3 Steps to Boost Your Transition Planning

Special ed director wearing a white shirt engaged in transition planning with a pencil in hand and an open notebook.

When I have the opportunity to speak with special education directors, I ask as many questions as time allows. I find many of the questions result in responses that are consistent and predictable; whereas, other questions often yield a far greater diversity of answers.

For example, most special education directors name time restrictions, overwhelming paperwork, compliance issues, and teacher shortages as the greatest challenges of their everyday work life – or some close resemblance to these issues.  

Conversely, when asking these same leaders about what steps they would take to significantly improve their transition planning processes and programming, I am most often met with a lengthy pause which is quickly followed by a look of consternation. 

At first, I was surprised at the variance in responses, but then it began to make sense. The tangible issues that slow us down and make our work lives harder are often right in front of us on a daily basis.  

It is not hard to identify blocks, barriers, and challenges. That said, the ability to revamp, change, markedly improve, or re-imagine a given practice or program is much harder. 

I once had a clever special education director coyly respond to my question with “If I knew how to do it, don’t you think I would have done it by now?”  With a sheepish grin, I replied, “Touche, my friend.  Touche.” 

All too often the barrier to change and growth isn’t a willingness or desire to do so, it is the lack of a clear path, resources, and a blueprint.

To that point, as a professional community of people who support special educators in the transition planning process, we need to spend more time reviewing trending research, talking to experts, observing leading approaches in the schools and communities, and sharing our findings with the field.  

In that spirit, and after lengthy conversations with professionals and experts who serve the special education community, I came up with the following 3 steps to boost and markedly improve your transition programming.

Step 1: Do Your Research

Interview and survey your parents, students (current and former), special educators, general educators, local leaders of community-based employment service programs, transition experts at local and state universities, members of organizations like CEC and DCDT, and anyone else you believe has important information on the topic of transition planning in your community to share.  

Beginning with feedback from key stakeholders not only achieves buy-in for your transition initiatives but also: 

  1. Increases the overall quantity of intellectual inputs, 
  2. Maximizes ideas and resources, 
  3. Provides a number of perspectives from different lenses, 
  4. Helps you to see beyond your professional blinders and biases, and 
  5. Creates a more collegial and inclusive work environment.  

By reviewing articles, trending research, and expert organization documents, you will uncover innovative and new initiatives, expand your repertoire of ideas for new programming, likely uncover and adopt more evidence-based and research-based practices, and spark new and progressive ideas.

After this step, you should have the following:

  • Inputs and insights on current transition planning from your full continuum of stakeholders.
  • Buy-in from your stakeholders on advancing new transition initiatives and concepts.
  • Awareness of trending research, new approaches, perceptions of current programming, constituent needs and concerns, and desired outcomes.
  • Awareness of other transition programs that are having positive impacts in special education.
  • Awareness of websites, organizations, and individuals that have resources and tools to advance your transition programming.

Step 2:  Program Evaluation 

With an objective and analytical eye, review the continuum of transition services and the overall quality of the programming you currently provide.  

Since its late addition to federal law via the 1997 IDEA reauthorization, transition programming has often not received the focus and extensive efforts afforded to other substantive areas of the IDEA.  

Over the last few decades, the need for transition planning has only become more important and present in due process hearings and litigation. However, as we discussed in a previous article, our collective focus and effort in this area have not increased at the same pace.  

For that reason, a number of districts in the U.S. do not have a broad array of transition services and supports – and those services are often provided at various degrees of quality dependent on the severity of the disability.

Pro Tip:  Keep Your Chin Up.  

After collecting input, objectively evaluating your current programming, reviewing research, speaking with experts, listening to parents, and receiving input from students, you may find the following:

  • You have very few distinct programs or resources for transition;
  • You have far more transition options for moderate to severe students than you do for mild students;
  • Most of your caseload is enrolled in the same transition programs and have the same goals;
  • You lack a valid and reliable way to measure progress in essential areas of the transition process; and
  • You don’t have physical evidence or documentation of the transition annual goals each child on your caseload has engaged in.

Pro Tip: Don’t Sweat It and Take Action.  

If the five listed statements above resonate loud and clear with you, please know that you are absolutely and unequivocally not alone.  

So, with that said, let it go and give yourself some grace.  

The key to improving practice in special education is simply to identify the area of need and make a firm commitment to addressing it.

After step 2, you should have the following:

  • Insight into the strengths and weaknesses of your current transition program.
  • Awareness of the gaps in your programming and options.
  • Awareness of the appropriateness of programmatic coverage by topic and disability.
  • Awareness of what work needs to be done to improve the overall transition program.
  • A better idea of what metrics to follow and measure.
  • A strong sense of what needs to be in your new blueprint.

Step 3. Create the New Blueprint

Remember, an architectural blueprint only provides the overall design and measurements of the structure. It does not go into the detail of how to actually build or bring the structure to fruition. Similarly, you don’t have to solve all of the questions and provide extensive detail today. Let’s first start with your vision and the general design of your new program.

The most important element of launching a new program is determining what needs to be done, how it is going to be done, what you need to get it done, and how you know when it is done.  

I have developed a simple, yet efficient process with sample priority areas. You can find more details in the checklist below.

Transition planning checklist

 

Check 1: Identify the specific focus areas for your blueprint.  

  • Think of these as the pillars or foundations of your new home.  
  • The Focus Areas are your new, high-priority areas of need and improvement.
  • Generally speaking, you will have between 5-8 focus areas.

Check 2: Create S.M.A.R.T. goals for each new focus area.  

  • You should have 3-5 goals for each focus area. 
  • Completing these goals would mean you’ve successfully improved that focus area. 

Check 3: Identify the resources needed to successfully implement your new focus areas and each subsequent goal.  

Check 4: Develop discrete action steps that need to happen in order for you to accomplish your goals and fulfil the expectations of the focus area.  

  • You may have anywhere from 5-10 action steps per goal.

After going through this checklist, you should have the following:

  • A set of specific areas of focus on which to drive programmatic change.
  • A set of S.M.A.R.T. goals to successfully grow and develop your areas of focus.
  • A set of action steps in order to take the right and sequential steps to achieve each goal.
  • A method for measuring goals and evaluating the overall success of improving each area of focus.

What Else Can You Do to Boost Transition Planning? 

Now that you have an extensive amount of information from your most important stakeholders; rated, ranked, and reviewed your current transition programs; reviewed the literature base in transition planning; and consulted with experts and expert organizations, you are more than ready to re-imagine your transition program. 

Still not sure if your transition planning is the best it can be? Get in touch with us today to discuss how implementing Ori Learning’s solution can help you markedly improve transition outcomes across your school or district.