For Parents

5 Step Process for Problem Solving in an IEP Meeting

Most meetings and teams are wonderful and work well. Even with the toughest student needs, I’ve found a way to get things figured out. You have to have a well-functioning team that communicates and is willing to work together even when things get hard. I have a few suggestions for getting teams on the right track in 3 Strategies for Successful IEP Team Collaboration. You may want to read that post before finishing this one.

I’ve learned a lot about working together with teams in my various roles. When I worked for an autism project I once attended mediation on the request of a family who was unhappy with their child’s IEP programming. As I listened to the mediator speak, I realized that schools often feel locked into parameters, but there aren’t near as many as we would believe. The mediator predicated his whole notion on this sense of knowing that at some point we would hit upon a solution. I’ve taken this idea with me ever after.

Whether your team is working well or not, at some point, you will bump into a time when you are not on the same page. And this is where I go back to the understanding I gained at that mediation. We will arrive at a solution, I don’t always know exactly how, or when, but we will.

Handling Tough Situations

So how exactly do I handle a tough situation? Whether the situation is an ongoing difficulty or something that comes up during the course of a meeting, my 5 Step Process is pretty much the same:

1. Believe That a Solution Is Out There

In a school team, this really starts with good communication and a willingness to hear both good and bad. We can’t always do things perfectly as teachers, staff or as parents. And the door has to be open for us all to communicate about all of the things that go on during the year in real time. Then when we have an issue that comes up, we then have the proper mindset to the situation. We will figure it out together.

2. Slow Down and Find Out More

We often get sidetracked on this one because we are very time oriented. But in order to problem solve, you must slow down, and figure out some information before you can actually proceed. You need to actively listen, ask questions, clarify positions, and find underlying reasons to get to the heart of the issue. Walk in the other person’s shoes if you have to. Do this until you are clear that you have arrived at the true concern/need.

3. Focus on the True Needs of the Student

It is easy to get caught up in how an individual at the meeting is feeling or to overfocus on what we can’t do, so as much as possible, try to focus on the needs of the child. When we focus on what the child truly needs, the way becomes more clear. Then the question becomes “How can we deal with this need?”

4. Consider a Range of Options

As I witnessed the mediator work, his only parameter was to find a solution. In our teams, we need to learn to be more like that. We need to be willing to entertain any and all possible ideas until one can be agreed upon by consensus. This sometimes means bringing in other people to help.

5. Pick One Solution to Start With

Recognize that it’s a starting point, collect some data and make a decision as to whether it’s working, if it’s not, sit down again and try your next idea. Keep coming back to the table as needed. Remember its a process sometimes, its going to take us a few tries to get it right.

Do Some Work Ahead of Time

Additionally, if I know that there is an issue that will end up taking time away from the general purpose of the meeting(to come to a consensus on present level, needs, goals, and services), I really try to solve those problems before the meeting even happens. This way options can be explored, proper people can be contacted, details can be hashed out, etc. Then when its time for the meeting, that piece is shared, but we are not trying to figure that out in addition to the general purpose.

My final note on problem-solving is to share an article I found back when I worked for that same autism project I attended the mediation for. The article is called 8 Steps to Better IEP Meetings: Play Hearts Not Poker. It was written by Jennifer Bollero, a lawyer and a parent of a child with autism. She has some great ideas for making IEP meetings more productive. Its been 15 years since I read this article, but when I read it the other day, it felt just as relevant, so I felt it deserved some time again.

May your teams be collaborative and your meetings be positive and productive. If you have other tips to share for getting people on the same page, share them!

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