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An approach to special education that includes telepractice holds the potential to reduce educator burnout and ease the workforce shortage.

3 ways telepractice helps combat burnout in special education

A more holistic approach to education staffing that includes telepractice holds the potential to reduce educator burnout and ease the workforce shortage

Burnout is one of the leading causes of workforce shortages in U.S. schools and its impact is being felt by students who need consistent, high-quality educators the most. Some of the hardest hit are students with unique needs that require services from qualified professionals, such as speech-language pathologists, sign-language interpreters, teachers for the vision and hearing impaired and special education teachers. Special education positions have some of the highest number of vacancies in school districts across the US.

As the number of students who receive special education services continues to grow, there is an increased demand for special educators. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), school age students who receive special education services in public schools represented about 15 percent of enrollment in the 2020-21 school year, up from 13 percent in 2009-10.

While staffing schools continues to be a priority, teacher retention is key to successful positive outcomes on campuses for students. School administrators are taking a hard look at how to prevent burnout. Preventing burnout is essential in building a positive school climate, improving morale, and keeping professionals in the field of education.

When educators have the necessary professional resources to do their job with efficacy, they can provide better services to their students. A systematic review of research studies shows preliminary evidence that teacher burnout can impact student achievement and motivation, as well as contributing to teachers leaving the field of education. 

Leveraging the power of technology and remote learning

One way to alleviate burnout in education is to harness the power of technology to provide interventions to students with disabilities. The telepractice model is increasingly becoming a viable method of filling vacancies and alleviating the burden on existing staff, while still providing students with dedicated professionals.

Remote educators can meet student academic goals by grouping students in a variety of classroom settings (individual, small group, resource, whole-classroom instruction etc.). They can also provide case management for students who have Individualized Education Programs (IEPs), thereby reducing paperwork time for onsite educators. Implementing this model can help provide professional resources for onsite school staff by providing them with options to better meet the individual needs of students on their caseloads. 

1. Using remote educators to redistribute tasks

Balancing the demands of both direct teaching and indirect case management tasks has become increasingly challenging in light of staffing shortages.  While many are familiar with teacher tasks such as planning, teaching and meeting with parents, educators and school professionals are often overwhelmed because their position also includes tasks such as recordkeeping, counseling, serving on committees and after-school activities. In fact, teachers on average work about 54 hours per week, but spend 54 percent of their time on non-teaching activities, according to research by Merrimack College.

By employing remote educators and telepractitioners, districts can provide onsite teachers with flexible resources that can shift to meet the current needs of students on the campus. For example, a certified remote educator can provide direct instruction to special education students needing one-on-one or small group instruction to meet their needs in language arts and math. This frees up the on-site educator to focus on data collection and assessment preparation. Remote educators can also be responsible for case management by providing assistance with organizing and holding IEP meetings, in order to stay in compliance with district, state and federal guidelines. They can also create and maintain all special education documentation for students across grade levels.  

This is where remote educators can be an asset for school administrators.  This model provides more of a balance for both onsite and remote educators.  Duties and tasks can be redistributed efficiently and effectively, without having to recruit or physically relocate an individual.  Adding remote educators to the candidate pool that districts can hire from allows them to quickly fill positions and reduce teacher shortages. This also positively impacts onsite staff by bringing in much needed staff to support students and staff. 

2. Digital learning platforms designed to support and meet the needs of educators and school professionals

With the wide adoption of video conferencing and virtual tools, it is imperative to select the right digital platforms to support educators and school professionals.

Advances in technology have enabled educators to access educational resources and customize solutions for their students. Video conferencing provides an opportunity for a live face-to-face instruction with a teacher.  With the increase of digital resources teachers can use these tools to customize their instruction. The integration of technology encourages students to become more engaged in their instructional time. Remote educators can have access to a platform that includes video conferencing, scheduling tools, and supplemental materials.

3. Increased collaboration in serving students

Ask nearly any educator and school professional about the importance of collaboration and they will say a productive partnership among parents, counselors, therapists, and school administrators are essential, not only in helping ensure students stay engaged in the classroom but also in helping staff manage workloads. Multiple studies have shown that collaboration can improve academic outcomes and contribute to educators and school professionals being more satisfied in their jobs  which is a key contributor to reducing burnout and preventing them from leaving the profession.

For example, remote educators can work closely with onsite teachers to ensure that instruction is aligned with district curriculum to meet the IEP goals of students. This collaboration leads to improved support for both the students and onsite staff. Being able to video conference and communicate with parents and teachers maintains and fosters relationships with staff and stakeholders. By providing onsite staff with remote educator resources, they have greater opportunities to facilitate collaboration in order to increase academic outcomes for their students. 

Teletherapy and remote learning have been around for decades, but mostly outside of schools and in private practices. The digital transformation that is reshaping nearly every industry is now changing the education profession, and these practices are starting to be introduced within schools. A more holistic approach to education staffing that includes telepractice holds the potential to reduce educator burnout and ease the workforce shortage – and that is a win-win for educators, school administrators, parents and, most of all, students.

Virtual schools can serve students with special needs—and do it well

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