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Distance Mentorship

By Megan Cote, Jon Harding, Bob Taylor — Read full transcript

Distance mentorship is about building a relationship and serving as a mentor for any member in a team. Megan Cote from the Kansas Deaf-Blind Project, Jon Harding from the National Consortium of Deaf-Blindness, and Bob Taylor from the Kansas School for the Blind discuss a distance mentorship model was developed in Kansas and the benefits of this model in demonstrating student competence, supporting transition, and professional development.

Chapters: 1 — Introduction; 2 — Building the Team; 3 — The Technological Components of Distance Mentorship; 4 — How Distance Mentorship Works in Practice; 5 — Beyond the Monthly Meeting; 6 — Conclusions.

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Now Playing: Chapter 1


Webcast Transcript:


CHAPTER 1: Introduction

NARRATOR: Perkins & The National Consortium on Deaf-Blindness Present: Distance Mentorship with Megan Cote, Jon Harding, and Boy Taylor.

HARDING Distance mentorship is the idea that you're building a relationship, that you're serving as a mentor for a person, or sometimes multiple people in a team. You know, "team" is such a strong concept in schools, and we want to support that concept.

COTE: Right now, we have approximately 150 kids, and we're only a few part-time staff members, and so it was really hard to be able to take the time and the expense to drive all over the state to be able to see these kids.

And so we were looking for a way to do two things: one, provide good technical assistance, and two, be able to do it more frequently with teams that are in more of the rural parts of the state where it's harder for us to reach them on a regular basis.

And then the other piece of it was we have a good relationship with some of the folks at the State School for the Blind, and they were seeing some of these same students on outreach services as well, so we wanted to be able to combine and work cohesively as a team to make unified recommendations.

HARDING: I'll answer a little bit differently. I think one of the motivations for us was the recognition that there were several agencies serving kids who are deaf-blind but didn't always coordinate together, communicate as well as we could, so when we thought about this, we thought, "What is a way that we can really work together, build some trust and do something fun?" So that was another motivation for it.

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CHAPTER 2: Building the Team

HARDING: Multiple agencies were serving kids who are deaf-blind. We had the School for the Deaf, we had the School for the Blind, we had the Deaf-Blind Project, and I happen to represent the national project in Kansas, but we had independent wheels spinning, and I thought this was a great opportunity to kind of reset these relationships to build trust amongst the consultants. And so that was really the core original team.

COTE: Yeah, and then for the school team, it just depends on who's on the kids' individualized education plan. So if the related service providers happen to be an OT, a PT, a speech path, they may have a TVI that works with them, they may... you know, the parents may be really regularly involved with what is happening at the school. It could be the principal is really involved, or even an assistant principal. They could have social workers involved.

I mean, it can go really deep, so some of our teams are 15 members strong, and some are the kids that are still, you know, it's mom and dad at home with the child and related service providers pop in from time to time, and so those teams tend to be smaller than the kids that are in school.

NARRATOR: We see a page from a Web site titled "Blake's Wiki." It is a distance mentoring resource site for a young girl, Blake, who is deaf-blind.

Included in the information on the page is a listing of team members. There are four consultants and five educational team members.

HARDING: It's really critical for us to say you have to have a relationship in place before you start this process.

COTE: I think it's vital, like, I don't think you could do this unless you have an existing relationship, because there's a certain amount of trust, trust with what's going to happen with the content and trust with, as a consultant, how I am going to behave with them.

And I think without that level of trust, they're a little less sure of being forthcoming about the problems that they're actually going through and owning it and being honest with it, because there's a certain amount of vulnerability that's involved with putting yourself out there on a video for a bunch of people to scrutinize. So they have to have an existing relationship with us to believe that we're going to be kind about it.

TAYLOR: So this team-building is pretty important. You've got to be flexible. So the person walking in has to be able to work with the team. I mean, you have to have not just good communication skills but good listening skills. So the premium value is team collaboration. And then from there, you start using technology. So it's not technology solves the problem, it just gives you that Swiss army knife.

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CHAPTER 3: The Technological Components of Distance Mentorship

COTE: So we knew we wanted regular video, and then we knew we were going to need time to gather, as a group, if you will, virtually, to be able to talk more about what their issues were, because sometimes it's hard to fully explain the coaching of what we're wanting to do through typing. And so we were able then to say, "Let's try for monthly meetings, "see if it's reasonable for your team and see if it's reasonable for ours."

HARDING: We also recognized that we needed to communicate with each other as consultants, so we thought, "Oh, you know, what's out there? "We don't have a lot of money. "What could we pick that would allow us "to build an electronic repository "that would allow us, as consultants, to communicate, but also to communicate with our teams?"

NARRATOR: A clip from an online meeting to develop a person-centered plan shows video from participants at two locations.

One consultant is in his office, while at the other location, several members of the team, including consultants, teachers, and a young girl in a wheelchair, are together in a classroom. There are notes about the meeting on the left side of the screen.

COTE: And then we bought Flip cameras for each of the teams that we were working with, and sometimes we would buy them for home, too, depending upon, you know, if we wanted to make sure a lot of video was being taken at home, because they were having concerns at home, and we wanted to make sure that it wasn't being left at school when it needed to be at home and vice versa.

So we bought ten Flip cameras and then would just farm them out to the teams. We knew that we needed regular video to be posted to the team collaboration site in order to be able to watch progress on whatever the strategy was or the skill or concept was that we were trying to impart onto the educational team.

TAYLOR: So we started adding things called, like, a team collaboration site or a wiki, okay, and we invite people, so we have more people talking together, even though they can't be in the same time and space. So we started taking the previous videotapes that we were sending us or they were sending them, and now they're being shared on one place.

So now we have something that we could talk about, we could leave messages like on a blog or interactive blog, and the wiki became something that we can grow with each team a little bit different.

NARRATOR: On the Web page titled "Blake's Wiki," we can see several folders and their contents. Among the folder titles we see as the page scrolls are "Meeting Notes," "Blake's Maps," "Evaluations," "Resources" and "Video Clips." There is also an area to post comments or questions.

HARDING: Our thought process is that really the meat of it really should be what I call the electronic repository, the meeting place in between the times that you're going to do the monthly Web conference.

There should be constant dialogue there, there should be questions posted up there, there should be videos. We should be posting resources, just-in-time resources saying, "Look at this article." And what I often talk about, I call that just-in-time learning, what we find is if we post a four-page article, sometimes that's too much.

We sometimes have to go through and say, "Read this paragraph from this article. We think it's relevant for what we're talking about here." The technology at first is up-front, it's a little bit of a hindrance-- again, you're changing behaviors and changing, you know, the way you do business-- but over time, our goal is really to have that technology fade, to make it almost automatic, that we know when we show up on a Friday at 10:30, we're going to be ready to go. And for the most part, it's that way.

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CHAPTER 4: How Distance Mentorship Works in Practice

COTE: Sometimes the teams only have 30 minutes to meet with us, and sometimes they can meet for a full hour, which is a real luxury, so we have to take the window of time that they afford us and try to let them drive the agenda for the meeting so that we make sure to hit what they believe is the most pressing issues that they have so they can leave satisfied, feeling like they gained knowledge that they needed in order to change their behavior or the student's behavior that next day, to make it a richer program for the kid.

TAYLOR: You've heard a picture's worth a thousand words, and, well, video's even better. (chuckles) It catches positioning, it catches the pacing within the routine, it catches hand-under-hand versus hand-over-hand, it catches the symbols that are being used or the lack of symbols, it catches the variance between trainers if there's more than one person involved. And this alone is much better than a linear checklist.

NARRATOR: In a video clip that was posted to Blake's Wiki, we see a young girl who is deaf-blind in a wheelchair with a tray across the armrests. On the tray is a pan containing warm water and a knobby yellow ball.

Using a hand-under-hand technique, an aide encourages the girl to explore the pan and ball.

HARDING: The concept is that we're just going to take a snapshot-- a video snapshot, really, if there is such a thing-- that we say, "Show us something that's going well. "You pick something that you think is going well, "or conversely, things that you want help "or you're struggling with, "and let's use that three-, four-, "five-minute window of video and analyze that and reflect upon it."

I mean, reflection is such an important piece of this as consultants, but also as a team. They don't have time, typically, to think about what they're doing or to remember what they've done. When they watch themselves interacting with a child, as we all do, we say, "Wow, I didn't realize I was doing that, I had no idea."

And there's a million opportunities for us to look at that video, and it has to be an interaction between a service provider and a child-- or two children, sometimes, their peers-- but it should be an activity, something with a goal.

COTE: We just requested a minimum of two videos a week, less than five minutes each, where they do a little bit of beginning explanation about what it is that we were going to be viewing so that we had some background contextual information for what we needed to be watching for.

HARDING: Tell us how the child is feeling-- did they sleep last night, did they have trouble with their G-tube-- so we know what's going on, and that helps us contextualize the situation. They become much better at that. They'll point the camera at themselves and say, "Okay, this is Sandy, it's third hour," and it really helps us, to do that.

But we're looking for a snapshot, a small window, where we can dissect, reflect and then hopefully generalize that to different activities.

TAYLOR: So now we're going to reverse things. We're going to change how we're going to do it.

NARRATOR: In a video clip, we see three consultants sitting together on one side of a table as they conduct a video conference with an educational team. The team is visible on the screen of a laptop that sits on the table in front of the consultants.

COTE: And there are times, too, where what we're recommending as a unit is not what they're ready for, or they want something else at that particular time, or it might not be the direction that the parent is interested in going at that point in time, and then we have to respect that.

And sometimes, as professionals, we're coming at it from a different angle where I may be thinking about the general ed setting and thinking about what to do to accommodate that general ed setting, and another coworker might be thinking about the vision part, "Let's think about the vision and what needs to be happening with this child's vision."

So sometimes we don't... as a DMP team, as the outside people coming in, we don't always prioritize the goals the same way also. So it really helps to get buy-in from the team to kind of drive what they want to learn next.

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CHAPTER 5: Beyond the Monthly Meeting

COTE: I recently went to a parent-teacher conference and instead of the teacher pushing a piece of paper in front of the parent with data on progress, they already had the team collaboration site up on the SMART Board in the classroom and said, "Let's start with the first IEP objective." She was going to trail the hallway a certain distance.

She said, "Let me show you her progress from August," and she showed her August, and she said, "And now in February." And so the parents were able to, like, visually take in at that moment the progress that their child had made, and even though they had had access to the videos all along and had been watching them, when you watch the beginning and you see the now-- you know, sometimes the middle can blur it-- the progress was phenomenal.

So that's been a really fun thing, to see how the teams have taken off with using these team collaboration sites to empower... demonstrating competencies on the part of the child. It's been really neat.

NARRATOR: In a comment written on Blake's Wiki page, her teacher describes posting a video of Blake interacting with a peer in her classroom.

The teacher indicates that she would like some feedback on the communications cues that Blake appears to be using to indicate when she is interested in an activity and when she is finished.

TAYLOR: We talked to this new teacher about the site, we invited them to the site, she looked at all the videos on there, she saw the comments on there, and all of a sudden I got a phone call the following Tuesday and she said, "I never dreamed so much information "could be in one place. This is going to make it a lot easier."

HARDING: You never know where it's going to go. I think we've had some surprises, people who we didn't anticipate would really be drawn to the process and really enjoy it, and people we assumed who would who weren't very comfortable with it.

But the transitions are really critical because we have kids who may move from a preschool setting to a kindergarten or from kindergarten to first grade, and the entire team changes. And they may have a stack of papers that say, "Here's the IEP, here's what you can expect," but that really doesn't tell the story.

A video is very powerful; they can see the routines that we've been working on, they can see the activities, all the conversation that we've had, all the investment of time and energy, and hopefully direction and progress, and say, "Oh, I get that." We've had new teachers who say, "Oh, this is fabulous, I did not expect this," so it's very powerful.

COTE: The other cool thing that we've been able to do is pull in other professionals across the country when we have needed some extra help.

There was a student that we were all sort of in a disagreement about. She was pushing on her eye at certain times of day, and the school team was thinking that she was doing it as a negative behavior and they wanted to extinguish the behavior, and through watching the videos, my gut was telling me something different.

My gut was telling me that when she was pushing on the corner of her eye, she was doing it when the visual demand was higher to her. And so we were able to send the video to her eye doctor to watch the video and say, "What is this? "Is she trying to focus "or is she trying to do some self-injurious behavior here? What angle should we take?"

And luckily, I was right that time and she was doing it to focus, but if we couldn't have brought in that other team member from the outside, they could have potentially gone down the "let's try to extinguish this" route, which obviously then down the road would have elevated her behavior because she would have been frustrated about the fact that she wasn't able to focus in on what it was that she was trying to look at.

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CHAPTER 6: Conclusions

HARDING: It doesn't replace... I think for T.A. providers, it's in no way replacing what they do.

We don't say, "Throw out what you're doing and just do this exclusively." It's an accoutrement: it adds richness to what you're doing. As I described earlier, I think so many providers, at times, are lonely and frustrated. They want to spend more time, they want to build relationships, they want to get to know people, they want to feel that they're connected to the people they're meeting and supporting, and this really allows... it gives them permission to set time aside to investigate, to explore, to build relationships over time and at the end of it say, "That was really neat. I made a difference, I feel good about that."

And I know that when we withdraw or when I withdraw, they will continue to implement the things that I've taught them and make a difference. So that's the process that I think is really valuable and why I would encourage somebody to do it.

NARRATOR: The Distance Mentoring Project has created teacher resources using some of the videos that educational teams have posted.

We see a video clip of Blake, the young girl who is deaf-blind, and her teacher, playing with a yellow plastic lei.

Graphics have been added to indicate the times when good techniques are being followed, such as the teacher pausing to wait for a response before continuing the activity.

TAYLOR: The whole purpose of this process is to get away from that expert model and to build collaboration with teams. The end result, really, is so they can solve these problems on their own.

COTE: Sometimes you feel like the lone ranger, literally, while you're driving out into the Kansas fields, trying to find a house on a gravel road.

You just feel like, "I hope I have the wisdom today "to give these parents or this team whatever it is that they need," and that can get lonely over time.

And so it's just been very fun to feel like we're finally going deep. And people ask me all the time, and it's part of the accountability as a State Deaf-Blind Project Coordinator, "Are you making an outcome for the kid? "Are you changing teacher behavior? "Are you changing student behavior? "Are you changing the quality of life "for the parents and the families as a result of the work that you're doing?"

And I feel like now I have something that I can hang on to and say, "Yeah, look, it's here, it's right in front of you, and we absolutely are, because you can physically see it." So for me, it's just been really rewarding to be able to feel the camaraderie, feel the frustration together, feel the joy together, and also be able to feel like I can finally show, visually, an outcome.

You can see the difference in what's happened for the teachers, you can see the difference in what's happened for the kids, and you can see the difference in the confidence that the parents have gotten as a result of this interaction, so it's been awesome.

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