Being a Good Teacher is Really Hard

_MG_7334Law school taught me the importance of considering both sides — hearing both arguments. When I started my nonprofit, I attended several IEP Meetings as a Parent Advocate. As I sat on one side of the table, I realized that I knew the law but not the reality of the day-to-day implementation of this legal document.

How do these goals really play out in the classroom?

So I got myself a job as a 1:1 Aide in a Moderate/Severe elementary classroom. I was only going to stay one year, assuming that’s all the research I really needed. One year turned into three — you never stop caring for your students, wanting to see them exceed their goals, and learning about the realities of working within the system of public education.

As there is always more to learn, I now find myself at the helm of the classroom wheel — the teacher.

Being a good teacher is really hard. 

It’s only been three weeks and every day I find myself planning lessons, changing lessons on the fly, ensuring I meet state benchmarks, attending professional development meetings, going to extra trainings, instituting a behavior rewards system, revising that rewards system, figuring out which seat works best for which kid, looking for engagement and interaction from my students, making sure each child’s needs are met, cleaning out my inbox, learning how to teach curriculum, changing up the curriculum to better suit my students in the moment, preparing for IEPs, making sure my Word Wall is growing, and building relationships with my middle schoolers, their parents, and my colleagues.

In the last 15 days, I have gone through a Story Hill of emotions. I’ve doubted my choice to sign that contract, had to step out of the room to catch my breath, questioned my 5:30 am alarm clock, eaten the extra cookie and gone to bed thinking about what I could be doing better.

With all of those requirements, pulling at my time and attention, I’ve been thinking a lot about what really makes a good teacher good?

Although I’m brand new to this role, I get the sense that checking off all of the “to-do’s” don’t necessarily make a teacher a good one.

I realize that I’m just one part of my students’ lives, but I hope that at the end of this year, my first year of teaching, I can say with certainty that:

  •  I walked into that classroom everyday, turned on the lights, and made it a welcomed space for thinking and learning;
  • I had conversations and community circles that helped me learn how to tailor those lessons for that individual kid;
  • I advocated for their needs at the IEP table and thought about how to write those goals in a way that will challenge my students one step at a time;
  • I listened to what my students wanted and gave them the dignity of choosing how to get there;
  • I took care of myself so I could, in turn, care for them;
  • I recognized our differences and similarities, connecting and teaching in a culturally responsive way;
  • I helped them increase their lexile level and celebrated those tough and triumphant moments;
  • I taught my students something new that will stick with them throughout life’s journey; and
  • I was a person who they could count on.

Teaching is hard because relationships are hard.

That’s what I’m really building – meaningful relationship with each of my students who have various challenges, learning differences, needs, hopes, and dreams.

If I can be a person — as a teacher, an advocate, a mentor, a role model — that provides a brave and safe classroom space, a “Hi, how are you?” in the hallway, or a note of encouragement on a paper, I will have done my job well.

As for being a good teacher, I hope I will be able to work towards that challenge. Maybe that’s the true test, in and of itself.


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Terry Tutors Specialized Education Services, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) charitable and educational nonprofit providing wraparound academic, behavior and advocacy support services for struggling students in southern California. Learn More at TerryTutors.com

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Summer May Be Right Around the Corner but It’s Not Too Late to Start the IEP Process

IEP

Navigating the IEP Process with TerryTutors.com

 

Alrighty, we’re headed down those sweet but chaotic last few months of the school year — 10 weeks to be exact, but who’s counting.

Although this school year is winding down, there’s still time to get an evaluation and possibly an IEP or 504 Plan in place, ready to go for the Fall.

If there’s something your child has been struggling with and it’s been a consistent issue all year long, then maybe there’s something else happening: a learning difference, behavior challenge,  social skills need.

A report card can only shed so much light on the issue. As a parent or a provider, we owe it to our kiddos to uncover the real reason they are struggling in school. This means going the extra mile and seeking out an answer through the evaluation process.

The first step is to:

1. Write your Request for an Evaluation Letter. An Initial Request for a Referral for an Evaluation letter starts the IEP process, alerting the school that you believe your child may meet the eligibility requirements to receive Special Education services and supports.

Note that if your child attends a private school, you can still ask for an IEP from either (1) the public school district where the school is located, or (2) more commonly, the school district where the child’s home resides.

Secondly,

2. Document everything. If you talk to the Principal, your child’s Teacher, or School Psychologist then followup with a Thank You email to verify your conversation and timestamp your efforts to put the wheels in motion. This is not to be litigious, but rather just good practice. The Advocacy rule of thumb: If it’s not written down, it never happened. Be understanding but be persistent.

And make sure to:

3. Educate yourself on what the law says. The district must legally comply with the federal laws of FAPE, IDEA, Child Find to name a few.

It’s a tall order. Having been on both sides of the table, I know firsthand the frustrations that come with trying to serve and meet each student’s individual needs. Don’t let the process discourage you!

Review these helpful resources to help you navigate the system:

Christine Terry, J.D., is the Founder & Executive Director of Terry Tutors Specialized Education Services.

She created the One Wraparound Service for The Struggling Student, which includes Academic, Behavior, Special Education Advocacy, and School Placement services. Christine truly loves helping struggling students realize their inner potential and the possibilities that await them in and out of the classroom.

 

 

Is it Okay to Question the School?

question marks

“Do I have the right to question the school’s authority?, asked one of the parents I recently counseled through the IEP process. “Absolutely“, I replied, “Not only do you have the right, as the parent you have an affirmative duty to question any person who holds themselves out to be an authority on your child’s education.

When I work with a new family seeking answers about their child’s grades, behavior, or social-emotional needs at school, more often than not, there comes a moment during our session where the parents sit across the table from me and sheepishly ask the inevitable: Do I even have the right to question the school on this matter?

YES, You Have the Right to Ask

Yes, yes, and yes.

You have the right to question the teachers, the administrators, the principal, the vice principal, the aides, the school psychologist, the administrative assistants, the bus driver, the OT, the PT, the SLP, and the list goes on.

You have the right to seek answers about why your child is not doing well in school. You have the right to seek answers as to why your child is not making friends or why his math test score was a 48% versus an 82% at the beginning of the year. You have the right to seek answers regarding her inability to comprehend the reading homework or why there is so much homework in the first place.

You have the right to know.

How Did We End Up Being Scared to Ask the Tough Questions?

After so many years of walking parents through the Special Education system, helping them navigate the ins and outs of legal code, jargon, and school politics, it dawned on me: I don’t know how we, as a community, became so afraid to ask the school “Why?”.

My theory stems from the “Seen But Not Heard” Generation.

Our grandparents were from the Depression era, where basic survival was the primary concern. Children were better seen and not heard, as the saying goes. Our parents are a product of this generational influence. This is also where our parents (The Baby Boomers) got their panache for stocking up on 2 for 1 can good sales, just in case. The Baby Boomer generation was raised to follow in their parents footsteps of compliance but eventually evolved into a cohort who began to question their government, their parents’ choices, and authoritative power in general. Then Generation X came along and in recent years began having children of their own.

We are still comfortable questioning our government, the media spin cycle, and the private financial sector (especially post 2008) but when it comes to education, we collectively seem to think that our job is to find the right school for our children, and once that job is done we let the school lead the way.

As parents, it is your job to find the right school fit for your child’s needs. However, the right school may not be the best school.

Parents are Afraid to Upset the Balance of Power

I find that parents have expended so much time, money and energy into finding what they deem the right private school or public district, that when there is a problem it often goes on longer than it should because the parent defers to the school’s perceived authority. It hurts to admit that we’re wrong sometimes.

There’s also the issue of facing teachers and other parents day in and day out while the issue is being resolved. How can I maintain effective working relationships with my child’s teachers if I’m doubting their expertise? Will the other parents still want to schedule play dates with my child?

At the root, our questions are based on the fear of not being liked or accepted into the group. But the true answer lies in how we approach the conflict.

The answer is simply to be nice.

There’s no reason be combative or litigious when advocating for your child’s best interest. Ensuring your child has the best (or, rather, appropriate, as the law says) education does not beget rudeness or inflammatory remarks, which can turn personal fast.

You are there to help the school help your child.

To do so effectively, requires active listening, open communication and collaboration. As an Advocate who firmly believes in Wraparound Support and collaboration instead of litigation, I know I get further with honey than with vinegar.

Take my advice: See the school and its players as real people who sincerely want to help your child; they just need you to show them how best to do so.

Christine Terry, J.D., is a Special Education Advocate & Founder of Terry Tutors. She created the One Wraparound Service for The Struggling Student, which includes Academic, Behavior, Special Education Advocacy, and School Placement services. Christine truly loves helping students realize their inner potential and the possibilities that await them: “To be a part of a student’s ‘ah ha’ moment is the best feeling in the world because I know I’m helping that student build foundational confidence that will lead to a successful path, not just in school but throughout life!”

 

Inappropriate Behavior May Be Masking a Learning Difference

2012.7.Class-ClownIf you’re a parent of a child struggling with inappropriate behavior at school, you might find yourself answering this question at an SST or IEP Meeting: Does your child’s behavior impede his/her ability to learn in the classroom?

If you answered yes, then know that you’re not alone. As a Wraparound Support Provider, I hear this all too familiar story from parents just like yourself:

It started with little things, like not paying attention to the teacher, failing to turn in homework, or talking when he’s not supposed to, but it soon escalated to an alternation with another student, maybe a former friend, on the playground or in the lunchroom and now the school is talking suspension. Phone calls from the school increased from once a week to twice and now it’s nearly every day. And every day it’s a struggle to understand why this is happening.

You know your child is smart, knows the rules of school and although may have had a little academic or behavior issue in the past, it has never been something to worry about. But now, you find yourself worrying about his future and wondering ‘why?’

The Behavior May Be Hiding the Learning Difference

When trying to uncover the reason behind a behavior difficulty at school, we must focus on the root cause. It is imperative that we refrain from putting too much stake on the surface behavior. Yes, the behavior is causing daily problems, but it is likely hiding something more serious. The only way to uncover the real issue is to take a thorough look at all areas of your child’s life: (1) Home Environment; (2) School Environment; (3) Individual Needs

What’s Going on at Home?

Family dynamic changes can be difficult transitions for kids of all ages. The first question to ask: What changes have occurred at home?

Was there a change to the structure of the family, parenting style, or the way the home is run? If so, we have to look closely at these changes, no matter how minute, because they are part of the bigger picture.

Let’s make sure not to play the blame game.

Parents cannot blame the school alone for their child’s behavior and the school cannot blame the parents only for their student’s difficulties. Really, no one should be blaming anybody but it often feels that way, doesn’t it.

We need to change that.

Looking at what changes have occurred in a child’s home environment is one part of the mystery. As parents, you must do your due diligence and answer that question honestly, keeping an open mind.

behavior is functional

What’s Going on at School?

The second question to ask: What’s happening during school that perpetuates the inappropriate behavior?

Maybe the new teacher is not your child’s favorite this year or maybe there’s another kid that’s picking on your kid.

School is just as much about social preservation as it is about academic prowess.

When delving deeply into the school day, we want to be mindful to look at social struggles as well as academic ones. If your child is facing a problem with one of his friends, that could be the precipice for the behavior. Even it is seems minor, it may be a major source of strain for your child.

It’s hard to remember that kids are just that — kids. We’re adults now and can handle more stressors and triggers, but our kids have yet to go through the ups and downs of life that we have. So when faced with what presents as a minor social hiccup, perhaps they aren’t as prepared as we’d like them to be because they haven’t yet had to deal with that particular situation.

A child who’s acting out in class may be masking a more serious learning difficulty.

We have to also look at the academic needs of the student. Oftentimes, the behavior is masking a more serious issue, like a learning difference.

This is a hard one because it’s not a quick fix and may very well be something the student must learn to navigate through not only in school but in life. And that’s okay.

We’ve come a long way in the way we think about learning disabilities, disorders and differences. We know that there is no one right way to learn and that standardized testing does not tell the whole story nor determine success in life. It’s still important, however, to acknowledge that there is a learning difference so that the school can put appropriate accommodations and modifications in place.

What’s Going on Internally?

Getting to the root cause of a behavior need, may uncover a learning difference, but we’ll only really have concrete evidence of that if your child is evaluated for one.

A Psychological Educational Evaluation (often called a Psycho-Ed Assessment/Eval) is conducted by the School Psychologist at the request of the parent. It is also the start of the I.E.P. process.

I recently had a parent tell me that requesting testing was initially a scary process because she didn’t know what the evaluation would reveal. By choosing to look at it as a general check-up, however, it lessened the worry and put things in perspective. If a learning difference is found and her child is able to get services through the school, then that is one more piece of the puzzle solved.

Collaboration is Key to Bridging the Gap Between Home & School

Teachers, Parents, Providers want the same thing: to solve the puzzle. We can’t do that, however, by piecemealing the process. We have to collaborate.  We must look beyond the outward behaviors to the core issues, working together to understand what’s happening at home in conjunction with what’s happening in the classroom.

To label a child a “Behavior Problem” is the equivalent of just looking at someone’s outward appearance and deciding their whole story. It’s unfair of us to do so. We won’t know the whole story until we uncover the root issue. It takes time, money, patience, and expertise. Once completed, however, we have a clearer picture of what’s really going on.

If your child is in need of behavior support or you want to find out more about services available for behavior needs, click on TerryTutors.com for more information.

Christine Terry, J.D., is a Special Education Advocate & Founder of Terry Tutors. She created the One Wraparound Service for The Struggling Student, which includes Academic, Behavior, Special Education Advocacy, and School Placement services. Christine truly loves helping students realize their inner potential and the possibilities that await them: “To be a part of a student’s ‘ah ha’ moment is the best feeling in the world because I know I’m helping that student build foundational confidence that will lead to a successful path, not just in school but throughout life!”

If It Wasn’t Written, It Never Happened: Avoid This IEP Pitfall

emailThe #1 Advocacy Rule: If it wasn’t written down, it never happened.

Here are some pointers about why creating a written record of your verbal conversations with teachers, therapists, and administrators will help you avoid this major pitfall of the IEP system.

THE WHAT: Email

Email is the cleanest way to send timely communication to all parties involved in the IEP process.

  • Create a file folder in your email account dedicated to all communication concerning the IEP process.
  • Send weekly updates to providers and the school.
  • Cc all support team members on those emails so we can be on the same page. If your child was struggling with a concept during tutoring, then her teachers should know about that so he can be aware and provide additional help.
  • Remember to leave emotion out of it. When communicating with the school, you’re wearing your objective Advocate Hat right now, not your parent hat.

THE WHO: All Support Providers

Who is included on these emails? Every service provider that your child is working with, such as teachers, administrators, therapists, advocates or attorneys, tutors, behaviorists, any other support service providers who are familiar with your child’s needs and care.

THE WHY: Concise, Communicative and Congenial

The reason why we create a written record is not litigious but rather so that everyone can remain in the loop and be on the same page. Miscommunication is the downfall of so many good parent/school relationships. Your job is to build a working relationship with your child’s support team. That includes taking on the task of secretary. You are your child’s point person and in doing so you must be concise, communicative, and congenial.

E-MAIL EXAMPLE

Here’s a clear example of what your emails should look like:

To: IEP Coordinator/Point Person

Cc: Meeting Attendees (Advocate or Attorney, Teacher(s), Vice Principal, SLP/OT/PT Therapists, Resource Specialist) & Those who did not attend the meeting but are still important support providers (Private SLP/OT/PT Therapists, Psychologist or Counselor, Tutor, Behaviorist)

Subject: Meeting Recap 3/31/15 – Student A.J.

Dear Team Aiden*,

Thank you for meeting with me today to discuss my son, Aiden Johnson*, and his challenges and successes in school.  After reviewing my notes, I believe it is best to move forward with Speech Language Pathology (SLP) testing. I will be contacting the SLP on staff (she is also cc’d on this email) this week to set up a time to review Aiden’s speech challenges and my additional concerns. My goal is to help Aiden as best we can, and so I would also like to discuss how we can work with Aiden on his goals at home.

Thank you once again for your time. Looking forward to speaking with the SLP this week.

Jenny Johnson*, Aiden’s Mom

(c) 310.555.7126

(e) jennyj@email.com

*Not real name

Christine Terry, J.D., is a Special Education Advocate & Founder of Terry Tutors. She created the One Wraparound Service for The Struggling Student, which includes Academic, Behavior, Special Education Advocacy, and School Placement services. Christine truly loves helping students realize their inner potential and the possibilities that await them: “To be a part of a student’s ‘ah ha’ moment is the best feeling in the world because I know I’m helping that student build foundational confidence that will lead to a successful path, not just in school but throughout life!”

Decoding Reading Fluency & The Tipping Point of Third Grade

booksChances are that at a recent Parent/Teacher Conference your child’s teacher mentioned the phrase Reading Fluency. You nod politely just waiting to hear those magic words: “[Your Child] is on track in his/her Reading Fluency.”

Education Lingo is Another Language

Let’s face it– speaking education lingo is like learning a new language. It’s hard enough to translate what a 1, 2, 3, or 4 means grade-wise let alone understand how kids are learning math these days! So here’s a little cheat sheet, if you will, as to what Reading Fluency means and how to make sure your kid is on track to meeting this goal.

Just Remember to Rap A RAP

ARAP: is a quick acronym for the four components that make up Oral Reading Fluency, as taken from Reading and Word Attack Strategies: Reading A-Z.

  • A: Accuracy – the ability to recognize (decode) words correctly
  • R: Rate – how (1) quickly and (2) accurately a reader reads connected text
  • A: Automaticity – the quick and effortless reading of words in or out of context
  • P: Prosody – the tonal and rhythmic aspects of spoken language. This builds meaning and comprehension

Help Your Child Get Better at Reading with These 7 Strategies

Everybody struggles in something and if your child is struggling in reading, that’s ok! There are strategies you can employ that will help them overcome this hurdle.

1. Use Picture Clues – gives the student visual context and helps begin the word-picture association process

2. Sound Out the Word – helping to develop Phonemic Awareness, which is the fancy way of saying that reading to your child helps them hear what a word or groups of words should sound like

3. Look for Chunks in the Word – Phonics aka The Blending of Letters/Sounds/Symbols/Prefixes/Suffixes/Endings/Whole Words/Base Words

4. Connect to a Word You Know – Ah, the good old Compare v Contrast. A method of testing comprehension that will be on every test/quiz all the way through law school 🙂

5. Reread the Sentence – A good rule of thumb when using this strategy is to remember I do/We Do/ You Do.

I DO: First, you read the sentence so your child can hear what is should sound like.

WE DO: Then, read the sentence with your child to boost confidence and reinforce the sounds.

YOU DO: Finally, have your child read the sentence himself.

Even if your child doesn’t get it right away, don’t worry! Build in wait time. For example, count 30 seconds in your head then go back to reading the sentence together. Encourage your child’s efforts. Refrain from tearing down their attempts.

6. Keep Reading – Go back through the story or passage and look for new vocabulary. Point out patterns and word play. Expose your child to the nuances of the English language.

7. Use Prior Knowledge – Identify repeated words and compare the second sentence to the first. What word makes sense in both sentences?

(Reading and Word Attack Strategies: Reading A-Z)

When Should My Child Know How To Read?

Just like learning to walk and talk, learning to read is also a developmental process. “All children do not begin to read at the same age. Children reach literacy milestones along the way.” (The National Institute for Professional Practice, see points below)

Typically, a child should be on track to learning the skills of Oral Reading Fluency during the K-3 grade levels:

  • Awareness and Exploration of Reading Stage (typically pre-K)
  • Emergent Reading Stage (typically pre-K to early Kindergarten)
  • Early Reading Stage (typically Kindergarten to early Grade 1)
  • Transitional Reading Stage (typically late Grade 1 to Grade 2)
  • Fluent Reading Stage (typically Grade 3 and higher)

The Tipping Point of Third Grade

Third Grade is when we start to look extra carefully at our young readers. There is a student split amongst their peers between the kids who are “getting it” and the kids who aren’t. Third Grade is also when the work starts to get harder and the testing more rigorous.

Coincidentally, it’s when I start to get a lot of calls from parents looking for a Tutor and we start talking about testing to begin the IEP process.

Reading is a skill that takes time to master. If your child isn’t “getting it” by the time he/she completes third grade, then parents and teachers should be asking “why?”. It may just be a slight developmental delay, or it may be something more. A good Teacher, Tutor, Advocate, and Parent, however, will strive to put into practice the strategies for successful reading fluency to help their student learn this new language and decode the mystery as to why reading is hard.

If you find that your child is struggling in school, contact us. We can help you answer that all-important question: Why?

Christine Terry, J.D., is a Special Education Advocate & Founder of Terry Tutors. She created the One Wraparound Service for The Struggling Student, which includes Academic, Behavior, Special Education Advocacy, and School Placement services.  Want to Know More? Head on over to TerryTutors.com.

10 Special Ed Blogs that Make You Wanna Go “Yeah!”

special_education_blogsMy Twitter feed is on fire with some awesome blogs lately. There are so many resources out there in internet-land that I had to share a few of my favorites.

If you’re looking for a little inspiration, need to find more education, or just want to talk about your frustrations then check out these gems in the blogosphere.

 

  1. Adventures in Aspergers
  2. Autism Father Blog
  3. Autism Hippie
  4. Firefly Friends
  5. Fusion Academy
  6. Innovative Speech & Language Pathology
  7. Love That Max
  8. National Center for Learning Disabilities
  9. The Center for Well-Being
  10. Wrightslaw

For more resources take a look at our LinksWeLove or Find Us on Facebook & Twitter

Christine Terry, J.D., is a Special Education Advocate & Founder of Terry Tutors. She created the One Wraparound Service for The Struggling Student, which includes Academic, Behavior, Special Education Advocacy, and School Placement services.  Want to Know More? Head on over to TerryTutors.com.

Prompting: Be a Drama Queen

promptIf you’ve spoken to a behaviorist or Special Ed Teacher or even just a person who happens to love B.F. Skinner, you might hear them talk about prompting and redirection: a behavior strategy used to decrease unwanted behaviors or increase desired behaviors. This is used in ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis), specifically with children who are diagnosed on the Autism Spectrum. However, it works for other behavior patterns too, and there are many ways to teach it effectively.

What’s a Prompt?

A prompt: “Cue or hint meant to induce a person to perform a desired behavior. A fancy way of saying this is: An antecedent that induces a person to perform a behavior that otherwise does not occur.” Types of prompts include verbal, full physical (hand over hand), partial physical, modeled behavior by the person performing the prompting, gestured, or just visual (just pointing without any other guidance). I have a lot of prompt, fading, reinforcement and redirection skills from my ABA Training and I’m continuing with the trend by learning PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System) for non-verbal children. Simply put, first, you prompt the desired behavior; then, if the child is unsuccessful, you redirect the undesired behavior. And then you do it all over again. This is a type of behavior modification.

Prompting at Its Best: Be a Drama Queen

I decided to apply all of my knowledge on this subject to one of my middle school students who struggles with staying on topic and focused during our tutoring time. I mean, he can talk about everything under the sun except homework!

So here’s The Plan: Whenever he gets off topic, I am to just lay my head on the table in exasperation – like a drama queen. This will prompt him to think about why I’ve suddenly stopped listening and “fallen asleep” on the table. If he gets it, I am to reinforce the desired behavior (his realization that he’s off topic and needs self-redirection back to his homework). If he doesn’t, I am to redirect the undesired behavior (off topic conversations), and then try my self-described drama queen technique again.

I tried this technique out tonight during our session, and you know what- he got it! Of course, he thought it was super, duper funny (and it was meant to be.) But after the giggles wore off and I did it again for reinforcement when he started talking about super heroes instead of science, he got it!

Tutoring Should Embrace Techniques from Education & Psychology

See I think Tutoring is really more than just homework help. It’s having someone teach a student about the nuances of social skills, turn-taking, perspective understanding, organization, planning ahead and focus. Homework can be used as the basis for teaching these necessary life skills. For kids who struggle with these executive functions and perspective issues, there are lessons within lessons.

It’s our application of various strategies, techniques, and principles from across the educational and psychological landscape that really do lend itself to a true co-existing of crossover services. School work should prepare a student for life skills too.

I love thinking outside the classroom box, and I’m not afraid to be a Drama Queen to get my point across. I urge you to go against the tradition of coloring within the lines and, instead, branch out to incorporate various ideas from all sorts of models. You might just find the right combination that does the trick for your student.

Christine Terry, J.D., is a Special Education Advocate & Founder of Terry Tutors. She created the One Wraparound Service for The Struggling Student, which includes Academic, Behavior, Special Education Advocacy, and School Placement services.  Want to Know More? Head on over to TerryTutors.com.

My Student Attended Her Own IEP & Loved It!

IEP for aspergers child11 Years Old and already CEO of her own IEP!

I was so impressed when my student’s school suggested that she attend her own IEP Meeting. As meetings go, IEP’s have the reputation of getting contentious rather quickly and losing sight of the real reason why parents, psychologists, teachers, learning specialists, principals, advocates, and attorneys are sitting at the round table in the first place– the student.

Humanizing PLOPs, Goals & Services

But something amazing happened when my 11-year-old student sat in the big chair between her learning specialist and her mother, and joined the conversation. Instead of a heated debate over standard deviations, we were able to humanize the plan of action and include her in the review of all of those Present Levels of Performance (PLOPs), Goals, and Services.

Our “adult speak” had to be tailored to her “kid level” of understanding. By doing so, it made all of the attendees that much more cognizant of what we were saying and how we were saying it. We asked for her input, addressed her concerns, and clarified her job to continue to work hard and work towards her very best.

It was probably the most honest, quick, and productive IEP I’d ever been to, and I have my student to thank for that.

Student “Buy In” & Self-Advocacy

My student felt important because she got to attend her own IEP, a key component to her “buy in” and, ultimately, her ownership over her own education. It was just as much a lesson for me as it was for her, and it got me thinking: taking into consideration age and appropriateness of course, perhaps having our students attend their own IEPs should be the best practice.

After all, what better way to meet her annual self-advocacy goal than to learn to advocate at her own IEP.

Christine Terry, J.D., is a Special Education Advocate & Founder of Terry Tutors. She created the One Comprehensive Wraparound Service for The Struggling Student, which includes Academic, Behavior, Special Education Advocacy, and School Placement services.  Want to Know More? Head on over to TerryTutors.com.

We Need a Learning Profile for Every Student

learning profile A recent Special Education Forum got me thinking: We need a Learning Profile for every student, not just those in special ed.

What’s a Learning Profile?

A learning profile is an overview of the recommended reasonable accommodations and modifications needed to set a student up for success. It’s traditionally used in Special Education but I believe we need one for every student, regardless of special or general education status.

Why Should a General Education Student Have a Learning Profile?

There is no one right way to learn, and therefore no one right way to teach. Just because a child doesn’t qualify or hasn’t been tested to receive services under the federally mandated Special Education programs doesn’t mean that child does not need some classroom accommodations or modifications. In fact, those are kids that may be slipping through the cracks. Those are the ones we need to pay extra close attention to because they may be struggling but no one can pinpoint why.

Learning Profile Considerations

I subscribe to Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences theory. Although learning styles and multiple intelligences are not the same,  a strength-based learning assessment will take into account the child’s multiple ways of learning and bring out those different styles of thinking by considering the following:

  • Student Classification
  • Supports Provided
  • Cognitive/Intellectual Style
  • Social/Emotional
  • Student Behaviors
  • Organization/Time Management
  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Language
  • Math

We Think Differently, Therefore We Should Be Taught Differently

Lots of progressive and developmental based schools are on board with this idea: we all think differently, therefore we should all be taught differently. Traditional schools teach to the middle while progressive models teach to the individual. Yes, we all need to learn social tools to navigate societal conventions but should we all be learning just one way of doing something? Common Core is attempting to bring more project based learning into the classroom but the sheer numbers of students in a class (up to 40!) makes it a tall order for one teacher to implement. The ideal is not the same as the reality.

For my students struggling in traditional platforms, I recommend seeking out schools with a teach-to-the-individual-strength-based-learning model, like many of these I’ve visited. And if you need a little help finding the right school fit, search out a school placement service that incorporates a psychological component coupled with education advocacy, like mine here.

The way a student learns is hardwired long before they step foot into a classroom. As educators and parents, we must make sure to set them up for success by enhancing, not squashing, their natural abilities.

Christine Terry, J.D., is a Special Education Advocate & Founder of Terry Tutors. She created the One Comprehensive Wraparound Service for The Struggling Student, which includes Academic, Behavior, Special Education Advocacy, and School Placement services.  Want to Know More? Head on over to TerryTutors.com.