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Writing a vision statement with a transition-focused foundation

A powerful vision statement is a critical part of a student's IEP - and will serve them through the post-secondary transition, graduation and beyond

The vision statement is one of the most essential and oftentimes overlooked parts of the Individualized Education Program (IEP).  Although required by many states, the vision statement isn’t required by the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

The vision statement is vital because it serves as a guide for developing special education services and goals. These goals will help a student not just for the current school year or even the next two to five  years, but also through graduation and beyond. 

Vision statements: What you need to know

As you and your student learn about new opportunities, and as your student grows, learns and expands interests, strengths and preferences, this vision statement and subsequent post-secondary goals will change and evolve.

  • Revisions should be made each year even if the general plan after graduation remains the same.  
  • After 14, the vision statement should be based on the student’s preferences and interests, not what outcome the team is interested in.
  • It should include desired outcomes in adult living, post-secondary and working environments.
  • A clear link between the student’s IEP objectives and the vision statement should exist. The IEP Is the roadmap, the vision statement is the destination.

Vision statements are a crucial area for student involvement. The student’s vision for the future, along with their hopes and dreams will set the tone and direction for the IEP.  Person-centered planning, transition assessments, community mapping and family and teacher input is valuable in helping a student to identify strengths, needs, interests and preferences. 

All of these things are the basis for post-secondary goal development. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), provides the following guidance pertaining to vision statements in terms of age, content and student involvement:

  • Depending on the student’s age, the team needs to look one to five years in the future when writing the vision statement.
  • For younger students, the adults take on a more active role.  The team might want to project over a shorter span of time and concentrate on times when the student might be making a transition between schools or classrooms.
  • As the student becomes older and more involved in transition planning, the vision statement becomes the hopes and dreams of the student and not the parent and team.

3 tips for writing a powerful vision statement:

Ready to get started on a vision statement? These three tips will help you focus on what matters most.

Don’t worry about the “how” or achievability.

The vision statement does not need to list how a student will achieve their vision. It is the student’s vision for themselves. This is an opportunity to express hopes and goals, no matter how unrealistic they may seem.

It doesn’t matter if the student has no idea how to achieve their goals. The vision statement is the “there,” it’s not the “how to get there.”  There are plenty of ways to incorporate the student’s goals and interests into a meaningful post secondary outcome.

Avoid assumptive language.

If you are writing your vision statement for a student with significant  communication challenges, avoid phrases like “Michael enjoys …” and instead write “Michael smiles when he plays with water” or “Michael’s facial expressions seem to display a preference for water play.”  We don’t want to speak for our students who cannot.

Avoid vague statements. 

To ensure the team has a clear vision and understanding of the student’s goals for the future, use clear and specific language and avoid statements like:

  • The Team sees Jane having a smooth transition to high school.
  • They would like her to gain the skills necessary to work some day. 
  • Jane will successfully complete her goals and go to college after high school.

Consider more specific phrases, such as:

  • Obtain meaningful employment                               
  • Opportunities for personal growth
  • Volunteer in the community  
  • Develop meaningful friendships 
  • Take part in meaningful social activities                  
  • Pursue post-secondary education opportunities

Special Education Advocate Lisa Lightner has developed a website with an abundance of valuable IEP-related information for families. Read more about writing a powerful vision statement on A Day in our Shoes

Questions to guide your vision statement

The following post-secondary considerations are meant to guide the student and team in the completion of a vision statement. Questions marked with an asterisk (*) are required in some states for students ages 14-22, or earlier if appropriate.

Two students work together to roll out cookies in job training kitchen
  • * This year I want to learn:
  • My favorite classes are:
  • My friends are:
  • Activities I enjoy doing in my free time are:
  • An ideal day includes the following:
  • Places I like to visit in the community include:
  • What is my favorite way to exercise and move my body?
  • * By the time I finish (elementary or middle school) I want to:
  • How do I respond in social, familiar and unfamiliar situations?
  • How do I respond to changes in routine?
  • What do I like to do for fun/with my free time/ on weekends?
  • What are my transportation options?
  • What opportunities are there to connect with the community through volunteering, clubs, gyms and other local activities?
  • * While I am in high school, I want to:
  • What supports are needed and what resources are available?
  • * For education and training, after I finish high school, I plan to:
  • * For employment, after I finish high school, I plan to:  (Where do I want to work and what work schedule is possible?)
  • * For independent living, after I finish high school, I plan to:  (What would be my ideal living situation- housing, roommates, support needs, etc.)
  • What relationships could be strengthened?
  • Where will I socialize and meet new people?

Additional consideration for non-verbal students and emerging communicators:

  • Understand and relay the student’s preferences: Some ways to determine a student’s preferences could be informal assessment, school-day observation, questions answered by selection from familiar symbols, yes/no questions answered by symbol selection or side by side switch.
  • Incorporate yes/no questions: Instead of writing, “Michael likes the swimming pool,” you could write, “Michael answered ‘yes’ to the question, ‘Do you like going in the swimming pool?'”  That way, you are not determining if the student’s response is valid, or whether or not the student understood the question.  This will help keep the author unbiased in what responses he includes in the vision statement.
  • Acknowledge the source of the information: It is important to tell the reader how you determined the student’s preferences. If the IEP author relies on feedback from the parents or other school team, this should be stated in the vision statement.  For example: “Due to Michael’s nonverbal nature and emerging communication skills, Michael’s preferences and vision are determined by school-day observation and a series of questions in which Michael was asked to show his preferences by gazing at his choice and touching a combination of symbols and real life items.”

Sample vision statements to get you started

Following are some sample parent and student vision statements that consider the student’s preferences and include specific language around their goals.

Vision statement: Parent perspective

“We would like Michael to continue to gain practical life, interpersonal, and vocational skills that will serve him in the future. We want to assist Michael in accessing the services and support he needs, while respecting his autonomy and wishes, as he approaches adulthood. We want Michael to live in an environment of love, support, respect, and growth—whether at his current home, or in a different setting.

We envision a future for Michael where he is able to deal with his emotions, frustrations, and challenges in a constructive manner, without resorting to self-harm or other potentially negative behaviors. We want Michael to be an active and recognized member of his community and engage in recreational activities that are appropriate and enjoyable for him.

A young boy runs on the track during the Walk/Move for Perkins event.

We want for Michael what every parent wants for their child—for him to reach his full potential in an environment that validates, supports, and values his unique gifts and abilities. We want Michael to experience life and the world around him. We want Michael to be happy.”

Vision statement: Student perspective

“After high school I want to live with a roommate and get a job helping in the kitchen at a restaurant or hotel.  I want to live in a city that is close to my family and get a dog someday.  I’d also like to take a few online classes at a local community college.  I want to have friends, join a fitness center, and do things that make me happy.”

Ready for more? Read this.

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