Switching Hats

A pile of knitted hats

Some people are obsessed with shoes. Not me, I love hats. I think getting to wear a hat may be the only positive I can find when it is cold and dreary outside. I have a couple favorites that I wear over and over, but I do change it up based on what I am feeling that day. Do I want to wear my old faithful striped hat that is older than my kids? Do I want to wear my big comfy hat that was given to me by a former family that I love and miss dearly? Should I just go with the solid black one today? Maybe I should show support for my favorite school today? Often, I will put a hat on in the morning and wear it all day whether I go outside or not. 

Our daily life does not actually work that way though, does it? We all wear hats and change them numerous times in a day based on our various responsibilities. Now put your thinking cap on: Think about how many hats you wear over the course of the day or maybe even in just a couple of hours. In the last few hours, I have worn over 10 hats (not including old faithful). Some of those hats include: a mother, wife, teacher, friend, sister, daughter, chef, aunt, neighbor, counselor, athlete, driver, housecleaner, and writer. We all do this on a daily basis. We switch our hats as we go about our day to take care of our families and ourselves.  

We may have an additional set of hats for our professional life too. As teachers, we must switch our hats frequently as we work closely with our students and their families. What do they need from us today? How can we help them? This is particularly true as a teacher for students with visual impairments (TSVI) who goes into the homes as we do in Early Intervention programs.  

As many are aware, we face a national shortage of TSVIs, including those who serve children in early intervention (EI) programs. Many early intervention professionals also carry a full caseload of students. Then after school or on the weekends, they work with children participating in their EI programs. Think about this workday for a moment: After starting the day teaching school-age children in schools and classrooms where you may collaborate with other teachers and therapists; in the afternoon you transition to going into people’s homes, and working directly with families who have children under the age of 3 with vision impairments. These roles are fundamentally different, so TSVIs must “switch hats” from a student-centered educational model to a family-centered educational model. Switching hats is necessary and here is why… 

In a school setting, the vision professional provides services that are determined by the IEP team with the goal of providing access to the student’s academic or functional curriculum. In Early Intervention, outcomes are set based on the priorities of the family, and the vision professional works to empower parents and caregivers to embed learning opportunities for the child throughout the family’s daily routine. While school-based services focus on a child’s learning, Early Intervention services include the education of both the child and the adult caregiver.   

A school-based environment offers a consistent setting and a predictable learning routine, whereas family-home environments vary in setting and daily schedule. In a school setting, a vision professional works with their students in the same school or classroom. They may teach in a one-on-one model or deliver instruction within the classroom setting alongside the child’s peers. In early intervention however, the vision professional is working with the families in their home. As we all know, schedules can change at a flip of a hat (no pun intended). Life happens. Children get sick, babies can be fussy, medical appointments can run longer than expected or families can just simply be exhausted. Remember, in early intervention, we are focused on what the family needs. What are their priorities and concerns? What can we do to help them at this very moment? 

Lastly, the interactions that occur in each setting are different. In my opinion, this is so very important. Put your thinking cap back on and go back to the beginning where you thought of all the hats you have worn today or in the past few hours. Now, do you change how you interact with others as you are “switching hats” throughout the day? Most likely, the answer is yes. This holds true as well for vision professionals moving from the classroom to the home setting. Vision professionals working with students in the school setting may not have as much interaction with their students’ families, at least not direct or face to face interaction like one will experience in early intervention. As previously mentioned, in early intervention our goal is to empower parents and caregivers. We are their coaches, working with them side by side and encouraging them to be the primary teachers of their children. While we certainly have good relationships and interactions with parents of students in the school setting, the relationships we form with families in early intervention is undeniably different.  For these types of interactions, we need a different hat.  

A vison professional working in both a student-centered educational setting and a family-centered setting faces many challenges in this dual role. We all want what is best for our students and their families. For that very reason, it is critical that vision professionals â€œswitch hats” so they can provide the appropriate support for any student or family. That will result in a positive experience regardless of the setting in which the learning occurs. Fortunately, you can still wear your favorite hat for the day, like old faithful stripes for me, while “switching hats” between students and educational models throughout your day.