In the last post, IEP Work Part 1, we talked about getting ready for the meeting by getting it scheduled, writing the document and sending it home early. In this post, we’ll cover the most important things to keep in mind during the meeting.
Essentially, the meeting is the place where the draft IEP program is discussed and tweaked, with an eventual rubber stamp. While there is no vote, there is discussion and consensus. It’s important to clearly and concisely share the document’s contents and spend time discussing concerns. That way things can get ironed out successfully and student needs are met. I tend to look at concerns or issues with a “how can we” lens.
While there are really no two IEP meetings that go the same way, there are still things that I always make sure we do for compliance reasons. And I still tend to stick to a similar format for a meeting. Here’s what I generally do:
Introductions and Focus
I always start by making sure we all know each other. I generally do this by simply going around the table and having everyone introduce themselves by name and role. This isn’t always needed when team members have met previously, but its really helpful in big teams where it is more likely that a parent and sometimes other staff members may not have met.
After introductions, I remind the team of the purpose of the meeting. I say something like “This is an annual IEP so we will revisit all of the components of programming” or “This is a review revise IEP where we will focus on this part of the programming”. I share time constraints for the meeting, and then remind parents that this is a draft document. Additionally, I remind parents they have time to consider the program.
Sometimes there are time constraints where we need to decide today, but most IEPs have time before the IEP requires finalization. Sometimes there are still questions or concerns that need to be addressed. Case managers or LEAs may need to follow up on questions or support options. This means parents have some additional time to think about things before they add their agreement.
Parental input and participation
Parents should be allowed to have input throughout the meeting, but I tend to begin with giving parents an opportunity to talk before we start going over all the specific sections of the document. Once we start talking about the document, their questions can be overshadowed by all the new information. If I start with asking if they have any concerns before we even begin talking programming, they are more likely to share.
Some of the questions or concerns are IEP connected and sometimes they aren’t, so we try to be clear as to which concerns will be addressed with the IEP and which will need to be discussed in more depth after the formal part of the meeting has occurred.
Throughout the meeting, I pause to ensure that parents understand by asking things such as “Does that make sense?” “How does that sound to you?” Special education is full of jargon and legal wording that not all parents can follow, so I try to talk avoid the jargon talk and focus on simple clear explanations of what I’m talking about.
It’s also important to ensure that you have an interpreter for those meetings where parents speak a second language. Clarify with the interpreter how much to say before they need to pause and relay information to parents. Even though we are speaking through an interpreter, I still make sure that I am talking to the parent. The interpreter is there to aid in the communication but the parent is still the person you are talking to.
Focus on Present Level highlights
The IEP is a long document that is not fun to read from beginning to end. It’s good to highlight sections. If you sent the IEP home ahead of time for parents to read, they will be familiar with this section. Parents may have questions or concerns to address, but the whole thing does not need to be read.
If the information is new, I focus on the main things I want the parent to know. I share scores or levels, and some details that explain both positives and things to work on. I tend to focus on information that helps me when we are talking about goals and services.
If an IEP is not an annual, there is no reason to cover everything in the whole IEP. Focus on the section or sections under consideration. Toward the end, clarify any place in the IEP that will change as a result of your discussion. Remind parents everything else will remain the same.
Discuss Goals, Services, and Supports
For me, clarifying goals and services are the main thing we should be talking about. Goals are where we focus our energy and take time to collect data on throughout the year. To me, if goals don’t match the actual need, we are not doing our job. Since I spent the last post talking about this topic, I won’t go on and on about it. Just make sure your goals are good ones.
As you share your goals with parents, ensure they agree with this focus on their child’s programming. Often parents have input to offer in goals, so let them. Don’t get so wrapped up in what you wrote that you can’t see another persons’ point of view. Be ready to adjust goals given any concerns by other team members too. Adjusting a goal does not signify anything wrong with your ability to write a goal. Sometimes others have a better wording than you. I always appreciate anyone who has the wording I couldn’t come up with at the time I was writing.
Once goals are clear and understood, discuss how exactly those goals will be implemented in the services and supplementary supports. For parents its important to clarify what specialized instruction looks like in a classroom and how that’s different when they are doing specialized instruction in a special education setting. Sometimes parents think support means the teacher is with them the whole time they are working. Be clear if that’s not the case.
Supplementary supports are typically provided by the classroom teachers so ensure the supports are something a teacher can do. If the supplementary support is an additional adult for specific reasons, say it clearly. Saying behavior support or academic support is not the same thing as saying additional adult to support work completion. A service or support should not have to be interpreted by the reader.
Any Last Minute Questions
I generally ask if there are any last-minute questions. Most times there aren’t, but parents can want time to consult with someone before agreeing.
There are also times when an IEP cannot be completed due to unanswered questions or requests from team members. If this is the case, its not a big deal. Set a firm deadline for getting the answers and then follow up after the meeting.
That’s how I lay out the actual IEP meeting. Next week, we’ll finish up this series with finalizing your IEP.