Every career has its own form of “rush week,” the period of time where everyone is scrambling around, feeling overwhelmed, and wondering if they have any stress leave left. For us, I think IEPs could easily be just that… the period when there isn't enough time to even glance at the clock to realize how little time you have left to get everything done. I try to take a hint from the seasoned veterans who make the whole IEP process look like just another daily routine. I try to remain professional, calm, and collected, but honestly I've been a complete and utter wreck these past two weeks.
It's not that the IEP process is necessarily that hard. It's really as hard as you decide it's going to be. Before now I had them strewn throughout the year whenever they were due for each child, but at my new school they designate two weeks at the beginning of the year for you get your annual IEPs finished.
You know how some people function better under pressure or seem to get more done when they have an absolutely packed schedule? I am most definitely not one of them, but this experience made me focus my attention and efforts in a new way. When you do things quickly, you don't want to do them sloppily (especially when you are a new hire, like me), so I just paid more attention to detail . . . and really began to question the whole process altogether.
How do we choose goals? Is it primarily from testing results? Do we just look at the progress students have made on their old goals and decide to either discontinue or take them one step further? It seems like such an obvious question, but it made me wonder if I could have done more with past goals to support the child's curriculum and really develop a skill that, once mastered, would help him get a leg up on his academics as a whole.
Goals are supposed to help students progress toward their grade-level standards and build necessary skills. But I think that in the rush of the whole evaluating/writing process, sometimes the goals become the main course of the student's school career rather than merely ingredients that play into a greater curriculum.
About a year ago, I volunteered at a special education school for a few days. Part of my job was to help the students work toward their goals, which they did on a daily basis. I remember one student in particular who had a goal of tracing various wagon trails heading west. Now, in his grade level, understanding the westward movement was something that was being taught and so I can see why his teacher felt this goal was appropriate.
But for this student and from what I came to understand, his whole “chunk” of that lesson was merely to trace the trails every single day. He wasn't being tested on the history of it or whether or not he comprehended why there even was a westward movement. As long as he could trace where the trails were, he would meet his goal — and there you'd have it, another successful IEP.
But really? How did that help him in the long run? I wondered what academic subjects were being enhanced by his new ability to trace lines from left to right. If his original teacher expected more of him, would he have been able to work toward that new expectancy and meet it?
Another year, I had a student come to me with 28 goals. Twenty…eight…goals. The student needed full assistance and step-by-step prompting to simply pick up a pencil, and they wanted me to touch on 28 goals daily? I thought they were nuts, and by “they” I mean whoever got together and decided that baby steps were old-fashioned.
I held an addendum and brought the goal list down to seven while keeping most of the original IEP skill sets intact. That way I could at least work them into the daily schedule. Even if the 28 goals were all things that the student absolutely needed to work on, overwhelming him (and his new teacher) wasn't going to help him progress.
I guess what I'm getting at is that goals are not “one size fits all,” and that if you don't keep the larger curriculum and lessons in mind, giving a student even 40 goals isn't really going to help her progress meaningfully. I wonder if there were times I assigned goals because I knew the students could do them and I wanted them to be successful. I was thinking of something they could do, not something they need to be able to do in order to be successful at other school tasks.
This year I stopped looking at the IEP process as “setting goals” and started referring to it as “building skills.” It puts a different spin on some of the choices when you think, “This year, I am going to build these five skills that will help students in these ways: _______.”
I highly recommend thinking of the IEP process in this way. Once the student has the skill, build upon it or work on a skill that utilizes the first and enhances it. Think of all the skills our students would have under their belts after a couple years, rather than just goals they've met along their journey through the grades.
It's just an idea; you could still stick to goals. The most important thing is that the goals we write are meaningful, relevant to the student's ability level, and things they can use and will need long after the goal itself is discontinued.