Mrs. Williams shuffled into the office in an obvious state of frustration. As a special education teacher, her “to-do” list was a mile long and it was one of those days where it only seemed to be getting longer. She’s a great team player and understands that her general education colleagues also have long lists that never end, but everyone gets to that point where they feel like they can’t handle it anymore. “Whose job is it to modify these math tests?” she asked in a clearly frustrated voice. “I have an IEP this afternoon and now Mr. Brown just handed me this test to adapt for tomorrow!” Her question was rhetorical, but she just had to get it off her chest, or was it?
The answer to this question is actually rooted in the problem itself, so, in order to solve it, we need to look back into our typical procedures for how we engage team members in the development of an IEP. The IEP process requires the involvement of, among others, parents, special education teachers, and general education teachers. You can picture a typical IEP meeting. The team sits down and introduces everyone. The general education teacher representative shares of their experience with the student in the classroom and talks about how the child is doing in class. All of the student’s other teachers have given input on a form that was sent around prior to the meeting. This input is included in the present levels. Then the team begins discussing the rest of the IEP. When it comes time for goals and specially designed instruction (SDI), the team, of course, looks to the special education teacher to present solutions. This process meets the requirement of the law and an IEP is developed. The argument can be easily made that, since the special education teacher developed the SDI, they should be responsible for its implementation.
Learning environments are as diverse as the individuals who may be involved at any given minute and should be treated this way. The IEP form itself gives a nod to this fact; the SDI section clearly requires teams to consider the “location, frequency, and duration” of all supports. Why would this be necessary if the answers are “everywhere, every time, and always”? Strengths, needs, and SDI are all designed to consider the child in each environment they will experience. So, if this is true, then we need to revisit our practices.
Mr. Brown teaches math. He has particular methods and practices he uses to teach his students. Each student who participates in his classroom will use certain skills and may display a need that is unique because of his practices and methods. As a result, a need may not present itself as a problem in his class versus the history class down the hall. Likewise, the solution for when a need is displayed may also be different. This unique blend of challenges and solutions is why students with special needs may struggle in one math class and then perform well in the next. Because of this, all teachers are supposed to give meaningful input into the IEP. What learning/behavioral/etc needs is the student demonstrating in each unique class or environment and how can we support them past each challenge so that they can learn and demonstrate their learning? In other words, we need to empower general education teachers with the ability to develop and deliver appropriate supports to students in each unique setting. (We address the development of appropriate SDI in our “Grab the Hammer” – The Tools to Effective Inclusion article)
Action Driven Education has developed Accomods to provide an efficient means to empower general and special education teachers with this capacity. However, Accomods aren’t the only way to achieve this outcome. Special education teachers should support their general education colleagues with the idea that they control their learning environment. When a student struggles in the classroom, that isn’t necessarily telling the teacher that their environment isn’t effective; just that it isn’t effectively supporting the student past their disability. Through conversation and problem-solving activities, special education teachers can support their colleagues as they work to understand what aspect of the environment is causing the challenge then to develop solutions around them. These solutions, or SDI, are then unique to that teacher’s learning environment.
Mrs. Williams is walking down the hall when Mr. Brown pokes his head out of the door saying, “what are we going to do with Billy…?” Mrs. Williams responds, “I’m not sure; let’s talk about what you’re seeing in your classroom.” The team then discusses the challenges Billy is facing in Mr. Brown’s classroom, developing unique solutions for the situation. Because Mr. Brown meaningfully participated in the development of the solution for his classroom, he recognizes that he owns the responsibility for implementation; besides, it’s his goal to effectively teach mathematics to every child. Mrs. Williams gathers the specifics on the solution; “If this solution doesn’t seem to be helping Billy past his challenge, let me know and we can develop other ideas. I’ll do a quick revision to Billy’s IEP to reflect this modification.”
- Consider your school practices. Are general education teachers empowered with the ability to develop meaningful solutions to the challenges they see happening in their classrooms? Every teacher wants to feel like they can teach every child that walks into their classroom. By helping them to understand that the tools for successful inclusion are accommodations and modification, we empower them to do exactly that. Consider practices that discourage general education teachers from developing these solutions. How can we change them?
- How many accommodations and modifications can your team effectively develop to support each unique situation? Consider professional development for teachers designed to develop this capacity. Also, Accomods by Action Driven Education is designed to be efficient support for teachers as they develop meaningful SDI solutions.
- Think like a facilitator. It is human nature to want to be effective and to overcome a challenge. We aren’t always doing a favor when we “just do it”. Far more often we are more effective when we facilitate the development of ability in others. Consider your practices. Are you facilitating?