In March 2019, Think College was invited to present their work to the 2018-2019 Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities (LEND) fellows at Boston Childrens’ Hospital. A total of 21 fellows representing 14 disciplines make up the current Lend Fellowship cohort. They come with a range of graduate study concentrations including law, related services, pediatric medicine, public health and rehabilitation counseling. Some represent families and self-advocates. What they all have in common is a desire to advance their knowledge and skills in preparation for a leadership role working with children with disabilities and other special health care needs and their families.
Given the diversity of the fellows’ backgrounds as well as their mutual interest in disability leadership, two training methods were used that would facilitate collaboration and discussion. These included adaptations of the Jigsaw method and Community Conversations.
Jigsaw method: The jigsaw strategy is a way of learning information collaboratively. A group is evenly divided into smaller groups and then each group is assigned a portion of a reading or content to study and discuss. The process relies on each member of the group working together to summarize their understanding of the content before they present it to the other groups (Schreyer Institute for Teaching Excellence, 2007).
Community conversations: The community conversations model is an asset-based approach for engaging a cross-section of diverse stakeholders in addressing an issue of importance. This model explicitly recognized that multiple diverse stakeholders are necessary to understand and address issues. A facilitator proposes 2-3 questions to guide small, divided groups’ discussions. Participants are asked to share ideas, resources, or opportunities that could be drawn upon as well as to build upon and refine the recommendations of others (Carter & Bumble, 2018).
In this presentation, Think College staff divided the fellows into four groups – one group for each of the data themes reported in the Year Three Annual Report of the TPSID Model Demonstration Projects (2017-2018). These included 1) national snapshot of programs and demographics, 2) academic outcomes, 3) employment outcomes and 4) student life. Working in small groups, the participants were asked to create a short story that the data infographic displayed, present the story to the other three groups and prepare 1-2 questions that emerged from their review of the data.
Questions asked by the LEND fellows:
- In looking at the national map, what accounts for some states being further along with postsecondary options for students with disabilities?
- What is the difference between specialized courses and inclusive courses?
- Is college making a difference in where students find jobs?
- How much demand is there for residential life experiences on campus?
- How much of the student engagement data reflects inclusive experiences and how much reflects separate or group activities just for students with IDD/A?
These questions led the fellows and Think College staff to discuss a variety of strategies that Think College staff promote to enhance inclusive postsecondary education options for students with IDD, including:
- • facilitating unified advocacy, strategic planning and legislative support to grow this work nationally in every state;
- • increasing training opportunities to faculty and staff to design courses and student life activities using principles of universal design;
- • promoting career development education so that students are experiencing multiple paid and unpaid work experiences while in college;
- • establishing mentor partnerships between colleges with residential life opportunities and those who want to create them but need support;
- • establishing peer mentor models that facilitate positive and inclusive relationships between students with and without disabilities.
Providing a structure for the LEND fellows to study and discuss the Think College data led to a rich, interdisciplinary discussion of inclusive postsecondary education and hopefully led them to bring the data and the strategies back to their fields.