Link Lines – September 2021 Issue


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By Daria Lorio-Barsten, M.Ed., Christine Peterson, M.Ed., and LaShauna Britt, M.Ed.


Administrator's Corner 3

Centering Equity

By Cathy Buyrn


In the spring of 2021, the Link Lines Administrator’s Corner focused on courageous leadership, one of Virginia’s EdEquity 5Cs (i.e., courageous leadership, continuous reflection, curriculum reframing, compassionate student & family engagement, and culturally responsive practices). In this edition’s Educators’ Lesson, Building Inclusive Classrooms With EdEquity 5Cs Framework provides a broad overview of the 5Cs at the classroom level. In order to ensure that students and families experience inclusive classroom learning environments, school leaders must engage in practices that center equity and build capacity among staff.

An important practice for courageous leaders is using data to “make inequities visible” (VDOE, 2020a, p. 24). Every layer of the school community should be vigorously examined in order to identify any potential biases or inequities. To do so, school leaders should review mission statements, symbols, traditions, academic programs, extracurricular programs, code of conduct policies, dress codes, assessment results, and other resources with a critical lens focused on:

  • Race/ethnicity
  • Gender
  • Native language
  • Ability/disability
  • Gender identity
  • Sexual orientation
  • Socioeconomic status

(VDOE, 2020b, p. 2)

School leaders can use the Navigating EdEquity: Equity Audit Tool developed by the Virginia Department of Education’s Office of Equity & Community Engagement (VDOE, 2020b) to engage in a robust examination of their school communities.

Once they have used data to “make inequities visible” (VDOE, 2020a, p. 24), they must carefully consider how to “normalize conversations about race, racism, and inequity” (p. 24). While these topics can be uncomfortable for some stakeholders, establishing an equity baseline is an important part of creating conditions that enable meaningful and continuous reflection.

The EdEquityVA webinar series episode Continuous Reflection for Equity (VDOE, 2021, April 29) introduces school leaders to a continuous reflection cycle that helps them engage in practices that “eliminate the predictability of student outcomes based on race, gender, zip code, ability, socioeconomic status, or language spoken at home” (slide 5).

EdEquityVA Webinar Series:  Continuous Reflection for Equity

EdEquityWebinarClick image to access webinar episode.

Courageous school leaders should first use school data to engage in reflection individually and with other school leaders before facilitating discussions with staff and other stakeholders. Such discussions will be more productive if the data is clear, shared responsibility is future-focused rather than blame-based, and if norms are established for safe reflection and respect for all stakeholders. While school leaders need to “disrupt discourse, practices, and policies that perpetuate inequities” (VDOE, 2020a, p. 24), they should select activities that move beyond political or ideological divisions and encourage solution-focused problem solving. The expectation that Virginia school leaders center equity in their schools is a non-negotiable and should not be discussed as a debatable goal.

Compassionate engagement with students and families is a critical practice for educators at all levels. Compassionate practices go far beyond compliance-centered activities (e.g., language translations, multicultural activities focused on food, notices about disability rights, tracking event attendance). Courageous school leaders are prepared to make sure that compassionate engagement efforts are “culturally and economically competent, asset based, and trauma informed” (VDOE, 2020b, p. 9). Educators at all levels also need to be prepared to receive emotionally charged feedback from students and families who may be experiencing trauma outside of the school community and potentially trauma caused by school-based inequities and biases. It is important to remember that “anger is a mask for fear” (Constantino, 2019, 43min 32sec). School leaders will need to help staff practice skills that reduce defensive responses and increase de-escalation that results in compassionate engagement and informs continuous reflection.

The EdEquityVA webinar series episode focused on family engagement (Communication Is Not Engagement) outlines practices that makes clear the distinction between communication and meaningful engagement (Constantino, 2019). Constantino’s (2019) high-impact-engagement practices (e.g., family academic socialization, efficacy-based activities, interactive homework design, home learning supports, home visits) may be used to establish compassionate engagement practices and shift resources from low-impact practices to practices that are more likely to improve student outcomes for historically marginalized groups of students.

EdEquityVA Webinar Series:  Communication Is Not Engagement

steveconstantinoClick image to access webinar episode.

Courageous school leaders must engage in centering equity as individuals and facilitate the process for stakeholders, considering every layer of the school community. Some of those conversations will be challenging, but the issues need to be addressed directly to establish shared goals, a focus on the data, and effective equity strategies. Establishing equitable practices is an urgent and worthwhile priority. The Link Lines Administrator’s Corner will continue to connect school leaders to resources and tools focused on EdEquityVA during the 2021-2022 school year. Please feel free to share your progress on the EdEquityVA 5Cs as a courageous school leader by responding in the Comments section or contacting me directly ( Check out the classroom-level resources in this edition’s Educators’ Lesson Building Inclusive Classrooms With EdEquity 5Cs Framework and also direct your teachers to these powerful resources.


Constantino, S. (2019, November 8). Communication is not engagement:  Advancing equity through family efficacy [Webinar]. Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) Office of Equity & Community Engagement. Department of Education (VDOE) Office of Equity & Community Engagement. (2020a). Navigating EdEquityVA:  Virginia’s road map to equity.

Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) Office of Equity & Community Engagement. (2020b). Navigating EdEquityVA: Equity audit tool.

Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) Office of Equity & Community Engagement. (2021, April 29). EdEquityVA webinar series:  Continuous reflection for equity [Webinar].

Courageous School Leadership – Administrator’s Corner

Link Lines – May 2021 Issue

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Read Educator’s Lesson

By Shelley Littleton M.Ed., Kara McCulloch M.S., & Donni Perry M.Ed.

Administrator's Corner 3

Courageous School Leadership

By Cathy Buyrn, M.Ed.

The 2020-2021 school year has posed leadership challenges like no other school year. School leaders have had to courageously build multiple solutions to unique challenges and pivot quickly when circumstances changed. To support you in meeting these unprecedented challenges, Link Lines has published a number of relevant articles in the past year. For example, in the July and September issues, we addressed the importance of social emotional learning (SEL) and self-care heading into an unprecedented year.

Social and Emotional Learning Strategies for Administrators

Responsive School Restarting Considerations for Administrators

In the November and February editions of Link Lines, we pointed school leaders towards literacy and math practices for closing the skill gap that align with High Leverage Practices (HLPs). These academically focused practices will go a long way towards closing skill gaps that may have widened during the 2020-2021 school year.

Literacy Leadership at the IEP Meeting

Supervising High-Quality Math Instruction

In the spring edition of Link Lines, we wanted to hear from essential school workers who faced down this school year with amazing courage and creativity both in person and virtually. We asked them to share what they have learned this year and what ideas and strategies they are excited about keeping in their toolboxes for next year. View their inspiring Flip Grid videos in the educators’ lesson at the link above.

Moving into the summer and the 2021-2022 school year, school leaders will need to continue to keep SEL and self-care an important part of their weekly routines and set up structures for school staff members to do the same. The VDOE I’m Determined project offers a variety of tools that can be used by leaders, school staff, and students. The Good Day Plan and Goal Plan templates can help set the stage for SEL and self-care reflection and planning in order to ensure success at all levels.

Good Day Plan Template

Goal Plan Template

While SEL and self-care should stay at the top of the priority list heading into the new school year, school leaders also need to prepare themselves to engage in the courageous leadership behaviors defined by the Virginia Department of Education’s Ed Equity 5Cs (i.e., culturally responsive, courageous leadership, curriculum reframing, compassionate student and family engagement, continuous reflection) (VDOE, 2020).

Courageous Leadership Behaviors

  • Make inequities visible
  • Disrupt discourse, practices, and policies that perpetuate inequities
  • Encourage programs that support multi-lingual language and literacy development
  • Normalize conversations about race, racism, and inequity
  • Support people and building level administrators in efforts to address equity and racism
  • Promote diversity and cultivate responsibility for equity
  • Establish and communicate antiracism and equity policies to all stakeholders
  • Establish and communicate clear equity goals
  • Allocate resources to advance equity goals

(VDOE, 2020, p. 24)

In addition to the overall impacts of COVID-19 on society and schools, the past year has brought into focus issues of equity. Much of the discussion has been focused on race, culture, ethnicity, and economic disparities. Inequities across diverse groups of students can be compounded by disabilities and result in poor outcomes for too many students.

Courageous school leaders will have to help school staff let go of low expectations for these vulnerable students. They will also need to intentionally funnel resources into programs designed to compassionately engage marginalized groups of students (including students with disabilities) in order to close critical skill gaps and improve long-term outcomes for ALL students.

School leaders will be ahead of the game going into the 2021-2022 school year if they continue to make SEL and self-care a priority for all school community stakeholders and develop a plan for building the VDOE Ed Equity 5Cs into the fabric of their vision and mission to create inclusive and equitable school communities.

Additional Resources

The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL)

Navigating EdEquityVA:  Virginia’s Road Map to Equity

Considerations for COVID Recovery Services for Students with Disabilities

Back to School Considerations:  Options for Ensuring FAPE (PEATC.Org)

9 Recommendations for Inclusive Learning Recovery for Students with Disabilities


Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) Office of Equity & Community Engagement. (2020). Navigating EdEquityVA:  Virginia’s road map to equity.

COVID-19 Considerations: Compensatory, Recovery, & Extended School Year Services

Link Lines – Administrator’s Corner February 2021

Link Lines – February 2021

Link Lines Newsletter

Word Problems? No Problem! A Conversation with Dr. Sarah Powell

Click to read this issue for Educator’s

Read the Administrator’s Corner below

Admin Corner - Sticky Note Option 1

Supervising High-Quality Math Instruction

Administrators are responsible for supervising instruction in all content areas, but many lack experience with math instruction. Therefore, it is not uncommon to rely on experienced math teachers as instructional leaders. While the instructional leadership of successful math teachers can be a critical part of building consistent and effective instructional practices, administrators need to make sure they are up-to-date themselves on evidence-based math instructional practices in classrooms.

For example, experienced math teachers may rely on instructional habits that might get short-term results at the expense of long-term mathematical reasoning skills (e.g., key words, rote memorization, operation-based problem solving) (Powell, 2020). For that reason, administrators need to know which instructional practices have been proven to build longer-term successes with students who struggle with math, including students with disabilities. More importantly, administrators need to know which instructional habits need to be eliminated from math classrooms.

Initially, teachers may be reluctant to abandon practices that have worked for many students over the years. Indeed, teachers may be attached to practices that worked for them when they were students. If administrators want to improve math outcomes for more students, they will need to help teachers change their instructional habits and become effective math teachers for all students, including those who struggle with math. It is important to stop accepting poor math performance and using language like “not a math person” when referring to ourselves or our students.

A number of math strategies have proven successful when employed consistently and effectively. One of those proven strategies is schema-based instruction (see Link Lines lesson Schema-Based Instruction). Administrators can familiarize themselves with additional evidence-based instructional practices for math by reviewing the Virginia Department of Education’s (VDOE) new resource guide (Berry & Powell, 2020) at the link below.

Evidence-Based Specially Designed Instruction in Mathematics:  Resource Guide

Once familiar with the VDOE guidance, administrators should plan professional learning for teachers designed to help them replace ineffective instructional habits with evidence-based practices that will reach more learners. The IRIS Center Module at the link below is a comprehensive training tool that administrators can use with their teachers to start important conversations about high-quality math instruction.

High Quality Mathematics Instruction:  What Teachers Should Know

Supervising high-quality math instruction can be a challenge for administrators if they lack experience or confidence with such a technical content area, but they need to help teachers make sense of the evidence behind a needed shift in guidance and practice. When proven practices are in place during core instruction for all students, we will improve outcomes for more learners.


Berry, K. & Powell, S. (2020). Evidence-based specially designed instruction in mathematics:  Resource guide. Virginia Department of Education.

Powell, S. (2020, December 15). Word problems? No problem!:  A conversation with Dr. Sarah Powell [Video podcast]. In Link Lines. William & Mary Training & Technical Assistance Center.

The IRIS Center. (2017). High-quality mathematics instruction: What teachers should know. Author.

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Link Lines – Administrator’s Corner December 2020

Link Lines Newsletter

Literacy Leadership at the IEP Meeting – Administrator’s Corner Issue

Use of High Leverage Practices – Educators’ Issue

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Link Lines – November 2020

November’s Issue of Link Lines: Use of High Leverage Practices

Click here to read this issue for educators


Read the Administrator’s Corner below


Admin Corner - Sticky Note Option 1

Literacy Leadership at the IEP Meeting

By Cathy Buyrn, M.Ed.

Administrators serve as the local education agency (LEA) representative during individualized education program (IEP) meetings. It is important for them to take this role seriously as, in addition to the school responsibilities outlined in the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA, 2004), the recent Supreme Court case Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District (U.S. Department of Education, 2017) established a higher standard for demonstrating student progress. In the unanimous decision, the court asserted that “a school must offer an IEP that is reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress in light of the child’s circumstances” (para. 1) and that “every child should have the chance to meet challenging objectives” (p. 5). While administrators should ensure that IEPs contain challenging academic and functional goals across the curriculum and the school day, it is important that they pay particular attention to literacy.

Reading is a critical life skill (Americans with Disabilities Act [ADA], 2008) that should be prioritized for all students, including students with disabilities. In 2018 the International Literacy Association (ILA) declared that “children have the basic human right to read” (p. 2) and in 2019 went even further, calling on administrators to “prioritize children’s rights to read” (ILA, p. 5). Specifically, administrators were asked to sign the pledge and take action by ensuring that scientifically driven reading instruction build the independent reading skills of all students. This call to action also applies to students with disabilities despite a history of low expectations and poor outcomes for this group of students. The Endrew decision aligns with this call to action and identified High-Leverage Practices for Special Education (McLeskey et al., 2017).

 All of the 22 high-leverage practices (HLPs) in four aspects of practice – collaboration, assessment, social-emotional learning, and instruction – can guide administrative leadership focused on literacy across the school environment and at IEP meetings. Under the instructional umbrella of the HLPs, two specific practices (see Table 1) can be used to support the development of IEP goals and specially designed instruction (SDI) across the curriculum and especially in the five critical components of reading instruction (i.e., phonemic and phonological awareness, phonics/decoding, fluency, vocabulary, comprehension). Administrators should make sure that the following HLPs are a focus of goal setting and instructional practices across the curriculum, and especially for students with identified reading difficulties.

Table 1

Connecting High-Leverage Practices and Systematic Reading Instruction

High-Leverage Practices

(McLeskey et al., 2017)

Reading Examples
HLP 11: Identify and prioritize long- and short-term learning goals. Long-Term Goal

  • When presented with a list of 20 closed-syllable (CVC) words, the student will identify, orally decode, and write words with short vowel sounds with 95% accuracy by June 12, 2021.

Setting low accuracy goals (e.g., 70%) for basic foundational reading skills limits student growth. Administrators should question goals with low accuracy targets.

HLP 12: Systematically design instruction toward a specific learning goal. Short-Term Systematic Instructional Goals

  • Identify, produce, and write the initial consonant sound in CVC words.
  • Identify, produce, and write the final consonant sound in CVC words.
  • Identify, produce, and write the medial short vowel sound in CVC words.
  • Blend the initial, medial, and final sounds in closed-syllable (CVC) words.
  • Listen to and use correct spelling to write closed syllable (CVC) words.

Prerequisite subskills should be mastered with 100% accuracy in order to make progress towards the long-term goal.


As the LEA representative at the table during IEP meetings, administrators have an ethical and legal obligation to elevate the academic expectations for students with disabilities and facilitate their right to become independent readers. Satisfying the new standard established by the Endrew decision requires specific attention to strategic goal setting (HLP 11) and systematic instruction (HLP 12) designed to accomplish “appropriately ambitious” (2017, p. 7) goals. This standard is especially critical in the five components of reading instruction. Administrators should not substitute reading accommodations (e.g., read aloud, audio, text-to-speech) for systematic and appropriately intensive reading instruction regardless of students’ age or grade level. If special education teachers are spending more time providing reading accommodations than they are providing systematic and intensive reading instruction, students with disabilities will not be the life-ready independent readers depicted in Virginia’s Profile of a Graduate. Rising to this challenge will require that administrators employ a multi-year focus on the “individualization” of student IEPs and the development of independent reading skills using scientifically based reading instruction.

Additional Resources

Administrators can build their own skills and knowledge about how to develop high-quality IEPs that close critical skills gaps across the curriculum and in the vital components of reading by completing the IRIS module at the link below.

How Administrators Can Support the Development and Implementation of High-Quality IEPs

For specific answers to frequently asked questions about the provision of special education services during the COVID-19 pandemic, Virginia administrators can access the link below.

VDOE Special Education and Student Services (SESS) Frequently Asked Questions

Administrators can help build the IEP development skills of their special education teachers by having them complete the IRIS module at the link below.

Developing High-Quality Individualized Education Programs

Additional resources focused on SDI in the critical components of reading may be found at the National Center on Intensive Intervention link below. The site includes examples and resources to support SDI delivered in virtual learning settings during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Strategies to Support Intensifying Literacy Interventions

Virginia State Superintendent of Instruction, Dr. James Lane, has asserted that early literacy skills and scientifically based reading instruction are priorities for all Virginia educators. Administrators and teachers can access professional development focused on these priorities at the link below.

Comprehensive Literacy Webinar Series


Americans With Disabilities Act [ADA] Amendments, 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq. (2008).

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 20 U.S.C. § 1400 (2004).

International Literacy Association [ILA]. (2019). Advocating for children’s rights to read: A manual for enacting the rights in classrooms, communities, and the world.

International Literacy Association [ILA]. (2018). The case for children’s rights to read.

McLeskey, J., Barringer, M-D., Billingsley, B., Brownell, M., Jackson, D., Kennedy, M., Lewis, T., Maheady, L., Rodriguez, J., Scheeler, M. C., Winn, J., & Ziegler, D. (2017, January). High-leverage practices in special education. Arlington, VA: Council for Exceptional Children & CEEDAR Center.

U.S. Department of Education. (2017). Questions and answers (Q & A) on U.S. Supreme Court Case decision Endrew F. v Douglas County School District Re-1. Washington, DC: Author.

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Library Book Suggestions-November 2020

Library Book Suggestions-October 2020