A team is a group of people who come together for a common goal. For an IEP team, the common goal is to support the educational needs of a student with special needs. The IEP meeting is all about putting this goal into practice. However, anyone who has participated in an IEP meeting knows that it can be much more complicated than that. Somehow along the way, many IEP teams become divided. There may be conflicting agendas, and perspectives can get lost or disregarded. Yet, at the heart of it all and as long as there is that common goal, the team is still a team.
I have participated in hundreds of IEP meetings over the years. As a special education teacher, I authored and implemented IEPs, facilitated meetings, and reported on student progress. As an administrator, I provided coaching and support for teachers in writing and implementing IEPs, as well as ensuring compliance. As a special education consultant, I have the opportunity to serve as an objective listener, working to promote collaboration and problem solving among teams that are in conflict or who may be unsure about how to proceed.
Here are a few tips that I have learned along the way:
1. Avoid Surprises
Facilitate alignment within the IEP team by distributing a team questionnaire or organizing a pre-IEP meeting. Elicit agenda items from each team member and communicate this agenda along with a draft of the IEP prior to the meeting.
2. Make Room for the Student’s Voice
Regardless of their age and whether or not they attend the IEP, ensure that the student’s desires, concerns, needs, and interests are at the table.
3. Focus on the Collaborative Process
Checking off those boxes to ensure that the IEP is compliant may be important, but it should not be the primary focus of the meeting. Take time to define roles and responsibilities so that team members know what to expect and how to participate. The IEP meeting is always an opportunity to share perspectives and to create alignment.
4. Celebrate Progress as the Foundation for New Goals
It’s easy to jump into the to-do list and to miss out on all there is to celebrate. While reviewing the present levels, make an effort to reflect on all that the student has accomplished. This progression of skills based on data then lays the groundwork for the next stage of growth and new goals are more likely to be measurable and attainable.
5. Pursue Multiple Perspectives
Consider goals that reflect the student’s experience and needs in the home and the community, not just the school setting. Providers almost always extend beyond the school team. Be intentional about eliciting input from doctors, counselors, private therapists, childcare providers, and any others who may bring insight into the student’s needs.
6. Discuss Practical Implementation
A goal without a plan for implementation is just words on a page. Bring each goal to life by brainstorming activities and curriculum that incorporate the student’s specific learning needs and preferences.
7. Be Flexible
A clean, perfect document doesn’t reflect the process. Be open to making changes at the IEP meeting that reflect the discussion. If you’re more concerned about that perfect IEP, then you are less likely to revisit the document and it becomes less and less relevant to the student’s ever-changing needs.
8. Commit to Continuing the Conversation
Before you’re out of time at the meeting, ensure that there’s a clear plan for communication among team members. If there are any unresolved issues or questions, determine who is responsible for the follow-up. Don’t be afraid to schedule another meeting. Always ensure that a summary of the meeting is sent to the full team. This summary should include an outline of action items with due dates and who is responsible for the follow-up. Most importantly keep the door open to communication in-between meetings. This builds trust and camaraderie among team members and keeps everyone aligned on that common goal.
Blog Written By: Trisa Harris
She is a Special Education Consultant and Co-Owner of Frameworks Consulting, Training, and Retreats in Seattle, Washington.