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10 Tips for Navigating IEP Meetings for the General Education Elementary Teacher

Tuesday, August 22, 2017 -- McKenna Wierman

If you haven’t been in one, you’ve probably heard about them. Individualized Education Program meetings, or IEP meetings, represent a key step in a larger, more complex process to address a child’s unique learning needs.

In a nut shell, the IEP itself is a document developed for every child that receives special education services under federal law as a result of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). IEPs are developed through a team effort, involving the student’s parent(s) or legal guardian(s), the student’s case manager, a school or district representative, advocates for the students, an individual who can interpret the instructional implications of the results of the student’s evaluation, and at least one general educator. (Whew!) In addition to understanding who is involved, you can learn more about the goals and components of an IEP itself here.

For a general education teacher new to an IEP team, it can be intimidating to jump in and start making productive contributions to the meeting, communicating effectively with other members, and truly feeling like you are doing what is best for your student’s academic success right from the outset.

However, general education teachers are an essential part of the IEP team. You not only help to track the student’s progress in the classroom and identify areas for improvement, but your input is also valuable when crafting a program that will help them succeed in general education curriculum. So, take on your role with confidence! Here are 10 tips to help you prepare for and engage in successful IEP meetings:

1. Collaborate with other team members

If possible, arrange to meet with parents and other IEP team members before the meeting, or at least make some kind of meaningful contact beforehand. It’ll help you feel more comfortable during the meeting, and allow you to work better together to plan an agenda to ensure the meeting is productive.

2. Get your documents and data organized ahead of time

Documents you’ll want to bring with you might include the IEP student’s schedule (making not of any accommodations or modifications); data from assessments, online programs, and in-class activities; and a log of any behavioral issues and intervention strategies used to help resolve them. Remember, your firm understanding of the general education curriculum you teach is the area of expertise other participants may not have. Don’t be afraid to call upon that experience during group discussions to support ideas or solutions.

3. Always start off on a positive note when discussing the student

IEP meetings have a reputation for sometimes being tense or emotional, so it’s important to acknowledge and praise progress when you can. Improvement happens one day at a time, so always acknowledge the little signs of development when you see them.

4. Be sensitive, but sincere

When the time does come to discuss behavioral issues or academic weaknesses, do your best to present the issues with as much detail as possible without being subjective. Parents might be sensitive to hearing about issues their child is having in class, but you need to communicate them in order to overcome the challenge. Turn to what you’ve seen and experienced to guide the conversation. Instead of listing off “problems”, talk about “areas of improvement” or “goals” grounded in data, observations, and facts.

5. Be a problem solver

When discussing student struggles, come prepared with suggested solutions and ideas. Dropping problems into the conversation and expecting the group to find a way to work them out can cause tension during an IEP meeting. Instead, for every area of improvement you bring up, have a suggestion for remediation or a series of questions to encourage productive dialogue ready.

6. Ask for support

During the IEP meeting you will get to discuss what kind of training, assistance, or support you will need to carry out the IEP. If you’re not sure what kind of support that might mean, ask the special education teacher or other IEP team members. This will also convey your willingness to actively participate in the IEP process.

7. Get the student involved

Including students can be empowering for them, when it is appropriate. Elementary students might not be ready to actively participate in their IEP meetings yet, but they still have valuable input. Letting the student talk about what their favorite and least favorite subjects are, where they feel they need improvement, and what they hope to accomplish academically can help drive the IEP meeting to a more productive place. After all, it is about them.

8. Let the student lead

If a student is ready to take on a more active role, suggest they lead the meeting themselves. For students that have been through this process already a time or two, allowing them to participate, or even lead the meeting, not only puts them in touch with their strengths and weaknesses better, but also gives the other meeting participants the chance to hear firsthand what the child thinks about their proposed IEP goals, accommodations, and modifications.

9. Be an information sponge

Since IEPs are required to be submitted annually, you could be involved in a meeting with a student you’ve never met before at the very beginning of a school year. If that’s the situation, make it an opportunity to soak up as much information as you can. Being present at these meetings can offer insight into the bigger picture of that student’s academic journey so far, as well as interventions that have worked or didn’t work in the past. 

10. Stay focused on why you are there

Your head might be buzzing with the millions of other things you have to finish before the end of the week, but do what you can to stay present during the IEP meeting. Parents will appreciate that you have a genuine desire to see their child succeed, and that you are invested in working out a plan to fit their child’s needs. And at the end of the day, you love your students and want them all to reach their full potential. So be proud of your role as an IEP team member—and remember you are changing lives.

Looking for more info and tips on the IEP process and more general issues around special education? Check out this blog post on 5 Trending Issues in Special Education!