Teacher Evaluation: WHY It Matters and HOW We Can Do Better
An in-depth look...
*Key points from Carol Kosnitsky’s blog post, presented by Laura Materi, Frontline Education.
If asked, special educators can describe a range of characteristics about their students, emphasizing both strengths and needs. However, when asked to self-assess the Individualized Education Programs they’ve written, they often find limited information about their students’ strengths — and a lot of information about student weaknesses. This is an eye-opener for teachers who pride themselves on being effective advocates for their students.
Everyone knows the IEP meeting is taking place because the student has a disability that adversely affects their education. Everyone also knows a student’s strengths can be leveraged to support self-esteem and growth. This knowledge is essential to the development of a high-quality IEP — but this section is skimmed over in many IEPs, leaving vital information on table. This is so wrong for so many reasons:
So, how can we shift from IEPs based on deficits to IEPs based on strengths? Let’s take a lesson from the “transition planning” playbook by engaging each student to consider their strengths, interests and preferences (S-I-P). Why? Because we know that, as students develop self-awareness, they are better able to set goals and determine what is required to achieve those goals. It also allows educators to intentionally use this information to better support the student. If we know this to be true for transition-age students, why not apply this for all students, regardless of age?
To reverse the current trend, cast a wide net to identify student strengths, interests, preferences, personal attributes and personal accomplishments, and consider the various types of strengths we all possess. Let’s look at some examples:
Knowledge of student interests allows teachers to help students make personal connections to the activity at hand. These connections help students sustain their efforts, and often help them persevere through challenges that might otherwise overwhelm them. Think about the child interested in space, who perseveres in reading complex text on the topic even though he struggles with comprehension, or the student who loves sports and can relate it to batting statistics even though he has a math disability.
Knowledge of student preferences allows teachers to create choices for students. Some students prefer to work alone; others are drawn to group work. Some students prefer to read text in hard copy; others prefer reading on a screen. Increasing options for choice-making is an evidenced-based practice that leads to increased engagement in the learning process. For example, a student may be willing to take greater academic risk and delve deeper into a topic when given the choice to make an oral vs. written presentation. That doesn’t mean the student won’t have to demonstrate his writing skills at other times, but if the primary purpose of the task is not about writing, providing choice can be very powerful.
Are your IEPs aligned to State Standards?
A well-written IEP is the product of a well-executed process. Everyone can work toward shifting from deficit-based to strengths-based IEPs.
“Sam frequently misbehaves and is violent.”
“When frustrated, Sam may throw objects or push over his chair.”
Nothing here should be construed as sugar-coating. The IEP process would not be happening at all if the student did not have identified needs and challenges. However, we have opportunities to Tell the Right Story — that this child is complex and has a jagged profile which includes needs as well as assets and talents. How we choose to emphasize, organize and describe them can make a powerful difference.
Developing IEP Goals? Check out core concepts and best practices