Vanderbilt’s IRIS Center offers broad access to educational resources and support during the pandemic

By Jane Sevier

As schools across the country face staffing shortages and COVID-19 continues to affect education, people have once again turned to the IRIS Center at Vanderbilt Peabody College of Education and Human Development for get free resources and support. In 2021, the center’s website received approximately 4 million visits from 223 countries.

Among the most frequently accessed resources were educator preparation programs for traditional and alternative certification. As districts struggled to manage shortages during the COVID-19 pandemic, these resources provided information to educators teaching outside their area of ​​approval, those who had received emergency certificates, and substitute teachers at long term. IRIS resources align with professional standards, as well as evidence-based, high-leverage practices. Although the center’s resources place particular emphasis on practices for struggling learners and people with disabilities, educators use them to develop or improve their own skills, thereby improving learning and behavioral outcomes for all students. .

“We know that many districts are facing staffing shortages and are using IRIS hardware to efficiently get high-quality information into the hands of substitute teachers,” said Naomi Tyler, IRIS Center Project Director, associate professor of practice in the Department of Special Education.

While the center has developed some resources specific to the circumstances of schools in 2020, these resources have been continually updated as those situations continue to evolve. In the fall of 2021, for example, many students returning to school had spent more than a year in virtual or hybrid learning and needed refreshments in common classroom routines. Anticipating that teachers might need additional tools, especially for classroom behavior management and support issues, the IRIS Center has released new case studies, skill sheets and interactive learning units called IRIS modules. on classroom behavior management for in-person and virtual learning. Existing modules have been enriched with information and resources to deal with student grief, trauma and anxiety. The center has also added tip sheets to help parents support their children while they study online.

“Another trend we have seen is increased use by…education staff other than teachers – paraeducators, substitute teachers, bus drivers, school resource officers – and many of the resources they access are linked behavior,” Tyler said. “We are hearing a lot about the effects of the pandemic on student behavior, what stress or anxiety looks like in students’ daily actions or interactions, and the need for information for school staff to help them support students who exhibit these signs.

The center, whose name was originally an acronym for “Innovative Resources for Educational Success,” has data showing that hospitals, doctors’ offices, museums and even sheriff’s departments have accessed IRIS resources. University students in disciplines ranging from business management to social services to health administration also use IRIS, expanding the reach of the center.

Funded by the Office of Special Education Programs of the United States Department of Special Education, the IRIS Center is a national center dedicated to improving the educational outcomes of all children, especially children with disabilities, from birth to 21 years old. IRIS Center, founded over 20 years ago, offers resources that encompass a full range of effective evidence-based practices and interventions.

IRIS resources are integrated into the national educator readiness infrastructure, including undergraduate and graduate courses, field placements, and student teaching. More than 1,500 colleges and universities accessed information from the center last year, including 56 historically black institutions and six tribal colleges.

IRIS also supports the professional development and personalized learning of educators throughout their careers, from first-grade and early-career teachers to master educators. Educators can earn IRIS Professional Development Certificates for completing IRIS modules. In 2021, they accessed 98,858 certificates, worth over $4.9 million in free professional development.

One undergraduate student using the site remarked, “IRIS has done a great job of laying out the details of creating quality IEPs. [Individualized Education Programs]. This will be one of the most important aspects of my career and will affect every child I work with, so this module is extremely relevant. »

“I was a little intimidated by the amount of work in this module,” said one special educator, “but I have to say when you’re done you really know the content.”

The 2021 report of the IRIS Center is available on this link.

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