How many times have we worked with students that are aware they have these big meetings every year, but are not quite sure why? We know the purpose of the Committee for Special Education (CSE), but do our students? Have you ever asked yourself how many of your students actually know that they have an Individualized Education Program (IEP) and why? How many of them know what an IEP is? More importantly, how many of your students know they have a disability?
We educate our students every day in math, reading, writing, social studies…you get the gist…yes, I’m referring to the Common Core Learning Standards (CCLS). The bigger question to ask is do we take time to teach students how to be self-advocates? Self–determination is defined by The National Gateway to Self-Determination as “characteristics of a person that leads them to make choices and decisions based on their own preferences and interests, to monitor and regulate their own actions and to be goal-oriented and self-directing.” Below are the top ten suggestions to empower students to become excellent at self-determination!
- Look at the IEP together.
This process can be difficult, especially if the student is not aware of their current levels. It is hard to hear about one’s deficits. It is critical that you cover their strengths first. Be sure to comment on the disability area and how that impacts their learning so they are aware of why you are discussing these areas in need of improvement. Show students what their IEP looks like. Show them all of the parts of an IEP that are important for that student to know (Present Levels of Educational Performance, including evaluation results, Measureable Post-Secondary Goals, Measurable Annual Goals, Programs and Services/Program Modifications, Testing Accommodations, Coordinated Set of Transition Activities). Have a graphic organizer available of the parts of the IEP for the student to jot notes into. Goal: Student will be able to know what an IEP is, that they have an IEP and how the IEP supports them in school.
- Students need to identify their disability and identify how it impacts their learning.
After looking over the IEP, the student should be able to state their disability and the reason why they have an IEP. It should be made clear to them that this does not define who they are as a person. The next step is to understand how this disability affects them in the classroom. Ask them questions about what they like and do not like about their classes. This process allows students to figure out why/where they struggle. This is where you step in to help them relate this back to their disability. This should be an “aha” moment! Be sure to look at program/testing accommodations and how they help to “level the playing field.” Goal: Student will be able to understanding their disability and how it impacts them in the classroom and beyond.
- Identify supports within the school.
Who do the students feel they can talk to about their disability if they have questions? Where can students go if they have questions about their IEP? Where can they find a copy of their IEP? Where is the Special Education Office? Goal: Student will be able to know where and who to go to in regards to questions about the IEP.
- Have student write a letter to teachers. Then meet with the teachers.
Students can often be uncomfortable talking about their disability and what they need to be successful. Have students write a letter to their teachers about their disability and include what they need to be successful in the classroom. This allows them to become a self-advocate with a “security blanket” and it also allows student to work on proper letter writing skills! Goal: Student will be able to become a self-advocate with their teachers.
- Brainstorm ideas of how to self-advocate within the classroom.
Complete this task after students have been in class for a few weeks. Give them a graphic organizer where they can brainstorm what is difficult about the class. Then have them generate ideas of how to work through those difficult situations. It is important to allow them to create ideas before offering up solutions to them. Creating viable solutions is the key to self-advocacy, as students have ownership over their solutions. Goal: Students will be able to create ideas of how to self-advocate in their classes.
- Have students be their own voice in the classroom, do not speak for them.
Students rely too heavily on teachers they are comfortable with (often the Special Education teacher) to speak for them. However, there will not always be someone there to speak for them, so they need to learn to be their own voice. Do this gradually. When they raise their hand in class, encourage them to ask the question out loud, instead of just to you. Remind them of the ideas they brainstormed about how to self-advocate in class. Goal: Students will be able to utilize strategies already created to improve on self-advocacy in class.
- Have student identify supports outside of the school setting.
Just as it is important to understand who is a support inside the school, students also need to know supports outside of the school. Who can help them with their disability outside of the school setting? Parents? Grandparents? Counselor? Mentor? This is a great way for you to know who the student is in contact with outside of school. This will also help students to identify who they can count on after exiting school. Goal: Students will be able to identify key people outside of the school setting that can continue supporting them with their advocacy skills after school.
Role-play scenarios where students would have to advocate both in and outside of school. You can do this one-on-one or as a group where the group gives suggestions to the student. Some topics might include: not given enough time on a test to finish, the teacher is writing notes too quickly in class for the student to keep up, another student refuses to work with you, running parts of their IEP meeting, etc. Goal: Students will be able to practice scenarios to know how to handle self-advocacy situations.
- Have students run part (or all) of their IEP meeting.
Students can easily run part (or all) of their IEP meeting, if prepared ahead of time. The entire IEP meeting is about the student…it makes sense that we should let them talk about themselves! There are great tools on www.imdetermined.org that prepare students, parents, and educators for this experience. Encourage student to prepare, attend, and participate in their IEP meeting. Goal: Students will be able to participate as active members of their IEP meeting to be a self-advocate.
- Know about IDEA when in school and ADA when exiting school.
IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Act) is a federal law ensuring services to children with disabilities throughout the nation. It states how public agencies provide services to students to youth with disabilities (http://idea.ed.gov). What occurs in public education ages 3-21 is not automatically applied after exiting high school. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination and ensures equal opportunity for persons with disabilities in employment, State and local government services, public accommodations, commercial facilities, and transportation (http://www.ada.gov). Students have to learn to advocate for their needs after exiting high school, as they are no longer entitled but must be considered eligible for services. Goal: Students will be able to know their rights in and after high school.