Will the Real “I” Please Stand Up? Clarifying the “I” in the Individualized Education Program (IEP)

Often times, our students have little to no knowledge of the content of their IEP, why they have an IEP, or the fact that the IEP is all about them! As educators, it is our duty to encourage students to become more involved in their programs, services, and accommodations. This in turn provides experiences that help enable them to transition into the role of the successful adult.

According to the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE), “Self-determination skills are one of the most critical contributing factors to the successful transition of youth and young adults with disabilities. Youth need self-determination skills in order to have control over their lives and to be empowered to make informed decisions and actions in all aspects of their lives.”

The National Technical Assistance Center on Transition (NTACT), defines self-determination as “a combination of skills, knowledge, and beliefs that enable a person to engage in goal-directed, self-regulated, autonomous behavior.”

Components of Self-Determination (SD):

  • Self-regulation: self-monitoring, self-evaluation, self-instruction, self-management (controlling own behavior by being aware of one’s actions and providing feedback)
  • Self-advocacy: have knowledge of self, knowledge of rights, communication skills, and leadership ability
  • Self-awareness: awareness of own individuality, strengths, and areas for improvement
  • Self-efficacy: understanding that your own actions have an impact – you are a causal agency in your life

Students that possess these above mentioned attributes have a better understanding of their limitations, strengths, and capabilities. Isn’t that what we want for all of our students?

Meaningful student involvement in the IEP process is a central component to help develop self-determination skills. Involvement positively impacts students’ ability to:

  • Gain more knowledge of disability
  • Gain more knowledge of appropriate accommodations
  • Increase self-confidence
  • Increase ability to self-advocate
  • Feel a sense of control over his or her education
  • Build important social and conversational skills
  • Build decision-making and goal-setting skills
  • Be more invested in making day-to-day progress toward their goals

Please take a moment and look at the Student Direct IEP Continuum (found here). Where do your students fall? Where do you want them to be? How do you get them there?

The first step is to encourage students of any age and their families to have conversations about disability classifications and the “why” of the Individual Education Program. These necessary conversations can be difficult, depending on the mindset of the student and their family. The essential part of these conversations is to be sure to emphasize the fact that the IEP does not define the whole person. It is a part of who they are but is not the end all, be all of their existence. Oprah Winfrey once said, “Knowledge equals power.” Just think of how empowered your students will truly be if they can embrace that concept.

Secondly, use the continuum to determine where your student’s knowledge base falls in regard to their IEP. Have conversations with the student and their family around this. Set goals to take baby steps toward moving up the continuum. Keep in mind that it would not be realistic to expect a student to move through the entire continuum in one school year. Even one small step is a step in the right direction. A great tool to start the process can be found here. This IEP tool places the student in the driver seat and provides opportunity for talking points that encourage those self-determination traits. The Office of the State Superintendent of Education also has some excellent tools to promote self-determination and involvement in the IEP process. Explore their website to determine what works best for your students, families, and you.

As an educator, think about the mindset that you would like your students and their families to embody in regard to self-determination. Take the plunge with them, and dabble in activities that will empower them for a lifetime! You won’t regret it. For more information or assistance about self-determination and how you can include the principles into your practice, please feel free to email me at pordway-bennett@ocmboces.org.

“Every child deserves a champion; an adult who will never give up on them, who understands the power of connection and insists that they become the best they can possibly be.”

~Rita F. Pierson

Patty Ordway-BennettPatty Ordway-Bennett
Transition Specialist, RSE TASC

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