IEP meetings can be anxiety-provoking for parents and school staff alike, especially if there are known differences of opinion ahead of time. On top of that, parents may feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of people and amount of new information they are presented with. Since diverse viewpoints can be good for teams, members can help by actively listening to each other throughout the process. When everyone contributes their specialized knowledge about a child, it enriches the process and contributes to well-developed plans!
Here are some tips to keep meetings centered and productive while making sure your thoughts and ideas are heard:
Ask the case manager and/or assessment team for draft copies of IEP documents before the meeting. This will let you know what the school is proposing and help you formulate questions. Be sure to request them a few weeks in advance to give your busy educators time to prepare!
It is common for educators to unintentionally use jargon and acronyms when speaking, and it’s okay to ask questions if you don’t understand! When reminded, most people are happy to put their ideas in layman terms.
You may ask for time to review the finalized IEP before signing it. A tremendous amount of information is covered during meetings and it can take a while to process. If you think you’ll want a few days to look at the document before signing, it’s polite to let the case manager know ahead of time (since they have to document everything for legal compliance).
Communicate clearly and often. Don’t let concerns fester! If there is something paramount you wish to address at the meeting, ask the case manger to add it to the agenda. And when a plan is working, let the team know! (Tip: Putting specific requests in writing may help keep them from falling through the cracks).
If the meeting is no longer productive, ask to take a break or reconvene on another day. Typically, one to two hours are allotted for meetings. While this is usually enough time, sometimes new information emerges and unexpected issues arise. When that happens, it is important not to rush to make decisions, especially if there are points of contention. Taking a break allows team members to return with fresh perspectives and well thought-out ideas.
It is important that everyone treat each other with respect. Speak kindly and professionally to each other. After all, you may be working together for years to come and have the common goal of helping your child.
Don’t lose your cool. It may be natural to feel heated when there are disagreements, but hot emotions get in the way of productive problem-solving. Catch yourself if your temperature starts to rise. If it does, ask for a break and take some time to cool down. This may also be the case if you are presented with hard news and need a moment to collect yourself. Tears make an appearance during these meetings and that’s understandable! Just remember you don’t have to decide everything all in one day.
Don’t jump around to other points of discussion. Typically, the case manager will hand out or display an agenda at the start of the meeting to help everyone stay on topic. The order of topics is hierarchical, and they build upon each other. If there is a particular concern, you may ask where it can be added to the agenda at the start of the meeting.
Don’t surprise the school team with significant information at the IEP. Instead, share new, important material ahead of time. This should work both ways, as nobody likes unanticipated surprises. If this happens to you, remember you can request a continuation meeting to discuss further once you’ve had time to digest the new information.
You may receive forms to complete for pending evaluations, notice of meetings, etc. Don’t forget to complete and return requested forms. Whether it’s for legal compliance or to learn more about your child, these documents help create the best plan possible.