In my past two posts, I’ve written about the importance of teamwork and a common IEP team scenario wherein the parents and school district fail to reach agreement on how to address the needs of a child. In the grand spirit of Star Wars, I am going for a trilogy of teamwork-related posts.
This post focuses on when the general education teacher and specialist (you) fail to agree on accommodations and modifications. Unless you’re Darth Vader with the full backing of the Dark Side, you’re going to have to learn how to reach an accord with colleagues.
Time for a Pop Quiz! Answer yes or no:
- Do you tell the general educator what accommodations and modifications a student must receive without asking them for their input?
- If a general educator doesn’t want to provide said accommodation or modification, is your response to inform them that the IEP is a legal document and their refusal risks landing the district, and possibly themselves, in hot water?
If you answered yes these questions, then welcome to the club. I’ve been there, mon frère. I’ve been annoyed and frustrated by my colleagues. Now, let’s take a step back, breathe, and say to ourselves, “I’m not always right.”
Scenario 1: You know what I don’t like? People telling me what I have to do. So why would I do that to anyone else? When I first began working in special education, I just told my fellow educators, “This is what the IEP says the student is supposed to receive.” I felt like I was just trying to help by letting them know what the IEP said, but I never really gave anyone the chance to tell me what they thought about it.
Now, I meet with my fellow teachers at the start of the year (or whenever a new special education student arrives) and give the teacher a heads up on what to expect in terms of ability, such as “he reads at xx level” or “these are some of her best work samples in math.” Then I go into what the previous accommodations and modifications have been, and ask whether these sound like things this teacher can implement in class, or if they have other thoughts on how to best help the student. Sometimes, this discussion leans in favor of my ideas.
Other times, I find myself having to offer new options, such as “If you like the idea, but don’t have the time, how about if I stop by in the afternoon to make sure John has his homework planner filled” or “If you give me the spelling test ahead of time, I’ll create the modified version” or “Are you okay with me teaching them this content when they come see me?” or “How about if I show up in your classroom at that time and do push-in help” or… or… or… You’re better off throwing out too many ideas and asking them to choose than throwing out only one option and saying, “Do this – or else.”
On that note, let’s visit Scenario 2. When I was working on my credentials and conducting classroom observations and interviews, many specialists told me this was the way to achieve general educator acquiescence. Certainly, it’s true: if the teacher refuses an accommodation or modification written in the IEP, there could be legal fallout. Could is the operative word here, though. Just because something can happen doesn’t mean it will, nor that it should. Furthermore, do you really think threatening a colleague is the best way to obtain agreement? It might work, but you’re not doing anything to keep a good working relationship with your colleague, who you will undoubtedly be interacting with down the road with future students.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that you don’t have to always be right. You have to be fair and open minded, which means sometimes your ideas get played out and other times, your good ideas get shelved in favor of someone else’s. And that, in a nutshell, is teamwork.