How to make the most of IEP meetings
It’s that time of year, when parents face the stress of impending IEP meetings. Here are some tips to help you to use those meetings to the greatest advantage.
I have participated in IEP meetings from every vantage point; as a parent, a classroom teacher, a special educator, a student advocate and a parent advocate. Each perception is unique and important. We have all met unsupportive people, but I am going to remain optimistic that most people are trying to to their job to the best of their ability. On that note, here are some ideas to make sure you are getting the most you can out of your time in an IEP meeting.
1. Meet at least 5 times a year
If your child has an IEP, ask to meet at least three times per year, if learning is progressing to your satisfaction. You need that many meetings, at least, to stay abreast of the progress of your child and to catch any difficulties before they become big problems.
If you are not satisfied with the progress of learning, you need to meet much more often. A parent can call an IEP meeting at any time. Be conscientious of everyone’s time but confident that this will help all of you to address the situation more efficiently. If your child is falling behind or experiencing difficulties at school, you should be meeting monthly in order to measure progress or the lack of progress, and address it, now.
2. Record every IEP meeting
It is important to openly record and keep the recordings of every IEP meeting. You will get home and have trouble remembering the whirl of information that was shared. This way you can go back and literally listen to statements over and over again. I have witnessed many meetings where long conversations (and arguments) were held just listening to each person recount what they thought they heard at a previous meeting. Your openly visible recording of the meeting will keep everyone accountable for their words.
Also, listen to yourself speak at those meetings. Do you sound confident, defensive, helpful, informed? Listening to yourself on these recordings will help you to learn to express yourself more confidently, directly and patiently. Don’t beat yourself up if you breakdown or have a lapse in being cool. Just learn from it and move on. It is perfectly normal to be distressed when fighting for your child’s opportunity to learn. You will have many IEP meetings in which to improve your ability to express yourself effectively.
3. Treat every IEP meeting as if it is the first one
Don’t blur over the meetings because you’ve done it before a hundred times. There is a reason IEP meetings are required. There should be noticeable progress to report at every meeting. If there is not noticeable progress then we need to figure out how to get back on track ASAP! Ask questions, be attentive and know that this meeting will alter the daily life of your child.
4. Never sign the IEP document at the meeting
Go home, read the document, listen to the recording and be sure you feel confident about the plan in place, BEFORE you sign the document. Schools have deadlines to get the documents signed, and this is a good thing. DON’T feel pressured to sign a less than adequate plan because of that deadline. You might need a few days to gather momentum, or schedule another meeting to smooth out any problems you feel are not being addressed. This is perfectly reasonable. Expect this not to received with joy by the school.
5. Try to be calm, direct and positive
You will not get everything you want. You will have to decide which things are worth fighting for and which you can make up for on your own time. The school is not required to give your child a great education, only a free education. Most schools do attempt to do what they consider to be adequate or better. However, most educators will not understand the capabilities of your child.
You are the expert of your child. You are the most qualified advocate for your child. Use the IEP meetings to get some help in progressing learning at school, but recognize that you and your family and friends will be in charge of your child’s complete education and ability to feel confident and competent in life!
Go forth and nail those IEP meetings this year!
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Katherine is a seasoned educator with a wide variety of expertise in the field. As a teacher with over 30 years of experience with students ages 3-18, she is also a Certified Elementary School Teacher (K-8), a Certified Special Education Teacher (K-12), an Inclusion Specialist, and a Visual and Performing Arts Specialist. In addition to her credentials, she has also spent 2 years as a House Parent for Severely Emotionally Disturbed teenaged girls (ages 9-18), and has worked with all types of students with various labels including Down Syndrome, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Asperger’s Syndrome, SED, ODD, FASD, ID, ADHD, Schizophrenia, Gifted, etc.