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A Guide to Itinerant Early Childhood Special Education Services

A Guide to Itinerant Early Childhood Special Education Services

Authors: Laurie A. Dinnebeil Ph.D., William F. McInerney Ph.D.   Foreword Author: Virginia Buysse Ph.D.

ISBN: 978-1-55766-965-0
Pages: 256
Copyright: 2011
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Size:  7.0 x 10.0
Stock Number:  69650
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Itinerant special educators can be much more than "tutors" for young children with special needs. They can transform whole classrooms and help inclusion flourish—if they have the clear guidelines and best practices they need to make the most of their critical roles. This is the book that every itinerant early childhood special educator has been waiting for, the first one that takes the guesswork out of their jobs and shows them how to make a real difference in preschool classrooms.

Aligned with DEC recommended practices and developed by the leading authorities on itinerant early childhood special education, this groundbreaking book will help readers go beyond direct service provision and slip into 5 essential roles that ensure better outcomes for young children. Itinerant teachers will get the research-based guidance they need to successfully play the part of

  • Consultant. Partner with parents, teachers, and other members of the education team to identify goals and help children reach them.
  • Coach. Empower general educators by actively helping them develop the skills and knowledge they'll need to work with young children with disabilities.
  • Assessor. Collect accurate information on both the child and the classroom environment, and support general educators in meeting their assessment responsibilities.
  • Team member. Guide the complex IEP process, manage and resolve conflict, and effectively persuade others to adopt changes and innovations that will benefit the child.
  • Service coordinator. Ensure the smooth delivery of IEP services, stay attuned to community resources that support children and families, and assist with transitions to other programs.

To help them excel in each of these roles, teachers will get a detailed start-to-finish model for providing itinerant services, from gathering information to evaluating the effectiveness of their services. Extended case studies and sample dialogues illustrate what successful itinerant services look like, and guidelines on logistics help readers resolve everyday challenges such as managing a busy schedule and working with a parent or teacher resistant to change. Readers will also monitor their performance with the PIECES, an easy-to-use tool the authors developed for assessing itinerant service delivery.

A professional development resource that programs will rely on as itinerant services continue to thrive, this urgently needed book will help "traveling teachers" become agents of change in early childhood classrooms—and give young children with disabilities the best possible start in school.

Includes practical forms & tools:

  • Sample letters to parents, teachers, and program directors
  • Sample planning forms for consultation/coaching sessions
  • PIECES tool for assessing itinerant services
  • Sample agreement to support itinerant services
  • and more

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Review by: Sarah Rule, Department of Special Education & Rehabilitation and Center for Persons with Disabilities, Utah State University

"A comprehensive blend of research and practice . . . will enhance understanding of the why and how of itinerant services."

Review by: Terri Goettl, Early Childhood Special Education, Master Teacher, Eau Claire Area School District, Eau Claire, WI

"I am delighted with the content of this book. As I went through it, I found myself saying, 'Wow, this is exactly what I do!' and 'That's how I could do that!' This book is an exceptional compilation of the many aspects of the itinerant role."

Virginia Buysse

  1. Introduction to Itinerant Early Childhood Special Education Services
  2. The Rationale for Consultation in IECSE Services
  3. Essential Roles of IECSE Teachers
  4. The IECSC Teacher as Consultant
  5. The IECSC Teacher as Coach
  6. The IECSC Teacher as Assessor
  7. The IECSC Teacher as Service Coordinator
  8. The IECSC Teacher as Team Member
  9. A Model for Providing Itinerant Services: Gathering Information and Planning for Intervention
  10. A Model for Providing Itinerant Services: Coaching, Consultation, and Evaluation
  11. Pulling it All Together: A Case Study
  12. Logistics of Providing Itinerant Services

Appendix A: Sample Letters of Introduction and Administrative Agreements
Appendix B: Sample Forms
Appendix C: Professional Development

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.

Gathering Information

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 know Maxi.

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 them up?

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 doing.

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.

"Know Thyself"

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.