Transition Tennessee and the Tennessee Department of Education were up to the challenge to move its annual Partners in Education (PIE) Conference to an online format in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. They were able to pull off a successful pre-conference and conference Jan. 25-28, with hundreds of educators in virtual attendance. Participants got to take part in multiple breakout sessions during the week, many of which were led by Vanderbilt Kennedy Center (VKC) staff members and affiliates from the Treatment & Research Institute for Autism Spectrum Disorders (VKC TRIAD), Tennessee Disability Pathfinder, and Transition Tennessee.
The conference kicked off with a one-day “Passport to the Future” Pre-Conference, for which Transition Tennessee partnered with the Tennessee Department of Education to offer sessions that highlight evidence-based practices that prepare students with disabilities to be successful in postsecondary education, employment, and independent living.
“The pre-conference – which was our first-ever virtual conference – was such a compelling event,” said Transition Tennessee program director Erik Carter, Ph.D. “Nearly 1,000 educators, providers, professionals, advocates, and family members from all corners of the state were able to convene online to learn about and share best practices in the area of transition to adulthood. It was a wonderful to see how this important event has evolved and expanded over time, as well as how our collaborations with so many agencies and organizations across the state have deepened.”
“We were thrilled to be able to offer the Passport to the Future conference in a virtual format this year,” said Rachael Jenkins, Transition Tennessee educational consultant and PIE Conference coordinator. “We were able to reach more people than ever and recruit a diverse group of presenters from across the country.”
Among the VKC-affiliated presentations for the pre-conference:
- VKC Community Advisory Council members Robyn Lampley and Tamara Tuckson participated in the opening keynote panel, which discussed the importance of collaboration between schools and families throughout the continuing COVID-19 pandemic and the significant impact it has had on the education system;
- “Training for Transition: An Inside Look at TRIAD’s Virtual Workshop Series for Transition Teachers” was led by Kelly Luo, M.Ed., Aislynn Kiser, M.Ed., BCBA, and Katie Gregory, M.Ed., BCBA;
- Luo, Kiser, and Gregory also led “How to ‘ACE’ the Transition to Employment: An Overview of an Online Curriculum Designed to Support Transition Professionals”;
- UCEDD co-director Elise McMillan, J.D., moderated the panel discussions “Transition and Employment Supports in Middle Tennessee” and “Transition and Employment Supports in East Tennessee”;
- VKC TRIAD’s Autumn Truss, Psy.D., and Transition Tennessee’s Michele Schutz, M.Ed., led a discussion on “Supporting Students with Disabilities in Accessing Quality Sex Education”; and
- Tennessee Disability Pathfinder’s Megan Hart, M.Ed., and Martha Lopez led “Beyond Interpretation & Translation: Meeting the Needs of Multicultural Students with Disabilities.”
Transition Tennessee staff were also busy leading breakout sessions, including panel discussions on “Everything You Want to Know About Transition: Panel of Experts Q&A Session,” “Transition Tennessee Project: A Blueprint for Student Success,” “Transition Tennessee’s Website for Students,” and “Preparing Students for a Successful Transition to Postsecondary Education.”
The theme of the subsequent three-day 2021 PIE Conference was “Stronger Together.” By working together to support the three key priorities of the Tennessee Department of Education’s strategic plan, BEST FOR ALL, Tennessee will set all students on a path to success, ensuring that when Tennessee students graduate, they can accomplish the dreams they set for themselves and experience seamless transitions to postsecondary education and the workforce.
“TRIAD’s collaboration with the Tennessee Department of Education is an important one to educators around the state who are serving students with disabilities and those with complex behavioral challenges,” said VKC TRIAD director Pablo Juarez, M.Ed., BCBA. “Being able to bring innovative and translational practices to a forum like the annual Partners in Education Conference allows us to deepen knowledge of best practice and to come in contact with dedicated educators whom we can coach and mentor in the development of skills they need in order to best serve their students. We’re very proud of this collaboration, and very happy to have a great forum like this conference to further our collective work.”
PIE Conference breakout sessions with VKC TRIAD staff include the following:
- “Supporting Students with Complex Communication Needs Together”: Kristin Dorris, M.S., CCC-SLP, Jill Omer, M.A., CCC-SLP, and Sarah Blumberg, Ed.D., BCBA-D
- “Strengthening Multi-Tiered Systems of Support with Social Skills Intervention Groups”: LaTamara Garrett, M.Ed., BCBA,Kristin Dorris, and Katie Gregory
- “Strategies for Successful Inclusion of All Students: Adapting Instruction for Diverse Learners in the Preschool Setting”: Becky Haynes, M.Ed., BCBA and Alacia Stainbrook, Ph.D., BCBA-D
- “ECHO Reading: Connecting Research to Practice Through Teacher-Led Case Presentations”: VKC Reading Clinic program director Sissy Peters, M.Ed., Ashley Love, M.Ed., BCBA, doctoral student Sage Pickren, and Metro Nashville elementary school teacher Kate Tarne
- “Utilizing Remote Learning to Supplement Quality Professional Development within the School Setting”: Kenna McConnell, Sarah Blumberg, and Aislynn Kiser
- “It Takes a Village: Building Capacity by Supporting Teachers’ Implementation of High Leverage Instructional Practices to Meet All Students’ Needs”: Verity Rodrigues, M.S., Ph.D., Ashley Love, Katie Gregory, and DeKalb County Schools K-12 Supervisor of Instruction Kathy Bryant
- “Leveraging Video Self-Reflection to Promote Universal Supports for Classroom Management”: Amy Kinsman, M.Ed.and Michelle Hopton, M.Ed., BCBA
- “Strategies for Successful Virtual Instruction for All Students: Resources for Supporting Parents as Learning Partners”: Sarah Blumberg and Becky Haynes
Additional VKC staff were active in the PIE Conference as well, including Next Steps at Vanderbilt staff presenting on “Supporting Students with Virtual Career Activities” and Tennessee Disability Pathfinder and the Tennessee Inclusive Higher Education Alliance participating in a Vendor’s Information Session.
Click here to view the 2021 PIE Conference agenda.
Elizabeth Turner is associate director of VKC Communications and Dissemination.