Personal Story

Impact Feature Issue on Self-Determination and Supported Decision-Making for People with Intellectual, Developmental, and Other Disabilities

"It’s All in How You Ask the Question": A Teacher’s Perspective on Learning and Self-Determination

When principal Myron Graber of Free State High School challenged the teachers in the school to build relationships with their students to enhance student engagement in learning, Annette McDonald, a general education mathematics teacher with over 30 years of experience, struggled with this idea. She was, in her own words, “a very structured math teacher and not touchy feely.” However, her story of working outside of her comfort zone to connect with and engage her students in their learning by beginning to use an evidence-based intervention to promote self-determination, the Self-Determined Learning Model of Instruction (SDLMI), confirms the relevance and benefit of supporting self-determination of all students, including those with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Here she reflects on that experience.

A close-up photo of math teacher Annette McDonald of Free State High School in Lawrence, Kansas. She is wearing a dress and necklace, and looking at the camera and smiling.

Math teacher Annette McDonald has seen firsthand how self-determination makes a difference for all students.

I decided to implement the SDLMI with my inclusive, general education math classes because my principal prompted me to get to know my students on a more personal level and this was outside of my comfort zone. After explaining my apprehension to Karrie Shogren of KUCDD, an expert in promoting self-determination of students with disabilities, she simply said, “Well, Annette, it’s all in how you ask the question.” This piqued my interest and I knew I needed to learn, so Karrie suggested I read a book that she wrote about how to support students in building skills associated with self-determination, like setting a goal, making decisions, and self-evaluating their progress. I thought to myself, “This is exactly what I need!” The SDLMI incorporated the structure that I was comfortable with while giving me a chance to get to know my students and enhance their motivation, including students who receive special education services across my six math classes.

Sheida Raley, a University of Kansas doctoral candidate and former special education teacher, and I learned the SDLMI together the first semester. It was powerful to have a special education teacher who was comfortable with providing modifications and accommodations for students in my classes to fully engage in the SDLMI. Also, we enjoyed co-teaching because we could draw upon each other’s expertise and support all students in setting a goal, making a plan to achieve that goal, and adjusting the goal or plan as needed. After just one semester, I saw such a positive change in my students – they were engaging in the content and my teaching in ways I have never seen before! Simply providing students opportunities and experiences to set their own goals and work toward achieving them was the key to getting to know and support them as they progress through high school. Self-determination was making a difference for ALL students!

This past semester I have supported my general and special education colleagues in using the SDLMI with their students because I feel like this model of teaching should be used in all classes. Through skills associated with self-determination, I see general and special education teachers finding common ground and making the connection that self-determination is the key to positively impacting all students’ outcomes. After using the SDLMI for three years now I am sold on it and agree with the Principal Graber: “Teaching students how to be self-determined is one of the most important skills we need to teach in this building.”

So, Karrie was right! It’s all in how you ask the question.