Capturing What Matters Most: Engaging Students and Their Families in Educational Planning

Article excerpt

Many authors in the self-determination literature emphasize that students must be given every opportunity to be part of the decision making that impacts their lives. Students with high support needs are often not afforded this opportunity. The 3EPlan, a student-centered educational planning strategy, promotes culturally appropriate engagement and inclusion of all participants. The three Es of the process relate to the fundamental elements of student-centered planning: engage, envisage, and enact. Students and their support team work together to develop a vision for the student's future learning and identify supports that provide the student and the team the courage to enact the plan. Using this approach enables students to identify and express personal dreams and be actively involved in developing goals that reflect their choices.

The 3EPlan combines the Circle of Courage philosophy (Brendtro, Brokenleg, & Van Bockern, 2002; see box, "What Is the Circle of Courage?") with the technique of graphic facilitation (Sibbet, 1977; see box, "What Is Graphic Facilitation?"). The Circle of Courage philosophy (Brendtro et al., 2002) identifies four elements necessary for positive development: belonging, mastery, independence, and generosity. Graphic facilitation is an effective way of gathering information and guiding discussion through combining words and simple graphics, developing a visual language that is easily understood and remembered (Horn, 1998). Figure 1 describes the three essential Es of the planning process: engage, envisage, and enact. The practical skills of facilitation and graphic recording underpin each of these stages.

Introducing Three Students

We facilitated the 3EPlan process with three students. Pere, MaUa, and Dana were attending a school in New Zealand that supports students between the ages of 5 and 21 who have a very high level of special needs. New Zealand adopts a noncategorical approach to disability, defining disability in relation to student need. A student with very high needs may require significant curriculum adaptations and support from specialist staff, additional teaching time, and instructional aide support. These needs are likely to remain high or very high throughout their schooling and may be in the areas of learning, vision, hearing, mobility, or language use and social communication (New Zealand Ministry of Education, 2012).


Pere was a 12-year-old Samoan boy. He lived at home with his parents, five siblings, and his paternal grandmother. Pere attended one of the school's satellite classes at a general education intermediate (Grades 7 and 8) school. Pere's mother, teacher, teacher aide, and speech language therapist also participated in his planning meeting.


Malia was 10 years old and lived with her mother and father. She was in one of the classes for students with very high needs at the specialized school. Because the family had recently moved to New Zealand from Samoa, there was no family support and they had not yet established community networks. Malia 's mother and teacher participated in her planning meeting.


Dana was 18 years old and during the school week lived with three other students from the school in a house coordinated by a disability support service; she returned home most weekends. She attended the specialized school in a class that provides a transition program for students in their last 3 years of schooling. Dana's caregiver from the support service and her mother participated in the meeting, along with her teacher.

Dana's experience was selected as a case study as it clearly demonstrates the approach and the process. While Dana is a unique young woman, she shared many of the attributes of other young people at the school and has significant behaviors that people who interact with her find challenging.


Dana's Preparation Meeting

Dana and her teacher met before the planning meeting to review Dana's progress and prepare for the meeting. …