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.
While 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.
FIRST – 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.
SECOND – 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.
THIRD – 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.
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.
FOURTH – 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…
FIFTH (last and best) – Special education paperwork can be a BEAST! Tame the beast with OneNote.
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.
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.)