Meet Andrea Hartman, Product Director at eScholar and Dr. Natasha Scott, Executive Director of Student Services at Cumberland County Schools.
Andrea Hartman: Hello everyone, welcome to The Strategies for Collaboration webinar today. I’m going to go ahead and get started. If you have questions throughout the session, please feel free to raise your hand or ask a question in the go-to; we can answer those as we go along. My name is Andrea Hartman and I’m a Product Director here at eScholar. I actually work on the eScholar myTrack product. Prior to coming to eScholar, I worked as a data coordinator in an education service center in Connecticut. I also have with me here Dr. Natasha Scott, who’s from Cumberland County in North Carolina. She’s the Executive Director of Student Services there. She’s worked with us for a quite a number of years now, helping us to develop and form myTrack. She’s also responsible for the implementation of eScholar myTrack in the district but has many other responsibilities as you can see here on the screen. She has oversight over counseling, social work, psychological services, health services and etc. She’s been a good partner in our project here helping us get myTrack implemented and she’ll be speaking throughout this conversation today.
Dr. Natasha Scott: Thanks Andrea, good afternoon.
Andrea Hartman: Good afternoon! So, I’m going to go ahead and get started, and the focus today is really around collaboration. And we’re going to talk about different kinds of collaboration, how it’s useful, how it’s beneficial, and then we’ll talk about how those concepts are implemented in myTrack and how they can be used in myTrack. First, I want to get started with just the concept of how collaboration helps improve performance. There’s a lot of research around how teacher collaboration actually improves the student performance and including assessment results, attendance – so when teachers are getting together and talking about how they can improve student outcomes, generally you see an increase in performance in those student outcomes. So that is powerful to have that collaboration effort among the teachers. There’s a lot of research out there. I just have one quote here that illustrates that concept, but there are a lot of other articles and research out there that point to that same conclusion. I just want to quickly frame the types of collaboration that are out there – and this is really high-level concepts, not specifics – but there’s in-person collaboration, where people are getting together in a room; it can be informal or formal. Folks are talking about the students, they’re looking at the information they have, the issues, the obstacles, the challenges they’re facing, and they’ll have general conversations.
Andrea Hartman: They may be looking at data and having those conversations and making decisions – making next steps. But there’s really no integration of technology or a tool in that kind of collaboration setting. There’s also another forum where they’re in a room together, but they’re using a tool together to collaborate. So, an example of that – they could be in a meeting talking about a student or talking about a way to improve a program and they’re using – actually logged into an application – and using an application together to make those decisions. So that tool enables or supports that collaborative effort. Another area of collaboration is actually where you’re not meeting together in a room necessarily, but you’re using the tool to collaborate. So, an example of that is posting information about a student or looking at student data together, logging information about a student, and being able to see that information across teachers, and make decisions outside of formal meetings. You’ll be able to work on those tools independently, but still enable that collaborative effort. Some of the key benefits of collaboration include Driving Action. So, when you’re having those meetings or using tools to collaborate, you’re able to drive action, and that might be setting a goal or making decisions about the students – the next steps for the student, or logging notes. So, it’s really about driving the next step or the action that will be performed. It could also be around building tool kits. So what best practices do we have? What strategies or interventions work well with this student? What resources or instructional practices can I use to help improve those outcomes? And it’s really building that toolkit for the group of teachers that are working together, but then also sharing that information out with other educators so they can use that. So that collaborative effort enables benefits across other teachers also. It also allows for driving progress. So, educators can share successes and adapt instructions or goals to help improve those outcomes. So, you’re adapting as you’re going, as you’re collaborating. So, you may initially make some decisions in that driving action period, and then later when you’re talking about – again you’re saying okay this did or didn’t work, we’re going to make some adjustments to that process that we’re working on and then move forward with that. But ultimately what you’re really trying to do in a collaborative effort is increase student achievement; trying to make and help improve their outcome – the student outcomes.
Andrea Hartman: There are some roadblocks to collaboration. One of them is lack of time. So, people feel that there’s a lack of time to get together in a room, to meet for an hour. It can be time-consuming to come up with an agenda, so there’s this belief that it takes too much time to actually collaborate. And there might be some relevance to that, you know – it takes time to come up with an agenda. But one solution to that is make it more informal. Don’t come up with a two-page outline of everything that has to be covered. Get in the meeting, highlight a couple things that have to be talked about, and then have the meeting. And also, again using collaborative tools will help that process. So rather than writing things down on a piece of paper, maybe you’re using a tool that allows you to be able to collaborate and use that information. Another example of a roadblock is divergence. So, educators work differently, and they have different instructional styles. So, there can be a roadblock in that they teach differently, so they don’t think that they can work together in certain ways. But there’s always that shared goal of improving student learning and improving outcomes. So, if you focus on that shared goal and the shared vision of improving outcomes, it can help that – you know – revert that roadblock of divergence. Another way around that is to use collaborative tools so that people can still continue to use their own methods and styles but use the tools to make it work together. Another roadblock is isolation. So, a lot of educators are working alone. They’re working in their room alone – they have someone else in the classroom with them, but a lot of times they’re making decisions on a daily basis on their own or teaching on their own. So, there may be a fear of working together with other people. So again, a way around that is to focus on that shared vision or setting shared goals, where you’re looking at “what are we trying to do?”. We’re trying to improve outcomes for the student.
Andrea Hartman: Again, another way to help solve that problem is to use collaborative tools. So, they can continue to work in isolation, but communicate and work together in a tool to help encourage collaboration. So, I want to cover a couple of opportunities to collaborate; and this is specifically around how myTrack enables collaboration. So, we have a feature called “Meetings” that allows teachers to schedule or set up meetings for individual students, and to invite or add other participants to the meeting. So, teachers can work together in a meeting setting, and log notes about that meeting using the tool in myTrack. So, typically what would happen is a meeting would be set up, the invitees would be added, and then during the meeting, the meeting is open, and teachers can – or participants can – add notes to that meeting, and that’s a collaborative effort. Or, they’re also looking at student data and making decisions in those meetings. And Natasha will go through each one of these examples and talk about how they’re using that in Cumberland in a minute. The next opportunity to collaborate with myTrack is student notes. We have the capability to add student notes to an individual student and you can share information of out that student. It can be something about a pattern and behavior, it can be about a note that you’re sending home a progress report. It really can be any note that you want to share, and those notes could be shared with other users that have access to that student. So, if you’re typing information in there about a student, someone else that has access to that student would be able to see that note and be able to understand and make decisions based on that note. Another way to collaborate is through Groups in myTrack. Educators can create and share user defined groups which enables them to focus on those specific students. So, they can look at students that are on a certain level – performance level for an assessment, or in a certain category with attendance, or other program information. They can group those students together and share those groups. So that when they’re making decisions in meetings, or in other situations, they’re able to look at those same students and make those – make decisions around that group, and then follow up with other actions such as setting goals.
Andrea Hartman: So, I’m going to go and pass it over to Natasha. And Natasha, I’ll click through these slides for you. So, if you just want to tell me when to move to the next one, I can do that for you. But I’ll pass it over to Dr. Natasha Scott, who will talk about how Cumberland County is using these collaborative tools within myTrack.
Dr. Natasha Scott: All right that sounds good, Andrea, thank you. So, in regards to the feature in myTrack called “Meetings”, our staff used the Meetings feature to record the minutes from any of the student-focused meetings that we have. So, for example, our Section 504 meetings, our SST – which are – which is Student Services Team meetings… For those who are listening, you may call that a little bit – use a different title at your school, but the SST is our multidisciplinary team that meets for students who are – who need some assistance really with any problem, but of course primarily it focuses on academic and behavior. Or, if a teacher just has a parent-teacher conference, and they’re generating minutes from that meeting, they can do that in the minutes – in the Meetings feature. Now, what’s great about that is one, is that it puts your minutes all in one place; it’s electronic. So, it gives you a way to be paperless to reduce all those pieces of paper. But a couple of other things that we really like about that feature, is that those meeting minutes follow that student along. So, you know, next years… In some way, it’s kind of like an extension of the student’s cumulative folder. And so, if you think about it as an administrator… So for myself, – I’m also the district 504 coordinator – when a parent contacts me and they’re upset about a 504 meeting, or previous SST meeting, one of the first things that we do when a parent calls here is that we log on to myTrack, and we pull up that student’s profile, and we are – my assistant and I… She’ll pull that up for me and we look to see what notes has the school written about the student, have there been any meetings, and what happened at that meeting. And so, it’s very convenient from here at the central office. We’re very large district. We have 87 schools that are spread out across several miles, so it’s very convenient to be able to pull up in myTrack, and I can get a lot of information. Sometimes it’s information that makes me ask questions of the school about… Okay, this is what I read you know, what was really happening here at the meeting? So, it allows me to give them some guidance. But then other times, those minutes allow me to really clarify some things on the phone with the parent just by simply being able to read those meeting minutes.
Dr. Natasha Scott: Another benefit of the Meetings feature is being able to see the minutes from a previous year. So, for example, a 504 team or SST team – you know, you often continue to work with those same students from one year to the next. And so, it’s convenient to be able to go back in myTrack and see that history and have access to that information. So, that’s how we use meeting minutes. There you can see that there have been over 8,000 meetings – 8,000 meetings have been created by myTrack users in Cumberland County for this current school year. All of our certified staff have access to myTrack. The only folks that we don’t set up an account for would be my teacher assistants, parent facilitators… But all of our counselors, social workers, psychologists, classroom teachers, and our building administrators, some of our central office staff, they all have access to access to myTrack and they also have access to the Meetings feature.
Dr. Natasha Scott: Next slide please, Andrea.
Dr. Natasha Scott: Andrea talked about the “Groups” feature. From the district office, a lot of my involvement with myTrack is troubleshooting and answering questions about the feature in the application, but I will in – going in – I guess kind of stalking around and reading what other people are doing – but with the Groups feature is a feature that I actually use myself. So, not only am I the District 504 contact, I am also the ESSA contact. And so, in my role, of course I receive a lot of phone calls from, and visits from parents who are upset that the ESSA contact… that Every Student Succeeds Act for foster care component of it. I also received phone calls from social workers from the Department of Social services, or it may be called Children and Family Services where you are. And we’re constantly trying to coordinate where these students will be enrolled in school, the transportation of how they’re going to get there. And so again, between my assistant and I, I have two groups that I actually use. One is for foster care and one is for parent complaints. And so, what’s nice about that is when I log on to myTrack, I can look in that group and those students that I’ve had some contact with at the school about a parent complaint – it just allows me to be able to look at my two groups and I can see if some of my students are – if those students are slipping, which will prompt me to call back out to the school, say “hey, what’s happening with John Doe? I spoke to his mom in August. I see his grades are failing again. You know, what’s happening and how can I support you?” So, those are two of the ways that I personally use the Groups even – Groups feature even here at the central office. Students in foster care that come to my attention – they also have their own individual group. I have a group of all of our seniors that are involved in foster care. Just my way of offering support to our local DSS; trying to make sure those students are attending school and that they’re on track for graduation.
Dr. Natasha Scott: You can see that over 200 groups have been created by myTrack users at the [inaudible] for this current school year. At the building level, staff tell me that they use group – social workers set up Groups – for the kids that they are most concerned about their attendance or tardies. I’ve heard countless… the ones who serve in the role of the SST chair, they put all of their students in a group so that they can see all of those students in one place without having to query each student one at a time and have a snapshot of data; some summary-type information aggregate-type things, but also able to look at individual students and see what they’re doing. I’ve also heard them doing that for their McKinney-Vento – which are students who are homeless. But, as a classroom teacher – a classroom teacher could create a group for students that they’re doing remediation with. Practically, any reason that they can think of, and it doesn’t all have to be based on deficits or something that a student needs… If you’re a coach – if you’re a coach and you want to monitor the academics of the kids on your team, the coach is the certified employee here; they could create a group and put all the kids on the basketball team in that group, so that when they log in, they could see all of the information, but for those students. So, the use of Groups is as wide and far as the imagination of the user.
Dr. Natasha Scott: Next slide, please.
Dr. Natasha Scott: The “Notes” feature, I was going to say, is probably the feature that is used the most. Over 10,000 notes have been created by myTrack users just for this academic year alone. What I see with our users – they write notes about if they had to contact a parent about student behavior or if there was something education related that needed to be documented, they put that information there. But a lot of it really is about the contact of emails that they are making to parents and guardians about misbehavior and academic concerns that are happening in the classroom. And as I mentioned before, even here at the district level – although I don’t create any notes, I do certainly look to see if any notes have been created – have ever been created by a teacher when parents or an administrator – when anyone – brings the student to my attention, I use myTrack – use my access to myTrack to just gain a little more knowledge about what’s actually happening at the building level. Andrea, can you – were there other points?
Andrea Hartman: I think that’s pretty good Natasha, thank you.
Dr. Natasha Scott: You’re welcome.
Andrea Hartman: So, I want to talk just a little bit about some capabilities on myTrack around collaboration that are beyond Meetings, Notes, and Groups. So, we do have the component of being able to set goals at the individual student level. So, folks with access can set academic or behavioral goals, and we do have some best practices around that we do suggest. Everybody’s probably heard about SMART goals. So, you want to make sure they’re specific, measurable, attainable, etc. We really – in the process of setting goal – try to make sure that the users are required to set specific goals, and that they’re measurable. That’s really a piece of setting a goal, is collaboration, or in collaboration as a part of setting goals. So, if I set a goal for a student and Natasha also needs to look at that goal, or where a parent calls and wants to know information about that, Natasha would also be able to look at that goal and see what I’m doing with the students. So, if I’m using a certain program or intervention to help that student, is it working or isn’t it working, and that collaborative effort. And the able – the capability to be able to see information that other users are entering – that more indirect collaboration – enables additional supports. And that leads into using data… So, the goal-setting process in itself is really meant to… your educators are supposed to be using data to identify that student’s need goals, but they’re also using it to monitor the progress of the goal. So, is the intervention working or not? And again, if I’m working on something and the intervention is not working, and another teacher is going to – is thinking about using that intervention, they may reconsider that because it’s not working or vice versa. If something’s really working for student, if a student has a behavioral issue and I identify a strategy that really works well for that student, another teacher would be able to see that that strategy is successful, and they would be able to implement that. Natasha would you like to add anything about how the goal-setting process helps you with collaboration? Is there anything you’d like to add there?
Dr. Natasha Scott: Well, one of the big ways that we use it is through our Student Services Team process. So, when teachers come meet with the Student Services Team, the SST is expecting to see that the teacher has created some goals for the areas that the student needs some work, and that they have already begun implementing some strategies. And then the data that’s attached to that is the progress monitoring piece… it’s the progress monitoring piece that teachers are required to do to demonstrate – to let us know if those strategies or interventions are working or not. I would also say with the goals… when we have students – particularly elementary students – who are recommended for retention, if a parent appeals that, that if the student is actually retained, and the parent appeals that, the Executive Director of Elementary Ed… she actually looks to see. She expects the school to provide her with information from myTrack. Meaning, she’s looking to see, did they set any goals, did they meet and talk about the student, and through the Student Services Team process, and what assistance was actually offered to that student. Did you offer assistance to the student? Did you make the parent aware? And, you know, even after doing all those things, did you find that the student would – still needed to be retained? And, if school didn’t do that, or they can’t produce that documentation, then quite often she’s going to side with the parent, and the student’s going to be promoted to the next grade.
Andrea Hartman: Thanks, Natasha. So, right now we will open it up to questions. If anyone has any questions for us, you can post them in the Chat in the Go-To, and we would be able to answer those. Or if you have any comments you want to make about other ways that you use myTrack to collaborate, that would be helpful. If there’s any success stories you want to mention that would – that would be nice. If you don’t feel like chiming in now in the Go-To, you can feel free to send us an email, and we would be glad to get – get that information. My email is listed below here on the – on the slide, so if you do have any feedback or success stories you can send that to me at AHartman@escholar.com. I’m just going to give folks a minute to type questions if there any questions.
Andrea Hartman: So, Natasha, there’s a question here. How do you set rules; expectations about what gets written down in a meeting, or in a note? So, I’ll answer it from the myTrack perspective, but I think Natasha, your answer will probably be a little better. We – as far as myTrack is concerned – we really don’t have any requirements, other than it has to be the text or certain length. We don’t – we don’t indicate or dictate what has to be entered there. But Natasha, do you want to talk about how you’ve set expectations about what can get entered into Notes or Meetings?
Dr. Natasha Scott: In our 504 manual, as well as in our SST manual, we provide some instructions about what is appropriate; we tie it in to myTrack. Also, when I do the myTrack training at the beginning of the year, I spend time talking about not only what can be placed, what is appropriate to put in meeting minutes or in Notes – excuse me – but I also talk just specifically about confidentiality, and the idea that a purpose of myTrack is information that is related to making educational decisions. So, for counselors, social workers, and psychologists for example… and try to make it very clear to them that this is not the place where you record your social work or counseling notes that someone was suicidal, or that they were disheveled, if they didn’t have food, or that you made a CPS referral. I also put a lot of emphasis on the fact that if you were ever to… If a record were ever subpoenaed and I asked them… We use a train-the-trainer model, and so I put a lot of emphasis on training teachers because it’s primarily teachers really that are typing in myTrack here. My staff are doing a lot more facilitating more so than they’re doing a lot of the typing, but I also remind them that this is an extension of the cue record, this is an official student record, and if you would not be comfortable with anything you wrote being – I don’t know – read out loud in a court room, reviewed by a judge, or a parent to see it, or even a student to see it when they’re 18 if someone were to request their records, then don’t put it in myTrack. So, we put a lot of focus on KISS, keeping it short and simple; just stick to the facts. Only type and write things that are relevant to educational decisions, and the golden rule I say to them is write it as though the parent would read it.
Dr. Natasha Scott: Another feature of myTrack, is whenever you type something in the application records the name of the person who wrote the note, the date, and the time. So, that stamp is there. And so, that also is a deterrent for users in terms of just typing any old thing in there, because you can figure out exactly who wrote that information. I’ll say in the, I don’t know six seven years that we’ve been using myTrack, I’ve only had parents to contact me twice to ask for something to be removed from myTrack. And actually, these were not inappropriate things, it was just in there. These were young parents of elementary children, and it was just the fact that someone was written – something was written period. Please take it out. My child has no issues. So, I haven’t – knock on wood – haven’t received a lot of contacts from parents about that. But that’s the other thing I talk with them about, is when they have their SST and 504 meetings, they’re projected myTrack on the screen. So, parents can see as they’re typing in these meeting minutes. Parents are provided a copy of the meeting minutes. And we talk about, if a parent is in there for the meeting, and you’ve not shared with them that you’re keeping documentation, or what we call a personal – that you’ve developed a personalized education plan, do you want them to see all of that stuff for the first time when you’re having that meeting, and it’s displayed there on the wall. And how would you feel if you were a parent? And what would your response to that be? So, just spend a lot of time in the training talking about that, along with putting some things in writing as well.
Andrea Hartman: Okay, thank you, Natasha. We have one more question here. It says, do your teachers and guidance counselor share Notes and Groups with each other there? So again, I’ll talk about it from what the system is capable of, and then Natasha, if you can talk about how it’s actually implemented.
Andrea Hartman: So as far as notes are concerned, the application has the capability for educators to share the notes with other educators. So, that’s a capability that they can share those notes automatically, with all educators that have access to the student. If they don’t share it with all other educators, basically the administrators – school admins and district admins – are able to see those notes, but other teachers would not be able to see those notes. And then as far as Groups are concerned, a user can set up their own user-defined group, and then share that group with any user that’s in the system. Once they share that group, it’s sharing the structure of that group and the students in the group. But if the other person they’re sharing it with doesn’t have access to all of the students, they’re only going to see the students they have access to. So, if I have access to ten students and I share it with Natasha, and she only has access to five of those students, she will see that group, but she’s only seeing those five students that she has access to. Natasha, do you want to answer how you guys actually implement and share with Notes and Groups?
Dr. Natasha Scott: It’s not much different than what you’ve already described, because if a user has access to the student they can see the notes and things. But I would just say for us, as a district, the way I train the staff, and what I talk about, is that you shouldn’t… I don’t expect staff to type anything in myTrack that is meant to be a secret. If only certain people can see it, then it doesn’t need to be in myTrack, because it’s an extension of the [inaudible] folder, and you know… Again, that’s that piece about controlling what people are writing. And so, it’s my expectation that staff don’t write things, don’t put things in myTrack if you’ve got a team of teachers, and you don’t feel like that everybody who’s work is attached to that student can see it, then myTrack isn’t in the place for that information to be stored.
Andrea Hartman: Okay. I think that’s all the questions we have at this point. And Natasha, do you have any closing comments you want to make before we wrap up?
Dr. Natasha Scott: MyTrack is a… it’s used quite a bit here. We’ve had it for quite some time. Staff use it very well. When I think about the amount of phone calls and emails that we receive when we first began using the product, and the number of visits that I would make to schools just helping people to, I don’t know, remember their username and your password, or click here, click there, end user support, or just basic concerns, to now, we’ve come a really long way. And it’s amazing to me, to even see the number of Notes and minutes that are recorded in myTrack. I think that you’ll find value in the product. I think your staff will like it as well.
Andrea Hartman: Okay, thank you, Natasha, I just want to wrap up and say thank you to everyone for participating today. And again, if you have additional comments you’d like to make, you can send me an email at a AHartman@escholar.com. And if there’s some questions specific for Natasha, I can get that to her, and join you guys up to be able to have a conversation. But we appreciate everybody participating here today, and there’s a – there are a lot of other features and functions in myTrack, that if you’re interested in learning more, definitely reach out to us, and we can set up a demonstration to show you those capabilities. Thank you, everyone.
Dr. Natasha Scott: Thank you.