As educators, we learn early on in our careers to take students where they are and attempt to move them to the highest level they can achieve. This is true of all of our students regardless of where they start out with us. Needless to say, some students are like sponges and soak up everything we throw at them. There are others that are more challenging and require us to continuously encourage them to learn the concepts set before them. Then, of course, we do have students that have legitimate challenges that can only be met by collaboration of all of the stakeholders in the student’s life. These stakeholders, to name a few, are: the student, certified teachers — both regular education and special needs — counselors, administrators, and the parents or guardians. This is not an exhaustive list by any means, and each student might or might not have additional stakeholders that are important to meet their educational needs. In fact, some special needs students also need medical personnel to help out in establishing the best educational approach for them.
What is an Individualized Education Program? (IEP)
An IEP is an individualized education program for students that have been determined to have special needs. An IEP should be a well organized plan of action for special needs students that when followed correctly gives the best opportunity for the student to be successful. This plan should include areas in which the student has needs and address a course of action to meet those needs. The IEP is written to help the student thrive and grow in the least restrictive environment possible. The initial IEP should be written very carefully and every attempt made to address all areas of concern. It is imperative that all stakeholders in the student’s life be an active member in the development of the student’s IEP.
Establish an IEP Team
As stated earlier, all stakeholders, like teachers, admins, and parents or guardians, should be a part of the establishment of an IEP. Other individuals can be a part of the team as well as the need arises. Examples of additional team members could be: outside behavioral counselors, medical professionals, and even law enforcement if there is a need. The overall theme here is whoever can contribute to and play a role in the student’s success needs to be on this team. The opportunity for success for the student begins with this team and the establishment of a great IEP.
Collaboration with Parents
Parental or guardian involvement with all students is essential in the development of a student in all aspects of their life including their education. This is no less true for IEP students than regular education students. It is imperative that the parents or guardians be involved from the first assessment, determining a student’s eligibility and implementation of a carefully designed IEP. Parents and guardians often offer insights into their child that we might not be aware of. These insights can be very important in developing the student’s IEP. The most important aspect of collaborating with parents though is the support of the plan we all put together. Having positive parent or guardian support with the student pursuant to their IEP is essential. They are an important cog in the IEP team wheel. If we can have them supporting us, then we stand a great chance of the student totally “buying in” as well. We should always remember that we are to educate the IEP student in the “least restrictive environment”. The parent or guardian can be very beneficial to this process by helping the student to feel comfortable in their new educational experience. We as educators must positively reinforce that parent or guardian, who in turn will positively reinforce the student again to “buy in” to the process.
Exercise Leadership and Accept Responsibility
The principal is the leader of their building and this includes development implementation and evaluation of the special needs program in their school. With this in mind, the principal must strive to put together the best possible team for the student to ensure their educational needs are being met. The principal as leader must empower their special needs staff to evaluate and develop a good working IEP for each special needs student. Delegation of these duties is imperative to get the proper pieces of the IEP puzzle in place. The principal is responsible for making sure that IEPs are being followed not only by the special needs teachers, but also the regular education teachers. Special needs teachers and regular education teachers should work in conjunction with each other to ensure the student is progressing at their best possible rate of growth. It is also the responsibility of the principal to observe, own, and take measures to correct anything that is not being done as it should be. The principal should be visible and bold to approach stakeholders and hold them accountable for all aspects of implementation of a student’s IEP.
IEP Students are Students First
It is of the utmost importance that we see our students with IEPs as students entrusted to us for their education. Just because a student has an IEP doesn’t make them any less a valuable part of our school as any other student. All students learn differently and each deserves the best we can give them each and every day. Let’s embrace them all, for they are “ours”!