My Story

Context - Part 1

I have been in education for twenty-two years. The first six and a half years, I taught at a private elementary school in Utah. The remainder of my career has been at the Montana School for the Deaf and the Blind (MSDB) in Great Falls. I started as the special education secretary as I completed my Montana licensure and special education certification. I went on to achieve a Master’s in Special Education with an emphasis on students with visual impairments and those who are deafblind. I have taught at the school for the last 12 years as a teacher in the blind and low vision department, mostly in social studies and assistive technology courses.

All of our students at MSDB are in special education and range in age from 2 to 21. I have taught every age, including those in transition (post high school) programming and have also provided in-home services for toddlers and their families. While the majority of my students are identified as being blind or low vision/visually impaired (BLV), I also work with students who are deafblind and some that are Deaf or hard of hearing (DHH). Many of our students are dually placed within our school setting and in public schools. We work with the staff in the schools to make sure the students’ accommodations are being met and provide assistance in making materials and the school environment accessible for our students. We also support the outreach consultants that are members of our staff serving students, families and school across the state. While we only have around 50 students on campus in Great Falls, we serve several hundreds of students across the state. I am often in contact with the school districts to provide help on making things accessible for students and giving advice on assistive technology that can be used, as well as resources on how and where to obtain the devices. This year, I started a distance learning class to provide 1:1 support of a student who is homebound due to medical needs, so that they can connect with me and still get training on using screen readers to master computer/tablet related tasks. MSDB serves a very low incidence population, but one that requires very high needs. Last year, I adapted a nationally known computer science course for students with low vision and some that were Deaf and have been teaching that course for the last two years.

I have been a member of the MFPE (previously MEA-MFT) the entirety of my teaching career at MSDB. I have served as a co-president of our local union for the last seven years. As both a state employee and a public educator, I could not do my job without the support of our union. We have amazing field representatives that have helped our local with conflict resolution, grievances and bargaining. Last year, we had the most successful bargaining session of my tenure at MSDB. I have been fortunate to attend one national NEA event as a representative of Montana.

Context - Part 2

An important aspect of this project will be to know my own biases and privileges, as well as recognize when my personal values are informing my TLI project. I need to stop and examine how I approach tasks, but also inspect the questions I ask and the information I use in my project. I particularly need to have an awareness of working with groups that I am unfamiliar with so that I can learn from the interaction and complete a TLI project that incorporates and respects their cultures.

At the beginning of this TLI program and after review the The Teacher Leadership Competencies handbook, I would give myself the following ratings:

Overarching Competency #1 - Communication. Developing. I often express that student-centered goals should be the focus for our school, but fail to effectively do anything to chance current topics of discussion. I think I can give compose great digital communication with peers, but don’t always feel like other modes of communication are as strong (particularly because of the varying needs of communication at our school for those with sensory needs--both staff and students).

Overarching Competency #2 - Interpersonal effectiveness. Developing. While I can complete some of the evidence listed for interpersonal effectiveness under ‘performing’ (such as leading discussions with a shared vision), I don’t know that that communication always promotes student needs. This is something our school needs to do better. I think we get caught up in the politics of our agency and don’t always use student needs to drive communication, decision-making or events at our school.

Foundational Competency: Diversity, Equity and Cultural (Cultivate Socially Just Learning Environment. Emerging/developing. I think I recognize the issues of diversity within our school environment and I have explored information on how to create more socially just learning environments. I have an understanding of some of the issues that impede the creation of socially just learning environments and am using self-reflection to try and explore further means of handling the social injustices at our school in an effective manner.

Instructional Leadership Competency: Facilitating Collaborative Relationships. Emerging/Developing. I have goals of getting to the performance tasks of facilitating and improving existing programs at our school but currently feel like I have shown that I am willing to work as part of a group to address challenges and am articulating how collaboration can improve teaching and learning.

Please note that in my initial work on rating myself and examining the overarching competency areas that I might choose for my capstone, I had one project in mind. However, as the TLI experience evolved and my needs assessment took place, I found myself driven to explore other competencies not listed above (focusing on 'adult learning' rather than 'communication'). Evidence C 1-3 on the Learn page of this site will show the direction that I ultimately went with my capstone project.

MSDB Stakeholders

At MSDB, we work with a diverse group of stakeholders. Many stakeholders are similar to those that you would find in a traditional public school setting; however, we also have some stakeholder groups unique to our school as we are a state agency and serve a unique population. Stakeholders include:

  • students and their families

  • employees of MSDB (including educational, residential, and administrative staff)

  • The Montana state Board of Public Education

  • The MSDB Foundation (non-profit organization established to meet financial needs of school not otherwise covered by the legislative budget

  • general public across the state (as MSDB assists students from every community)

  • Vocational Rehabilitation and Blind and Low Vision Services of Montana

  • various Deaf/hard-of-hearing and blind/low vision agencies at both state and national levels

  • The Council for Exceptional Children

  • The Council for Schools for the Blind and the Conference of Educational Administrators of Schools and Programs for the Deaf

In the past, work with and shared learning with these stakeholders was usually approached either from working with the DHH or with the BLV populations, but rarely both populations at once. I would anticipate that as the TLI process continues, I would be working with some agencies that I don't have past practice with and some that I may be approaching with new and different requests.

Love In Any Language

Montana is often thought of having a fairly homogeneous population; however, you will find that MSDB is lucky to have a variety of cultures, experiences and backgrounds represented within our school. Our school is located in Great Falls and often welcomes students from military families from Malmstrom Air Force Base. These military families come from many places and diverse backgrounds. Montana is home to seven Indian reservations and twelve tribes--MSDB serves students in all of these communities and many attend the residential program. The Deaf have their own culture and community and we proudly work with them. Identifying and respecting the traditions of these groups will be important as we embark on this TLI project to change past practices and bring groups together.

Denise Rutledge TLI Approval Form.pdf

Artifact for Certification

As detailed in the document to the left, I am including my "Coaches Capstone Approval Form and Certification Bank Code" file as my first artifact in this project. All other artifacts throughout this project will be referred to as 'evidence'.