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Growing Student Ownership of Their Individualized Education Plans

Growing Student Ownership of Their Individualized Education Plans

In my experience as a special education teacher, one of the most peculiar things I encountered was the student who did not know that they had an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). These students may have recognized that their experiences were a bit different than others, but they may not have realized that attending more small groups than their peers was not the only strategy used to help them learn.

In my opinion, this breakdown in our special education system and adults supporting the student is a serious omission. Helping students understand their current abilities and their future goals is huge. The point of this article is to show the importance of students being aware of their own progress, the goals in their IEP, and how the team wants the student to achieve their goals.

This is where my book, The Expectations Behavior Management System, offers teachers a blueprint for helping students understand the content of their IEP’s and, even more importantly, their goals. The first 2-3 weeks is a time to get to know one another, establish the beginning of relationships, and practice norms. After this initial period, one of the first lessons taught in their Social Skills time is that they have an IEP and most importantly they have a goal.

The Expectations Behavior Management System approaches this task in a very straight forward manner using a worksheet that is manipulated by both the case manager and the student. In the first lesson, the case manager and student have a conversation defining a goal and why it’s important to have one. Many of our special education students who struggle with behaviors need to know that the teachers, paraprofessionals, and administrators who work with them want them to succeed and make strides towards their goal. The overall purpose of this lesson is to have students read their IEP goal, understand it, and then put it into words that make sense to them.

In the Worksheet pictured below the process starts by having the case manager first copy and paste the student’s goals and objectives onto the worksheet. This worksheet, like many others offered in the Expectations Behavior Management System, can be downloaded and edited by the teacher.

One of the first outcomes of this assignment actually impacts the teacher. When copying and pasting the student’s goals and objectives, the case manager is reviewing what is written in the IEP. We as special education case managers and teachers often use language that is not understood by those outside of the teaching and education profession. It should be our goal to make the IEP goals and objectives understood by all involved, IEP team members, case managers, teachers, parents, and especially the students.

The second part of this worksheet is where the magic happens!  In this part of the activity, the student is asked to read their goal and objectives and to re-write them using their own words. The lesson plan provided in the Expectations Behavior Management System guides teachers to have honest conversations with their students. They discuss the struggles they face on a daily and weekly basis and how this goal was created to help them positively overcome these struggles. Then the case manager and student review what the student thinks the goal means. The case manager asks the most important question of the student, “Do you think this goal is realistic? Do you think you can reach it?” If the answer is “yes”, then the team has their starting point to begin the year focused on the student reaching their goal!

This lesson promotes student understanding of their IEP, encourages collaboration with student and case manager, and stresses to the student the importance of having a goal. The next several lessons in the Expectations Behavior Management System has the student complete activities that will set them up for further self-reflection and create strategies that the student can utilize to help them reach their goal.

The purpose of this lesson is to engage students in their educational journey. It encourages and empowers students to begin making choices that will help them become the best version of themselves when they understand and have a goal to attain. When students reach their goals, it is a powerful moment for both themselves and the staff who work with them. Students who continually raise their abilities to reach their goals will become strong, independent people who can overcome obstacles. This is what every educator wants for their students.

To have free access to the worksheet, please click the following link: 

Free Access