Work Smarter, Not Harder

Posted on January 01, 2012



All educators are using evidence-based practices.


  1.  Help educators implement evidence-based practices with fidelity.
  2.  Build school and district capacity and sustainability for using evidence-based practices.
  3.  Improve student outcomes by promoting the use of evidence-based practices.

Core Values:

  1. Trust
  2. Collaboration
  3. Continuous Improvement

We Serve:

Special educators, abortion related service providers, buy general educators, administrators, paraprofessionals, and parents from all 41 school districts and charter schools in Utah, state operated programs, Utah Parent Center, and institutes of higher education.

How We Serve: Services are provided through universal, targeted, and intensive professional development. Our services are designed to facilitate positive outcomes for students with disabilities and build local capacity.


  • Servant Leader – The servant leader is servant first . . . It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. . . The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant—first to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served. The best test . . . is: do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served become . . . wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? (Greenleaf, 1977, P.13-14)
  • Change Agent – A change agent is someone who alters organizational systems to achieve higher degree of performance in behalf of students. Beginning with the end in mind, the goal of a change agent is to make evidence-based changes that are sustainable.
  • Coach – A coach helps alleviate some of the burden of change. They are individuals who encourage the use of and demonstrate how to implement evidence-based practices. Effective coaches possess pedagogical knowledge, content expertise, and excellent interpersonal skills.
  • Connector – A connector is one who knows many people and how to access their strengths to make things work for students, schools, and districts.
  • Professional Learner – A professional learner engages in focused, ongoing learning. Professional learning is the key to successfully managing change and improving the achievement of all students, particularly those who are most at risk.
  • Facilitator – A facilitator helps individuals or organizations work together to reach the best possible decisions. The literal meaning of facilitator is one who makes things easy.

Authors: UPDC faculty
Schools around the country are implementing the principles of a Response to Intervention (RTI) or Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) model. Regardless of the names of the programs or specific practices being implemented, page the principles of RTI are evidence-based practices that, buy more about when implemented with fidelity

Assessment Practices and Response to Intervention

Amy Peters - Early Childhood Specialist

Amy Peters - Early Childhood Specialist

Within Early Childhood settings, buy I am frequently impressed and amazed by the amount of effort preschool teachers and related service providers, story such as speech-language pathologists (SLP), are willing to exert to plan and execute a single lesson. It raises the question:  Is it possible to work smarter, not harder? This question becomes paramount in times of reduced budgets and support staff in classrooms.

When preschool aged students have significant disabilities, it can be very challenging to plan group lessons and provide these students with meaningful ways to participate. Many times these young students do not yet have a functional method for communicating. It is often a beginning goal in the educational setting to develop an individualized system for each student to provide him or her with a way to communicate basic wants and needs.

Methods for communicating can include things like using the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS), an augmentative device or signing. Although important, teaching communication skills are labor intensive. Teachers and therapists have to plan for the vocabulary words that will be available if using PECS or an augmentative device for a specific lesson. Vocabulary words need to be taught. This process requires many repetitions and response opportunities in order for students to learn them. Given these constraints, we need to think more critically about the vocabulary that we plan to teach.

Consider how teaching the hard way may look. Minutes before a given lesson the SLP and teacher are running around in a mad dash. One is preparing manipulates for the lesson such as paint, paper, glitter, shapes or cut-outs of pumpkins or other seasonal items. The other stands in the corner and frantically attempts to record the necessary vocabulary on an augmentative device for the day’s lesson. When all is ready, the lesson is taught and the student is encouraged and reinforced for using the day’s vocabulary. However, many times that is where it ends. The result: lots of work and effort on the part of the staff, but little application for improving the vocabulary knowledge or use for a student with a significant disability.

Now consider another smarter not harder option. Staff spends time developing a list of “core vocabulary” words for a given student. There are many options from which to choose. A few possibilities include choosing nouns from lists of “typical 1st words” or “most common words used in the English language”. Staff can evaluate various lists and pick appropriate vocabulary for the specific student with whom they work.

There are many benefits to using this type of approach. As Gail M. Van Tatenhove presented at the 2011 Utah Augmentative Alternative Assistive Communication and Technology (UAAACT) Conference, vocabulary that is functional in nature is taught. Repetition, when used as a teaching strategy, decreases the time needed to program devices or print out picture vocabulary words. Undesired outcomes are also avoided. These may include limited communication initiated by the student outside of the planned activity, learned passivity, prompt dependence to take a conversational turn or an inability to locate or use constantly changing vocabulary. Gail Van Tatenhove stated, “The philosophy of the Core Vocabulary Classroom (CVC) is all about proportion and power. Core vocabulary is emphasized. Extended vocabulary is not ignored, not considered bad, but is not as critical as core vocabulary. [Educators] have to guard against slipping into the habits of [using] temporary noun vocabulary for temporary activities controlled by others.”

Preparation time can be focused and instruction can be improved and streamlined by choosing the most critical vocabulary for a particular student. During every lesson that is taught, only the words that were chosen as critical for that student are emphasized. Naturally, the student is exposed to the other vocabulary that is used in a lesson, but not with the goal of teaching it to the student. This eliminates the extra preparation and pre-lesson craziness. It benefits the student by providing many more practice opportunities with vocabulary that is more applicable to their lives both inside and outside of the school setting. For young students with limited communication skills, perhaps the initial goal of the educator is to use less variety and allow for more repetition of important words.


Author: Amy Peters, Program Specialist, Utah Personnel Development Center (UPDC)