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.


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.

Differentiated Learning for ALL


During a conference call regarding accessibility, the group was discussing inclusion, accessibility, differentiation, and other student needs. There was a comment about students with high intellectual abilities, but not necessarily high social skills. What are we doing in the classroom for them?

My own childhood and my siblings’ experiences, led me to have the following opinions:

  • Cluster groups placed in a class may not always be the best idea for helping with social interactions. As an adult, in the workplace, most of us work with a variety of people who have different ways of doing things, different ways of thinking, and we often need to work together. Why not encourage that at a young age?
  • High IQ doesn’t necessarily mean high achiever. I’ve had to tell parents that their children didn’t quality for gifted programs because they were high achievers, but didn’t have the high IQ. Some were upset, but, honestly, high achievers seemed to do better in school.

High IQ/high achievers should NOT be turned into tutors for the class all the time. They need to be challenged, too. Yes, it’s hard in a classroom with a wide spread of needs and abilities, but with so much online learning available, they can be challenged! (Though, personally, I loved being a “junior” teacher.)

Finding resources online is not as simple as I thought, but I will continue to search for more! These are a bit dated, but I still found the content applicable.

Differentiating Between Gifted and High Achieving Students
Key point: students with high IQs can also have learning disabilities/discrepancies.

Smart and Bored? What Do High Achievers Need? By Samantha Cleaver Towards the end of the article, she shared a strategies list.

Meeting the Needs of Gifted Students: Differentiating Mathematics and Science Instruction

Highly Gifted Children in Full Inclusion Classrooms by Kathi Kearney

Gifted Kids with Learning Problems…The Twice Exceptional Child

Shouldn’t we strive to make sure ALL students feel included and are encouraged to reach the top of their abilities?

My Adventure with iBooks Author After Using OneNote

2/26/2019 UPDATE: IT IS LIVE! My FREE “book” is now available in the Apple Books store for Mac and iOS. 

Both of us work in educational technology. Because of my (Karyn) background in special education, my passion project is accessibility. In July 2017, I was asked to present at our local Microsoft Store on accessibility tools so I created a OneNote to share.

Bitly analytics Locations: United States 13,808, Canada 522, United Arab Emirates 352, +52 more 686 with a blue circle graph for 15,368 total clicks in the centerThat original OneNote is continually updated and has been clicked over 15,000 times in over 50 countries! (I LOVE analytics! Learn more on our blogpost comparing various URL shorteners. I originally used Bitly, but switched to Delivr.)

However, though we use Windows/Microsoft programs (in addition to Google, Apple, etc.), we realized others might not and so I decided to duplicate the collection into an Apple iBook using iBooks Author.

Purple OneNote logoAfter having used OneNote for the collection for almost 2 years, this was a drastic change. OneNote allows me to drag and drop content. I can easily move pages and sections. If I paste in a YouTube link, the video is automatically embedded. I can right click on images to quickly add alternative text for those who use screen readers. With OneNote, there are draw tools, typing tools, insert features, translation capabilities, and, the icing on the cake, Immersive Reader with the ability to read back what I have typed, translate, highlight grammar, and more.

iBooks cover: First Edition - Focus on Auditory Tools - Filling your Accessibility Toolbelt with Apple, Google, Microsoft and more, collection by Karyn Fillhart Bitmoji in bottom left corner saying Knowledge is Power with brown haired woman wearing glasses sitting at a deskiBooks Author has templates that provide a beautiful book experience. I love the look. However, after the ease of OneNote, iBooks Author is frustrating. To insert video, I have to upload the video file which means downloading files available on YouTube. Since it is a book format, I changed my mind about organization and decided to have a section for various platforms so the Microsoft tools and features would be grouped, the Google, the Apple, etc. No problem in OneNote. Big problem in iBooks Author. Apparently, you cannot move pages around without the tedious copy and paste method.

My goal is still to create an iBook, but I have decided to take it in smaller bites, to create an iBook for individual sections from OneNote. I will be converting the auditory section first with tips for those who may benefit from extra auditory support.

If you have used iBooks Author and have tips, I would appreciate any suggestions! Also, do you have a favorite tool/program for sharing large amounts of information? We’d love to hear about it!

Comment below or DM me on Twitter @Filibuster3 or our joint Twitter account @GKTechies.

One Slide Wonder

yellow, blue, and white logo IACUE Inland Area CUEThis weekend is the Inland Area CUE Tech Fair and I (K) will be presenting on Google, Microsoft, and Apple accessibility tools and features:  “Accessibility for Some, Benefits for All”.

Accessibility tools are necessary for some, but many could be used by all students. In this session, we will review various tools for Microsoft, Google, and Apple products and discuss not only how they can assist those who need them, but how they could benefit all your students.

Back in November, I presented at the CETPA conference for Microsoft on the amazing Learning Tools and apps like Seeing AI and Office Lens with a PowerPoint that was shared. Also included was a OneNote collection of accessibility resources.

As I prepared for this presentation on a variety of tools, I debated the format, looking at Jeopardy games using PowerPoint or gameboards in Google Slides. I found a great PowerPoint template “Colorful product roadmap timeline” and loved the layout. At that moment, I decided to go with a ONE SLIDE PowerPoint presentation.

Wild thought? Maybe, but how often do you receive a slide deck after a presentation and never look at it again?

I’ll keep you posted with how it goes! Here’s my One Slide Wonder. Sounds like a good hashtag! #OneSlideWonder

Accessibility Roadmap PowerPoint slide