Monday, May 28, 2012

It Takes a Village

 We talk about the idea of “community” often in education.  But what is that really?  The word “community” has its roots in Latin (communitas) and is defined as a social group of any size who share common goals and values.  Educators create a feeling of community within their classrooms by having their students develop the ground rules for the group.  Community fits in nicely with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.  A sense of belonging to the group is closely tied to self-confidence, achievement, and mutual respect.   But “community” within Special Education doesn’t stop there.
Just like everyone else, students with disabilities are parts of several different communities. And because of these students’ very existence, more communities are created.  Where it is more important to have a sense of community than at an IEP meeting?  Where it is more important to share goals, values, mutual respect, and celebrate achievement than with the families of children with disabilities? 
As educators, we’re pretty good at creating a sense of belonging with our students.  But with our families, it’s much harder.  Finding common ground, sharing agreed-upon expectations, and demonstrating mutual respect is no simple thing.  Compound the variables with the diversity of cultures in our schools and we find that creating community gets harder.
Module 6: Developing Community provides an opportunity for education team members to develop and discuss creative ways to engage parents, value the contributions of all team members, and work toward consensus and mutual support.  It’s not easy; but it’s absolutely worth it.  Take a look at how PLC Consultants supports these efforts through its own online professional learning community.

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Inclusive Classroom

Most everybody agrees with the idea of inclusion, but not everyone agrees on what inclusion looks like or how it’s implemented.  Research bears this out: most teachers believe inclusion is a good thing for students with disabilities; AND most teachers feel they lack the skills, support, or materials to make inclusion work in their classroom.
Many of us point to what we cannot change: staffing levels, equipment availability, improved facilities (“if only we had more fill in the blank”).  So we’re forced to think creatively in order to get kids with disabilities actively involved in the learning.  That likely means we need to change things up.  Universal Design for Learning (UDL) constructs suggest that we can change three things: (1) how we turn students on to the learning (engagement and motivation); (2) how we present the information (instruction); and (3) how students show what they know (expression).
But that’s not always easy.  Some of us thrive in a classroom of “controlled chaos” where students are participating in a variety of activities simultaneously.  Others prefer what appears to be a more structured approach.  If we are to include children with disabilities in our classroom and we are expecting them to do more than just be a physical presence, we need to stretch our imaginations and our boundaries. And maybe we need to be willing to take risks, fail, and try again.

Developing a truly inclusive classroom is hard work.  But others have done it successfully and we can too.  There’s no reason to reinvent the wheel when we have our collective expertise and creativity to rely on and to share.  PLC Consultants’ Module 5: The Inclusive Classroom provides the vehicle for ongoing, meaningful, and productive collaboration in a secure environment where sharing successes AND failures are an important part of the learning process.  Take a look.

Monday, May 14, 2012


Writing a cogent, comprehensive, and understandable IEP is tough.  Even with a standardized format, goal banks, and computerized writing tools, writing an IEP can daunting for even long-experienced folks.  Sandwiched between basic information on the first page and everyone’s signatures on the back page are the student’s profile and his specially designed goals and objectives. 
Most departments of education and most school districts get pretty nit-picky about goal-writing.  Each goal needs to identify several components:  (1) who (2) will do what (3) to what degree (4) under what conditions (5) for how long?  And (6) how will you know? To confound goal-writing even more, we have to make sure our goals are SMART; that is, Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound.  And let’s not forget that the goals have to be tied to the curriculum standards.
If you, your colleagues, or your staff suffers from some level of IEP-Writing Phobia, or you just want to develop more confidence and competence in writing defensible IEPs, PLC Consultants offers a learning module where real practice leads to real results through online support and collaborative learning.  Take a look.

Monday, May 7, 2012

The IEP Chore

IEPs are time-consuming and a chore to write.  We second-guess ourselves: Should this be worded differently? Is the profile going to pass my Special Ed Director’s critical eye? Where am I supposed to put sensitive information?  Do all my dates line up so that I’m in compliance with all the state and federal mandates? Who will visit me in IEP jail?
The writers of the IEP aren’t the only ones who worry. The readers and implementers fret about what they are (being) committed to, how they have to collect data, and under what circumstances things can change.  Knowing that the IEP is a legally-binding document between the school and the family doesn’t make the whole process any less stressful.
Of particular concern for regular classroom teachers is their role.  As educational team members, they should be providing for information about what goes into the education plan, but often they nod in silent agreement, deferring to the special ed teacher.  That’s understandable, but it makes it hard for the teacher to feel invested in the process or the outcomes. 
Within the IEP itself, we are forced to ask ourselves hard questions. What kinds of supports, accommodations, or modifications are necessary and for what purpose? Have we considered the need for any assistive technology?  We are going to struggle with the answers if we aren’t sure exactly what the differences are among all of these terms.  That, in turn, erodes our confidence and makes us want to  say, “Just tell me what to do and I’ll do it.”  Unfortunately, that’s not how the process works.
If you are one of the many teachers or administrators who aren’t sure about all this IEP writing stuff and what it means to be committed to the plan, take a look at Module 3: IEP Boot Camp I.  You’ll find opportunities to share your anxieties AND your expertise through this online professional learning community.