Mason professors promote technology-based coaching method for special education teachers

Bug in Ear illustration
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In the past few years, George Mason University professors Margaret Weiss and Kelley Regan have become experts in a technology-based coaching method aimed specifically at helping special education teachers get feedback in real time.

The practice, called Bug-in-Ear (BIE) or eCoaching, allows a coach to observe special education teachers or teachers-in-training as they work with students, then give real-time feedback through a Bluetooth earpiece. The earpiece is synced with a device, such as a laptop or phone, and the coach can watch remotely, from home or an office, for example. While relatively simple technology-wise, BIE coaching is not widely used in teacher preparation programs, said Regan, academic program coordinator for Special Education in Masons College of Education and Human Development.

Its more powerful to have someone coaching you while you are in practice, rather than talking about it later,” said Regan. Coaching a special education teacher while teaching in real-time allows that person to get immediate feedback and change what they are doing right away. It can also mean providing them with positive feedback right away or helping them think of an alternative way to approach their students.”

Another benefit to the BIE coaching is that a classroom situation isnt interrupted by someone new coming into the classroom to observe, said Weiss.

Its intrusive to have someone new in the classroom, and this way the coach can be sitting remotely, observing through a screen,” said Weiss, an associate professor in special education. And post-COVID, it may also be a benefit to have fewer people in a classroom.”

Mason has used BIE coaching in observing its students during their teaching internships. Each wireless earpiece costs between $15 and $35, and Mason has about 25 devices in stock for its student teachers. Student teachers are coached one at a time. They can be coached multiple times using the BIE method during a semester.

In addition, Regan and Weiss have worked with Loudoun County Public Schools to train their specialized reading coaches on the technology. In turn, they have been using the technology to guide their reading teachers.

Weiss and Regan suggest using BIE coaching to focus on one instructional area targeted for improvement at a time so as not to overload the teacher with too much feedback.

BIE coaching makes the instructional improvement process more efficient and more focused,” said Jennifer Sassano, a supervisor in Loudoun County Public Schools Office of Special Education and an adjunct education professor at Mason.

In February, Weiss and Regan were invited to present BIE coaching best practices during a virtual conference for the Collaboration for Effective Educator Development, Accountability, and Reform Center (CEEDAR). The presentation, said Regan, allowed them to reach special education teachers and school leaders across the country to promote BIE coaching as a useful tool to improve teaching.

We were thrilled to present the technology and to tell them about the lessons weve learned using it. We have seen the results and are very passionate about this work. We want to share it with as many people as possible,” said Regan.