On-Track Coordinators Share New Strategies for Student Engagement & Executive Functioning

Network Collaboration and Learning

Deven Ladson is the RISE Operations Intern and a senior at Eastern Connecticut State University majoring in Communications.

This year has shown that collaboration between educators is critically important as the pandemic has required us all to try new things, learn from those experiences, and share with each other what works. Knowing how vital collaboration is to our success as a network, RISE continues to bring together educators from across the network in monthly role-alike calls where educators who share similar responsibilities within schools and districts come to collaborate and support each other. This month, I joined the On-Track Coordinator (OTC) role-alike call to report out on how OTCs from across the network are navigating their shared challenges and opportunities. This month’s meeting focused heavily on strategies to improve student engagement, as educators shared that many students have been struggling with participation and attendance. 

Student Workshops 

Laura Ehlinger, OTC at Westhill High School, first led a presentation on an approach to engage students through workshops. Facilitated by OTCs with a small group of students, workshops provide a space for students to express their concerns outside of the classroom. For educators that want to hold workshops, the first thing to do is figure out the objectives of the workshop: what topics do you want to discuss or what concerns do you want to address? A typical workshop activity can range from a discussion about friends and relationships to mindfulness to graduation requirements. In determining the workshop purpose and structure, educators should also make sure that the workshops are something that students would want to attend. 

The next step is to figure out how to market your event. Examples included using a graphic design website like Canva to design flyers and sending them out through email and Google Classroom. Another useful tip for teachers would be to share resources with students during these workshops. 

During breakout sessions, OTCs also discussed another approach to workshops that offers an unstructured space to provide more of a relationship-building opportunity with the students. These unstructured workshops would be a place for students to express themselves and for OTCs to engage in “real talk” about daily life that builds relationships between students and educators.

Manchester Grade 9 Focus on Soft Skills

Next up, Kaitlyn Kennedy and Markeith Cirinna, OTCs at Manchester High School, shared their experiences leading efforts around soft skills development. During the previous year, the Manchester Grade 9 team observed a drop in student engagement when students transitioned to online learning. Heading into this year, the OTCs developed and led a multi-faceted approach to work with other Grade 9 educators to identify ways to support students with the soft skills and executive functioning they needed to be successful in their transition to high school. First, they administered surveys to all Grade 9 students to assess executive functioning skills, such as time management and organization. The survey focused on questions regarding classes; for example, they asked if Google Meet was helpful, whether students had a chance to redo assignments, and how many assignments they had. The results of the survey were shared with the Grade 9 educators in the school and reinforced the importance of collecting and listening to student feedback. 

The survey also helped to pinpoint where students most needed assistance and more targeted support. Educators identified organization and time management as priorities and set out to determine what steps teachers and students could take to support students in these areas. Using Grade 9 team meetings, educators brainstormed ideas and conducted “strategy swaps,” sharing tips and resources for supporting time management, conducting family outreach, promoting attendance, and using Google Classroom. Markeith noted that this approach to promoting student voice “helps us collaborate with teachers by providing insight on how to tailor instruction/ interventions to support student needs.”

Educators also identified that families will play an important part in the improvement process, particularly now when students are spending the majority of their learning time at home. Moving forward, Kaitlyn and Markeith will be collaborating with other members of the Grade 9 team to identify and implement strategies to engage with student families. One of their initial goals was to gain the trust of students and parents. Both OTCs observed that “assumptions about students and families are eroding our ability to have a strong foundation of trust.” The survey underscored how gaining the trust of students and parents is very important in moving forward with a successful school experience. Kaitlyn reflected, “It is important that the staff and school see parents as partners in their child’s learning. We want to challenge staff to build positive, proactive relationships with families that are rooted in the child’s overall well-being and not just their academic performance in the teacher’s class.”

How the Manchester OTCs Approached This Challenge

Goal: To identify ways to support students with soft skills/executive functioning

Step 1: Identify which soft skills students know and identify which soft skills students need support with

Step 2: Create an intentional survey designed to identify priority areas complete with a next step for students

Step 3: Conduct “Mini” Red Hawk conferences with caseload students

Step 4: Aggregate data to identify areas of need: time management and attendance

Step 5: Brainstorm ways to engage students, families and educators

The Manchester OTCs’ presentation showcased an innovative example of OTCs leading efforts to better understand student experience and collaboratively work with educators to support student success. Their dedication and efforts are impressive, and I can’t wait to see the next phase of their work!