Sam and Sean

Training for independent life


Independence is something that we all aspire to attain in one way or another. Most teenagers look forward to the independence that a driver’s license can afford or the independence of getting away from mom and dad and heading off to college. Many people strive for the independence that comes from owning their own business and being their own boss. As Americans, we have the privilege of living in a nation that treasures its independence.

Independence, the ability to function or operate without the assistance of someone or something else, is a multifaceted concept. It is not something that should be pursued or taken on haphazardly. In Appropriate Independence: Potential Realized, Psychologist Dr. Russ Kinkade writes, “Independence, like many other concepts, must be balanced with other values and limitations in order for it to be a profitable ideal.”

He points out that a proper understanding of authority, personal responsibility, and humility are all needed to balance the concept of independence.

A life of independence that is not balanced by these other core values can easily become a reckless, self-absorbed existence.

Many individuals with disability have a strong desire to experience a higher level of independence.

Their focus may involve personal care, ambulation, employment, their residential setting or any other aspect of life. The desire to live a self-directed life is an admirable one. Yet the pursuit of independence is something that requires great intentionality and in most cases a significant level of support and guidance – assistance that diminishes as skills and abilities are attained.

Training for Independent Life is a new editorial series that will appear in each issue of Apostrophe. This series of articles will be written by various faculty and staff members of Shepherds College in Union Grove, Wis., one of the nation’s premier post-secondary schools for individuals with intellectual/developmental disabilities. Shepherds College offers a holistic training program that has been developed around the guiding philosophy of Appropriate Independence™, which is predicated on the idea that independence is different for each individual.

Many factors contribute to an individual’s Appropriate Independence – strengths, talents, abilities, as well as the degree of one’s limitations and/or disability.

Shepherds College offers a holistic training program designed to impact students’ lives through relevant and experiential instruction that touches every facet of a student’s life in an attempt to prepare students for the lifelong pursuit of Appropriate Independence.™

The entire experience has been designed with the intent purpose of practical skill development in an effort to help students become trained for life and empowered to serve, the action steps to our philosophy of Appropriate Independence.™

With great success the faculty and staff of Shepherds College have implemented REAL instruction to facilitate training both in and out of the classroom. REAL instruction has been adapted from Thom and Joani Schultz’s book The Dirt on Learning and it impacts every facet of our training program. Here are the components of REAL:

R – Relational: involves setting aside time for learners to talk and work together, building relationships from authentic learning with fellow students and instructors. The relational component of REAL instruction emphasizes the importance of community and the value of shared experiences.

E – Experiential: fully involves the learner and does not accommodate a passive observer.  Interest in activities and ideas is ignited when students learn by using any or all of their senses (taste, touch, smell, hearing, seeing). Experiential instruction allows the students to make discoveries for themselves, and then share them with other students, resulting in relational learning.

A – Applicable: provides validity and purpose to the learning. When information is applicable to the learner’s life, he/she is motivated to learn the information. All subject matter should serve a practical purpose and/or promote an individual’s growth, development and ultimate pursuit of independence.  Training must be applicable to life in order to truly be meaningful.

L– Learner-based: based on student’s interests, learning styles and attention span. It is not driven by a set curriculum or an instructor’s preferences, but by the learner’s specific interests and needs. Learner-based instruction results in increased motivation, learning and achievement. REAL instruction and the guiding philosophy of Appropriate Independence™ are two cornerstones of the Shepherds College experience.

Please join us as we share relevant and practical approaches in Training for Independent Life. Upcoming articles will include topics such as: conflict resolution, self-advocacy, healthy relationships, transition, community engagement, postsecondary education, daily living skills and success in the workplace.

We look forward to accompanying you in your Training for Independent Life.

Tracy Terrill is the executive director for Shepherds College in Union Grove, Wis. For more information about Shepherds College, an accredited, faith-based post-secondary school for young adults with intellectual disabilities, visit

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