The scope of the article is….
- What is a Case Manager (my experiences)?
- The History of Case Management
- Difference between a Learning Support teacher and Case Manager?
- Definition of a Case manager
- Things I do as a Case Manager
I originally made this presentation for the SENIA 2022 virtual conference that was geared towards mainly Learning Support teachers, school psychs, counselors, SLPs, etc. in international schools. So some examples and what not are more geared to that, but the idea of what is a case manager holds true globally.
Here’s the original video if you are like me and lean towards watching content rather than reading. Or maybe I’m different because I got rid of streaming services and Youtube is the only place I get my audio visual fix?!
Has your admin or perhaps a counselor ever made a decision about a student on your caseload without consulting you? Do you remember feeling a certain type of way?
What is that feeling?
To me that’s a sort of break down between what someone else sees our role being, and what we often see as our role. If decisions are made about a student with an ILP without consulting their case manager, it just doesn’t make sense…at least to me.
I think the situation that sticks out to me the most was when I was at a school where I was the department head and we were really building the program up. Our school psych was new, two new Learning Support teachers, a couple new TAs, etc. and we were building RTI, developing our policy manual, etc. and so I guess I was feeling we were at a good point and systems were tight, so it was especially jarring to me when my principal made a big decision about a boy on my caseload and in my Learning Support pull-out class who was out on a short medical leave. The principal made the decision unilaterally without talking to me or the counselor (or both together) and it changed the students program.
I received an email about it and when I saw the principal in the hallway later, in full public view, I couldn’t contain myself. I told him “you can’t make decisions like that without talking to me…” and started the discussion that way. In retrospect…yikes!
What do you think?
Was I in the wrong? Was my idea of case manager too expansive? Drop your thoughts in the comments below: “Should a principal be chatting with at least the case manager or counselor before deciding big things?”
What is a Case Manager?
What is your definition of a Learning Support (or Resource) case manager?
You come to a new school, there’s a spreadsheet with a column that says “Case Manager” and your name is listed next to 5-10 students…or 15…or 20…..30 (?!) that you don’t know yet, but will get to know real well.
What does that mean to you?
What is your definition of a case manager?
You are sitting at a restaurant, talking to a friend, and you mention that case management is 33% of your job and they say, “What keeps you busy in that 33%?”
What do you say?
Take a second to pause and think, What does that mean for you?
My First Experiences with Case Managers
My ADHD and Oppositional defiance disorder may have started at a young age but I didn’t get any services until a few years later. The idea of Learning Support case management has been on my mind in one form or another since I was 11 years old, got kicked out of 6th grade, went to a non-public school (NPS) only for students with IEPs, and subsequently got my first case manager!
I was mainstreamed in 9th grade to a regular high school, with a Resource teacher to support me, but got locked up on September 16th of that year. I was able to get a good medication for my ADHD when I was subsequently in rehab (a year later when I was 15) and that helped me turn things around. I still had a case manager, but now my Learning Support pull-out class was in a regular high school, I was drug free, and I started volunteering in a class for students with developmental delays soon after.
This led me to be a Teacher Assistant for 4 years in Palo Alto Unified, off and on once I graduated high school. Working with students with behavior challenges, to Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, to Autism, and RSP support.
And as soon as I graduated from college I became a special educator.
This was my first time being a case manager all on my own. No longer deferring to the teacher for decisions, or asking them if I could call a parent about something, etc. People were looking at me to steer the ship….23 years old… and now it was up to me to help guide the team on decisions in IEPs and what not.
A couple years later I moved to LA and became the High Functioning Students with Autism teacher and I had to expand my conception of case management and program support as I co-taught with many teachers, worked with multiple TAs and had to fight for my students to be fully included and grow academically and socially.
During this time, living in the US, things were pretty bureaucratic and my role as a Special Educator and Case Manager was clearly defined.
Teaching, coordinating services, and generally overseeing the IEP. Working with SLPs, OTs, counselors, school psychs, BSPs, etc. This is essentially what case management boiled down to.
However, when I took off to the Dominican Republic in 2011 for my first international gig, I found out that while I was working at a strong school, there was a lot more room for doing things the way you, or your principal, or Learning Support coordinator wanted to do things, rather than have a clear mandate or policy.
So for example, in Los Angeles I was a BICM (Behavior Intervention Case Manager) for my school and would help with Behavior Support Plans, FBAs, etc. And if the need went past what we could do at the site, we had what was called a Program Specialist from the District that would help.
But when I got to the DR, between me, the counselors, and the principal, we were our own school district and it was all on us.
I think this is where I truly began to see what it meant to be a case manager. If I wasn’t actively taking on this role, students would sometimes slip through the cracks, or …. the alternative was students getting “counseled out”
Often…generally…the students who were asked to find another school were on my caseload!
If it wasn’t me working with the tutor that was doing the students HW, or the outside therapist, or the two divorced parents who made poor decisions for the student just to spite the ex-spouse, or the psychiatrist, the SLP, the OT, etc……..who else was going to tie it all together?
In my experience, it’s the Learning Support case manager.
Is it the counselors job?
They may have from what I’ve seen 100+ students to 600 students. And they are generally focused on the social/emotional and/or college. Not necessarily behavior and academic (???tighten that up).
Furthermore, they often are trying to keep that counselor relationship with the students, so keeping on them about a work completion goal or a behavior support plan, or talking to their tutor, or something like that could sully the relationship. Right?
Is it the homeroom or advisory teachers job who also has 100 students they are teaching, and is coaching the basketball team?
Is it admin….. You get the idea.
If it’s not the case manager holding all the moving pieces together, who is? Who can?
For me, with the increasing rates of inclusion, this means more students are in schools that are more college prep. For example, last time I was teaching in California, all students in were pushed to do the A to G requirements to prep for the UC system. Or more students are in places or situations where teachers aren’t used to differentiating, more students with significant challenges are in IB programs, or wanting to take AP classes like their friends, etc.
And I see it as my job to keep the whole ‘case’…..the child’s life at school….going in positive directions. Or in other words, giving them the most appropriate challenge.
This is why we see things like in this policy manual from an international school in Europe that talks about us being the main family contact, coordinating services, and most important maybe, LIASING with the WHOLE team at school and with the outside.
Holding it all together!
Otherwise, you have situations where the principal is making some decisions and taking some actions, or the counselor may be working with one teacher on one behavior plan while the case manager is working on other things with other teachers, the tutor is doing something different than what the student needs and they are still failing, etc.
Historically, when everything is disjointed, the students on our caseloads don’t make the gains that they could.
They need a case manager to hold it down!
History of Case Managment
Sometimes I wonder if the idea of caseload and case manager is too clinical? I mention it to a parent and I wonder what they think about this term.
Where does this terminology come from and how did it come to be used for the students we work with?
The idea of case management has been around for over one hundred years (Internet, 2023).
For a long time it doesn’t seem like people were getting too much help in this world. But then charities started popping up, and things got more official.
Governments started getting held more accountable and less authoritarian. And now are at a point where we have federal mandates and laws like the ADA in the 70s, and IDEA in 2004, so Special Ed services are huge parts of school budgets, county services can add up in terms of human services, mental health, and disability services. So things have evolved tremendously over the past century plus.
Nowadays we see the idea of taking care of people in our communities through the model of case management in many ways. Some of the commonalities can be seen from:
- nursing to
- social work
- to mental health services
- to human services
So what do they all have in common?
- person with a need
- need for advocacy for this person
- assess needs
- coordinate services
- Nursing (needs someone to be the eyes and ears, coordinate different care, etc.)
- Social Work (working with wraparound services, different agencies, school, police, etc.
- -Mental health (medication, therapy, work with families)
- legal requirements (IEPs, social work and CPS, mental health confidentiality, etc.)
- official documents, tracking progress, working towards outcomes, etc.
I think this is why we as special educators have taken on this model because there are so many similarities!
Ultimately all of these fields are are working with people with a need that has been identified by some assessment, and a subsequent need (blood pressure, schizophrenia, houselessness, WISC, Connors, BASC, etc.), and we are building plans, setting goals, tracking progress, working with a team of support, and trying to get these cats to a point of……equity? A baseline? Growth.
And to bring it back full circle, we as Special Educators are often collaborating with these other professionals mentioned as we help the students on our caseloads make growth from K-12 to post-secondary.
Difference between a Learning Support teacher and Case Manager?
Sometimes the idea of saying case manager and caseload sounds a little weird when I say it to a parent for the first time, or to a colleague in a new school, but I sometimes wonder what the difference is between saying Learning Support teacher vs. Case Manager?
To me though it boils down to CASE MANAGEMENT and what that represents.
Someone can tell me that they are Learning Support teacher and in the nebulous regions of my mind I think of tiered interventions, pushing-in, pulling out, etc.
But when someone speaks of being a case manager……those things pop up by default because it’s part of the job, but I also think about a whole lot more. The type of things we all do on the daily, yet they aren’t ever represented in a single evaluation we have ever had from an administrator!!!
I had a recent instance of this a couple years ago when I was back teaching in the USA for a Covid year (am I coining a new term?). I was back in a public school for the first time in many years, and it was a bit of an adjustment. I was going through the evaluation process and I was a little perturbed that the only thing the principal wanted to see was a 5-point lesson plan in my intervention class. I was trying to get her to look into the co-teaching I was doing, and the case management. Both huge parts of my job, not just the dog and pony show of having a 5-point lesson plan in October, and then a couple drop ins later on. I guess it’s just how things worked out with the teacher unions, ed code, etc. They treat the Learning Support teacher as any other teacher, and the districts are too big to look at the whole position like they tend to do in the private international schools I’ve worked in. But I feel so passionately about our role as a case manager, I felt compelled at first to bring this up to my principal because it seemed important for her to look at that part of my day to day too.
Definition of a Learning Support (Resource) Case Manager
So we have touched on some history, some law, some experiences….now let’s look a little more closely at policy from the international school world and what they say about the role of the case manager in the Learning Support program, and how I have tied that to what I know from working in Special Education in the United States for 7 years.
To make it a little interesting, test yourself. Here are 5 True or False questions about case management taken from policy manuals at schools I’ve worked at, and other schools. Answers below the questions:
Things I Do as a Case Manager
on the Day to Day
Here are some of the little systems I use on a regular basis (i.e. daily, each semester, etc.). I will try to link to them if/when I can, and explain them, but reach out in the comments if I can share any more links or details.
I use this progress monitoring spreadsheet for each student. We monitor their ILP goals, personal academic goals, typing speed, and accommodations use so we can add goals for accommodations, take some off, etc.
I use this to monitor how my actions and interventions in the co-taught or push-in class are going. My philosophy is that there should be a reason that a counselor or admin would put a student in need in a co-taught class. Not just because there are two adults in the room. I like to show what we are doing and show the growth. It helps with conversations with students and goal-setting too!
Behavior and Academic Support things
There are a lot of different systems that I use to help make sure students are putting in max effort, parents are doing best practices, teachers are on point (i.e. a behavior tracker may help prompt teachers to do best practice too), etc.
My go to is the daily To-Do Sheet and the Ticket to the Week. Here’s a blog post I wrote that goes into detail about it and has some links and image…..LINK
This is an Excel document I keep for every student on my caseload. It has about 20+ columns from notes about reading levels to make up times to parent contact to grade checks. I wrote a little about one column HERE, the “Random Things to Do” column.
And here’s a link to the template on my teacher website that you can use: LINK!
A couple random things I do also is to have what I call the First Talk where I have a system where we look at needs, set goals, make an action plan, etc. I use it for the students in my pull-out classes, and the students I don’t see because the are on the monitor status. I find it helps me get to know them and also gives me things to add to the Student Excel sheet and Progress Monitoring sheet I mentioned earlier.
Organization checks are part of the mix too. From inbox organized and cleared up (below 10 emails in the inbox!), to organizing files, to closing tabs and restarting the computer so it runs smoother. I tend to do these every few weeks and combine it with things like grade checks, missing work checks, etc. Here’s a Youtube video I made that discusses how this fits into my planning.
I pick the top student each semester on my caseload and hook them up with a skateboard. I use this as a motivation tool to really help students put in that effort because even the wealthiest student I have worked with couldn’t just go out and buy a custom skateboard with their name on it. So it’s super motivating.
I have a spreadsheet with a ton of categories like attendance, number of extra curricular activities, all the way to even whether or not the student is respectful to others. I don’t want to spend 20 hours painting a board for a student that is rude to people! Throughout the semester I give students the update of where they are at, things they need to work on, etc. It can be surprising what effect it can have. The student that won this past semester had 7 tardies by like October and after I told him that that was holding him back from winning in January, he didn’t even know what a tardy was (6th grader….), and he didn’t have one for the rest of the semester!
Here’s a link to my teacher website that talks more about it and has some images and a video: HERE
Accommodations are a big part of our jobs as resource or learning support teachers, and in addition to the things mentioned above, I find myself giving presentations and speaking up for developing best practice with accommodations.
I just had a situation recently where I had to advocate as head of department for a student to get text to speech and speech to text accommodations that the teacher was continuously refusing to give them.
I knew I had had this conversation with a teacher from the same content area at another school back in the day, so went back into my old meeting notes and found the argument I made last time. I had gone through the IB guides and all that back then, crafted an argument, and had that meeting.
It turns out that that first meeting was almost 7 years to the day……and wish I hadn’t had to have it a 2nd time, but we need to fight for our students. I also have given presentations about things like Dyslexia, Working Memory, common accommodations, and things like that to add life to the list of accommodations in the IEP, in situations where it seems like the students meets may not be being fully met.
Advocating for, and Collaborating about, Students
Speaking of fighting for your students accommodations which just happens to be a reality, for me I find that advocating for your students can pop up in various other ways too.
Whether it be multiple meetings with the English B or Language B teacher that doesn’t think a student with Dyslexia should get things like spell check because it’s a language acquisition class.
Or working with a parent and student in 10th grade who want to go full IB diploma next year, or take an AP class, but haven’t shown that that will be the best fit. I use a planning sheet I put together over the years and have my students fill out, collaborate with the counselor, and end up having a recommendation for what we think should be the next steps.
The alternative is to not do this, treat these students like anyone else who doesn’t have/need a case manager, and then find them struggling big time in a few months. We want to help give them the most appropriate challenge, and ultimately if they choose to go ahead and take the AP class, or want to try the full IB diploma, then often we have informed them sufficiently.
Harkening back to the anecdote about only being evaluated on my 5-point lesson plan, my evaluator doesn’t know how much time I put into making this planning sheet, doesn’t see the meetings with the counselor and parents, and doesn’t see the amount of pressure it takes off of the team a year from now when because of this work, the student doesn’t have an incomplete in one class, a failing grade in another, their extended essay in the IB is behind the deadlines…etc.
To me, that’s case management!
I’m not just thinking about my pull-out or push-in class, and looking at progress there. I’m working with 6th graders and wondering what their graduation path will be and how I will help them get there.
I have had many situations I have seen in the middle school where teachers would perhaps modify the math expectations without telling anyone, or the ILP team decided to modify the math, but they weren’t thinking about what that means 5 years down the road when the student can’t get a diploma.
But since I’ve worked a lot in the high school and seen the effects of this, when I’m working in a middle school I find myself fighting passionately to do everything we can BUT modify.
To me, that’s case management.
Advocating for the student, working with others, and keeping things moving forward
Thinking big picture, bringing up hard topics, bringing everyone together (i.e. math teacher, parents, admin, tutor, etc.), and advocating for my student to do all we can to ensure that the student is able to do their best.
A lot of collaboration I have with counselors is during the referral or intervention process, working with students with social/emotional needs, behavior needs, or anxiety. We definitely have our own lanes and bubbles in the Venn diagram, but there is often a lot of overlap in my experience.
Counselors kind of have their own caseloads in a sense. This is for counseling in general, and also for cats they see once a week, or every couple weeks etc. Or the students who they are in contact with their therapist, etc.. But if we are ‘double dipping’, both working regular with a given student, in my experience the learning support situation trumps the counseling situation, but we work together with the learning support case manager, managing the ‘case’.
My thinking behind this is because so much of what happens with s child will/can affect their academics. And as a Learning Support teacher or Resource teacher, I’m thinking of the whole picture…but I also have the curriculum skills, and other skills (i.e. BSPs), so me being the point person has always seemed to make the most sense.
- Have clearly defined ratios for caseload sizes (i.e. weighting student needs)
- Clearly defined roles in the school or district policy manual
- Provide training for teachers so they know what we do
- Have a solid way of keeping track of all students and their data
- Have an expedient (and confidential) way for teachers to access information about a student
If it’s not the Learning Support case manager holding all the moving pieces together, who is? Who can?
To me it boils down to the even more important question…am I doing my job as a learning support teacher if my student is getting Fs in all classes (failing), except the push-in class I work in, and is making progress in the intervention I’m doing?
What do you think?
I have my answer. I live mine every day! Throw yours in the comments below and I will tell you what I think. Perhaps you can help shift my schema?
My varied experiences and all the different countries I’ve worked in have made me revaluate and sculpt my conception of what it means to be a case manager, have a caseload and/or be a learning support teacher.
And it’s also showed me how much I love the role of being a case manager. Sometimes I think about what it would be like to just have the teaching of content be my main focus and I think I would choose the case management aspect. I like the new things that pop up consistently. Every day can be a little different in the life of a learning support teacher and case manager and I love that!
Speaking of love, I would love to hear your thoughts, or questions. Also, if you have any resources to share, throw them in the comments section.