Anyone who has navigated the special education system as a parent or caregiver knows that it is a challenge. The temptation when discussing these experiences is to focus on the bureaucracy, the labels and the barriers to learning and lack of understanding.
I could also do the same.
- I could tell you with brutal honesty about the mourning we went through as we understood that two of our four daughters would have learning needs that would impact their educational experiences each and every day.
- I could gripe about the money and time it takes to get private psychological assessments done when you know the school system is too overwhelmed to get to your kids.
- I could explain the horrible nature of being on the other side of ISRC, IPRC and IEP meetings.
- I could complain for hours about the educational professionals who just don’t get it (and some who don’t seem to want to).
- I could tell you how guilty I feel even writing this blog as I recognize there are children and families without the advantages of privilege that my family and I have while they are facing much greater battles to get the support they need.
But I want to tell you a different story – I want to convince you (or at least suggest to you) that I have grown to LOVE the two IEPs that we have in place to support our kids.
When I first starting teaching as a freckle-faced 23 year old I was told casually that I needed to go write an IEP for one of my students. I, like many new teachers, wanted to seem aware, confident and prepared to handle everything that came my way. So I said sure!
Then I panicked – this was not something I had any knowledge of other than comments about “the IEP kids” in certain school settings I had experienced. I lacked the knowledge and strength to gather all the resources and observations necessary to write an IEP that was more than oversimplified and, dare I say, insulting jargon.
As you can tell, this failure sticks with me still (almost 19 years later).
So as I fast forward to today I have a very different perspective. I have very high expectations of myself and my fellow educators. And I strongly believe that my children’s IEPs are their legal empowerment to get the education they deserve and need. Through explicit dialogue about self-advocacy I teach them to believe this as well.
So if you will indulge me – here is my LOVE list to IEPS
- They are legal documents that offer every child equitable access to public education.
- They are more than “red-tape” or bureaucratic paperwork because they are a paper representation of my child’s path to success and an educator’s commitment to see it through.
- They are an opportunity for educators to show parents, caregivers and students how thoughtful, caring and knowledgeable they can be.
- They can provide students and parents/caregivers with a voice in their educational experience.
- They offer colleagues an authentic opportunity to dialogue about the individual needs of a student and discuss best practices in curriculum implementation, equitable assessment and connecting with families.
- If written well – they make the job of teaching, assessing and reporting EASIER! (Yes – I said that and I mean it!)
- They can be de-stigmatizied and students can use them as the foundation of understanding their learning profile and developing self-advocacy skills.
If you are a parent, caregiver or a student please keep a few things in mind about your IEP:
- It is intended to empower you and build you up – not tear you down.
- Ask questions – lots and lots of questions – there are no bad questions and you can ask them any time throughout the year.
- Make suggestions – you know your child best.
- It is truly a working document that can be revisited and updated throughout the school year.
- It is your legal foundation for your child’s education.
If you are an educator tasked with writing and implementing IEPs for your students please remember:
- The families and children you support may be fragile or angry or afraid.
- You are not expected to know everything – don’t be too hard on yourself.
- You are expected to ask questions. Ask your student, their parents/caregivers, your support teachers, your administration, your fellow teachers. Get help – it does not make you appear weak.
- You are legally obligated to do this well. (Don’t let that scare you)
- Know your documents, including the curriculum expectations and any reports or recommendations contained in a student’s OSR documentation plus any Ministry or board documents that support your work.
These are just a few:
- Growing Success http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/policyfunding/growSuccess.pdf
- The Individual Education Plan http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/general/elemsec/speced/guide/resource/iepresguid.pdf
- Learning For All http://edu.gov.on.ca/eng/general/elemsec/speced/LearningforAll2013.pdf
- Attend yearly updates offered by your school, board or professional organization. The way we wrote IEPs even 5 years ago has changed tremendously.
- Most of all please use the IEP, that you have worked so hard to create, each and every day. Let it guide you, challenge you, support your planning, assessment and communication with learners and their families.
As a parent I need my children and their teachers to love their IEPs as much as I do. I know that this will lead to the most effective, positive educational experience for my child. This will make each school year easier on all of us and what could be more magical than that.