Operationalizing the DOE’s Benchmarks by Preparing Special Needs Students to be College and Career Ready
By Edgar Hobbs Jr.
New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE) Benchmarks are utilized to guide our practice. Educators provide students with rigorous academic work aligned to the Common Core Learning Standards (CCLS) and Career Development Occupational Standards (CDOS). Guidance staff primarily utilize CDOS to provide career guidance. Teachers and career counselors work collaboratively to address students’ academic and behavioral needs in accordance with NYCDOE’s Benchmarks. This article will focus on the personal behavior benchmarks that were utilized, such as Engagement, Persistence, Work Habits/Organizational Skills, Communication/Collaboration Skills, and Self-Regulation. These benchmarks were meant to assist students with special needs to develop career readiness skills.
Engagement fosters interactions through respect for all and is embedded in teachers’ lesson plans. Career counselors reinforce engagement during counseling sessions. Students work with their peers on assignments to help them identify their career interests. Guidance staff identify the student’s career interest and what they want to accomplish and guide them along a path to their desired career. Vygotsky termed this Prolepsis. Prolepsis is defined as “the treating of a future event as if it had already happened” (Daniels, Cole & Wertsch, 2014). For example, if a student wants to be a construction worker (i.e. career interest), a counselor identifies what the student wants to achieve as a construction worker; where the student needs to be to gain employment as a construction worker and then guides the student along a path to obtain the desired career (i.e. the treating of a future event as if it had already happened). Through engagement in a career interest, students build healthy relationships with their peers and adults, which prepare them for the post-secondary world.
Students are encouraged to be persistent. The Individual Educational Program (IEP) establishes the foundation through the development of annual goals and measurable post-secondary goals. Teachers assess students' ability to be persistent based on classroom and homework assignments which are linked to their IEP goals. Counselors also develop IEP goals that connect to career choices and encourage students to complete career related assignments. Students work on Level One Assessments, Career Interest Surveys, Occupational Outlook Activities Workbooks as well as other career related assignments. Counselors monitor students’ progress and their ability to complete assignments in a timely manner. In addition, students are able to identify their strengths and challenges, which will be beneficial for college and career success.
WORK HABITS/ORGANIZATIONAL SKILLS
Some students have the ability to work independently while other students need additional support. Each class has a paraprofessional/teaching assistant that is vital to students’ progress and success. Paraprofessionals help students manage their time and complete work accurately. Teachers monitor students’ progress for completed work and accuracy. Counselors work on developing students' work habits and organizational skills through assignments. In counseling sessions, counselors determine which students can work independently and which students need additional support. Counselors also help students develop time-management skills through assignments, which prepares them for college and a career.
COMMUNICATION AND COLLABORATION
Instructional and guidance staff encourage students to communicate and work collaboratively. Students are able to share their ideas, problem solve, and ask their peers and teachers questions. Students communicate electronically, verbally, and through written works. Some students have challenges communicating in larger groups and prefer to work independently. Counselors create smaller groups that allow the less vocal students to interact with their peers and an adult. Within group counseling sessions, counselors have students work collaboratively with their peers. Counselors engage students in group activities that relate to their career interests. Students conduct mock interviews and are encouraged to provide feedback on their peers’ ability to conduct an appropriate interview. In addition, students are helped to identify their strengths and work on their challenges en route to becoming college and career ready.
Among the benchmark behaviors discussed, self-regulation is the most challenging behavior to teach students with special needs. However, counselors and instructional staff can utilize specially designed crisis intervention skills to help students regulate their emotions and behaviors in a systemic manner. Self-regulation includes, but is not limited to, using appropriate language and interacting with peers and adults in an appropriate manner. Counselors play a major role regarding teaching students how to self-regulate. Often special needs students are faced with difficult situations and unable to handle it in an appropriate manner. As expected, one of the best ways to teach students to self-regulate is when a crisis occurs. For example, some students have difficulties completing an assignment; they become frustrated and upset; they refuse to ask for help, give up, and leave the classroom without permission, which often leads to a counselor having to mediate and deescalate the situation. The counselor communicates with the students to assess the situation, identify what triggered the event, help the students understand that their feelings caused them to behave a certain way, and teach the students how they could have handled the situation appropriately. The counselor collaborates with teachers, paraprofessionals, parents, and students to develop a plan to help students self-regulate their emotions and behavior in a crisis situation. Once students are able to self-regulate, they will be college and career ready.
Schools that serve as preparatory ground for special needs students are able use various educational tools to broaden students’ post-secondary opportunities. They incorporate CCLS, CDOS, and DOE Benchmarks to guide their practice and help students with special needs to become college and career ready.
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Dr. Edgar Hobbs Jr is a Counselor as well as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, Licensed School Building Leader, and Certified as a Therapeutic Crisis Intervention Trainer and Career Development Facilitator for the NYC Dept of Education in District 75. He has received several community service awards from elected officials in New York. In 2011, he received a Guidance Counselor Recognition Award for his outstanding service to students and families. He continues to counsel special needs students as well as write grants, develop programs, organize events, review IEPs’, facilitate a Respect For All program, and teach Career Readiness classes. Dr. Hobbs can be reached at email@example.com