Two football teams are getting ready to play each other. Just before the game begins the referee calls both coaches over, talks to them, and sends them back to their respective teams. Right after the coaches return, the starting quarterback from each team switches sides.
The coach of Team A tells his guys they have to play this quarterback and make him part of the team. That the referee will be checking in periodically to ensure that the QB is involved and getting progress reports on the results. The remaining members of the team start grumbling.
When Team B’s QB arrives, he is told to stand in a certain spot and then the team starts the huddle. The players are speaking English, but the names of plays and players are foreign.
The QB tries to interject some of his expertise but he is told that isn’t how this team does things, the resources for what he is suggesting are not available or not valid to ask for, when he asks questions for clarification about the plays and is given the answers it is with eye rolls and sighs, when he asks for more clarification on a few things, it is explained the exact same way it was before. Once or twice one of the players tries to take extra time and help the QB, but their teammates and coach gave them such grief, they stopped. They were fearing they wouldn’t get play time or worse, get kicked off the team. This continues throughout the entire game.
Team B’s QB is in all the huddles, is on the field for the plays, and the team makes small gains and managed one touchdown by the end of the game.
When the referee asks the players if the QB is part of the team, they all say yes...except the QB.
Now, Team B’s coach tells his guys they are getting a new player who has lots of expertise and who will be a great asset to the team. The coach is the first one to welcome the QB and the rest of the team welcomes him as well, invites him to sit/stand where he wants, tells him they are glad he is there and they are looking forward to working with him. They start their huddle and as they go over the plays, they make sure Team A’s QB is understanding the names, understanding the plays, and they ask him for his input.
When he gives input that doesn’t exactly align with how they were going to run the play or requires resources they don’t immediately have, they work together and try to find a way. Sometimes it still isn’t possible after collaborating but they don’t let that stop them from continuing to work together on all the other plays. The players are encouraged by the coach to help the QB during the game and be open to his input. This continues throughout the game.
Team A’s QB participates in all the huddles, runs the plays with his new teammates, and the team makes major gains down the field and scores several touchdowns.
When the referee asks the players if the QB is part of the team, it is the QB who speaks the loudest when the team replies YES.
If you were the QB, which team would you want to be on? Everyone I have asked this question, chooses to be on Team B.
While I have never witnessed this happening to sports teams, I have witnessed it happening to a very important team. I have attended hundreds of Individualized Education Program (IEP) meetings, spoken with even more parents whose meetings I haven't attended, and I can count on one hand the number of teams like team B.
In 1975, the federal government (the referee in my story) told public schools they had to educate ALL children, regardless of the child's ability level. Public Law 94-142 (Education for ALL Handicapped Children Act) guaranteed a free, appropriate public education to each child with a disability in every state and locality across the country. This meant that schools had to allow access for students to the general education curriculum their peers were given access too. Access, not instruction.
In the 1990's, the federal government told the public schools not only did they have to give access to all students, they were now making them legally responsible for educating all students. The government also told public schools that education was to have marked results. Meaning, the students were supposed to have high expectations placed upon their learning. The name of the law changed from Education of Handicapped Children to Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
The last time the full law was reauthorized was in 2004. At that time, schools were told they were responsible for having highly qualified teachers teach all subjects, grade levels, and students. The law also added that all children with disabilities have available to them a free appropriate public education that emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for further education, employment, and independent living.
Prior to 2004, schools were only responsible for what happened with the students during the school day. Therapies focused on necessary school related skills prior to this change. Social work or counselors had only been used for problems that were happening at school. Behavior skills were only taught or addressed for behaviors that were seen at school. This update in 2004 changed all of that. Schools are now responsible for a great deal more for their students who are found eligible for an IEP.
Many administrators took the stance of the coach from Team A, many teachers behaved like the players on Team A and sadly it seems the majority still have that approach. Rather than a "get too" many schools seem to approach the special education process as "have too." Due to this attitude by school admin and staff, parents (the quarterback) feel very unwelcome at IEP meetings. Parents have a right to be an equal member of the IEP team and have meaningful participation at the meetings, however almost all parents I speak too do not feel this happens.
Way too many times, when I attend my first meeting with a parent and their child's IEP team, I hear the school say the parent has been an equal member prior to my arrival. However, the parent hasn't felt that way. Even though the parent may have attended every IEP meeting and possibly even spoken at a few of them that doesn't make them equal. Attending a meeting does not equal participation in the development. If that were the case, every person who ever attended a movie could be considered part of the development team.
Schools, in order for parents to feel equal and part of the team, I've been told they want to participate in developing the IEP, not be rushed (no time limit set for meetings), have their feelings and desires added in completion (not a summary) to the Parent Concern section, have their thoughts truly considered, be asked what has worked for their child in the past, had things explained to them in a way they understand, have all acronyms and educator speak explained, get progress reports with the data collected to write the summary on the progress report, and not be made to feel they are an intrusion to an already developed team.
What strikes me when I attend the meetings for the first time is that most schools truly believe the parent HAS been equal because they were at the meetings. When the parent was asked if she or he had any questions, they often don't say anything so the school team thinks the parents understand and are on board. Parents, you can help yourselves at these meetings if you come prepared with a list of questions or items you want clarified. You can request a draft copy of the IEP if your state doesn't already require one. You can bring someone with you to help you remember your questions and to help keep you focused and calm. You can and should converse with team members before the meeting so you are up to date as much as possible.
Educators, it is important to realize and remember the parent didn't ask for their child to be eligible for special education services any more than the school asked to have their child in class. In fact, the parents probably desire even more than the school that their child not have a need to have an IEP.
Parents and educators, I have developed a checklist that you can use to facilitate more collaborative and team building IEP meetings.
Parents go to www.shelleykenow.com/parentchecklist to get your copy today.
Educators go to www.shelleykenow.com/educatorchecklist to get your copy today.
We can work together to make all teams like Team B and make many touchdowns for our students. Let's work together to make the world better for all, one IEP at a time.
Shelley Kenow is an independent special education consultant and Master IEP Coach®. You can follow her on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube, or join her Facebook group. She can be found twice a week on YouTube with her shows #nolimits on which she interviews people who have had limits placed upon them but who have busted through those limits or Friday with Fran. Both of these shows air at 1 PM Central time. Shelley is also the author of Those Who "Can't..." Teach: True Stories of Special Needs Families to Promote Acceptance, Inclusion, and Empathy. which can purchased through her website, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Walmart.com, etc