New Jersey Department of Education

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Special Education

Learning Opportunities

Person Centered Approaches in Schools and Transition (PCAST)

Welcome to the PCAST webpages! The New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE), Office of Special Education Professional Development (OSEPD), in partnership with The Boggs Center at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, provides coaching and other professional learning opportunities to students, family members, and school district staff that are aimed at promoting effective supports for students through the use of person centered approaches. These approaches are applicable to students of all ages and developmental levels. This project, New Jersey PCAST, has placed a strong emphasis on transition-age students. Learn more about PCAST through the links below:Educator stands facilitating a person centered planning meeting with a student and her supporters sitting semicircularly in chairs.

What is meant by the Term “Person Centered”?
Front view of a female student with long dark hairPerson centeredness begins with a fundamental belief that all people, no matter their distinctions or disability, come to us whole and complete. It is an understanding that all people have real strengths and gifts that are of value, and are needed by the communities they live in. So it follows that we do not view people as broken and in need of fixing in order to be whole and to participate in their communities. Each person is born ready to belong and to be fully included in their homes, schools, and communities with the appropriate person centered supports in place.

This differs from a “system centered” model, which is fundamentally deficit-based and is frequently found in systems that provide paid services and supports to people. In a deficit-based approach people are assessed and evaluated to identify deficiencies so that treatment plans can be developed based on that information. People tend to be placed into services together according to like deficiencies and labels.  Furthermore, it is often a fixed menu of services and supports that defines how those deficiencies are addressed.

To be person centered means that you actively strive to acquire a deep understanding of each person. Any support that a person needs can then be designed specifically around them in whatever way works best and leads toward the life each person envisions for him or herself.

What is Person Centered Planning?
Student stands next to cardboard boxes in a warehouse while looking at papersPerson Centered Planning involves various facilitated approaches to listen deeply to people. It is most effective as a facilitated group planning event that is used to drive services and to inform day to day supports. This type of planning requires objective facilitation in an environment that is comfortable and welcoming for all participants. The facilitator of this planning event strives to promote an equitable and accessible approach. The person (the student) who is the focus of the planning is present from start to finish with rare exceptions.

Person Centered Planning, used in schools, is a highly collaborative and respectful process that uses facilitated conversations and other methods to achieve a thorough understanding of who each student is.  This process includes discovering gifts and passions, identifying what is most important to each student, establishing what supports work best for each student, and expressing the shared visions that the student and their allies (family, friends, and professionals) have for the future. Working back from that vision, supporters can better understand how to build on existing strengths and interests of the student to develop more effective strategies to overcome barriers. They can also design supports that are customized to the needs of each student, rather than select from a menu of the generic services available. This person centered approach results in decisions, goals, and outcomes that are more targeted, relevant, and specific to the student.

What is Person Centered Thinking?
Text Box:  Person Centered Thinking is a term used to describe the day to day practical application of the same skills and tools used in formal Person Centered Planning. When supporters are guided by their knowledge and understanding of these learned skills, they listen more deeply and respectfully to each person they support and their allies in attendance. This kind of thinking, when used in schools, enables student allies to make support decisions that are informed by the student and make possible the kind of action that results in students:

  • having positive control over the life they desire and find satisfying
  • being recognized and valued for their contributions (current and potential) to their communities
  • being supported in a manner that bests suits them individually
  • participating in a web of relationships, both natural and paid, within their communities

Person Centered Thinking skills are structured ways to teach supporters value-based behaviors and collaborative practices that result in discovering, understanding, and clearly describing the unique characteristics of each person. These skills frame and guide the listening and responsive action that lead to the outcomes described above.

What is the PCAST Project?
Text Box:  The PCAST project staff collaborate with students, family members, and school district staff throughout the State of New Jersey in exploring the use of person centered approaches through a variety of collaborative activities and practices to advocate for students with disabilities.

As part of the project, The Boggs Center provides expertise, direct demonstrations and additional learning opportunities to experience and practice PCAST during the critical process of planning for effective supports in schools and transition. The PCAST project team also works closely with district staff as they plan and innovate specific strategies to achieve the vision each school has for itself and its students.

The primary objective of the PCAST project is to positively impact post-school outcomes for students with disabilities. Project activities encourage meaningful relationships between school staff and family members and promote successful collaboration that leads to targeted supports and individualized plans centered on students.   Through the PCAST process, students benefit from the practice of self-advocacy and self-determination skills and learn to play an integral part or even take the lead in their own transition planning.  Students become more engaged and learn to participate in a process that determines goals and plans for their future and families learn more about adult service systems, which will lead to a more seamless transition to adult life for students with disabilities.

PCAST staff provide multi-year professional learning opportunities and coaching plans to schools that have been formally selected to become part of the project cohorts. A new cohort of school districts is selected annually. The project provides short term support on a case by case basis, as well as formal PCAST Training Workshops statewide. PCAST team members assist districts with a range of supports that include training, project planning facilitation, demonstration of Person Centered Planning methods and techniques, development of site-specific person centered tools, facilitator training, and more.  

PCAST Statewide Training Opportunities

PCAST workshops are available throughout the State on an ongoing basis. Text Box:  Participants will be provided tools and will learn fundamental skills, practices, and processes to implement person centered approaches in schools. School staff, family members of students with disabilities, advocates and other interested in exploring the use of person centered approaches in schools, can contact PCAST representatives by contacting Bill Freeman, NJDOE OSE Project Lead, at 
Learn details and register for these sessions on:
PCAST Training Opportunities webpage.

PCAST Frequently Asked Questions

The following are some of the questions we have received about the PCAST project. If you have a question and do not find it here, please feel free to contact NJDOE
OSE Project Lead, Bill Freeman at

Do you have any video resources that can help me understand the project better?

Yes, click here to view the PCAST Project Video. It provides an excellent description of the project and includes many perspectives regarding its benefits.

What styles of person centered practice are incorporated in the work being done in schools involved in this project?
Text Box:  There have been many styles and strands of Person Centered Planning stretching back to the 1970s. Project staff incorporate person centered approaches learned from decades of experience in direct practice in implementing person centered approaches and organizational change. The project’s coaching activities also include person centered concepts, principles, and materials from various experts in the field including but not limited to: Michael Smull, Jack Pearpoint, Marsha Forest, Beth Mount, and John O’Brien, along with the works from The Learning Community for Person Centered Practices.


Who can benefit from person centered approaches?

Person centered approaches benefit all students and all people. They can be applied at any age and at any developmental level, regardless of disabilities. The person centered approaches related to the New Jersey PCAST project are being geared toward students with disabilities, their family members, and education professionals who support them.

Who can facilitate a group Person Centered Planning meeting?

The best scenario is that the facilitator be someone who is objective, without preconceived ideas and beliefs related to the matters to be discussed. For a meeting to assist students in identifying school and post-school goals and developing plans to meet those goals, it is helpful for the facilitator to be someone other than the case manager as this will allow the case manager to be a full and active participant in team discussions. 

How does participation in this type of planning differ from other meetings?

Person Centered Planning may be different in that a student may lead their own meetings and the focus of the meeting is to make decisions that are truly based on a student’s strengths, needs, interests, and desires.
The discovery process starts by gathering key information about the person which is expanded and enhanced throughout the meeting. Participants then support the student in creating a shared vision for the future they would like to attain.  Then goals and actions are developed that focus on enhancing the student’s strengths and identifying barriers that may come in the way of the student’s vision for the future. Each step in the process informs the next and each is built around facilitated conversations.

Text Box:  Is a group process the only way to conduct Person Centered Planning?

No, but it is by far the best and most fruitful way in terms of collaboration, discovery, and effective planning. The PCAST project also supports school staff in unbundling the skills and tools used in Person Centered Planning so that they can apply them to other classroom-based activities as well as to individual meetings that educators have with students.

Is it true that the formal planning events do not occur around a table?

Yes, it is true and for good reason. The environment and format used for planning is specifically designed to optimize the comfort and participation of all participants. The process is collaborative and provides for an equal distribution of power and equal access to information through a shared display via multiple flipcharts or dry erase board.
Text Box:
Is the student present for the Person Centered Planning meeting?

Yes, the student is present from start to finish with very few exceptions. Accommodations are frequently made to ensure that a student can attend and participate in the meeting.

Who should be invited to a Person Centered Planning meeting and by whom?

Normally the facilitator would sit down and talk to the student and discuss the planning process so as much is understood about the student as possible. Part of that discussion will include who the student is closest with at school and at home. The student can invite anyone that they feel close to with parental approval. Students often make the invitations themselves and can include family members, friends, teachers (former or current), instructional assistants, CST members, administrators, and other school personnel.

How do you maintain respectful conversations and address people talking “about” the student while they are present?

Text Box:  This is an important part of the process. The facilitator will model respectful and appropriate language. He or she will ensure the student leads the process and conversations as much as possible. The facilitator will frequently bring the conversation back to the student to keep him or her actively participating and engaged. Because this is a strength-based approach that is driven by the vision of the student, tough conversations can be had as they occur in the context of what is most important to that student. Developing the skill and comfort to do this well is a key aspect of this approach to planning.


What is the relationship between Person Centered Approaches and the IEP?

Text Box:  Each school determines how they will incorporate what they learn from these approaches by collaborating with students and families and determining the value they derive from their experiences. Some of these approaches will impact pre-IEP information gathering. Others will impact how schools facilitate IEP meetings.

Does a person centered plan need to be developed annually?

No, it does not need to be developed annually. Decisions on whether to facilitate a formal Person Centered Planning session with a student should be based on the needs of that student and a decision as to whether a group planning approach is possible, given time and resources. Once developed, a plan is fluid, flexible, and grows over time if it is used as intended and new learning is shared and applied. When major changes occur suddenly or through the passing of the years, formal planning can repeated.

In planning, what do you do when a student insists on a dream we think is not possible or realistic?

Our dreams define us and propel us forward. However improbable we may believe a dream to be, it exists and should be recognized and acknowledged. We must support each person and those that care about him/her to explore and discover what underlies a dream so that we can understand it and help the person move forward toward what is both positive and possible. Listening, understanding, and supporting the student to research the dream and the path needed to get there is important. Is may also be possible to help the student to recognize other areas of passion and giftedness that might help expand their possibilities for their vision of the future. Additionally, conversations about having a back-up plan or an additional path can also serve helpful.

Why do you call it “person centered” instead of “student centered”?

Text Box:  We intentionally refer to the work as “person centered” rather than “student centered” approaches because the processes being used are holistic and involve a discovery process that goes well beyond school and the person’s role as a student. The plan that is developed is also relevant and applicable to all parts of the student’s life and may include actions assigned to the student, family members, or educators. The term “person centered” also has been used since the work began in the 1970s so it is helpful for people seeking to research the history of this work not confuse it with other more recent efforts.
How can my district get involved?

Please contact NJDOE OSE Project Leader, Bill Freeman at  for specific information on the selection process for formal participation in the PCAST project.

Does it cost anything to participate if selected to be part of a formal cohort of schools receiving long-term technical assistance and training?

No, it does not cost anything to participate in the project. There is no direct monetary cost to districts. Each school does agree to provide staff coverage for training activities, planning demonstrations and select off-site events.

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Information Gathering Packet

PCAST Lesson Plans

Case Manager Meet and Greet Final

Best Day/Worst Day Final

Great Things About Me Final

Dare to be me..Welcome to My World

IEP Scavenger Hunt

IEP Meeting 2.0 Final

My IEP Graphic Organizer Final

My IEP Final


My Inner Circle

Re-Set Re-Frame District Cummunications Final

Person Centered Plan Interview Pre-Post Assesement Final

Self-Advocacy Pre-Post Student Questionaire

Rethinking Reputations Final

Understanding My IEP Final