My name is Stephen Torres-Esquer, otherwise known as Mr. Stephen, and I am HONORED to be a guest blogger for one of the most influential families in the world of “disability”.
I currently teach a Special Day Program at Lowell High School in San Francisco, California. Beyond that, I have an organization called “The Direction: Ability Advocates”, focusing on creating self-advocacy opportunities and visibility for students with intellectual and neurological differences. I have a Master’s Degree in Special Education, a Specialization Certificate in Deaf-blindness, a California Teaching Credential for Moderate to Severe Disabilities and a PhD in Kardashian Studies.
I’m teaming up with my favorite family in the world of “disability” to provide you with my #TOP10 tips for Inclusion! Let’s Get it Poppin’!
Mr. Stephen’s Top10 Tips For Inclusion
1. INCLUSION IS NOT “1 SIZE FITS ALL”!
It’s easy to get caught up in the hype of “SDC vs. Full Inclusion”, or to blindly follow the recommendations of a professional in the field of education — ESPECIALLY if you’re not an educator! The thing to remember is that every person is unique. Your student deserves to have every opportunity to become as successful as possible in school and beyond! Whether that means 1 period of Integration per day, Full Inclusion or something in between, the decision should be based on the opinions of the entire IEP TEAM!
2. THERE’S NO “I” IN “TEAM”!
Have you ever been to an IEP meeting where the teacher just TELLS you what is best for a student without consulting with other members of the group? There’s a word for people like this: ANNOYING. No matter what your role is (Teacher, Parent, SLP, Psychologist, etc.), it’s obnoxious to have a stinky attitude and, honestly, it’ll get you nowhere. You HAVE TO be at least a little collaborative if you want to accomplish anything as part of a team.
3. BE VISIBLE AND ASSERTIVE, NOT RUDE.
Speaking up, especially if you’re the ONE person with an opposing idea, can be SO hard! However, a closed mouth does not get fed. Odds are that you WILL at some point need to assert your opinion as part of an IEP team. There are so many people who will show up to a meeting, a conference, the school yard, or the principal’s office just WAITING to fight! They have their list of reasons in front of them and they’re ready to let everyone have it! Don’t be this person! Find the way that you feel most comfortable communicating, and COMMUNICATE!
Some people like face-to- face interactions while others prefer phone calls, texts or e-mail. It doesn’t matter how you do it — just don’t forget that your texts and emails will be forever accessible and shareable, so be careful what you put in writing!
4. THIS IS NOT ABOUT YOU.
Literally! (in my Kardashian voice) Adults have a funny way of taking things very personally, and it’s very hard for us to take ourselves out of the equation. While it is very important to have a voice in the planning process, your voice is still one of many. Think of it this way: you are acting as a representative for a very important student, no matter what your role is! This young person’s success depends on your ability to plan, communicate, collaborate and share opinions and ideas. That’s it. You’re not there to claim the Iron Throne, so put your dragons away!
5. BUILD RELATIONSHIPS WITH EVERYBODY!
It’s so important for the parent and case manager to build a relationship, but it shouldn’t stop there. If war were to break out and all you have is ONE ally, you’d be the first to be defeated! I’m not suggesting that you spend a huge chunk of your life getting to know every single person who’s ever interacted with this student, but make it a point to be friendly. Say hello, share some snacks or coffee every once in awhile — make sure that they know your face, and make sure that when they see your face they think good thoughts! This will help you tremendously in the long run, even if war does not break out!
6. KNOW YOUR ROLE!
You might be a parent, you might be a teacher, you might be another service provider…but no matter who you are, you need to understand your role in order to help create successful outcomes. What is your role on a daily basis? What is your role in gathering information and data? What is your role in an IEP meeting? What does it mean to be a part of an IEP team? These are a few of the questions that you should try to answer early on so that you can feel confident every day in supporting this student.
7. KNOW THEIR ROLE, TOO!
I remember when I first started working in Special Education, not really understanding what each person’s role was. At first, it feels like there are a thousand people on the team and it seems like each of their jobs is so complex that you couldn’t possibly understand it. This, however, is not true!
Tip #8 is especially for parents! I believe that it would help you tremendously to find out who is on your child’s team (i.e. Speech Language Pathologist, School Psychologist, Occupational Therapist, etc.) and then find out what each of these people do. You can start with a google search if you’re too embarrassed to ask each person directly, but you should also take the time to find out what each team member is doing with your student on a regular basis!
8. UNDERSTAND THE LAW
You don’t need to go to law school to understand the gist of what your rights are, what the student’s rights are and what your options are if these rights are not being honored. The parent procedural safeguards are not reviewed in detail at every IEP meeting, so if you’re a parent and you need help going through the document, set up a separate appointment or reach out to a local organization that provides support for families of students with disabilities. If you’re an educator, know at least an overview of the history of Special Education Law. Know what you’re required to do so that you can cross your t’s and dot your i’s (and not be sued).
9. DO NOT OVERSTEP BOUNDARIES
It’s important to be respectful of boundaries if you want to be successful. This is important whether you’re a parent dealing with a professional and vice versa, a Special Education teacher dealing with a General Education teacher and vice versa, or any adult dealing with a student. No one enjoys being pushed beyond their personal limits.
10. PROVIDE ONGOING INFORMATION AND SUPPORT
The teacher is not the only person responsible for providing information and data to support the IEP. Each member of the team should contribute, and it’s important to share that information and to provide each other with an appropriate amount of support. Providing a Free and Appropriate Public Education in the Least Restrictive Environment is NOT an easy job! The second that someone (particularly General Educators) feels unsupported, the natural reaction is to become upset and push back. The last thing we want is for someone to say, “Well, I don’t know what to do anymore so I won’t do a damn thing!”