Navigating an IEP Meeting: Advocates, Parents, and Staff, OH MY!

UPDATE FOR COVID-19: If you need to hold meetings remotely/virtually, here are a few tips:

  • Be sure all team members are comfortable with whatever technology you are using. This means ensuring they are able to use it and accept that platform.
  • Use a platform that respects privacy and verify the settings before starting the meeting.
  • Does everyone have access to the technology?
  • Use video when possible. The facial expressions of those on the team can convey a lot. However, make sure the team is comfortable with this. My family asked to use Skype with video for an IEP for a participant who couldn’t be there in person and were told it was not allowed because it might be recorded and had to switch to Skype with voice only. This was cumbersome and set a negative tone at the start of the meeting. On our end, we should have clarified this beforehand. Communication is key!
  • Introduce all team members at the beginning and, if using voice only, have the person speaking identify themselves.
  • Respect privacy. Parents might not appreciate hearing the voices of others in your family while discussing the needs of their child.
  • Have suggestions ready for parents for learning at home such as set a schedule (if possible) and assistive technology that doesn’t require a paid subscription. Some of my favorites are Office Lens for iOS and Android and Seeing AI for iOS. If you are in a Google only district, check out the Chrome extension that gives you access to Microsoft’s Immersive Reader.

Sarah Kesty hosted a podcast: Apps and Technology for Distance (Online) Learning and I was fortunate to participate along with Kristin Oropeza, another technology coach and former special education teacher.

Microsoft Edu hosted a webinar “Special Education and IEPs” on April 9, 2020, and provided the slide deck:

I also created a list of virtual alternatives for common accommodations based on list from an Understood.org article by Amanda Morin.

For other resources during school closures, Los Angeles Unified School District created a site for parents.

ORIGINAL BLOGPOST:

As a former special education teacher and an elementary teacher, I have sat in on a few IEP (Individualized Education Program) meetings (probably about 200). The past few years, my role has changed due to a family member with Sotos Syndrome, a genetic disorder with a variety of symptoms. Now I sit in IEPs with family members, serving as a guide, a support, and sometimes an informal advocate.

I'm all prepared for the IEP meeting! Cover me! I'm going in! Fb/spinningcarsautismadventure with a cartoon of someone wearing full military camo, padding, and a helmetWhile prepping this blog post, I searched for memes to add, but found they didn’t convey my hopes for IEP meetings. This blog from a mom echoes the frustration felt by many, especially with this meme, “I’m all prepared for the IEP meeting! Cover me! I’m going in!” attributed to spinningcarsautismadventure.

Below are 5 suggestions for IEP teams on how to make it a more positive experience.

1FIRST – no matter which member of the team you are, remember the STUDENT COMES FIRST! The STUDENT is the purpose for the meeting and the rest of you are there to help the STUDENT. It is NOT about your own agenda. It is NOT about the programs, the services, the opinions, the budget, etc. It is about working collaboratively to make sure the STUDENT is able to learn and thrive in school. It is about the foundations and supports that need to be in place for success.

STAFF – remember that the parents/guardians have spent more time with their child than you have and should be seen as a source of knowledge, not an adversary. Their input is important.

TEACHERS – remember that your student did not choose to need an IEP. All students are individuals with feelings and needs. They are more than their “label” and know that you have support! You have a wide range of abilities and needs in your classroom and have to vary your instruction (differentiated instruction) per their needs.

PARENTS – remember that the staff have been trained and are a source of knowledge for you. Your child is probably not the only one they’ve worked with so they bring a wide range of perspectives and experiences to the table. That being said, you are your child’s best advocate. Don’t be afraid to speak up and ask questions.

ADVOCATES – remember that you are there to advocate for the STUDENT, not the parent. The STUDENT should always be the focus. Also, being adversarial does not benefit anyone. Speak up, support the parent, and remember you are ALL there for the STUDENT.

2SECOND – perspective, perspective, perspective. Each member of the team is viewing the student from a different perspective. During my masters program, a professor showed our class “Educating Peter”. We were split into groups and asked to view the documentary from the perspective of Peter’s family, the teacher, and other students. Try to view the IEP meeting from other perspectives.

3THIRD – Educationalese and Buzzwords. Avoid them or explain them. At one meeting, an abbreviation was used that I wasn’t familiar with, even though I taught special ed. I spoke up and asked them to define it. Not everyone is comfortable with speaking up so don’t make it necessary.Buzzwords in large letters in the center with these terms written around it: MOOC, child-centered, life-long learning, 21st Century Learning, PLN, inquiry-based, scaffolding, PBL, UDL, flipped classroom, critical thinking, authentic assessment, differentiated instruction, SAMR

This goes for general education, too. If you want the community to support you, don’t alienate them with buzzwords or make them feel less for not knowing the latest terminology. You may be the “expert” in the room for education, but the parent is the “expert” when it comes to their child. (Plus, once you’ve been teaching long enough, you’ll see similar ideas come around again and repackaged.)

Parents, don’t be afraid to speak up and ask questions. You are your child’s best advocate. Staff, use common terms that everyone can understand. No one in the room is better than anyone else. Again, this is an IEP TEAM so everyone should focus on being a team player to make decisions that are best for the STUDENT.

4FOURTH – Tech can be your friend. At a recent meeting, the comments page was projected on the wall for the whole team to review as it was read to us. Accessibility should be acknowledged in meetings as well as the classroom.

Which leads me to…

5FIFTH (last and best) – Special education paperwork can be a BEAST! Tame the beast with OneNote. Purple OneNote logo

If you aren’t familiar with it, it is an AMAZING program from Microsoft that is available FREE! Think of it as a digital Trapper Keeper that is searchable and across platforms. That 4 inch binder my family member would lug to meetings is now in an app on her phone, on her computer, and can be easily shared. I have it on my computer and can add notes during the meeting, pull up past meeting notes, previous IEPs, etc. If you need a FREE Microsoft account, click here for a referral link to get more storage space. OneNote is one of the included apps.OneNote the Windows 10 app with sections for: Communication, Evaluations, IEP, Report Cards - Progress, Sample Work, Behavior, Medical

You can create as many sections and pages within sections as you need. It is on Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, and web-based. Use the internal camera insert feature in the app or an app like Office Lens to take pictures of paperwork, type notes, hand-write notes, insert files by dragging and dropping in various versions, and more!

Teachers, imagine your caseloads in OneNote – a section for each student with pages for parent contacts, observations, teacher information, goals, etc. I used to carry around a binder with contact logs, observation logs, goal charts, and more. Cumbersome and not easily searchable like OneNote, which can not only search text, but text IN IMAGES!

For a beginner tutorial on using OneNote for IEPs (or on how to use OneNote), see our YouTube video.

(OneNote also has the Immersive Reader tools, but that is for another post. Here’s a quick YouTube introduction to it. For more accessibility resources, visit here. We listed more ideas for using OneNote in a previous blog post.)

Hopefully these tips will help make your next IEP meeting a pleasant experience for everyone.

Help! My kids are home and I’M THE TEACHER!?

Schools have closed around the world due to COVID-19. If you now find yourself with school age children at home, this is for you.

First of all, hopefully your children’s schools realize you are probably not a teacher. Give yourself a break if you are feeling frustrated. Your primary goal is to parent: keep your children fed, safe, healthy, and feeling loved.

You may feel like this dad, ready to hide:

or maybe overwhelmed like the video of the mom featured in this tweet:

 

Learning needs to continue, if possible. Will it be Common Core Standards based? Probably not. Will it be beneficial? Why not? Learning how to learn is as important as memorizing facts, if not more so.

Need ideas for continuing your children’s learning? We’ve got you covered. Between us, we’ve taught elementary, junior high, high school, and special education and all subjects. You can view the list of website ideas by subject below or visit the full collection in Wakelet.

Do something as simple as building forts out of couch pillows, imagining that giant cardboard box is a space vehicle, organize your closet and donate items you no longer use. Bake! (For an amazing tool for recipes, check out our video discussing CopyMeThat.)

Share books you enjoyed as a child with your children. Take turns recommending books to each other. One niece introduced me to the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan and I introduced her to Emma by Jane Austen. (Check out our other post with book recommendations.)

For techie ideas, check out our YouTube channel with videos like:

or math tips using Microsoft Whiteboard:

Need ideas to keep them busy that don’t require technology? No problem.

Thanks to @ProWiseUSA, you can help your children learning coding by physically coding each other using these printable flashcards. Directions and more downloads are at their CodeWise site.

Product suggestions

The images below are linked through our Amazon Associates account if you’d like to order. We get a small percentage if you order through our links and it is appreciated!

This book is wonderful! My young niece and nephew giggled and wanted me to read it over and over!

 

Even better, they recently came out with a version your child can personalize with their own goofy words and phrases. (Shhhh, don’t tell my niece and nephew they are getting their own copies!)

 

Makey Makey kits encourage exploration and experimentation.

Have a Harry Potter, Star Wars, or Frozen 2 fan at home? Check out the coding kits from Kano. As of 3/22/20, all were marked down.

Are you a child of the 70s with Schoolhouse Rock songs stuck in your head? Share the joy!

Other Resources:

black bookcases filled with books and a rolling ladder on the right with a stuffed bear and a stuffed dog on the rungs

Need more ideas or recommendations? Let us know! You can find us on Twitter @gktechies or my account @filibuster3 or our YouTube channel. I’m a bibliophile and former librarian with a passion for books (as evidenced by our home library.)

77 MORE Simple STEM ideas from @dailystem

Coronavirus collection of articles, videos to share with kids, and resources

Keyboard shortcuts to benefit you AND your kids

Since many of us will be online more than usual, it is always good to remember proper netiquette.

In need of a laugh yourself? Is this how you feel? Like you are going into battle? Just make sure you have enough red pens!

COVID-19 and School Closures – It Isn’t Just About Academics

THIS POST WILL BE UPDATED OVER THE NEXT FEW WEEKS.

Schools around the world (61 countries have closures, 39 nationwide as of this posting) are closing due to coronavirus (COVID-19). Tweets are flowing with online resources, educational technology companies offering free services to closed schools, lesson ideas for #RemoteLearning, but there are a few areas that don’t seem to be discussed much.

Internet access:

In this digital age, we can be connected more than ever, but not all students have technology or decent internet. Below are some companies stepping up to assist with the internet/data part.

See the list of 550+ companies that signed the FCC’s “Keep Americans Connected” pledge.

Charter/Spectrum 

…beginning Monday, March 16, Charter commits to the following for 60 days:
Charter will offer free Spectrum broadband and Wi-Fi access for 60 days to households with K-12 and/or college students who do not already have a Spectrum broadband subscription at any service level up to 100 Mbps. To enroll call 1-844-488-8395.

Comcast/Xfinity

We will make it even easier for low-income families who live in a Comcast service area to sign up by offering new customers 60 days of complimentary Internet Essentials service, which is normally available to all qualified low-income households for $9.95/month.

Unlimited Data offers

Comcast is the largest home-Internet provider in the nation. AT&T, the second-biggest home-Internet provider that enforces data caps, announced that it would waive the caps yesterday.

T-Mobile also issued an announcement late Friday, saying it will upgrade all current customers to “unlimited smartphone data for the next 60 days (excluding roaming).” This applies to any T-Mobile plan or Metro by T-Mobile prepaid plan that has a monthly data cap. Additionally, T-Mobile said it is giving all customers “an additional 20GB of mobile hotspot/tethering service for the next 60 days.” Sprint, which is being acquired by T-Mobile, is taking identical steps.

Food:

Please figure out ways to feed students who usually get their meals through free/reduced lunch programs. Love this tweet from one district on their plan:

Books and Materials:

Try to be careful of home assignments that involve supplies. Not everyone has books at their reading level or construction paper or glue or even writing paper. Maybe publishers and sellers like Amazon and Barnes & Noble will consider donating children’s books to food giveaways, charities, and places of worship to distribute.

Offline activities:

Remember that not all families have decent internet or even internet at all or technology available except for maybe a shared smartphone. I’ve listed some ideas by subject for no tech activities that require little to no materials. There’s also a quick video on our YouTube channel about it.

Final Thoughts: Not all have childcare. Not everyone can work from home. Teachers may be expected to teach from home, but have their own children at home, too. Nothing like this has happened during their lifetimes. Encourage, build up, support each other and your children (students) and reassure them that this is precautionary and you will be there for them.

Since some closures were without much warning, students may not know how to use the online systems and don’t forgot those who usually receive special education services. . How are you meeting their needs? This is an opportunity for communities to come together, show support, and STOP HOARDING TOILET PAPER!

More Resources

 

Save, Share, and Stockpile Easily: The accessible way to curate and collaborate

Many of our posts focus on educational technology tools. This post discusses Wakelet, which we feel is useful for anyone who uses the internet.

In 2018, we posted about URL shorteners, making it easier to share resources. Since then, we’ve discovered a new favorite tool, Wakelet.

Wakelet is a wonderful way to save bookmarks so you can access them in any browser on any device, helpful for those of us who jump between browsers and devices. It works best in Chrome, but K also uses it in Edge Dev, the new Chromium version of Microsoft Edge. However, it isn’t JUST for bookmarks!

Share Collection menu from Wakelet. QR code on the left, URL at the bottom with a copy button to the right and icons for Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Google Classroom, Remind, and Microsoft TeamsShare your collections from within Wakelet to Google Classroom, Reddit, Twitter, Facebook, Remind, or Microsoft Teams. It also provides a QR code and URL. Set your collections to private (just you), unlisted (requires the viewer have the link), or public (open to the world).

Another incredible feature? Collaboration! Invite contributors by name (if connected on Wakelet), email, or with a shared link. Bonus? They can ONLY add to your collection, not delete or edit other items in the collection. They don’t even need a Wakelet account to contribute.

Teachers can easily collect resources from students.  Last May, K helped a teacher whose students make Sways, YouTube videos, and PowerPoints for an end of year project. By sending a contributor link through Remind, the students could add to the collection so the whole class could see the final projects.

Accessibility is important and Wakelet has added features to address this. As of July, Wakelet now has Immersive Reader, a Microsoft accessibility tool. Check out our YouTube channel for the tutorial. But that’s not all! They created another wave of goodness with Read Mode! 

A few browsers have an option for a reading view. With a quick click, the distractions surrounding many articles magically disappear, allowing for easier viewing and printing. Wakelet has added a similar feature with Read Mode. 

But wait, there’s more! And, no, it isn’t an additional $9.95 with shipping. As with everything else in Wakelet, it is FREE! Once in Read Mode, not only do the distractions go away, but you can also use Immersive Reader with all the helpful tools such as Read Aloud, which reads the article in your choice of speeds AND language. Change the theme to add a color background. Personally, I like the black theme with white text for easier viewing. Teaching your students grammar? Have them highlight parts of speech. 

As a teacher, I appreciate the ease of Wakelet to share lists of resources with students, but worry about distractions? Or clickbait trying to tempt you away from the initial article? 

With Read Mode, no more! 

With a simple click of the icon next to the article, you get just the text of the article. Click the Visit Original button to view the full article with images. Click the Immersive Reader button to have the article read to you at varying speeds with translation, grammar tools, line focus, theme colors, and other options to make the reading process easier.

What can you add to Wakelet? Links, text, YouTube videos, Tweets, bookmarks, images, PDFs, and files straight from your Google Drive. Once added, you can edit the descriptions and titles of most (not Tweets). Wakelet auto-populates with an image and description, if available. Sort resources, add, delete, without having to create a new link each time.

Upload your own images for the cover image, background, and individual posts, or select from their free library. You can resize and reposition them, as well.

Missed a Twitter chat? Curate the tweets by searching the hashtag (or keyword or user). If you use Google and Microsoft tools, check out the #HybridEdu chat archive.

Four view options: Media, Compact, Grid and the newest: Mood Board. Media shows the full description and image. Compact is more like a list. Grid and Mood Board look similar to Pinterest.

 

Do you have OpenTab-itis? The habit of leaving dozens of tabs open? A favorite feature is the ability to create a collection using any (or all) tabs that you have open once you install the Wakelet extension.

Wakelet collection: Day Brighteners! For those days when I need affirmation with tweets from @BeckyKeene and @MtholfsenNEW IDEA! Ever have one of those days when you need affirmations? Back in April, @Mtholfsen sent out a tweet that made K’s MONTH! Create a private (or public) collection for messages like that in Wakelet. Text, tweets, etc. Next time you get a tweet that makes your day, send it to Wakelet! Another option: if you have a student out ill, create a collaborative Wakelet for students to post get well messages.

Check out Wakelet’s YouTube channel or their Twitter account. If you are an educator, they have a guide just for you!

Currently, K’s district is a hybrid district meaning students and staff have access to Microsoft AND Google tools.  Sharing through Wakelet gives you agnostic curation!

Welcome to Wakelet, Continue with Google, Continue with Facebook, Continue with Office 365 or E-mail address Password, By checking this box you agree to Wakelet's Terms, Privacy and Rules. Sign Up
Browser login
Log in Log in with email or Log in with Facebook, Log in with Google, Don't have an account? Sign up
App login screen

You can sign into Wakelet with Google, Office 365, Facebook accounts or an email address.

 

 

 

 

frozen wave against sunlight
Photo by Hernan Pauccara on Pexels.com

So what are you waiting for? Dive on in! The water’s GREAT! #WakeletWave

 

 

 

 

Start with the FREE course on the Microsoft Educator Center:

Then, check out K’s collections. Look for others to follow. Create a collection of your own. We even used it to archive our blogposts for easy searching.

Oh, and in case we didn’t mention it enough – Wakelet is FREE!