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A Season of Uprooting and Blooming

By Erika Irlbeck, MAT, PIE Learning & Resource Specialist; and Abby Giroux, MS, MA, Associate Director for PIE

Tulips blooming in front of Notre Dame's Grotto

“Entrust your works to the LORD, and your plans will succeed.” 
Proverbs 16:3

Moving to a new place. Starting a new job. Adding to your family. These changes make life uncertain and stressful. Our students experience the same feelings when they encounter change in their lives. Whether it’s moving to a new grade or a new school, it’s the same unsettling feeling - the fear of the unknown. In order to help ease this anxiety, we need to do our best to prepare our students for these school-based transitions. 

Easter week and spring is an appropriate time to discuss this change. As we look at the new sprouts, we must remember that this growth results from time, persistence, and a supportive environment. If we hope to cultivate the same growth in our students, we need to set them up for success in their new classrooms next fall. 

So how do we accomplish this task? The Program for Inclusive Education (PIE) offers a few helpful reminders as you prepare students, families, and the wider community for a season of change. In this first part of our two-part series, we will focus on transition support plans for our elementary and middle school students.

For elementary and middle school students with existing plans

For teachers and student support teams, spring is a good time to reflect on data. Progress monitoring in its many forms should be an integral part of the spring routine. The key to this practice is making sure that data are collected, analyzed, and used. 

Teachers, both individually and collaboratively, can spend time reviewing and evaluating data in light of students’ goals. Students’ 504s, IEPs, or school-designed support plans should be reviewed alongside the data in order to update student progress and set new goals. Additionally, discussions about data help guide end-of-the-year conversations with parents/guardians, staff, and other stakeholders as they continue to co-develop plans individualized to their students’ needs.

Communication from year to year is paramount to ensure that students receive continuity in their services. Most schools have some process for transferring student plans from one grade to the next and providing time for teachers to meet and discuss this transition. At any time when discussing students, it is important to remind everyone of the confidential nature of these discussions and to have clearly defined expectations for the use of asset-based language.

Middle school transitions also require special attention for students with plans because often this means a switch from a self-contained classroom and one teacher, to a daily rotation schedule with a variety of teachers. A middle school teaching team would benefit from understanding the needs and previous plans for their incoming students so they can help co-create student plans that will be effective in the middle school context. Incoming middle schoolers might also benefit from a chance to meet their new teachers and take a tour of  their new spaces. Lockers, electives, and extracurricular activities might all be new elements with which students, especially those with executive functioning needs, will need additional support. 

For students in elementary or middle school on a team member’s radar

In addition to students with formalized support plans, teachers may also have questions or concerns about other students as the school year wraps up. In these cases, data collection (e.g. observations, documentation of strategies and outcomes, assessment scores), as well as conversations with school staff, parents, and guardians are important. 

Depending on the concern, it might be enough for the current teacher to share documentation with the new teacher, highlighting certain benchmarks to be mindful of in the fall.  In other instances, a teacher might consult with the student support team and parents/guardians to determine if there are data supporting the need for a more formalized plan.

Most elementary schools offer their families some form of summer skills practice. Depending on resources, these might be tailored to and emphasized with select families in an effort to support ongoing growth for students during the summer months. 

Communicating and coordinating with parents, local service providers, and students

Your school’s local education agency (LEA) has a set schedule of formal plan reviews. Many of the related testing sessions and meetings are scheduled for the spring and/or fall of a school year in order to support student transitions between grades. If you work at a Catholic school, it is important to establish a relationship with your local public school so you can effectively facilitate evaluations and services. 

Whether in end-of-year meetings with the LEA, families, or school staff, all participants should celebrate student growth, identify current student strengths, and use person-first language. Starting here can lead to positive and realistic goal updates that will support student transitions to the next grade level. 

Parent and guardian involvement in these conversations is foundational. Parents and guardians should have a chance to reflect on the year, share their perspectives, and ask questions. They should be involved in goal setting and be able to suggest changes to students’ formalized plans for the next school year. These conversations can be both helpful and energizing as parents/guardians share their hopes for their child’s future. 

Depending on their age, students should also be involved in these conversations. Young students might be allowed to share their growth in their own words and reflect on the successes of the past year. They might also have questions and ideas about the year ahead. 

For students moving into middle school, joining these discussions can help them identify their interests and learning goals and will assist educational support teams in tapping into their interests, motivation, and efficacy. Offering middle schoolers a place in these discussions also provides them with a sense of agency in their own learning and development.

Even if a student is not on the LEA’s review schedule, parents should be updated regarding their student’s progress. This can take a number of forms. Many schools offer spring parent-teacher conferences or the opportunity to request conferences as needed. Communication tied to student goals that includes progress monitoring data should be shared throughout the year, not just at student report card time.

As we engage in the busyness and excitement of the last few months of school, let us remember Ecclesiastes 3:1-2: “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot…” As our students face a time of uprooting, let’s do our best to make sure they continue to bloom where planted.

We will continue this conversation in May with a focus on high school and beyond. We welcome questions or insights that might help inform part two of this blog series or May’s “A Little Slice of PIE” conversation. Please take a minute to share your thoughts here