By Francesca Crozier-Fitzgerald with Sean Tikkun, guest blogger
When discussing the Expanded Core Curriculum (ECC) and the multifaceted responsibilities that come along with the territory—providing the skills and training associated with the curriculum—one person comes to mind, the teacher of students with visual impairments. But, as we learned in our last post, this is not the work of one human being; it’s not the work of two or three either. It takes a village.
While the teacher of students with visual impairments will certainly be responsible for leading the charge and monitoring the execution of all necessary elements of the ECC for his student, the teacher’s effectiveness can be exponentially improved through one, tried and true approach: teamwork. By enforcing regular, transparent communication and strategic delegation of responsibilities, teachers of students with visual impairments can orchestrate and facilitate an IEP Team that collaborates in healthy, seamless synchrony. If we can all take an oath to strong, interdisciplinary collaboration from the beginning, our work will benefit the student in big ways.
We spoke with Sean Tikkun, Ph.D. Candidate at Northern Illinois University, who lent his advice on the importance of delegating responsibility and communicating clearly. As his research is rooted in educational psychology focused on visual impairments, his insights give us a critical peak into the ways we can improve our teaching of the ECC.
He notes, “It really only comes down to the framework of how we deliver services and how we communicate and delegate. I think the job is really doable if we get much better at collaboration.
We need to get better at recognizing that the student can benefit from the expertise of many different professionals—the speech and language pathologist, the orientation and mobility specialist, low vision specialist, vision rehabilitation therapist, the paraeducators, general education teacher, parents, physical therapist or occupational therapist, school administrators, and others. We need to get better at sharing this responsibility.
Divide and Conquer
In the previous blog post, we broke down the challenges of the ECC and provided some helpful tips that teachers of students with visual impairments and other professionals may consider when approaching the curriculum. One of those suggestions was to divide and conquer the seemingly massive undertaking that the nine ECC components can appear to be. This issue should be addressed at the first IEP meeting of the year with the entire IEP team and student around the table. The conversation should have three key components: (1) the student’s current skills, (2) the student’s needs, and (3) the balanced division of responsibility to address those two elements.
Considering the potential division of the nine components, we can make a few immediate suggestions:
- The orientation and mobility component of the ECC will lean most heavily on the orientation and mobility specialist.
- The career education planning can be divided across all members of the IEP team, especially parents, occupational therapists, and general education teachers.
- ECC components that require less individual specialization, such as the daily living skills and self-determination, can be immediately divided across all parties as well.
- Daily living skills training can also be shared by all members (if an Independent Living Skill specialist is not available).
All ECC skills should start being developed as soon as possible in the home and continue to expand throughout elementary school, high school, and into young adulthood.
During and after the IEP meetings, strategic delegation of tasks needs to be followed and supported by clear, transparent communication. As the field of vision professionals continues to grow, and as research and experience continue to inform our best practices, the teachers of students with visual impairments can become better equipped to effectively provide services to each student. They may run into a few barriers.
Sean speaks to this issue. “This delegation of tasks can require a culture shift because every IEP team, wherever they are, expect vision professionals to act like the last vision professional acted. So, if we come in and start dictating that we want more support from the other domains that intersect with our domain, there’s gonna be some pushback. I think the collaborative model can work. It’s just a lot more work, but I have hope.”
As we get better at effectively dividing the weight of the ECC across the IEP team, we need to also get better at communicating well and often. Discussions with the IEP team do not and should not be restricted to the IEP meetings only. The teacher of students with visual impairments that is able to sustain frequent and clear communication with parents, school administrators, and other education and rehabilitation professionals on the IEP team will most likely find that their load is lighter.
Checking in with each member of the IEP team, the teacher of students with visual impairments can feel confident that the vision rehabilitation therapist is working on the student’s personal hygiene skills at home and at school. They’ll find comfort in knowing that the school administration is providing the student with sessions with the school’s guidance counselor to discuss high school options and application processes. They can breathe easy knowing that the parents are enforcing a hefty list of chores at home so that the student learns the importance of routine, responsibility, and self-determination.
By knowing that this student is receiving a more comprehensive approach to each component and that it’s being tackled from various angles by various individuals with specialized training, we—the whole team—can rest assured that the right skills are being addressed by the right team member, to the right degree.