Session Descriptions



Conference Schedule and Sessions


Wednesday – March 3, 2021

8:00 am – 4:00 pm

Virtual Exhibit Hall


8:00 am – 4:00 pm

Ask the BSE/Ask SEAP


9:00 am – 10:30 am

Welcoming Remarks and Opening Keynote


10:45 am – 11:45 am

Concurrent Sessions


11:45 am – 12:45 pm

Lunch on Your Own


12:45 pm – 1:45 pm

Concurrent Sessions


2:00 pm – 3:00 pm

Concurrent Sessions



(9:00 am – 10:30 am) Welcoming Remarks and Opening Keynote

Relationships That Work: The Four Must-Have Readiness Skills for Every Educator
Adam Saenz, Ph.D., D.MIN.
Relationships matter in any field, but particularly in education. The question is: how? How do I build life-impacting relationships with students? How do I build resourceful relationships with my colleagues on campus? How do I build supportive relationships with my students’ parents? There is a framework—the practice of four essential skills that will posture and position any educator to a place of relational readiness. Join us to delve into these four essential skills!

(10:45 am – 11:45 am) Concurrent Sessions


01. Creating a Vertical Mindset Using the Superpowers of Math
Marilyn Zecher
We may consider literacy instruction as a linear incremental acquisition of skills and structures, but math is more a vertical hierarchy of concepts. It is time for us to begin looking at the foundation skills of math the way we look at the foundation skills of literacy, including the existence of a core deficit which may impact learning. We will trace foundation skills from early childhood to algebra as we explore the multisensory world of mathematics and its intersection with language domain.
02. Culturally and Linguistically Responsive MTSS for English Learners: Preventing Disproportionality
Cristina Sanchez-Lopez
In this session, the presenter will share various frameworks that school teams may use to make their existing MTSS processes more culturally and linguistically sustaining. Participants will look at observable student behaviors from a language learner, as well as an exceptional learner lens, and consider the implications for problem-solving with bilingual learners.

03. Getting Student Buy-In: A Youth Perspective
Ali Hrasok/PYLN
Who are better experts on students than other youth and young adults? Representatives from the Pennsylvania Youth Leadership Network (PYLN) will discuss ways for educators to think about their teaching that can allow students to own more of their educational experience. PYLN will provide tips and tricks for approaches that put youth back in the driver's seat and help educators get the buy-in from students for greater success!

04. Implementing MTSS on a Foundation of New Thinking
Mark Shinn, Ph.D.

One of the biggest challenges in MTSS implementation is that implementation is not only doing things differently, but also thinking differently. In this session, the speaker will make explicit some of the necessary thinking changes required for reducing resistance and increasing implementation success.

05.Language Structures and Verbal Reasoning: Missing Links in Close Reading Lessons
Carol Tolman, Ed.D.
Gough and Tunmer’s Simple View of Reading (SVR) identifies two major components to reading comprehension: word recognition and language comprehension. The speaker’s presentation focuses on language comprehension; specifically, on the areas of language structures and verbal reasoning, two often-ignored components of reading comprehension lessons crucial to the success of reading deeply. Language structures and verbal reasoning are the focus of this interactive, hands-on session, abolishing the common, ineffective practice of testing, testing, and more testing.

06. Navigating Educational Environments: Family Perspectives
Jane Swan (SEAP)

In this session, the speakers will provide examples of supports, such as the Parent Café Model and others, to families and educators to increase their understanding of best practices and challenges across a variety of learning environments.

07. Minimizing Litigation by Maximizing Relationships: Examining the FAPE/Communication Connection
Erin D. Gilsbach, Esq.
Pennsylvania has one of the highest rates of special education litigation in the nation. While litigation can help to ensure legal compliance, it can also have devastating impacts on schools and families; and, it is often avoidable through the development of relationships between parents and schools that are based upon clear communication and mutual trust. In this session, the speaker will reflect upon caselaw, as well as her own 15+ years of experiences as a special education attorney, to discuss how many FAPE-related conflicts result from a breakdown in communication between the school and the parents. The speaker will use case-specific examples to offer meaningful, practical tips and tools for both schools and parents to help prevent litigation by facilitating better relationships and breaking down common communication barriers.

08. Structured Literacy for English Learners
Elsa Cárdenas-Hagan, Ed.D., CCC/SLP, CDT, CALT, QI
In this session, the presenter will describe the essential components of structured literacy for English learners. Participants will learn cross-linguistic features of structured biliteracy and how to design and incorporate these concepts during instruction.

09. Teaching Functional Skills to Students with ASD
Barry Morgenstern, Ph.D.
This session is an introduction to teaching functional skills and Activities of Daily Living (ADLs) to students with autism and other developmental disabilities using the principles of applied behavior analysis. This presentation will focus on the knowledge needed to successfully teach functional skills to a wide variety of learners of different ages. In addition, participants will learn how to individualize the programs for the unique needs of individual learners and troubleshoot problems when learners fail to acquire the necessary skills.

10. Turning Noncompliance, Escalations, and Breakdowns into Teachable Moments
Adam Saenz, Ph.D., D.MIN.
When handled appropriately, stressful—even traumatic events—can deepen and strengthen relationships. We will explore the stages of student escalation and the appropriate staff responses at each stage. Then, we will analyze the obstacles that most frequently keep us from resolving conflict in a relationship-honoring manner. Finally, we will identify the self-awareness skills that will allow us to avoid the obstacles.

(12:45 pm – 1:45 pm) Concurrent Sessions


11. Dual Capacity-Building: An Overview of the PA Landscape
Batya Elbaum, Ph.D.
In Pennsylvania and nationally, many parent engagement efforts have been guided by the Dual Capacity-Building Framework for Family-School Partnerships. This presentation will crosswalk the results of Pennsylvania’s statewide survey of parents of students with disabilities with tenets of the Dual Capacity-Building Framework.

12. Introduction to Universal Design for Learning
Nicole Tucker-Smith

We know from experience and neuroscience that individuals learn in varied ways. Universal Design for Learning (UDL) provides educators with a framework to ensure that all learners can meet high expectations, such as the Common Core State Standards. In this introductory session, participants learn the research basis for UDL, a process for applying UDL to design learning experiences and environments, and practical tools that support flexible, inclusive instruction.

13. Language Essentials for English Learners
Elsa Cárdenas-Hagan, Ed.D., CCC/SLP, CDT, CALT, QI
In this session, the presenter will describe evidence-based strategies for improving English learners’ oral language skills. Participants will learn how to design and implement specific word-learning strategies, which can aid students' comprehension.

14. Linear Functions: Prove by Construction
Marilyn Zecher
Using an inverted instructional sequence, the study of linear algebra begins with word problems. During this session, participants will learn how to teach students to construct models using concrete materials. This multi-sensory model allows students to identify the constant rate of change and the starting value, as well as to begin to generate equations of lines.

15. Online Lessons Learned: FAPE, Distance Education, and Students with ADHD
Erin D. Gilsbach, Esq.
Throughout Pennsylvania and across the nation, students with ADHD and executive functioning deficits are significantly struggling with the often-esoteric modality of online learning that is often heavily geared toward self-motivated, independent learning and favors those with inherent organizational skills. In this session, the speaker will address the caselaw and research that underscores the point that we need to be much more thoughtful in our approach to how we help students with ADHD and executive functioning deficits succeed in a distance-learning environment.   

16. Planning for Success in Mediation
Cindy Duch and Diane Perry
In this session, we will explore mediation as a dispute resolution process in special education issues. Mediation is an alternative dispute resolution process that considers the relationship between the people advocating on behalf of the child and the school district. To ensure positive collaboration and ongoing communication, we will look at the benefits of mediation and how it may preserve those relationships while negotiating and compromising to make decisions to help ensure a free, appropriate public education for the student.

17. Optimizing Outcomes for Multilingual Learners with Special Educational Needs
Cristina Sanchez-Lopez
In this session, the presenter will provide an overview of key components in classroom-based research on instruction and intervention for multilingual learners with special educational needs: peer interaction, oral communication, and comprehension. The speaker will share accumulating research that illustrates how learners with special educational needs benefit from bilingualism. Participants will have the opportunity to interact with evidence-based strategies and multilingual resources.

18. Promoting Generalization of Skills in Children with Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities
Barry Morgenstern, Ph.D.
When children with autism or other developmental disabilities successfully reduce problem behaviors or learn important skills, that is often a reason for celebration. A common problem with this success is that often children do not generalize these skills to novel people, places, situations, or examples. In addition, often these skills do not maintain over time. This presentation will demonstrate a variety of practical strategies for promoting generalization of skills with the goal of producing truly meaningful outcomes for students.

19. Secondary MTSS That Makes Sense
Mark Shinn, Ph.D.
MTSS/RTI often does not make sense to secondary teachers. In this session, the speaker will describe how middle and high school MTSS is different—from its prevention focus for core content area instruction to its screening and progress-monitoring practices—with attention to differentiating and intervening with students who need intensive treatment versus content area instruction and/or behavioral support.

20. Social and Emotional Learning: Empowering Everyone for Peak Performance
Adam Saenz, Ph.D., D.MIN.
The research is clear on two important points regarding social and emotional learning (SEL). First, students who practice SEL demonstrate less aggression, develop more positive peer relationships, and gain in academic achievement. Second, the most effective SEL interventions begin with adult SEL. We will explore the core facets of adult SEL, including self-awareness, self-regulation, empathy, and interpersonal skills. We will also discuss how to model these skills to students; adults who live emotionally intelligent lives become the ideal Tier 1 living intervention for every student on campus.

21. steAm: Activism in STEM Learning
Temple Lovelace, Ph.D., BCBA-D
Southwestern Pennsylvania has had a major impact on how we conceptualize STEM learning across the country. However, for some, the connection of STEM to their context and community has not been reflected in their learning environments. In this session, participants will have the opportunity to rethink the “A” in “STEAM” and how it can be used to introduce concepts of activism and self-determination, so that students can truly connect to the content and have it reflect their personal lives in meaningful ways. Introducing several new approaches to STEM learning from the national landscape, and some from close to home, this session will highlight how educators from across the nation have been intentional in having STEM learning reflect the identities of the students they teach every day.


(2:00 pm – 3:00 pm) Concurrent Sessions


22. Assessment and Instruction Through the Lens of the Hourglass Figure
Carol Tolman, Ed.D.
Gough and Tunmer's Simple View of Reading identifies two major components to reading comprehension: word recognition and language comprehension. Join the speaker as she focuses on word recognition, including an outline of the “what” and “why” of basic assessment tools and instructional practices. Appropriate for educators and administrators supporting students in K-6, this discussion will center on Tier 1 word work and spelling skills, as well as how to best identify and address student weaknesses in phonology, basic phonics, and/or advanced word study.

23. Designing with Universal Design for Learning
Nicole Tucker-Smith
Universal Design for Learning helps to make classrooms more inclusive and effective. This session will provide models and tools to apply UDL to your own context to begin reducing barriers and fostering expert learning in any learning environment.

24. Developing a STEM Identity in Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students with Disabilities
Temple Lovelace, Ph.D., BCBA-D
Over the last few years, STEM learning has become a mainstay in schools across the nation; however, students with disabilities do not participate in STEM learning at the same rate as their peers. As educators move towards broadening participation, it is important that they understand the role that identity plays in a student understanding and benefiting from the content that is available. In this session, participants will explore the role of STEM identity in learning spaces, identify opportunities for STEM identity development in their students, and examine how their current practice supports STEM identity development in students with disabilities.

25. Dual Capacity-Building: Getting into the Weeds
Batya Elbaum, Ph.D.
The Dual Capacity-Building Framework for Family-School Partnerships posits that with appropriate training and supports, school personnel and parents can come together to make decisions and take actions that will improve outcomes for children. In this presentation, two family-school dyads discuss how they have approached a specific challenge related to special education services.

26. No Fear Fractions: Instructional Language Holds the Key
Marilyn Zecher
Many students struggle with fraction concepts and operations because they master only the procedures. Utilizing a multisensory approach with explicit instructional language supports student reasoning by using meaningful models. Students with learning challenges benefit from multiple representations and repeatable, retrievable, memorable language.

27. A Parent Support Group: The Right to Education State Task Force*
Keith Focht
In this session, the presenter will provide a history of The Right to Education State Task Force and the functions of the 29 Local Task Forces across the regions they serve.

*This session is not eligible for Act 48 clock hours or Psych credit.

28. Special Education Law: A Year in Review
Erin D. Gilsbach, Esq.
In this session, the speaker will present an update on special education law, including relevant updates regarding new caselaw, statutory and regulatory changes, recent state and federal guidance, and other changes. The speaker will examine trends in litigation issues, both in Pennsylvania and across the nation, and will provide helpful tools and tips for parents and schools.

29. Special Education Synergy: How Special Ed Improvements Accelerate MTSS Implementation Quality
Mark Shinn, Ph.D.
Too often, special education is left out of the loop when it comes to changes in instructional and behavioral practices to encourage general education ownership of MTSS. However, special education benefits from the practice changes in MTSS too, and importantly, special education adoption increases MTSS quality by increasing local capacity. The speaker will demonstrate how changes in special education practices such as eligibility, goal setting, and progress monitoring support MTSS implementation.

30. A Youth Perspective on Advocacy and Leadership
PYLN Governing Board Members
Who are better experts on students than other youth and young adults?  Representatives from the Pennsylvania Youth Leadership Network (PYLN) will discuss ways to think about youth self-advocacy in the classroom (and beyond!) and provide tips and tricks for approaches that foster effective youth leadership.

Thursday – March 4, 2021

8:00 am – 4:00 pm

Virtual Exhibit Hall


8:00 am – 4:00 pm

Ask the BSE/Ask SEAP


9:00 am – 10:15 am

Opening Keynote


10:30 am – 11:30 am

Concurrent Sessions


11:30 am – 12:30 pm

Lunch on Your Own and Virtual Exhibit Hall


12:30 pm – 1:30 pm

Concurrent Sessions


1:45 pm – 3:00 pm

Closing Keynote



(9:00 am – 10:15 am) Opening Keynote

HELP: Understanding the Fierce Urgency of Now
Ronald Whitaker, Ed.D.
In this keynote address, the speaker provides a comprehensive overview of why valuing the cultural background and norms of students and communities is a critically important professional disposition for teachers and administrators. Specifically, this presentation utilizes the Critical HELP framework to explain 1) a historical analysis of racism within an American context that still intersects in schools and classrooms, 2) the difference between equality and equity, 3) the importance of students experiencing a sense of belonging, and 4) exemplar practices that teachers and administrators can utilize in the classroom and school community. This keynote aims to challenge teachers and administrators to increase their practical and theoretical capacities to engage all learners in a manner that aligns with authentic practices pertaining to equity and social justice.

(10:30 am – 11:30 am) Concurrent Sessions


31. Avoiding Under- and Over-Identification of Students Receiving 504 Accommodations
Perry Zirkel, Ph.D., J.D.

This session will provide the latest available rates for Pennsylvania students who receive 504 accommodations (i.e., those who are eligible under Section 504, but not the IDEA); the current legal standards, including a usable form, for eligibility under Section 504; and the practical reasons and strategies for avoiding systematic false negatives and/or false positives in school and district rates of students receiving 504 accommodations.

32. Being Caring Adults: Defining Developmental Relationships
Kent Pekel, Ph.D.
When people talk about what children and youth need to succeed, a connection to at least one caring adult is usually at the top of the list. New research from Search Institute is demonstrating that while caring is necessary, it is nowhere near sufficient if the goal is to build truly developmental relationships that help young people learn and grow. During this session, the speaker will introduce participants to the five essential actions that characterize relationships that help young people be and become their best selves.

33. A Few Strategies: The Little Things Can Make All the Difference
Devin Kearns, Ph.D.
There are many things we can do to improve student achievement. There are a few strategies that can make your instruction much more powerful with relatively little effort; in fact, some strategies might even reduce the amount of effort needed for students to be successful! In this session, a set of three or four high-value, easy-to-implement strategies is presented.

34. The Importance of the Use of Data to Promote Successful Family Engagement Practices
Magda Rodriguez
Participants will be able to review the continuous improvement framework and dive into the use of data and participatory evaluation to develop and implement family engagement strategies that address the most relevant family engagement challenges.

35. Moving Beyond Poverty: Building Classrooms of H.O.P.E.
Shauna King
Poverty does not mean a student is unable to succeed; it does mean that students often have experiences that can impact them in the classroom. Research demonstrates that brains can change, and knowing how to impact positive brain changes should be a goal of every educator. In this interactive session, school leaders and staff will gain powerful strategies to boost engagement, improve behavior, and foster student success.

36. No More Sanitizing the Stench in Schools
Ronald Whitaker, Ed.D.
This session focuses on entrenched systemic biases that target minoritized students (Khalifa, 2018). Specifically, issues related to race and racism, in and across school boundaries, while simultaneously giving suggestions for operationalizing authentic notions of social justice (Dantley & Green, 2016) within educational spaces will be addressed.

37. The Power of Progressions: Untangling the Knotty Areas of Teaching and Learning Mathematics
Graham Fletcher
As more teachers look to add high-yield tasks to their repertoire, the struggle to make it all work becomes real. Let's examine how problem-based lessons can be used throughout the scope of a unit and how we can harness their power to move student thinking forward. We will identify strategies and explore some tasks that help us find a healthy balance between application, conceptual understanding, and procedural fluency.

38. Preparing Educators in the 2020 Twindemic
Tyrone Howard, Ph.D.
This interactive session will address the way educators must develop a more responsive and transformative approach to the preparation of today's learners. An explicit focus on the manifestation of COVID-19 and the reckoning of racial justice are integral for today's teachers. This talk will address skills, strategies, and approaches that can inform student learning in 2020 and beyond.

39. School Improvement
Hamish Brewer

This session is presented by an award-winning leader and school turnaround expert who has turned around multiple schools – both at the elementary and secondary levels, working with some of the most at risk students in America. The speaker will share his secrets to his school’s success with not only research best practices but also through the effect practices he has implemented. Improve your culture, your instruction and processes – and get results!

40. Using Data-Driven Action Planning to Move from Compliance to Transition Innovation
Joan Kester, Ed.D.
Engaging in data-driven action planning empowers communities to innovate secondary transition practices, with the potential to impact the post-school outcomes of transition-age youth with disabilities in Pennsylvania. The Transition Discoveries Initiative resulted in an applied model of nine key domains for “what works” in transition, The Transition Discoveries Quality Indicator Framework. During this interactive session, participants will gain first-hand experience in how the framework, tools, and process are implemented.

(12:30 pm – 1:30 pm) Concurrent Sessions


41. Advancing Equity Through Developmental Relationships

Kent Pekel, Ph.D.
Can the relationships that adults build with young people in schools and youth programs be an engine for equity? During this session, the speaker will guide participants through a case study in which a slight change in the relational interaction between a group of white teachers and African American middle school students had strikingly positive short- and long-term effects on student behavior. The speaker will also share evidence from studies being conducted at Search Institute and elsewhere that suggests a troubling relationship gap exists in the lives of a significant group of young people in the United States today.

42. Building Fact Fluency Through Mathematical Storytelling
Graham Fletcher

When we ask students to memorize facts, we are essentially asking them to memorize over 100 isolated equations. This approach does not allow students to explore the relationships between numbers that are foundational to mathematics. In this session, we will explore the important role that context plays in developing fact fluency. By purposefully sequencing a series of tasks and activities through the same context, students can begin to make connections and develop an understanding that is scalable well beyond single digits.

43. COVID-19 Issues Under the IDEA
Perry Zirkel, Ph.D., J.D.

This session will canvass (1) federal and state guidance, (2) state complaint decisions, (3) hearing officer decisions, and (4) court decisions specific to COVID-19 issues under the IDEA. The purpose will be to determine the current legal boundaries and likely upcoming trend in the frequency and outcomes of these issues in the respective adjudicative and investigative dispute resolution avenues of the IDEA.

44. Equity in Action
Tyrone Howard, Ph.D.
This interactive session will focus on core concepts and evidence-based practices on creating equitable schools for all students. The speaker will place a particular focus on vulnerable student populations—namely students of color, students from low-income backgrounds, students who are language learners, and students with social-emotional challenges.

45. Practical Strategies to Increase Capacity Building for Family Engagement
Magda Rodriguez
In this session, participants will have the opportunity to explore practical strategies for building individual and organizational capacity to implement sustainable and effective family engagement practices.  This workshop is aligned with The Dual Capacity-Building Framework for Family-School Partnership.

46. Transition Discoveries: Building Connections to Promote Community in Secondary Transition
Joan Kester, Ed.D. and Matthew Flanagan
Authentic engagement of youth, families, and stakeholders are secondary transition evidence-based predictors of positive post-school outcomes of youth with disabilities. These practices are an integral component of the Transition Discoveries Initiative, which is being scaled up statewide in Pennsylvania to improve the quality of secondary transition practices. When youth and families are fully engaged and empowered through knowledge and collectively advocate for full inclusion, complex systems become manageable and young people become more likely to lead happy and healthy lives. During this session, you will learn about evidence-based practices, community-building activities, and nontraditional youth/family/stakeholder engagement strategies.

47. What is Dyslexia?
Devin Kearns, Ph.D.
Serious difficulty with word recognition can have pernicious consequences for students. Many students with word recognition difficulty are identified with a specific learning disability in reading, often dyslexia. There are at least six ways to explain the nature of a child’s reading difficulty; dyslexia is one important cause of word recognition difficulties, but there are others. In this session, the speaker will discuss these different causes of reading difficulties and explain some confusing points and controversies related to word recognition difficulty.

48. What We Say Matters: Language to Support Learning and Behavior
Shauna King
An educator’s choice of words can be a help or hindrance in the school and classroom environment. Through a review of neuroscience discoveries, participants will gain skills to maximize feedback, promote equity, and build positive relationships. Participants will walk away with practical language tools that boost student learning and improve classroom culture.

49. Your Leadership Journey
Hamish Brewer
Are you an aspiring leader, a new leader, or a leader who just wants to rethink the work you are doing? The speaker will provide a session that will walk you through how to get it right from the beginning and ensure you do not fall into the trap of making mistakes from which you cannot rebound. Come on a journey that will help grow and develop your leadership skill set, from talking to others, decision making, and building a vision and mission that helps create an award-winning school.

(1:45 pm – 3:00 pm) Closing Keynote Address

Hamish Brewer
Sometimes you need to hear things you don’t want to hear in order to move forward, to be better, and to get results. In this closing keynote address, the speaker will take you on a hard-hitting journey that will challenge you to rethink your practices, to disrupt the norm, and to change the game. Find out whether you are willing to go one more round, to advocate for every single person and child, and to take your school or organization to the next level.