The Language of IEPs and 504s: The Problem with “Engage”

I’d been playing this IEP field for so long, I should have know to press when the procedural support liaison responded to my question, “What is engage?” with, “It’s not that they’re waiting for [him] to come to them. They’re going to engage with [him].”

I should’ve known exactly what would happen—just like at all those Little League games, when a grounder hit infield toward the second-baseman popped when it hit the grass. If the player didn’t know the field, it would jump right over his glove and he’d miss it. But for the home team, they knew exactly what to expect every time.

IEP and 504 fields aren’t much different. You attend enough of them and you start predicting the outcome before it happens, just like the ball popping up at the Little League field.

Sure enough, an issue came up with the word engage. In the past, teachers didn’t sign off on his planner, so a blank entry came home as an unknown. Was there no homework for the day? No test to study? No long-term project? For this reason, every day had to be signed off on, to ensure understanding. They had to engage.

And when they didn’t, and they got off because engage wasn’t defined . . .

Was I surprised? No.

Angry? Yes.

It seems like this happens every year and every year I add another word and/or phrase to my IEP checklist, because, if I don’t, it’ll come back to haunt me.

So, what does engage mean?

Does it mean the teacher will go up to the child and talk to him?

Does it mean the teacher will go up to the child and point something out to him?

Does it mean the teacher will yell from the front of the room for the child to come hither?

What does it mean?

The answer is going to be different for every individual, so you have to think this through. What type of engagement works best for your child?

Is it better for the teacher to approach him at the end of class, where his peers aren’t privy to the conversation?

Is it better for the teacher to write a note during class and discretely place it on the child’s desk, because the child doesn’t like being pointed out?

What works for your child?

Answer that question and then write that exact answer into the IEP or 504 Plan.

Don’t use the short-cop-out engage. Get wordy and have every step of the engagement explained. Leave absolutely no room for anyone reading the IEP or 504 Plan at a later date to have any interpretation of it other than the one you and the IEP or 504 teams specifically agreed to in your meetings.

Don’t let engage come back to haunt you, too.

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