The Most to Lose, the Most to Gain: Student Led IEPs

I am an extremely competitive person by nature. No matter what the situation is, I can turn it into a competition, and then I will win. In addition to being ferociously competitive, I am overwhelmingly compassionate. I love people. I am good at loving people close up. I am good at watching people from a distance and loving them.

These two characteristics seem like contradictions of themselves. What kind of profession would a person who is both equally competitive and compassionate end up in?

I became a teacher.

My competitive drive led me to fall in love with data analysis. I study the numbers and analyze my own practices. What worked? What didn't? After making adjustments, what does the new data say? Am I making progress? Are my numbers getting better?

Now in my profession, I know my out loud proclamation of being a data lover could be cause for going into hiding, but I believe there is true value in BALANCED data driven decision making.

My balance to my love of data was my compassion, which led me to fall in love with these amazing young people greeting me at the door every August. I have never referred to them as my students but as my kids. I know their stories. I jump and high-five when they accomplish what they thought was impossible. I put my arms around their shoulders when life is tough. I've washed their laundry. I've combed their hair. I've stood in sub zero temps to cheer them on at their hockey games.

As I was entering my tenth year in the profession I loved though, something was stirring. I needed a shift in my focus.

So what does an overly competitive but equally compassionate teacher do next?

I became a special education teacher.

My competitive edge is more crucial, the need for compassion ever higher. I now have to take the most challenging kids, kids who've had to struggle to find success, and make them grow.

As I entered this new field, I was baffled by how little involvement these students had in their own education process. In all of the paperwork and meetings and decisions, the students were virtually left out. Their education was happening TO them.

Reflecting on my first year in the special education field, I couldn't help but feel like the system was doing a huge disservice to our kids with exceptionalities, which meant I was doing them a disservice, in not allowing them to have a role in their own education.

What if I changed the method? What if I opened not just a window for my kids to peer in and see what I was doing, but what if I opened the door and let them come in with me? So began my foray into Student Led Ieps.

Now my competitive nature wouldn't be alright with trying this innovative method of iep planning on the student who causes me the least amount of stress. I needed to journey down this new path with the student who caused me the greatest stress. The one whom I lost the most sleep over. The one who has the most to lose if I don't do my job right. The one who has the most to gain if I do.

I am one day away from participating in my first student led iep. The journey to this point has been humorous, frustrating, humorous again, then more frustrating. I confided in my mentor that it was either going to be a hot mess or absolutely amazing.

My competitive nature is saying it's going to amazing.

My compassionate nature is saying it just might be the most amazing thing I've ever been a part of in my career.

Teach in the way they are smart.


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