February 2020
Link Lines
William & Mary Training & Technical Assistance Center
Having the Courage to Think Big: Closing the Gaps and Planning for the Future
By Cathy Buyrn, M.Ed., Debbie Grosser, Ed.D., Shelley Littleton, M.Ed.

“I want to encourage you to think big. Rethink what you do, rethink how you do it. Rethink when you do it. Rethink where you do it. Rethink with whom you do it, and maybe most importantly, rethink why you do it.” Johnny Collett, Assistant Secretary, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services, U.S. Department of Education (2019, p. 2 )
Building a system in which school leaders, teachers, families, and students engage successfully requires innovation and the courage to “think big” (Collett, 2019, p. 2 ). All of the students in your care deserve a K-12 learning experience that sets them up for successful and satisfying lives. Students with disabilities require more strategic consideration to make growth over time and meet appropriately ambitious goals.

School leaders who foster inclusive learning communities focused on closing specific skill gaps for students with disabilities in K-12 schools will make possible Virginia’s vision of a high school graduate (see Profile of a Virginia Graduate ). Students with disabilities who receive specific skill gap-closing instruction in inclusive learning environments will be able to build critical and creative thinking skills, communicate, collaborate, and demonstrate citizenship. The Profile of a Virginia Graduate (POVG) should be the focus of discussions K-12 because the foundation of a successful secondary school experience for all students is based on the academic and functional skills established during the elementary years.

School leaders need to provide strategic support for teachers to ensure that critical functional Standards of Learning (SOL) and other life skills are considered when designing instruction, not just those directly measured on the SOL assessments. For students with disabilities, Individual Educational Programs (IEPs) must be designed to develop workplace skills, career planning, as well as community and civic responsibility. A focus purely on content knowledge to satisfy standardized assessments will fall far short of the expectation for all of Virginia’s graduates to be life-ready individuals prepared for postsecondary success.
Rethink what you do.
  • Support special educators by ensuring balanced caseloads. 

  • Maintain a manageable proportion of students with and without disabilities in inclusive classes. 

  • Establish high expectations for student independence in academic and functional skills.

  • Embrace your school community by involving parents, teachers, students, and other stakeholders in important decisions and events. 

Rethink how you do it.
  • Assess and reflect on the current level of inclusiveness within your building.

  • Include special educators in the master scheduling process.

  • Provide specific, meaningful feedback to teachers throughout the planning and instructional delivery process.

  • Conduct interest inventories with all students.

  • Develop your support skills focused on the development of high-quality Individualized Education Programs (IEPs).

Rethink when you do it.
  • Assign targeted intervention groups to special educators and other service providers in place of bus, hallway, or lunch duty. 

  • Assist special educators in planning for the delivery of specially designed instruction in place of traditional morning work, warm-up tasks, or independent reading time within the general education classroom. 

  • Begin the transition planning process early. Though not required to be included in the IEP for students with disabilities until the age of 14, ongoing data collection is necessary prior to this timeline.

Rethink where you do it.
  • Provide school-wide tiered systems of support for academics and behavior.

  • Deliver targeted instruction within the student’s least restrictive environment.
  • Adopt a school-wide philosophy of inclusion and continuously evaluate your progress in order to improve your efforts. 

Rethink with whom you do it.
  • Use evidence-based academic and behavioral practices throughout all tiers of support.

  • Help your special education teachers develop high-quality IEPs to improve student outcomes.

  • Make a match between specific student needs and the delivery of the appropriate specially designed instruction. 

  • Utilize VDOE’s I’m Determined resources to assist all students in planning individualized goals for the future.

Rethink why you do it.
  • Design K-12 learning experiences that prepare all students for successful and satisfying lives.

  • Ensure students are prepared for adult life through effective secondary transition planning. 

 School leaders who are ready to build inclusive school experiences that set students with disabilities up for successful and satisfying lives should start by assessing current practices to determine the level of inclusive beliefs and practices present in their schools. As part of those efforts, consider exploring an inclusive model by referencing the resources listed above.

The next issue of Link Lines will focus on instructional strategies that support the development of the Five C’s within the framework of the Profile of a Virginia Graduate . Inclusive school leaders in Virginia’s Regions 2 and 3 can seek technical assistance from VDOE’s Training & Technical Assistance Centers (TTACs) at William & Mary and Old Dominion University .

Collett, J. (2019). IEPs: Developing high-quality Individualized Education Programs [Online module]. The Iris Center. https://iris.peabody.vanderbilt.edu/module/iep01/cresource/q1/p02/transcript-johnny-collett/