Planning Guide for Teaching Self-Determination Skills

Indiana Institute on Disability and Community, Indiana University
Evaluating the Impact of a School-to-Work Collaborative on the Employment Outcomes of Transition-Aged Youth
Submitted by Teresa Grossi, PhD


The Indiana School-to-Work Collaborative Transition Model was intended to improve interagency collaboration, create agency connections for students and families, and improve employment outcomes for students with disabilities.

The development of self-determination skills, including self-advocacy, is crucial to preparing students for careers. Research shows that having higher levels of self-determination correlates with improved school and postschool outcomes (Cobb, Lehmann, Newman-Gonchar, & Alwell, 2009). We know that self-determination is a predictor of enhanced postschool outcomes (Test et al., 2009). In addition, studies indicate that students who are involved in the development of their Individualized Education Plans exhibit greater self-determination (Williams-Diehm, Wehmeyer, Palmer, Soukup, & Garner, 2008) are better informed regarding the process, express greater self-efficacy in planning for their futures, and are better able to articulate their goals (Arndt, Konrad, & Test, 2006).

The School-to-Work Collaborative Transition Model promoted this goal—of promoting longer term employment outcomes through developing self-determination skills—by helping students learn about their strengths, preferences, interests, and support needs. The project developed a variety of situations in which the students could apply their skills (e.g., with the VR counselor; when choosing an employment provider; during the job interview process).

Hear Dr. Teresa Grossi speak to a live audience about the School-to-Work Collaborative at the Knowledge Translation for Employment Research Center’s State of the Science Conference held on September 5, 2019.


The Indiana School-to-Work Collaborative Transition Model identified strategies to address four major areas: policies, procedures, practices, and people.

The Indiana School-to-Work Collaborative Transition Model was designed to serve as an interdependent system that addresses issues and opportunities for employment for young adults with disabilities. The model’s approach identified strategies to address four major areas: policies, procedures, practices, and people. The underlying rationale for the framework was to engage key stakeholders throughout the project’s implementation to make a collective impact. The model emphasized bringing together cross-sector interagency efforts and perspectives. As a result, the stakeholders build collective understanding of the issues and create a sense of mutual accountability.

The State Transition Policy Workgroup, representing more than 20 different state agencies, oversaw the research for the five years of project implementation. Each local collaborative included key stakeholders: local vocational rehabilitation (VR) counselors or supervisors; community employment/rehabilitation providers; school district representatives such as special education supervisors, directors, transition coordinators and high school department chairs; state parent center representatives; and other representatives who were locally appointed (e.g., specialists in workforce development, developmental disabilities, and mental health). These local stakeholders served as management teams for local collaboratives, promoted consensus-building, and encouraged shared decision-making.

Local collaboratives implemented evidence-based practices resulting in improved work experiences and employment outcomes and in adult agency connections appropriate for the individual student. For best practices to occur, there are several policy, procedures and practices that need to be in place.

  • Local collaboratives must encourage and support implementation of evidence-based strategies.
  • A system of professional development must be designed to teach the strategies to new and current practitioners.
  • The instruction should involve a variety of teaching modes, including technical assistance.
  • The state infrastructure needs policies to guide implementation of those procedures and practices.
  • To ensure policy decisions are data-based and decision-makers are accountable, there needs to be a quality assurance system.

In addition to the policy, procedures and practices needed for best practices to occur, the student and other supportive stakeholders need to be at the center of the model’s implementation. Components of the School-to-Work Collaborative Transition Model included:

  • embedding career coaches from employment providers in the schools,
  • a coalition of providers working together as part of the collaborative,
  • student work experiences,
  • using the discovery process to develop student profiles,
  • self-determination training for students, and
  • family training and support, including benefits planning.

Because the model’s components are interrelated, the inclusion of all stakeholders at state and local levels ensured a more sustainable system.

There were two unique aspects of the Indiana School-to-Work Collaborative Transition Model. First, an employment specialist (i.e., a career coach) from a community rehabilitation provider was embedded in the school as a single point of contact. This career coach focused on work experiences and employment outcomes and sought to reduce or eliminate duplication of services. School personnel were able to rely on the career coach, who was tasked with supporting them as they taught self-determination skills to the students. He or she supplied information to businesses. The coach connected students with other adult services and overlap those services to promote a seamless school-to-work transition.

Second, a coalition of providers serving on the local collaborative reduced the number of agencies entering the school. Fewer agencies at the school minimized confusion and meeting times for schools. The career coach represented the local collaborative and coordinated with VR providers and other agencies.

KT Activities

Students participated in a structured training designed to promote self-determination, leadership, self-advocacy, and other soft skills. The training used evidence-based curricula (e.g., Self-Directed IEP, Whose Future Is It Anyway, I’m Determined, Skills to Pay the Bills). Teachers expanded on the model’s framework with their own materials, lessons, and resources. Instruction was based on the individual school’s schedule and needs. Students’ application of the learned skills included

  • interviewing employment providers to learn about and leverage his or her employment services (e.g., develop their work experiences and facilitate job placements),
  • leading their transition individual education program (IEP) meetings, or
  • practicing their skills on the job with the support of the employment specialist.

Many School-to-Work sites began implementing the curriculum during students’ sophomore year in high school. During their senior year, students were expected to participate in work experiences.

How were stakeholders involved?

Using these and other elements of stakeholder engagement throughout the course of the study, the conceptual framework addressed known barriers impacting a coordinated, seamless system of transition from high school to work. Key local and state stakeholders designed and developed the School-to-Work Collaborative Transition Model. At least once annually, the School-to-Work Collaborative Transition research project provided updates, shared preliminary results and successes, obtained feedback, and addressed issues and/or barriers impacting outcomes with the State Policy Workgroup. Each of the local collaboratives, or research sites, met regularly with state representatives (e.g., VR, Indiana Department of Education) to provide feedback on policy and procedure implementation. Local sites provided ongoing feedback through monthly School-to-Work meetings.

Teachers came together every summer for two days to provide input and feedback. They shared their experiences and assisted in the development of the project’s planning guidebook. The study began prior to enactment of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) of 2014 and the implementation of pre-employment transition services (Pre-ETS). As WIOA was implemented, Pre-ETS were developed using the framework of the School-to-Work Collaborative Transition Model and applied as part of the model’s sustainability plan. Teachers and employment providers who are tasked with implementing Pre-ETS will use the planning guidebook.


Students were given pre- and posttests to measure skills learned. Work-related scenarios were developed to promote self-determination skills. Students were encouraged to improve their skillsets through observations of the various scenarios presented to them. Among the lessons learned as a result of this study: Teachers must adapt and modify their instruction based on individual student need. Thus, they cannot always implement a curriculum as designed. We also learned that school calendars (whether semesters or trimesters) affected the timing of the instruction. As a result of this variation, some schools provided one curriculum per year during each semester of the junior and senior years. Others infused the curriculum into current courses. Still others provided instruction during resource periods. Teachers used existing resources and materials to support the curricula. Toward the end of the study, we began developing the planning guidebook for use by teachers and providers.

Contact Information

Evaluating the Impact of a School-to-Work Collaborative on the Employment Outcomes of Transition-Aged Youth
Indiana Institute on Disability and Community, Indiana University.
1905 North Range Road.
Bloomington, IN 47408-9801
(812) 855-4070

Key contact:


  • Arndt, S. A., Konrad, M., & Test, D. W. (2006). Effects of the self-directed IEP on student participation in planning meetings. Remedial and Special Education, 27(4), 194–207.
  • Cobb, B., Lehmann, J., Newman-Gonchar, R., & Alwell, M. (2009). Self-determination for students with disabilities: A narrative metasynthesis. Career Development for Exceptional Individuals, 32(2), 108–114.
  • Test, D. W., Mazzotti, V. L., Mustian, A. L., Fowler, C. H., Kortering, L., & Kohler, P. (2009). Evidence-based secondary transition predictors for improving postschool outcomes for students with disabilities. Career Development for Exceptional Individuals, 32(3), 160–181.
  • Williams-Diehm, Wehmeyer, Palmer, Soukup, & Garner (2008). Self-determination and student involvement in transition planning: A multivariate analysis. Journal on Developmental Disabilities, 14(1), 27-39.