As a Lead Teacher in NECC’s Public School Services (PSS) department, Amanda Ziino MSEd, has been presented with a unique challenge because of the Coronavirus pandemic. While her role with PSS typically involves working in one of NECC’s partner classrooms, the physical separation caused by social-distancing regulations has made the relationship-management aspect of her job more difficult. “The PSS department has a lot of moving parts,” says Ziino. “Working closely with families and developing strong relationships with our school and community [are two important aspects].”

PSS Teacher, Mandy Ziino, at the 2018 Autism Around the World Conference

The question for Ziino, and all of the PSS department, in the wake of the pandemic then becomes more complicated than usual. How can teachers continue to effectively work with their students, while creating and fostering the meaningful relationships that are integral to their students’ success? The answer to this question is multifaceted.

“[Teaching during this period] has definitely been a learning experience for me and has highlighted the importance of teamwork,” says Ziino. The collaborative effort put forth by both NECC team members and staff at the different schools that are home to partner classrooms cannot be understated. Teamwork is one part of the foundation that student progress is built on with the PSS department, especially during this period of remote learning.

It is not teamwork alone, though, that has allowed PSS team members to continue to help their students during this challenging time. Instead, another equally important foundational idea is effective communication. Throughout the last several months, this has taken on many forms. Providing lessons and objectives to students and reaching out to families to discuss progress, are two examples that have continued during this period of social distancing. The use of video, however, is the newest technique utilized by those in the PSS department. Ellen Gage MS BCBA, an Educational Coordinator elaborates, “We’ve made video lessons for an online classroom and compilations of teachers saying hi to students; we’re also doing video conferencing with students individually and starting up a social skills group so students can see each other as well.”

While these measures will never totally replace the value of in-person, face-to-face meetings, they have become an effective tool that has allowed students and teachers to continue their essential work. The individual meetings have also helped ease the burden upon families who are now playing the role of surrogate teachers during this prolonged period of school closures. That is not to say that any of this is easy; however, because of the teamwork and comprehensive communication efforts of the PSS department, progress can continue to be made.

It is that idea of progress that not only clearly benefits students, but also makes PSS team members’ jobs so rewarding. “The most rewarding part of my job has always been watching my students develop, grow, and achieve success as students and as individuals,” says Ziino. “I am so grateful to be a part of their journey.”

For students in partner classrooms, that journey, while changed by remote learning, will continue thanks to the efforts of the PSS department and the staff that remains so dedicated to their success.

About The New England Center for Children

The New England Center for Children® (NECC®) is an award-winning autism education center and research institute. Our community of teachers, researchers, and clinicians have transformed the lives of thousands of children with autism worldwide through education, research, and technology. The Center provides comprehensive services to maximize independence: home-based, day, and residential programs, partner classrooms in public school systems, consulting services, the ACE® ABA Software System (www.acenecc.org), teacher professional development, and research on educational best practices.

NECC is committed to staff professional development, partnering with local colleges to provide on-site graduate training and degrees at little to no cost to the NECC teacher. The result is a growing pool of exceptional teachers trained in best-in-class methodologies, whether they continue their careers at NECC or move on to public schools or private agencies. The New England Center for Children is based in Southborough, MA, and operates a center in Abu Dhabi, UAE. Learn more at www.necc.org.