Excerpted from Chapter 9 of A Guide to Itinerant Early Childhood Special Education Services by Laurie A. Dinnebeil, Ph.D., & William F. McInerney, Ph.D. Copyright© 2011 by Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
A Model for Providing Itinerant Services
Gathering Information and Planning for Intervention
The purpose of this chapter is to describe a process that IECSE teachers and those individuals with whom they work can use to support children's developmental and academic progress in community-based preschool programs or other natural environments.
The process begins with collecting baseline and background information about children, their everyday environments, and the other adults who work with them. Once
IECSE teachers collect information, they can work in collaboration with other adults to
plan intervention services that can be embedded into children's daily routines and activities. Throughout this chapter, we discuss how Heather, Maxi's IECSE teacher, uses
this model to work with Maxi's teacher and mother to provide high-quality itinerant
services. Chapter 10 continues this process by outlining the consultation and coaching
process articulated earlier in this book.
Heather and Maxi
Maxi is 4 years old and loves going to preschool in Ms. Sherry's room. She especially loves playing
with her best friends Helene and Addison. Maxi has been enrolled in Ms. Sherry's room for the past
3 weeks, ever since her mom went back to work. A special school bus comes to pick Maxi up
every morning to accommodate her wheelchair. Maxi has cerebral palsy, which has caused limited
mobility. She uses a wheelchair to get around but is slowly learning to use a walker. In addition to
having cerebral palsy, Maxi has difficulty attending to everyday activities. She is easily distracted, especially when it comes time for large- or small-group activities.
Heather is Maxi's IECSE teacher. This is her fifth year providing itinerant services. She enjoys
visiting other classrooms and says that she learns a lot by watching other teachers work with children. Although she started out providing direct services as an itinerant teacher, she is shifting toward
more of a consultative approach. She visits Maxi's classrooms on Thursday mornings, usually from
9:00 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.
Sherry is Maxi's preschool teacher. Sherry has an associate's degree in early childhood education and this is her 12th year teaching young children. She is enthusiastic and energetic and wants to do what is best for Maxi. With that said, Sherry has never worked with a child who has cerebral
palsy and is very nervous. She wants to do what is best for Maxi but is afraid that she is going to do
something wrong and has asked if her classroom is really the best place to meet Maxi's needs.
Megan is Maxi's mother. She has just returned to work after staying at home with Maxi and
her older sister for 5 years. She absolutely wants what is best for Maxi. In the past, Maxi has received special education and related services at home. The IECSE teacher would come to her home
and work with Maxi on different skills. Megan also would bring Maxi to the physical and occupational
therapists' offices on a regular basis. She knows that Heather's job really is to help Sherry work with
Maxi, but she wants to make sure that Maxi receives all of the help she needs. She used to feel
very confident that Maxi was getting the help she needed when the other itinerant teacher used to
come to her home; and, although she likes Heather, she is not entirely sure that consultation is the
way to go.
Chapter 6 discussed the role of the IECSE teacher related to assessment—formal and informal as well as assessment of children, adults, and environments. In addition, Chapter 4 described ways in which IECSE teachers gather information that can assist them
in establishing a productive consultative relationship with other adults. To make appropriate decisions on behalf of children and families, IECSE teachers must know as much
as possible about the child who is receiving itinerant services.
Heather is looking forward to getting to know Maxi. At Maxi's IEP meeting, she
talked to Megan and Sherry. She knows the itinerant teacher Maxi had before—the one
who used to make home visits—but she has never met Maxi. Heather knows that if she
is going to help Maxi be successful in Sherry's classroom, then she first has to get to
Who Is the Child?
Understanding the culture, strengths, challenges, interests, and abilities of a child who is
receiving itinerant services is key to planning and implementing effective interventions.
IECSE teachers are different from other adults who work with the child because they
have limited contact with the child. Heather only sees Maxi once a week for about an
hour and a half. Because, like in this example, these professionals sometimes only have
limited contact with a child, it is important that IECSE teachers gather as much information about the child from a variety of sources, including the child's family, his or her
teachers, school records (including the IEP), and direct observation. Heather has read
through Maxi's school file and talked to her mom—once at the IEP meeting and once
about a week ago. She has also spoken with Sherry twice—once at the IEP meeting and
once over the telephone when she called to schedule the visit. McWilliam, Casey, and
Sims (2009) described the Routines-Based Interview (RBI), a process for gathering information from family members and caregivers who spend large amounts of time with the
child. Interventionists, including IECSE teachers, discuss the results of the interview
with the parent or caregiver, helping to identify possible outcomes that may lead to enhanced development and meaningful participation in everyday routines and activities.
The director of Maxi's preschool arranged for a substitute teacher to help out in
Sherry's room for Heather's first visit, which gave Heather and Sherry some time to get to know each other. Heather used the RBI (McWilliam et al., 2009) to find out about
Maxi's day. Below is part of their conversation:
Heather: Sherry, I'd like to talk with you about Maxi's day. Understanding what Maxi does each
day will help me understand how I can best help her be successful in your classroom.
Maxi is here in your classroom because her mom and everyone else on the IEP team
thought it would be the best place for her to learn and prepare for kindergarten. You
can do so much more for her during daily routines than I could in 90 minutes a week,
and if you can share with me what her day looks like, then perhaps we can come up
with a plan to best support her.
Sherry: Sure, I'd be happy to tell you about Maxi's day, but we really don't do anything
Special—just typical preschool stuff.
Heather: Well, it's that typical preschool stuff that's really going to prepare Maxi to be successful
in kindergarten. Can you walk me through a typical day?
Sherry: Well, Maxi gets here at about 8:15 in the morning. The bus drops her off and the bus
aide brings her into my classroom after she hangs up her things.
Heather: When you say, "she," do you mean Maxi hangs up her things or the bus aide hangs
Sherry: The bus aide hangs them up. Maxi has enough challenges—I didn't think she needed
to worry about hanging up her things.
Heather: Okay, maybe we can talk about that later. After Maxi gets into the room, what's next?
What does she like to do?
As the conversation above indicates, Heather asks Sherry to tell her about Maxi's day—the
kinds of activities she engages in, what Maxi likes (and does not like), and what concerns Sherry
has for Maxi's success. When she asks the questions about what concerns Sherry has, Sherry admits that although she thinks that Maxi is a great little girl, she worries that maybe her classroom is
not the best place for her. Sherry does not know anything about working with children who have
the kind of challenges that Maxi has; and the classroom is so busy, Sherry is afraid that Maxi is
going to get hurt. We'll pick up on that concern a little later.
Another Way of Gathering Information
Wolery and colleagues (2002) offered a similar approach to McWilliam and colleagues'
RBI approach (2009), which was discussed previously. Congruence assessment offers a
process that IECSE teachers can use collaboratively to identify children's strengths and
challenges as they relate to participation in classroom routines and activities. In addition
to observing the child in a variety of contexts (e.g., participation in classroom activities,
interactions with peers, engagement in routines with parents if appropriate), reading
the IEP, and engaging parents and caregivers in focused discussions, these two systematic approaches provide effective ways to gather the baseline information needed to
plan meaningful interventions for the child.
Using the example above, Heather asks Sherry to describe how Maxi participates
in the different routines and activities in Sherry's classroom. In addition to asking her about Maxi's likes and dislikes, Heather also asks Sherry to identify concerns she has
for the way that Maxi interacts. Sherry is quick to point out that circle time is difficult
because Maxi just does not want to pay attention. Instead of participating in circle time
activities, she tries to interact with the children sitting next to her. Sherry finds helping
Maxi use the bathroom very difficult because Maxi needs so much help. Sherry is also
worried that she is going to hurt Maxi when she picks her up or helps her move from
one place to the other.
Who Are the Adults Who Work with the Child?
Again, because the primary responsibility of an IECSE teacher is to help the adults who
spend the majority of time with the child to deliver specialized services in the IECSE
teacher's absence, it is important that the IECSE teacher know these adults. As we have
discussed previously, IECSE teachers and the adults with whom they work must learn
to work together effectively and productively. Buysse and Wesley (2005) emphasized
the importance of building effective relationships with consultees; to do that, consultants and consultees must get to know each other. Information about the early childhood
teacher's experiences with young children, including young children with disabilities,
will help the IECSE teacher understand the kinds of supports and resources he or she
might need. Information about the parent's education level will help the IECSE teacher
understand effective ways of sharing information. Consultants should be careful to engage their consultee in conversation around these questions as opposed to using a direct
interview or "interrogation" method.
After Heather and Sherry had talked about everyday classroom activities, Heather asked Sherry to
tell her a little bit about herself:
Heather: Sherry, thanks for all of the information about your classroom. It seems like this is a
great place for Maxi to learn! You must have been teaching forever! Can you tell me a
little bit about your background?
Sherry: Thanks! I really don't have any special background. I've always known I wanted to be
a teacher and really enjoy being around young children. In high school I used to help
out in a child care center and knew that I'd found my place. After high school I enrolled
in a community college and earned an associate's degree in early childhood education.
I might want to go back to school one day, but for now, I'm happy doing what I'm
Heather: I know what you mean about taking a break from school! I learned a lot, but all that
studying and writing papers—I don't mind not having to do that again! Is Maxi the first
child that you've worked with who has an IEP?
Sherry: I had a little boy a year ago who had a speech problem and another little girl who had
behavior problems—they both had IEPs, but I never saw them. I had a class about
working with kids who have special needs and sort of know what an IEP is, but I don't
really know what to do with it. The other kids I worked with looked like typical kids—
Maxi's the first child I worked with who's in a wheelchair.
Heather: It sounds like you're a bit nervous about working with Maxi—I know equipment like her
wheelchair, walker, and her special chair can be a bit overwhelming at times. It seems,
though, that you're really committed to doing what's best for Maxi and I hope that I
can help you to feel more comfortable and confident. I know that Maxi loves coming to
your classroom and between myself, the OT, and the PT, I also know that we can help
you feel successful.
Sherry: You're right Heather—working with Maxi seems overwhelming. I mean, she's a sweet
little girl, but I don't want to move her the wrong way or hurt her at all. If you think I
can do it, I'm up for it—of course with your help!
As the conversation continues, readers can see how much Heather has learned about
Sherry—her education, experiences working with children with disabilities, and her
trepidation in working with Maxi. Heather also shares some information about herself
with Sherry—disclosing relevant personal information can help build rapport and confidence in the relationship. Below are some suggestions for questions that IECSE teachers can ask their partners:
- What kinds of experiences has the person had with young children, including young
children with disabilities?
- What kinds of experience has the person had working with consultants or coaches?
- What does the person know about the child's disability or associated learning difficulties?
- What is the person's education level? How does she learn best?
- How much time does the person have to work with a coach or a consultant?
- How does the person feel about working with this child? What is he or she excited
about? What is he or she concerned about?
- How does the person feel about working with a coach or a consultant? What is he or she excited about? What is he or she concerned about?
- What does the person expect from a coach or a consultant?
- What are the person's goals for the consultative relationship?
Understanding the Learning Environment
IECSE teachers such as Heather who are planning for consultation must have a solid
understanding of the child's learning environment, which, in Maxi's case, is her preschool classroom. In Chapters 4 and 6, we have discussed the importance of the learning
environment and its relationship to successful inclusive experiences. We have discussed
using environmental rating instruments such as the Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale–Revised (ECERS-R) developed by Harms and her colleagues (Harms, Clifford,
& Cryer, 2005; Harms, Cryer, & Clifford, 2003, 2007). Information gathered through these
instruments can be very helpful in shaping the goals of the consultative relationship as
well as identifying the kinds of intervention strategies needed to support children's
learning. One of the things that Heather can do to become acquainted with Maxi's room
is to use the ECERS-R to analyze its features. She can use the information she collects from it to help her and Sherry plan how they can best help Maxi. Instruments such as
the ECERS-R are helpful because they provide a way of conducting a structured (versus
a haphazard) observation. When Heather shares this information with Sherry, she needs
to be sensitive to the fact that some early childhood teachers might become defensive or
intimidated if the scores are not as high as they would think. In these cases, it is helpful
for Heather to remind Sherry that high scores on an instrument such as the ECERS-R
denote an excellent degree of quality that only few programs achieve. There may be factors outside of Sherry's control that cause lower scores on some items (e.g., furnishings
and equipment). Alternatively, a low score on the ECERS-R might provide the impetus
that Sherry and other preschool teachers need to improve the early learning environment.
Knowing the Ropes
In addition to identifying key dimensions of the child's learning environment, IECSE
teachers also must have solid information about rules, regulations, policies, and procedures that govern a preschool classroom. Head Start teachers follow Head Start Performance Standards that provide guidance about classroom routines and activities (Administration on Children, Youth and Families, 2009). Other community-based programs
that are licensed by the state operate under strict policies regarding staff–child ratio,
health and safety procedures, or nutrition guidelines. Given the increase in the number
of states that institute quality rating improvement systems (QRIS; Mitchell, 2009), IECSE
teachers would be wise to learn about the policies under which quality-rated centers operate. For example, QRIS programs often are required to engage in assessment processes
that can be helpful to the work of the IECSE teacher. They also provide guidance concerning curricular decisions, including stipulating time spent in certain areas such as
emergent literacy or mathematics. They also may have policies and procedures related
to working with children who have disabilities. Knowing these guidelines can help the
IECSE teacher be prepared to effectively support the child as well as the child's teachers.
Although Heather cannot be expected to know everything about how licensed early
childhood centers work, she should know whom to ask or where to consult in case she
has a question.
Finally, IECSE teachers who enter into consultative relationships to support early childhood inclusion have to know their own strengths and challenges. Just as early childhood
teachers need to feel confident, competent, and comfortable working with young children who have special needs, IECSE teachers need to feel confident, competent, and
comfortable in their role as a consultant. Tools such as the PIECES (Dinnebeil & McInerney, 2011), already described in this book and included as Appendix C, will help
IECSE teachers assess their own knowledge and skills related to a consultative approach.
Acting on this self-assessment by engaging in continuous learning and professional development can help the IECSE teacher stay current in the field and help to strengthen his
or her competence (thereby helping him or her to feel more comfortable and confident).
As you may recall, Heather has been an IECSE teacher for the last 5 years, but it
was not until recently that she started serving in more of a consultant's role. At the end
of the last school year, Heather decided that she needed to move in that direction—she
knew that working with a child once a week on IEP goals did little to help the child. Although Heather has confidence in her ability to work with children (she was a classroom teacher for 7 years prior to becoming an IECSE teacher), she does not feel completely comfortable as a consultant. She has trouble giving feedback, especially if it is
not positive feedback. She also struggles with demonstrating skills to others; she feels
as though when she says, "Watch me" she's saying, "I'm better than you are!" Heather
completed the PIECES over the summer and decided that she really needed to focus on
her ability to share specific feedback with others and plans to work on that as part of
her work with Sherry and Maxi.