Tips for Practicum

I have the privilege and pleasure of coordinating fieldwork for students in Early Childhood Development and Education at our university. What students do (and in some cases don’t do) before the first week of field placement sets the tone for the rest of the term. I’ve compiled a list of tips to consider.

Prior to Field Work

·       Start communicating with your on-site supervisor and university supervisor as soon as you can. Keep the conversations and communication ongoing. The relationship you create with these two people on your team are important for your success, as well as your future. Contact your On-site Supervisor by phone and email.

·       Have all your required paperwork and clearances in order.

·       Make all arrangements for transportation ahead of time. Get the address and map ready so that you don’t have to fumble on your first day.

·       Go online and learn who the people are at your field placement. 

·       If applicable, do research on your placement. Learn about the mission and goals of the organization. Find out what the expectations and/or rules are ahead of time.. For example, many schools do not allow gum chewing. So you will want to make sure to spit out your Bubble Yum™ before you go. If available, become familiar and read the field placement handbook.

Getting Started

·       Wear your name badge, or other self-identification.

·       Check in and out at the field placement main office. You will most likely be required to sign your name, date, time of arrival and departure, and purpose of your visit. Some schools have you wear a name tag in the building. Ask the office personnel if there is anything you might have forgotten for check in/out procedures. *Remember to follow these important safety precautions. Programs serving young children need to know who is in their building. These procedures are in place to protect children and personnel.

·       Introduce yourself to the office personnel. If possible, ask to introduce yourself to the school principal and/or leadership personnel. Here are a few hints for an introduction (Post, 2004):

o   If you are sitting, rise to greet the person who has entered the room. It is a sign of respect.

o   You may want to shake the person’s hand.

o   Tell them your first and last names. Speak clearly.

o   Address the person by his/her title (e.g., Mr., Ms., or Dr.). It is better to err on the side of formal.

o   Example, “Hello Dr. Smith! my name is Marisa Macy. I am an undergraduate student at the University of Central Florida, and I will be doing my practicum here for the next 15 weeks. My university supervisor will be <fill in the blank> and coming out to observe me during the semester. I look forward to doing my field work here. Thanks for the opportunity.”

·       Find out where you will be spending your time during your field placement. You may also want to find out where the bathroom, exits, and other necessary landmarks are located. Some programs have a map available to guests. Ask for one if you want it.

·       If you drove, determine that where you have parked your car is okay with them. Sometimes, programs have designated parking and/or information about transportation that will be useful to you.

While You Are There

Remember you are a guest at this placement, and a representative of the university. Be polite and respectful. Every interaction you have is an opportunity for you to make a good impression, and apply what you have been learning. Use your best judgment, have fun, and good luck! I hope these tips help you with practicum.

Source:

Post, P. (2004). Emily Post’s etiquette: The definitive guide to manners, completely revised and updated (17th ed.). New York: HarperCollins. 

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Professional Development

by guest blogger Melissa Hogan

Over the past two years, I have researched and studied at one of the finest institutions in our country that offer the Bachelors of Science in Early Childhood Development and Education. My goal was to discover better ways to support early childhood educators, directors, owners and staff. I discovered that this industry is still young in its development (Dr. Sharon Carnahan, Rollins College, 2019, Personal Conversation.) According to NAEYC (2018), the industry is equivocally educated. In my own seventeen plus years, I have found this to be true.

When I first opened a preschool with a popular local franchise, I interviewed applicants with no training, basic forty-five hour trainings, CDAs, and bachelor degrees. In addition to the varying types of education there were the factors of experience, personality, work ethic and professionalism to take into account. My eyes began to open to the fact that each person that I interviewed was valuable and special because they wanted to work with the fastest developing brains in the community, young children. The questions of how to solve this varying educational puzzle began to circle in my head, so I decided to go back to college and earn my doctorate in early childhood.

I am now in the practicum stage of the bachelor’s degree. I have at my practicum placement for one week and already I am applying what I have learned in my coursework at my prestigious college. I am excited to say that there are a whole team of professionals at this placement that are committed to assessing, coaching and supporting ECEs on a daily basis.

Using assessments, I have been given the opportunity to go into the early childhood classrooms and witness how Provider Services Specialists are helping early educators to provide the best teacher-child interactions possible. These teachers have many different educational backgrounds, yes even bachelor degrees, yet still needed the support and guidance of outside sources. This showed me that as the early childhood field strives to get all teachers on an even playing field educationally, the professional development piece is vital because applying all that is learned on an everyday basis can be difficult without the right kind of quality support for all staff involved, including directors.

I am excited to watch the early education field grow and evolve over time, but the biggest take away for me so far has been the value of supporting each other in the field with research-based practices. What we learn in college can be applied, but our education doesn’t stop there. Mentorship, professional development and collaborating with each other on a consistent basis are the keys to providing the best possible start for young children everywhere.

Reference: National Association for the Education of Young Children (2018). DRAFT: Professional Standards and Competencies for Early Childhood Educators. Retrieved from: https://www.naeyc.org/resources/position-statements/draft-professional-standardscompetencies

Message from today’s guest blogger:

My name is Melissa Hogan and the education of young children has been my whole adult life’s work. I knew since I was young that I wanted to be a teacher. I never imagined my passion would include the youngest of children and those that mean to serve them. I have had the honor to be a part of many experiences in the early childhood field including assisting, lead teaching, managing, facilitating community partnerships, and mentoring. It was opening a preschool franchise from the remodel phase to 100% enrollment that I realized my dream of supporting early childhood teachers, their careers and the teacher-child interactions that are vital to any successful early education experience. Motherhood has only strengthened my perspectives of the need for quality early childhood experiences and as I pursue a graduate degree at the University of Central Florida, I am inspired by my own sweet boys daily. I am proud to be a part of an evolving early educational system and hope to implement change for young children globally.

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Bringing the Ivory Tower into Homes

Access to higher education is made possible when educators and administrators incorporate strategies to support all students in inclusive learning environments. More than ever, students with disabilities are seeking alternative options to traditional classroom experiences. Students with diverse areas of abilities are seeking online learning for various reasons. In a study of university faculty, over half did not know if they had training or resources to ensure accommodations (Phillips et al., 2012). Many online educators are unaware of legal, practical, and/or ethical responsibilities for students with disabilities.

An article that offers information about how to create an accessible online learning environment is, “Bringing the Ivory Tower into Students’ Homes: Promoting Accessibility in Online Courses.” The article shares information about: professional development, modeling diversity, assignment choice, universal design for learning, and the use of authentic assessment to measure student learning and determine outcomes. Appropriate accommodations for individual learners with disabilities, as well as universal design concepts for the entire class can lead to an accessible online learning environment that meets legal requirements and recommended practice standards. Seven categories of accessible features fall into: images, tables, page content, multimedia, color, and auto-testing tools. When the ivory tower goes into students homes in the form of online courses, accessibility is the key to unlock learning and development.  

Drawing courtesy of Adriana Macy age 6

Drawing courtesy of Adriana Macy age 6

 

Sources:

Macy, M., Macy, R., & Shaw, M., (2018). Bringing the ivory tower into students’ homes: Promoting accessibility in online courses. Ubiquitous Learning: An International Journal, 11(1), 13-21. doi:10.18848/1835-9795/CGP/v11i01/13-21.  This paper won the International Award for Excellence.

Phillips, A., Terras, K., Swinney, L., & Schneweis, C. (2012). Online disability accommodations: Faculty experiences at one public university. Journal of Postsecondary Education & Disability, 25(4), 331-344.

Access to Higher Education

Higher education should be accessible. President Abraham Lincoln believed in access to higher education. One of the things he did was create a land grant system that would have a mission of creating higher education opportunities for the public in every state.

My public university is located in the central part of my state which makes it a good location in the middle. Easy access. The other attractive feature is that this location is sought after by people from around the world who come here for their vacations and/or work experiences—Orlando, Florida. At the end of October, early childhood professionals and parents of young children came to Orlando for the Division of Early Childhood international conference.  My Early Childhood Development and Education (ECDE) program at the University of Central Florida (UCF) had a booth in the Exhibit Hall. Our goal was to get the word out about three different opportunities for people who would like to pursue higher education at our public access institution. I had the opportunity to share with others what makes UCF an outstanding place to come to school. I talked with people about our ECDE undergraduate degree, ECDE master’s degree, and ECDE doctoral degree programs. Our ECDE master’s students, Ms. Toni-Ann Rusiana and Ms. Kim Nassoiy, were there to share valuable information with participants about higher education and their experiences as students in the ECDE program at UCF.

President Lincoln said, “Whatever you are, be a good one.” Higher education can help prepare you to become a good one. Like Lincoln, I believe in the power of education. There is no better way than through education to level the playing field and create opportunities for everyone who seeks to improve themselves, improve their communities, and improve society.

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Teaching is Like Making Chocolate Chip Cookies

“Change lanes when conveeeeeeeeenient,” Mr. McDonald would say. I’m not sure the best way to teach driver’s education. I’m pretty sure one of the main ingredients is staying calm behind the wheel. Mr. Bruce McDonald taught me driver’s education when I took it the summer before I turned sixteen, and his calming presence in the car (and use of vowel stretching) helped me feel safe. He also had a brake on his side of the car. I knew he was on my side and would help me if I had a problem.

School is out now for summer. It is time for those of us in the business of education to reflect on the past year, rest, play, and start thinking of the upcoming year. My reflection centers most on gratitude. I was fortunate this year to have taught smart and hardworking undergraduate and graduate students at a university in a border town between the United States and Mexico. Many of my students cross a border every day to gain access to higher education. Just like Mr. McDonald did for me, it was my responsibility to support my students when needed. It was a pleasure! A guest on my iTunes show recently talked about teaching methods on our podcast. She said that teaching is like making chocolate chip cookies and that there are many ways to do it. Dr. Jean Feldman was making a good point that there are unlimited strategies for effective teaching. As I get ready to change lanes and move into a new school year, I will take happy classroom memories with me. The best part of making chocolate chip cookies is savoring every morsel.

Stanford

“Do you love children? Do they know it? Children will not learn from adults who don’t love them,” said Major General John Henry Stanford who was hired in 1995 to serve as the Superintendent of the Seattle School District. His leadership skills were unorthodox but widely admired by teachers, principals, students, and parents. When he was hired he promised, “Give me a mission and I will get it done.”

Major General John Henry Stanford

Major General John Henry Stanford

Many influential leaders have been teachers. At least four American presidents were teachers. Poets, writers, artists, musicians, politicians, inventors, and scientists have been leaders in the classroom. Here is a short list of some famous teachers:

Al Gore, Alexander Graham Bell, Andy Griffith, Art Garfunkel, Bill O’Reilly, Billy Crystal, Clara Barton, D. H. Lawrence, Dan Brown, Frank McCourt, Gabriel Byrne, Gene Simmons, George Orwell, Hugh Jackman, J. K. Rowling, Jon Hamm, Kal Penn, Kate Capshaw, Laura Bush, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Laura Mercier, Leonard Maltin, Louisa Mae Alcott, Madeline Albright, Maya Angelou, Mr. T, President Barack Obama, President Jimmy Carter, President John Adams, President Lyndon B. Johnson, Robert Frost, Roberta Flack, Sheryl Crow, Stephen King, Steve Wozniak, Sting, Sylvester Stallone, Thomas Paine, and Tony Danza.

Major General Stanford was buried in 1998 in the Arlington National Cemetery after fighting leukemia. A book he wrote called, “Victory in Our Schools: We CAN Give Our Children Excellent Public Education” lays out much of his vision where he stated, “I produce destinies for children!” I would love to have a conversation with Stanford to learn his thoughts and ideas about public education today. I wonder what he would say...

Does Agency Status Matter?

The lead agency is Education for school age special education. However, the lead agency varies when it comes to special education for infants and toddlers (Part C of IDEA). Some states may have education, whereas other states may have social and/or health services. For example, the lead agency for infant and toddler services is Education in Oregon. If a child and family moved to New Mexico the lead agency is Health.

The eligibility criteria and federal funding awarded to each state for IDEA-Part C services varies from state to state in America. What does this mean for a family with a child who is eligible for early childhood intervention due to a risk, delay, or disability? It could mean that if they move to a different state they may experience differences in child/family services.

A recent study examined lead agency status in the United States and outlying territories. Specifically, Dr. Torres wanted to know if there is a functional relationship between a lead agency’s status for early intervention and the amount of per capita funding awarded to the state for services after controlling for population size. She found no statistically significant difference in lead agency status and funding. She did find that outlying territories experienced 14 times more funding when compared to the 50 states.  

Dr. Torres also wanted to know more about the criteria used for early intervention (Part C) eligibility determination. She used a formula by Dunst and Hamby (2004) to classify the restrictiveness of eligibility criteria as: (1) broad or liberal (includes environmental and/or biological risk), (2) moderate, (3) narrow (does NOT include environmental and/or biological risk). She found no statistically significant difference in lead agency status and criteria for defining the eligible population.

This study is one of the first of its kind to examine lead agency status as the independent variable. Research is an important endeavor that requires continued funding. A quote by the writer Zora Neale Hurston states, “Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose.” Let us remain curious! Money to do research helps too!

Writer Zora Neale Hurston

Writer Zora Neale Hurston

Source: “Variability in State Lead Agency Eligibility Criteria and IDEA-Part C Per-Capita Budget Commitments: An Exploratory Analysis,” by Christina Torres (2017)

 

You’ve Got a Friend

We are lucky to be able to serve children and their families. Few professions can have such an immediate influence on a child and his/her family unit. When I was teaching 7th and 8th graders, I got a call during my planning period from the bus garage for the school district. On the phone was an angry school bus driver with a bee in his bonnet who said that one of my students in the special education program would no longer be allowed to ride “his” bus. My student was caught on tape breaking bus rules and was kicked off the bus for the rest of the school year. After his rant, the bus driver’s supervisor got on the phone and we discussed next steps.

Students in special education have a legal right to school district transportation. If the school district removes that right, we need to document changes in the child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP). As the student’s case manager, it was my job to facilitate an emergency IEP meeting and do a “Change of Placement” to his program since he had no ride home that day. 

I called the student’s parents. His Mom answered. We were able to do the IEP meeting over the phone. Since the school day had not ended, we made arrangements for her to pick him up that day. She was at work and took the rest of the day off to address her son’s needs. This Mom was apologetic for her son’s behavior, understanding of the school district’s position, and an awesome member of the IEP team. She did not want him to have “specialized” transportation where a district bus or van would pick him up door-to-door. She and her husband planned to transport their son to/from school.

Her ability to collaborate with us school folks was amazing. I thought to myself on my way home that night, “I could be friends with this Mom.” During the drive, I hummed along to the James Taylor song “You’ve Got a Friend.” I fantasized about us shopping at the mall, getting BFF matching necklaces, having customized friendship pillows embroidered, and getting matching manicures and pedicures. Not really. I sometimes am prone to hyperbole and other forms of exaggeration. The IEP bus story, however, is true. One hundred percent (well make it 98% true – remember I sometimes exaggerate).

If I could be queen and improve practices with families, I’d start by putting on a jeweled crown. I would then wave my fancy authoritative wand and demand peaceful harmony among parents and teachers. When teachers are granted their teaching licenses, they would also receive a big tapestry magical bag—like Mary Poppins—with all the incredible tools needed to foster positive rapport with parents. That would be practically perfect in every way

What to do with A.T.T.O?

“Okay, I tried dolce far niente and I’m bored to tears! What now?”

In our teaching practice, we are lucky to have chunks of time to spend during summer breaks, holiday breaks, and of course the beloved personal days. This gives us time off that many professions do not enjoy. In case you are having trouble coming up with ways to spend A.T.T.O. (all that time off), here are nine ideas for you.

Siena, Italia

Siena, Italia

#1- Read. During the school year, time for reading fun books may be limited. But that is why we are so fortunate to have A.T.T.O.! The author of Teacher Man, Mr. Frank McCourt, understood the concept of A.T.T.O. after he spent several years in the classroom (2005). His book was a treat one summer when I finally read it. I do not read as much as I want when I am teaching, because there is too much other stuff to do (e.g., grade papers, prepare lessons, address student needs, and much more). When it is time to rotate the crops, and cash in on A.T.T.O., I get my book list out that I’ve been collecting all school year. Remember to ink it when you think it or you might forget what you want to read. The act of writing down the book titles during the year is reinforcing, and gives me something to look forward to during the long months before A.T.T.O.! I just got done reading Susan Vreeland's Lisette's List and a character in the book tells another character to "do the most important thing first." Agreed! Read!  

#2- Take a class. Enroll in a fun class. Your local community college might have just the class for you. Would you like to take a literary cooking class where you cook foods from a fictional book? Are you interested in learning the basics of car care? Maybe learning how the stock market works sounds fun to you? Do you want to learn how to decorate a cake? Being the student instead of the teacher may give you new insights into your teaching practices.

#3- Travel. Hit the road, air, water, or do what you can to get out of Dodge during A.T.T.O. If you cannot travel, the next best thing would be to read a travel book. Some inspiring creative non-fiction books about travel are: (1) Oregon Trail: A New American Journey by Rinker Buck, (2) Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, (3) Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed, and (4) Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes. Go somewhere, or read about another place, to transport yourself.

#4- Watch a movie. You will see that many of your joys and struggles in the teaching profession are universal. You are not alone. Here are some of my favorite education-related movies for A.T.T.O.

Breakfast Club (1985); Dangerous Minds (1995); Dead Poets Society (1989); Ferris Beuller’s Day Off (1986); Finding Forrester (2000); Freedom Writers (2007); Goodwill Hunting (1998); Grease (1978); Karate Kid (1984); Kindergarten Cop (1990); Lean on Me (1989); Miracle Worker (1962); Mr. Holland’s Opus (1995); Remember the Titans (2000); School of Rock (2003); Stand and Deliver (1988); Summer School (1987); The Theory of Everything (2014)

 #5- Go glamping. Explore the great outdoors. Go on glamorous camping trips. Breathe the open air in the style of Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, John Burroughs, and Harvey Firestone. The “Vagabonds” as they called themselves knew how to go glamping in their later years by exploring the road less traveled together. Their camping trips became legendary. Interesting ideas may have been sparked during the campfire conversations between the automobile manufacturer, inventor, naturalist, and tire mogul.

Ford and Edison worked together before they became neighbors in Florida. Their friendship had spanned several years before they decided they’d like to go on camping trips together.  They set out on several glamping adventures with friends. Their trips were a chance to relax in style, have fun, and experience nature decked out in luxury (i.e., cooks and assistants to help with work, spacious tents, Ford automobiles, gasoline stove, built-in refrigerator, Edison’s lights from the mobile electric generator, and more). Pretty impressive and glamorous given these glamping trips took place between 1914 and 1924.

#6- Write a novel, memoir, magazine article, or children’s book. If writing is your thing, A.T.T.O. is perfect for you. Writers need large amounts of uninterrupted time to develop a manuscript. You don’t need much in the way of equipment…just a pencil and some paper will do. You can write anywhere: laying on a sandy beach drinking spa water with infused tropical fruits, waiting for your dentist appointment, or sitting in an airport waiting for your flight to someplace fabulous. Just write!

#7- Projects. All those things you have been putting off can now get done during A.T.T.O.! Most of my household projects seem to take more time than I expect. One summer I treated and stained my outdoor decks. I thought it would be a two hour job. Wrong! My ability to estimate how long a project will take is about as reliable as a Wi-Fi connection inside the concrete walls of Costco. Have a blast! You will be glad you had the time to tackle these time-consuming projects during A.T.T.O.!

#8- Hobby. Now is the time to take up a new hobby, or further develop one you already have. Becoming good at a hobby takes a major time investment. We have so many talented hobbyists in our profession because of A.T.T.O.. I once worked with a Home Economics teacher who became a motorcycle enthusiast. In the summers she put away her quilts and recipes, slipped on black leather pants, and revved up her Harley on Route 66. Viva America!

#9- Play. Have you ever stopped to really watch a child who is absorbed in play? They don’t look at a clock to see what time it is. They don’t follow a schedule. They are in flow. They are totally lost in their fun. The founder of the Guild, Felicia Day, describes how she played Blizzard Entertainment’s World of Warcraft on average of sixty hours a week (Day, 2015). That is more than a full time job’s worth of hours. Isn’t that awesome! Imagine playing more hours than you work. Bravo, Felicia! With A.T.T.O., teachers could get on board a grand expedition too. Whatever it is you consider “play”–do more of it during A.T.T.O.!

Dolce Far Niente

Call it a hiatus, respite, or vacation, but whatever you call it we all need one. The singer and songwriter, Joni Mitchell is also a painter. I watched a documentary where she was describing her process. She compared how she moves from painting to songwriting like a farmer rotating crops. She described how she spends time with each activity and then enjoys the break when it is over. Mitchell's approach is similar to what we do in the teaching profession. We spend time teaching and then we rotate or shift our focus during A.T.T.O. (all that time off).

Educators should not feel lazy if we take time off work. We need time to rotate crops. “Dolce far niente” is an Italian phrase meaning the sweetness of doing nothing. Taking time to enjoy the pleasures in life can make for better teaching. All work and no play is bad for educators. Take time today for dolce far niente.

Pisa, Italia

Pisa, Italia

A.T.T.O.

Before Y.O.L.O., I.R.L., and F.O.M.O there was A.T.T.O.

Poet and teacher, Frank McCourt, wrote about All That Time Off (A.T.T.O.) in his book “Teacher Man.” He showed how teachers are awarded A.T.T.O. in exchange for 180 days of service on the academic calendar. That’s right. Vacation time, Baby!

Enjoy your summer and A.T.T.O. teachers! THANK YOU for all you do for students!!!

Louvre

Louvre

McCourt, F. (2005). Teacher man. New York: Scribner.

Storyboard

Most teachers have only one student teaching experience. At the end of the semester, I had student teachers I supervised create a storyboard. Our last meeting was a celebration of the highs and lows of their student teaching experience. The storyboard is a creative way for student teachers to reflect on this time in their life. It’s a story unlike anyone else’s they are sure to remember for years to come.

I created the Storyboard Activity for my student teachers after a trip to Walt Disney World. There was an attraction called The Art of Animation at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Orlando, Florida. I saw how the Disney Company and Imagineers created storyboards and thought, “We could do that!” 

Student teachers complete the storyboard draft before our lastmeeting. This gives them time to think about each prompt instead of being put on the spot. They can illustrate or create a collage to accompany each cell of their storyboard. Each student teacher presents his or her storyboard during the final meeting. Student teachers can add or modify this list of prompts as needed:

  1. Title

  2. Actor or actress you would cast to play you

  3. Cast of characters (may include a protagonist and a nemesis)

  4. Actors to play your cooperating professional and students

  5. Theme song

  6. Develop a soundtrack of sounds and songs that help tell your student teaching story

  7. Plot

  8. Highpoint

  9. Resolution

  10. What are three important things you learned from your student teaching that you will remember many years from now?

Storyboarding

Storyboarding

Spaco!

I recently went to a professional conference. It was my state chapter of the International Literacy Association (ILA). The organization serves literacy teachers PreK to High School.

Teachers, families, and children kicked off the conference Friday evening with fun events. People of all ages enjoyed the art of storytelling by author Mr. Joe Hays. The reading conference had excellent sessions and workshops on Saturday. It was impressive to see large groups of teachers give up part of their weekend for professional development. It got me thinking….

Attending a work conference is a lot like going to a spa. Self-improvement is the focus of both endeavors. At a spa and conference (Spaco) you get pampered. Other people have considered personal comforts and attempted to create a pleasant experience.

There were so many details at my ILA conference the planning committee considered. Meals, decorations, schedule of activities, speakers, vendors, prizes, awards, clock hours/continuing education units, and more were coordinated for the comfort and enjoyment of participants. A special touch at my conference included the creative centerpieces on the tables. Floral vases with artistic flags that had state authors and illustrators were proudly displayed, and given away to participants at the end of the conference.

At a Spaco you get to focus on yourself. Your personal responsibilities related to children, pets, and/or significant other have been left behind so you can pay attention to numero uno.

At a Spaco you choose to go. Nobody is forcing you to attend. In fact, you probably moved heaven and earth to get this chance.

Enjoy your next Spaco experience. You deserve it!

Individualized Education Program (IEP)

“Make it work,” says Tim Gunn each week as clothing designers on Project Runway compete for a coveted spot to present their designs at fashion week. Teachers are pros at making it work. Project Runway designers and special education teachers are cut from the same cloth, and have a lot in common.

Couture. The first common thread between designers and special education teachers is the project they create is one-of-a-kind. A designer creates a couture project which is chic, contemporary, and made to measure an individual rather than the masses. Up-to-date designs are fresh and modern. A designer will have a signature style, but they won’t create the exact same design more than once. Same with an Individualized Education Program (IEP) a special education teacher creates with a team—which includes the student’s family. IEPs are unique. No two are alike. Every time a special education teacher designs an IEP, s/he does so from a blank canvas just like a designer. No two children will have the same IEP. The same child will have a different and distinct IEP each time one is created.

Florentine Boutique

Florentine Boutique

Individualized. Designers and special education teachers are creating a project for an individual person. The better they know the person, the better their design will be. The judges on the Lifetime show often ask, “Who is the woman you are designing for?” Special education teachers ask a similar question, “Who is the child/student you are designing for?” The better we can answer this question, the better the outcome will be. "In order to be irreplaceable one must always be different,” proclaimed Coco Chanel. Every student we design for is different, and their IEP is individualized to personalize for them what is important.

Use of assessment data. An IEP can be a masterpiece if created to fit the person perfectly. To do so, we need to be able to use assessment data to inform the development of goals and objectives on the student’s IEP. Assessment also helps us create customized interventions for each student, because we know what students need based on observations, direct testing, parental and professional report. Same with designers who use measurements for creating the right fit. Hubert de Givency said, “The dress must follow the body of a woman, not the body following the shape of the dress." Measurement is critical to accomplishing Givenchy’s ideal. In order to create a tailor-made IEP, accurate assessment data helps the team create a perfect fit.

Team. In sewing, a seam is the straight line where two pieces of fabric meet with thread. A seam brings two separate things together as one. So do teams. Designers, from Project Runway, work independently on many of their creations. However, they are still part of a team that may include: Tim Gunn their supervisor, Mood their provider of materials, and the panel of judges who give the designers feedback. There are some episodes of Project Runway where designers work on teams with other designers to collaborate on a single item or collection. An IEP team may consist of: the student and his/her family, general education teachers, special education teachers, a case manager, the lead educational agency (LEA) or school district representative, related service providers, social worker, physician, and/or other member(s) needed to create a meaningful IEP. The student’s IEP team co-creates the plan, and some but not all members will be involved in implementation of the IEP.

Limited resources. Special education teachers and designers on Project Runway both need to work with limited resources. Time allocated for designing is limited. Both are constrained by a limited budget. Specialized materials and equipment may be needed to design.

Creative. Both types of designers start by drafting their ideas. A clothing designer might use a pad of paper and drawing utensils to make a sketch of the garment they will later sew. An IEP comes together from a rough draft also. Designers of IEPs and garments may get their inspiration from a variety of sources. Input from parents is one source of creativity. For example, I once had a secondary student with an intellectual disability who loved wood working. He was born with four thumbs and was getting occupational therapy. His Dad owned a cabinet making business and he and his family wanted “Peter” to eventually have a major part in the family business. When we designed Peter’s secondary IEP, his parents provided input about vocational opportunities they dreamed of for their son. With the team working together, we designed a creative program for Peter with: job coaching and shadowing in a woodworking company, coursework in shop/carpentry, field work, and independent studies all aimed at his future dream of making kitchen cabinets in the family business. Project Runway designers use locations, buildings, and other environmental influences as inspiration for what they create. Environment and people may be sources of creativity.

Goals. "I don't design clothes. I design dreams," said Ralph Lauren. That is what we do when we design an IEP. We design dreams for students and their families. The goals are a way to achieve the dream. Dreams need deadlines. The goals we create may have short or long term objectives.

Every member of an IEP team is a designer. We design meaningful IEPs for students that are one-of-a-kind. Every student should be so lucky to have an IEP designed just for them. Can I have one?

Shopping for one-of-a-kind designs in Florence

Shopping for one-of-a-kind designs in Florence