You may have read about me in Special Ed Mom’s Survival Guide. I’m Bonnie’s husband Steve, otherwise known as the dad who had a hard time letting go of my dreams for a typical son. Those days are behind me.
As a professional mediator, I thought I could handle IEP meetings. I had no idea just how challenging they could be. As I adjusted and learned how they work, I found that I was able to help in IEP meetings. I’d like to share some approaches that I have used to support better results in these meetings.
1) Expect to Get Resistance
This is true for no other reason than there is always too much to cover in the allotted time. In addition, the school staff and teachers are professionals. In a way, when you suggest something they haven’t considered, you are “telling them how to do their job.” That is not a bad thing of course, but some professionals don’t accept feedback well. If you can accept ahead of time that there will be resistance, it will be easier for you to accept it and navigate around it.
2) Don’t be a Stranger
Every IEP meeting goes better when they know you outside of the meeting. The tendency to be heard in an IEP meeting will be increased significantly if you have been at the school perhaps volunteering where you can. Likewise if you have donated supplies or if you have volunteered for PTA/PTO events, the staff will think well of you.
3) Play Nice
Regardless of what you think of your district or any person who works with your child, “you attract more bees with honey…” Suppose a therapist, teacher or district official doesn’t like your child. Perhaps they hate their job or have had a challenging event in their life recently. They will not respond better if you complain more or disrespect them in any way. You will get a better outcome if you say things like: “I know you would like [your child’s name] to do his best….” OR “I know sometimes it is a challenge to change things but [your child’s name] will do better in your class if…”
4) Don’t Get Left Behind
I’ve been in many meetings where the case manager works too fast. She introduces everyone, gets signatures and launches into her agenda. She tries to get the therapists or teachers through their points quickly so they can go back to class. If you are overwhelmed, ask the case manager to slow down. If someone has to leave and their input is needed, you can schedule a continuation. You must have enough information at the end of the session to consider the recommendations. If the case manager insists and you are not satisfied, suggest that the meeting continue and another meeting be scheduled to finish the IEP.
5) Be a Part of The Action
If this is a new team or school, you want to let the IEP team know that you want to contribute. At the beginning of the meeting, let the person leading the meeting (usually case manager) you would like the opportunity to respond to every suggestion, every goal and every item on the IEP. Be certain to write out your parent concerns ahead of time and make sure they are included in the parent concerns section of the IEP.
6) Ask about Alternatives
If your child is not doing well with a therapy, ask about alternative approaches that the school uses. If you don’t like the options, you do not need to agree at the end of the meeting to what is recommended. After the meeting, do your own research. Ask your case manager how the information you found could be implemented.
7) Write Notes
This takes me to the most important point. Take notes. It is really easy to have the conversation lead to new ideas and new concerns for you. The team will not always give you time to reflect in the moment, and the meeting may move along when you are thinking about an idea from 2 minutes ago. So take a note and then ask the team to repeat what you might have missed. They may not like this but it is your right. And it is simply good manners.
8) Tell Stories
When an IEP team hears stories about your child from home, it will usually bond them more to your child. It will also show that you understand your child’s behavior and want to find ideas to help him. Often times the stories you mention bring up similar behavior from school, and it helps both parties understand the behaviors better. Sometimes these stories suggest new ways to work with your child. If nothing else, the stories help the team see the child, not just the IEP printed in front of them.
9) Sign Later
At the end of the meeting, we never sign the IEP. We always want time to think of what was said and give the meeting the importance it deserves.
10 Thank Them
Whatever happened in the meeting, always thank the team. It is an extra effort they give for your child.
The following infographic summarizes tips for parents to improve IEP meeting results. Please share with anybody who might find it helpful.