacity to address all of the areas in the ECC and how they can affect students with a myriad of visual abilities.  A mentor can be invaluable in helping a new VI professional adapt a vision-related concept in the expanded core curriculum to the needs of a specific student.

Itinerant nature of the job

Itinerant personnel, regardless of their discipline have fundamental differences from classroom teachers. These differences must be addressed in a successful mentoring program.

Working with students with visual impairments comes with unique challenges.  It isn’t the same experience as teaching in the classroom.  When asked about their feelings on adjusting to their current itinerant status and their areas of concern, new VI professionals often cite the following:

  • Organizational skills related to not being in a fixed location  
  • Developing consultation skills
  • Being in a job that is more student oriented, and not content- driven
  • Managing the diversity of topics, instructional styles, and communication styles needed within a single day
  • Managing the diversity of resources needed in a timely fashion and identifying sources for those resources
  • Working effectively within the community, not just in the school system
  • Being seen as the “expert” even before they have completed their first year as a VI professional because they are the only VI professional in the district
  • Feeling isolated as a result of working in so many places and not having a peer group
VI mentors and new VI professionals alike report that learning about and managing the itinerant nature of the job is one of their biggest challenges.

Additionally, many VI professionals must either cover great distances, or spend significant amounts of time travelling in congested urban or suburban areas.  VI professionals may work for a single district, be part of a cooperative arrangement and be shared between multiple districts, or work as an independent contractor.

VI professionals must also be able to interact frequently and successfully with parents, other teachers, and professionals serving their students and administrators in numerous buildings. A well-developed set of organizational and people skills are required in order to successfully serve students and meet the demands of the job.  Additionally, knowledge of the community and statewide resources is crucial.

The previously mentioned factors combine to make a job that is unlike any other within a school system, even other low-incidence or itinerant positions.  Having a mentor can help new VI professionals make the adjustment.

Being itinerant equals:

  • Student diversity
  • Changes in caseloads
  • Developments in instructional strategies
  • Access to professional development
  • Working in the home, community and school
  • A sense of isolation

The total of the above is greater than the sum individual parts.  Each factor has an effect on the others.

Student diversity

Students with visual impairments are extremely heterogeneous.  Visual impairments also have a cultural implication, one that may affect expectations by parents and educators. VI professionals work with students with a wide range of cognitive, physical, and visual abilities, as well as a variety of ages, from birth to 21. 

No professional preparation program is able to provide detailed instruction in all pedagogical areas.  There are hundreds of diseases, medications, and syndromes that affect functional vision.  This, in combination with the environment, the functional requirements, and individual personality characteristics, results in thousands of educational implications.  It simply isn’t possible to address all areas in a pre-service program.  The students are just too diverse.

Changes in VI caseloads

VI caseloads are extremely diverse.  The students range in age, visual abilities, additional disabilities, and a whole host of other factors.  A change of just 2 or 3 students can affect the time and resource management of the caseload as a whole, and can have a significant impact on the knowledge, skills, and abilities needed by VI professionals in the district/cooperative arrangements, and on the resources needed.

Although they may visit multiple schools, VI professionals may not be a part of the school community, an important factor for retention. Having a mentor can help build a sense of community for the new VI professional.

A young braille reader may require 10–15 hours per week for instruction and developing and managing materials.  As you can imagine, if one or two braille readers, especially young braille readers, move to a district that hasn’t had a braille reader in 10 years, it will have a major impact on resources, time, and professional expertise needed. Therefore, when VI professionals have a significant change in their caseload, they may benefit from a mentor, as the program is “re-tooled.”

Probationary certification

With the adoption of IDEA 2004, emergency and other temporary permits are no longer available for those who must meet “highly qualified” standards.  [34 CFR 300.18(b)(1)] [20 U.S.C. 1401(10)(B)] Some states still offer probationary-type certificates or licensure to VI teachers who are still working on VI coursework.

Teachers certified in visual impairments (TVIs) and working under a probationary-type certificate are completing legal documents, such as functional vision evaluations or learning media assessments, and making educational recommendations possibly before completing their anatomy class.  These documents have legal and significant programmatic implications.  Having a mentor to turn to for guidance may make all the difference in the world.  Pairing new teachers with a mentor is essential for ensuring quality educational programming for the students and limiting the procedural vulnerability of the district.

Access to professional development

The unique educational needs of students with visual impairment and the low prevalence of the population result in limited access to professional development.  The caseload requirements one year will not be the same the next year.  And the student with the most challenging needs may be the only student with similar needs for 50 miles in any direction.  It just isn’t feasible for districts or even regional centers to offer everything that is needed that year. 

Additionally, professional development will be more effective if it has context and immediate application.  Therefore, districts, mentors, and technical support organizations must provide contextual training on a real-time basis.  Mentors can either provide assistance within the current context or may know other sources for professional expertise.

Sense of isolation

VI professionals typically serve students in multiple schools, but may not be “a member” of any campus community.  VI professionals may drive 100 miles or more in a day and/or spend multiple hours in urban/suburban traffic.  They may see students in six schools spread out over four districts.  A VI teacher or O&M specialist may be the only VI professional employed by small and rural districts, and have no professional peers.

Mentor programs for VI professionals can provide support to those new to the profession to reduce a sense of isolation.  Protégés will have the opportunity to learn how experienced VI teachers and O&M specialists handle the many challenges inherent in their jobs. A sense of community or belonging is considered important for retention (Center for Teaching Quality, 2006, Jones, Young & Frank. 2013).  For the new VI professional, who may already feel like a fish out of water, having a mentor can go a long way to building a sense of professional identity and community.

Special issues for O&M specialists

The majority of O&M specialists approach the field as a second career, entering from many different fields.  Additionally, most O&M training programs are geared to working with adults with visual impairments.  As a result, new O&M specialists may not be familiar with a wide variety of students, school procedures or cultures, or other issues related to working in the community with young people.  Having an O&M mentor familiar with the inner workings of schools and procedures can help the new O&M professional “find their way” within these new areas that their training did not address. Also, working alongside a mentor can serve as a source of observation hours as required by many training programs.

O&M specialists must complete an internship prior to certification.  However, many internship placements are with adults.  Therefore, new O&M specialists may not have had access to students with visual impairments (including babies or those with multiple disabilities) prior to certification. 

If you have someone employed in your district that is seeking O&M certification, please encourage his or her participation in a mentor program, even before certification has been completed.  Exposure to future students will yield long-term benefits.  The future O&M specialist will be more familiar with scenarios such as finding out school policies for traveling off-campus, the working with the families of the students, and will provide an opportunity to develop a contextual understanding of the principles discussed in training.

How does mentoring VI professionals differ from mentoring classroom educators?

Instructional responsibilities for VI professionals are quite different from classroom teachers, even those in special education. 

Itinerant

Many structured formal mentor programs assume a classroom is the base of operations.  For many VI professionals, this is rarely true.  The majority of VI professionals are itinerant.  As a result, they may not be at their office or home base for multiple days, may experience isolation from other educators, and must adjust to a different learning culture in each educational setting or building.  Additionally, they must be skilled at dealing with multiple building principals and special education administrators.  O&M specialists frequently work off-campus, and during non-traditional hours.

Low incidence in conjunction with heterogeneity

Visual impairments are one of the smallest prevalence groups in the district.  As a whole, these students are also extremely diverse.  Students may have rare or unusual syndromes that affect visual functioning.  Additionally, students with the same etiologies, such as cortical visual impairment, may have extremely diverse visual functioning, especially if the student has additional disabilities.  New classroom teachers must learn to function well with the diversity that exists within a typical classroom.  However, VI professionals who are coming to the field from the classroom consistently report that the scope of individual diversity they face in the first year can be daunting.

Limited access to updated VI expertise

Due to the low incidence, most districts employ only one or two VI professionals.  Although a small field, it is constantly changing.  It is also very specialized. Necessary skills and resources will vary by caseload, and change with even small alterations in the caseload.  Examples of just a few rapidly evolving areas affecting the VI field are listed here:

Techniques for teaching students with cortical visual impairments (CVI) are expanding and becoming more widely known. Doctors may or may not specify it in their medical reports.  Often it is VI professionals who translate “neurological” into educational strategies, and those educational strategies will vary greatly from student to student.

New options for assistive technology (AT) for students with visual impairments are fast-paced and continuous. Assistive technology skills are critical for student success and transitioning to the post-secondary environment.  Strategies for using AT with students who have multiple impairments, exploding resources for tablets and modifying existing classroom technologies are just a few examples.

Few VI professionals in a district

+ Wildly diverse students

+ Limited access to professional development

  + Itinerant service delivery =

Need for VI-specific mentor

New travel technologies, such as GPS devices, can assist O&M specialists immensely.  Designs for intersections are also constantly changing the nature of O&M travel in both rural and urban environments.  

A VI professional may not have a student with certain needs, such as braille, for several years.  Then when the caseload changes, the VI professional may be out-of-date with his or her skills, affecting the student’s annual progress.

Limited access to local professional development and/or knowing where to look for information

Even with the rapid increases in just-in-time professional resources through the Internet, VI professionals may not be able to find the information they need.  Access may also be limited because the protégé may not even know where to look.  Then, once found, she or he may have trouble adapting the information to the specific situation.  A mentor can help the TVI or O&M specialist be more efficient as she or he expands his or her or his skills.

Who are the best candidates for having a VI mentor?

Not unlike many new educators, new VI professionals may not know what they don’t know and what they need to know first.  However, what is different is that they may not have anyone in the district to whom they can turn for professional information.  As a result, as they mature professionally, their skills and resources may be limited.

Novice professionals or those holding a probationary certificate

A novice VI professional may need the most mentoring, especially if this is her or his first teaching assignment, or if she or he is not fully certified.  The novice professional may benefit from guidance for instructional issues and VI-specific issues. 

If the VI professional has never worked in education, it may be advisable to split the mentoring duties between basic instructional/school-procedural issues and VI-specific issues. The VI mentor may not be in the same building, or even the same city as your new VI professional.  In these cases, it may be possible to provide the novice with a “procedural mentor,” someone to whom she or he can turn for non–VI-procedural issues in the district, such as how or when various types of paperwork gets processed or how to access general educational resources.  The VI mentor can advise on the vision-specific mentoring issues.  These may include consultation skills, identifying VI resources in a timely manner, and/or how to customize functional vision evaluations to meet the needs of a specific child.

New employees or caseload changes for experienced VI professionals

Occasionally, an experienced VI professional has a significant change in his or her caseload or job and expertise is required that is either rusty or absent.  In these cases, mentoring can be extremely valuable.  Common scenarios when a mentor can be beneficial include:

  • significant changes in student characteristics, such as new students who are deafblind, or when an O&M specialist has an increase in the number of young students, students with multiple impairments or are ‘pre-mobile,’
  • a change in the ages of the students, such as when a VI professional’s caseload makes a sudden shift from mostly middle and secondary students to predominantly very young children and the reverse, and/or
  • an experienced VI professional from another state moves into the district, since requirements and practices can vary from state to state

Special issues for O&M specialists

New VI professionals are candidates for a mentor. 

So are experienced VI professionals who have had a change in their caseload.

O&M specialists are certified to work with students/clients of all ages, not just children.  Many professional preparation programs are funded through adult-service organizations or agencies, such as the Veteran Affairs office.  Many O&M specialists (including those with years of experience) may have had limited exposure to working with students who are school age, with infants, or those clients who have additional disabilities.  These specialists will benefit from access to a mentor to assist them in adjusting to new students and new procedural responsibilities..

Who can be a mentor?

General personal qualifications include the following:

  • Good listening and communication skills
  • A solid understanding of professional knowledge
  • High standards for self and others
  • A desire for continued professional growth
  • An ability to nurture the growth of others

Professional qualifications include:

  • Full certification in the professional discipline being mentored
  • A minimum of 4 years of experience providing services to students with visual impairments.  However, 5 years is strongly encouraged.

How will a protégé benefit from having a mentor?

Just as vision takes us out of our bodies and into the world, participating in a mentor program takes us out of our past and into our future.  Working as a VI professional, often the only one in a district or coop, having access to a mentor can provide many advantages, a few of which follow. The protégé is able to:

Quickly learning about the culture of a campus and consulting skills are critical for new VI professionals.  Mentors can make it easier and help build strong relationships within a campus.

  • build opportunities to recognize success. It is often a challenge to recognize growth without someone to help reflect on changes and professional growth.  Mentors help build confidence.
  • gain experience in networking.  VI is a small field.  The students are very heterogeneous and resources are very scattered.  Establishing a network is key building block to being able to know about  find a resource just when you need it.  Additionally, networking builds a sense of community, which will enhance retention and reduce isolation.
  • form expectations about being a VI professional.  Working with students with visual impairments is very different from being a classroom teacher, even a special educator.  A mentor can help new professionals understand how to incorporate the expanded core curriculum into the existing curriculum, manage the itinerant aspects of the caseload, work with families of the student, and manage various other aspects of the job.
  • set priorities and balance responsibilities as they build consulting skills.Working in so many divergent environments can be daunting for those who have been in the classroom or a single building.  A mentor will help the protégé establish priorities, understand the intricacies of working in multiple school buildings, and develop those skills necessary for successful consultations.

Ganser (1996) identified the following roles of and for mentors and mentoring:

  • Offering support and encouragement
  • Meeting with the protégé on regular occasions
  • Informing the protégé about the school and its culture
  • Providing information about official policies and procedures
  • Assisting with strategies for classroom management
  • Helping with teaching skills

Other VI-specific benefits include:

  • Helping the protégé devise strategies to learn about individual school and community cultures (which will vary from school to school and organization to organization)
  • Providing sources for VI-related professional development such as workshops, conferences, Web sites, and professional publications in a timely manner
  • Performing informal observations of the protégé working with students during the first year of employment for the purpose of providing supportive feedback
  • Facilitating networking opportunities with other professionals in the field of visual impairment

How do experienced VI professionals benefit from being a mentor?

Mentors report that participation “reigniting their own passion for teaching.” (Barlin, 2010, para. 17). When speaking about mentoring pre-service teachers Fawns-Justeson states:

To me the real purpose of our work is to mentor our students, to help them along their path to becoming thoughtful, engaged, self-aware citizens who are fully able to make choices that reflect their most cherished values; choices that lead them to a meaningful and satisfying life, however they define it. (Fawns-Justeson, 2012, p. 126)

This same dynamic applies to new VI professionals, even those who have years of experience in the classroom.  New VI professionals report that even with many years of experience, going from a classroom environment to an itinerant service delivery model is a dramatic shift.  Having a mentor can be a profoundly positive experience.

Participation in a mentor program can reignite passions for teaching
(Barlin, 2010).

The benefits for mentors are many.  A partial listing follows. 

  • Unique, focused training to learn how to support a protégé’s professional growth, with additional/advanced training available for the experienced mentor 
  • Opportunities for networking offered at conferences, workshops, and other professionals meetings 
  • Recognition of time, travel, and expenses, with the possibility of a small stipend available
  • A unique opportunity:
    • for professional development,
    • for inclusion in professional portfolios like those needed for the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards certification (NBPTS),
    • for certification renewal for TVIs and O&M specialists, and
    • a recognized activity for performance evaluations.
  • An excellent contribution to the field by helping to ensure the continued quality of VI teachers and O&M specialists
  • A profound sense of personal satisfaction and professional renewal
  • Opportunities for new bonds and connections with professionals and bringing new knowledge, skills, and resources to the community
  • An opportunity to informally determine if a protégé will be a good addition to an existing program in the future

What support does a school district need to provide to mentors and protégés?

Mentoring requires specific skills and abilities.  According to Odell &Huling (2004) and others, mentors must be able to recognize various levels of development and types of need in protégés.

Once a mentor has been assigned to a protégé, regular contact between the mentor and protégé is critical to fostering a supportive relationship.  Contact can be made in a variety of ways (phone, e-mail, video-conferencing, including Skype or similar, face-to-face visits), and will be effective as long as the contact is ongoing and consistent during the duration of the relationship.

Ideally, the mentor program includes financial support for a limited number of phone calls and travel expenses for on-site visits.  The Texas VI mentor program provides a small annual stipend to mentors who have met the terms of the contract.

Regular contact between the mentor and protégé is critical to fostering a supportive relationship.  Contact can be made via phone, e-mail, video-conferencing (Skype or similar), and face-to-face visits.

Observing other professionals on the job is particularly effective.  Such observations may require “release time.” If the mentor and protégé are not in the same district, if may be possible for those observational days to be scheduled when one district has a professional development day, especially if the district does not have VI-related workshops available.

Mentoring is a recognized activity for many certifying organizations and agencies, and is also recognized in many teacher evaluation processes.  The time spent mentoring can provide for professional growth and meet criteria for performance evaluations.  Using professional development days also eliminates the problem of not providing scheduled services for VI students on regular school days. 

What does the Texas VI mentor program look like?

Texas has had a mentoring system for VI professionals since 1998.  At any given time, Texas has close to 300 mentors with expertise in visual impairments.  The basic scaffold of the Texas VI mentor program is summarized in the following list.

  1. A staff person is selected to act as statewide mentor coordinator.  This position is funded as part of the statewide coordinated professional preparation program in visual impairments. 
  2. The mentor coordinator gets the names of new students from universities or other training programs.
  3. The mentor coordinator consults with local and regional VI professionals and then matches mentors and protégés when the new protégés have a caseload or when they start their internship.
  4. Mentors must meet certain criteria, which is listed on the TSBVI website.  If they qualify, they must submit an application packet.  The packet includes letters of support from their administrator, regional consultant in visual impairments, and a co-worker.
  5. The mentors attend training tailored specifically to mentoring VI professionals.  Usually this is before they are matched with their protégé, but in certain conditions it may be otherwise.  The training is a blend of online training, which addresses general mentoring issues, and face-to-face training that addresses vision-specific issues. 
  6. When a mentor isn’t available in a particular region, a statewide mentor is assigned.  Statewide mentors work under a special contractual arrangement with Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired.
  7. Protégés (and mentors) attend Mentor Centers at the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired and the itinerant program at the Austin Independent School District to observe experienced VI professionals working with students and to meet with other new VI professionals.
  8. Mentors submit contact logs twice a year.

Working in teams and communicating via phone, e-mail, Skype, or face-to-face, the pair completes a set of activities together.  The activities address domains in the expanded core curriculum and are coordinated with the Professional Development Log and the Resources for the Expanded Core Curriculum (RECC) on the TSBVI website.  You can find more information about the mentor program, including Mentor Activity Checklists, on the TSBVI website (http://www.tsbvi.edu/mentor-program/3575-informationmentors). 

A mentor is available to protégés during their internship/practicum period and for the academic year following the completion of their training. In acknowledgement of their efforts and costs, mentors are paid a small stipend.

Information to assist you setting up a VI mentor program is in the next section of this chapter.   

What tools or resources are available to help set up a mentor system?

It is always easier to review documents developed by others and modify them for your district’s needs.  The documents below may either meet your needs or assist you in developing your own documents.

Mentor Resources from TSBVI Web site

TSBVI has developed various documents to help with the mentor program.  Some of the most useful resources are listed below.  Documents are available for individual downloading or as an entire set. It is assumed that new users will modify the documents to meet their individual needs.

Mentor Program home page

Provides a brief overview plus links to other documents and resources.

Information for Mentors

This is a short summary of the mentor program.  It includes an overview of the mentor program, qualifications, the application process, activities, time commitments, and statewide support options.

Information for Protégés

This is a short summary of the program for protégés.  It includes an overview of the mentor program, benefits, activities, time commitments, and statewide support options.

Mentor application packet

Training agenda*

A sample agenda of the training provided by TSBVI.

Mentor activity list for VI teachers

This is the list of required and recommended activities that mentors and protégées complete. It is generally organized along the lines of the expanded core curriculum.  Some programs may opt to only use the Mentor Contact Log.

Mentor activity list for O&M

This is the list of required and recommended activities that mentors and protégées complete. It is generally organized along the lines of the expanded core curriculum. Some programs may opt to only use the Mentor Contact Log.

Contact logs

Mentors record their interactions with protégés on this log.  It is turned in at the end of the academic year.  It documents not only mentor activity, but is also used for certification renewal.  This document may be supplemental or used in place of the Mentor Activity Lists.

How can we set up a VI mentoring system?

Making a mentor program can be more complicated than it needs to be.  Essentially, mentoring is about asking questions; exploring thoughts, beliefs, and practices; and helping the protégé (and mentor) to move to the next level of skill. Mentoring is about making connections for problem solving and inspiration. However some level of organization is necessary if a program is to be successful and sustained.

To set up a mentor program, various parameters will need to be determined.  The questions should include the following domains:

  • Formal or informal
  • Supervisory or collegial
  • Discipline-specific or general

In addition, you will want to determine if your mentor program will be limited to a local program or include a broader region.

Although the domains above are presented as opposites, please think about them as points in a constellation of options. Remember that there are endless combinations that can be formed.  Following are a review of options and a sample of advantages and disadvantages for each one.

 

SystemAdvantagesDisadvantages

Formal

(Mentor program is required by the district(s), the training program, or other entity. Program may or may not be supervisory in nature.)

  • Mentor and protégé complete a specific set of activities.
  • Resources are allocated for the program’s support.
  • Specific topics will be addressed.
  • Administrative support will be available.
  • Participation is mandated.
  • Mentor training and other supports are available.
  • Administrator may have fiscal support or other resources for ensuring successful participation.

 

  • Resources are needed for program, including both time and funds.
  • If only in-district mentors are used, mentor may not have expertise in vision or itinerant issues.
  • Participation is mandated.
  • Mandatory activities may or may not reflect:
    • the contextual needs of the protégé, or
    • the highest priority activities and knowledge areas for the protégé.

Informal

(Mentor and protégé agree to work with each other, without support from outside sources.) 

  • Activities are specific to the needs of the protégé.
  • Participation is voluntary.
  • Mentor will have expertise in visual impairments.
  • Limited funds may be necessary.
  • Is more likely to be collegial rather than supervisory in nature.
  • Activities may not have any structure or sense of progression.
  • Participation is voluntary.
  • The “needs and skills” constellation between the mentor and protégé may not match.
  • If schedules or other responsibilities get hectic, mentoring activities may get pushed aside, especially if the mentor and protégé are in different buildings, communities, or otherwise geographically separated.
  • Mentor may pass along poor habits/skills.  This can be of particular concern, as many supervisors are unable to evaluate vision-specific skills and practices.

Supervisory

(Reports are turned into a supervisor, university faculty, or other authority figure.  Supervisor may or may not be mentor.)

  • Increases the likelihood that protégé will address specific skill areas and be given the opportunity for improvement.
  • Supervisors (who are not likely to be mentors) will be informed of professional progress.
  • Time needed by mentor and protégé to complete necessary activities are built into the schedule.
  • Necessary resources are available.
  • Likelihood is greater that the mentor and protégé are in the same district and have access to each other.
  • Since various reports are likely to be required, areas of strength and weakness in either mentor or protégé are likely to be identified for future professional development activities.
  • Protégé may feel inhibited in sharing areas of concerns and shortcomings.
  • The development of a trusting relationship, that is so essential in a mentor program, could be inhibited.
  • Additional stress to a new VI professional could result.
  • If the mentor doesn’t have sufficient time to prepare for mentoring and develop necessary reports, he/she may transfer frustration to protégé or discontinue being a mentor.
  • Required activities may require additional duties from mentors, which may have a fiscal impact on the district.

 

Collegial

(Progress and domains addressed may or may not be noted.  The results stay between the mentoring team.)

  • Format can build trust between colleagues, which may reduce the sense of isolation sometimes experienced by VI professionals.  Professional isolation has been cited as a concern for retention.
  • Activities can be customized to meet the specific needs of the protégé without a structure imposed on the team.
  • Electronic communication may make this type of mentoring feasible for those working in different locations.

 

  • Mentor and protégé may be in different districts, and therefore may have difficulty meeting or observing each other.
  • No or limited control over what is addressed between mentor and protégé.
  • No information about performance is available.
  • Mentor could be passing on “bad habits” without others knowing it.
  • May have limited impact on behavioral changes.

General mentor (Mentor is available, is not trained as a VI professional.)

  • A mentor may be more readily available from an existing induction program.
  • Mentor may be readily available in “base” location.
  • Training requirements may be more readily available via multiple venues including commercial and educational resources.
  • Mentor will be able to provide information, advice, and support on school culture, local practices, and procedural issues.
  • If the VI professional is new to education, the mentor is able to assist in adjustment to working in education.

 

  • Mentor will not be able to provide necessary guidance or resources for vision-specific domains.
  • Mentor may not have experience functioning as an itinerant educator.
  • Mentor may have highly developed skills, but ones that are less useful to VI professionals.  Classroom management is an example of such a skill.
  • Mentor may or may not be able to offer advice and support on managing an itinerant caseload.
  • Mentor may or may not be able to offer advice and support on consultation skills, an often-cited need for new professionals or in disability-specific domains.

Discipline-specific (Mentor is trained as a VI professional and matched with a VI protégé.)

  • Mentor will be knowledgeable about vision-specific resources and functioning as an itinerant educator.
  • Mentor may be seen as a “kindred spirit” and help to reduce a sense of isolation and overwhelming responsibility
  • Mentoring a protégé is an excellent method for providing a sense of professional “renewal” to experienced VI professionals, reminding them why they chose the profession
  • Mentoring can provide them with new or more current information.
  • Mentor may be able to provide lots of information about school or building culture, resources, and/or practices, and other informal networks.  If in different districts, may be able to provide methods to tap into informal networks.
  • “Feeling valued” is an important component of a solid retention program.  Mentoring can publically verify that the mentor is highly skilled and valued.
  • Mentor may be in a different building or district.
  • If the team members are in different locals,
    • the protégé’s administrator has limited ability to ensure that the mentor is instilling good professional skills and/or ensuring adequate access to the mentor or release time needed for shadowing, and
    • mentor may not be able to provide information about school or building culture, resources, and/or practices typical in that district or building.
  • If the VI mentor and protégé are not certified in the same discipline (e.g., VI teacher with O&M specialists), there may be limited understanding of critical issues that each faces when coming from different disciplines.

 

Once you have the basic framework determined, the next step is to determine how you will recruit, train, and sustain mentors, and how to match your desired mentors with protégés. 

Recruiting mentors

Potential mentors must first meet the criteria for participation, and should have

  • a strong track record for quality VI services,
  • good communication and organizational skills,
  • a supportive supervisor, and
  • an interest in mentoring.

In Texas, mentors must have

  • 4 years of experience as a VI teacher or O&M specialist, and
  • letters of support from their supervisor, co-worker, and a VI specialist at their education service center.

The principles employed in effective and efficient recruitment of mentors is similar to recruiting new VI professionals.  Garringer’s Effective mentor recruitment: Getting organized, getting results is one helpful resource. (Garringer, 2006)  Chapter 5: Recruiting of this Toolbox also has specific tips.  Basic principles include:

  • Knowing your target population and what influences them
  • Recognizing that mentors feel validated and respond best to a direct appeal (however, don’t forget basic awareness recruiting)

Tapping into the community of VI professionals.  Leverage those values that are broadly held within the community.  This will include VI professionals in your district, community, neighboring community, or region.  Another source for VI professionals is your state’s chapter for VI professionals.  The national office for the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (AER) will have information about your state (www.aerbvi.org).  Other VI professionals can be important sources of information and have knowledge of how to contact various other VI professionals.  Specific strategies may include sharing information with the professional communities, using tools such as VI-specific listservs, professional organizations, and workshops, just to name a few.

Developing your message to appeal to VI professionals.  For example, emphasize how mentoring will:

  • help their professional development
  • reduce a sense of isolation
  • help them feel supported as a mentor

Training mentors

There are many effective training methods and resources for mentors.  VI mentors should be trained in both the basics of mentoring and VI-specific aspects.  The explicit purpose of training is to establish a program norm and to provide mentors with the tools and resources needed to work with their protégés.   

The TSBVI Web site has an on-demand training program for basics in mentoring.  This program was created based on the training developed and delivered by Leslie Huling, Ph.D., a noted expert in educational mentoring.  You can find the information at:

This course does not address vision-specific aspects of training.  TSBVI supplements this training with an additional 1.5 days of face-to-face training.  During this time, the participants review best practices in the field of visual impairments, and use scenarios to practice the principles described during the more-general training.  This kind of VI-specific application is critical to producing successful mentors.

Funding and/or sustaining mentor programs

Sustainability refers to maintaining both the financial and human resources necessary for a successful and robust program.  A constellation of funding, recruiting, and administrative strategies are necessary.  As such, each program will face unique circumstances.  Sources for funding can be sought from an array of areas, including local, state, and federal governments, as well as private foundations and corporations.  The Mentor Resource Center from the U.S. Department of Education may provide insight and guidance (www.edmentoring.org/publications.html).

Texas has a full time coordinator.  However Texas is a big state.  Someone who will coordinate the program is important for sustainability.  However, a district or coop will not need to make it a full time job. 

The Texas VI mentor program is constantly working to improve and sustain the program.  Each year, mentors submit a contact log sheet that identifies the types of issues addressed. The mentor coordinator makes a mid-year contact with mentors and protégés to ask about how they are progressing and to inquire if there are any problem areas. Periodically, the program is evaluated and modifications are made.  Regional VI specialists are regularly consulted on various subjects related to mentoring.   Distance-learning networks are used to present topics of interest to mentors and to refresh mentorship skills.

What factors do I need to consider when matching mentors and protégés?

Matching is a keystone factor to any program.  Making appropriate and timely matches can make or break a program.  In addition to programmatic issues, several factors must be considered when matching VI professionals.

A thorough assessment is strongly recommended when matching mentors and protégés.  For VI professionals, such an evaluation should include:

  • reflecting on the personalities involved
  • working styles
  • professional discipline (VI, O&M, or dually certified)
  • distance between team members
  • an analysis of the caseload of both members of the team, including consideration of previous experiences for the mentor.  For example, has the mentor:
    • worked with babies? 
    • taught braille to a new reader?
    • introduced optical devices?

A wide diversity in previous experiences may not be an indication of a problematic match, but it may potentially indicate that additional professional development, resources, or supervision is needed for the mentor.

A thorough check of each party in the duo when matched for a program is one important way to manage risk in the mentorship relationship. Another way is to establish a routine of regular check-ins and feedback from the pair.

Once a match has been made, both members will benefit from regular check-ins, supervision, and evaluation. While the mentor–protégé relationship may not be supervisory in nature, there still should be oversight of the mentors—volunteer or paid—to ensure that program guidelines are being met.  These oversight activities need not be onerous, but they should be regular and predictable.

From time to time it will be necessary to rematch mentors. In those cases, program coordinators should have a clear understanding of how to handle such situations. A program should already have procedures in place when these situations arise. For example, when either party in the pair requests a rematch, will the other party have access to the reasons for the request, or will that be kept confidential?  Knowledge of the procedures should be available from the start of the program.

For more information on managing risk after the match has been made, visit the Mentoring Resource Center at the U.S. Department of Education (http://www.edmentoring.org/publications.html).

Other helpful resources

The Internet and libraries are full of resources.  Here is a brief list of succinct information.

Getting a mentor program off the ground

An excellent overview of issues to consider when starting a mentor program.

Six reasons to be a mentor.

A short document that succinctly and persuasively identifies reasons to participate in mentor program.

Helping your mentees to develop capabilities - Part 1
Helping your mentees to develop capabilities - Part 2

A roadmap to identifying skills to develop and strategies for achieving their goals.

Effective Mentoring Relationships: The Mentee’s Role - Part 1
Effective Mentoring Relationships: The Mentee’s Role - Part 2

Relationships are the key to effective mentoring.  These short articles can help partners get off to a healthy start.

Mentor programs can happen for whole districts, cooperatives, or a single building or program.  It need not be daunting.  With a bit forethought and a few available resources, you can take a big step to ensure quality services from VI professionals and that those VI professionals will remain in your district.

References

Barlin, D. (2010).  Better mentoring, better teachers: Three factors that help ensure successful programs.  Education Week, March 23, 2010.  Retrieved from: http://www.edweek.org/archive/ew/articles/2010/03/23/27barlin.html

Benefits to the Mentors and Mentees National Academy of Engineering.  Retrieved from: http://www.nae.edu/File.aspx?id=14491 

Borreen, J., & Miday, D., (2000).  Breaking through the isolation: mentoring beginning teachers. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, Vol. 44, 152-163.

Borbely, C., (2006).  Making the connection: Using your evaluation for program improvement and sustainability: Elyria School District mentoring program.  Mentoring Resource Center  www.edmentoring.org/pubs/factsheet11.pdf

Center for Teaching Quality. (2006). Teacher working conditions are student learning conditions: A report on the 2006 North Carolina teacher working conditions survey.  Retrieved from.  http://www.teachingquality.org/pdfs/twcnc2006.pdf  

Fagan, M., & Glen, W. (1982). Mentoring among teachers. Journal of Educational Research, 76, 113-118

Fawn-Justeson, R. (2012). Teaching as relationship: Opportunities to mentor our students. NEA Higher Education Journal, Fall 2012Vol/Issue number here, 126.

Ganser, T. (1996). What do mentors say about mentoring? Journal of Staff Development. 17, 36–39. 

Garringer, M. (2006). Effective mentor recruitment: Getting organized, getting results. Mentoring Resource Center, U.S. Department of Education,  Retrieved from: http://educationnorthwest.org/webfm_send/172

Odell, S., & Huling, L. (Eds.) (2004). Quality mentoring for novice teachers. Lanham, MD: R&L Education. 

Jones, N., Young, P., & Frank, K., (2013).  The role of school-based colleagues in shaping the commitment of novice special and general education teachers. Exceptional Children, 79. 365-383.

KC Dignan, PhD with Chrissy Cowan, Mentor coordinator TSBVI

Introduction

Mentoring has become a recognized and valued endeavor.  Many states, school districts, and certification programs require mentoring.  While the mentor concept is broadly understood, individual interpretations of what it means to mentor vary greatly. For our purposes, the concept of mentoring means to help a person new to a profession to grow in that profession in a positive fashion and to benefit from specifics.  This chapter focuses on the unique aspects of mentoring with and for professionals in visual impairments.

Texas has had a mentor program specifically designed for the unique needs of itinerant VI professionals since 1998.  It is briefly described later in this chapter.

Assumptions

  • There are a multitude of resources on mentoring available to administrators.  However, information which highlights mentoring issues as they relate to VI professionals (or other non-classroom educators) is much less available.
  • Mentoring comes in lots of guises.  Some programs are supervisory in nature; others are not.  Some programs require that the mentor and protégé have common disciplines; others do not. Some require that the mentor be in the same building; some are designed specifically for those professionals who are itinerant.  The variations are endless.
  • Itinerant personnel, regardless of their discipline (including related service personnel), have fundamental differences from classroom teachers.  These differences may include an increased emphasis on consulting, caseload management, and scheduling issues.  These differences must be addressed in a successful mentoring program.
  • Professionals who are itinerant and who participate in a mentor program face and generate unique challenges for the mentor, the protégé, and administrators.
  • For itinerant professionals, it is not uncommon for mentors and protégés to have different “home bases.” This may mean different buildings or even different communities.
  • School districts are rapidly increasing their capacity to access professional development, including using mentoring, using technology, and various distance-learning techniques and resources.
  • Although it may be sometimes necessary, the basic belief is that mentoring with a supervisory perspective can erode trust and is not encouraged.  When supervision is necessary refrain from referring to it as “mentoring.”

What is mentoring?

“One of a mentor’s chief jobs is to help a new teacher close the ‘knowing-doing’ gap by learning to apply knowledge of best practices to daily classroom routines” (Barlin, 2010, para. 7).  For VI professionals, the gap can be a bit more daunting.  It isn’t uncommon for a new VI professional to have students ranging in age from birth to 22 years, or who have mild or severe visual impairments, or who may have mild to severe cognitive, emotional, and/or physical impairments, the functional impact of which will be exacerbated by the visual impairment.  Even more so than in other disciplines, it is nearly impossible for training programs to address the individual needs of new VI professionals.  Mentors are essential for helping close the gap and address the various needs of a new VI professional.

Mentoring can occur using a variety of formats, whether face-to-face, via e-mail, or the phone. The mentor program may be required or voluntary, formal or informal, or any combination.

Where can I find additional mentoring resources?

There are a huge number of resources that a district, cooperative, or program can tap into for information on mentoring or mentor programs.  A search in a professional library or on the Internet will yield multiple sources.  Some of those resources can be found here:

National Center to Inform Policy and Practice in Special Education Professional Development

NCIPP is an Office of Special Education Programs–funded center that aims to improve teacher quality and increase commitment to teaching students with disabilities by

  • informing special education policy and practice on induction and mentoring, and
  • identifying and recommending induction and mentoring implementation strategies.

National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities

A collection of resources specifically targeted for special education programs.  Resources topics include policy, training, and others.

The Mentoring Group

This site has multiple resources specific to mentoring for a variety of professions.  Documents in the Archive section include information about mentoring in general and resources for mentors and mentees.  Topics include information on starting a program, mentoring at a distance, best practices, building relationships, and many more.

Council for Exceptional Children (CEC)

CEC is the largest professional organization with an emphasis on students with disabilities.  They provide resources on mentoring and offer a volunteer mentoring program.  The Pioneers Division has a mentoring project.

Mentoring VI Professionals in Texas

Information about the Texas mentor program can be found at the following link.  The Texas mentor program is designed specifically for new VI professionals who are working with students with visual impairments.

Many state departments of education and/or certification agencies offer resources on mentoring.  Contact your SEA for more information.

Mentoring New Special Education Teachers: A Guide for Mentors and Program Developers. Mary Lou Duffy and James Forgan, Authors.

Provides information, including forms and questionnaires, to help administrators develop and sustain mentor programs for special educators.

Quality Mentoring for Novice Teachers.  Sandra Odell and Leslie Huling, Editors.

Provides comprehensive information about mentoring from acknowledged pioneers in educational mentoring.  The information may be especially useful for those setting up a mentoring program.

Why do VI professionals need a mentor program?

There are many reasons why a VI professional will benefit from access to a mentor.  In some scenarios, a mentor is not only beneficial, but necessary. Reasons to use a mentor include:

  • Itinerant nature of the job
  • Student diversity
  • Changes in VI caseloads
  • Working under a probationary certificate
  • Access to professional development
  • Special issues for O&M specialists

A sense of isolation as the only teacher certified in visual impairments (TVI) or orientation and mobility (O&M) specialist in the district or coop

In addition, VI professionals are specialists in the expanded core curriculum (ECC).  The ECC is a large and diverse field of knowledge that directly relates to students with visual impairments. (More information about the ECC is included in Chapter 11, when available.)  Professional preparation programs do not have the capacity to address all of the areas in the ECC and how they can affect students with a myriad of visual abilities.  A mentor can be invaluable in helping a new VI professional adapt a vision-related concept in the expanded core curriculum to the needs of a specific student.

Itinerant nature of the job

Itinerant personnel, regardless of their discipline have fundamental differences from classroom teachers. These differences must be addressed in a successful mentoring program.

Working with students with visual impairments comes with unique challenges.  It isn’t the same experience as teaching in the classroom.  When asked about their feelings on adjusting to their current itinerant status and their areas of concern, new VI professionals often cite the following:

  • Organizational skills related to not being in a fixed location  
  • Developing consultation skills
  • Being in a job that is more student oriented, and not content- driven
  • Managing the diversity of topics, instructional styles, and communication styles needed within a single day
  • Managing the diversity of resources needed in a timely fashion and identifying sources for those resources
  • Working effectively within the community, not just in the school system
  • Being seen as the “expert” even before they have completed their first year as a VI professional because they are the only VI professional in the district
  • Feeling isolated as a result of working in so many places and not having a peer group
VI mentors and new VI professionals alike report that learning about and managing the itinerant nature of the job is one of their biggest challenges.

Additionally, many VI professionals must either cover great distances, or spend significant amounts of time travelling in congested urban or suburban areas.  VI professionals may work for a single district, be part of a cooperative arrangement and be shared between multiple districts, or work as an independent contractor.

VI professionals must also be able to interact frequently and successfully with parents, other teachers, and professionals serving their students and administrators in numerous buildings. A well-developed set of organizational and people skills are required in order to successfully serve students and meet the demands of the job.  Additionally, knowledge of the community and statewide resources is crucial.

The previously mentioned factors combine to make a job that is unlike any other within a school system, even other low-incidence or itinerant positions.  Having a mentor can help new VI professionals make the adjustment.

Being itinerant equals:

  • Student diversity
  • Changes in caseloads
  • Developments in instructional strategies
  • Access to professional development
  • Working in the home, community and school
  • A sense of isolation

The total of the above is greater than the sum individual parts.  Each factor has an effect on the others.

Student diversity

Students with visual impairments are extremely heterogeneous.  Visual impairments also have a cultural implication, one that may affect expectations by parents and educators. VI professionals work with students with a wide range of cognitive, physical, and visual abilities, as well as a variety of ages, from birth to 21. 

No professional preparation program is able to provide detailed instruction in all pedagogical areas.  There are hundreds of diseases, medications, and syndromes that affect functional vision.  This, in combination with the environment, the functional requirements, and individual personality characteristics, results in thousands of educational implications.  It simply isn’t possible to address all areas in a pre-service program.  The students are just too diverse.

Changes in VI caseloads

VI caseloads are extremely diverse.  The students range in age, visual abilities, additional disabilities, and a whole host of other factors.  A change of just 2 or 3 students can affect the time and resource management of the caseload as a whole, and can have a significant impact on the knowledge, skills, and abilities needed by VI professionals in the district/cooperative arrangements, and on the resources needed.

Although they may visit multiple schools, VI professionals may not be a part of the school community, an important factor for retention. Having a mentor can help build a sense of community for the new VI professional.

A young braille reader may require 10–15 hours per week for instruction and developing and managing materials.  As you can imagine, if one or two braille readers, especially young braille readers, move to a district that hasn’t had a braille reader in 10 years, it will have a major impact on resources, time, and professional expertise needed. Therefore, when VI professionals have a significant change in their caseload, they may benefit from a mentor, as the program is “re-tooled.”

Probationary certification

With the adoption of IDEA 2004, emergency and other temporary permits are no longer available for those who must meet “highly qualified” standards.  [34 CFR 300.18(b)(1)] [20 U.S.C. 1401(10)(B)] Some states still offer probationary-type certificates or licensure to VI teachers who are still working on VI coursework.

Teachers certified in visual impairments (TVIs) and working under a probationary-type certificate are completing legal documents, such as functional vision evaluations or learning media assessments, and making educational recommendations possibly before completing their anatomy class.  These documents have legal and significant programmatic implications.  Having a mentor to turn to for guidance may make all the difference in the world.  Pairing new teachers with a mentor is essential for ensuring quality educational programming for the students and limiting the procedural vulnerability of the district.

Access to professional development

The unique educational needs of students with visual impairment and the low prevalence of the population result in limited access to professional development.  The caseload requirements one year will not be the same the next year.  And the student with the most challenging needs may be the only student with similar needs for 50 miles in any direction.  It just isn’t feasible for districts or even regional centers to offer everything that is needed that year. 

Additionally, professional development will be more effective if it has context and immediate application.  Therefore, districts, mentors, and technical support organizations must provide contextual training on a real-time basis.  Mentors can either provide assistance within the current context or may know other sources for professional expertise.

Sense of isolation

VI professionals typically serve students in multiple schools, but may not be “a member” of any campus community.  VI professionals may drive 100 miles or more in a day and/or spend multiple hours in urban/suburban traffic.  They may see students in six schools spread out over four districts.  A VI teacher or O&M specialist may be the only VI professional employed by small and rural districts, and have no professional peers.

Mentor programs for VI professionals can provide support to those new to the profession to reduce a sense of isolation.  Protégés will have the opportunity to learn how experienced VI teachers and O&M specialists handle the many challenges inherent in their jobs. A sense of community or belonging is consideredimportant for retention (Center for Teaching Quality, 2006, Jones, Young & Frank. 2013).  For the new VI professional, who may already feel like a fish out of water, having a mentor can go a long way to building a sense of professional identity and community.

Special issues for O&M specialists

The majority of O&M specialists approach the field as a second career, entering from many different fields.  Additionally, most O&M training programs are geared to working with adults with visual impairments.  As a result, new O&M specialists may not be familiar with a wide variety of students, school procedures or cultures, or other issues related to working in the community with young people.  Having an O&M mentor familiar with the inner workings of schools and procedures can help the new O&M professional “find their way” within these new areas that their training did not address. Also, working alongside a mentor can serve as a source of observation hours as required by many training programs.

O&M specialists must complete an internship prior to certification.  However, many internship placements are with adults.  Therefore, new O&M specialists may not have had access to students with visual impairments (including babies or those with multiple disabilities) prior to certification. 

If you have someone employed in your district that is seeking O&M certification, please encourage his or her participation in a mentor program, even before certification has been completed.  Exposure to future students will yield long-term benefits.  The future O&M specialist will be more familiar with scenarios such as finding out school policies for traveling off-campus, the working with the families of the students, and will provide an opportunity to develop a contextual understanding of the principles discussed in training.

How does mentoring VI professionals differ from mentoring classroom educators?

Instructional responsibilities for VI professionals are quite different from classroom teachers, even those in special education. 

Itinerant

Many structured formal mentor programs assume a classroom is the base of operations.  For many VI professionals, this is rarely true.  The majority of VI professionals are itinerant.  As a result, they may not be at their office or home base for multiple days, may experience isolation from other educators, and must adjust to a different learning culture in each educational setting or building.  Additionally, they must be skilled at dealing with multiple building principals and special education administrators.  O&M specialists frequently work off-campus, and during non-traditional hours.

Low incidence in conjunction with heterogeneity

Visual impairments are one of the smallest prevalence groups in the district.  As a whole, these students are also extremely diverse.  Students may have rare or unusual syndromes that affect visual functioning.  Additionally, students with the same etiologies, such as cortical visual impairment, may have extremely diverse visual functioning, especially if the student has additional disabilities.  New classroom teachers must learn to function well with the diversity that exists within a typical classroom.  However, VI professionals who are coming to the field from the classroom consistently report that the scope of individual diversity they face in the first year can be daunting.

Limited access to updated VI expertise

Due to the low incidence, most districts employ only one or two VI professionals.  Although a small field, it is constantly changing.  It is also very specialized. Necessary skills and resources will vary by caseload, and change with even small alterations in the caseload.  Examples of just a few rapidly evolving areas affecting the VI field are listed here:

Techniques for teaching students with cortical visual impairments (CVI) are expanding and becoming more widely known. Doctors may or may not specify it in their medical reports.  Often it is VI professionals who translate “neurological” into educational strategies, and those educational strategies will vary greatly from student to student.

New options for assistive technology (AT) for students with visual impairments are fast-paced and continuous. Assistive technology skills are critical for student success and transitioning to the post-secondary environment.  Strategies for using AT with students who have multiple impairments, exploding resources for tablets and modifying existing classroom technologies are just a few examples.

Few VI professionals in a district

+ Wildly diverse students

+ Limited access to professional development

  + Itinerant service delivery =

Need for VI-specific mentor

New travel technologies, such as GPS devices, can assist O&M specialists immensely.  Designs for intersections are also constantly changing the nature of O&M travel in both rural and urban environments.  

A VI professional may not have a student with certain needs, such as braille, for several years.  Then when the caseload changes, the VI professional may be out-of-date with his or her skills, affecting the student’s annual progress.

Limited access to local professional development and/or knowing where to look for information

Even with the rapid increases in just-in-time professional resources through the Internet, VI professionals may not be able to find the information they need.  Access may also be limited because the protégé may not even know where to look.  Then, once found, she or he may have trouble adapting the information to the specific situation.  A mentor can help the TVI or O&M specialist be more efficient as she or he expands his or her or his skills.

Who are the best candidates for having a VI mentor?

Not unlike many new educators, new VI professionals may not know what they don’t know and what they need to know first.  However, what is different is that they may not have anyone in the district to whom they can turn for professional information.  As a result, as they mature professionally, their skills and resources may be limited.

Novice professionals or those holding a probationary certificate

A novice VI professional may need the most mentoring, especially if this is her or his first teaching assignment, or if she or he is not fully certified.  The novice professional may benefit from guidance for instructional issues and VI-specific issues. 

If the VI professional has never worked in education, it may be advisable to split the mentoring duties between basic instructional/school-procedural issues and VI-specific issues. The VI mentor may not be in the same building, or even the same city as your new VI professional.  In these cases, it may be possible to provide the novice with a “procedural mentor,” someone to whom she or he can turn for non–VI-procedural issues in the district, such as how or when various types of paperwork gets processed or how to access general educational resources.  The VI mentor can advise on the vision-specific mentoring issues.  These may include consultation skills, identifying VI resources in a timely manner, and/or how to customize functional vision evaluations to meet the needs of a specific child.

New employees or caseload changes for experienced VI professionals

Occasionally, an experienced VI professional has a significant change in his or her caseload or job and expertise is required that is either rusty or absent.  In these cases, mentoring can be extremely valuable.  Common scenarios when a mentor can be beneficial include:

  • significant changes in student characteristics, such as new students who are deafblind, or when an O&M specialist has an increase in the number of young students, students with multiple impairments or are ‘pre-mobile,’
  • a change in the ages of the students, such as when a VI professional’s caseload makes a sudden shift from mostly middle and secondary students to predominantly very young children and the reverse, and/or
  • an experienced VI professional from another state moves into the district, since requirements and practices can vary from state to state

Special issues for O&M specialists

New VI professionals are candidates for a mentor. 

So are experienced VI professionals who have had a change in their caseload.

O&M specialists are certified to work with students/clients of all ages, not just children.  Many professional preparation programs are funded through adult-service organizations or agencies, such as the Veteran Affairs office.  Many O&M specialists (including those with years of experience) may have had limited exposure to working with students who are school age, with infants, or those clients who have additional disabilities.  These specialists will benefit from access to a mentor to assist them in adjusting to new students and new procedural responsibilities..

Who can be a mentor?

General personal qualifications include the following:

  • Good listening and communication skills
  • A solid understanding of professional knowledge
  • High standards for self and others
  • A desire for continued professional growth
  • An ability to nurture the growth of others

Professional qualifications include:

  • Full certification in the professional discipline being mentored
  • A minimum of 4 years of experience providing services to students with visual impairments.  However, 5 years is strongly encouraged.

How will a protégé benefit from having a mentor?

Just as vision takes us out of our bodies and into the world, participating in a mentor program takes us out of our past and into our future.  Working as a VI professional, often the only one in a district or coop, having access to a mentor can provide many advantages, a few of which follow. The protégé is able to:

Quickly learning about the culture of a campus and consulting skills are critical for new VI professionals.  Mentors can make it easier and help build strong relationships within a campus.

  • build opportunities to recognize success. It is often a challenge to recognize growth without someone to help reflect on changes and professional growth.  Mentors help build confidence.
  • gain experience in networking.  VI is a small field.  The students are very heterogeneous and resources are very scattered.  Establishing a network is key building block to being able to know about  find a resource just when you need it.  Additionally, networking builds a sense of community, which will enhance retention and reduce isolation.
  • form expectations about being a VI professional.  Working with students with visual impairments is very different from being a classroom teacher, even a special educator.  A mentor can help new professionals understand how to incorporate the expanded core curriculum into the existing curriculum, manage the itinerant aspects of the caseload, work with families of the student, and manage various other aspects of the job.
  • set priorities and balance responsibilities as they build consulting skills.Working in so many divergent environments can be daunting for those who have been in the classroom or a single building.  A mentor will help the protégé establish priorities, understand the intricacies of working in multiple school buildings, and develop those skills necessary for successful consultations.

Ganser (1996) identified the following roles of and for mentors and mentoring:

  • Offering support and encouragement
  • Meeting with the protégé on regular occasions
  • Informing the protégé about the school and its culture
  • Providing information about official policies and procedures
  • Assisting with strategies for classroom management
  • Helping with teaching skills

Other VI-specific benefits include:

  • Helping the protégé devise strategies to learn about individual school and community cultures (which will vary from school to school and organization to organization)
  • Providing sources for VI-related professional development such as workshops, conferences, Web sites, and professional publications in a timely manner
  • Performing informal observations of the protégé working with students during the first year of employment for the purpose of providing supportive feedback
  • Facilitating networking opportunities with other professionals in the field of visual impairment

How do experienced VI professionals benefit from being a mentor?

Mentors report that participation “reigniting their own passion for teaching.” (Barlin, 2010, para. 17). When speaking about mentoring pre-service teachers Fawns-Justeson states:

To me the real purpose of our work is to mentor our students, to help them along their path to becoming thoughtful, engaged, self-aware citizens who are fully able to make choices that reflect their most cherished values; choices that lead them to a meaningful and satisfying life, however they define it. (Fawns-Justeson, 2012, p. 126)

This same dynamic applies to new VI professionals, even those who have years of experience in the classroom.  New VI professionals report that even with many years of experience, going from a classroom environment to an itinerant service delivery model is a dramatic shift.  Having a mentor can be a profoundly positive experience.

Participation in a mentor program can reignite passions for teaching
(Barlin, 2010).

The benefits for mentors are many.  A partial listing follows. 

  • Unique, focused training to learn how to support a protégé’s professional growth, with additional/advanced training available for the experienced mentor 
  • Opportunities for networking offered at conferences, workshops, and other professionals meetings 
  • Recognition of time, travel, and expenses, with the possibility of a small stipend available
  • A unique opportunity:
    • for professional development,
    • for inclusion in professional portfolios like those needed for the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards certification (NBPTS),
    • for certification renewal for TVIs and O&M specialists, and
    • a recognized activity for performance evaluations.
  • An excellent contribution to the field by helping to ensure the continued quality of VI teachers and O&M specialists
  • A profound sense of personal satisfaction and professional renewal
  • Opportunities for new bonds and connections with professionals and bringing new knowledge, skills, and resources to the community
  • An opportunity to informally determine if a protégé will be a good addition to an existing program in the future

What support does a school district need to provide to mentors and protégés?

Mentoring requires specific skills and abilities.  According to Odell &Huling (2004) and others, mentors must be able to recognize various levels of development and types of need in protégés.

Once a mentor has been assigned to a protégé, regular contact between the mentor and protégé is critical to fostering a supportive relationship.  Contact can be made in a variety of ways (phone, e-mail, video-conferencing, including Skype or similar, face-to-face visits), and will be effective as long as the contact is ongoing and consistent during the duration of the relationship.

Ideally, the mentor program includes financial support for a limited number of phone calls and travel expenses for on-site visits.  The Texas VI mentor program provides a small annual stipend to mentors who have met the terms of the contract.

Regular contact between the mentor and protégé is critical to fostering a supportive relationship.  Contact can be made via phone, e-mail, video-conferencing (Skype or similar), and face-to-face visits.

Observing other professionals on the job is particularly effective.  Such observations may require “release time.” If the mentor and protégé are not in the same district, if may be possible for those observational days to be scheduled when one district has a professional development day, especially if the district does not have VI-related workshops available.

Mentoring is a recognized activity for many certifying organizations and agencies, and is also recognized in many teacher evaluation processes.  The time spent mentoring can provide for professional growth and meet criteria for performance evaluations.  Using professional development days also eliminates the problem of not providing scheduled services for VI students on regular school days. 

What does the Texas VI mentor program look like?

Texas has had a mentoring system for VI professionals since 1998.  At any given time, Texas has close to 300 mentors with expertise in visual impairments.  The basic scaffold of the Texas VI mentor program is summarized in the following list.

  1. A staff person is selected to act as statewide mentor coordinator.  This position is funded as part of the statewide coordinated professional preparation program in visual impairments. 
  2. The mentor coordinator gets the names of new students from universities or other training programs.
  3. The mentor coordinator consults with local and regional VI professionals and then matches mentors and protégés when the new protégés have a caseload or when they start their internship.
  4. Mentors must meet certain criteria, which is listed on the TSBVI website.  If they qualify, they must submit an application packet.  The packet includes letters of support from their administrator, regional consultant in visual impairments, and a co-worker.
  5. The mentors attend training tailored specifically to mentoring VI professionals.  Usually this is before they are matched with their protégé, but in certain conditions it may be otherwise.  The training is a blend of online training, which addresses general mentoring issues, and face-to-face training that addresses vision-specific issues. 
  6. When a mentor isn’t available in a particular region, a statewide mentor is assigned.  Statewide mentors work under a special contractual arrangement with Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired.
  7. Protégés (and mentors) attend Mentor Centers at the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired and the itinerant program at the Austin Independent School District to observe experienced VI professionals working with students and to meet with other new VI professionals.
  8. Mentors submit contact logs twice a year.

Working in teams and communicating via phone, e-mail, Skype, or face-to-face, the pair completes a set of activities together.  The activities address domains in the expanded core curriculum and are coordinated with the Professional Development Log and the Resources for the Expanded Core Curriculum (RECC) on the TSBVI website.  You can find more information about the mentor program, including Mentor Activity Checklists, on the TSBVI website (http://www.tsbvi.edu/mentor-program/3575-informationmentors). 

A mentor is available to protégés during their internship/practicum period and for the academic year following the completion of their training. In acknowledgement of their efforts and costs, mentors are paid a small stipend.

Information to assist you setting up a VI mentor program is in the next section of this chapter.   

What tools or resources are available to help set up a mentor system?

It is always easier to review documents developed by others and modify them for your district’s needs.  The documents below may either meet your needs or assist you in developing your own documents.

Mentor Resources from TSBVI Web site

TSBVI has developed various documents to help with the mentor program.  Some of the most useful resources are listed below.  Documents are available for individual downloading or as an entire set. It is assumed that new users will modify the documents to meet their individual needs.

Mentor Program home page

Provides a brief overview plus links to other documents and resources.

Information for Mentors

This is a short summary of the mentor program.  It includes an overview of the mentor program, qualifications, the application process, activities, time commitments, and statewide support options.

Information for Protégés

This is a short summary of the program for protégés.  It includes an overview of the mentor program, benefits, activities, time commitments, and statewide support options.

Mentor application packet

Training agenda

A sample agenda of the training provided by TSBVI.

Mentor activity list for VI teachers

This is the list of required and recommended activities that mentors and protégées complete. It is generally organized along the lines of the expanded core curriculum.  Some programs may opt to only use the Mentor Contact Log.

Mentor activity list for O&M

This is the list of required and recommended activities that mentors and protégées complete. It is generally organized along the lines of the expanded core curriculum. Some programs may opt to only use the Mentor Contact Log.

Contact logs

Mentors record their interactions with protégés on this log.  It is turned in at the end of the academic year.  It documents not only mentor activity, but is also used for certification renewal.  This document may be supplemental or used in place of the Mentor Activity Lists.

How can we set up a VI mentoring system?

Making a mentor program can be more complicated than it needs to be.  Essentially, mentoring is about asking questions; exploring thoughts, beliefs, and practices; and helping the protégé (and mentor) to move to the next level of skill. Mentoring is about making connections for problem solving and inspiration. However some level of organization is necessary if a program is to be successful and sustained.

To set up a mentor program, various parameters will need to be determined.  The questions should include the following domains:

  • Formal or informal
  • Supervisory or collegial
  • Discipline-specific or general

In addition, you will want to determine if your mentor program will be limited to a local program or include a broader region.

Although the domains above are presented as opposites, please think about them as points in a constellation of options. Remember that there are endless combinations that can be formed.  Following are a review of options and a sample of advantages and disadvantages for each one.

 

SystemAdvantagesDisadvantages

Formal

(Mentor program is required by the district(s), the training program, or other entity. Program may or may not be supervisory in nature.)

  • Mentor and protégé complete a specific set of activities.
  • Resources are allocated for the program’s support.
  • Specific topics will be addressed.
  • Administrative support will be available.
  • Participation is mandated.
  • Mentor training and other supports are available.
  • Administrator may have fiscal support or other resources for ensuring successful participation.

 

  • Resources are needed for program, including both time and funds.
  • If only in-district mentors are used, mentor may not have expertise in vision or itinerant issues.
  • Participation is mandated.
  • Mandatory activities may or may not reflect:
    • the contextual needs of the protégé, or
    • the highest priority activities and knowledge areas for the protégé.

Informal

(Mentor and protégé agree to work with each other, without support from outside sources.) 

  • Activities are specific to the needs of the protégé.
  • Participation is voluntary.
  • Mentor will have expertise in visual impairments.
  • Limited funds may be necessary.
  • Is more likely to be collegial rather than supervisory in nature.
  • Activities may not have any structure or sense of progression.
  • Participation is voluntary.
  • The “needs and skills” constellation between the mentor and protégé may not match.
  • If schedules or other responsibilities get hectic, mentoring activities may get pushed aside, especially if the mentor and protégé are in different buildings, communities, or otherwise geographically separated.
  • Mentor may pass along poor habits/skills.  This can be of particular concern, as many supervisors are unable to evaluate vision-specific skills and practices.

Supervisory

(Reports are turned into a supervisor, university faculty, or other authority figure.  Supervisor may or may not be mentor.)

  • Increases the likelihood that protégé will address specific skill areas and be given the opportunity for improvement.
  • Supervisors (who are not likely to be mentors) will be informed of professional progress.
  • Time needed by mentor and protégé to complete necessary activities are built into the schedule.
  • Necessary resources are available.
  • Likelihood is greater that the mentor and protégé are in the same district and have access to each other.
  • Since various reports are likely to be required, areas of strength and weakness in either mentor or protégé are likely to be identified for future professional development activities.
  • Protégé may feel inhibited in sharing areas of concerns and shortcomings.
  • The development of a trusting relationship, that is so essential in a mentor program, could be inhibited.
  • Additional stress to a new VI professional could result.
  • If the mentor doesn’t have sufficient time to prepare for mentoring and develop necessary reports, he/she may transfer frustration to protégé or discontinue being a mentor.
  • Required activities may require additional duties from mentors, which may have a fiscal impact on the district.

 

Collegial

(Progress and domains addressed may or may not be noted.  The results stay between the mentoring team.)

  • Format can build trust between colleagues, which may reduce the sense of isolation sometimes experienced by VI professionals.  Professional isolation has been cited as a concern for retention.
  • Activities can be customized to meet the specific needs of the protégé without a structure imposed on the team.
  • Electronic communication may make this type of mentoring feasible for those working in different locations.

 

  • Mentor and protégé may be in different districts, and therefore may have difficulty meeting or observing each other.
  • No or limited control over what is addressed between mentor and protégé.
  • No information about performance is available.
  • Mentor could be passing on “bad habits” without others knowing it.
  • May have limited impact on behavioral changes.

General mentor (Mentor is available, is not trained as a VI professional.)

  • A mentor may be more readily available from an existing induction program.
  • Mentor may be readily available in “base” location.
  • Training requirements may be more readily available via multiple venues including commercial and educational resources.
  • Mentor will be able to provide information, advice, and support on school culture, local practices, and procedural issues.
  • If the VI professional is new to education, the mentor is able to assist in adjustment to working in education.

 

  • Mentor will not be able to provide necessary guidance or resources for vision-specific domains.
  • Mentor may not have experience functioning as an itinerant educator.
  • Mentor may have highly developed skills, but ones that are less useful to VI professionals.  Classroom management is an example of such a skill.
  • Mentor may or may not be able to offer advice and support on managing an itinerant caseload.
  • Mentor may or may not be able to offer advice and support on consultation skills, an often-cited need for new professionals or in disability-specific domains.

Discipline-specific (Mentor is trained as a VI professional and matched with a VI protégé.)

  • Mentor will be knowledgeable about vision-specific resources and functioning as an itinerant educator.
  • Mentor may be seen as a “kindred spirit” and help to reduce a sense of isolation and overwhelming responsibility
  • Mentoring a protégé is an excellent method for providing a sense of professional “renewal” to experienced VI professionals, reminding them why they chose the profession
  • Mentoring can provide them with new or more current information.
  • Mentor may be able to provide lots of information about school or building culture, resources, and/or practices, and other informal networks.  If in different districts, may be able to provide methods to tap into informal networks.
  • “Feeling valued” is an important component of a solid retention program.  Mentoring can publically verify that the mentor is highly skilled and valued.
  • Mentor may be in a different building or district.
  • If the team members are in different locals,
    • the protégé’s administrator has limited ability to ensure that the mentor is instilling good professional skills and/or ensuring adequate access to the mentor or release time needed for shadowing, and
    • mentor may not be able to provide information about school or building culture, resources, and/or practices typical in that district or building.
  • If the VI mentor and protégé are not certified in the same discipline (e.g., VI teacher with O&M specialists), there may be limited understanding of critical issues that each faces when coming from different disciplines.

 

Once you have the basic framework determined, the next step is to determine how you will recruit, train, and sustain mentors, and how to match your desired mentors with protégés. 

Recruiting mentors

Potential mentors must first meet the criteria for participation, and should have

  • a strong track record for quality VI services,
  • good communication and organizational skills,
  • a supportive supervisor, and
  • an interest in mentoring.

In Texas, mentors must have

  • 4 years of experience as a VI teacher or O&M specialist, and
  • letters of support from their supervisor, co-worker, and a VI specialist at their education service center.

The principles employed in effective and efficient recruitment of mentors is similar to recruiting new VI professionals.  Garringer’s Effective mentor recruitment: Getting organized, getting results is one helpful resource. (Garringer, 2006)  Chapter 5: Recruiting of this Toolbox also has specific tips.  Basic principles include:

  • Knowing your target population and what influences them
  • Recognizing that mentors feel validated and respond best to a direct appeal (however, don’t forget basic awareness recruiting)

Tapping into the community of VI professionals.  Leverage those values that are broadly held within the community.  This will include VI professionals in your district, community, neighboring community, or region.  Another source for VI professionals is your state’s chapter for VI professionals.  The national office for the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (AER) will have information about your state (www.aerbvi.org).  Other VI professionals can be important sources of information and have knowledge of how to contact various other VI professionals.  Specific strategies may include sharing information with the professional communities, using tools such as VI-specific listservs, professional organizations, and workshops, just to name a few.

Developing your message to appeal to VI professionals.  For example, emphasize how mentoring will:

  • help their professional development
  • reduce a sense of isolation
  • help them feel supported as a mentor

Training mentors

There are many effective training methods and resources for mentors.  VI mentors should be trained in both the basics of mentoring and VI-specific aspects.  The explicit purpose of training is to establish a program norm and to provide mentors with the tools and resources needed to work with their protégés.   

The TSBVI Web site has an on-demand training program for basics in mentoring.  This program was created based on the training developed and delivered by Leslie Huling, Ph.D., a noted expert in educational mentoring.  You can find the information at:

This course does not address vision-specific aspects of training.  TSBVI supplements this training with an additional 1.5 days of face-to-face training.  During this time, the participants review best practices in the field of visual impairments, and use scenarios to practice the principles described during the more-general training.  This kind of VI-specific application is critical to producing successful mentors.

Funding and/or sustaining mentor programs

Sustainability refers to maintaining both the financial and human resources necessary for a successful and robust program.  A constellation of funding, recruiting, and administrative strategies are necessary.  As such, each program will face unique circumstances.  Sources for funding can be sought from an array of areas, including local, state, and federal governments, as well as private foundations and corporations.  The Mentor Resource Center from the U.S. Department of Education may provide insight and guidance (www.edmentoring.org/publications.html).

Texas has a full time coordinator.  However Texas is a big state.  Someone who will coordinate the program is important for sustainability.  However, a district or coop will not need to make it a full time job. 

The Texas VI mentor program is constantly working to improve and sustain the program.  Each year, mentors submit a contact log sheet that identifies the types of issues addressed. The mentor coordinator makes a mid-year contact with mentors and protégés to ask about how they are progressing and to inquire if there are any problem areas. Periodically, the program is evaluated and modifications are made.  Regional VI specialists are regularly consulted on various subjects related to mentoring.   Distance-learning networks are used to present topics of interest to mentors and to refresh mentorship skills.

What factors do I need to consider when matching mentors and protégés?

Matching is a keystone factor to any program.  Making appropriate and timely matches can make or break a program.  In addition to programmatic issues, several factors must be considered when matching VI professionals.

A thorough assessment is strongly recommended when matching mentors and protégés.  For VI professionals, such an evaluation should include:

  • reflecting on the personalities involved
  • working styles
  • professional discipline (VI, O&M, or dually certified)
  • distance between team members
  • an analysis of the caseload of both members of the team, including consideration of previous experiences for the mentor.  For example, has the mentor:
    • worked with babies? 
    • taught braille to a new reader?
    • introduced optical devices?

A wide diversity in previous experiences may not be an indication of a problematic match, but it may potentially indicate that additional professional development, resources, or supervision is needed for the mentor.

A thorough check of each party in the duo when matched for a program is one important way to manage risk in the mentorship relationship. Another way is to establish a routine of regular check-ins and feedback from the pair.

Once a match has been made, both members will benefit from regular check-ins, supervision, and evaluation. While the mentor–protégé relationship may not be supervisory in nature, there still should be oversight of the mentors—volunteer or paid—to ensure that program guidelines are being met.  These oversight activities need not be onerous, but they should be regular and predictable.

From time to time it will be necessary to rematch mentors. In those cases, program coordinators should have a clear understanding of how to handle such situations. A program should already have procedures in place when these situations arise. For example, when either party in the pair requests a rematch, will the other party have access to the reasons for the request, or will that be kept confidential?  Knowledge of the procedures should be available from the start of the program.

For more information on managing risk after the match has been made, visit the Mentoring Resource Center at the U.S. Department of Education (http://www.edmentoring.org/publications.html).

Other helpful resources

The Internet and libraries are full of resources.  Here is a brief list of succinct information.

Getting a mentor program off the ground

An excellent overview of issues to consider when starting a mentor program.

Six reasons to be a mentor.

A short document that succinctly and persuasively identifies reasons to participate in mentor program.

Helping your mentees to develop capabilities - Part 1
Helping your mentees to develop capabilities - Part 2

A roadmap to identifying skills to develop and strategies for achieving their goals.

Effective Mentoring Relationships: The Mentee’s Role - Part 1
Effective Mentoring Relationships: The Mentee’s Role - Part 2

Relationships are the key to effective mentoring.  These short articles can help partners get off to a healthy start.

Mentor programs can happen for whole districts, cooperatives, or a single building or program.  It need not be daunting.  With a bit forethought and a few available resources, you can take a big step to ensure quality services from VI professionals and that those VI professionals will remain in your district.

References

Barlin, D. (2010).  Better mentoring, better teachers: Three factors that help ensure successful programs.  Education Week, March 23, 2010.  Retrieved from: http://www.edweek.org/archive/ew/articles/2010/03/23/27barlin.html

Benefits to the Mentors and Mentees National Academy of Engineering.  Retrieved from: http://www.nae.edu/File.aspx?id=14491 

Borreen, J., & Miday, D., (2000).  Breaking through the isolation: mentoring beginning teachers. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, Vol. 44, 152-163.

Borbely, C., (2006).  Making the connection: Using your evaluation for program improvement and sustainability: Elyria School District mentoring program.  Mentoring Resource Center  www.edmentoring.org/pubs/factsheet11.pdf

Center for Teaching Quality. (2006). Teacher working conditions are student learning conditions: A report on the 2006 North Carolina teacher working conditions survey.  Retrieved from.  http://www.teachingquality.org/pdfs/twcnc2006.pdf  

Fagan, M., & Glen, W. (1982). Mentoring among teachers. Journal of Educational Research, 76, 113-118

Fawn-Justeson, R. (2012). Teaching as relationship: Opportunities to mentor our students. NEA Higher Education Journal, Fall 2012Vol/Issue number here, 126.

Ganser, T. (1996). What do mentors say about mentoring? Journal of Staff Development. 17, 36–39. 

Garringer, M. (2006). Effective mentor recruitment: Getting organized, getting results. Mentoring Resource Center, U.S. Department of Education,  Retrieved from: http://educationnorthwest.org/webfm_send/172

Odell, S., & Huling, L. (Eds.) (2004). Quality mentoring for novice teachers. Lanham, MD: R&L Education. 

Jones, N., Young, P., & Frank, K., (2013).  The role of school-based colleagues in shaping the commitment of novice special and general education teachers. Exceptional Children, 79. 365-383.

Edited by KC Dignan, PhD

Introduction

Teachers certified in visual impairments (TVIs), certified orientation and mobility specialists (COMS), and paraprofessionals, be they itinerant or not, work with a broad range of students and varied settings—classroom, home, and community settings. Because of this and the disability-specific pedagogy, the skills required of VI professionals and paraprofessionals are expansive and require several years of teaching to develop. Deafblind interveners, for example, are an emerging category of paraprofessional; many applicants will not have the deafblind-specific skills necessary and will require training. Seldom will an applicant walk in the door with the complete array of experiences needed to match the needs in your district. A thorough interview process will help you get a better grasp of the range of skills present in the candidate and identify his or her potential professional development needs.

This chapter includes interview information for the following positions:

  • VI teachers (TVIs)
  • O&M specialists

Assumptions

  • The interview questions are sample questions. There are many other questions that could and should be included in the interview process.
  • No one will use all of these questions. The hiring team will select questions that reflect the district’s student populations and professional needs.
  • The responses given are a guideline for administrators or others in evaluating the responses, and should not be considered to be the only acceptable responses.
  • Administrators will consult with the VI personnel at their education service center, residential school, or elsewhere with other experts in visual impairments regarding skills needed for candidates.
  • The administrator is ready to respond to questions from the candidate about:
    • basic support requirements for the position, including:
      • office space and storage of materials, including availability of space on individual campuses
      • mileage reimbursement for travel or provision of a car
      • ready access to a computer, including access to the internet
    • instructional materials budget
    • opportunities for professional development (including disability-specific training)
    • student/teacher ratio and service configurations that reflect the district’s or co-op’s desire to provide quality instructional service to students with visual impairments
    • availability of on-the-job support for new VI teachers and O&M professionals from existing district staff, VI personnel in education service centers, and outreach programs at the state’s residential school for the blind and visually impaired, and/or other options

How to use the interview questions

The sample interview questions are intended to provide guidelines on questions to ask and a framework for desired responses.

Prior to scheduling the interview, you will want to determine the amount of experience the candidate has so that you can select the appropriate interview tool. Candidates usually fall into one of the experience categories listed below:

  • New graduate of a VI or O&M program with no teaching experience in any area
  • VI professional with experience in a classroom, such as a VI-specific resource room (this is different than a more common special education resource room, and usually only available in large urban programs)
  • O&M specialist from a residential or an adult-oriented rehabilitation facility
  • Experienced teacher from another discipline (such as math or special education), with little or no VI experience. This candidate may still be in a training program
  • VI teacher with experience from a residential setting
  • Experienced VI professional from another district or state

Further, the following should be considered when reviewing the questions and responses:

  • The interview questions are general guidelines, and are by no means cast in stone
  • You will be making your own decisions about how this candidate communicates, and whether or not the candidate meets existing staff and district needs
  • No order or priority is implied in the listing of the questions

A note about the interviewing process

It can be a challenge to have a robust pool of candidates for VI-related positions. A common temptation for administrators is to allow their concern about the limited number of VI candidates to drive their hiring decisions. Using effective and proven recruitment techniques in the search for a highly qualified candidate is important.

Administrators have experience hiring classroom teachers. However, itinerant specialists operate with little supervision, and must function very differently. Including a VI professional or other itinerant professional on the interview panel is strongly encouraged.

Remember that the very nature of any itinerant position makes it a difficult one to monitor. Therefore, the professional and ethical attributes of your future VI professionals are very important, possibly even more than when hiring classroom staff. Chapter 5: Recruiting VI Professionals and Chapter 7: Hiring Options identify important techniques for attracting competent VI professionals, including “growing your own” staff. These techniques may prove critical to the success of your VI program.

Administrators are encouraged to “get another set of ears” to assist them in evaluating the candidates, the quality of the responses, and determining the level and types of professional development necessary upon hiring a new VI professional. Consider inviting a VI professional from an education service center, or other center with VI expertise, to join the interview team. You might also consider inviting the outgoing VI teacher or existing future VI co-workers. If none of these are available, consider asking related service personnel (PT, OT, Speech Therapist), especially those who are itinerant, to assist in the interview process. These positions work closely with VI teachers and O&M specialists, and may be able to provide valuable insights.

Request documents in advance

A writing sample

The official reports that VI professionals write are very important to the provision of quality services. Additionally, these documents may have legal implications. Consider requesting a sample report for review. This will let you know if or what type of additional professional development your candidates will need to meet your district’s standards. If you decide to request a sample report from the VI professional, you will need to do so in advance. Please remember to reinforce the need to remove all personal data from the report.

University transcripts for VI certification

Some states allow future VI teachers to take the exam(s) prior to completing their coursework. Some VI teachers then complete the coursework, while some do not; they assume that if they can pass the exam(s) they have all the skills they need. That is almost never the case. Those VI teachers (TVIs) may be fine in their current setting. However, when their caseload changes, or when they change settings, services provided may be inadequate and legal requirements may be unfulfilled. Programs may find themselves with a serious professional development need for which they were unprepared.

A copy of the O&M certificate

States typically review certifications for teachers. However, these reviews usually don’t extend to O&M specialists. Additionally, most educators are familiar with those certifying organizations that verify credentials for educators, physical therapists, speech and occupational therapists. Information about the organizations that certify O&M specialists is less well known. Given that O&M specialists are responsible for the safety of students when they are on campus and out in public, it behooves the interviewer to verify that the certification is current.

Teachers certified in visual impairments (TVI)

This tool can be used with applicants who:

  1. have recently graduated from college with a VI certificate;
  2. are certified in other areas and have added a VI certificate, but have no experience teaching students with visual impairments;
  3. have been working as a VI teacher in a residential program; and/or
  4. have been working as an itinerant VI teacher.

Selection of specific questions should reflect your needs and the candidate’s situation.

Many of the questions presented in the interview tools are fairly open ended, with no set right or wrong response. They are designed to help you get a clearer picture of the person you are interviewing. Those questions whose answers should reflect recommended practices are identified below. The strongest candidates are likely to refer to those practices in their responses.

The attached form should help you identify the questions you intend to ask and aid in your review of possible responses.

VI Teachers—All Candidates

These questions are in no specific order. It is assumed that the interviewing team will select and order the questions according to their needs. However, the questions are roughly grouped into basic topical sections. Additionally, it is assumed that the interview team will preface any interview with introductory remarks.

QuestionsNotes/Possible Responses

What questions do you have about the responsibilities listed in our job description?

 
With what ages and in what settings have you worked? Please include your experience with and without students with visual impairments.  

How do you organize your work environment?

 
Tell me what you know about how to determine eligibility for a student with a visual impairment?

The applicant should mention the need for

  • a medical eye report that indicates a significant vision loss after correction,
  • a functional vision evaluation (if required by your state),
  • learning media assessment (if required by your state), and/ or
  • other evaluations that indicate a need for special services.

Even if your state does not require an official functional vision evaluation or learning media assessment, the candidate should indicate an understanding that such information is invaluable to VI teachers and their educational partners, including parents. It provides information about how the student functions and which literacy medium is most efficient. You may want to follow up with questions that address visual functionality.

Additional “credit” may be considered if the candidate indicates the critical use of those tools as important to communications among all professionals; that all instructional team members should be able to build their instructional plans based on data included in the report. The VI evaluations should be seen as a vital tool, not just an exercise to meet state and/or federal requirements. Rather, the reports should clearly demonstrate a direct link to instruction by all educators.

What are some of the major resources you will be using, or have used, in the education of students with visual impairments?

The applicant should mention a blend of recent and classical resources. Look for mention of the following:
  • Professional journals, such as Journal of Visual Impairments and Blindness (JVIB), Insight: Research and Practice in Visual Impairments and Blindness, The candidate may also refer to either as “the AERBVI journal” or “AER journal.”)
  • Comprehensive Internet sites, such as the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (www.TSBVI.edu) or the Perkins School for the Blind (www.perkins.org)
  • Resources for the Expanded Core Curriculum (RECC), on the TSBVI Web site (www.TSBVI.edu/recc.htm)
  • Publications from the TSBVI Curriculum and Publications, such as
    • Evals
    • Independent Living
    • Teaching Students with Visual and Multiple Impairments (Smith)
    • Calendars (Blaha)
    • Making an Evaluation Meaningful (Lofton)
    • Empowered   (Cleveland, et. al)
    • Braille Fundamentals (Cleveland , et. al)
  • Foundations of Education (Koenig and Holbrook, American Foundation for the Blind–www.afb.org)
  • Focused on Social Skills (Sacks & Wolffe, American Foundation for the Blind–www.afb.org)
  • Itinerant Teaching: Tricks of the Trade for Teachers of Students with Visual Impairments, Second Edition(Olmstead, American Foundation for the Blind–www.afb.org)
  • Understanding Braille Literacy (Wormsley, American Foundation for the Blind–www.afb.org)
  • Various resources for young students or those with multiple disabilities by Lilli Nielsen, such as The Little Room or Active Learning, or any of the following books:
    • Space and Self
    • Are You Blind?
    • The Comprehending Hand
    • Early Learning: Step by Step
  • Classroom Collaboration by Laurel Hudson, (Perkins School for the Blind)
  • Remarkable Conversations: A Guide to Developing Meaningful Communication with Children and Young Adults Who Are Deafblind, by Barbara Miles and Marianne Riggio, (Perkins School for the Blind)

Various textbooks, such as those published by the American Foundation for the Blind or the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired.

(New VI teachers)

What was your final grade in braille proficiency? or

(Experienced VI teachers)

How do you rate your braille proficiency?

Appropriate responses to this question will vary, as will the value of those responses. If the teacher has not had a student who reads braille, then the braille skills may be a bit “rusty.” If she/he has had a braillist in the previous district, then the braille-production skills may be limited but the braille-reading skills may be good.

Evaluating the result of this question will depend on the braille needs of the students in this district, and whether there is a braillist in the district. If the district currently doesn’t have a braille reader, or this VI teacher won’t be assigned one, restricted abilities may not be a critical issue. If the abilities are rusty and the district has braille-reading students and no braillist, then the VI teacher will need to describe how she/he will bring the skills up to speed.

Tell me about a time you had a disagreement with someone at work and how it was resolved.

VI teachers are very dependent on their consultation skills and collaborative skills in working with other team members. Also, as itinerant professionals, they are more autonomous than most educators. It is important that your VI teachers are able to develop relationships and resolve difficulties that are sure to arise.

What role do you feel parents play in working with the educational team?
  • Sharing their expertise on their own children
  • Setting priorities for IEP/IFSP development
  • Sharing assessment information
  • Supporting instruction
What strategies have you used for communicating with parents about their child?
  • Notebooks
  • Phone calls
  • Home visits
  • School observations and/or meetings
  • Support groups and/or workshops
  • Electronic communications, such as e-mail, discussion boards, etc.
  • Active member of the team

Do you have an area of special interest or expertise (such as assistive technology, infants and toddlers, or braille)?

It is fairly common for VI professionals to develop levels of expertise in specific areas, such as technology, young children, or independent living skills. This expertise does not, nor should not, excuse the candidate from all of the duties and responsibilities required of the position.   However, it may provide the district with insight on the skills and abilities of the candidate.

If the candidate has expertise in a specific area, his/her experiences and resources may reflect that expertise. For example, if asked about valuable resources, a candidate with expertise in early childhood may be more likely to mention references such as the INSITE checklist. VI teachers who’ve worked primarily with students transitioning out of public schools may be more likely to mention a job training resource.

What is your understanding of the role of an itinerant teacher for academically oriented students who are blind or have low vision?

For blind students and students with low vision:

  • Observe student in several settings to determine VI-related needs, including home, school, and community
  • Administer informal diagnostic evaluations to determine functioning levels; document findings and share them with others
  • Provide modifications to the curriculum, including coordinating modification of instructional materials
  • Provide direct instruction in the expanded core curriculum (ECC) domains
  • Provide adapted materials and technology, and training for their use
  • Consult with teachers, parents, and related service personnel
  • Write progress reports and keep contact logs regarding student progress

(Note: It is not the function of a VI teacher to tutor the student in the core curricular areas.)

What is your understanding of the role of an itinerant teacher for students with moderate to severe multiple impairments, including deafblindness?

For students with moderate to severe multiple impairments, including deafblindness:

  • Work with educational team members to perform evaluation(s)
  • Observe the student in a variety of situations, working with a variety of professionals, while recording data from the observations
  • Administer informal diagnostic evaluations to determine functioning levels; document findings and share them with others
  • Make recommendations regarding visual needs to all personnel and family
  • Provide accommodations/modifications to the curriculum, including coordinating modification of instructional materials
  • Work with educational team members to design meaningful routines and communication systems
  • Consult with assistive technology team to select and implement appropriate technology
  • Write progress reports and keep contact logs
  • Train and/or supervise the training of vision-related tasks for educators, paraprofessionals, therapists, and other team members (role release)
What is your understanding of the role of an itinerant teacher with infants, young children, and families?

For infants, young children, and families:

  • Demonstrate knowledge of developmental milestones and/or references for such information
  • Develop activities and/or consult with other professionals about activities that build concepts in an array of areas
  • Model methods for helping parents with grieving issues, including resources in the community and print references
  • Demonstrate understanding that working in the home as a guest of the parents is different from functioning in the classroom
  • Demonstrate understanding of the team concept or experience working as a team member, especially with professionals from other programs, such as those from early childhood intervention programs, who may have different types of therapies, service delivery systems, and/or philosophies than the district

Have you worked with children in an early childhood intervention (ECI) program before? If so, please talk about your experiences.

ECI programs vary greatly from state to state, and city to city. For those with experience with very young children, look for some basic themes in the information shared:

  • VI professional must follow Part C guidelines, not Part B of IDEA
  • Parents determine the priorities
  • Timelines are different for ECI programs and must be followed
  • Paperwork requirements are slightly different, and use different terminology, and have a different degree of detail
  • When working with the family, in their home, the VI teacher is always a guest

All students eventually leave school. Can you give an example of how a young adult with no additional disabilities could use assistive technologies and devices (including daily living tools) in his/her postsecondary education, employment, or daily life?

How would a student with additional disabilities do the same?

It is important that VI professionals understand classroom experiences translate to real life experience as an adult.

Look for responses that indicate the following concepts:

  • Knowledge of common devices and strategies used to meet the needs of daily living, such as managing money, laundry, and food purchasing and preparation
  • Knowledge of workplace skills, including assistive technology, transportation, social skills, adaptive materials, workplace communication, and workplace safety
  • Knowledge of the importance of “soft skills,” which are critical to a successful life as an adult, such as employing appropriate social skills, fitting in with a group of people, and knowing how to use community resources
  • Providing guidance to young adults who may require an attendant or personal assistant for driving, helping those young adults know how to hire and supervise such people
  • Understanding how to use and/or arrange for transportation, with both public and private transportation sources
Can you please describe at least three agencies or resources available in this community that provide services or assistance to young adults with visual impairments?

The specific responses will depend on the community.   Look for responses that represent a broad knowledge of community resources.

Responses may reference the following:

  • The state’s vocational rehabilitation services, which may or may not be vision specific
  • Community-based group homes or long-term care program
  • Disability-oriented recreational programs
  • Special transportation services
  • Independent-living programs
  • Community programs with a special knowledge or interest in visual impairments
  • Consumer and family organizations related to visual impairments
Can you provide examples of some student-related activities that will increase independence in your students’ postsecondary world?

Be able describe the following in a positive way:

  • Their disability (with a degree of accuracy) and the impact thereof
  • Accommodations in both the educational and non-educational environments
  • Any assistive technologies needed
  • Access disability-related services independently, such as disability services in college
  • An array of functional strategies to meet social and work needs, such as negotiating transportation and reciprocating for services provided
Have you spent any time with or know of any visually impaired and/or adults who are deafblind in the community?

VI professionals may not have had any knowledge of what happens to their students once they leave the public school system. This knowledge is likely to add to the candidate’s commitment to a program that will support independence in the next environment. Interactions with the real life experiences of siblings, friends, or former students with disabilities (especially visual impairments) may provide the information that deepens their understanding of how the educational experience will impact the post-school outcomes.

Those who have had knowledge and experience may be stronger candidates.

Please describe the most critical domains in the expanded core curriculum (ECC) or vision-specific areas of instruction for students with visual impairments.

Although becoming more and more common, some VI professionals may be unfamiliar with the term “expanded core curriculum.” Some VI professionals will be able to describe the domains below, while others may reference specifics without using the domain title. For example, a candidate may say, “learn how to use magnifiers and telescopes” instead of “low-vision devices,” or “visual efficiency skills”. In these instances it can be especially valuable to have another VI professional participating in the interview. Knowledge of the current preferred term may not reflect on the candidate’s skills. However, it is important that strong candidates are familiar with the concepts and (hopefully) have had experience evaluating and teaching the skills of the expanded core curriculum (ECC).

Expanded Core Curriculum Skills

  • General and assistive technology
  • Technology devices and skills that are necessary and expected in general classrooms and assistive devices that are needed due to the visual impairment
  • Assistive technology ranges from low-tech options, such as a book stand or adapted switches to complex braille devices and accessible graphing calculators; tablets may also be included
  • Instruction in braille
  • Abacus
  • Nemeth Code (Nemeth is the code used for math and science.)
  • Concept development
  • Study skills
  • Pre-reading skills
  • Listening and speaking skills
  • Exploring understanding, and participating in a wide array of work-related experiences and career options, based on skills and interests
  • Also includes assuming work responsibilities at home and school
  • Learning about various physical and leisure-time activities; includes following rules, making choices, safety during activities, and subtleties, such as learning how to take turns and following rules
  • Includes skills related to knowing how one’s body relates to the environment and how to move within and between various environments
  • Includes students of all ages (starting at birth), students with multiple disabilities and those who are pre-mobile
  • Includes a broad array of skills commonly learned via visual experiences
  • Skills include understanding personal space, conversational skills, expressing emotions appropriately and socially appropriate physical behaviors, like shaking hands and facing speakers
  • Learning about oneself, and taking charge of one’s life; this domain should be addressed for all students, regardless of age or functional abilities
  • Using existing vision to maximize information about the environment
  • Includes use of optical devices, augmentative and tactile communication systems (including tactile sign or tactile symbols)
  • Independent living skills
    • Skills necessary for independent living, regardless of the cognitive level
    • May include clothing care and grooming, money management and various home-related skills
  • Compensatory skills necessary to access the academic and functional curriculum, including communication modes
  • Career education and transition
  • Recreation and leisure
  • Orientation and mobility
  • Social interaction skills
  • Self-determination
  • Sensory efficiency skills (may also be called visual efficiency skills)

Have you ever taught braille to a new user? How old was the student? Can you tell me about the experience and the materials you used?

Depending on the age of the student who is learning braille, and when the instruction occurred, the candidate may mention

  • Any of the programs in the Patterns series (American Printing House for the Blind)
  • Braille FUNdamentals (Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired)
  • Mangold Developmental Program, also known as “Mangold materials” (Exceptional Teaching Aids)
  • Braille Beginnings (Utah School for the Blind)
  • Beginning with Braille: Firsthand Experiences with a Balanced Approach to Literacy (American Foundation for the Blind), which may also be called “Anna Swenson’s materials”

Many experienced VI teachers have not had this experience.Lack of these experiences should not necessarily reflect badly on the candidate. If the district anticipates needing to teach braille to a young reader, future professional development will be necessary.

If the candidate has not had this experience, he/she should be able to identify major resources, such as those listed above, that he/she would use to teach braille.

What are key components when designing a program for  students who are deafblind?

Students who are deafblind are extremely idiosyncratic. Specifics of the response will likely reference the experience of the candidate, and may significantly vary from candidate to candidate. However, look for an emphasis in the following areas:

  • Communication
  • Access to information
  • Sensory modification

What is your perception of how a visual impairment impacts learning?

The limited vision can affect the following areas:

  • fine and gross motor development
  • emotional issues
  • social skills
  • social integration
  • acquisition and synthesis of information (concept development)
  • study skills
  • language development
  • body and spatial concepts
  • mobility
  • recreation
  • daily living skills

Please note that this is a partial listing, and that the candidate may approach the topic from a different perspective, possibly using te domains from the expanded core curriculum (ECC). Also, since people don’t “speak in bullets,” the above is intended as a topical listing. However, you should be able to make connections between the response given and the topics above.

How would you rate your skills on the following types of assistive technology?

  • Note-taking devices like the BrailleNote, or PacMate
  • Screen reading programs such as JAWS
  • Employing adaptive switches so the student(s) can use other devices, such as toys, electronic devices, or other educational or recreational materials
  • Magnification software such as ZoomText or MAGic, including magnification techniques in commonly available software
  • Braille embossing or printing software
 
What instruments, tools, or other strategies do you use to evaluate a student's need for assistive technology?

Candidates may use a variety of tools, some of which may be "teacher made," some of which may be developed by an organization with specific expertise in this area. Quality information and/or instruments have been developed by

What experience do you have with technology for students with visual impairments?

  • Regardless of the skills and abilities of the students, assistive technology is a major professional domain for VI teachers.         It is important that you know and understand what the current skills are, and what will need to be developed in the future.
  • New VI professionals may have limited experience with VI-specific assistive technology. Those candidates who are experienced special educators, but new to VI may have experience with other types of technology, such as augmentative communication or switch technologies, and may reference such experience here. Although not vision-specific assistive technology, this information may provide you with data on how skilled the candidate is with a technology in general, and how comfortable when learning new technologies.
  • As in other areas, the responses from experienced candidates will reflect the needs of the students in the previous district and should be evaluated as such. Regardless of the previous situation, the strongest candidates are likely to be those who have a comfortable history with technology.
  • Assuming that the candidates previously had a full caseload, it should be assumed that students needed and used assistive technology. If not, it may reflect on the VI teacher’s (TVI’s) lack of comfort and skills in this area.
  • Responses may reference any or all of those listed below. Please note, the samples below include both specific types of common equipment and generic terms.
  • Braille note-taking devices, such as a BrailleNote or PacMate
  • Electronic brailling machine and embosser, such as the Mountbatten Optical screen reading software, such as that developed by Kurzweil
  • Screen magnification software, such as ZoomText.
  • Screen reading software, such as JAWS+, WindowEyes (Continued on next page)

Continued

What experience do you have with technology for students with visual impairments?

  • Video magnifiers, or CCTVs
  • Adaptive switch equipment
  • Victor, GH Player, or other DAISY-formatted voice output device
  • Duxbury, or other braille translation software

In what areas do you feel your knowledge of technology is limited?

Assistive technology changes quickly. Also the skill and experience level of candidates are likely to directly reflect the needs of his/her previous caseload and the district’s ability to access assistive technology. These needs may be quite different from your district’s needs.

It is reasonable to expect limitations and the need for professional development in most VI professionals. Candidates without experience teaching VI students may have very limited knowledge and skills with assistive technology (AT). Many training programs are not able to provide experiences working with AT equipment. Responses should only be rated low if the candidate is unable to articulate his/her experiences or needs.

For a student who is functioning at or near grade level and who has a significant visual impairment, what computer skills would you target and at what grades?

Primary grades (K–2):

  • keyboard skills, word processing
  • braille writer
  • tape recorder

Intermediate grades (3–5):

  • word processing, JAWS, scanner
  • DAISY/Victor audio reader
  • electronic note-taking devices, such as PacMate or BrailleNote
  • audio dictionary, such as Franklin
  • talking calculator

Late intermediate (5–8, but possibly earlier):

  • note-taking devices, such as the BrailleNote, or PacMate
  • accessible graphing calculator

Secondary

  • Advanced computer skills using an array of standard software using access technology

Have you conducted a functional vision evaluation and/or a learning media assessment? What are the major components of these assessments?

Inexperienced teachers will not be as thorough on this question, as they probably have not performed many assessments. Major areas of assessment include:

  • Functional vision evaluation (FVE)
    • blink reflex
    • pupillary response
    • shift of gaze
    • tracking large and small moving objects
    • functioning on both near and distance tasks
    • scanning to find an object
    • muscle imbalance
    • visual fields
    • acuity
    • contrast information
    • text and/or object size for varying types of assignments and/or environments
    • modifications
    • Learning media assessment (LMA)
      • reading speed
      • print sizes, lighting
      • how the student accesses literacy materials

Assessment practices (for both evaluations) should include:

  • Testing should be done in a variety of environments to be able to assess functioning in educational and community settings
  • Conditions necessary for optimal visual performance

The report must include:

  • Required information from the eye doctor’s report (acuity, prognosis, information about the visual condition, recommendation whether the child is visually impaired and/or legally blind)
  • Educational implications
  • A recommendation to the IEP committee about eligibility
  • Functional recommendations for an array of team members, written in such a way that they are immediately applicable to various team members
  • If the student is deafblind, the report should include information about the student’s use of hearing

What do you consider to be characteristics of a well-written report?

The report must include

  • Required information from the eye doctor’s report (acuity, prognosis, information about the visual condition, recommendation whether the child is visually impaired and/or legally blind)
  • Specifics of the testing conditions, including the size of the objects presented
  • Specifics about distance and lighting conditions
  • Educational implications
  • A recommendation to the IEP committee about eligibility
  • Functional recommendations for an array of team members, written in such a way that they are immediately applicable to various team members
  • If the student is deafblind, the report should include information about the student’s use of hearing
  • A summary of the findings

The recommendations should be

  • Functional
  • Readily understandable by all team members including a new classroom teacher (one who has had no exposure to visual impairments)
  • Provide all team members with the basic knowledge needed to work with the student on the first day of class

Please note that many VI professionals are highly skilled at conducting a functional vision evaluation and learning media assessment.   However, report-writing skills may be less developed. The purpose of the report is to communicate the findings so they can be implemented.   A poorly written report may suggest the need for additional professional development and supervision until report writing is improved.

If presented with a report with clear limitations, another VI professional, or someone with experience with an array of reports, may be helpful in determining whether the limitation was due to the procedures or to the report writing.

What is your experience in writing IEP/IFSP goals and objectives?

Those who receive their VI training mid-career following training as a classroom teacher may have limited experiences writing goals and objectives. You may want to provide a scenario and ask the candidate to write a set of goals and objectives to ensure they are clear, behavioral, and measurable.

How would you determine the modifications your VI students will need to access the general education classroom setting? What role do you think you should take in providing modifications?

Highly scored responses should include the following concepts:
  • the recommended modifications have a direct (and stated) relationship to the functional vision evaluation and learning media assessment
  • observing the student in the classrooms and other learning environments periodically and developing anecdotal or objective data from those observations
  • meeting with classroom teachers
  • talking with students
  • developing assessment data for future evaluations
  • The VI teacher should assume an active role in providing suggestions for modifications and materials
How would you determine the ongoing progress of students?

Start with clear measurable IEP objectives.

Look for evidence of:

  • the importance of clear measurable IEP objectives
  • understanding of and (preferably) experience with collecting data from students and making arrangements for others to collect data as necessary to ensure that the objective generalized to other settings
  • making educational recommendations and/or decisions that are based on that data
  • reporting the progress of the resulting instruction
  • the candidate should describe the circular nature of assessment, instruction, reporting progress, and assessing for the next progress period

Progress can be determined through informal assessment and data collection, information from other personnel and parents, and structured observations of student performance. School districts frequently have specific requirements for determining annual yearly progress. If the candidate has previous experience as an O&M, his/her response may reflect those specific requirements.

How do you determine where to start with students?

Answers should include references to evaluation and assessment, and may include:

  • Functional vision and learning media assessments
  • Every Move Counts
  • TSBVI’s Assessment Kit
  • Evals: Evaluating Visually Impaired Students Using Alternate Learning Standards Emphasizing the Expanded Core Curriculum (TSBVI)
  • The Oregon Project
  • Diagnostic Assessment Profile
  • Arena assessment
  • Play-based assessment
  • Curriculum checklists
  • Informal assessments
  • Observations
  • Checklists for specialized skills such as braille, abacus, or study skills

Answers should include references to:

  • interviewing parents
  • interviewing students when appropriate
  • Consultation with other team members

What kind of information would a TVI need to share with other school professionals?

The nature of a collaborative consultation is that the VI professional is critical for VI professionals. Consider the following as you evaluate the responses:

As a minimum, look for:

  • Student’s visual condition
  • Modifications/accommodations for vision
  • Technology the student will be using
  • IEP goals related to vision deficiency
  • TVI schedule of services (amount of time and frequency of VI service delivery)

A strong candidate may discuss:

  • Classroom arrangement to enhance vision
  • Process for timely provision of print in order to transcribe into braille
  • Visual or tactual modifications to communication system for cognitively impaired student
  • Testing modifications
How do you ensure implementation of VI-specific modification when you are not there?

The response here should be similar to any educator who works with others and wants to be sure that the modifications are being carried out in other educational environments. To the degree that there is a variance with other educators, VI teachers may look for modifications that are beyond the team member’s experience or not part of the more typical modifications needed by other students, such as those with learning disabilities.

Additionally, like other itinerant educators, VI professionals will have limited access to the classroom teacher. This may affect the implementation of modifications.

If you were going to establish a collaborative partnership with another professional, what steps would you take to ensure success?

Possible answers:

  • Meet with teachers at the beginning of the school year
  • Explain my role as the TVI
  • Provide information related to the vision impairment
  • Offer to model techniques that might be effective with students with cognitive disabilities
  • Provide my contact information
  • Ask to participate in team meetings related to student programming
  • Observe the student in the classroom setting periodically to determine how I can support the curriculum

Describe both a successful and challenging collaboration experience you have had with another educational professional.

This request is designed to get the applicant to elaborate.  

If the applicant has worked in a school system, call references to ask specific questions related to team collaboration.  

In which areas will you need mentoring or training to acquire new skills or increase skill level?

Other questions are more detailed questions about various types of students and experience working with those students. If those questions are used, you may want to omit this more general question.

Describe what you believe programming for students with visual and severe cognitive impairments should emphasize, and what you believe the VI teacher’s role should be in implementing those priorities.

Programming should emphasize modifications that emphasize other sensory use, such a hearing and touch. Practices should accommodate for the level of functional vision. Examples may include modifications for communication symbol systems, lighting, placement of materials within the field of vision, training in the use of a calendar system, and modifying daily routines.

The VI teacher’s role is to participate as a team member in assessment, IEP/IFSP development, determining the effect of the visual impairment on programming, modeling techniques, and providing specialized materials and information about the impact of the visual impairment to other team members.

Describe your experience with using low vision devices with students.

Though answers to this will vary, the excellent candidate should have some experience with training in the use of magnifiers, telescopes, and monoculars.

Additional Interview Questions for Experienced VI Teachers and VI-Certified Teachers from Residential Settings

 

How frequently would you schedule your time with:

  1. a totally blind elementary-age academic student;
  2. a low vision elementary-age academic student;
  3. a severely cognitively impaired 5th grade student?

Answers will and should vary widely and should be predicated on needs-based assessment. Typical responses include

  1. Four to five visits per week or approximately 4–6 hours of direct instruction with additional time for consultation
  2. Two to four times per week, or approximately 2–5 hours per week, plus additional time for consultation
  3. Actively consult with service providers for the student weekly or twice a month. This does not mean “drop by and visit” with the classroom teacher.

Responses should include consulting with related service providers, and all other team members. They should also include observations of instructional interactions between service providers. For example, the VI teacher might demonstrate how to identify purposeful movement, or use active learning technology and methods.

 

How do you rate yourself on using/teaching the abacus?

Can you describe your experiences using it?   Teaching it to students?

The abacus is a critical tool for understanding number concepts and performing mathematical operations. It is simple and easy to use. It will greatly advance students’ abilities to solve math problems quickly and with confidence. The abacus is very valuable for both academic and functional-academic students.

Due to time limitations, some professional preparation programs do not emphasize the acquisition of skills in the abacus by the VI professional. If the candidate has not had the opportunity to acquire them since initial certification, she/he will need to do so. There are several options that you can guide the VI professional to, including the TSBVI Web site (www.TSBVI.edu) or the Hadley School for the Blind, which offers free correspondence courses in a variety of domains.

 

What role do you typically take in a professional team structure for your students?

Candidates should endorse practices that use a team approach to working with students. This may include transdisciplinary teaming, role release, integrated IEP/IFSPs, and staff meetings to discuss assessment, IEP/IFSP development, and student progress.
 

Do you have any samples of the following documents: functional vision evaluations, learning media assessment, progress reports?

The candidate should be informed prior to the interview if these documents will be expected. Of course, all personal information should be blocked out.

When evaluating the report, please do a critical analysis on how well the document:

  • Connects assessment to instruction for all team members
  • Communicates with a variety of readers, including parents, classroom teachers, and related service personnel and paraprofessionals

Can the reader read it, and understand areas of strength and challenges, and how he/she will need to modify instruction?

Orientation and Mobility Specialists

This tool can be used with candidates who have various levels of experience. Some candidates may have experience at a residential school or rehabilitation agency. Others will have taught within the itinerant model. Before beginning the interview, give the applicant time to review the job description.

QuestionsNotes/Possible Responses
What questions do you have about the responsibilities listed in our job description?  
What populations have you served?

Experienced COMS who have been working full time as O&M specialists should mention a wide range of visual abilities, ages (including infants), and physical and cognitive abilities. If any areas are missing, you should ask about why those areas were not served.  

A blend of the following three scenarios is typical:

  • The district’s VI populations did not include all of the above groups.
  • In the past, services to a wide range of students have been complicated by several issues. Some O&M specialists were slow to recognize the need for O&M skills for students with more challenging, diverse needs. Some VI teachers did were reluctant to refer either a very young student or one with multiple impairments for an O&M evaluation. As a result, VI professionals may have been slow to acquire the assessment and service delivery skills necessary to recommend a student for an evaluation, or provide quality services to the wide range of students who may benefit from mobility training.
  • Caseloads in the previous position were such that all of the students who could benefit from O&M services were not able to receive services, and the services were focused on academically oriented school-age children.

Regardless of the reason, a limitation in the range of students served indicates the probable need for professional development in the deficient area(s). Reflect on and evaluate the responses carefully if the candidate shows a “flat spot” in his/her service history.

Can you give me some examples of how you organize yourself in any of the following areas?

  • Scheduling
  • Travel
  • Record keeping
  • Communications with parents and other professionals
  • Monitoring progress on IEPs/IFSPs
 

What are some of the major resources or references you will be using for teaching safe, efficient, and independent travel?

The applicant should be able to list four or five of the following current resources:

  • The Art and Science of Teaching Orientation and Mobility (Jacobson)
  • Beyond Arms Reach (Smith & O’Donnell)
  • Early Focus (Pogrund, Fazzi, & Lampert)
  • The Family of Owen M. (Flaherty, Hawkins, & Heaton)
  • Foundations of Orientation and Mobility (Blasch, Weiner, & Welsh)
  • Hand in Hand (American Foundation for the Blind)
  • Itinerant Teaching, 2nd Edition (Jean Olmstead)
  • Journal of Visual Impairments and Blindness
  • The O&M Primer for Families and Young Children (Dobson-Burk & Hill)
  • Orientation and Mobility Techniques (Hill & Ponder)
  • Orientation and Mobility Techniques for Independence (LaGow & Weessies)
  • Re:View (This journal has recently been discontinued. However, it was a solid source of information)
  • AER Journal: Research & Practice in Visual Impairment & Blindness         (This is the new journal that has replaced Re:View)
  • TAPS (2nd or 3rd ed.; Pogrund, et al.)
  • Travel Tales: A Mobility Storybook (Hallpern-Gold, Adler, & Faust-Jones)
  • The orientation and mobility listserv, among others
  • Imagine the Possibilities (Fazzi & Petersmeyer; AFB)
  • Cortical Visual Impairment (Roman-Lantzy; AFB)
  • Finding Wheels (Corn & Rosenblum; PRO-ED)
  • Oregon Project Assessment Tool (Brown, Simmons, & Methvin; Southern Oregon Education Service District)
  • Calendars (Blaha; TSBVI) to implement object doors labels in coordination with classroom schedule for mulithandicapped
  • Growing Up Assessment & Curriculum
  • Carolina Curriculum for Infants and Toddlers; Carolina Curriculum for Preschoolers (Johnson-Martin, Hacker, & Attermeier; Brooks Pub.)
  • Teaching Students with Visual and Multiple Impairments (TSBVI)
Tell me about a time you had a disagreement with someone at work and how it was resolved.

Good consultation skills and the ability to work well with other team members are critical for successful O&M specialists and the success of the students they work with. Consultation skills will also model self-advocacy skills for students. Also, as itinerant professionals, O&M specialists are more autonomous than most educators. It is important that your O&M specialists are able to develop relationships and work out difficulties that are sure to arise.

What role do you feel parents play in working with the educational team?

Parents are a crucial component in successful orientation and mobility for the child. The O&M specialist should work closely with parents to ensure carryover into a wide variety of environments. Progress reports should be provided based on the schedule followed by the district. Safety concerns should be shared immediately.

May I see a sample of an evaluation you have written for a blind student, a student with low vision, and a student with multiple impairments?

The candidate should be informed prior to the interview if these documents will be expected. Of course, all personal information must be blocked out.

Evaluations should include the following components:  

  • Background history
  • Conditions under which the evaluation was conducted
  • Gross motor skills.        

This information is more likely to be included for either younger students or those who have had a delay due to a visual impairment.

  • Concepts, including:
    • body imagery
    • spatial concepts
    • environmental concepts

This information is more likely to be included for either younger students or those who have had a delay due to a visual impairment.

  • Technology assessment (low-vision devices, GPS, use of objects, modified door handles, and other adapted devices)
  • Visual skills
  • Auditory skills
  • General orientation
  • General mobility, including areas such as:
    • Cane skills
    • Residential travel
    • Business travel (for older students)
    • Street crossings
    • Public transportation
    • Implications for multiple environments
  • Summary and recommendations

When evaluating the report, please do a critical analysis on how well the document:

  • Connects assessment to instruction for all team members
  • Communicates with a variety of readers, including parents, classroom teachers, and related service personnel and paraprofessionals.

Can the reader read it, and understand areas of strength and challenges, and how she or he will need to modify instruction? Does the report provide a connection between O&M and independent functioning, and educationally-related goals?

What is your understanding of the O&M specialist’s responsibilities when working with students who are either totally blind or have low vision?

For blind students and students with low vision

  • Observe in all settings to determine needs
  • Administer informal diagnostic assessment to determine functioning levels in multiple environments
  • Facilitate modifications to the environment
  • Develop travel strategies
  • Provide direct instruction in unique (or compensatory) skill areas
  • Provide adapted materials and technology, including training for the technology
  • Consult with teachers, parents, paraprofessionals, and related service personnel
  • Write progress reports and keep contact logs regarding student progress
What is your understanding of the O&M specialist’s responsibilities when working with students who have moderate or severe multiple disabilities, including deafblindness? For students with moderate or severe multiple disabilities, including deafblindness
  • Work with educational team members to perform assessment
  • Make recommendations regarding visual needs to all personnel and family
  • Work with educational team members to design meaningful routines that promote movement, mobility, and communication systems
  • Consult with assistive technology team to select and implement appropriate technology, including low-vision devices, using a note-taker for travel purposes, etc.
  • Write progress reports and keep contact logs regarding student progress
  • Understanding how to adapt the environment to encourage safe and independent travel, especially for very young children
What is your understanding of the O&M specialist’s responsibilities when working with infants, young children, and families?

For infants, young children, and families

  • Demonstrate knowledge of developmental milestones and how a visual impairment may impact developmental milestones (which may be out of typical order) or references for such information. (Note: It may be more important to know the order in which typical developmental milestones occur rather than the typical age range.) Also, young children with visual impairments may “skip” steps, such as crawling, in their development.
  • Provide activities and/or consult with others about activities that build concepts in an array of areas, including temporal, spatial, and environmental.
  • Assist parents to find the resources needed to deal with grieving issues, including resources in the community and print references.
  • Understand that when working in the home, the O&M specialist is a guest of the parents, and should function differently than when in the school environment.
  • Demonstrate knowledge of adaptive mobility devices, such as adaptive canes or using toys for “bumpers.”
  • Understanding how to adapt the environment to encourage safe and independent travel, especially for very young children.
  • Understanding the team concept (at least) or experiences working as a team member (preferable), especially with professionals from other programs, such as early childhood intervention (birth to 3 years old) programs that may have different types of therapies, service delivery systems, and/or philosophies.
Which professional growth activities do you find helpful?

Highly qualified candidates should have participated in a mixture of the following types of activities:

  • have attended professional seminars
  • taken additional university courses
  • subscribe to a professional journal
  • Statewide vision-related conferences (such as Texas Focus, statewide, or multi-state O&M organizations)
  • Professional development opportunities (workshops, on-sites, etc.) that may be available through a state’s school for the blind and visually impaired

National conferences such as:

  • International Mobility Conference
  • Association for the Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (AERBVI)
  • National Association for Parents of the Visually Impaired (NAPVI)
  • National Coalition on Deafblindness
  • American Council of the Blind (ACB)
  • National Federation of the Blind (NFB)
  • Other professional or consumer associations

Someone who has been teaching for a while but does not take advantage of professional growth activities is less likely to provide services that meet the current standards. You may need to develop an active professional development plan for such a person.

Please describe what you believe programming for students with visual and severe cognitive impairments should emphasize, and the O&M specialist’s role in implementing those priorities.

Programming should emphasize methods to accommodate for existing vision. For example, modifications for communication symbol systems, lighting, and placement of materials within the field of vision, training in the use of a calendar system, and/or modifying daily routines. Specific examples for O&M specialists may include:

  • Arranging the furniture to promote safe and independent travel
  • Determining the use of textures and/or objects to establish predictability in the environment
  • Increasing or decreasing lighting according to visual and task needs
  • Providing increased contrast in materials or environment

The O&M specialist’s role is to participate as a team member in assessment, IEP/IFSP development, determining the effect of the visual impairment on programming, modeling techniques, and providing specialized materials and information regarding the impact of the visual impairment to staff. The O&M specialist also has a role to provide in-service training to other team members, such as the impact of vision impairment on motor, social, cognitive, and language development, as well as basic sighted guide or mobility techniques.

What role do you feel parents play in working with the educational team?

  • Sharing their expertise about their own children
  • Setting priorities for IEP/IFSP development
  • Sharing assessment information
  • Supporting instruction
  • Participating in school observations and/or meetings
  • Participating in support groups and/or workshops
  • Providing opportunities for the students to practice skills learned at home, in the school, and community

What is your perception of how a visual impairment affects learning?

A visual impairment affects development in the following areas:

  • fine and gross motor development and concept development, especially as related to
    • body,
    • spatial,
    • temporal, and
    • environmental concepts
    • study skills
    • social skills
    • language development
    • mobility
    • recreation
    • daily living skills

Skills need to be taught in “hands-on,” experiential ways. Opportunities for incidental learning can be severely affected by the lack of sufficient visual information.

Please note that this is a partial listing, and that the candidate may approach the topic from a different perspective. Also, since people don’t “speak in bullets,” the above is intended as a topical listing. However, you should be able to make connections between the response given and the topics above. Once one of the domains has been mentioned, encourage the applicant to provide specific examples.

Do you speak any other language other than English, including any sign language?  

How do you determine whether or not a student referred for an O&M evaluation will qualify for O&M services?

If the student does not travel safely and independently in the school, community, and home, or is at risk for unsafe travel, the student should receive O&M services. The decision for services should not be dependent on whether or not the student:

  • can walk
  • has additional disabilities
  • is an infant or preschooler

The student may need direct experiential training that focuses on:

  • spatial, environmental, and/or positional/directional concepts
  • awareness of and the use of other senses necessary for travel, including visual, auditory, olfactory, proprioceptive, and tactile
  • skills to safely cross streets in the community
  • use of a cane or adaptive mobility devices
  • development of self-confidence for travel, or functional experiences in the community or school
  • learning to use public transportation, or how to access alternative transportation if the prognosis is such that getting a driver’s license is unlikely
  • Problem-solving skills

The assessment process should include consideration of the following:

  • Review medical reports and other relevant data, with attention to field restrictions, prognosis, contrast, and functional vision in a variety of lighting conditions.
  • If the student’s knowledge level and performance of travel and safety skills are not commensurate with students of the same age or cognitive level, O&M services should be recommended.
  • When modifications in the environment are necessary for safe and efficient travel or when difficulties in orienting to the environment are being experienced, O&M services should be recommended.

How does the O&M specialist allow students access to the general curriculum?

What role do you think you should take in providing modifications?

Look for evidence of understanding and experience with collecting data from students and making educational recommendations or decisions that are based on that data, and reporting the progress of the resulting instruction. The candidate should describe the circular nature of assessment, instruction, reporting progress, and assessing for the next progress period.

Progress can be determined through informal assessment and data collection, information from other personnel and parents, and observations of student performance. School districts frequently have specific requirements for determining progress. If the candidate has previous experience as an O&M, his/her response may reflect those specific requirements.

An awareness of the grade level state assessments is essential, as all instruction should relate to established standards of knowledge and skills.

What has been your experience with using low-vision devices with students?

The answers to this will vary. The O&M specialist should have some experience with training in the use of magnifiers and telescopes (monoculars).

How do you determine where to start with students and what kinds of diagnostic assessments would you implement to make this determination?

Ask what tools the COMS uses to assess. Ask him/her to bring a copy of what they use to the interview. Also, responses should include the results from formal and informal observations in a variety of settings.

What role do you take in a professional team structure for your students?

Candidates should endorse practices that use a team approach to working with students. This may include transdisciplinary teaming, role release, integrated IEPs/IFSPs, and staff meetings to discuss assessment, IEP/IFSP development, and student progress.

In which areas will you need mentoring or training to acquire new skills or increase skill level?

Other questions related to this include more detailed queries about various types of students and experience working with those students. If those questions are used, you may want to omit this more general question.
What area of instruction do you think is your greatest strength?  
What is the O&M specialist’s role in the IEP process?   What paperwork do you need to prepare?
  • All members should contribute information that enhances decisions made on behalf of the student
  • Assessment reports along with other documents required for a related service
  • A review of the student’s present level of academic skills and performance
  • Proposed IEP goals and objectives
What ongoing documentation do you keep on student progress?
  • Updated IEP or progress reports based on IEP
  • Attendance
  • Lesson plans (bring sample)
  • Daily notes
  • End-of-year report
  • Other paperwork related to the services provided (e-mails, parent contacts, teacher contacts, transportation requests, assessment forms, etc.)
How does the O&M specialist affect school-wide performance on Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) and/or other statewide systems that assess student performance?
  • Since orientation and mobility training should be integrated into the general curriculum, the O&M specialist should be familiar with the state’s instructional standards for knowledge and skills.
  • O&M expands on many of the concepts learned in the classroom and applies them to the environment outside the classroom.
  • O&M addresses skills needed in the transition from public school to college, work, and other post-secondary environments.

Questions the candidate may ask

When and where can I work with students?

Whenever and wherever the student needs it. A district that limits itself to only during school hours and only on campus cannot provide the full spectrum of services needed by the student and is not in compliance with the new IDEA regulations.

How is transportation of students handled?

School districts are responsible for providing the transportation necessary for the instruction identified in the IEP. This may take the form of public transportation, school buses, or vehicle supplied by the district. O&M specialists should not be expected to provide student transportation in their personal car. Please note: this refers to student transportation, not the travel that is incurred when the O&M specialist is traveling between students.

Is professional development available?

In addition to providing quality services, professional development is an important part of the recruitment and retention strategies. Specialists will value attending professional seminars and conferences on a regular basis (without being excessive) to keep their skills sharp. The administrators should also encourage the applicant to present papers at such events and reward publication in professional journals. Access to appropriate professional development is highly correlated with a district’s ability to maintain a high rate of retention of VI professionals.

Candidates may also ask any of the following questions about the district:

  • How does the district handle travel for its itinerant staff? Are cars provided? How are personal costs reimbursed?
  • How many students are currently receiving VI services?
  • If multiple VI professionals work for the district, how is the population divided?
  • How many students are currently receiving O&M services?
  • How often do students receive an O&M evaluation, or a clinical low-vision evaluation?
  • How many students are waiting for, or are at risk for, needing an O&M evaluation?
  • Are there any non-English speaking or students who have deafblindness? How are interpretive services provided?
  • What performance evaluation is used? How will you gather information about my performance as an itinerant professional who also works in the community, on multiple campuses, and in the homes of my students?

  1. Collect and review all relevant and current evaluations completed for the student.

  2. Fill in the name of the student, date of scale completion, and name of the TVI completing the scale at the top of the first page of the scale.

  3. Begin with the ECC Skill Area column. Read each ECC skill area and subsection, if there are any (e.g., COMPENSATORY SKILLS: Literacy Instruction, Organization and Study Skills, etc.).

  4. Work from left to right for each ECC Skill Area to fill in a value (0, 1, 4, 7, or 10) for both columns (Direct Instruction from TVI and Educational Team Support/Collaboration) to indicate level of student need. You must enter one of these five numbers for each ECC area on the scale.

  5. At the bottom of each column on each page, add the values and put the column total for that page in the box labeled Page Total for each column for each page if you are entering scores by hand on a paper copy. If you are entering scores on the electronic pdf version of the VISSIT, the numbers entered will automatically add up at the bottom of each page for you.

  6. Add the values for each column from the Page Total boxes on each page and enter the number in the boxes labeled Column Subtotal at the bottom of the last page of the scale for both Direct Instruction Column Subtotal (box A) and Educational Team Support Column Subtotal (box E) (see sample below). If you are entering scores by hand on a paper copy. If you are entering scores on the electronic pdf version of the VISSIT, the numbers entered will automatically add up at the bottom of each page for you.  

Scoring Instructions - Direct Instruction Column

  1.  For the Direct Instruction column, determine whether or not transition is a contributing factor to the student's educational needs to be addressed by the TVI. If the student is making a significant transition, write '+10' in the Contributing Factor: Transition box (box B) under the Direct Instruction Column Subtotal (box A). If transition is not a factor, write '0' in box B (see sample below).
 COLUMN SUBTOTALS   Direct Instruction Column
Subtotal 
Educational Team Support Column
Subtotal 

 A

 SAMPLE

 E

 SAMPLE

 Contributing Factor: Transition

 B  

 SAMPLE

 F

 SAMPLE

 Contributing Factor: Medical Status/Condition

 C

 SAMPLE

 G

 SAMPLE

 Additional Areas of Family Support Subtotal

 

 H

 SAMPLE

 TOTAL

 D

 SAMPLE

 I

 SAMPLE

  1. Next, determine whether or not the student's medical status or condition is a contributing factor to the student's educational needs to be addressed by the TVI. If the student has medical issues that would increase the student's need for TVI direct service, write '+10' in Contributing Factor: Medical Status/Condition box (box C). If not, write '0' in box C. If the student has significant medical issues that would decrease the student's capacity to receive TVI direct service, write '-10' in box C. (see sample above)
  2. Add the three values from box A, box B, and box C. Write the score in the 'TOTAL' box (box D) for the Direct Instruction column if you are completing the scale by hand on a paper copy. If you are entering scores on the electronic pdf version of the VISSIT, the numbers entered will automatically add up at the bottom of the page in the 'TOTAL' box (box D) for you. (see sample above).

Scoring Instructions - Educational Team Support/Collaboration Column

  1. For the Educational Team Support column, determine whether or not transition is a contributing factor to the student's needs for team support from the TVI. If the student is making a significant transition, write '+10' in the Contributing Factor: Transition factors box (box F) under the Educational Team Support Column Subtotal (box E). If transition is not a factor, write '0' in box F (see sample above).
  2. Next, determine whether or not the student's medical status or condition is a contributing factor to the student's needs for team support from the TVI. If the student has significant medical issues that would increase the educational team support/collaboration needed from the TVI, write '+10' in Contributing Factor: Medical Issues box (box G). If not, write '0' in box G. If the student has any medical issues that would decrease the TVI educational team support/collaboration service need, write '-10' in box G (see sample above).
  3. Complete the Additional Areas of Family Support (AAFS) Table that follows the scale total section by adding a value to each of the five listed areas of need for family support. Add the values and get the subtotal for the AAFS Table (box H). Enter the AAFS subtotal in box H at the end of the scale if you are completing the scale by hand on a paper copy. If you are entering scores on the electronic pdf version of the VISSIT, the numbers entered will automatically be entered into Box H for you (see sample above).
  4. Add the four values from box E, box F, box G, and box H. Write the score in the 'Total' box (box I) for the Educational Team Support/Collaboration column if you are completing the scale by hand on a paper copy. If you are entering scores on the electronic pdf version of the VISSIT, the numbers entered will automatically add up at the bottom TOTAL box for you (see sample above).
  5. Using the totals found on the VISSIT Scale, refer to the INSTRUCTIONS FOR DETERMING RANGES FROM SCALE TOTALS that follows the scale.

Instructions for Determining Ranges from Scale Totals

 COLUMN SUBTOTALS   Direct Instruction Column
Subtotal 
Educational Team Support Column
Subtotal 

 A

 (Example: 101)

 E

 (Example: 30)

 Contributing Factor: Transition

 B  

 (Example: +10)

 F

 (Example: 0)

 Contributing Factor: Medical Status/Condition

 C

 (Example: -10)

 G

 (Example: 0)

 Additional Areas of Family Support Subtotal

 

 H

 (Example: 10)

 TOTAL

 D

 (Example: 101)

 I

 (Example: 40)

 

After determining the total Direct Instruction need in Total box D, transfer the score in box D to the corresponding value on the range of recommended direct service time for the score on Recommended Schedule of Service Minutes - Direct Service Time in Column 3 if you are entering the information by hand on a paper copy. If you are using the electronic pdf version of the VISSIT, the total score from Box D will automatically go into Column 3 on the Direct Service Time Scoring Sheet. Choose an exact recommended amount of service time that will best suit your student's needs from the range of suggested service time in Column 2 on the row in which the total score falls and enter that number in minutes per week in Column 4. Write a brief explanation about why you chose this amount of service time below the chart. Include a justification of this recommendation based on the student's need scores from the VISSIT scale. See example below:

 

 Direct Service Time TOTAL (box D) from direct service column                            YOUR RECOMMENDED AMOUNT
OF
DIRECT SERVICE TIME
(MINUTES PER WEEK) 

 Score on rubric

Suggested service time 

   

 106+

 600 or more minutes / week

 SAMPLE

 SAMPLE

 97 - 106

 480 - 600 minutes / week

 (Example: 101)

 (Example: 480 minutes / week)

 

Example explanation: Student needs to have at least 2 class periods per day of direct instruction because of complete vision loss due to an accident; student needs intense braille, tactile graphics, technology, O&M, ILS, and self-determination instruction.

After determining the total Educational Team Support need in Total box I, transfer the score in box I to the corresponding value on the range of recommended team support/collaboration service time for the score on Recommended Schedule of Service Minutes - Educational Team Support/Collaboration scoring sheet in Column 3 if you are entering the information by hand on a paper copy. If you are using the electronic pdf version of the VISSIT, the total score from Box I will automatically go into Column 3 on the Educational Team Support/Collaboration Time Scoring Sheet. Choose an exact recommended amount of service time that will best suit your student's needs from the range of suggested service time in Column 2 on the row in which the total score falls and enter that number in minutes per week in Column 4. Write a brief explanation about why you chose this amount of service time below the chart. Include a justification of this recommendation based on the student's need scores from the VISSIT See sample below.

 Educational Team
Suppport/Collaboration Time
TOTAL (box D)
from the educational team suppport/collaboration column
YOUR RECOMMENDED AMOUNT OF EDUCATIONAL TEAM SUPPORT/COLLABORATION SERVICE
(MINUTES PER WEEK) 
Score on rubric

Suggested

service time 

   
 47 - 57

 30 - 70

minutes / week

 SAMPLE  SAMPLE
 40 - 46

 15 - 30

minutes / week

 (Example: 44)  (Example: 15 minutes / week)

Example explanation: TVI will consult with student's team for 1 hour per month (equals 15 minutes / week).

Recommended Schedule of Service Minutes - Direct Service Time

 DIRECT SERVICE TIME  TOTAL (box D) from direct service columnYOUR RECOMMENDED AMOUNT
OF DIRECT SERVCE TIME
(MINUTES PER WEEK) 
 Score on rubric Range of suggested service time    
 EXAMPLE: 45 - 59  120 - 180 minutes / week  50  120 minutes / week
 106+ 600 or more minutes / week    
97 - 106 480 - 600 minutes / week    
86 - 96 360 - 480 minutes / week    
75 - 85 270 - 360 minutes / week    
60 - 74 180 - 270 minutes / week    
45 - 59 120 - 180 minutes / week    
38 - 44 90 - 120 minutes / week    
29 - 37 60 - 90 minutes / week    
17 - 28 30 - 60 minutes / week    
10 - 16 15 - 30 minutes / week    
0 - 9 0 - 15 minutes / week    

Based on a 2400-minute/per week system---

2400 minutes in a school week (inclues a 7 hour, 15 minute school day, plus 45 minutes for lunch [lunch time can be used for instruction])

2400 minutes per week = 480 minutes per day available for instruction

Explanation and Justification for Recommended Amount of Service Time

Explain how the minutes per week will be distributed (e.g., 30 minutes, 3 times per week = 90 minutes per week; one hour per month = 15 minutes per week, etc.):

If recommended service time as indicated by the VISSIT does not match the IEP team's decided amount of service time, please state the factors or reasons why this discrepancy occurred.

Recommended Schedule of Service Minutes - Educational Team Support/Collaboration

EDUCATIONAL TEAM
SUPPORT/COLLABORATION TIME 
 TOTAL (box I)
from direct service column
YOUR RECOMMENDED AMOUNT
OF EDUCATIONAL TEAM
SUPPORT/COLLABORATON SERVICE TIME
(MINUTES PER WEEK) 
 Score on rubric Range of suggested service time    
 EXAMPLE: 69 -80   110 - 150 minutes / week  70  120 minutes / week
112+ 600 or more minutes / week    
101 - 111 450 - 600 minutes / week    
91 - 100 300 - 450 minutes / week    
81 - 90 150 - 300 minutes / week    
69 - 80 110 - 150 minutes / week    
58 - 68 70 - 110 minutes / week    
47 - 57 30 - 70 minutes / week    
40 - 46 15 - 30 minutes / week    
27 - 39 10 - 15 minutes / week    
14 - 26 5 - 10 minutes / week    
0 - 13 0 - 5 minutes / week    

Based on a 2400-minute/per week system---

2400 minutes in a school week (inclues a 7 hour, 15 minute school day, plus 45 minutes for lunch [lunch time can be used for instruction])

2400 minutes per week = 480 minutes per day available for instruction

Explanation and Justification for Recommended Amount of Service Time

Explain how the minutes per week will be distributed (e.g., 30 minutes, 3 times per week = 90 minutes per week; one hour per month = 15 minutes per week, etc.):

If recommended service time as indicated by the VISSIT does not match the IEP team's decided amount of service time, please state the factors or reasons why this discrepancy occurred.

Introduction

Much confusion exists regarding the difference between recruitment and hiring. Seth Godin, noted human resources (HR) specialist, distinguishes between the two concepts. According to Godin: “Hiring is what you do when you let the world know that you're accepting applications from people looking for a job. Recruiting is the act of finding the very best person for a job and persuading them to stop doing what they're doing and come join you.” (Godin, 2009) Recruitment is also encouraging people to change professions, to become VI professionals.

This section will assist you in reviewing your hiring or employment options while providing a very brief overview of recruiting strategies. More information is located in Chapter 5: Recruiting VI Professionals.

Included in this chapter is information in the following areas:

  • Issues to consider when hiring dually certified VI professionals
  • Information about desirable characteristics for VI professionals
  • Using alternate pay scales for VI professionals as a tool for retention and recruitment

Advantages and disadvantages of various hiring options are listed at the end of the chapter. Additionally information about what you should expect to pay to contract with a VI professional is also included.

Assumptions

  • Administrators have access to career and hiring specialists in the human resource (HR) office. This is not intended to provide legal and technical information related to employment.
  • HR departments have expertise in issues related to employment and personnel management in general. However, beyond that, it is unlikely that they have any specific knowledge about VI professionals.
  • A caseload analysis is a fundamental step in determining the need for a new and/or additional VI professional and the percent of the full time equivalent (FTE) needed. (See Chapter 4)

Employing VI professionals

Once student needs have been identified and documented in a caseload analysis, decide how to structure the VI professionals’ jobs and how to recruit new or additional VI professionals.

Currently, there is a national shortage of educators certificated in visual impairments (TVIs) and orientation and mobility specialists (COMS). Also, many VI professionals anticipate retiring within the next 5 years. Added to this, there are a limited number of sources for new VI professionals. As a result, strategies for locating, interviewing, and hiring these professionals that may be a bit different than your district’s typical recruitment and hiring practices.

Overview of recruitment options

Hiring vs recruiting

Hiring is what you do when you let the world know that you're accepting applications …. Recruiting is the act of finding the very best person for a job and persuading them to stop doing what they're doing and come join you.” (Godin, 2009)

Recruitment options and strategies are discussed in more detail in Chapter 5: Recruitment. That chapter also includes information on locate VI professionals and strategies for making your program stand out. A brief listing of basic options is listed below:

  • Checking certifications of existing educators. It is not uncommon for districts to have staff members who have been previously certified in visual impairments but not currently working with student with visual impairments. There may be many reasons for this, and this change should be considered carefully. It is likely that if an educator is transferred, that a mentoring and professional development plan will be in order.
  • “Grow your own.” You may have an educator who is looking for a more challenging and leadership-oriented position but is not considering working in administration. She or he may be a perfect candidate to seek certification in visual impairments. This strategy often has the greatest long-term success, as the candidate is a known employee and committed to the district.
  • Look beyond the district. There are many avenues to find VI professionals. However, these may not be part of your district’s mainstream recruitment practices and may require looking out of your state. Chapter 5, Recruiting includes information about sources for potential candidates. 

Desirable characteristics of VI professionals

Itinerant positions are different from many other instructional settings. Itinerant VI professionals:

  • typically work with limited supervision;
  • travel from school to school or district to district;
  • work with multiple teams on each campus, often with between 50-75 members;
  • rely on interfacing with various professionals and their resources in educational and medical fields and in the local community; and
  • work with a wide range of ages, including infants.

As a result, VI professionals tend to work in a variety of environments and with minimal supervision. The best VI professionals were top-notch educators before they were certified in visual impairments.

In addition to being a skilled educator, other desirable qualities contributing to success as an itinerant educator include:

VI professionals typically work with limited supervision. Therefore it is important that those who hire have a solid understanding of what they are looking for in a VI professional.

  • Interactive (or “people”) skills for working within a team structure, including working with parents
  • Organizational skills for keeping materials, meetings, and records straight
  • Time-management skills for completing a variety of tasks in various locations
  • Diagnostic and report-writing skills for thoroughly communicating complex information to a wide audience in a way that is understood by the reader
  • Self-motivation and self-discipline to be successful in a relatively unstructured position
  • Advanced technology skills, or an interest and/or capacity for developing such skills

These characteristics are always desirable for any educator. However, given the reality that VI professionals work with limited supervision, these characteristics are even more important.

Does it matter when I start the hiring process?

The first step is to conduct a caseload analysis that is based on assessed needs (refer to Chapter 4: Caseload Analysis Guidelines). The caseload analysis ideally would occur before the budget is finalized in the spring. Typically, student caseloads are fairly constant during the fall and winter months, beginning in November, making this a good time to analyze the range of student need. The information collected during the caseload analysis helps document the need for additional staff for the benefit of the superintendent or school board.

Identifying the need as early as possible will also be helpful if the district decides to encourage an existing educator to get a VI certification. This will give the educator time to make up his or her mind and get enrolled in a training program. If your state has some type of probationary certificate in visual impairments, it may be possible to get a new VI teacher enrolled as early as the spring semester and be eligible to work as a probationary VI teacher the next fall.

Should I hire a VI professional on a higher pay scale or offer a stipend?

VI professionals often have responsibilities more in line with that of diagnosticians, whom they advise on matters of assessment and evaluation. Therefore it may make sense to put VI professionals on higher pay scales.

VI professionals hold a unique position in the district. They are perceived as the experts in visual impairments. Diagnosticians, supervisors, and administrators turn to VI professionals for advice on issues involving the purchase of expensive pieces of equipment, diagnostic practices, and interpreting the results of assessments. For an assessment to meet legal standards, and be valid, the VI teacher consults with the diagnostician on the type of modifications needed in any assessment regimen. This situation is not typical of other teachers in special education. TVI training is highly specific and is on a par with that of an occupational or physical therapist. O&M specialists are classified as related service personnel.

Quality VI services are very demanding on VI professionals. They must provide direct services, actively consult with other staff members on several campuses, preview and modify curricula, evaluate students, provide guidance to diagnostic staff, and interact with other agencies and medical staff. Effective VI staff also maintains consistent, ongoing communications with parents.

What should I expect to pay for contractual services?

School districts often contract for services of many types, such as OT and PT services and other professional services. Most districts will have policies on what they are able to pay. Sometimes there is room for negotiations, but it may be a narrow range.

Still, the question remains: what should I know before I enter into a conversation about contracting with a VI professional? How can I recruit this VI professional to my district?

Based on a 2010 survey of VI professionals from multiple states, consultants were paid between $70 and $150 per hour for contractual work. This was the 3rd time this survey was completed since 2000. While the dollar amounts may change the factors have remained constant. Factors that affect the rates are listed below.

  • Student attendance
    • Is the rate dependent on student is available? Or will the VI professional be paid even if the student is sick, or attending a school function or field trip?
    • Is there a cancellation time? For example, if the district informs the VI professional that the student isn’t available with less than 12 hours’ notice, will the VI professional be paid for all or a portion of the fee?
  • Direct and indirect services
    • Is there a ratio of direct and indirect services, such as the time needed for lesson planning or report writing? For example, for every 5 hours of direct service, is one hour of indirect service credited for planning, consulting, report writing?
  • Travel time
    • Is it included in the rate? Is the travel rate from portal-to-portal? Is travel time charged at a lower rate?
    • When significant travel is involved, either between students or getting to and from the district, will the district may offer a different rate for that time. It could be as low as 50% of the standard rate.
  • Mileage or Travel costs
    • Is it available? Is it included in the rate? Is it an extra fee? What is the current rate? What documentation is required?
    • As gas prices change, or travel time increases, are rates subject to change? If mileage isn’t charged, but gas costs are reimbursed, what documentation is required?
  • Evaluations, assessments and report writing
    • How will evaluations or assessment be completed? Will they be charged at the same rate as when the VI professional works with a student? Is it included in the rate? Is it an hourly rate or a flat fee? Is the time needed for report writing accounted for, either at a flat rate or as a ratio?
  • Collaborative consultation with other staff members
    • Is it included in the direct service rate? Is there a rate difference between collaborative consultations and direct service? Or is it charged as part of the entire service hour/unit?
  • Contract or subcontract
    • Is the consultant billing the district, or there is an agency that provides the service and the VI professional is a sub-contractor? If the district is going through another agency to get the services, how much will the VI professional earn? When agencies keep an excessive amount, or the amount the VI professional is less than the typical range, then the VI professional is more likely to leave and disrupt the services to the district.
  • Geography
    • Professional consultants in the northeast and California charged more than in the mid-west and south. Additionally, locations that are very rural or very urban may have different fee structures.

Replies in the higher ranges tended to exclude travel time and/or mileage. Replies in the lower ranges seemed to be “portal to portal” and payment was due even if the student didn’t show up or was otherwise unavailable.

In almost all instances, no taxes are withheld, no medical insurance is paid. School districts issue the IRS 1099 form.

Here are 3 examples of how a district may contract with a VI professional. Many other scenarios are possible. Hopefully, it will give you an idea of what you can expect.

  1. A district may pay on the lower end of the range: $80 per hour. However, it will pay even if the student doesn’t show up (possibly with a cap on absences), and will pay that same rate for assessments and evaluations and consulting with other educators. The district will also pay mileage at a standard rate, but will not pay for travel time.
  2. A district may pay in the mid-range of the scale for direct services, but the non-direct services are billed on an item-by-item basis. The travel time to see the student is more than an hour. So travel time is reimbursed at 50% of the hourly rage; no mileage reimbursement is included. Assessments and evaluations are paid at a flat fee. Functional vision evaluations and learning media assessments will cost $400.
  3. A district will pay at the high end of the range: $150 per hour. However, if the student doesn’t show up, the TVI or COMS won’t get paid. No mileage or travel time reimbursement is available. The contractor is paid for 1 hour per week to consult with other team members. Those evaluations necessary to determine eligibility may be billed for the amount of time needed to assess the student, but not other required assessments.

Hopefully, this will help you determine what sort of questions you may be asked and what you can expect to charge. Contractual services are an excellent option for districts in change for those who need less than a full time position. In many parts of the country, there is more contractual work than there are people to do it. So having a pro-active plan will work to the district’s advantage.

A special note about dual certification

While they share some common values, VI instruction and O&M services come from two different professions, not unlike OTs and PTs.

VI teachers (TVIs) and O&M specialists (COMS) belong to two different professions with two different sets of professional standards and practices, and are certified by different entities. Yet they share commonalities, not unlike the difference between an occupational therapist and a physical therapist. Extreme care must be taken to ensure that standards are not compromised when supervising a dually certified professional. Research indicates that students are at risk of receiving inadequate services in one discipline when the same person provides both VI and O&M services. (Griffin-Shirley, Pogrund,& Grimmet, 2011)

It is important to understand the administrative impact of dual certification. A full caseload (about 10–12 students) for either a TVI or an O&M specialist typically includes students who need direct and/or consultative services. Collaborative-consultation should be active and effective, following a transdisciplinary (or “role-release”) model. Although not all students with visual impairments require O&M at all times, it is reasonable to expect that at any given moment at least 60% of the students will need O&M. This amount may be more if the caseload includes:

  • very young students,
  • totally blind students,
  • students whose vision is changing, or
  • students are experiencing changes in the environmental demands. These changes may be due to a change in schools, community, or the student’s need to interact with the community.

Hiring options should always be based on assessed need, such as the data that comes from a workload analysis.

Should a TVI become certified as an O&M specialist (COMS) and function as both, then adjustments must be made to the professional’s caseload. Adding additional individualized education plan (IEP) instruction will require additional time per student. Active supervision and a caseload analysis are as critical for dually certified staff as for the single-certified VI professionals. A caseload for a dually certified professional who is providing both services may be 6–10 students.

What are my hiring options?

Districts have several hiring options, with each option having advantages and disadvantages. Each one may be appropriate at specific stages in a district or program. These listings were developed with significant input from special education administrators and VI professionals. These hiring options are viable for all VI positions, including braillists and paraprofessionals.

Independent contractual

VI professionals are hired for a specific set of services, such as working with students and writing reports. The contract usually establishes an hourly rate. Contractual rates vary greatly, but are affected by regional factors and whether the rate includes mileage, travel time, evaluations, and/or collaborative-consultation time. Contractual services may be indicated if a district needs a VI professional less than 8 hours (or one working day) per week. In a contractual arrangement such as this, a district usually sends the contractor an IRS 1099 form.

Advantages

  • Staff will be available for the amount of services needed.
  • The district may not be responsible for paying if a student is ill or away for any reason.
  • The district’s accounting process may be simplified because it is not responsible for any fringe or related benefits.
  • If the district is dissatisfied, it is easy to discontinue services.
  • Flexible, disability-specific expertise is available on a “just in time” basis.
  • Staff is available throughout the year with no down time.
  • Very limited purposes may make it easier to find and hire someone qualified.
  • Staff may be more “local” although not necessarily from the same community.

Disadvantages

  • Staff may not be able to provide comprehensive support for students and in various environments, especially those with additional disabilities, due to limited time.
  • Staff may not have ownership of students or district.
  • Independent contractors may seem distant or like they are not full members of the educational team.
  • The cost per student to the district will be higher than if the person is on staff (as in the remaining options).
  • The district will not have any control over the contractor’s professional development. Since professional development affects contractors both in lost wages and the cost of the training, they may be hesitant to pursue it.
  • Staff may not be available for team responsibilities, assessments, or related meetings.
  • The district may have difficulty maintaining consistency of staff and programming.
  • It may be difficult to locate an individual willing to work for very limited needs.
  • VI professionals may prefer to work in a position in which insurance benefits are available.
  • It may be difficult to access contractors when problems arise, parents need reassurance, or other team members need unexpected consultation and/or information.
  • Staff may be difficult to locate in very rural areas.

Part-time district contract

A district may choose to hire a VI professional for a designated portion of the week, such as 2 days or 50% of a full-time-equivalent (FTE) position. The VI professional works for the district as a standard employee, but not full time. These individuals are paid at the standard rate for the district. The VI professional is not employed by the district or co-op (or other shared service arrangement) for the remaining portion of the week. In a modified contractual arrangement such as this, a district usually sends the employee an IRS W-2 form.

Advantages

  • The VI professional will be a part of the district’s staff, which includes membership in the district’s educational team(s) and knowledge of the district’s systems, including purchasing and professional development.
  • Part-timers provide increased availability for assessment and evaluation, cross-professional collaborative-consultation, and access to and by parents.
  • Staff will be available for district and regional professional development, as long as it is possible to modify schedules.
  • The district may be able to offer a benefit package.
  • The district may be able to tap into a population of VI professionals who are not interested in full-time employment, including those who are semi-retired.
  • Services are available on a consistent basis all year long.
  • Consistency is likely to be increased between staff members throughout the year and from year to year.
  • Staff will not have to pay self-employment taxes.
  • This may be an intermediate step in a growing program.

Disadvantages

  • The district may be responsible for paying for the benefit package.
  • VI professionals may not be available to observe the students in various environments across the entire day.
  • Because VI professionals may have additional part-time contracts, flexibility in their scheduling may be limited.

Split-time district contract

The district employs the VI professional full-time, but splits responsibilities between VI-specific responsibilities and other responsibilities. Districts with less than six students with low vision or needing limited braille requirements most commonly use this model. Alternatively, districts that need more than a single VI professional, but not quite two FTEs use this model. This model does not include those VI professionals who are dually certified and function as VI teacher and O&M specialist.

This model may include professionals employed in a shared-services arrangement or a purchase-of-services agreement with a private agency.

Advantages

  • The VI professional will be a part of the district’s staff, which includes membership in the district’s educational team(s) and knowledge of the district’s systems, including purchasing and professional development.
  • The staff member has increased availability for scheduling changes necessary for IEPs/IFSPs, assessment and evaluation, and team functions.
  • Staff will not have to pay self-employment taxes.
  • In a shared-services arrangement, the VI professional may be able to adjust schedules to meet special situational needs, such as a parent conference, home visit, or evaluation.
  • The district has the potential to increase the VI services.

Disadvantages

  • Significant attention and support from the administrator is essential if this is to be done well. Quality VI programming requires flexibility to attend IEPs/IFSPs, assessments, parent meetings, team meetings, and to provide instruction in nontraditional environments and at nontraditional times. This flexibility may be challenging for a VI professional with other responsibilities, especially classroom responsibilities, and requires administrative support.
  • VI professionals may not be available to observe the students in various environments across the entire day.
  • Assessment in a broad array of areas is essential to quality programming. This will require access to a variety of environments and other professionals (e.g., diagnosticians, parents, and other specialized district staff). Special administrative attention to ensure a quality assessment is required when the special situations must be balanced with other demands of two jobs.
  • Quality VI programming includes attention to the many skills included in the expanded core curriculum (ECC)., including social skills and adapted daily living skills. Sometimes a generic special education resource room simply includes a student with a visual impairment with the other students. VI professionals are not tutors, and it is a waste of this unique resource to use them as such. Due to time and resource restraints and/or lack of VI expertise, the VI/generic certified teacher might resort to tutoring students in areas that could better be addressed by other professionals, and may not be available to provide instruction in the expanded core curriculum.
  • If the district participates in a cooperative-service arrangement, it must negotiate its share of the time that the VI professional will be available for services.

Full-time district contract - Single certification

A VI professional can be certified as a teacher of students with visual impairments (TVI) or as an O&M specialist (COMS). The VI professional is employed full time working with students with visual impairments.

Advantages

  • The VI professional will be a part of the district’s staff, which includes membership in the district’s educational team(s) and knowledge of the district’s systems, including purchasing and professional development.
  • The staff member will develop a thorough understanding of the students’ needs and strategies for integrating program resources.
  • Flexible instruction, assessment and evaluation, and teaming will be more likely.
  • Staff will be available for district and regional professional development.
  • Staff will be able to act as a liaison with other related community agencies and organizations.
  • Staff will be available for collaborative-consultation and assessment with other team members.
  • If the district that employs the VI professional participates in a cooperative-service arrangement, the district may have limited administrative responsibilities.

Disadvantages

  • The district will be responsible for all of the costs and responsibilities associated with full-time employees, including evaluating staff performance.
  • If the district participates in a cooperative-service arrangement, it must negotiate the share of the time that the VI professional will be available for services.
  • If the district participates in a cooperative-service arrangement, it may have limited administrative responsibilities.

Full-time district contract - Dual certification

A VI professional who has both a VI and an O&M certificate is referred to as being dually certified. This may be preferable if a district needs 1.5 FTE VI teachers and a .5 FTE time O&M specialist.

Advantages

  • Districts can vary the time spent providing VI and O&M services based on student needs.
  • The VI professional will be a part of the district’s staff, with all that that entails.
  • Staff will be available for district and regional professional development.
  • The dually certified professional offers some capacity for coordination between VI and O&M programming.

Disadvantages

  • It may be difficult to keep professional identity balanced. Staff may identify with one profession significantly more than the other. As a result, more time may be spent on one area and less time on the other than is indicated. Student progress may be severely inhibited in the area receiving less emphasis.
  • It may be difficult to recruit a dually certified VI professional into the district.
  • Many districts have discovered that it is not reasonable for staff to provide VI and O&M services to the same students without very active and informed supervision. For the supervision to be effective and efficient, it is incumbent on the supervisor to have at least basic knowledge of both fields. A 2009 informal anonymous poll indicated that 60% of the responding administrators in Texas did not feel confident about their ability to supervise VI professionals. (Miller & Pogrund, 2009).

Participating in a shared-services arrangement or special/limited cooperative for VI services.

Although it may require more coordination with others outside of your district, exploring the “special purpose” cooperative may be much more cost effective than hiring a VI consultant or O&M specialist on a contractual basis.

Many states have “special purpose” cooperatives. A special (or limited) purpose cooperative is based on an agreement between special education programs to jointly provide a specific service. The scope and responsibilities of those services are defined by the participating districts, resulting in a very useful arrangement for small populations of students, such as those with visual impairments. Typically, these provide specific services and can be formed and dissolved with a minimum of effort.

Districts may collaborate to hire a single full-time VI professional or to develop a more complete program with multiple staff members. Historically, this option has been underutilized, especially for O&M specialists. Many administrators are not even aware of this type of arrangement. Specific details will vary by state.

An example of how one could be arranged follows:

  • Multiple districts agree to share services with a single fiscal agent
  • The group may function as a co-op or as a purchase-of-services contract between districts
  • The members complete those forms required by the state education agency
  • This arrangement allows a district to:
    • share professionals in specialized areas
    • be able to offer the benefits of full employment to the staff person
    • have the benefits of having a staff person in (or near) the district
    • easily dissolve the arrangement when needs change

Advantages

  • Flexibility from year to year and the ability to adjust to changes quickly, possibly without needing to change staff assignments.
  • Flexibility when a VI professional is out for an extended, but limited, period, such as family leave or illness.
  • Shared costs of expensive equipment between districts, such as talking graphing calculators or electronic braille equipment, especially when the equipment may be needed by a specific student for only a limited period of time.
  • Robust problem-solving capacity.
  • Increased use of professional development resources.
  • Increased capacity for consistency of services between districts.
  • Reduced professional isolation, thereby retaining VI professionals in the local area.

Disadvantages

  • Districts must develop an agreement about how to split the costs and the time of the VI professional(s), and may need to renegotiate it from year to year.
  • Costs may vary, from year to year, more than more traditional program. The cost is still likely to be less than a contractual staff member, but the district’s share of the costs may vary.
  • Not all states have such an arrangement.
  • Districts may have divergent policies and support for specific and potentially sensitive arrangements, such as when O&M specialists take a student off campus for instruction.

References

Godin, S., 2009. The difference between hiring and recruiting (Blog post). Retrieved from: http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2009/12/the-difference-between-hiring-and-recruiting.html

Griffin-Shirley, N.,Pogrund, R., Grimmet, E., 2011. View of Dual-certified vision education professionals across the United States. Insight , Vol. 4 15-21.

Miller, C., & Pogrund, R. (2009). Survey of administrator confidence in managing VI programs. Unpublished internal report developed as part of data presented to the Texas Education Agency.

VISSITlogo-horizontal

The VISSIT: Visual Impairment Scale of Service Intensity of Texas is designed to guide teachers of students with visual impairments (TVIs) in determining the type and amount of itinerant TVI services to recommend for students on their caseload. The Individualized Education Program (IEP) committee will typically rely upon the TVI for this recommendation. This scale supports the TVI in quantifying information for the IEP committee. It is hoped that the VISSIT will provide guidance so that all students with visual impairments get the benefit of an appropriate amount and type of service.


Acknowledgements

Members of the Service Intensity Subcommittee of the Texas Action Committee for the Education of Students with Visual Impairments who developed the VISSIT include:

  • Rona Pogrund, Texas Tech University, Chair
  • Chrissy Cowan, Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired Outreach
  • Shannon Darst, Texas Tech University
  • Kitra Gray, Region 10 Education Service Center
  • Tracy Hallak, Stephen F. Austin State University
  • Cyral Miller, Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired Outreach
  • Michael Munro, Stephen F. Austin State University
  • Cecilia Robinson, Region 4 Education Service Center
  • Mary Ann Siller, Richardson Independent School District
  • Frankie Swift, Stephen F. Austin State University

Former members of the Subcommittee who contributed in the early stages of the development of the scale include: Michelle Chauvin, parent; Jim Durkel, Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired Outreach; Dixie Mercer, Stephen F. Austin State University; Ann Rash, Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired Outreach; Suzy Scannell, Region 4 Education Service Center; and Steve Young, Alief Independent School District Administrator

Logo credits:

  • Logo Concept- Timothy Henderson and Francia Cotrone
  • Logo Design- Ben Pogrund

Electronic scale: Stephanie Isbell, Region 11 Education Service Center

Website: Jim Allan & Kate Hurst, Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired Outreach