What a year and it is only April! If you have been following any of the recent special education blogs, you’ve noticed a consistent theme – news and changes within the field of special education. There have been changes in exiting options for students with disabilities, information regarding least restrictive environment, a field advisory regarding the key principles governing special education, and so much more.
It is time to take a minute to reflect upon the consistent messages that are within all of these memos, regulations, and changes.
- Special Education is a service, not a place. Special Education is not a room. It’s not a hallway. It’s not a category. It is a service to meet the individual needs of diverse learner.
- Students with disabilities are general education students first. The phrase, “your students,” should not exist. Students with disabilities have been and will always be “our students.”
- There needs to be high expectations for all students, including students with disabilities. We cannot truly say, “they can’t,” unless we give them the opportunity to try. Some students will surprise us, others will exceed our expectations, and some still may struggle. Yet, we need to be able to say, “they tried, we tried.”
- Students with disabilities must have meaningful access to the general education curriculum. If we want to see our students earn credits and graduate with a diploma, there needs to be meaningful access to the general education curriculum. There is not a separate curriculum for students with disabilities. They are working on the same curriculum; it just might look a little different. That is why we put specially designed instruction, program modifications and testing accommodations in place – to meet the needs of the student to allow them to access and progress in the curriculum.
- Having a growth mindset as an educator is essential in order to instill a growth mindset in students. Education is full of changes. As educators, we need to embrace change and overcome adversity. So do our students. How do our students learn this? From us. We are the examples. If we don’t embrace change, how will they?
- There is shared accountability in meeting the needs of students with disabilities. In trainings, this question always pops up, “Who is responsible for this.” The answer, “Everyone!” Now, everyone does not mean everyone in the universe. Whoever is working with that individual child has responsibility to implement the IEP and meet the needs of that child consistently.
- We must always start with the question, “What would it take?” Forget schedule. Forget the amount of time in a day. Forget budget. Forget exhaustion. We are talking about a child. A child that needs to learn. A child that needs access. So, “what would it take” to give this child access and the opportunity to learn.
- Special education is specially designed instruction! The definition of specially designed instruction from the Part 200 regulations is “adapting, as appropriate to the needs of an eligible student, the content, methodology, or delivery of instruction to address the unique needs that result from the student’s disability; and to ensure access of the student to the general curriculum, so that he or she can meet the education standards that apply to all students” (200.1(vv)).
- Least restrictive environment is the basis for all special education decisions. Students with disabilities have a fundamental right to receive their special education supports in a classroom and setting that, to the maximum extent appropriate, includes students without disabilities. This must always be a consideration when making recommendations for students with disabilities.
- “If a child can’t learn the way we teach maybe we should teach the way they learn.” – Ignacio Estrada