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

By Espiner, Deborah; Guild, Diane | Teaching Exceptional Children, May/June 2012 | Go to article overview

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


Espiner, Deborah, Guild, Diane, Teaching Exceptional Children


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

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

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

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.

Engage

Dana's Preparation Meeting

Dana and her teacher met before the planning meeting to review Dana's progress and prepare for the meeting. They discussed the purpose of and procedure for the 3EPlan meeting; the four elements of the Circle of Courage; and Dana's strengths, dreams, needs, and possible goals. In addition, Dana nominated whom she would like to have join them for her planning meeting: her mother, her residential caregiver, and the transition coordinator.

The Planning Room

The room where Dana's meeting was to be held was selected for its accessibility, privacy, and suitability. An individualized chart (Figure 2) listing the four elements of the Circle of Courage (i.e., belonging, mastery, independence, generosity) hung on the wall; Dana's name and photograph on the chart would provide the focus for the meeting. Comfortable chairs of the same height in a semicircle enabled participants to see one another and to view the evolving chart. …

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