Children with Disabilities

Shared Responsibilities: Helping Managers Understand

In order to understand how to meet the needs of children with disabilities and their families, it is helpful for managers to be sensitive to the way their decisions affect these children. The following learning activity offers administrators an opportunity to understand, through a case study, how children experience managerial decisions. 

The following is an excerpt from Training Guides for the Head Start Learning Community: Leading the Way  Disabilities Services and the Management Team.

Purpose: The purpose of this workshop activity is to engage participants personally and help them understand how managers' decisions affect the day-to-day experiences of children with disabilities and their families. 


Arrange for: Easel, chart paper, markers, tape, one legal-size piece of paper, and a stand to hold Keezia's Story 

Duplicate: Keezia's Story (attachment): one copy 

Leading the Activity

1. Explain that you will begin this activity by telling the story about Keezia, a Head Start child who has a physical disability.

Tip for the Trainer: 

Keezia's story works best as a dramatic presentation, delivered slowly and with feeling. If you read the story a number of times on your own, and practice presenting it, you may find that you can deliver it without referring to the printed version more than once or twice. Pause after each segment of the story (marked on the page by an asterisk) and very slowly rip off a thin strip of paper from the sheet you are holding. Just let the strips of paper fall: letting them collect on the floor around you adds to the impact. 

If you feel uncomfortable with this approach, you can use a less dramatic method. Ask two participants to present the story as a reading. Give each a copy, and ask them to alternate as they read the paragraphs out loud. Then use the reading as a springboard for discussion.

2. Begin to read the story (propped on a stand, so you have your hands free). Hold the plain sheet of paper in one hand. Each time you come to an asterisk, tear off a thin strip of paper from the sheet you are holding. 

3. At the end of the story, lead participants in a discussion, using the questions below as prompts. Focus on how managers' attitudes and decisions inform policy and practice. 

Overall, what reactions did you have to Keezia's story? 

What particular events triggered a diminished sense of well-being? 

In what ways do managers' decisions affect Keezia's Head Start experiences? 

What could managers do, in terms of setting policy, supervising staff, etc., to make Keezia's Head Start experiences more positive? To make Keezia's family's experiences more positive? (Think about all aspects of service delivery.)

Discussion Guide

Use the following questions to stimulate discussion, but call only on those who volunteer. Remind participants to honor their partners' right to privacy. 

  • What did you notice about the times when you felt included or unique versus times when you felt left out?
  • How does this knowledge affect the kinds of experiences children in our Head Start program have?

Questions about feeling unique and different may evoke powerful memories for participants. Help participants recognize how painful it is to be excluded. When we feel left out our self-esteem and self-confidence can be damaged. In contrast, even though we are all different we can be made to feel wonderful when we are recognized for our unique gifts. 

  • How did you describe your first experience (or one you remember well) with a person with a disability?
  • What are the links between that experience (and how you felt) and your feelings about including children with disabilities in this program?

Many people have vivid memories of an "encounter." Thinking about these experiences can help participants understand how their past experiences influence their feelings about people with disabilities; and how their feelings affect their behaviors and interactions. 

  • When you talked about roles, what similarities did you see between your own role and the person you talked with?
  • What changes do you anticipate or would you like to make in your role in welcoming children with disabilities and their families?

Help participants begin to see what they can do, within their roles, to promote or prevent the successful inclusion of children with disabilities in their program. Point out that inclusion requires a program-wide effort; everyone must play a role. 

  • What does including children with disabilities in Head Start mean for you?
  • What does this mean for your Head Start program?

Point out that there are a number of ways to meet the needs of children with disabilities and their families. Inclusion strives to build on the strengths and address the needs of children with disabilities in the daily routine. 

Taken from Setting the Stage: Including Children with Disabilities in Head Start

4. After the discussion about Keezia, ask participants to think about their own Head Start program. Ask: 

Do children with disabilities experience events similar to those of Keezia? 

What are you doing as individual managers to support children and families' sense of empowerment? As a management team? 

Summing Up

Summarize the session for participants by making the following key points: 

At strategic moments through the day, for a wide range of reasons, a child may “fall” from feeling fairly competent to feeling incompetent, misunderstood, frustrated, or rejected. 

Neither managers, nor teachers, nor home visitors can protect children from all the hurts or struggles they encounter. But it is the manager's job to understand how their actions (or lack of action) affect outcomes for children and families. 

In promoting development with any child, it is important to know how to alter the situation to improve the child's chances for success. Improved practice grows out of a refined understanding about what the child needs and what the parent needs. It also stems from greater awareness of who, among all the staff, can be involved in addressing the need.