In many rural schools, staff take on multiple roles in order to provide a wealth of experiences to their students. However, this often means that teachers are stretched thin in terms of time and resources available for working with students. In many instances, gifted education programs are hardest hit. Gifted coordinators in rural areas often work with students at all grade levels and may not interact with their students every day given the many tasks they have to complete. For our IOAPA schools, this sometimes presents challenges in terms of monitoring student progress, assessing for concerns or difficulties with courses or technology, and working to build relationships where students can ask for help. How can IOAPA coordinators make their program successful despite these constraints?
- Develop a learning plan with your students. Although most students benefit from clear goals and plans to accomplish them, a learning plan or contract may be particularly useful for IOAPA coordinators filling multiple roles. The learning plan can be used not only to address content or course-specific goals, but also to ask for student input on how you as a site coordinator can best support them and help them meet their goals. Through development of a learning plan with your students, coordinators can know what student goals are for the course as well as strategies that might be useful for success.
- Plan for check-in daily (even if not face to face). Although online courses encourage students to work independently, it is often still helpful to know that the site coordinators and mentors at their school are available for support. For teachers who many not interact with their students daily, checking in using technology or planning for a regular status update from your students can help you keep tabs on students who may be struggling.
- Find someone to support your students on-site while they work. If you aren’t available on-site for your IOAPA students’ courses due to scheduling conflicts, make sure that they have someone available to supervise and ensure they are working on their IOAPA coursework. This can range from arranging for students to sit with other teachers during prep periods or study halls or finding teachers to act as mentors (more on that below).
- Plan for time when students can ask questions. Another key part of supporting your students is ensuring availability for answering questions and providing support even if you do not interact with them regularly. Site coordinators might implement time before or after school for answering questions for their students on a regular basis. Another tool IOAPA site coordinators might use is setting up progress meetings at set points throughout the semester. Progress meetings will allow for face-to-face contact with your students and will help you identify areas in which they might need additional support.
- Ask an on-site teacher to act as a mentor. Participation in IOAPA requires the establishment of a designated site coordinator and mentor to provide on-site support to your IOAPA students. Although many schools choose to have only one person in these roles, such as the TAG Coordinator, schools can choose to designate a separate mentor or mentors for their IOAPA students. The TAG Coordinator would then take on responsibilities related to the IOAPA site coordinator position while the on-the-ground work would become part of the IOAPA mentor’s duties. For IOAPA site coordinators who fill multiple roles, this can be a good way for a staff member on-site to build a relationship with your IOAPA students and aid in navigating any challenges that students might experience. We recommend considering mentors for your students who:
- Are available in some way during your IOAPA student’s class time (this might include having students work independently in the classroom while the mentor teaches so that the mentor can check in on them)
- Are trusted by the mentee. The student may have already developed a relationship with them from previous courses or activities, which can create a system of accountability.
- Can contribute meaningfully to their IOAPA course due to shared experiences with the student. Although it is not a requirement that a mentor be an expert in the course subject, mentors who can relate personally to the student as well as aid in learning course material can be beneficial when students are feeling struck.
- Provide feedback with high expectations and belief in abilities. Mentors often act as one of the primary encouragers to their students—by knowing that the mentors are part of their support network, students may be more likely to persist when coursework becomes challenging.
Other ideas and sources of support for IOAPA site coordinators and mentors can be found in the IOAPA Handbook or through participation in the IOAPA Mentor Network. For more about the IOAPA model, visit our website at belinblank.org/ioapa.