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Student Snapshots: What Really Works Conference

what-works-bannerThe Public Policy Program encourages its undergraduate and graduate students to pursue learning opportunities outside the classroom. Due to the generosity of our supporters, we routinely fund students to travel to conferences, workshops, and to attend other related events. Last month, one of our Master’s in Public Policy students, Christopher McCrackin, enjoyed such an opportunity at the W&M School of Education, which hosted the “What Really Works Conference: High-Leverage Practices and Collaboration.” The event was held in partnership with SURN, W&M T/TAC,  2Teach, and California State University Northridge. Read below for Christopher’s reflections on the experience.

Reflection by Christopher McCrackin, 1st year MPP student:

Chris McCrackin, MPP '25Last month, I had the privilege to attend the “What Really Works Conference?” alongside 175 other teachers, directors, administrators, and central office specialists to learn, devise, and share  leadership strategies for clearer communication, collaboration, and inclusion of high leverage practices in high needs classrooms. As a former special education teacher in a Title I school system, the conference’s focus on effective and efficient implementation of federal and state policy on a district level built upon my own interest in fair and equitable policy decisions that affect disadvantaged school systems. Oftentimes acknowledging the unintended and negative effects of federal, state, and local education policy on marginalized students who are oftentimes the most vulnerable, the conference provided me with the opportunity to speak and collaborate with educators from across the state and country on nascent issues in special education and English language learners.

Beginning with a keynote lecture by Dr. Murawski, a William & Mary alumna,  and Dr. Jenkins,Dr. Wendy Murawski their presentation on parity or equal say in a collaborative relationship summarized the conference’s objective. Reflecting on my own experience as a teacher who cultivated a variety of working relationships with other teachers, administrators, and central office specialists as well as students, parents, and community members, teaching and learning are constant exercises in parity and collaboration. Without an inclusive environment in which all members of an academic community feel safe to express their triumphs, concerns, and struggles, educators can not learn how to better accommodate or teach the community which they serve. Without an equal relationship between educators and the community, true collaborative relationships beneficial to students can not be formed.

While panels centered around local focus, co-teaching, and academics were useful for teachers to gain a better understanding of the challenges of teaching and learning in high needs classrooms, I found panels organized around “Leadership” to be useful for meeting and discussing policy issues with district and state leaders. For instance, in the opening administrative panels  “Setting the Stage for Effective Co-Teaching” by Dr. Murawski and “Engaging Families and Communities” by Nancy Cline, West Virginia Department of Education Coordinator for Family Engagement, I was able to collaborate with lifelong  and experienced educators on district level policies to engage underserved communities and educate parents on co-teaching and student accomodations. Moreover, I also got the opportunity to participate in discussions about IEP compliance using legal skills acquired from the Law and Public Policy during the penultimate lecture “Collaborate to Lead IEPs” by Dr. Lori Andrews, Adjunct Professor of Special Education at Azusa Pacific University. Though I was not equipped with near the practical experience of administrators, the skills learned from the MPP program allowed me to listen to triumphs and struggles, understand concerns, and contribute to the conversations happening in meaningful ways.

While the administrative panels offered an opportunity for me to listen to and learn from experienced administrators,  panels on data collection in Social-Behavioral and Emotional Behavior  and Collaboration strands gave students the chance to apply skills learned from Quantitative Methods. In the Collaboration strand’s “General Educator’s Guide to Data Collection” by Debbie Ramer, Assistant Clinical Professor in Curriculum and Instruction/Special Education, and Dr. MacKenzie Tuberville-McCorry, a project specialist at William & Mary’s T/TAC, I  learned how teachers could become effective data collectors and interpreters. Acknowledging that many teachers including myself were not trained to collect or interpret data, both speakers noted that tools such as Google sheets could be used to train teachers to be better stewards of data. By increasing data literacy among faculty and staff, school systems would be more efficient in the production, interpretation, and dissemination of data. In the Social-Behavioral and Emotional Behavior strand, Dr. Kyena Cornelius’s “Practical Data Collection Strategies” focused on standardizing the way data is collected on students by teachers and administrators. A Clinical Associate Professor of Special Education at the University of Florida focusing on special education training and induction, Dr. Kyena emphasized the importance of teachers being trained on data collection for IEPs and Behavior Intervention Plans. Using knowledge of good data practices learned from Quantitative Methods, I was able to understand the importance of consistent standards of data collection. Without good and efficient data practices, information gathered on students, teachers, administrators, and schools is unreliable.

With many opportunities to apply my own skills and collaborate with lifelong educators from across the state and country, I found the various interactions among professionals the most rewarding and insightful part of the conference. Hearing from teachers, administrators, and central office specialists punctuated the many topics that I have encountered in the program thus far.