Intervention Visits, Practical Strategies, Teamwork

DOs and DON’Ts – Mentoring Students in EI Programs

A new student walks into your office and sits down on the first day of her practicum. You begin your orientation about your program, starting with an overview of early intervention. You start by discussing Part C of IDEA and about halfway through your explanation, the student politely interrupts and asks…”What’s Part C again?” Yikes.

If you are student, please don’t be offended because we’ve all been there. There is SO much to learn when entering the EI field that it is difficult to take it all in. One of the very best ways to learn about EI is to see it in action, which is why practica and internships are so important. Even more important than seeing it is actually participating and getting hands-on experience with children and families in natural settings. Nothing is more powerful than being a part of the change you see in a child’s development through early intervention, which is why WE as early intervention personnel must step up and take time to train students. Easier said than done, I know, with high caseloads and limited resources, but the alternative is unacceptable too. We want to work with well-trained, highly qualified colleagues and the students you meet are your future colleagues. What can you do to support them? Here are a few DOs and DON’Ts:

DO volunteer and share the experience

There are always students needing practical experience so volunteer to be a mentor when the need arises. Share what you know and I promise that you will learn from your student too.Help your student make connections with other providers in other disciplines. Encourage them to join visits with other providers. You might have to help them make these arrangements but it’s worth the effort to broaden their experiences.

DON’T have your student be your personal filing clerk

Students say that the best part of their experiences are the practical work they do with families. Sure, a little bit of filing helps you, but make sure that they actually get hands-on experience with families (supervised of course). Let them take the lead with a family you regularly support, write up the contact notes, and plan for visits. Let them “get their feet wet!”

DO coach and reflect

Just as we do with families, use coaching to help students learn how to support children and families. Follow each session with reflection to help the student think about what happened and why. The ride in the car back to the office offers a perfect time for reflection.

DON’T spend the visit talking to the student about the child/family

First, ask the parent’s permission to bring a student and let the parent how the visits will work. Include everyone in all discussions and use teachable moments as opportunities for everyone to learn. Prepare the student for her role during the visit by giving history before you both meet the family. During the visit, be sure that you don’t end up talking about the child and family as if they weren’t there. I have seen this happen and it takes the provider being mindful to avoid it.

DO Let your student practice completing paperwork

I know, this one sounds really dull but paperwork is a real part of EI. Have your student write an IFSP based on the IFSP team discussion, then compare what he wrote with the actual IFSP. Have him complete the same assessment tool you’re using during the team assessment then compare findings (once back at the office).  Invite him to write a contact note after a visit and critique it together.

When you can, invite a student along and share your wealth of knowledge and experience!

What other DOs and DON’Ts do you have for training students?

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6 Comments to “DOs and DON’Ts – Mentoring Students in EI Programs”

  1. Is it reasonable, when making the appointment before that student walks in the door, to give him or her some background reading? That doesn’t preclude their still saying, “Wait–what’s Part C again?” But it might decrease the likelihood!

    • Great point, Robin! Sharing some articles or pointing students to a good book or website could definately help them come to the experience more prepared. Your book “Routines-based Early Intervention” is a wonderful resource for new students (and us old-timers too)! 🙂

  2. Thanks for including this topic. As someone who supervises students in a graduate ECSE program, I often find that early interventionists are reluctant to take students. They are easily frustrated when students come with often very limited EI knowledge (What’s Part C?)As Dana mentioned, what I find is that when an early interventionist DOES take a student, it provides them with an opportunity to brush up on their skills. Nothing like being asked, “Why?” or “How?” to make you think about your own practices.

    And, don’t forget that supervising students “counts” for recertification hours for most licensure programs in VA.

    • I agree that the time spent working with a student is great professional development for the early interventionist. And it’s a nice plus that the time counts for recertification too!

  3. This is an important topic to me as someone who teaches in an ECSE program and also supervises students in their early intervention placements.

    One thing that I feel has helped prepare the students in our program for their early intervention placements is to require them to complete some of the excellent online modules that can be found on the Virginia EIPD site. Students are required to complete the Child Development and Family-centered modules in the first ECSE class they take (Foundations of Teaching Young Children). Prior to student teaching, they must also complete the Service Pathway module. I have also found that it is helpful for the students to review materials on the Virginia Infant and Toddler Connection website for families that explains early intervention.

    However, even with this background knowledge, students have shared with me that that they do no truly understand the steps in the service pathway until they have the opportunity to experience these firsthand. The support and mentorship that local Infant and Toddler Connection staff provide for preservive students is invaluable! It is these experiences that motivate students to pursue positions in early intervention.

    I would love to hear other ideas from local ITC providers about ways we can help prepare students for their EI placements.

    • Thanks, Mary! I’m so glad to hear that your students are benefiting from the resources on our site. You make an important point about seeing the EI process firsthand. EI can be a difficult professional to explain because it’s so unique. Most students haven’t experienced an intervention visit in a natural setting before so they probably don’t have a frame of reference. There is nothing quite like joining a visit and seeing intervention in action!

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