At Woodland Hill Montessori School, we aim to provide each individual child with the tools they need to succeed. Our classroom teachers are specially trained observers and childhood development experts with experience teaching a diverse community of children. We recognize that some children are exceptional learners who may need additional supports in academic and/or social and emotional areas. This is why we have a team of educators who work together with classroom teachers, students, and families to provide specialized services.
IST stands for Instructional Support Team. Guided by the great success and strengths of the Special Education department at East Greenbush Central School District, Woodland Hill developed its own IST program several years ago. The aim of the team is to provide support to children and teachers so that each child may experience success in the classroom. The process sometimes serves as a pathway to determining a child’s eligibility for special education services as well.
Typically, a classroom teacher initiates the IST process for a child; this is often based on the teacher’s observations but is sometimes in combination with concerns expressed by the family. Children may be referred for a wide variety of reasons, including academic and learning challenges, behavioral difficulties, or any other reason that seems to be hindering the child’s success or growth. The entire process consists of three or more stages:
- Initial meeting - The first IST meeting is an opportunity for the team to discuss the child’s strengths, goals, and what support attempts have been made thus far. The teacher will speak to the team about what strategies have been successful and which have not. The team will generate a plan including intervention strategies that hopefully provide the child with the support they need.
- Implementation - During the six to eight weeks following the initial meeting, the classroom teacher, and often other support staff, will implement the intervention strategies listed on the plan. It is critical that staff collect data during this time to help determine what strategies are working and which may not be.
- Follow-Up Meeting - After six to eight weeks, the team will reconvene to discuss the child’s progress. If the interventions have been successful, there is no need for further meetings. If the interventions were unsuccessful or only partially successful, the team takes the time to re-evaluate the plan, make adjustments and new suggestions, and plans to meet again in another six to eight weeks.
Some other points to consider:
- Communication with parents is very important throughout the process. We share our progress with families, providing updates as often as possible. We invite families to share their concerns and triumphs with us as we all work together to support the child.
- Occasionally, standard intervention strategies are not enough. If there are concerns that a child may be eligible for special education services, the path to obtaining an IEP (Individualized Education Program) or a 504 plan (formal accommodations document) begins with the IST process. If the team has met a few times and has collected sufficient data, the next step might be to refer a child to the Committee for Special Education and request more formal testing.
What are ‘intervention strategies’? These are specific methods or tools that help address a challenge and work toward a goal. While there are a wide range of intervention strategies developed to address various needs, the following are just a few examples:
- Teachers may have a child repeat directions back to them to ensure understanding.
- Special seating arrangements may be made to help a child with focus.
- Opportunities for additional movement may be made for children who have different energy, sensory, or focus needs.
- Visual schedules or graphic organizers may be helpful for some children.
- A child may need to have tasks broken up into smaller segments to make the task more manageable.
- Short-term counseling support may be helpful for a child experiencing big changes at home.
- Small group reading or math instruction with a specialist may be helpful for children with academic needs.
This list is a very small sampling of the ideas and tools available to children and teachers.
Depending upon the needs of the child, the team may consist of some or all of the following people:
- Classroom teachers are always part of the IST team. Sometimes teachers from other classrooms or levels are invited to meetings to share their expertise.
- Administrative staff attend IST meetings in order to have awareness of the child’s needs and to offer support if needed.
- Jennifer Burns serves as our literacy specialist, as well as our learning services specialist. This means she is the coordinator for all IST meetings, and also provides reading support services to individual and small groups of children at the school.
- Tami Meek is our consultant teacher from East Greenbush Central School District. Tami works at WHMS part time as a special education teacher. She supports children who have IEPs, as well as shares her wealth of knowledge with the team.
- Bethany Burroughs is WHMS’ school counselor. She supports our students in a myriad of ways and is often a support during the IST process.
If you have any questions about the IST at Woodland Hill, or are curious to learn more about intervention strategies or our process, please feel free to contact us for more information.