Special education success, even during a pandemic

The move to virtual learning hasn’t impeded this district’s special education process

When it comes to integrating technology into the day-to-day workings of special education, even during rolling lockdowns and remote instruction, there is no longer a question of either/or when it comes to using tech, says Tarrence (Tarry) McGovern, Director of Special Education for Kershaw County School District in South Carolina.

In this podcast with eSchool News, McGovern talks about some of the innovations in special education and how they can be applied to education in general.

eSN: As difficult as the current situation has been for education in general, there must be some extra burdens in your space.

TMC: From a special education perspective, it’s been a learning process as well. One of the things that we’ve had to focus on is parent participation. Previously there was a mindset that we always had to meet in-person. Everybody had to be together—the IEP team, appropriate team members, service providers—everybody. And we were going to meet in this single room.

Now, as we move through and progress through the pandemic, one of the things we’ve found is that we can be in multiple places. So for example, if we have a related service provider that provides services in four different schools, and they can’t be across town at one of their schools, they can jump on a Google meet and they can participate in the IEP meeting virtually.

eSN: Seems obvious now, but not necessarily a year ago!

TMC: I think that’s been probably the biggest thing that we’ve had occur as far as opening up the whole new world in that manner. And I think parents have become more comfortable with that as well. We continue to have some parents that would prefer to meet face to face. And, we do want to be able to have them coming to the schools, but the reality is we can’t always socially distance appropriately. So we may end up putting a representative and the special education teacher in a room with the parent. And then the general education teacher may be in another part of the school and a related service provider may be in another. So we’re doing sort of mini pod-type activities with IEP meetings.

eSN: So you’re finding that this set-up is better for teachers as well?

TMC: I feel like we are. I’ll tell you that our teachers feel comfortable now. The old “note home” is no longer the old “note home.” It’s more like, “Can you jump on to Google for a minute and let’s Google Meet, and let’s talk about some of the issues that we’re seeing that are going on in the classroom?”

Another big plus is that school-to-home transition. We know how education can be sometimes, where it’s like, “Ah, it’s the end of the day, I’ll see you tomorrow.” What I find now, particularly with preschool students, is that teachers are now able to really talk to the parents about what’s going on in the home. Some of them will jump on at 3:30 in the afternoon if a parent has a question about a developmental level—say a student’s non-verbal, but they’re using, you know, pick symbols—and they want to know how they can help their child with a chore around the house or with toileting needs. And the teacher can get on and say, “You know, this is how we do it in school. This is how you can transition at home.” So that’s been a huge benefit of just trying to think differently and trying to use technology differently.

eSN: So the tech is really an enhancer not any sort of replacement.

TMC: What we’ve learned through the pandemic is you can’t replace a teacher in a classroom and being in a classroom with other students. There’s always been that idea from some to push the idea that, with a computer in hand, a kid could learn anywhere. What we found through the pandemic is that ideally, we want kids in schools and we want kids interacting, and we want technology to be a product that just helps them access and to learn, but not to be the product.

Sitting in front of a computer, doing computerized instruction all day is not going to give the children the social interaction they need. So while technology is phenomenal, and while it is a game changer, it is that idea of the classroom and the teacher and the students together interacting in small groups is more important than ever. There’s no replacement for it.

About the Author:

Kevin is a forward-thinking media executive with more than 25 years of experience building brands and audiences online, in print, and face to face. He is an acclaimed writer, editor, and commentator covering the intersection of society and technology, especially education technology. Most recently, he has was Managing Director of Content for Tech& Learning. You can reach Kevin at KevinHogan@eschoolnews.com