“What experience do you have teaching self-advocacy skills? Were you surprised by how little students and parents knew about a disability?”
First let me say, that if you haven’t read his blog, please check it out! Every time he posts something, he really inspires me!
I always believed that self advocacy was vital for my students to face the future. I taught high school so I may have been more candid with my students than teachers of other levels would be. At first, many of my students denied having a disability. They believed they were in my class because they were bad and if they were good, they could go back to general education classes. It was at this point that I explained the whole process of identification and testing. Many parents didn’t even understand this process and believed that their child was just lazy or stupid.
I would start off the year by talking to my students about the word disability. I have mentioned this before but I draw a car driving along a road on the board. Then I erase part of the road and tell the students they are like the car. Due to their disability (whatever kind they have), the road is out and they have to find the detour. They will end up at the destination like other students but the journey may be rough, bumpy, and even take longer. This does not mean there is anything wrong with the car (or the student) and we need to make sure the car stays in good shape for the ride. My job is to help them find the right detour and help them along the way. Students seem to understand this explanation and even feel better about themselves. At the end of the year, I’ve had parents tell me that their child has explained their disability to them and relatives in the same way. By doing this, I’m giving them a tool to help them talk to others about their disability.
Next we look at the individual IEPs. I go over the sections with them and explain the sections. I don’t talk about each person’s specific information. At a later time, I meet with them individually to discuss the IEP and answer any questions they may have. When I have IEP meetings, I want the student to be able to understand what we are talking about and give input if needed. Since this is about that student, I want them to feel like they have some control over decisions that affect them. Giving input is something they are able to control.
Every 4 weeks, I review the IEP and update goals if needed. I review this with the student and send a report home. This helps the student see that this is a working document. If any changes need to be made, they can be done quickly so the student can be helped in the best way possible.
I have had some students even offer to talk to other classes about their disability and how it affects them. We discuss how peers make fun of them out of ignorance and fear. By talking about this, it takes the unknown and fears out of the equation and actually helps others be more tolerant.
At the end of the year, the students run their own annual IEP meeting. A powerpoint presentation is made for each section of the IEP. At first it is scary but we practice a lot in the classroom. They work in teams of 2 when they practice and then practice in front of the class. They don’t have to give the private specific information during these practice sessions. At the beginning of the meeting, the student introduces each participant and then begins the presentation. The student talks about the information given in each section and refers to me when I need to talk about a section. At the end of the presentation, the floor is open for comments and questions. It is amazing how empowering this is for the student!
Image: 'Day 167/365 - The long way "round'