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3 Strategies for Successful IEP Team Collaboration

Students who have IEPs need teams of people to support them. Some teams are relatively small: a parent, a case manager, a regular education teacher and an LEA. Others include those folks plus any number of specialists (SLP, OT, PT APE or non-district staff) who work with the child. Working with teams can present challenges in that everyone doesn’t always see eye to eye on issues. The bigger the team, the more likely to get nonagreement. Collaboration is key to success. This takes trust from teammates. How do you get collaborative trust? Here are my top 3 strategies for getting successful collaboration with IEP team members: 

Clarity of purpose

When there are issues, the reason a team struggles often has to do with losing its purpose. The team argues and gets stuck over something like the wording in a goal, or whether or not a service is appropriate. Yes, there are rules and procedures, but sometimes with all the rules and procedures, we forget to be intentional. We forget that our foremost goal should be to create a solid program for a student that will allow them to grow at a rate that is reasonable and beneficial. Period.

Effective Communication

Communication is the key to making that happen. Decision making relies on data, but more than that, it relies on teammates trusting one another to do what’s right with the data they have. Parents need to feel confident that the school staff has their child’s best interests at heart. That staff cares about getting the programming right.  Staff needs to feel that parents and administrators support their work and decisions each day. If this balance, this sense of community exists, many great things can happen for students. 
This back and forth takes a fair amount of care including:  

Being compassionately open and honest. I want my teammates to know exactly where I stand on issues and things that matter to this child’s programming. If there were issues that were problematic for team members before and I know it will be an issue moving forward, I bring it up so we can start some dialogue on the subject. Or if I have a specific opinion on a subject that matters to this student I want to make sure it’s out there right away. So we’re clear. 

While I believe honesty is the best way to go, discretion also matters. Sometimes its better for the team and for the progress of the student to wait to share a hard truth. Sometimes the truth doesn’t need to be aired at all, because it isn’t helpful to what we’re trying to achieve. Knowing your teammates and their viewpoints will help clarify when a topic can be addressed or whether something needs to be said at all. 

Giving an adequate amount of time to share. Every communicator takes as long as they take to get the message across. Yes, we live by a clock, but that doesn’t mean every aspect of your existence needs to be ruled by it. If a person needs two extra minutes to explain themselves, your discussion is likely to be more relevant and yield an outcome that makes everyone more satisfied.

Believing that everyone is doing their best. Our own personal experiences good and bad create bias. Despite our differences, I always assume positive intent from my teammates. After all, we are all here for the same reason–to level the playing field for a child who needs us.

Using active listening. Active listening requires a person being fully engaged in receiving the message being sent from reading their nonverbal language to asking clarifying questions to make sure you know what they meant. During this time, you are in the present moment of listening, avoiding any judgment or refraining from formulating your own response. 

Creative problem solving 

Let’s face it, no one likes problems. But the truth is a problem is the team’s opportunity to show what they can do. It showcases the skills and abilities of the team members and the trusting communication the team has built. Teams will often bump up against rules and procedures in the school setting. Rather than thinking of rules and procedures as stopping points when we are searching for solutions, I tend to think of them as parameters. Okay, this is what we can’t do…or this is what we can’t access, so what else can we come up with? Teams who are able to see a way around parameters tend to come up with new fresh ideas and are most successful.

Those are my top 3 strategies for getting teams on the same page. How do you build collaboration in your IEP teams?

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