Module Six: Time to Reflect

I would like to thank each of you for spending time learning about the Virginia Department of Education’s I’m Determined Project. I hope you found these modules helpful in providing background to the Virginia Department of Education’s self-determination efforts. This final module is devoted to reflection: both as educators and administrators working in the I’m Determined project, and as a participant in these modules.

Our project goals:

I’m Determined Goals 2011-2016

  • Expand our presence in middle schools across the state
  • Explore the relationship between dropout prevention, self-determination, and PBIS
  • Continue to grow regional and statewide Youth Summit events
  • Continue to enhance website with video examples of stages of implementation
  • Explore the relationship between Assistive Technology and Self-Determination (i-Pad, Apps, etc.)
  • Enhance our person-centered planning strategies
  • Coordinate with PPD thru PBIS Facilitator network
  • Coordinate our efforts with DHAM in Virginia with PPD, VDOE, & state universities

Time to Reflect

Hopefully, as you have participated in these modules, you’ve started to cultivate your own philosophy on self-determination. I’m Determined project coordinators ask you to reflect on the past five modules and answer two questions:

  1. What is my personal philosophy regarding self-determination?
  2. How have the past 5 modules helped shape this philosophy?

We challenged ourselves to do the same when these modules were first created and shared. A few responses that appear below show how self-determination affects us in different ways.

We’ve began a data gathering project around the impact of I’m Determined in our 5 original sites. Diane Loomis has been the lead and is in the process of summarizing our findings. Please read Diane’s article,What’s Good is Good.

The Determinators (Project Coordinators)

John McNaught: State Project Co-Coordinator

When I first heard the word self-determination, I thought of self-advocacy. I’ve learned self-determination is so much more than self-advocacy.  The core components of self-determination enable youth to leave school and have a toolbox full of tools to navigate life. As a teacher, I was guilty of assuming the toolbox already was full of tools. I skipped problem solving and decision-making because I thought the youth I was working with already had those tools in their toolbox. I was also guilty of guiding the youth to the toolbox, selecting the tool I thought was best for the situation, and handing that tool to the youth. Self-determination is having the strength and confidence to listen instead of talk, to identify choices instead of choosing what I think is best, and to let youth try, fail, get up, and try again.

Wanda Bass: Determinator @ T/TAC at VCU

My philosophy of self-determination is quite simple – listening to the student’s voice.  Students have a lot to say about themselves – their strengths, preferences, interests, needs, and what they would like to do in the future.  For too long, professionals have made decisions for students with disabilities with little input from the individual or parent/guardian.  While the decisions were motivated by good intentions, they may have overlooked the desires, hopes, and aspirations that remained hidden within the student.

Mac McArthur-Fox: Determinator @ T/TAC at RU

Self-determination means empowerment.  I believe all people – including all people with disabilities – have the right to have a voice.  Students and adults with disabilities have the right to make basic choices about their lives; to dream – and have the support needed to reach their dreams; to control any supports received; to make a contribution to the community; and to have those around them affirm their individuality and life journeys.  For students and adults with significant disabilities, self-determination must be nurtured and affirmed life-long through circles of support and person-centered practices.

Kim Sheridan: Determinator @ T/TAC at RU

I see self-determination in so many of the actions taken by project youth leaders; I see it in classrooms when students create and explain One-Pagers and Good Day Plans.  To describe a personal philosophy would mean having to breakdown these various demonstrations of self-determination skills, explaining the tools and interventions, and speaking from the youth’s point of view.  That would take a lot of writing and would require me to make assumptions that may or may not be true.

When I think concretely about self-determination, my thoughts return to the guiding principles created by people with disabilities and their allies when The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation funded the National Program Office on Self-Determination for persons with Disabilities.  Those principles are:

  • Freedom – the ability to plan a life based on personal dreams and goals;
  • Authority – to control the resources available for needed supports and services;
  • Support – the opportunity to organize various resources that are meaningful to a person’s life.  Supports can be both formal and informal and available within a person’s community; and
  • Responsibility – to use the resources wisely and contribute to the community.

I see youth and young adults in the project taking these principles for granted – a sure sign they are undertaking leadership roles in the future of disability rights.

Nancy Anderson: Determinator @ T/TAC at GMU

If I had the I’m Determined program for me as a young student, my family and I would have benefited from it.  I would have understood my hearing loss and mild cerebral palsy much clearer at an earlier age. During my school career, I can remember my mother always “speaking for me” and I hated that.   It wasn’t until junior high school that at my insistence, my mother finally listened and allowed me to talk to my teachers and ask for things myself.  I was the student in the classroom and I knew what worked for me, so why was everyone telling me what was best for me?  Why didn’t anyone ask me?  If there is one thing about self-determination that I learned and I would like to pass on is this: Listen to your children or students at every age and grade of their life. Listen to what they want or need in school today, and what they want to try to do later in life.   If you listen, educate, guide, and let them speak for themselves… it can make all the difference in the world to the student who wants to be self-determined.

Diane Loomis: Determinator @ T/TAC at GMU

I have had a couple of “A-ha!” moments in relation to the I’m Determined Project.  The first is a realization that the underlying philosophy of student empowerment really is a break from traditional expectations that adults lead, students follow.  We assume that adults have the knowledge of what children need to know and what they should become, and that the state must determine the curriculum.  But here we have a philosophy saying, “Wait a minute—maybe there is something that arises from within the child that we should honor.”   Maybe young people really would do better in school and in life if they were in touch with their own powers to persevere, to know what is important to them and to find paths to take them toward what they sense is essential for them.  Not that adults don’t have superior knowledge from the vantage point of education and experience.  They do, of course, and they should give it.  But, through this project we are also saying that certain core competencies, such as Choice-Making, Goal-Setting, Self-Advocacy, and Internal Locus of Control may be critical to success in adult life.  It’s hard for us adults to cede some control, but research is telling us and our own eyes are confirming that to grow into the young adults we want them to be, children need a core of self-determination.

The second “A-ha” is how this philosophy of student empowerment can be adapted beyond the classroom.  I was privileged to listen to an elementary school psychologist describe how she explains evaluation test scores to students with special needs.  Usually, she says, students think there must be something wrong with them if they are referred for evaluation.  But when they come away from a session with her, inspired by the I’m Determined philosophy, they not only have a greater understanding of how the brain works, but also of how their brain uniquely works.  She has the choice of delivering test results in a way that is deflating or in a way that is empowering.  She chooses the way that moves students a few positive notches higher up the scale of Self-Awareness, with greater chances at Self-Efficacy and Self-Instruction and in the direction of self-determination.

Elaine Gould: Determinator @ T/TAC at W&M

To me self-determination is both a belief and a practice. As adults, we can believe that children should have choices about their future, but it is also important to create environments in which students can practice self-determined behavior in school, at home, and in the community. As I talk with teachers, I hear that once students have opportunities to practice and demonstrate skills in self-determination, students’, teachers’, and parents’ beliefs are transformed. I have witnessed, through my involvement with the Youth Summit and the Transition Forum, that after a few short days, students are more confident and believe that they are in control of their future!