How to Teach Self-Determination Life Skills

As Americans rethink the ways we manage education, concepts like self-determination are making way for individualized instruction. Many teachers are beginning to ask themselves, “How can I teach self-determination to my students – especially students with disabilities?”

This question is crucial for all students, but for students with disabilities, navigating the world with critical self-determination life skills makes a whole world of difference. In fact, according to a University of Illinois article, students with disabilities in self-directed learning programs are more likely to achieve academic and non-academic goals! Find out how you can incorporate these concepts into your curriculum.

What Are Self-Determination Life Skills?

Student playing with puzzle pieces in colorful classroom settingSelf-determination skills are developed through a combination of skills, knowledge, and beliefs. Those pieces of self-determination help people engage in goal-directed, self-regulated, autonomous activity. Learning how to act in a self-directed manner empowers every student who gains these skills.

There are many components of self-determination that facilitate self-directed goals for students. Teachers might use curriculum that focuses on decision making, problem-solving, goal setting, self-awareness, and self-advocacy, among others. We can all imagine that dedicating time to skills like these benefit personal development, but how can teachers implement these concepts into their classrooms?

Approaches to Teaching Self-Determination Life Skills

While soft skills are difficult to measure, teachers should be able to fit these skills into existing curriculum with just a little extra effort. Some ideas to include this type of life skill involve:

    • Invest time in facilitating student-driven IEPs and transition planning, and check in with students to make sure they are prepared for meetings. All students are capable of being involved in planning their life.
    • Teach skills and enhancing knowledge of skills like problem-solving and decision making directly, creating lesson plans around these types of skills.
    • Embed instruction into general curriculum. For example, in any lesson plan, a teacher can begin by asking students to create a goal. In the next step, students will take action toward their goal. By the end of the lesson, students can reflect and revise their goal, learning about self-awareness.
    • Dedicate time to person-centered planning, an approach to plan and develop supports to help a student or any person achieve their goals.

Teaching Self-Determination Through Adulthood

These tips are great for teachers who can shape the future for students with disabilities, but what about adults who have already transitioned out of school programs?

Our My Full Life™ online application includes planning, skills inventory, and life skills curriculum designed to support individuals with disabilities living independently in the community. For educators and agency professionals interested in learning more, please visit this page and contact us for a demo.

California Dreamin’ with Cynthia & Chrissy

As temperatures dropped last month, two members of our staff escaped to California to work with our partners at Club 21 Learning and Resource Center, VTC Enterprises, and New Horizons. Community Life Coordinator Cynthia visited to conduct life skills software training through our My Full Life tool. A couple of weeks later, Chrissy visited to present at their Tools For the Journey conference.

Life Skills Software Training

New Skills Inventory client practices her kitchen skills.For the past twelve years, Cynthia Witherspoon has been working with the Full Life Model, developing tools and resources. She is an expert in our online application for life skills development, My Full Life, and shares these resources with our partners across the country. She visited Club 21 and VTC Enterprises to help them work with our My Full Life Skills Inventory over the course of six days.

During her time in California, Cynthia met with several young adults with disabilities who will be using our Skills Inventory. On one day, Cynthia joined a young woman named Lily at a coffee shop. She then observed her grocery shopping and cooking delicious tacos.

Throughout her trip, Cynthia says, “Parents of individuals completing a Skills Inventory had ‘ah ha’ moments.” The parents plan to encourage their children in pursuing more opportunities to practice independent living skills. Next, we will continue supporting the brand new Skills Inventory Consultants Cynthia helped train, completing written reports for the families.

Presenting Tools For the Journey

My Full Life Director Chrissy Dale also escaped to California during Chicagoland’s intense cold. Chrissy presented at the Tools For the Journey conference, hosted by Club 21. Using our Skills Inventory as a Road Map to Independence, Chrissy demonstrated how families can support the growth and development of their child.

Club 21 Executive Director Nancy Litteken strives to provide role models of adults living full lives with disabilities. By showing families examples of what is truly possible, those families can begin to dream bigger. According to Chrissy, community member Danny was “the perfect example of how families can dream bigger for their child.”

After the conference, Chrissy shared, “What excites me the most is Club 21 students transitioning into adulthood while working with our most recent agency collaboration, New Horizons, aligning our missions by taking a person-centered approach.”

Moving Forward and Igniting Dreams

Want to learn more about what Cynthia and Chrissy were up to? Check out more information about My Full Life to learn about the Skills Inventory! You can also connect with Chrissy online or schedule time to talk about how My Full Life can help you.

Summer Camp for Transition Students

The end of summer is approaching, but at Center for Independent Futures, we will be leaving summer with a bang! This summer, we hosted two summer camp options for Evanston Township High School Transition House students. The first, Life Tools Camp, we have been offering for eight years, and the second is a five-week Transportation Camp.

Community Resources at Life Tools Camp

Transition students smile during game of kickball at Life Skills CampCynthia and Sharon have run Life Tools Camp since the beginning of this program. Between the two of them, they have yet to miss a year! According to Cynthia, at Life Tools Camp, “We spend time in the community each day, learning safe routes to walk to some destinations and taking the bus or Metra to others.”

As a result, Life Tools Camp students were able to visit and learn about community resources. The students learned from ComEd Ambassador Brian about energy use and conservation, plus a former student from the Transition House met with the campers and discussed how the experience impacted them. In addition to these activities, the group visited the Evanston Public Library, walked to the Evanston Ecology Center, and even took a trip to downtown Chicago – a first for some students.

From learning to playing, Life Tools Camp is an opportunity for students to receive hands-on training in critical life tools while also getting to know their community.

Discovering Transit with Transportation Camp

We hosted a new summer camp too: Transportation Camp. Over the course of five weeks, students from the Transition House met with Sharon and Laura on Fridays.

Each week, they met at the Center for Independent Futures office, and then they went over the information they needed to know for the day. They were asked questions such as, “When do you use your Ventra card?” and “Which stops will we get on and off at today?” The camp covered transportation via Metra, CTA train or bus, and navigating the Evanston area.

We were excited to provide this opportunity, and we hope to offer similar Transportation Camps in the future.

Grateful for Our Community Supporters

Evanston Community Foundation funded our Transportation Camp grantWe want to thank all the Evanston community for welcoming our campers throughout these programs. In addition, we want to thank the Evanston Community Foundation for graciously funding our new Transportation Camp opportunity.

We also want to thank Evanston Township High School for partnering with us to offer life skills programming to their Transition House students. To learn more about our work in schools, click here.

Campers Explore Evanston Resources

Summertime means camp, and for Center for Independent Futures, camp means opportunities to learn life skills and make connections. For the seventh year, we partnered with Evanston Township High School to host Life Tools Camp for eight students from the Transition House.

What Happens at Life Tools Camp

8 members of Life Tools Camp at a track field“Evanston is rich in community resources. We want to introduce students to resources so they can learn about opportunities,” explains Sharon Purdy, a member of Center for Independent Futures’ Schools Team.

Camp began on Tuesday, starting with campers sharing hopes and dreams through collages and presentations. The rest of the week included tours of the YMCA and the Ecology Center and a walk through the Skokie Northshore Sculpture Park. In downtown Evanston, the group did a scavenger hunt at local businesses, and at the Evanston Public Library, the librarians helped campers find books, music, and movies. To get around the city, campers used Ventra cards to travel by CTA bus.

“Our week was full of new experiences, both at the Transition House and in the community,” Sharon says. “While we spent the week together participating in common activities, each of us achieved some of our own goals.”

Achieving Hopes, Dreams, & Goals

One student’s goal was to share a meal with his peers, which he achieved when he cooked lunch for the group. Another camper wanted to be supportive of others, and he spent the week being encouraging and helpful to his fellow students. A returning camper used skills he learned last year to achieve his goal of taking public transportation home from camp every day.

All of the campers learned to express their hopes and dreams and had the opportunity to reflect on their goals for the future. One of the campers discovered that he wanted to work in a kitchen. Through camp activities, he learned about jobs available in his interest area.

Grateful for Community Support

Thanks to all the Evanston resources that welcomed our campers this week and to Evanston Township High School for partnering with us. In addition to hosting camp, Center for Independent Futures and ETHS work together to support students with disabilities to learn skills and plan for the future. To learn more about our work in schools, click here.

Sailing Again

By Sharon Purdy, School and Agency Consultant

My grandfather’s hobby was boatbuilding, and he made sure that we all knew how to sail. This favorite pastime filled me with confidence, strength and a love of a summer day on the water. As often happens, my pastime was set aside for other commitments. And, almost every day, I found myself thinking, “I’d love to sail again.”

In my work at Center for Independent Futures, I have the privilege of supporting the hopes and dreams of individuals and their families as we plan for their full lives. We work together on living outside of our comfort zones, trying new experiences, and creating positive connections with others in our communities. And yet, I was not getting any closer to going to the dock to make the connections I’d need to get back on a sailboat.

Then I met Michael, my new sailing friend. Our first connection was at a Center for Independent Futures Social Hour where I happened to sit down next to him. On that cold winter’s day Michael and I talked about our common passion for sailing. He mentioned that he spends a lot of his summer time volunteering at the Judd Goldman Adaptive Sailing Foundation run out of Burnham Harbor. Michael has committed 17 years of volunteer service to this program that encourages fun and safe sailing and racing for people of all abilities. My mind was filled with visions of choppy water, the sound of lines against the mast, and the excitement of a fun day on the water. I left that day thinking, again, “I’d love to sail again.”

Michael didn’t forget! The next time I got to see him, Michael handed me a card with all of the contact information I’d need to get involved at his sailing program. He gave me the dates of the late spring volunteer training classes, and above all, he encouraged me to join him at the dock. Michael inspired and reassured me as I was feeling a bit rusty after all these years. Now Michael is my mentor at the Judd Goldman Sailing volunteer program.

Often, individuals with disabilities are isolated and unable to access opportunities to explore their interests and talents. Center for Independent Futures works to create stronger networks with individuals to connect them with others, leading to healthier, happier lives. In this case, though, our typical roles were reversed. Michael supported me, introduced me to his fellow volunteers, and encouraged me to pursue a dream. Michael’s generosity and supportiveness show that when individuals with disabilities have the chance to participate and contribute their gifts, the entire community grows stronger.

The Judd Goldman Adaptive Sailing Foundation supports people with disabilities to experience the joy of sailing and develop new skills. To learn more, call (312) 747-7684 or visit www.juddgoldmansailing.org.

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