Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Giving parent what they want?

How focused should we be on giving parent what they want?
Part of my job is to fix problem-IEPs.
I also randomly read IEPs in the district and provide feedback.
There are times when I read IEPs that just do not make sense.
Sometimes, it is a good plan, but it was poorly written.
Other times, you just have to scratch your head.

When I pose the question, I try to make it a more professional and supportive version of, "What the hell were you thinking?"

One of the most common responses always start the same way.
"But the parent wanted _____"
"The parent would not agree ________."

When it comes to writing IEPs, I am too simplistic.
I also don't have to deal with compliance audits as much as I handle Due Process Hearings.
I only really care about three things in an IEP.

1. Good, objective evidence on student progress, educational benefit, strengths and needs.

2. A reader-friendly description, using this evidence, of the student's strengths, needs, and parental concerns.

3. Every need has a specific action plan (using the SMART acronym model)  that is reasonably calculated for the student to access educational benefit in the Least Restrictive Environment.
This must include rationale as to why this plan was chosen, and why other alternatives were not.

Most importantly, the IEP needs to be written in such a way that any reasonable reader can understand these three points solely by reading the IEP document.

Think about it.

If the student transfers, the receiving educators should have enough information to start servicing the student.

So we care about what the parents want, but not necessarily directly.
The real difference is in how you go about things.
There is a difference between collaboration with parents versus treating an IEP like a negotiation haggling over the price of a used car.

You say 30 minutes of Speech Therapy.
We want 90 minutes.
Let's call it 60, and we have ourselves a deal!

Not really.
There may be a time for certain compromise.
However, the questions should really be,
What does the evidence suggest the correct balance of direct services should be?
How do we maximize the benefit of direct services while minimizing the impact of time away from class (and, therefore, direct teaching, socialization, and generalization of skills to the natural environment)?

There is not always an easy answer, but it frames the conversation more productively.

Here are the benefits to doing things this way:

1. It will increase the likelihood of a quality IEP that will benefit the student by increasing the likelihood that the IEP effectively covers my three main priorities.
It also facilitates a more scientific, data-driven decision-making process.

2. It produces better collaboration.
In the haggle-model IEP, the parent sees the school staff as the people saying, "No" to their requests.
In this model, we can frame the disagreement.
Do we agree on strengths and needs?
If not, have we all looked at the evidence together?
Is something missing?
Do we agree on the plan?
If not, can you explain why you think the proposed plan would/would not work?

3. Everyone feels empowered.
Haggling is a power-based negotiation.
Whomever has the expertise and/or power will win.

(Car salesman never want you to walk away without a deal.
They don't want the rational part of your brain to regain power, "The salesman needs the deal to earn a paycheck. I need to not waste money on a depreciating asset." versus. "Cool! I want it! Gimme, gimme, gimme!")

In this model, everyone from parent, seasoned-expert, to rookie educator has input.

In the end, we may disagree with details on the plan, but  we can all agree that we are working on a plan to achieve the same goal.

If I have to make a decision, I would rather have disagreement and defend a good plan than have agreement on a bad one.

So in the spirit of full-disclosure, here is how the full conversation usually goes,

What are the student's strengths?
What is the evidence we have on progress or lack thereof?
What is the SMART plan to meet the student's needs?
What is your rationale that this plan will work?
Did you consider ___?
Why would that not be a better plan?
Until you can answer those questions and back it up, I don't care the parents say!
We can discuss their requests once we know what we are doing.


Friday, October 15, 2010

Randomness - Great Advice from Other People

Here are three sets of advice that I would like to share.
Two of them are actually been incorrectly attributed.
I have provided external links for those two.

#1 - Barry Sanders Nike Ad.
I had a copy of this on my door as an undergrad.

Too often we are scared.
Scared of what we might not be able to do.
Scared of what people might think if we tried.
We let our fears stand in the way of our hopes.
We say no when we want to say yes.
We sit quietly when we want to scream.
And we shout with the others,
when we should keep our mouths shut.
After all,
we do only go around once.
There's really no time to be afraid.
So stop.
Try something you've never tried.
Risk it.
Enter a triathlon.
Write a letter to the editor.
Demand a raise.
Call winners at the toughest court.
Throw away your television.
Bicycle across the United States.
Try bobsledding.
Try anything.
Speak out against the designated hitter.
Travel to a country where you don't speak the language.
Patent something.
Call her.
You have nothing to lose
and everything
everything to gain.

#2 - Charles Sykes, incorrectly attributed to Bill Gates.
"Some Rules Kids Won't Learn in School."

This is my cynical counter-balance for when I feel that we have gone too far in protecting kids from life, when we really should be teaching them on how to cope with life and become more resilient.
(Have I mentioned that I like to present in extremes to prove a point?)

#3 - Advice, like youth, probably just wasted on the young.
More commonly known as the "Sunscreen Graduation Speech"
By Mary Schmich of the Chicago Tribune, incorrectly attributed to Kurt Vonnegut.


Monday, October 4, 2010

Random Thoughts on Bullying

I figured that I would give some thoughts on bullying.

It is not just a bandwagon thing for me.
I live and work between two of the towns known for high-profile suicides due to bullying - Acton and Tehachapi, CA.

Enough people have discussed the topic, so I do not want to be repetitive.
I want to offer some thoughts that I have not seen discussed.

I spent two years as a high school Vice-Principal.
Bullying cases were always the toughest to discipline.
In general, I was not involved until way too late in the process.
Too often, things had flared up to a critical level.
Often, the one being referred for discipline was the victim.
Essentially, the victim boiled over to the point where they lost control and things got out of hand.
When a victim throws chair at the head of the bully, they are going to get in trouble.
If I think that the bully provoked the situation, I need proof.
It is rare to get a good third-party witness that allows me to discipline the bully early.

This scenario is for kids that lose control on the bully.
I doubt that it would help the ones that take it out on themselves.

Aside from Cyberbullying (see below), there were only two scenarios when I could effectively discipline bullying.
#1 - Multiple reported incidences. This allowed me to justify a "where there is smoke, there is fire" progressive-discipline penalty.
#2 - I had a good, adult witness reporting the incident.
Otherwise, no evidence = "We told the administrator, but nothing happened!" (or so it seems.)

Zero Tolerance gets a bad rap because of all the press time is monopolized by people who have used Zero Tolerance to a stupid extreme, in the absence of common sense.
However, much like the "broken window" policing method, Zero Tolerance has its place.

Look at cases of Hazing.
Hazing could even be considered a form of institutionalized bullying.
I am willing to bet that, if you researched the literature and studies on hazing, the lowest incidents would not be at institutions that spend the most money on special "anti-hazing education programs."
My bet on where the lowest incidents of hazing: institutions that have adopted Zero Tolerance policies as a result of civil litigation.
Of course, these are probably the institutions forced to invest money in anti-hazing programs.
It is amazing on how, where there is a will, there is a way.

Where is our will?

Zero Tolerance should not just be implemented at the administrative level.
It must be administered at the "Every Adult, Every Incident" level.
Then, Progressive Discipline and Due Process (The two things that protect the bullies being disciplined.) can be navigated to an effective result.
If/when this happens, the issues of disciplining bullying should be significantly decreased.
Again, where there is a will, there is a way.

We need to watch Cyberbullying.
On one hand, it has taken bullying to extremes.
As a Vice-Principal, I had one successful expulsion for bullying - Cyberbullying.
There were two reasons for this.
#1 - It was an extreme case, and I already had one previous documented opportunity of intervention.
#2 - Cyberbullying leaves evidence. This is a minor silver-lining, but a silver-lining nonetheless.

California Education Code allows schools to discipline Cyberbullying, even if it theoretically occurs outside of school.
Therefore, this type of discipline is easy... hit "print" and give to your administrator.
(Also, print proof that "LoCaChIcA", or whomever, is who you claim.
Teenagers rarely use their legal name in email addresses.)

If you live in another state, check to see if your state has a law that clearly allows school discipline for Cyberbullying.

I do not think that the answer is really that complicated.
I really think that it is a matter of will.

Where is our will?