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Student-Centered Transition Planning

August 29, 2017, The IRIS Center

Kelly Smoak, a special education resource teacher at West Ashley High School in South Carolina, discusses how she involves students in the overall planning for their transitions and about preparing students to be active participants in their IEP meetings (time: 9:14).

Questions asked Ms. Smoak in this audio:

  1. Ms. Smoak, can you describe some of the ways you involve your students in the overall transition planning process?
  2. Many students are either hesitant or feel unprepared to taken an active role in their IEP meetings. Can you tell us some of the specific ways you help them to overcome these feelings and prepare them to take on this type of role?

Kelly Smoak

Kelly Smoak
Teacher, Special Education Resource
West Ashley High School, South Carolina

Transcript: Kelly Smoak

We’re talking today with Kelly Smoak, a special education resource teacher at West Ashely High School in South Carolina (time: 9:15).

Narrator: This interview is brought to you by the IRIS Center, a national center funded by the Office of Special Education Programs.

Ms. Smoak, can you describe some of the ways you involve your students in the overall transition planning process?

It’s super important for students with disabilities, because it gives them a voice. As a teacher, I look at it as a mindset of placing that student first and including them in decision making and equipping them with the skills that they need to prepare themselves for successful independence in their next phase, whatever that phase may be.

All students are involved in planning their transition, and it looks differently based on the age of the student and what their exposure has been prior to coming to my classroom. If they’re in the ninth grade, they may not have had much experience in planning for themselves; however, students that are older in the high school setting, they have more experience and have had more opportunities to learn more about their process and to explore what they plan on doing after they leave high school.

I involve the student right off the bat by giving them a safe environment to voice their interest and their concerns. That is done day one by asking them to begin to explore what they like, what they don’t like, what they want to do in the future, and then branching out with who is around them that can help them in life through high school, helping them to initially identify those supports so that they can begin to build relationships.

It’s vital in the classroom to build that in. You can initially start with questions or activities on the board that may take five to ten minutes, along with some discussion from the students on what their interests are. It’s a great opportunity for the first part of class to get a read on where the students are, what they know about themselves, or what they know about their goals for after high school.

We may take a day out of the week for a semester or for the year, and that may be the transition focus day where we can go into the computer lab and work on the computers. We can set up interviews. We can focus on the student giving them a voice and giving them the confidence that they need.

Some of them come very intimidated and shy, and getting them out and about on campus engaging with their teachers, their administrators, and in the community with business partners, giving them an opportunity to build independence—whether it be going to the administration’s office and having the kids interact with them just as a walking by, how are you doing, shaking hands, looking them in the eye, those kinds of things—build the kids confidence as well as build a relationship and support in the school setting.

Narrator: Many students are either hesitant or feel unprepared to taken an active role in their IEP meetings. Can you tell us some of the specific ways you help them to overcome these feelings and prepare them to take on this type of role?

I may have students that range from ninth grade to twelfth grade, so each one may look a little bit different and it’s tailored for that student. But their involvement is constantly being built, and we’re always wanting to take it to the next level for them.

It can look as simple as one coming in and feeling ready to introduce the team members and talk with the team members about themselves. A support for that is having them come in at the beginning and know who is a part of their IEP team. It’s one of the first activities at the beginning of the year.

It’s a great way for them to identify who their supports are and identify who their team members are. Then we go around and we meet those team members and engage with them. And then I’ll have them email those team members. They email their teachers. They email their administrator, just beginning to build that relationship, so that when they enter the IEP meeting they feel comfortable with the people that are on their team. Then they begin to feel comfortable making those introductions.

It can be as simple as moving forward with more involvement explaining and presenting to the team their interest and their present levels. I support that in the classroom by giving them an opportunity to work on that and taking the assessments that we may have done or interest inventory, creating slides, or creating something as simple as bullet points if they feel comfortable going in with an index card. Or some of them like to have a slide show. They may have some video clips or some pictures of things that display what they’re interested in and what they want for themselves in the future, and they present it in the IEP meeting. Some students have had more experience in their IEP meetings, so they may be at a point where they’re now helping to develop their goals, talking about where they are academically, and where they want to be, and what their plans are for after school, and what goals might be appropriate. It really just depends on each student and where they are in the process and where they are individually.

If you go into it with the thought that you’re wanting to take these children and give them the independence that they need to be successful, when they leave then you can’t always be in charge. You have to take a step back. Give them the tools that they need and give them encouragement and support from behind rather than constantly being the leader in the front, taking charge and clearing the path. I just feel when you think that way it kind of comes natural in your planning. What do you want them to be able to do independently?

I’d like for them to independently have a voice in their IEP meeting and take charge. Well, how are you going to get them to that point? Well, they’ve got to know about their IEP first, and then you’ve got to get them comfortable talking because so many of these kids are so intimidated, and it can be a very intimidating process. Breaking down those barriers and those walls and making them feel comfortable in those settings is the first step to really give them that voice and that independence. And I feel like once that starts then it just kind of becomes natural.

And you just see opportunities throughout the school day. If you’re walking by the assistant principal’s office who is their LEA, pop in and give the kids an opportunity to shake their hands, talk to them about their day, or if they’ve had a success, or they’ve done really well on a test, or they’ve got a job interview coming up. If you’re having them engage with those other adults, I think it really helps them to speak with those adults in an appropriate manner that helps them understand, “I can communicate. I can have a voice. I can explain to this team what I want in the future or where I am.” Maybe they’ve had a difficult time in school, or they have had a tough time with some behaviors, or they’ve had some setbacks. When they have a voice, they begin to take ownership of themselves, their actions, their outcomes, and that’s when I feel like you can really start to get somewhere with making a difference with them. It’s having them accept that responsibility.

Narrator: Thank you for listening to this episode of the IRIS Center podcast. For more information about the IRIS Center and its resources, visit us at [].

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