Collaboration of an IEP Team in Special Education
In education, collaboration is being done every day between educators, administrators, and other school personnel. Through collaboration, continuous efforts to combine ideas from multiple resources are made in order to better a student’s education. In special education, collaboration is crucial in order to meet the needs of each student’s specific objectives and goals. As stated in an article by Beth Jones, in 2012, 59% of students with disabilities were spending 80% of their day in a general education setting (U.S. Office of Special Education Services, 2009). Since this number is so high, collaboration between school staff is an essential element so that each member of the IEP is on the same page for the type of instructional accommodations and modifications and the educational curriculum as a whole. During the periods of time when special educators and other personnel (general education teachers, physiologists, speech and language pathologists, and administrators) get together to determine the educational plan for the specific focus learner, every member is actively involved in the meeting by communicating their ideas and feeding off of others’ ideas. Once these specific educational plans are laid out, every member of this meeting will uphold their end of the plan and continuously give progress reports regarding the student’s growth in the learning deficit areas.
Progress reports are updates given quarterly and yearly, typically around the time reports cards are sent home and sometimes more if the situation calls for it, to parents and the committee members on the student’s progress on the goals that were created at the original meeting. These reports are used to determine whether the student will move forward with more challenging objectives, or if the student needs more time with the objectives he or she is currently working on. Collaboration should always be a priority when creating goals and objectives for students and assessing progress; collaboration is even more critical when those progress reports are due to the parents of the students whose education is based off of those specific goals and objectives. From these IEP meetings and progress reports, collaboration happens, and through this collaboration, three essential elements should be consistently incorporated: full commitment from all members, active and meaningful communication, and the appropriate use of time.
When participating in collaborative meetings, those meetings will only be successful if everyone a part of it is fully invested into the task. In an article about collaboration by Jennifer C. Madigan and G Scroth-Cavataio, they state, “Other challenges to effective collaboration include differences between the IEP team members in personality, varying objectives for students, a lack of value for another’s professional status, and inadequate resources and time” (Madigan, Scroth-Cavataio, 2011; Hartas, 2004; Hemmingsson, Gustavsson, & Townsend, 2007). Madigan and Scroth-Cavataio found this information in their research in finding why there are “inconsistencies and misunderstandings between IEP team members” (2011). Having full commitment from each team member will allow for more productive conversations, as well as the upmost belief that this focus learner will be successful from these goals created by the team. As well as being fully committed, each team member needs to be willing to learn about everyone that is a part of the team. Trust needs to be built between members, and that can only happen if each member of the team is willing to work together to find common strengths and weaknesses between each other. If every team member is fully committed to the time obligations and personal work that needs to be put in, then the outcome of the meetings and relay of assessment information will be more beneficial and productive for everyone, including the student.
When an educator or professional is involved in a meeting with an IEP team for a student, the conversation is concentrated on how to help the student be successful in and out of the classroom. These meaningful conversations spark ideas that are created by members that are actively engaged in the discussion. In an IEP team meeting, it is essential that every member has a voice and is actively engaged in the conversation going on. By the end of the meeting, more information will have been shared and built upon when each individual present reveals his or her own thoughts that will better the child’s education in that educator’s or professional’s specific domain. For example, if a general education teacher suspects that certain accommodations aren’t working for the student she would have to communicate this with the special education teacher and together the IEP team will have to figure out a better plan for how to accommodate to the student’s needs (Jones, 2012). In “Fostering Collaboration in Inclusive Settings: The Special Education Students at a Glance Approach,” it states this about monitoring a student’s program as an IEP team, “It is recommended that the special education teacher initiate the type of progress monitoring with the general education teacher, at the same interval that he or she completes the IEP progress reports” (Jones, 2012). By collaborating together and acting as one whole team, the IEP team is more likely to come to a conclusive consensus, while all agreeing with the plan, through trust and meetings that are productive. When teachers and professionals are actively listening to each other, there is more likely a chance that bonds will be created between the members and collaboration between fields will be the highest priority.
Effective IEP teams are all focused on one goal, to place their focus learner in the least restrictive environment while ensuring he or she is guaranteed an appropriate education that meets his or her needs. From this goal, members of an IEP team collaborate multiple times throughout the school year to continually monitor the student’s progress. These times of collaboration wouldn’t happen without the effective use of time and willingness to meet as a group when needed. The appropriate use of time and scheduling is the hardest part of collaboration. Each member of the IEP team has a lot of student’s on his or her caseloads, so finding time for each student can be difficult. Here is where each member of the team must work together to put aside time to focus solely on the specific focus learner. This is especially important during the time of the year that report cards are going home to parents. Each member of the IEP must update the student’s progress through data charts and logs and share this information with other members of the IEP team that are essential to the student’s IEP.
Most of the time, the special education teacher cannot move forward on her additions to the student’s progress reports until the school psychologist and speech and language pathologist have shared their information with him or her. In regards to the trouble with time commitment from these other professionals involved with a student’s progress report, Jennifer Madigan states this, “Because of time constraints, psychologists often perform their assessments independently and do not communicate the result or recommendations with the administrator, the special education teacher, and the other team members until the IEP meeting” (IDEA 2004: Building collaborative partnerships and effective communication between administrators, special and general educators, and multi-disciplinary professionals, 2011).
From the lack of communication and togetherness of a team, it is difficult to effectively collaborate information. In turn, this will lead to unproductive teamwork, and further create divides between members of the IEP team. In order to fix the divide during progress reporting and sharing data, it is crucial for team members to assess in a timely manner and share the assessment conclusions with each other, so that other members of the team are able to do the same.
Collaboration is the key element to ensuring a successful and effective IEP team that works together to create progress reports throughout the school year in a timely manner. From these team members, meaningful communication happens so often that trust is built between each other. With this trust, the IEP team will ultimately succeed in creating a purposeful educational plan for each student by collaborating each other’s ideas and course of action. In her article, “Elevating Relationships: How Collaboration Shapes Teaching and Learning,” Estero Quintero cited information from Carrie R. Leana and Frits K. Phil stating this, “In schools, this research has found that student performance increases dramatically when teacher have frequent and instructionally focused conversations with their peers” (2017). When educators, administrators, and multi-disciplinary professionals collaborate together through meaningful conversations, engaging meetings, and appropriate use of structured time, they are more likely to collectively create an atmosphere that allows for open conversations and, all in all, guarantee the success of every student.
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