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  • Meagan Gillcrist

Building Transitional Programs that Encourage Failing Forward

We are consistently told as students that the next phase in our educational career is always harder. I remember being told as a student, "Well, high school is different Meagan." That same trend has continued to follow me as I entered the world of education as a teacher, as I frequently have found myself telling my students the same. The issue I have with the continual "making it seem harder" trend is that rarely was I ever taught how to navigate the new world I was entering.


As a high school special educator, I love creating situations for my students to fail forward. School is a great place to try new things in a safe environment where you have people all around you ready to pick you back up when you fall. The reality is, if it doesn't happen here, then where? I say this to lead into my next point, we have to create systems for our students to practice these transitions before hitting the real-world.


School is a great place to try new things in a safe environment where you have people all around you ready to pick you back up when you fall.

When students in special education enter high school, they begin to have transitional programs and goals within their Individualized Educational Plan (IEP). With programs such as I'm Determined leading the way with self-determination initiatives, special educators have clear and tangible resources available to begin implementing these programs for students. However, supporting students in leading their own IEP meetings and advocating for their accommodations is often harder and overlooked in the field.


Here are some tips and tricks in creating your own systems for helping students "fail forward" into the real world. Remember that systems take a lot of time to build. Try to focus on a few pieces of the puzzle at a time. In order to build sustainable programs, going slow to go fast later is important:


  • Have students navigate learning about their disability. Often times as a high school teacher students would come into our program not knowing they had an IEP. It was incredibly important at that point to have students understand their learning strengths and needs before having them "fail forward." This happened through a number of activities from reading through their IEPs, interviewing their parents about their story, to researching about their disability. Often times learning about themselves allowed students to feel empowered to take on the hard work to succeed.

  • Have students explore their accommodations. Over the past few years, our program would give an accommodations lesson for all students who received accommodations. We would discuss what they are and why they were important. This was huge for students who had been in our program. It gave them an opportunity to share with students younger than them about how their accommodations have helped them overcome obstacles and how learning to advocate was imperative to their success. Before leaving, students would receive a laminated accommodations card to carry with them and practice with their case manager about advocating for them. Over time, students would create their own resources to share with their teachers.

  • Have students identify and practice advocating. It is important to remember that advocating looks and sounds different for everyone, even adults. For students who have not advocated before, going up to a teacher and asking for an accommodation is incredibly intimidating. Have a student first identify where they would like to start. Many students on my caseload would first start by coming to my office and talking with me. We would then craft an email or conversation together to their teacher. Over time, this would develop into a scaffolded approach to get to the end result of students speaking directly to their teachers about their needs.

  • Have students create their plans. As adults, we do not typically do things that we do not agree with. If we have a hard time seeing, an obvious answer would be to wear glasses. However, for most of our students, if they cannot "see" what is going on they resist the support they are getting. Find ways within your school to engage students in the process of creating their own plans and leading their own meetings. One way to do this would to have a basic template available for students to create prior to their IEP meeting with strengths, interests, needs, and accommodations. Every year the student can add to their presentation as their confidence in advocating and understanding of their needs increases.


Although these suggestions are not a one sized fits all approach to creating transitional systems that encourage failing forward, they are a start in creating exceptional programs. As you create small changes to how you implement transition plans, you will begin to realize that your students will rise to the occasion. It is a great feeling as an educator to know that your students are prepared for the next level.


Contact us at EED for individualized support in creating these systems for your school or district.


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