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

Imagine an IEP with a goal along the lines of the following:

Teachers will engage with student to ensure student understands and accurately records all assignments in student's planner.

Now imagine attending an IEP meeting at which this goal is being discussed. You push for more details, but the staff member helming the meeting insists that engage means the following:

"It’s not that they’re waiting for [the student] to come to them. They’re going to engage with [the student]."

What could go wrong?

When Will Teacher Engage?

On a few occasions, teachers forgot to engage with the student, and then hunted him down during their free periods, pulled him from the class he was in, and then engaged with him in the hallway.

The result? The student was put on the spot in front of his peers, the class being taught was disrupted, and the student missed class.

How Will Teachers Engage?

Will the teacher call the student to the front of the class and make a scene in front of his peers? Will the teacher discreetly meet with the student as he exits the classroom, or will another arrangement occur?

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?

On one occasion, a teacher repeatedly failed to engage. When asked about this, she said the student didn't come up to her first. Although "engage" was part of an accommodation, the teacher's expectation was that the student would ensure implementation of the accommodation, not the teacher.

What Does Engage 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, when 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?

Should your child meet at the end of each day with teachers or during a study hall?

Does meeting right after class cause anxiety, because it could lead to the student being late for the next class.

What works for your child?

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

Depending on your child's age and skills, maybe this accommodation is paired with an advocacy goal. The student will work with each teacher to determine the best way for them to engage each day. The student isn't in the driver's seat, but is a step closer, by considering and making decisions about what works for him.

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.