Service Provider Turnover: How do we share information with new team members without needing to repeat the same song and dance every time there's a new person?
The start to this school year has been particularly difficult for hiring and retaining teachers, instructional assistants, and service providers. Every school site I work with is short staffed and the classrooms that do have a teacher and some classroom support staff have several brand new professionals, who have never met my students. Not only that, but there hasn't been a system in place to pass key information from the previous team to the new one. For many students, the only information the new team gets is their IEP, which really does not tell them how to best support the person in real life. I have been talking with parents about how they have to start over every year (if not more frequently), telling people that their child needs help in the bathroom, what they like and don't like to eat, what kinds of environmental factors might come into play, what seems to motivate their child, which hand is their dominant one, how their AAC device works, and many many other details that make it possible for their child, teen, or young adult to have a safe day at school (let alone a productive and positive one). As someone who trains instructional assistants and teachers regularly, I also know that there is never "enough" time for people to read everything in the child's file before the first week of school. They often feel like they can't take the time to observe a student or really get to know them when they first start working with them. They don't get to meet with their support staff or service providers to trade notes or brainstorm together. Instead, school teams are expected to "jump right in" on day one with little to no support or guidance, no previous work samples or teacher notes, and often not enough support to maintain safety, let alone a joyful and effective learning environment in their classrooms. Obviously, this is frustrating for the educational teams and the parents, but ultimately makes it so the student themselves has to start over every year, too.
Strategy 1: Personal Portfolio~ I recommend working with your child and their team from the beginning of their school years to create a personal portfolio that will stay with them as they grow and with each new team. The portfolio will include key information and examples (sometimes even photos/video clips) that help the student be successful in their day, helps the team to know what has worked in the past, and helps the student learn about themselves and how to advocate for their own needs from an early age. This can be a website, a digital folder or private social media type profile, a hands on binder/folder, or any combination of digital and print that works best for your team. It is really important to update it at least once per year, but this can also be embedded into their end of the semester/year school work if your school team is interested in incorporating it into lessons in the classroom. Older work samples, notes, etc. should be removed from the portfolio, so it is a manageable size with the most up to date/essential information for the current/new teams.
~Here's more info in my resources.
~I'd love to help you with this portfolio process, so contact me if you'd like my support.
Strategy 2: One Pager~ If you have information that needs to be shared fast and want to ensure that the team (or sub) will read it right away, make a one page handout/infographic that can be sent as an email, text, or printed hard copy. This should include safety information, allergies, self care needs, peers that know them well, consistent behavioral/sensory triggers, handedness, info about essential AT or AAC, etc. It is not the place where you are getting into the nitty gritty, but it is something that can keep your child safer with a new person.
~~If you have an example of a portfolio your child/teen/young adult uses or another strategy for people to try, please comment and we can keep the conversation flowing. ~~
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Janelle Dowling, MA