TRIAD trains rural Tennessee early childhood educators

Evidence-based practices in this model early childhood inclusive classroom include the use of visual supports in the structured play center. Photo courtesy TRIAD.

TRIAD is training early childhood educators in rural East Tennessee through a model classroom in Cocke County, a 3-day workshop held in October, and follow-up coaching and mentoring during the 2015-16 school-year.

Services for preschool children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other developmental disabilities are needed throughout Tennessee, but services are most lacking in Tennessee’s rural areas. About two-thirds of Tennessee’s land area (68 of 95 counties) is considered rural by federal definition.

TRIAD (Treatment and Research Institute for Autism Spectrum Disorders) is in its third and final year of a training grant with the Tennessee Department of Education to train rural early childhood educators in the use of evidence-based strategies by partnering with a school in each of Tennessee’s three Grand Regions to develop Model Early Childhood Classrooms, and to provide a regional 3-day training workshop and follow-up coaching and mentoring for workshop participants.

“The Department of Education is so pleased to partner with TRIAD in reaching educators in our many rural Tennessee counties,” said Gary Smith, 619 Coordinator for Early Childhood IDEA Programs. “Establishing a model classroom in each of Tennessee’s three Grand Regions, combined with training workshops and follow-up consulting for educators, anchors training in evidence-based practices for children with autism and other developmental disabilities.”

In Years 1 and 2, Model Classrooms were set up in Putnam County in Middle Tennessee and Gibson County in West Tennessee. This year, the Model Classroom is in Cocke County in East Tennessee.

Model Classroom in Cocke County

“Our new Model Early Childhood Classroom is at Northwest Elementary School,” said LaTamara Garrett. M.Ed., BCBA, TRIAD Early Childhood Program coordinator. “They’re doing a great job, and in turn this classroom is key to showing other early childhood educators in their region that these evidence-based practices are doable and that they contribute to student success. We’re grateful for the support of Dr. Shannon Grooms, principal at Northwest, and Special Education director Patricia Ellison in helping to make this possible.”

The Model Classroom process began before the school year started. Ali Spidalieri, M.Ed., BCBA, TRIAD educational consultant, and colleagues met with teacher Melanie DeLanzo and her two paraprofessional assistants to teach them to develop and implement evidence-based strategies. Together they restructured the classroom into Work and Play Centers. Training included the center rotations and the use of visual schedules. The blended classroom serves 13 students, ages 4 to 5 years, who are typically developing or who have ASD or other developmental disabilities.

TRIAD consultants then visited the Model Classroom about a month into their school year to check on student and educator progress. They will visit two more times this academic year for additional coaching and mentoring.

TRIAD Workshop for Early Childhood Educators

After establishing the Model Classroom, the next step was a 3-day workshop in October for East Tennessee early childhood educators held at Northwest Elementary School. It was attended by 19 teachers from 13 different schools.

“What’s cool is not only the content of the TRIAD training workshop but also that teachers get the opportunity to go into the Model Classroom to see how the strategies are being implemented,” Spidalieri said. “They try some of the strategies while teaching a small group of students in the class.”

Comments from workshop participants illustrate the value of the TRIAD workshop and Model Classroom:

“Lots of functional, relevant examples that actually occur frequently in classrooms.” – Elise Davis, Sullivan County

“Even though I knew a lot about info presented, I saw many areas where I can make changes and improve my teaching skills. Kudos to you all!” – Karen Jones, Bedford County

“The presenters were extremely knowledgeable….The info was interesting, pertinent, and engaging.” – Kaye Gillenwater, Sullivan County

“Really enjoyed this training. Being fresh out of college, I knew the majority of the strategies, but you all explained how to use each strategy in more realistic ways. Thank you!” – Samantha McWhirter, Hawkins County

The next step involves follow-up visits by TRIAD consultants to the home classrooms and schools of every workshop participant. TRIAD educational consultations will provide coaching and mentoring on the goals that the teachers identified during the workshop. Following these visits, teachers continue to have opportunities for remote consultation with TRIAD consultants.

TRIAD Follow-Up and Impact

In addition to follow-up with the Cocke County Model Classroom, Medina Elementary School, the Model Classroom site in West Tennessee, is receiving a TRIAD consultative visit this Fall and two additional visits in the Spring.

“They’re doing a great job of putting the basics in place, using visual schedules and visual supports and student reinforcement systems,” Garrett said. “So now we’re looking at modifying academic supports and helping students whose needs are more academic than behavioral.”

Garrett and Spidalieri value the partnership with the Tennessee Department of Education that makes it possible for TRIAD to provide training in rural Tennessee counties.

“Teachers often feel overwhelmed about the thought of putting evidence-based strategies in place in their classrooms, so being able to see it working is so important,” Garrett said. “It’s not an easy process but one that is definitely well worth it.”

Offering these supports for behavior and learning during early childhood provides a foundation for success for preschoolers with and without disabilities as they transition to kindergarten.

“There’s so much new learning that takes place in preschool,” Garrett said, “so many important skills that we’re trying to capitalize on—communication, social and play skills. Putting these supports in place helps teachers facilitate not just academic skills but those really important social and communication skills needed to prepare children for later learning in structured school settings.”

Jan Rosemergy, Ph.D., is VKC deputy director and director of Communications and Dissemination.

Pictured top of page: Evidence-based practices in this model early childhood inclusive classroom include the use of visual supports in the structured play center. Photo courtesy TRIAD.

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