Even though an IEP is a great thing that helps students, sometimes IEP meetings can get pretty tense. There are many people involved, each with their own ideas and perspective on what should be done.
There’s no reason that every IEP meeting needs to be this way! Here are some hot tips to help you run a successful IEP meeting that fulfills students’ needs and leaves everyone feeling heard and accomplished.
Before the IEP meeting
Beginning of the school year
The IEP team is like any other team. It works best when all the team members respect each other and the strengths/skills they bring to the team.
If you’ve worked at your school a while, you likely know the other staff you work with, but maybe they’re new or you are this school year. Make sure you’ve had a chance to speak to them about their role at the school as well as their impressions of the student’s needs and strengths.
I would suggest simply stopping by to speak to them during your prep hour or after school. Get a feeling for how they interact with students and what their philosophies are on education.
It was best to send the parents and guardians on my caseload an introduction email and/or call at the beginning of the school year. I told them I was their student’s case manager and gave them my contact information.
I took the time to talk to them about their impressions of their student’s new classes and level of difficulty. Many schedule mistakes were found this way, which was a nice bonus!
About a month before the meeting
This is the time to start to gather the materials you will need to write the IEP.
Sending everything out early gives you time to send it again if it gets lost in the shuffle.
This is also a good time to call the family and make sure they’re aware of the time and location of the meeting. If your classroom or the meeting location is hard to find, this is a great time to draft a plan, so they can get to the meeting easily.
While you’re talking it is also a good time to ask if the family plans on bringing other people (such as an advocate, outside service provider, etc), so you can be prepared with extra copies.
Quick reminder: a contact log is a lovely thing to have in case someone “misplaces” their forms an unreasonable amount of times on a consistent basis. This can not only save your behind but perhaps help that individual get the support/training they need 🙂
One more thing to consider at this time is the special needs of families. Make arrangements for parents and guardians who have wheelchairs, visual impairments, or need translation services. This way, they can feel as valued and empowered as your students.
About a week from the meeting
Although I know some people who wrote IEPs before and after the meeting, this is the system that worked for me.
A week out from the meeting I’d begin a draft IEP. Most of the response forms will have been returned to you, so you have data you can input.
You should not be deciding anything in this document. This document is simply stating what you know already, like:
- What services was the student receiving this year?
- What accommodations were they assigned and were they accessing them?
- What are their transition goals?
- What are their present levels of functioning?
- What did the last evaluation/MET state?
All these things are great to include in the draft IEP. Remember though, it’s just a draft! It’s useful for the team to adapt to suit the needs and strengths identified in the IEP meeting. In fact, I made sure to use a comically large, red stamp on the covers of the draft IEP that said “draft” to clearly communicate that nothing contained within should be considered final.
The day of the meeting
On the day of the meeting make sure to send a reminder out to the team.
I also reminded my students that today was their IEP meeting and asked if they planned on attending. This helped keep my parent/guardian attendance rates high because the students often reminded their family members about the meeting.
If you are comfortable you can even have your students text/call/email their family to remind them too 🙂 Even when the school doesn’t have great contact information for families, their child usually does.
Another great activity for the day of the meeting is to create and print a meeting agenda. If I’m encouraging my student to lead part of the meeting (perhaps their transition goals or accommodations), I might go over the agenda with them and ask if they’d like to practice.
I kept a master temple for IEP meeting agendas and changed out names and dates. There should be a rough timeline for the meeting and should have times designated for all parties to speak. This can be very important later, at the meeting.
Lastly, print enough copies of the draft IEP and any additional materials (like graphs or work samples) for all team members. If you teach remotely, make sure these items are quick and easy to access for screen sharing.
During the IEP meeting
If you are facilitating the IEP here are some things you can do to help things go smoothly.
- Everyone should be given the agenda and their copy of materials when they get to the meeting, including the student
- Do introductions when everyone is present. If you know someone will be attending later, introduce who they are and what they do so you won’t have to stop the meeting to do reintroductions later.
- Give people verbal cues about what information they should provide. Example: “Mr. Educator can you please share the academic strengths that Student has in your math class?” When you leave things open-ended you might get information that is not productive for the meeting.
- If someone starts veering off-topic, provide a resource, or take a note to follow up on it later. You are at a meeting with a specific purpose: make a plan that helps that student be successful based on their disability. Important information can be brought up, but it should be handled by the proper channels at your school site. Maybe a student is being bullied or has a material need, like school supplies. These are important and should be addressed, but they are most properly addressed by a social worker or counselor one on one with the family and student. They are not an appropriate subject for the whole team.
- Keep an eye on the clock and be willing to step in when someone goes over their time. IEPs can be very large. They can involve many agencies. Some members may need to leave early. Keep these things in mind and curtail people who are not respecting the team’s time. You can also reschedule the meeting to reconvene at a later time if you’re going over.
- Be respectful of people’s opinions. Everyone has a valid viewpoint even if the team doesn’t end up agreeing with their conclusions.
- Take copious notes. I usually had the IEP open so I could put input and ideas into the IEP as we spoke. If you can’t do that, make sure you are writing down everything mentioned in the IEP meeting for later.
- Remember: you are an amazing and caring educator! It’s okay to still be learning. If you’re not sure, indicate you will find out through the proper channels and then communicate back. You’ve got this!
After the IEP meeting
After the meeting, you’re wrapping the process up.
If something has changed due to the meeting that teachers or other staff need to be aware of, an email sent the next day outlining those changes is a good idea.
A follow-up summary email can be helpful if the meeting was dense and complicated! Especially if people have follow-up tasks. Keep it friendly and encouraging; you are a strong team 🙂
Mention new accommodations and any that were removed.
Let everyone who interacts with the student know If there will be a change to their schedule or placement.
Also, send out any updates to BIPs that were agreed on at the meeting.
I also sent an email to the parent or guardian thanking them for attending. Or, if they couldn’t attend, I’d let them know what the team determined. That’s also a good time to do any follow-up from the meeting, such as sending resource information or getting them in touch with anyone on campus they need to speak with.
Typically, you’ll need to finalize your IEP within 10 days of the meeting being held. Luckily, you wrote an amazing draft and then took copious notes. So, putting that last information into the document and finalizing any new placement or accommodation information should be a snap.
Once I closed my IEP, I’d print a copy for the student to take home and review with their parents or guardians. I would also print a list of their accommodations so they were aware of them and any changes that may have occurred.
All you can do is your best
Doing everything in this blog may not be feasible for you. There are always “surprise this kid transferred and their IEP is due tomorrow” cases. There are times when you have too many IEPs in a row to do all of this realistically.
That’s perfectly understandable! Don’t beat yourself up. Even if you’re doing all of this, there will be times when tempers run high and mistakes are made. That’s ok. All we can do is TRY to run a successful meeting and meet everyone’s needs.
Use what you think suits your students, families, stakeholders, and your practice and discard the rest. Innovate your own systems and techniques.
Do you have a great tip for running a successful IEP meeting? Let the community know in the comments 🙂