February 17, 2017
What is Self-Determination?
Self-determination is often described as “a combination of skills, knowledge, and beliefs that enable a person to engage in goal-directed, self-regulated, autonomous behavior. An understanding of one's strengths and limitations, together with a belief of oneself as capable and effective are essential to self-determination” (Field, Martin, Miller, Ward, & Wehmeyer, 1998, p. 2). It is important students learn at an early age what self-determination means, and teachers play a critical role in helping students gain the skills and knowledge needed to be self-determined. The I’m Determined project, a state directed project funded by the Virginia Department of Education, has developed three tools that focus directly on teaching students these skills.
3 Timely Tips
1. Self-determination is about knowing and believing in one’s self. In order for students to be aware of who they are, they need to explore and recognize their interests, preferences, strengths and needs. One way teachers can help students reflect upon who they are is to encourage students to complete the I’m Determined One Pager, a tool that allows students to explore these four areas. The One Pager can be used by students to introduce themselves to new teachers, administrators, employers, and other people within their support system. For students with disabilities, it can be used as a means to get students involved in their Individualized Education Program (IEP) meetings by having them share the information outlined in the One Pager with the IEP team. Student examples can be found on the I’m Determined website.
2. Self-determination also means knowing how to set and reach goals. Younger children often begin this process by learning how to identify and work toward short-term goals. They must learn to recognize potential barriers to their goals and utilize problem solving skills to overcome obstacles. As students move closer to high school graduation and the transition to adult life, college and career readiness involves knowing what they want their future to be and the steps needed to get there. Studies show that students who include self-determination goals in their IEPs are more likely to earn a higher income one year after graduation (Wehmeyer, 2004). The I’m Determined Goal Setting and Attainment tool is designed to help students determine the steps needed to accomplish an identified goal. Using this tool, teachers can assist students in breaking goals into manageable steps to achieve long terms results.
3. A third component of self-determination for students is being knowledgeable about how to take control of their lives. This includes knowing the supports needed to be successful in school and, later, in college or on the job. The I’m Determined tool, the Good Day Plan, allows students to design a plan that recognizes what they need to do during a day for it to be positive and successful. This tool allows students to recognize strategies and routines that will help them have a good day as well as know the network of support they need to tap into in order for this to occur.
2 Teaching Tools
1. Self-Determined Learning Model
In a webinar sponsored by the National Technical Assistance Center on Transition (NTACT), Michael Wehmeyer identifies how the Self-Determined Learning Model of Instruction can be implemented in classrooms and throughout a district. Also included are links to parent and teacher guides to self-determined learning.
2. I'm Determined Youth Summit
Encourage students to apply to attend the I’m Determined Youth Summit, a two-day event held each June at James Madison University. Youth with disabilities from across the Commonwealth meet to network and discuss issues of importance to youth and young adults with disabilities. During the Summit, participants work in groups facilitated by Youth Leaders to discover how the core components of self-determination can be applied to their lives. Summit attendees are expected to return to their home schools and communities to share the self-determination message.
“It is our choices... that show what we truly are,
far more than our abilities.”
- J.K. Rowling, writer
Field, S., Martin, J., Miller, R., Ward, M, & Wehmeyer, M. (1998). A practical guide for teaching self-determination. Reston, VA: Council for Exceptional Children.
Wehmeyer, M. (2004). Self-determination and the empowerment of people with disabilities. American Rehabilitation, Autumn, 22-29.