The IEP meeting is a crucial opportunity for you as a parent or caregiver to understand what the school district is providing for your child. Being prepared and ready to go means you will be at your peak performance.
We put together some tips below to help you with your meetings. Give them a try; we are confident they will help you feel strong, organized and empowered.
1. Bring Somebody With You
Always bring someone with you. This may be your spouse, advocate, lawyer (although that will change the tone of the meeting) neighbor or friend. Having someone with you means you feel more confident and are not alone as you face a room full of district employees all speaking about your child.
Talk about a high-pressure situation!
Have him, or her, take notes on what is said, offer an occasional clarification question and simply be there to make you feel better. By having an additional set of ears, your understanding of the meeting will be significantly improved. My wife Lori, and I were never alone during IEP meetings, and every single time (yes every single time) we had two different understandings about what was said. 😉 By talking it through, we were able to come to a common understanding.
Imagine if we had been alone!
2. Be Polite
Lots of “hellos,” handshakes, “thank you’s” “and please’s” sets a positive, helpful tone during the meeting. I know I sound like my mother here, but it does help. People are more open when they are comfortable, and you want district employees to be as open as they can. Also, we found that by being polite, it helped us if we became upset at something that was said or a service that was not delivered. The meeting participants then gave more legitimacy to our irritations as it was out of the ordinary.
3. Be and Look Prepared
Take a look at our post on what to bring to your IEP meeting and have it ready to go. Make sure the paperwork you bring is organized, a binder or similar with tabs is best, and that you have extra copies to distribute as needed. Looking and being prepared creates a strong first impression on people in meetings. We strongly believe in this approach when talking to any providers (school or otherwise) about our son. It elevates the conversation to a higher level with more details and ultimately leads to a better outcome. Teachers labeled us as being “very involved” in our son’s education; they meant that as a positive comment.
4. Assume Best Intentions
Teachers and other professionals involved in working with students are there to help students learn and be successful. By assuming everybody in the room is working to help your child, you will feel more relaxed and present a non-threatening demeanor. They, in turn, will assume best intentions in you and everybody will be off to a great start.
5. Take Notes and Show That You Are Taking Notes
I use my laptop to take notes during meetings. Lori likes to write it down. Either way is good. Taking notes also lets you write down questions you have and ask them later on during the discussion. I promise you, no matter how smart you are, having notes will be a huge help later on when you are recalling or looking back at a previous meeting.
6. Ask Questions for Clarification
During the IEP you are going to hear information and ideas that may be new or confusing. Sometimes it is hard to explain an accommodation, service or classroom interaction. By asking questions, you not only help yourself understand the information, but you also give feedback to the district employee that you are listening and processing what they are saying.
One of my favorite things to do is ask questions that tap the background and expertise of one of the meeting members. For example, “What do you think Braden’s (our son) initial reaction will be to this accommodation?” I do so in a way that lets the person know I value their opinion. It tends to give them pause from a standard statement they are giving and pushes them to reflect on what they are saying. You can see the body language change right away as they pause, look upward, then give their opinion. They feel valued, and you know if they have a larger understanding of the ideas they are suggesting.
7. Avoid Talking Too Much
An IEP meeting is structured and designed for each district specialist and educator to speak and seek feedback. It is also designed for you to ask questions and seek understanding. It is NOT designed for parents to talk, grieve, and unload the stresses of having a child with special needs. Look, I get it. Having a special needs child is difficult, and we are reminded of this every day. However, an IEP is not a good place to unload those stresses.Save that for friends, support groups, etc.
Lori and I have a signal for each other if we start talking too much. Usually (maybe always) I am the one who needs the signal to stop cracking jokes (my way of dealing with stress) and to just listen. This is yet another reason to bring someone with you.
8. Dress Well
We dress up for religious services, weddings, work, job interviews and more. An IEP meeting is at least as important as those events, so dressing up is equally as important. We all make assumptions about people on how they dress. It may be right or wrong, but we do it. Looking your best can only serve to help. Gentleman, you don’t need a tuxedo though. 😉
9. Don’t Worry If Tears Fall
Early IEP’s, where you have just learned your child has extra learning needs, are emotional events. Often tears may fall as you listen to how your child is not like all the other kids. If you start to cry, don’t worry about it. Members of the IEP team will see a parent who cares deeply about their child. They may even be more empathetic about your situation.
Grab a tissue, recover and move on. 😉
10. Sincerely Thank Everybody at the End of the Meeting
The end of an IEP meeting is a great chance to let people know how much you appreciate the work they are doing. I like to individually thank each person by pointing out an example of their efforts. “Braden loves sensory time, and we are using many of the techniques you suggested at home now.” Now, if you are feeling angry, upset or frustrated at the conclusion, it is just as important to thank everybody for their time. This tells people it is not personal (even if it feels like it is) and that while you must continue to advocate for your child, you will be reasonable.
Thanks for taking the time to read this. If you have any suggestions, please leave them in the comments section below.