REACH  – Resources for Educational Achievement, Collaboration and Health

By Tamar Shames, Coordinator of Professional Development of REACH

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Currently in its eighth year, REACH continues to work with day schools to increase their capacity to educate all types of learners. This goal is accomplished in three different ways. First, REACH offers direct service programs and expanded resource support to students in six different schools. REACH professionals also consult with administrators and teachers in fifteen schools to help them consider ways to enhance their abilities to include all students and meet their learning needs. Finally, REACH offers ongoing, high-quality professional development to help administrators and teachers build their own toolboxes and be best prepared to educate the students in their schools and classrooms. While REACH strives to meet each school where they are in their thinking and practice, they work with certain philosophical underpinnings that create the framework for the work they do.

When considering the delivery model for professional development, REACH professionals explore research-based models of best practice. For professional development to be truly effective and sustainable, REACH has moved away from the big “one and done,” and works on creating long term relationships with the staff to also include ongoing coaching and observations as part of the professional development. Currently, most of the professional development is offered in a PLC (Professional Learning Community) format, whereby groups meet on a monthly basis with the opportunity to practically apply what is learned between sessions. Teachers have the chance to reflect upon their experiences and share and learn from one other. This model is truly effective in allowing practices to be implemented in a sustainable and effective way.

Last year, REACH ran a year-long PLC on differentiated instruction in one of the high schools. Teachers immediately began implementing the tools they were given and reported increased student engagement and academic achievement. At the end of the school year, the principal, shared this feedback from one of the PLC participants:

 

…we were offered an amazing professional development program with REACH.

The course was informative and practical but what was best about it is was that it took place in the school with the rest of the staff, so we often found ourselves discussing and going back to what we learned days and weeks later.

Our instructor took the time and care to give both kodesh and chol examples. I finished the course with a whole new toolbox.

I was expecting “differentiation” to add to the amount and quality of the learning material; however, it’s making a difference in the atmosphere in the class, in the participation, in the interest the student has, and of course, the students learn so much more and maybe so much better.

This is the goal: To help teachers build their toolboxes. To give them more tools so that they can enhance their teaching and the experience of their students, especially those that struggle.

Currently, REACH’s most popular professional development endeavor in the schools is Collaborative Problem Solving (CPS). CPS is a philosophy and method used to consider challenging kids. The basic idea behind CPS is that “kids do well if they can.” If a student is struggling, behaving in challenging ways, it’s not because they want to make their teachers’ lives miserable, but rather because they are lacking the skills they need to meet their teachers’ expectations. CPS offers a research-based approach to working with these students in a way that builds both relationship and skills. Many of the schools REACH works with are currently in their second or third year of learning the model and applying it in their classrooms. Furthermore, REACH is training those teachers and administrators in year two and three to be coaches for the year one cohort. Using this model, REACH is able to truly help build internal capacity as well as ensuring fidelity and expertise exist in-house.

The REACH staff is constantly keeping themselves up to date on models and ideas to share with the schools. However, the key to any success REACH might have is really in the strength of the relationships they build with the schools, their administrators and teachers. They recognize REACH’s desire and ability to help and are always reaching out, recognizing REACH as a resource they can utilize for continuous improvement and growth.

Current REACH PLC’s:

Arie Crown Hebrew Day School- Year 2

Hanna Sacks Bais Yaakov High School- Year 6

Ida Crown Jewish Academy- Year 1

Joan Dachs Bais Yaakov Elementary School – Year 2

Lubavitch Girls High School- Year 2

Philip and Rebecca Esformes Cheder Lubavitch Girls School- Year 4

Solomon Schechter Day School- Year 2