What is Self-Determination and Why is it Important

What is Self-Determination and Why is it
Important for Ensuring the Post-Secondary
Success of At-Risk Students and Students with
Special Needs
Presented by: Dr. Russell G. Dubberly, N.B.C.T.
State Director of Education
Pace Center for Girls, Inc.
Self-Determination is:
A foundation of human will, a lifting
of the spirit, and a right of all
Agran, Snow, and Swaner (1999)
listed the following constructs that
encompass self-determination:
(a) decision making,
(b) problem solving,
(c) choice making,
(d) self-management,
(e) self-awareness,
(f) self-advocacy
(g) goal setting.
Self-Determination as a Construct
Wehmeyer (2005) reported that selfdetermination can be described in
different constructs that relate to (a) a
process or outcome, (b) an independent
performance of behavior, (c) selfreliance or self-sufficiency, and (d) a
behavior that is successful, as
something you do or as just choice.
Positive Outcomes
Wehmeyer and Palmer (2003) found that
students with disabilities labeled as having
higher levels of self-determination at
graduation were more likely to have moved
out of the home that they lived in during
high school and into their own home by
their 3rd year as a post-graduate.
Wehmeyer and Palmer also found that
students with disabilities labeled as having
higher levels of self-determination were
also disproportionately more likely to be
competitively employed one year after
Self-Determination for Students
with Special Needs
Self-determination is an integral
component for special needs and at-risk
students to participate successfully in
transition planning, graduation, and
achievement of meaningful post-school
The Educator’s Role
If the plan is to truly endure the school year and
beyond, teachers need to ensure that at-risk
students understand components of (a) decision
making, (b) problem solving, (c) choice making,
(d) self-management, (e) self-awareness, (f) selfadvocacy, and (g) goal setting.
Students need to set positive behavioral goals,
learn the consequences of their decisions,
(based on learned problem solving strategies),
and learn to self-monitor their thoughts and
actions throughout the school day.
Is this just one more thing for busy teachers?
Many teachers become concerned with implementing instructional
constructs such as self-determination as one more thing that they
are asked to do:
Are there curricula for specifically teaching self-determination
Are there lesson plans specifically for teaching selfdetermination???
Do you have to teach self-determination like this???
Self-determination can be a component of lessons, without being
the main focus of the lesson.
Self-Determination for At-Risk Students
Thoma, Nathanson, Baker, and Tamura (2002) suggested “Educators should learn
new strategies that support student self-determination, not only throughout the
transition process but also in educational program development in the years
proceeding transition planning” (p. 83).
Dropping Out of School
The primary reason nearly half of the young adults gave for dropping out was that
classes were uninteresting.
In general, feeling unmotivated or uninspired to work hard was a significant factor
in the drop outs’ discontent with school. In focus groups, the young adults said
school was boring, they didn’t learn anything, and school was irrelevant.
Does this sound like a group who needs to learn to be more self-aware, set goals,
self-advocate, and become empowered to shape their own educational direction???
Bridgeland, DiIulio, and Morison (2006)
Goal Setting
Teachers need to work collaboratively with students
and their families to set meaningful goals.
 Differentiated Instruction
 Multiple pathways to success – College is not for
 Individualized accommodations
 Find personal goal-related curricula and materials
 Build a network and supports for the student’s goal
 The art of lawnmower repair – Think outside of the
A Starting Place for Students At-Risk
An understanding of one's strengths, abilities, needs, limitations, interests, and
preferences may provide an important foundation for promoting other selfdetermination elements (Wehmeyer & Field, 2007).
This requires honest conversation with emphasis on building a path from where the
student currently is in development to attainable short term and long term goals.
How do you eat an elephant………..One bite at a time!
Providing multiple pathways and backup plans.
“I want to be a doctor in a hospital” (The student is currently struggling
with science and does not show interest in subjects like biology).
This is where a teacher has an opportunity to learn what is really
intriguing about the goal and help find pathways to this goal or a
similar more attainable goal.
Self-Determination as a Protective Factor
PACE Center for Girls- We create and help sustain protective factors in
girls deemed at-risk. Continuing education and autonomy are two critical
factors to our girls’ success! Many of our girls have experienced negative
life events that led them to reduced self-determination.
For teenagers and young adults, examples of negative life events include
parental separation and divorce, parental or family discord, and impaired
or neglectful parenting (Bureau, Genevie, Vallerand, Rousseau, & Otis,
2012), as well as many other factors such as drug use, sexual abuse, gang
affiliation, bullying, etc.
Acting out of self-determination is a functioning mode where people
regulate their behaviors according to their own values and preferences.
Intrinsic Versus Extrinsic
 Highly self-determined individuals behave mostly out of
personal relevance.
 Their action is proactive and is thoughtfully chosen to be in line
with their core values.
 In contrast, non-self-determined individuals act to gain
rewards, avoid punishments, and because they feel they ought
to behave in a certain way. These behavioral standards are
imposed on them by others and are not self-endorsed (Deci &
Ryan, 2002).
 As a result, non-self-determined individuals are dependent on
environmental cues to motivate their action (Deci & Ryan,
2002). Their general perceived locus of causality is thus
external, making them more reactive to external cues.
Self-Determination as a Protective Factor
Consider the profile of many students who are at greatest risk for dropping
out (depressed, low self-esteem, feeling of lack of options, negativity, feeling
of no control, highly stressed).
 Self-determination predicts numerous positive outcomes including reduced depression,
higher self-worth, greater creativity, more positive emotions, stronger perceptions of
control, and less anxiety. (Bureau, et al. 2012).
 Bureau, et al found when people are highly self-determined, the deleterious effects of
negative life events and hopelessness are less systematic.
 Their results suggested that self-determined people may have developed a proactive
way of life that makes them less affected by negative life events.
Strategies to Build Self-Determination in
Children Considered At-Risk for Dropout
1. Prerequisite social skills, such as giving positive feedback
and giving criticism.
2. Self-evaluation skills, such as evaluating present skills, and
evaluating skills needed for future goals.
3. Self-Direction skills, such as action planning and goal
4. Networking skills, both formal and informal networking.
5. Collaboration skills, such as determining team needs and
teaming to develop goals.
6. Persistence and risk-taking skills, such as persistence
through problem solving and risk-taking through decision
7. Dealing with stress, such as recognizing feelings and
expressing feelings appropriately.
(Serna & Lau-Smith, 1995)
PURPOSE is a mnemonic for the following: Prepare to learn
the specific self-determine skill
Understand the skills through a discussion about these
components with regard to definition and rationale for use
Rehearse by practicing that skill with a peer after watching
the instructors model the behavior
Perform a self-check
Overcome any performance barriers as well as generalize
the skill to other situations
Select his or her performance in those situations
Evaluate his or her performance in those situations
(Serna & Lau-Smith, 1995)
Find the Fun in Education………
The Fun Theory
Agran, M., Snow, K., & Swaner, J. (1999). Teacher perceptions of self-determination: Benefits, characteristics, strategies.
Education and Training in Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities, 34, 293-301.
Bridgeland, J. M., DiIulio, J. J., Morison, K. B. (2006). The Silent Epidemic Perspectives of High School Dropouts. Retrieved
from http://www.americaspromise.org/~/media/Files/Resources/the_silent_epidemic_report-RES.ashx
Bureau, J. S., Genevie, A. Vallerand, R. J., Rousseau, R. L., & Otis, J. (2012). Self-Determination: A Buffer Against Suicide
Ideation. Retrieved from The American Association of Suicidology/Academic Edition database.
Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2002). Overview of self-determination theory: An organismic dialectical perspective. In E. L.
Deci & R. M. Ryan (Eds.), Handbook of self-determination research (pp. 3–33). Rochester, NY: University of Rochester
Serna, L. A., & Lau-Smith, J. (1995). Learning with purpose: Self-determination skills for students who are at risk for
school and community failure. Interventions in School and Clinic, 30(3), 142-146.
Wehmeyer, M. L. (2005). Self-determination and individuals with severe disabilities: Re-examining meanings and
misinterpretations. Research and Practice for Persons With Severe Disabilities, 30, 113-120.

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