Encouraging Collaboration: Beginning of the School Year Advice for Teachers of Students with Visual Impairments (TSVIs)
Authors: Emily Leeper: VI Educational Consultant, Outreach Programs, Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (TSBVI)
Keywords: collaboration, communication, respect, low vision devices, braille, itinerant
We have all been there—it’s prep week for a new school year and your student’s teachers are all too busy to talk to you about your student. Besides, does it really matter? After all, you too are scrambling to get your student’s equipment and materials ready for the first day of school. But we all know it does matter even though it may be the most challenging thing to accomplish as an itinerant TSVI.
Teachers are pulled in so many different directions during prep week that you may only get 15 minutes or so to talk with your student’s teachers as a group. Trying to communicate everything about your student, plus information on visual impairment, all in 15 minutes, only stresses you out and doesn’t allow others to process what you have to say.
What should you do?
- Focus on introducing yourself and putting faces to names. Communicate your role and how often you’ll likely be on the campus.
- Tell them 2-3 key things about the student. Start with learning media and any equipment your student uses. If you create a presentation, keep it to 5 slides or less and include pictures. Limit the text. Consider having your student practice areas of the expanded core curriculum such as self-determination, assistive technology and career planning by creating a short powerpoint about themselves at the end of the previous school year to share.
- Emphasize that you are there to support them! Collaboration is key to effective service delivery, and establishing rapport and trust is an important part of encouraging it.
- Let them know that you respect their time.
- For students who use braille, avoid starting off by telling teachers, “I need materials two weeks in advance.” This sometimes results in the teacher sending very little material to you and forces the student to complete most work auditorily. It can also create a barrier to collaboration because it can put teachers on the defensive.
After the 15 minute meeting
- Send a follow-up email to everyone on the student’s educational team, including administrators. Attach the student’s powerpoint if you have one. Use bullet points to highlight key information about the student’s accommodations and devices. Again let them know that you are available to help them. Keep things positive!
- Take time to show teachers how to enlarge material on the copier. Make sure they know the student’s required font size for electronic or printed work. If the student uses low vision devices, such as a CCTV, show them how encouraging the student to use their devices makes things much easier for them. No need to make copies if the student uses their devices!
- Meet with teachers individually and explain why braille/tactile materials are so important for the student’s learning. Get creative with how you get materials and how you get them to the student. For example, ask to join the teacher’s online classroom and the team’s shared drive so you can have a better idea of upcoming lessons and get the material earlier. The teacher doesn’t even have to remember to send it to you! Show teachers tactile graphics you have made so that they can begin to understand the time involved. Leave tools in the classroom that the teacher can use to create graphics on the fly such as the Draftsman, and the Wheatley Tactile Diagramming kit.
- Be understanding about the stress level of starting a new school year for everyone. Don’t insist that everything is “perfect” for your student before the first day of school. Flexibility is so important. Teachers need time to get to know your student and it seems there are always changes at the beginning of the year.
At the end of the first week
- Congratulate yourself—you made it through!
- Send another check-in email to the team. Ask how you can help them.
- Communicate your planned direct instruction schedule for your student.
- Thank teachers for getting material to you quickly for transcription.
- Be kind! Both to the teachers and yourself!
Weeks 2 and 3
- Check-in again (in person if you can).
- Send reminder emails about materials for transcription as you work to establish a “flow” with the classroom teachers. Again, thank teachers for getting materials to you well in advance.
- Continue to stay positive!
The first few weeks of school are crucial for establishing effective collaboration with a student’s educational team. Advice for maintaining positive and productive collaboration throughout the school year will be presented in the Fall issue of TX SenseAbilities.