The Individual Education Plan (IEP) is the beating heart of Special Education in schools. Any learner who has a diagnosis and/or placement within a Special Education setting in your school board will likely have an IEP. Whether the learner is part of a contained classroom, a partially integrated setting, or receives special education services for a part of the day or the full day, the IEP is the road map to their success.
We’ve been receiving a lot of messages and emails to support educators in the development of their students’ Physical Education program page of the IEP. So let’s start from the basics. If you are new to the IEP, here is a quick Q&A:
What is an Individual Education Plan?
An IEP is a written legal document that describes the learner’s unique profile and lists the accommodations and modifications required to ensure they learn at their best. It also outlines any specific goals they have that can be curriculum-based (i.e. Health & Physical Education goals) or non-curriculum based (i.e. alternate goals such as life skills or social skills), and ensures the appropriate programming is in place to help the learner succeed in school.
Think of it as the learner’s personalized curriculum to help them be successful. As advocates and a parent to a learner with disabilities, an IEP is our weapon of choice. It helps our learners get what they need and deserve in order to access the appropropriate education, and it gets educators and leaders in the Special Education system to:
- Accept the learner for who they are, as they are.
- Respect the learner for the unique differences they have.
- Support the learner socially, emotionally, and physically to help them be their best.
- Include the learner as part of the whole.
- …..and most importantly, LISTEN TO THE LEARNER!
We’re not going to sugar coat this. Learners with special education needs are always pushing against the grain. PBTL receives requests from many families asking for our support to ensure that their child's learning environment is attuned to the diversity of the assessment, instruction, and the precise teaching that they need.
As educators, we all need to ensure that we are constantly engaging in active listening. Listening starts by recognizing that these learners have a wide range of strengths and needs, and it is important to work collaboratively with the special education teacher, support staff and parents/caregivers to ensure that the Physical Education program is meeting these needs, just like in any other classroom.
Wait! We’re not done! So….Who develops the IEP?
The IEP is usually written by a Special Education teacher. However, it is developed collaboratively through consultation with homeroom teachers, support staff, school based or non-school based supports (i.e. physiotherapist, speech-language pathologist), other members of the school who are involved in supporting the student’s learning, and most importantly, with the families/guardians.
If you are the Physical Education teacher, and you have a learner who requires an IEP… step up! You have a spot at the table to ensure that your voice is heard! Here are some tips and tricks on what you can do to get the information you need:
- Look into the Ontario Student Record (OSR). The OSR is an ongoing, confidential record of a student’s educational progress throughout their years at school. You have access to that! Look for past record cards, assessments or reports regarding what your learner needs to be their best in Physical Education (i.e. physiotherapy/occupational therapy assessments for learners with mobility needs, equipment).
- Request for your presence at the In School Team Meeting (ISTM). This is a meeting that can be held anytime with anyone who is involved in the learner's education. Its role is to proactively problem solve and support the success and programming for the academic, social, emotional and physical strengths and needs of the learner. This is where you can ask questions, advocate for, request support or problem solve specific areas of concern about the learner in your specific classroom.
Here at PBTL, we recognize that there can be challenges to understanding and supporting learners with IEPs...but there are supports and solutions out there! Take the time to do your research and use your voice to advocate! Here are some examples of how we approached the barriers that we have overcome:
- IF the learner requires equipment for mobility (e.g. wheelchair, walker) in Physical Education, THEN ensure that the learner has access to it along with other forms of mobility devices to help them participate with the rest of the class. We’ve worked with our Student Services and Outdoor Education departments to ensure that our learners have access to an outdoor all-terrain wheelchair so that they could participate in outdoor Physical Education on different surfaces, and also an adapted sled to hit the slopes during our winter season.
- IF the learner is a runner and is triggered to run away from the larger group in an open space such as in the gymnasium or outside on the tarmac, THEN …..try using a visual boundary in the space, or providing a peer buddy to help model this expected behaviour. Remember, this take times to set up and consistency will help set boundaries and routines.
- IF the learner requires an augmentative device to communicate in their homeroom class and is integrated in your classroom for Physical Education, THEN take the time to learn how they talk! You’d be surprised how much they have to say and can tell you about how they learn. Another tip is to connect with the speech and language pathologist that the learner receives services from. Find/learn/ensure that other learners in the class know how to communicate with them and create opportunities for social interaction.
- IF the learner has challenges navigating the space, performing the tasks, and playing the games and activities in Physical Education, THEN connect with specialists in your school board such as the physiotherapist or occupational therapist to talk about ways to modify or adapt the equipment you already have.
- IF the equipment you have just doesn’t seem to be meeting the needs of your learner, THEN talk to the above personnel, along with the Special Education teacher at your school to talk about a possible SEA claim. Wait...another acronym?! What is a SEA? SEA stands for Special Equipment Amount. Simply put, learners with disabilities are allotted a certain amount of money from the Ontario Ministry of Education to assist with the cost of any special equipment that might be deemed necessary by a qualified professional. While teachers can help to advocate for these needs, the SEA must be approved by a psychology, speech-language pathologist, occupational therapist, physiotherapist, etc. In your Physical Education classroom, this could look like adaptive equipment such as an audio ball for blind or low vision learners, an adapted bicycle or sled for learners who might have difficulty with outdoor activities, or a special climbing apparatus for learners with vestibular sensory needs.
Time to get this party started. Developing the IEP...
An IEP is written when a learner is recognized as having a diagnosis within the school board and is offered a placement within a Special Education setting, with consent of their guardian. It is a working document, which means that it is officially updated twice a year, however, can be worked on and modified at any time as per the needs of the student.
As the Physical Education teacher, you are responsible for the programming and planning for all your learners. If there is a learner who has an IEP and/or requires an IEP in your class, it is your duty to as their teacher to determine the types of accommodations and/or modified programming for the student to succeed in your Physical Education class (hint: a list of subjects is found in the beginning pages if the IEP):
1. Accommodated: If the learner does not have a program page for Physical Education, this means that your teaching of the curriculum doesn't need to be modified to support them. However, become familiar with the list of accommodations in the IEP as it will be your job to ensure those are available to the student in your class. Here is an example of the Accommodations page of an IEP:
And just as a reminder, you’re probably already using accommodations in your Physical Education class already! Accommodations are a part of everyday good teaching practice. Take a look at the pictures below and see if you can point out accommodations that you may be already using in your own Physical Education classroom:
2. Modified: If the learner is on modified programming for Physical Education in the IEP, this means they will have a program page for Physical Education. My friend, you now have part of the responsibility of writing the Physical Education program page and establishing goals for this student. To get started, begin by examining both the curriculum expectations for the learner’s appropriate grade level and their strengths and learning needs. Your job will be to create goals for the learner to achieve that are modified (a reduction in complexity or number of expectations) from the curriculum. Remember, you are not alone! Creating goals can be a joint effort between you as the Physical Education teacher, the learner's homeroom teacher and/or the Special Education teacher in your school. Here is an example of a Physical Education program page in an IEP. Take note of the highlighted components of the IEP in pink.
So, how do you develop IEP goals?
When we create IEP goals, it usually looks like a mess of documents sprawled over our desks and at least 10 tabs open in our internet browser. Creating IEP goals is an art form that requires a ton of multitasking.
You’ll need the following to get started:
- Knowledge of the learner: Past IEP’s, report cards, data, assessments, a chat with a former teacher, parent input from a parent consultation form, etc.
- Curriculum documents related to the subject you are developing goals for.
- A handy IEP goal template that is fillable, created by us, which you can find HERE.
- We can’t stress this enough, CAFFEINE.
To help you follow our IEP Goal Formula, we’ve created a template designed to target all of the important points we’ve highlighted in this blog.
Feel free to also check out Ophea’s Steps to Inclusion resource that outlines the necessary steps to support learners with special education needs in Health & Physical Education. On page 15 of the resource is a flow chart that will guide you step by step in supporting learners who have or require and Physical Education program page in their IEP.
Our strong advice to all Physical Education teachers is to engage and join in the conversations about your learners with special education needs when developing, reviewing, assessing and delivering the IEP. Take the time to know your learners and have an open mind to the support and needs that your learners require to be their best. It is the key to a successful relationship and how you will deliver a quality Physical Education program for all. The IEP is a legal document that represents what you are responsible for as an educator to ensure that the learner is…. LEARNING! It is a living document that is responsive to the changing needs of the learner as they develop and grow throughout the school year. As the Physical Education teacher, you CAN support the learner and help best define what learners with disabilities need in order to be successful. Only with appropriate support will learners with disabilities have equal access and opportunity in your class.
* Insert mic drop now.