A New School Year: Imagine the Possibilities!

By Denyse Doerries, Ph.D.

Educators begin each school year full of hopes and dreams for their students' success. The articles in this issue of Link Lines are intended to help make these dreams possible by providing strategies that focus on what works to produce positive outcomes for students with disabilities and others at risk for low performance.

We encourage teachers to begin the school year by trying one new strategy that (a) increases student engagement in the learning process; (b) creates an orderly, personalized learning environment; or (c) increases behavioral skills that promote social competency. Regardless of their students' age or grade level, teachers have the power to increase students' likelihood of graduating with a standard or advanced diploma by finding ways to increase positive interaction between students and adults, to engage students in the instructional process, and to teach them behaviors needed to be socially competent. (Read about the critical factors needed for increasing graduation outcomes for students with disabilities at http://education.wm.edu/centers/ttac/documents/increasinggraduationrates/dropouttograduationtransforming.pdf.)

The first step in making a positive change is to focus on strengths. Educators can assess students' strengths - what they can do and what worked for them in the past - and, based on that information, create an instructional match. Two articles in this issue of Link Lines, Celebrating Quality Instruction and Highly Effective Teachers and Creating an Effective Instructional Match: The Link to Moving Students Forward , provide specific strategies for creating classrooms where all students are engaged in the critical content areas.

Two additional articles, Doing One Thing to Increase Student Engagement: The Power of Praise and Defining and Assessing Social Competence, provide steps to creating caring relationships that are critical to preventing students from dropping out of school. The school environment or culture is pivotal to success for all students as well as educators. School culture impacts both student and staff performance. How We Do Business Here:  Assessing Your School's Culture  presents clear guidelines for assessing and changing school culture.

Each article also includes information for families about ways to support students in the school environment. (Read about the Diplomas Now Model, a dropout prevention program at a middle school that describes a school culture that promotes student and teacher engagement at following website: http://education.wm.edu/centers/ttac/localregional/increasinggraduationrates/index.php.)

Also featured as part of this edition of Link Lines is information on the new Virginia Modified Achievement Standard Test (VMAST). Visit the link below to read more about the news release announcing the phaseout of the VGLA http://www.doe.virginia.gov/news/news_releases/2010/apr22.shtml.

Hold on to your dreams, but work to make them a reality by trying one new strategy that will change the life of a child for even 5 minutes each day. (Listen to an inspiring podcast about how to make real change in your life by Chip Heath, author of Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard at http://sic.conversationsnetwork.org/shows/detail4527.html.)

To learn additional strategies, see flyer (see link below) for Symposium on Professional Collaboration and Inclusive Education - keynote speaker, Todd Gravois, who will present on Creating Systems of Support for Teachers and Students: Collaborating for Change (Event has past)