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].

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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Link Lines – Summer Edition 2020

Promoting Social Emotional Learning and Equity with Classroom Routines and Procedures:  Part 1

Click here to read this issue for educators

Read the Administrator’s Corner below


Admin Corner - Sticky Note Option 1

Social and Emotional Learning Strategies for Administrators

By Cathy Buyrn, M.Ed.

In the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, resulting school closures and heightened calls to address racial inequities in our society, school administrators must be nimble and creative.  In responding to these critical challenges, they have had to navigate remote learning, staff needs, communication with families, food distribution, technology distribution, connectivity, considerations for summer programs, considerations for opening of schools in the fall, and important questions about equity.

Trauma has touched everyone who makes up the school community, and the lived experience of school administrators during this time has been unique (Commonwealth of Virginia Department of Education [VDOE], 2020). In order to continue to be able to effectively navigate the challenges ahead, administrators must make it a priority to address their own self-care and social and emotional learning (SEL). Moving forward administrators will need to make time to decompress, reflect, and replenish their energy sources to sustain the unprecedented demands on their efforts.

  • Decompress
    • Take care of yourself and your family.
    • Spend time engaged in personal hobbies.
      • Reading for pleasure
      • Exercise
      • Arts & Crafts
      • Cooking
    • Find a support group of friends and/or colleagues.
  • Reflect
    • What has your experience been during the closure?
    • What do you think you did well and what do you hope to improve on?
    • What have you learned about yourself and your staff?
    • What have you learned about the school community?
    • How can you leverage what you have learned in planning for the future? (Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning [CASEL], 2020)
  • Replenish Energy Sources
    • Schedule time on your calendar for things that you find energizing about your work.
      • Reading to students
      • Staff community building
      • Relationship building with families
      • Celebrating success

Administrators who effectively address their own self-care and SEL will be in a much stronger position to help teachers and other staff do the same for themselves. Teachers have experienced their own challenges during this crisis, and they need a structure of support to re-engage in the teaching and learning process. They will need opportunities to connect, be heard, and heal in order to provide the same for their students (CASEL, 2020; VDOE, 2020). Administrators can model self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, responsible decision-making, and relationship skills (CASEL, 2020) to lay the groundwork for teachers to create inclusive, empathetic, and equitable learning environments when students return to school.

Administrators can find a robust collection of tools for organizing, implementing, and improving SEL in their school communities and high-quality equity building resources at Additional resources and tools may be found in the VDOE Recover, Redesign, Restart: A Comprehensive Plan That Moves Virginia Learners and Educators Forward document (2020, pp. 44-48).


Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning. (2020). An initial guide to leveraging the power of social and emotional learning as you prepare to reopen and renew your school community.

Commonwealth of Virginia Department of Education. (2020). Recover, redesign, restart 2020: A comprehensive plan that moves Virginia learners and educators forward. Virginia Department of Education.


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