Graduate Expands Her Service to Families with Master’s Degree Focusing on Autism

December 1, 2016

Brandi Shinn earned a master's degree and graduate certificate from the U of A.
Brandi Shinn earned a master's degree and graduate certificate from the U of A.

Editor’s Note: This is one of a series of
Colleague magazine profiles about alumni of the College of Education and Health Professions.

By Lori Foster, communications assistant

It all depends on the hat she is wearing.

Brandi Shinn has several to choose from. Part of every day she wears the parent of a child with disability hat. Her teacher hat, behavior-specialist hat, and trainer hat are all worn on a regular basis as well. Occasionally, she puts on a grant writing hat. But her student hat is still one of her favorites.

Shinn earned dual bachelor’s degrees in elementary education and special education (K-12) with minors in social studies and oral communication in 1994, and a master’s degree in educational leadership in 1996, all from Henderson State University. Over the years, she has added certifications in a variety of areas: secondary education, curriculum specialist, elementary and secondary principal, and English as a second language.

In 2006, the University of Arkansas began offering an online program that enticed Shinn to don the student hat once again, this time to earn a Master of Education in special education with a graduate certificate in autism spectrum disorders. She was a perfect fit for the program as it allowed her to continue teaching while she completed the degree.

Shinn confessed that her husband teases her about being a professional student.

“When I start thinking ‘What course of study can I pursue next?’ he reminds me how full my plate already is.”

On that full plate, Shinn balances raising a family that includes a teen with moderate to severe autism and adopted toddler twins with her full-time work.

Along with her husband Kris, Shinn now operates Above All Else Services, Inc. in Greenbriar, Arkansas. Kris Shinn is a certified instructor in both behavior tools and crisis management. With their combined unique qualifications, they are able to offers services and encouragement to a wide range of people including children with special needs, caregivers, teachers and families.

From her experiences in the classroom as a special education teacher, as a consultant in the schools, and living with it at home, Shinn’s relatability to people on all sides of disability work benefits her clients. With her mama hat on, she is able to counsel parents because she knows what it is like when her child has a meltdown, or how to navigate the myriad necessary conferences. With her teacher hat, she helps other educators understand how to use transparency instead of defensiveness when communicating with parents who are dealing with the inevitable stresses that come with the disability, like financial issues and situational unpredictability.

Shinn remembers Fran Hagstrom, currently serving as an assistant dean in the college, as a professor who had a great impact during her master’s coursework. 

“Her class was hard but she is so encouraging and has just the right way of dealing with people. I learned I should not write like I talk – and that really helped my writing. It was the only B I received during the program, but I was proud of that B because it was a difficult class!”

According to Shinn, all of her instructors were personable and accessible, making the online program a much more comfortable experience than she had imagined it would be.

The way in which the program allowed Shinn to understand others’ views has proven especially helpful in her current work. The discussion boards gave her an opportunity to hear how others would respond to a scenario that was given. She witnessed how several school systems would approach a given situation differently, since her classmates were working in schools throughout the state. These online discussions, moderated by the instructor, offered a forum in which to learn from differences of opinions and a freedom to disagree that is not always possible in face to face conversations with co-workers. 

Shinn reports that she is still in contact with some in her cohort. They continue to rely on each other as sounding boards. 

“I’ll get an email asking if I have encountered a particular situation and how I dealt with it. I can respond with what has worked at home and what I might recommend for teachers.”

Brandi and Kris Shinn spend their days developing and implementing teacher workshops, providing school districts with autism training, professional crisis management, and staff development. As a behavior specialist, Shinn can also assist when there are undiagnosed emotional or attachment issues. She may set up a self-contained classroom and offer solutions to specific situations for the teacher in need of strategies. The Shinns also maintain the information that is available on their website as a community resource.

If the passion with which she shares the details are any indication, one of Shinn’s favorite services offered is a 10-week class on social skills, open to any child with disability. The focus is on making friends and working together, and tailored to the 10 participants. Toward the end of the course they take the class to a bookstore or restaurant and facilitate opportunities to practice skills learned in courtesy, with money, and volume levels, for example. Skills covered can range from using the phone to order pizza to participating in a chess tournament. Kris Shinn leads a parent group during a few of the class sessions so they also get to know each other and can share successes and struggles and network for future opportunities among their children.

No matter which hat Shinn is wearing, she seems to thrive on constants and variety. The constants in her life are the daily connections to people who need her, but the variety in her day-to-day tasks keeps it all fresh. It is apparent that she loves kids and loves what she does.

spotlight on faculty scholarship

  • Preparing Teachers of Color to Teach

    Christian Goering, co-author Sense Publishers

  • Impact of Diversity on Organization and Career Development

    Claretha Hughes, Palgrave Macmillan

  • A Differentiated Approach to the Common Core

    Lynn Koch, co-author Springer

  • Teaching Students with Special Needs in Inclusive Settings

    William F. McComas, co-author Arcadia

  • The School Choice Journey

    Robert Maranto, co-author Palgrave Pivot

  • American Indian Workforce Education

    Carsten Schmidtke, Routledge