At Bellefonte Area School District, employees are required to participate in professional development-type training throughout the year to help build knowledge and skills. At the district, it’s called professional learning that often allows staff to facilitate sessions for other staff members in a variety of disciplines.
For those involved in special education, it’s a way to further build their understanding of multiple topics of the subject area, while also providing education to others.
“The regulations and requirements change so constantly and we need to be updated on those,” Special Education Director Gina MacFalls said. “It can also be highly litigious and we need to make sure we’re following things the way they need to be followed. A lot of times, it’s not just working with pockets of special ed – most (special ed) students are also part of general education classes and environments, so it’s pertinent for all teachers to learn about. … The background and history can be provided to better help our staff understand why things are done the way they are.”
Paraeducators who are a part of the special education department are required to have at least 20 hours of professional learning annually. Administrators and professional staff members who are a part of special education must abide by Act 48, which requires them to have at least 180 credit hours during a five-year period in order to stay certified. This can come through taking courses, district-provided professional learning sessions, attending conferences and more.
Special education staff members such as teachers Erin Cernuska and Erin Chapman work regularly to facilitate sessions during professional learning days that are targeted toward special education and open to all professional staff members. MacFalls also holds sessions and presents at conferences on topics such as differentiated instruction, legal issues in special education, data collection and more.
Special education-based professional learning includes, but is not limited to:
- Least restrictive environment: provides staff with an overview of the legalities regarding supports and services for students with disabilities in the general education classroom.
- Safety Care for school-aged children: participating staff are trained in advanced strategies for managing behavior and safely intervening with small children.
- Using data to change student behavior: focuses on how to collect baseline data in the area of student behaviors and concentrating on types of data appropriate to collect for specific types of behaviors and how data can be used to foster positive behavior change through appropriate interventions.
- Positive behavior support plans at a glance: explains the process of creating and implementing a positive behavior support plan for students, while discussing law and research for positive behavior supports, analyzing components of behavior plans and identifying the role of a teacher in implementing student behavior plans.
- Effective collaboration with teachers and paraprofessionals: applies effective communication strategies to avoid pitfalls and frustrations when providing services to students in elementary, middle and/or high school classes.