Preparing for the annual IEP meeting
Strategies you can use to improve collaboration and reduce frustration
For many families that have children with specialized learning needs, annual IEP meetings can be perplexing, overwhelming, and maybe even annoying.
By law a team of your student’s teachers, specialists and administrators must gather every year to provide updates about your student’s progress, to discuss continuing needs and to develop the Individualized Education Program.
Because many districts have changed from holding end-of-the year IEP meetings to “birthdate” meetings (held near the student’s birthday, or the initial evaluation date), this is the time to think about how to best approach this year’s meeting.
There are strategies you can use to ensure these meetings are more collaborative. Consider the following when you are notified that it’s time to set up your child’s annual IEP meeting or an IEP review meeting:
• Be available to schedule the IEP meeting. Provide your email address or phone number — whatever form of communication is best for you — and let the school know when you are most available to communicate, as well as to meet.
• Ask for and review the IEP drafts prior to the meeting.
• Make notes about the IEP draft and bring them to the meeting. Also prepare questions to ask at the meeting that are specifically focused on the IEP draft as it pertains to your student’s profile and needs.
• At the meeting, focus on your child’s needs. Make sure the team stays focused and doesn’t devolve into negative discussions about district resources or other issues.
• Ask the team to talk first about your student’s progress and strengths before discussing continuing needs and supports.
• Include your student in the process. If you think they are too young to attend the meeting, talk to them beforehand to get feedback and input about how they think things are going at school. If your student is old enough, encourage them to attend the meeting. (Students should attend as soon as they feel comfortable, usually in the upper elementary grades, as they are critical members of the team and their input is essential to their continued growth. This also builds self-advocacy skills and learner persistence.) What are your student’s priorities? Make sure those are addressed at the meeting.
• Take notes during the meeting you can review at home.
• Provide data and information from your home observations. Some of these could be specifically school-related, and some could be based on how your student responds to routines, structure, relationships, changes in weather or changes in health. All of your observations are essential to help the team understand your student and to create the best learning plan.
• Actively listen to all team members. This doesn’t mean you have to agree with everyone, however try to be open to new ideas and be willing to hear other points of view.
• Be open to and willing to negotiate and collaborate.
• Voice legitimate concerns that you can back up with data.
Implementing these strategies when approaching your student’s next IEP meeting will help in developing a collaborative team. Everyone working together to best meet the needs of your student will help sustain your child’s success throughout the year.
Elizabeth Feingold retired from Kearsarge Regional School District, where she worked for over 30 years as a special education teacher and coordinator at the elementary, middle and high school levels. She is a consultant and advocate. Email her at email@example.com.