Who is responsible for helping students with disabilities connect to the supports they need after high school?
Page 2: Transition Coordinators
A number of individuals take part in the secondary transition planning process, some of whom come from agencies other than the school. To begin, it is important to understand who coordinates the transition planning process in the school setting.
Identifying a Transition Coordinator
Some high schools or districts have seen a growing trend toward staffing a transition coordinator, often called a transition specialist. These educational personnel are primarily concerned with coordinating transition services for the school or district by establishing relationships with personnel from outside agencies who are involved in the transition process. The responsibilities of the transition coordinator generally include:
- Providing information and training to secondary special education teachers
- Assisting in the development of the IEP
- Establishing networks of support for families and students
- Developing and sustaining collaborative relationships with outside agencies (e.g., vocational rehabilitation agency [VR]) and service providers
vocational rehabilitation agency (VR)
A federal-state agency that assists people with disabilities obtaining or sustaining employment, and to achieve increased independence. Vocational rehabilitation services are generally provided for a period of time outlined on an individual’s specific rehabilitation plan. VR is a primary agency involved in the transition from high school to post-secondary environments for people with disabilities.
- Building long-term relationships with employers and community organizations
- Advocating for needed changes in school or district transition programs
- Coordinating both on- and off-campus employment opportunities for current students
Although the presence of a transition coordinator within a secondary school might be ideal, the position is not available in all schools. Oftentimes, special educators take up the role in addition to managing their other responsibilities. The primary role of special education teachers is to provide instruction, including instruction specifically related to transition skills. They generally have neither the time nor the flexibility to sufficiently focus on the wide range of program-level transition-related activities. However, in those instances when teachers do need to fill this role, it is crucial that the special educator be provided with adequate support, knowledge, and training. For the remainder of this module, the person overseeing the student transition process will be referred to as the transition coordinator, regardless of whether this is a stand-alone position or one held by a special education teacher.
Listen as David Test discusses the many responsibilities of a transition coordinator and the complications that arise when this role is added to a special educator’s workload. Next, Mary Morningstar reiterates the primary roles of a special education teacher versus a transition coordinator.
David Test, PhD
Professor of Special Education
University of North Carolina
Mary Morningstar, PhD
Associate Professor Special Education
Director of Transition Coalition
University of Kansas
Transcript: David Test, PhD
In many school systems, you have special ed teachers also taking on the additional role of transition coordinator, and that’s a very difficult thing to do. As a classroom teacher, you have all the duties that go with teaching. Then to add on the transition coordinator duties is asking a lot. In most cases, you end up with someone who can’t do either job as well as they could if they were doing it as their only job. Usually, it’s the transition coordinator who organizes the interagency collaboration, the interagency team. They set dates and times to meet. They invite the agencies, they invite families or students, and they run those meetings. We find it’s best if they do that in partnership with someone from the community so they have some help. The transition coordinator should be interfacing with the business community in terms of helping the schools find industries and businesses that are available for students with disabilities to do their work-based learning experiences in. It’s a wide-ranging job, and it requires some flexibility. When you’re tied to a classroom and a schedule, it’s difficult to be a transition coordinator, to go to community meetings, to set those meetings up, to meet with businesses when they could meet. It’s not something we recommend, but it’s something that happens a lot.
In addition to being the link between the school and the adult service agencies in the business community, often the transition coordinator may lead IEP meetings, or at least be there so they can contribute to those meetings. They get involved in writing and helping formulate the transition component of the IEP for students who need it. The other thing that they will do is provide professional development and technical assistance. They may train the special ed teachers about the requirements of what needs to be in the transition component of the IEP. They would maybe do training for the job coaches, professionals who are going to provide job-coach services to students who are doing community jobs. They also may do some coaching for both the teachers and the paraprofessionals. So it’s beyond working with the community agencies and the community in general. They also may do professional development within the school or across the school system.
Transcript: Mary Morningstar, PhD
One of the things that is important to understand is that special education teachers have a pretty substantial role in terms of transition planning and providing transition services and support. However, they often are not the lead when it comes to interagency collaboration. Teachers do have activities particularly involved in supporting the families and the students that they are case managers for during IEP planning. And they certainly spend quite a bit of their time supporting students to learn the skills needed for the post-school outcomes the students are desiring. And they are also very much involved in supporting their students to take on a more student-centered, student-directed role during transition planning. However, teachers often don’t have the time to devote specifically to the bigger systems needs often associated with interagency collaboration. And that’s where the role of a transition coordinator often is critical. Transition coordinators tend to be not as focused on working directly with students but are thinking much more and spending more of their time engaging at a systems level. That often includes quite a bit of the work around interagency collaboration. So transition coordinators would spend their time building those relationships with the agencies and with the services outside of school. They would be advocating both within their own administration and with those community agencies for improvements and enhancements related to collaboration and then they have a pretty substantial role supporting teachers.
Supporting the Transition Coordinator
As David Test explained in the audio above, transition coordinators require both time and resources to fulfill the many responsibilities of their position. Fortunately, a variety of supports are available to help accomplish this goal. These include:
- Adequate time — Having sufficient time allows the transition coordinator to build relationships that can lead to interagency collaboration, develop supports needed to create a seamless transition for the student, and more.
- Flexible time — Transition coordinators need to be able to meet with parents and other participants in the transition process at times and locations that are convenient for everyone (e.g., being able to meet an agency representative at her or his work place, as opposed to assuming he or she can come to the school building).
- Jointly funded programs — When agencies combine their funding and personnel, transition coordinators can benefit from the expertise of working with another professional. This collaboration, in turn, might enable them to share certain job responsibilities. For example, vocational rehabilitation (VR) personnel are sometimes housed in schools to support career development and work-based learning programs for students with disabilities. If the VR counselor oversees the career aptitude testing for students with disabilities in the school setting, the transition coordinator will have more time to work on other transition activities.
- Proper training — It is important for transition coordinators to understand the district, state, and federal policies that govern the provision and the delivery of transition services. Many districts and states offer professional development related to transition, and some universities now offer graduate degrees and certificates in transition.
- Other school personnel — Within a secondary school, support can come from school psychologists, counselors, principals, or other administrators. For example, these school professionals can help conduct transition assessments and guide students as they navigate the college selection and application process.
Revisit the Challenge
The students with disabilities featured in the Challenge, who are transitioning from their secondary educational settings, have needs that are complex and varied. Their plans for the future differ, as do the supports they require to help those plans succeed. For example, Cooper, who has a learning disability, hopes to start a job in food service after he finishes high school. Kayla is a student with strong cognitive skills and with motor skills difficulties that affect her articulation and self-help skills. She is exploring options that include working, taking a few post-secondary college classes, and getting her own place. Marie, a student with intellectual disabilities, wants to attend a post-secondary college or university. The transition coordinator will need to help these students and their families connect to agencies that can provide the supports they will require to be successful after high school. The transition coordinator will need to collaborate with multiple agencies as they explore college and career options for students such as Kayla and Marie who have extensive support needs. It is important that the transition coordinator have both the time and the flexibility to do so.