As a former special education teacher, I prepared for and sat in many IEP meetings. As a parent, I’ve also sat in many, if not more. I have two children in elementary school who both have IEPs. I have many friends who have children with IEPs, and we help each other through the process and go with each other to the meetings. I’m also a parent advocate, volunteering my time helping other parents navigate the system. Let me tell you, going into some of those IEP meetings have been some of the most intimidating experiences of my life. You walk into a room full of “professionals” as they properly sit at the table staring at you as you find a seat. I equate it to walking into a lion’s den! It’s that scary! And being on both sides of the table–as teacher and parent–I know what to expect! I know the lingo and all the crazy acronyms. I know my rights and the educational rights of my children. However, that knowledge still doesn’t quell the ball of nerves before every single meeting. Preparing for an IEP meeting is tough and emotionally exhausting. You’re planning your child’s education–for their future–and you want to get it right. Below are a few tips for a successful IEP meeting.
1. Request a Staffing
One thing to remember about the IEP team is that YOU, the parent, are an integral part of that team. Many times, staff are meeting, discussing, evaluating, and preparing for the IEP without you. When parents show up at the IEP meeting, a plan has already been formulated by this team of experts. Parents often feel pressured to just go along with it. For this reason, if you want to suggest ideas and make recommendations, request a staffing or a pre-IEP meeting. This can be a very informal process where the team can share ideas and formulate a plan without the time restrictions of a formal IEP meeting. As a result, preparing with the staff can often help build a positive working relationship. The staff working with your child may be experts in their field, but you are an expert about your child. Your input is valuable.
2. Request a Copy of Paperwork
In order to make an informed decision at the IEP meeting, it is crucial that you have the opportunity to review the results of any evaluations that have been conducted, a copy of the present levels of your child, a copy of draft goals and objectives, and a copy of any proposed recommendations. Some districts provide this information as best practice, but many don’t. So, it’s up to you to request the information. Therefore, in writing, request that a copy of this information be provided to you within 5 school days of the IEP meeting. Having this information ahead of time allows you the opportunity to digest the information and make note of any concerns you might have. This also give you a chance to see if the goals you have for your child line up with what the school is proposing.
3. Don’t Go Alone
Do not go to your IEP meeting alone. Remember the lion’s den I mentioned above? It’s always nice to have someone you know in your corner; someone who can be a second set of eyes and ears and can be a more neutral person for you if emotions start to run high. Even if my husband attends the IEP meetings, I still bring a friend. My friend knows when I’m feeling overwhelmed and need to take a break. She also takes notes for me so I can focus on what’s being said. Additionally, she can keep me grounded because she’s not nearly as emotional as I am. If you do bring someone, it’s courteous to let the school know ahead of time.
4. Record the Meeting
IEP meetings cover A LOT of information, and you’re sure to miss something. For this reason, I suggest recording the meeting. This way, if there are any questions, you can go back and listen to the recording for clarification. I put my iPhone on airplane mode and use Voice Memos to record our meetings. Or, you can purchase a small recorder. Because the school will also want to record if you’re recording, make sure you let them know ahead of time so that they can be prepared. I simply send an email to our diagnostician letting her know that I’ll be recording the meeting because I don’t listen well. (Basically, I can’t walk and chew gum at the same time, so I need a recording to reference!) If your spouse can’t attend the meeting, use them as an excuse. Due to the fact that your spouse won’t be there, you’re recording for their sake. It is just common knowledge with my son that the meetings will be recorded. Several times I have forgotten to pull out my phone and our amazing diagnostician has reminded me!
5. Prepare A Vision Statement
Many times IEP meetings are very formal and are on a very strict time schedule. (Hence the purpose of a staffing, as mentioned above.) They can seem very impersonal, and often, your child gets lost in the paperwork. The team working with your child is there to prepare for the next year; you are there preparing for the rest of your child’s life. For this reason, I have written a Vision Statement about my son. It shares with the staff our hopes and dreams for his future and is read at the beginning of every IEP meeting. Essentially, it’s a great reminder that we are talking about my child, not just a name on a piece of paper. You can also do this through a short video or with pictures. Better yet, you could have your child attend the IEP meeting! I’ll write more on this topic later. To read Wade’s vision statement, go here.
6. Bring a Snack
Seriously. Chocolate helps any situation! Therefore, food is a great way to break down that “you against them” barrier. It’s like a peace offering–l’m not here to fight with you, I’m here to plan with you. Having some snacks on the table has a way of easing the tension.
Remember, an IEP is not set in stone. For that reason, if things aren’t working well, you can request another IEP meeting. I hope these tips help you feel a little more confident about preparing for your next meeting. Do you have any other tips that have helped your meetings run smoothly? Comment below!