Growing in a Least Restrictive Environment


Are your teachers teaching from within a submarine or are they freely jumping overboard and teaching in the wide open sea? This picture is a great example of the definition of least restrictive learning environment; an environment that provides the optimal setting for an individual to grow and learn with appropriate supports. In the world of education, we often only hear this phrase used in special education when determining the best educational placement for a student who qualifies for an Individual Education Plan (IEP). In fact, it is one of the more important responsibilities the team has when considering placement and planning for a students learning design and supports. The team ensures that the placement is in the least restrictive learning environment giving ample time spent in general education. The law provides the student with the supports necessary to access the curriculum for optimal learning opportunities. It is crucial for a student to still be able to benefit and grow from the experiences and opportunities the general education class has to offer. Too restrictive of an environment may actually prove harmful in the long term for several reasons, one of which is the learning gap becomes wider between the student and his grade level peers. The goal of special education is to close that gap and promote all students in their learning by holding them up to equally high standards.

Do we have IPLPs (Individual Professional Learning Plans) for teachers? It came to me to think about our teachers environments this way and I wondered if as a system we were remembering to advocate for them and guard against too restrictive of an environment for them to teach and learn in. Do we offer our teachers just the right amount of support for them to thrive and venture out to explore and experiment or are we too stuck on protocols and processes, micro managing and overseeing? We need to remember that in order for our students to grow they need to know it’s ok to take risks and try to fail in order for them to experience new learning. The same concept applies to teachers and how we approach supporting their professional growth. Education has been hit hard in the past 8-10 years with wide sweeping policy reform, standards, technology demands, assessment changes, early literacy, and the continual threat of inadequate funding for critical programming. Our only hope to survive these waves and ride them out to new shores lies in our teachers capacity to learn and grow in as least restrictive working environment as possible. The good ole climate and culture strikes again. It matters and as leaders we should always be staunch advocates for preserving our teachers right to autonomy while fiercely providing the supports, accommodations and modifications to their learning so they can experience the level of learning needed to show growth in this tenacious education reform era. By the way, who are the case managers or resource providers for our teachers? We are! The servant leaders! The multipliers of intelligence as Liz Wiseman would put it in her book the Multipliers. How do we as a system measure the restrictiveness of our environment, of our leadership, and know if it is just right for our teachers to grow in?

So now lets ask ourselves, if we were going to write goals/benchmarks/accommodations for this IPLP for teachers, what would that look like? Sound like? How often would it be communicated? Progress monitored? Let’s not ask any more of our students then we are ready to do ourselves and remember that we are ALL learners and thrive best in a least restrictive learning environment! As a great mentor of mine says often, “less is more” and more only means more restrictions not necessarily more learning.

Our commitment should be to shift this cultural paradigm in our schools and districts and not be afraid to come to the surface and open the hatch to allow us all to breath/ feel / explore learning. The truth is that if we can trust others and provide them these least restrictive environments along with our support then when the time comes to ‘dive’ to the depths and take on heavy attacks from the outside we will be stronger, more unified, and clearer in our purpose, our mission!


Run Silent, Run Deep

Burt Lancaster & Clark Gable

I encourage you to reply and add to my learning! Can you tell I spent some time watching war movies with my dad 🙂 Every experience had in life is a learning experience!

I’m a teacher…I’m a leader…I’m a student

Golden Apples

The original name of this post was ” What do all high performing students around the world have?” I wrote the blog back in October after my very first #EdCamp experience. This weekend #EdcampChicago will be at Paletine HS.  I will not be a newbie, but I am just as excited to go and learn again. I thought you might enjoy reading this blog again or maybe for the first time. My hope is that it inspires you to always be a student!

 I attended an Ed Camp here in Chicago. I had heard many great things from my PLN  (Professional Learning Network: Twitter) community about these events. A sucker for PD, I signed up right away with fervor and eagerness to experience what others had said was life changing. I had the honor of interacting with and listening to many passionate teachers/leaders from all content areas. Some were first year teachers and some with many years under their belt; a plethora of knowledge and expertise surrounded me. If you have the opportunity to attend one, do yourself a favor and go! It is food for the learning soul!

As I attended each “organic” session topic, (formative assessment, standards based grading, quality picture books, authentic learning) and met faces I had only known from their Twitter picture (people are way more beautiful in person!), I was like a teacher with PTO money in a Lakeshore Learning store! At lunch, a new friend even noticed my wide eyes and wagging tail. My newness was exposed! The experience of owning my own learning for the day, interacting with colleagues who openly shared their knowledge, encouraged questions and clarification, openly solicited concerns and what-ifs, prompted me to reflect about the commonalities we all had today. We were all clearly highly qualified teachers with a passion and love for students and teaching!! It was one of those moments that I wished time froze for just a second so I could capture it and yell, “YES!! THIS IS WHAT IT’S ALL ABOUT!!! YES!!

We know a lot about the research that speaks to the relationship between the quality of the teacher and the impact on student growth and learning. Yet do we feel what I felt today each and every time we walk into our schools and classrooms? Isn’t that what a community of learning is supposed to feel like? Isn’t that what high quality teacher’s look and sound like? YES! It is! All of the educators that came today and many others around the world, these highly qualified teachers, possess the ability to passionately energize, engage, and share their many gifts with their colleagues and students, I believe daily!! What highly qualified teachers have in common I witnessed today…passion, love, and urgency to make a difference in their student’s lives, with no reservation for perceived obstacles!  A simple answer to a complex question. Thank you and bravo to all educators who recognize the importance of their work and contribute to their learning communities. I celebrate each and every one of you!! Honored to be an educator with you!

PS. When’s the next one?!