Creating a Sense of Ownership in the IEP Process

Article excerpt

Mark has just been identified with severe emotional disturbance. His parents are only vaguely familiar with a program in their local public school. Mark is moving from his home school to a school that has a unit for students who have been identified with a severe behavior disability. Mark's parents are afraid that the adults involved in his education will have a tendency to focus on the negative aspects of their child. Teachers and the administrative staff at Mark's new school have no experience with Mark, though they have read the multifactored evaluation in the past week.

Several people are present at the team meeting that will write Mark's individualized education program (IEP): the student, several educators from the home school, student advocates, Mark's parents, and the new school personnel. What is the most effective way to create a sense of ownership on the part of all who have gathered? How can this student, who has been identified with a specific learning challenge, become an authentic participant in writing this document?

Everyone on the IEP team is a significant stakeholder in the process. Often the person with the most interest in the IEP process-the student-is the last to realize it. The student, the primary consumer of our product, is the bottom line. The IEP is a useless document unless the student buys it (see boxes, "Student Impressions" and "A Parent's View").

The Visual Tool: A Chalkboard

At one point in another child's IEP team meeting, the team was at loggerheads and unable to agree on a single goal or objective. The parents weren't confident that the teachers and administrators had the child's best interest as a priority. The parents rejected draft after draft of the IEP and sent them back unsigned. Then, gathering the entire team, including the young child, we used a visual process: writing the IEP on the chalkboard. This simple, low-tech method allowed us to reach consensus on virtually every point in the IEP. The learner, a younger child, was only able to participate in spurts, yet he was there (see boxes, "A Teacher's Experience" and "Learner Present").

An Open-Ended and Flexible Process

Using the chalkboard was only a part of a broader strategy to encourage participation of everyone on the IEP team. To facilitate ownership, especially by the student, we needed to make the IEP writing process open-ended and flexible. This flexibility would allow the gathered team to compose the goals and objectives together.

To keep the process positive, we needed to be anchored by our vision for the learner (see Figures 1-5). From our vision, the team could prioritize needs and challenges. After a process of analysis, the goals and objectives appear to write themselves. Here are the steps that we developed as we refined our IEP teamwork over several years:

Following the introductions of all the people present, the facilitator describes the format to be used for the IEP meeting with a reasonable time frame (sets the stage).

The facilitator polls the team members to verify that everyone present can accommodate the time frame and clearly understands the process. (Now everyone visibly relaxes, because they have a game plan.)

Beginning with the list of strengths and gifts establishes the positive intent of the IEP process and the team. (Those who had not previously known the student have an opportunity to become better acquainted with the learner. It is a refreshing opportunity for the child and the parents to refocus on the positive.) (See box, "The Case Manager's Role.")

The open-ended listing of the child's strengths affords the opportunity for additions during this meeting and future meetings.

The use of the chalkboard directs the focus away from the individual members of the group and quickly engages everyone into contributing as the facilitator records, always questioning and paraphrasing for clarification. …