Partnering to Faithfully Build Belonging
What We’ve Learned About Serving You During Covid-19
By Elizabeth Dombrowski, Executive Director, All Belong
Here in Michigan, many of our team members have been encouraged by the availability of Covid-19 vaccine, and we look forward to traveling in person again soon. To celebrate this hopeful milestone, we wanted to share with you the things we have learned from the rollercoasters of the last year:
Virtual support works very well – for certain activities.
- On a foundation of relationship-building
- Ways to use virtual TC service well
While we have been able to build relationships with some of our partners virtually, most of our virtual work has been founded on a basis of in-person relationship-building. We know it’s important to get to know you, your teams, and your students in person, to build mindsets, credibility, familiarity, and community.
However, many of our partners have been able to use virtual services strategically. These have sometimes included monthly, scheduled meetings to advance specific goals; pulling different groups of experts together who might be physically far apart; meeting parents’ needs and availability; connecting with colleagues across the country; and even collecting video data for observation and unpacking of student behavior. These opportunities will continue to be available to our partners long after the Covid-19 pandemic has ended.
Our ability to serve you virtually may also depend on the staff in your building. For the most experienced inclusive educators, we may be able to meet virtually. But for teachers new to All Belong and inclusive education, we need to be in person perhaps more often. Some of those activities we want to be sure to reserve our in-person time for may be leading child study teams or participating in individual student planning (ISP) meetings.
We can do some school psychology work virtually – but not all of it.
- In-person evaluations
- Virtual ISP’s
In some cases, the use of video conferencing has allowed All Belong professionals to connect more easily with parents.
From the beginning of the pandemic, our school psychologists have followed the best practices of the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) in seeking in-person evaluations in order to offer a diagnosis. We see this as a best practice that is in the students’ and schools’ best interest, and we are committed to doing what is best for kids. In some cases, holding ISP meetings virtually has been best for the family or school, and we look forward to exploring this flexibility moving forward. For example, one meeting involved a parent Zooming in from a high/low!
We also see the value and possibilities of serving distance partners with virtual educational consultations. The pandemic experience has made many people much more comfortable with videoconferencing technology, and increased the value and impact of this service. We encourage our distance partners to explore this process with us moving forward.
Drawing from a community of professionals helps.
- Professional development
- Affordability and accessibility: lower entry points, realistic goals
Teacher Consultant Pam Maat virtually hosted the Head and Heart Training.
We are pleased to have been able to provide Connect Groups virtually this year, and have seen the benefit of engaging a nationwide cohort of participants in those conversations. The commitment to inclusive education is growing, and Christ-centered communities across the country are serving more students with disabilities. We anticipate providing more virtual options for professional development, while recognizing that some types of learning require the depth and flexibility of in-person interaction.
The virtual service leap facilitated by the Covid-19 pandemic also allows us to think strategically about the best ways that we can serve schools. If we can have certain conversations virtually, we can then focus our in-person visits on facilitating meetings, working with students, and modeling Circles of Friends. We want our partners to get the most from their partnership with All Belong, and virtual service allows us to think creatively about the activities that make the greatest impact on belonging.
Our donors continue to care.
- Rates are underwritten by the generosity of our community – not just here but everywhere
- We do not take that for granted, and seek to build stronger community between departments, too
The pandemic has been a trying time for us all, but at All Belong we have benefitted from being able to lean on each other and our community. Our strategic planning has highlighted the need for increased collaboration between our departments, especially between our teacher consultants, school psychologists, and our church services team. When you partner with All Belong, you gain access to the full depth of our team’s knowledge and we are excited to share that with you.
Our donors have continued to be generous to the mission of faithfully building belonging and we are extremely grateful for that. Since contributions underwrite a third of all that we do, our donors are essential to continuing to push this vision forward and serve you well. We take that responsibility of stewardship very seriously, which is why we want to make sure that our time with you continues to impact communities for belonging with persons of all abilities.
Thank you for your continued partnership over the last year, and your faithfulness to all of the students who belong to your community. We look forward to working together creatively to accomplish this mission well in the future – whether we are in person or virtual!
Elizabeth Lucas Dombrowski is the Executive Director at All Belong Center for Inclusive Education.
Interested in learning more about member services with All Belong? Explore how we can serve your school. Or reach out directly and we can start a conversation.