Cultivating Sustainability – A Network Approach to TA

Posted on July 12, 2015

1 Comment

Jay Gense  - Former Project Director, NCDB

NCDB invited me to share some thoughts about our field, about the National Deaf-Blind TA Project Network, and the ongoing evolution of both. In a blog posted on June 17, I brought attention to some demographic trends that are shaping our field as well as some gaps that exist in our service delivery models. In this blog I’d like to offer perspective about the importance of a national network approach for service delivery highlighting both the political and practical value of strengthening our collaborative work.

In increasing numbers, children who are deaf-blind are living at home and attending school in local programs.  This means that the sheer number of teachers and other service providers working with these children has increased dramatically.  Rarely will any school district or early intervention provider have the needed staff expertise and experience to meet their required obligations to provide a free appropriate public education (FAPE), without access to quality technical assistance (TA).  Congress, the U.S. Department of Education, and specifically OSEP, the Office of Special Education Programs, understands the very unique needs of children who are deaf-blind, and understands the challenges faced by schools and agencies required to serve them. Because of this understanding, deaf-blind-specific language continues to be included in Part D of IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) and continues to support the existence of State Deaf-Blind Projects as well as a National Center. However, we must never be presumptuous of this support.  To ensure the long-term viability of current service delivery models we must be purposeful in seeking to improve our approaches to national TA service delivery and determine the extent to which these infrastructures are being responsive to current and anticipated needs. 

Expectations for delivery of the national TA infrastructure have changed significantly in the past few years and the need to consider new organizational approaches have become strikingly evident. Given the sheer volume of educational placements for children who are deaf-blind, it becomes impossible (and unnecessary) for any one state project to “do it all” given current funding levels. A national network approach moves us closer to ensuring the availability of quality TA for children, families, service providers, and schools and is the best way to capitalize on available funding and maximize resources. More importantly, it allows the state and national projects to build on the strengths of an already existing “community” to meet current needs and to help to ensure long-term sustainability. 

While there are obvious political benefits to deepening our collaborations, there is pragmatic value to applying a national approach to the practical, day-to-day realities of providing quality TA at a local, state, and national level. State Deaf-Blind Projects and the National Center have a long history of working together and working collaboratively.  In tandem we have created formidable resources and ways of working that have increased the skills of service providers and families across the country. It is also true that even with our historical collaborations many projects have struggled to “keep up”, working in relative isolation while trying to be “deaf-blind central” for their entire state. While a system that is built on individual state autonomy can work when serving needs in a limited number of placements across a state, trends are such that we have reached an apex, as it were, and trying to provide TA in the ways that worked even 10 years ago is near impossible today. However, if State Deaf-Blind Projects, and the National Center can function as a single network (while still maintaining their individual state core services), it expands our “bang for the buck”.  A unified, aligned, collaborative community of state and national TA projects helps ensure that efforts aren’t needlessly duplicated, that services are appropriately replicated, and perhaps most importantly, that there are systemic mechanisms established that help harness the collective wisdom and experience that exists across the country. This approach to state and national TA delivery allows individual projects to be stronger and more efficient by being part of a larger, stronger whole.

Later this month, the National Deaf-Blind Summit affords the unique gift of coming together as a network.  Celebrate the opportunity to be together and capitalize on efforts to collaborate in building a strong, national community.  The how of becoming a network is in the collective hands of all currently funded projects and TA provider staff.  To that end, I would like to offer these recommendations and “next step” thoughts:

  • Both individually and collectively we must be committed to continuing down the path of building a strong National Deaf-Blind TA Network. We should identify the reasons why a network approach to TA is of value to us personally as well as organizationally. We can then embrace this rationale and let it drive our mutual commitment.
  •  Assume responsibility for participating in this evolutionary journey. Recognize the individual and collective responsibilities involved, including the joint creation of materials, sharing of resources and contributing to collective thinking and problem solving. Know that building a strong network isn’t “someone else’s” responsibility;
  •  Pay attention to the emerging implementation science knowledge that can be incorporated into the TA work of our field. Use what we know and learn about this knowledge to improve what we do;
  •  Maximize available technologies to deliver services and work together. Truly, these technologies are one reason that a national network CAN be developed, as they allow for connection and collaboration that wasn’t possible even a few years ago. Using technologies does, at times, require flexibility and change, but that shouldn’t negate the value;
  • Any evolution requires change; change isn’t something to be feared. Don’t get caught up in “how it’s always been done”;
  • As a group we should continue to identify what a quality network can, could, and should look like. That kind of forward thinking will help plan the needed small steps toward improving.
  • Recognize that part of this journey is helping to prepare for the next generation. To me, helping to shepherd our field to a place that ensures it can be embraced by and improved upon by whomever is behind us is critical.

I look forward to the continued conversation regarding the evolution of a National Deaf-Blind TA Network. In particular, I look forward to thoughts and “next steps” subsequent to the DB Summit in July. 

Comment (1)

Thank you for your insight as we move toward an integrated National Deaf-Blind TA Network. I've been on the job here in Louisiana for about six months and the first thing that became immediately apparent was that I could not "do it all" given the resources allocated to the project and my personal resources in knowledge and experience. Consequently I have spend the first six months of my employment redesigning the goals, performance measurements, and activities of the LA Project to more clearly define areas of greatest need and to formulate "accomplishable" (is that even a word?) goals, measurements and activities. Given the state data available to me, I have turned to the products available through NCDB to aid me in planning system TA goals for the next three years. I'm looking forward the opportunity of sharing this at the Summit and to hearing from my colleagues regarding their experience and advice concerning LA's new plan. I'm looking for critical analysis and thoughtful suggestions to help this "newbie" enhance the services that can be offered in Louisiana.

Thanks again for setting the stage. Michael

Michael Norman

Posted Jul 13, 2015 by Michael Norman

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