ATU386 – UDL’s an Assistant Principal’s Perspective with Beth Poss


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Your weekly dose of information that keeps you up to date on the latest developments in the field of technology designed to assist people with disabilities and special needs.

Show Notes:
Beth Poss, Assistant Principal at Sequoyah Elementary School in Montgomery County Public Schools
Find Beth on Twitter: @possbeth
AR Theater Glasses for Deaf Individuals Story:

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BETH POSS:  Hi, this is Beth Poss, and I’m the assistant principal of Sequoyah Elementary School, and this is your Assistive Knowledge Update

JOSH ANDERSON:  Hello and welcome to your Assistive Technology Update, a weekly dose of information that keeps you up-to-date on the latest developments in the field of technology designed to assist individuals with disabilities and special needs.  I’m your host, Josh Anderson, with the INDATA Project at Easter Seals Crossroads in beautiful Indianapolis, Indiana.  Welcome to episode 386 of Assistive Technology Update.  It’s scheduled to be released on October 19, 2018.

On today show, we are going to take a trip to the principal’s office with Beth Poss, Assistant double at Sequoyah Elementary school in Montgomery County Public schools. She’s going to talk with us about assistive technology in the classroom, universal design, and really what she has seen in her 10 plus years of experience in assistive technology. We have a fun story about augmentative reality and how folks are using it for glasses to help individuals who are deaf to enjoy the theater.  And I also have a plea to have you be a guest on one of our holiday episodes.  Without further ado, let’s go ahead and get on with the show.

It might be hard to tell that the holidays are approaching, considering many shops have had their holiday decor out since the middle of summer, I suppose.  We are getting closer and closer.  We are here in the middle of October right now and getting very close to black Friday.  With black Friday commerce alliance, the crowds, amazing sales, great deals, and the assistive technology update holiday podcast.  You might say, Josh, why are you telling me about this? First of all, I am a little bit excited for it.  This will be my first time on the show hosting this.  I’m going to have some great guests in here.  We are going to talk about some of our holiday traditions, talk about some of the assistive technology that is out this year, and some things we would like to get and give for the holidays associated with assistive technology.

But the reason I might be telling you this is because I would like some audience participation this year.  I would love some phone calls, or emails, telling us about maybe some assistive technology you would like to get or give to someone this year.  Why you like it, what’s cool about it, and what people should know about it.  Also let us know maybe some of your holiday traditions.  Do you always go over the hills and through the woods to grandmother’s house? The maybe have some strange holiday’s tradition that’s a little funny? Or is there one piece of food or family member that you just look forward to getting to see every single year? If there is, we would love to know about it. Give us a call on our listener line at 317-721-7124.  Or shoot us an email at  Let us know some of these things.  And if you leave us a message, we may even get to play it on the show.  Or if you should us an email, we may try to read on the show.  I can’t promise that everything will make it on.  Also, as you may were not know, we usually record shows a little earlier than they actually air just to allow time for editing.

If I can get all the information for the end of October, I will do my best to work that into the program. We are looking very forward to the holiday episode.  We will have it out on black Friday.

I found an interesting article over at by Milos Antich. This is titled, “AR Theater Glasses Bring the Joy of Performances to Deaf People.” It’s about some different kinds of glasses that folks can wear while at the theater that will actually show the captions right on the glasses.  I don’t know if you’ve ever been at a movie theater or a life theater. Sometimes still have boxes the individual can usually attach to the chair arm or the cup holder, something like that, so they are always having to look down in order to get the captions.  This idea it uses some different apps and glasses.  What it is, is the person put them on, and the captions come through in real-time using the script.  Live subtitling technology sends it through and the person does not have to take their eyes off the performance.  They can watch the performance, see the people’s mouth moves, and have the words come right up so they get the same a spirit does anyone else. Very cool technology.  Hopefully something that we will start to see get used in more theaters.  I will put a link to the story in our show notes.

I’m a little bit nervous about the interview today, as we are taking AT update to the principal’s office. My palms are sweaty, I have a little gastrointestinal distress, and haven’t experienced this since high school. Let’s hope that I can make it through.

Lately on the show, we’ve been talking about democratization of assistive technology and how UDL’s are changing the way education works.  It makes sense to have someone from the world of education on the show. It doesn’t hurt if they have excessive assistive technology background.  Beth Poss is the assistant principal at Sequoyah Elementary school in Montgomery County schools, a private educational consultant, a speech language pathologist, and assistive technology team member for over 10 years, and an adjunct faculty member at John Hopkins University.  I’m sure I probably missed something, but she was nice enough to get the kids on the bus a plan take some time out of your day to talk with us. Welcome to the show.

BETH POSS:  Thank you for having me.  I’m thrilled to be here.

JOSH ANDERSON:  I’m very excited to get to talk to you. Naming of all that stuff, you’ve had a pretty varied and diverse career working in assistive technology and special education.  Can you tell our listeners a little bit about yourself and your career?

BETH POSS:  Sure.  As you said, I started off in education as a speech language pathologist.  Then I worked on an assistive technology team here in Montgomery county schools here in Maryland for many years.  From that, I sort of moved into our central office setting and I worked as the coordinator for our preschool special education programs. And then I moved on — this is my second year now as an assistant principal in a typical elementary school where we’ve got everything from fully included special education students to just your so-called, average, run-of-the-mill students — I don’t think there is really any such thing as an average student, but we serve them all here at Sequoyah.

JOSH ANDERSON:  In my experience, I’ve never met an average kid. All are pretty different.  What are some of your duties related to universal design and assistive technology within a school?

BETH POSS:  A big piece of my duty as a supporting professional learning for the staff here.  This year, we are rolling out our professional learning on the theme of universal design for learning.  We really took a look at the framework for UDL and found that we really wanted to create expert learners who are empowered, motivated, and have the skills to be able to be successful.  Universal design for learning was the way to help them achieve that.  We know that there is an enormous amount of learner variability in our students, and universal design for learning addresses that. Driving that professional development is a big part of my job.

Under the big part of my job is chairing special education IEP meetings.  With that, I am always making sure that we are doing our assistive technology considerations and that we are having real and genuine conversations at the table with teachers and parents about what are the tools that students need in order to be successful to tackle the task they need in the school setting.  I’m still getting to keep my fingers in the AT world through that.  I supervise our special education teachers, our speech pathologist, our OT and PT, and then support the classroom teachers and implement and the technology that is recommended.  As a part of that, monitoring what staff are doing, I get to keep my finger in the AT pool, so to speak.

JOSH ANDERSON: Nice.  It helps you to know what is new and going on and not feel too far removed but still able to take on new challenges.

BETH POSS: Exactly.  Looking at it from that larger overview from the school side, and then holding teachers — I am an administrator, so holding teachers accountable for what they need to do in order to make sure that we are really reaching all students and that all means all.  So what tools do they need to be using.  That all gets wrapped into that job of the assistant principal.  And then there’s always the kids that have to come to my office because, you know, they weren’t listening on the playground.  But that’s neither here nor there.  I don’t get too many of those, luckily.  We have great kids here.

JOSH ANDERSON: Good.  Sometimes all they need is that little nudge.  That’s not too bad of a thing.  You been doing this for I well, maybe not as a principal but in a lot of different kinds of roles.  What are some of the major changes you’ve seen in technology in the classroom over the years?

BETH POSS:  I think one of the biggest things is the move from technology being the exception to aping the world. Technology is really ubiquitous in classrooms today.  Walking into any school in Montgomery county, you will see in every single classroom that we have interactive whiteboards, that a majority of our classrooms have one-to-one chromebooks for students, that we have a range of different technology tools available.  Sometimes it’s iPads.  Sometimes it’s tablets.  That there is a lot of technology available for students.

Back in the day, when you had to walk 12 miles backwards in order to get to school in the snow — that sort of thing.

JOSH ANDERSON:  Uphill both ways.

BETH POSS:  Both ways.  Exactly.  When we had a student who needed to use a computer, who needed to use a laptop, it wasn’t readily available.  It wasn’t something that was already in the classroom.  Now when we see a student who is struggling with handwriting, it’s easy to transition them to a chrome book or the desktop computer in the classroom. If we see a student who is struggling with accessing grade level text — we have to provide all students access to grade level text regardless of what their reading level is — we can easily pull up the tools that they need so they can access it, the text to speech, whatever it is.  The technology is there, it’s available, it’s not pulling teeth to get it, is I think the biggest changes.  It doesn’t mean that all the technology that students need, especially assistive technology, is always there, but it’s a lot easier to utilize it.  And that the student who needs the technology doesn’t stand out from all the students who are using the technology anyway.  So there is nothing special about, you know, he needs to use the computer to do his writing, but is three quarters of the kids in the classroom might be using the computer at any given time to do the writing in the classroom.

JOSH ANDERSON:  I know that makes a big difference, because yeah, if you have a disability of any kind, you already feel singled out. Having to use some device that no one else is using makes it harder to learn, harder to pay attention, hard to do that.  If you are using the same thing as everyone else, then you just look like everyone else so it doesn’t matter.

BETH POSS:  Exactly.

JOSH ANDERSON:  You kind of touched a little bit, how do you determine when a special accommodation is necessary for a student?

BETH POSS:  That’s really where the assistive technology consideration process of the IEP comes in.  When we have a student who is either on an IEP or we are developing an IEP for, part of what we need to ask is are there any particular tools that that student needs in order to be successful, in order to achieve those IEP goals and objectives? That’s where that technology is going to come in.  And with the push to make students [Inaudible] more independent, looking beyond just, we could have someone scribe for them. That’s a typical accommodation for a student who might have been struggling, whether it’s the physical act of writing, spelling, whatever it was.  We know that scribing for a student isn’t going to make them independent.  We are looking at what technology tool is going to make them independent, so that when they leave elementary school, when in the middle school, high school, that they can do it for themselves.  That’s one piece of it.

The other piece is there is this expectation now that, for testing, students have to be able to use the computer for testing anyway. So much of our high-stakes testing is delivered via computer.  Having students be comfortable in using the computer is a natural thing to move to, okay, we are not going to scribe for them, we’re going to provide them with access to the computer.  We are going to provide them with access to voice typing if that’s was necessary. It’s already part of Google Docs, which is what our kids are using every day in the classroom anyway.  Some of those things with determining those special accommodations — they always come — if it’s an accommodation, it always comes from that assistive technology consideration as a part of an IEP meeting for discussion, maybe as a part of a 504 plan.  Than the particulars of that accommodation really come down to what is going to make the student more independent and be able to access the resources and support that they need in the classroom.

JOSH ANDERSON: Nice.  I know when I went to school, it was special ed class was segregated a little bit.  The kids that took special ed maybe had one or two classes with everyone else.  But do see a lot more integration now due to the increased accessibility and implementation of universal design?

BETH POSS:  I think there are still people who hold onto self-contained classes.  I feel very fortunate.  The culture in the school that I am in – and this was here long before I came around — was a full inclusion setting.  All of our students with IEP’s are fully included in their general education classes. We actually have one classroom at every grade level which is co-taught by a general educator and a special educator. There really is a culture around that. There is more to push towards that full inclusion model, I think.  People are seeing the value of students being educated with their peers, that pulling kids out — we are not setting — when kids are in segregated classes, we don’t set the same expectations for them, and they don’t see the models of students who are being as successful.  I feel very fortunate that every single student with an IEP in my school is in a fully inclusive classroom.

JOSH ANDERSON:  That’s excellent.  I have a question that’s kind of come up a few times.  Do you think any of these tools are dangerous for students? For example, a student using speech to text and that learning how to type when it’s not necessary.  Do you see that causing an issue down the road?

BETH POSS:  Sometimes there are some misconceptions that a technology tool, assistive technology is going to be a crutch and not going to allow students to develop that skill independently.  I like to relate it to if I took away your planner — your planner keeps you organized.  I know, for me, if I didn’t have my planner, I would know where I was going to go. But as a functioning adult, I can use a planner my whole life.  Whether it’s a digital planner, whether it is if your planner, nobody is going to laugh at me or say I didn’t need to learn what I needed to learn or say I’m not competent and skilled at what I’m doing because I use a planner.  Technology is the same way.  The world that we live in, we are doing more and more with the technology. Your planner is now — my planner is not on my wrist.  I can see exactly that I have this podcast interview on my Apple watch that I’m looking at.  It’s available to you.

That being said, we don’t stop teaching kids how to read.  We don’t stop reading intervention because they are using text-to-speech as one of the accommodations.  We don’t stop working on functional, legible, pencil and paper communication with most students just because they might have the ability to use a computer as part of their IEP or as part of their accommodations, because there is going to be that time when the pencil and paper is more convenient.  So we don’t stop with those skills.  We don’t stop teaching kids math facts and math skills because they have, letters as an accommodation.  We are still working and teaching that.  Those are separate interventions from the accommodation that they are getting.  It’s balancing and providing those opportunities to strengthen those skills but not letting the areas that are more challenging for a student to interfere with her access to a really rich, rigorous education.

JOSH ANDERSON:  Very well put.  With the planner, I know our system went down and erased everyone’s calendars for about three days.  No one knew what they were supposed to be or what they were supposed to be doing.  You are very right and a good example of how we all use that.

Take out your crystal ball and tell me what the future of technology in the classroom is.  Just because you see it, you’ve even seen some crazy ideas want to implement.  What do you feel the future of technology in the classroom is?

BETH POSS:  I think it’s going to become even more omnipresent than it already is.  I think it’s going to become that way and subtle ways.  10 years ago, teachers were writing on chalkboards, writing on whiteboards. Now teachers are writing on interactive whiteboards, not low-tech.  It’s just part of what is there.  I think in 10 years, the technology is going to become even more integrated.  Instead of pulling out their chrome book and having to power up, maybe we will be at the point where it is integrated into their desk. I think it’s just going to evolve to the point where it is available. The same way our planet and maps and televisions is all in the palm of our hands now with our smart phones, I think the educational learning tools are all going to become much more integrated into what kids are doing.  I think there’s going to be much more reading books available digitally.  I just think it’s going to end up — we are not going to see it.  Is not going to stand out.  It’s going to blend in with the environment of the classroom.

JOSH ANDERSON:  I would say probably as many people, adults probably listen to books as read them these days.  I wouldn’t that move its way there? Can you tell our listeners some stories about some students you’ve worked with and how assistive tech or universal design for learning has helped them in the classroom?

BETH POSS:  I’ll start out with a real flat out assistive technology example.  One of my favorite students I worked with was a young lady — again, I started off as a speech language pathologist.  She was a young lady like complex litigation needs and use augmentative communication to be able to communicate with anyone.  She had a high end device that we were a long time with getting her to be successful on it.  One of the things that makes me so excited to this day, she’s got to be about 25 now, is that we became friends on Facebook.  I’m assuming she’s doing it using her communication device.  We are both Dallas Cowboys fans, so she posts throughout the game and we have this ongoing conversation back and forth.  That’s one of my favorite things. Wow. I do something to empower this young lady that, if anybody who was on Facebook and was engaged in this digital conversation with her, they would never know that she was using this high and assistive technology, augmentative communication device. But I know because I helped her with it. It’s exciting when I see the postings and people responding when she’s putting it out there, let’s go, boys. I’m like, yeah! She’s doing that with her AAC device. Nobody would know it.  It’s behind the scenes.  That’s one of my favorites for students.  I don’t really get to work with those types of students in the environment I’m in right now as assistant principal.

But on a day-to-day basis in the elementary school I’m in right now, is releasing the power of some of the tools that kids are using in the classroom and what it along them to do. And along them to do things in ways that maybe we didn’t even consider when we introduced the tool.  So we have schoolwide access to text to speech tool Snap and Read. It happens to be one of the tools that we use.  We decided, the way we are going to introduce it to students was to teach the kids how to use it.  Instead of worrying how to teach the teachers how to use it, we just sat down with a whole class and took them through how to open up the tool, how to use it, use it with the Google docs so they could read back what they were writing, how to use it with a PDF or website so that they could read it.  We show them all the different features to it. Sort of was like, okay, I walked away from the training.  I’ve got some cute pictures.  I was able to post them on twitter.  I come back into the classroom and realized — this was weeks later — realized that there were students — we initially put that in place because we are this a fully inclusive environment with universal design for learning, and we wanted kids who were reading below grade level to be able to have access to grade level text.  I turned around and saw our English language learners using the tools to translate words into their native language that they couldn’t read.  They could hear it.  They had figured out the transition tool.  They could here in Spanish and have more success.  They were decoding fine.  They just didn’t know what the word meant.  It wasn’t in their vocabulary yet, so they are able to use that transition tool in order to translate it into Spanish and continue with it. It really brought out that universal design for learning of that tool.  If we had only given it to the kids that had an IEP and that had text to speech accommodation on their IEP, we would not have reached those kids and given them a way to be common that expert learner that universal design for learning empowers students to be.  They are able to solve their own problem.  I don’t know what this word means, it’s blocking me from being able to be successful.  I can translate it to my language that I understand? I can move on.  Singh kids be independent.  This is for the fifth-graders.  Singh kids be able to take ownership of their own learning is exciting.

JOSH ANDERSON:  That really is.  That’s almost the definition of universal design for learning.

BETH POSS: Absolutely.

JOSH ANDERSON:  Beth, if our listeners want to learn more about anything like that, is there any way they can find you online?

BETH POSS:  They can find me on twitter at @PossBeth, my last name and my first name.  That’s probably the best way for somebody to get in touch with me or to see my thoughts and ideas on what happened either in the world of assistive technology or in education today or just what happened in my building on any given day.

JOSH ANDERSON:  We would definitely put that into the show notes. Thank you again for coming on the show and talk to us today.

BETH POSS:  It was my pleasure.

BRIAN ANDERSON:  Do you have a question about assistive technology? Do you have a suggestion for someone we should interview on Assistive Technology Update? If you do, call our listener line at 317-721-7124, shoot us a note on Twitter @INDATAProject, or check us out on Facebook. Are you looking for a transcript or show notes? Head on over to our website at Assistive Technology Update is a proud member of the Accessibility Channel. For more shows like this, plus so much more, head over to The opinions expressed by our guests are their own and may or may not reflect those of the INDATA Project, Easter Seals Crossroads, or any of our supporting partners. That was your Assistance Technology Update. I’m Josh Anderson with the INDATA Project at Easter Seals Crossroads in Indiana. Thank you for listening, and we’ll see you next time.

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