What does it take to help at-risk learners achieve success?
My school, Oxford Virtual Academy, is a K-12 online public school, that serves all types of students, including high achievers, and those at risk and in special education. About 70% of our high-school students are categorized as at risk. The way we keep these students on track is through systems that flag those who need help and personalized interventions that include dedicated teams and accountability tools.
Here’s what it looks like in practice:
Mentor teachers. We take a whole child approach with dedicated content teachers, mentor teachers, counselors, administration, students and parents all working in concert for each student. Each student’s mentor teacher’s primary role is to connect the subject teachers, parents and the student together. They have a solid grasp on how each student is performing, while breaking down silos between the groups. We spend dedicated time discussing red flag students, or those approaching that status in our weekly meetings, and then share findings and make collective game plans for those students.
Customized interventions. We personalize intervention strategies to our student needs. It could include one-on-one problem work-throughs with technology tools like video conferencing, or simply extra time on the phone to explain complex subjects or provide more examples.
We know that what works with extroverts rarely works with introverts, and we share tactics aimed at breaking down those barriers. I view it like morphing my own personality to fit that student’s personality — like acting in a play, yet in a genuine way, because I have such a vested interest in their success.
Accountability tools. For this ecosystem to work, there must be a trained team to implement it, with effective accountability systems. The tools and confidence to successfully intervene, combined with the tireless efforts of our teachers, operations staff, counselors, and program coordinators, allow our students to flourish. We provide training and other professional development opportunities to hone these skills, while elevating those who excel at mentorship to guide others on best practices and creating fun activities like role play to increase engagement.
Growth mindset. Just as we impart a flexible growth-mindset on our students, we keep our minds open to new tactics for teaching our students. We aren’t afraid to change course or pilot more experimental tactics if something isn’t working. We’ve created a culture of continual improvement among our staff, which I’m proud to say, extends to our students’ performance, and their growth.
Matt Santala is assistant principal at Oxford Virtual Academy. He has more than 15 years of experience in teaching — math and science — and administration. Santala has worked directly with at-risk students since he began teaching and has created a wide array of digital curriculum and course standards tailored to his students’ unique needs. His school uses Pearson Online & Blended Learning program.
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