Here we are covering more on student strengths for IEP writing, which is an area of the student’s Individualized Education Plan that should never be overlooked. Student strengths in the classroom are important to understanding the student as a whole! In this post I will provide a few examples of items to add to your list of student strengths for IEP writing, to help you get the ball rolling. In order to provide a wide range of options, some general strengths and along with some that are more specific to occupational therapy will be highlighted.
WHAT BELONGS IN THE STRENGTHS SECTION of the IEP?
Because the IEP is written in order to provide specialized services to help a student access their education, much of the conversation in IEP meetings is focused on what the student needs to work on, or what staff supports are needed/provided to help the student.
The strengths section balances that conversation with the more positive side of things.
Here’s how I like to think of it: the strengths of the student are the building blocks that new skills will be added to – or in other words, how can the student use their current strengths to help them make more gains in the future?
Taking that question into consideration can help a student make goals or develop skills based on personal strengths and achievements. Use this letter to future self as a guide post in developing a growth mindset using those personal strengths.
In this section, when writing the list of student strengths for IEP, we want to be sure to write newly achieved skills, other pertinent skills, personal qualities, family, and community strengths as well. Read on to see examples.
LIst of student strengths for IEP: Any New Skills
My favorite part of the strengths section of an IEP is when I get to write a current strength of a student, that used to be a weakness. For example, one of my students was originally receiving occupational therapy to address fine motor skills and visual motor skills. Now, he has perfect handwriting, and no longer needs specialized services for this skill area!
What a powerful way to support a child’s progression than to shout their achievements out for the whole educational team to hear! (Though literal shouting in an IEP meeting may be frowned upon.)
Kidding aside, any recent gains should be included in the strengths section of the IEP, in addition to the positive qualities they have always possessed. Both of these areas should always be shared with the student as well. It can support carryover of goal areas, as well as encourage meaningful participation.
Hint: If you aren’t sure what counts as a “new” skill, or strength, look at any recent progress towards their goals, or maybe a goal that has been met!
Examples of new skills or strengths:
- Improving to a mature pencil grasp
- Following a 2-step direction
- Sharing toys or school supplies
- Improved use of coping skills
- Increased focus during reading
- Independent use of adaptive equipment or other classroom tools
- Improved memory for computer use
- Correct letter formation
- Maintains seated position on the carpet with peers
- Independently zips and unzips coat
Look at special qualities when listing student strengths on the IEP
What makes this student unique? Taking a look at specific student strengths in the classroom is a great place to start.
Maybe they are a great helper in the classroom, a friend to all, or have a stand-out-talent in music class.
I like to look at their special interests and include a few; if they share their love of Spiderman or Minecraft, and integrate it into their school day appropriately, that may be worth noting.
This contribution to the list of student strengths for IEP is far less based on goals or reasons for specialized services, but it is integral to who the student is at the end of the day. It also gives any new coming team members some ideas of what motivates the student.
Examples of Special Qualities to list on the IEP
- Builds friendships easily
- Carries the books of a peer
- Very optimistic thinker
- Loves to draw for free choice
- The perfect “line leader”
- Shares preferred items with peers
- Always excited for math class
- Teaches peers to play Spiderman at recess time
- Enjoys crafting wooden sculptures
- Loves to write to her pen pal
Family or Community Strengths for the IEP
Making a note about the strengths of a student’s family or community supports on the IEP report is not always recognized in the list of student strengths IEP section, but it is worth noting. These areas of strength are part of the student’s environment, and impact overall functional performance of the student.
Some case managers, or more broadly, school districts, like to expand student strengths beyond the student solely in the school setting. Bringing in the family or community broadens the lens to what outside supports the student has.
Another way to think about it is, what outside help does this student have to help them achieve their goals? Having a supportive family and community will absolutely affect student growth.
Additionally, if there are any special interests of the student that are community-based, this may be a great opportunity to highlight that. An outside hobby, sport or group can be integral to the student’s school success. This is especially true to students who will be graduating soon, and will be integrating into the community.
Examples of Family or Community Strengths to list on the IEP
- Loving family with mom, dad, and sister
- Cared for primarily by paternal grandmother whom he talks about often
- Lives with foster family who act as great advocates
- Attends weekend camp at the YMCA where he builds community skills
- Meets community members while he works part-time as a grocery store clerk
- Plants a garden at the senior center every spring
- Is a member of the local special Olympics team
- Member of Girl or Boy Scouts
- Competes well on a soccer team
The list of student strengths for IEP writing can be endless!
There are so many areas of strength that you could dive into: physical strengths, academic strengths, social skills, emotional regulation…the list goes on!
If IEP writing is new to you, or you are not sure what to add based on your role, just remember to think of the student as a whole. Think of their goals and their history. Do they always make you laugh? Maybe they are as sweet as can be? Write it down! This is the time to gloat about your student.
Sydney Thorson, OTR/L, is a new occupational therapist working in school-based therapy. Her
background is in Human Development and Family Studies, and she is passionate about
providing individualized and meaningful treatment for each child and their family. Sydney is also
a children’s author and illustrator and is always working on new and exciting projects.