UAlbany School of Education Students Partner with Albany Medical College

Albany, NY (May 6, 2016) – “My son Brian has autism and he’ll be a new student in your school this year. I wanted to meet with you to find out how you can help him succeed.”

Dr. Matt LaFaveThis is one example of a parent initiated interaction that might generate anxiety or uncertainty for a special education teacher just beginning a new career. At the University at Albany’s School of Education, this is instead a chance to practice communication skills and build confidence in an aspect of a teaching career that isn’t always well addressed before entering the field. Now, because of a new partnership with Albany Medical College, students in the master’s programs in Special Education and Literacy have the opportunity to participate in a realistic simulation where the face-to-face interaction is real, but the child is not.

Using Albany Medical Center's state-of-the-art simulation at the Patient Safety and Clinical Competency Center, School of Education students meet one-on-one with highly trained educators, also called “Simulated Parents” (SP), who bring important and sometimes challenging issues to the table. This past year, students discovered how they would respond in a variety of parent-teacher situations such as meeting a proactive parent who wanted to develop a plan to address social and emotional challenges their child may face in school. Each twenty-minute simulation is scripted to the point that there are certain key details the SP needs to address with the student, but there is flexibility for the SP to respond and react to the student in a natural way that keeps the exchange authentic.

When you enter the meeting room, it looks plain and unassuming; a small table with two chairs. However, the camera located on the ceiling is something most school offices do not have. This camera provides live feed to the command center where Dr. Matt LaFave, Coordinator of Special Education Field Experience, and other staff watch intently with headphones on. During the simulation, Dr. LaFave can switch from room to room to assess student progress and make notes of any red flags that he may observe. After the parent-teacher conference is over, the student has time alone to self-reflect while the SP records his/her own feedback. Then the student and the SP come back together to discuss the interaction. As an educator now, the SP shares comments and suggestions with the student who has returned to the role of learner. Using the SP debriefing process as a means for candidates to self-identify strengths and weaknesses of their performance becomes a powerful mechanism for change.

The experience culminates with a group debrief amongst Dr. LaFave and the students. Through this group process, students can reflect upon their performance and share high and low points with each other. Through the power of peer-learning paired with a reflective process, students have the potential to increase efficacy when facing “real life” parent-teacher interactions.

Read the University at Albany Press Release.