How To Participate In IEP Meetings

IEP Meetings
Teaching Methodology

How To Participate In IEP Meetings

A common stressor for new teachers is their participation in Individualized Education Plan (IEP) meetings.

New and experienced teachers have come to me with many questions over the years: Why do I have to go? What should I say? What if a parent yells at me? What if there is an advocate or lawyer in attendance?  Do I have to say anything?

Over the last dozen years or so, I’ve chaired over 2,000 special education meetings. I’ve earned a reputation for running a good meeting. I have seen just about everything that can happen.

I’ve been called “a criminal” after finding a student ineligible. I’ve had to stop a meeting after a parent (an employee of the same district) made very angry and loud threats directed at a team member – a woman in her 60s who works in the same building as he does. There was a time I had to tell the special education director to stop talking when he was going back and forth with a parent. 

However, incidents like these are rare. Special education meetings do not have to be a dreaded experience for the attending regular education teacher. I have some tips on how special education teachers can make the most of these meetings. 

IEP: Basic Considerations

Yes, You Need To Attend

A regular education teacher is mandatory by the special education law. To proceed without a regular ed teacher, we need to request permission from the parent/guardian and have them sign a form to continue. Put your meetings in your calendar.

Know The IEP Services And Accommodations

Nothing looks worse than when a parent asks about a particular accommodation or service and the teacher looks puzzled or even admits that they don’t know about it. It doesn’t just look bad, it is bad. It can reflect poorly on the entire school staff. 

By law, school personnel need to read and understand students’ IEPs (and 504s). You put your job and license in jeopardy by not reading and understanding your students’ plans. Go to a special ed teacher or case manager with questions.  As a child’s teacher, you are legally required to provide the accommodations and services.

Provide Insight On The Student’s Abilities And Progress.

What are the student’s struggles? Areas of need and strength? What accommodations are necessary or unnecessary?  Always push toward independence! What progress is being made toward the IEP goals?  What progress or regression have you seen in class?

When considering your input, think about “effective progress” relative to their special ed and regular ed peers in all realms of school life—academic, social, emotional, and behavioral functioning.

Be Honest

It is understandable to want to only say positive things to the child’s parent, but it is important to give the team a true picture of how the student is performing. Frame things positively if you can, but present the facts about the student’s progress. 

Be prepared and present data, work samples, grades, etc. One of the best presentations I have seen from a teacher was in a meeting for a student whose guardian challenged the teacher’s credibility.

“She can’t do it.  Your class is not appropriate for her.” 

The teacher calmly displayed the students’ grades and work samples which clearly demonstrated that the student – when motivated and participating – was very capable. The student ended up on the hot seat, not the teacher.

How You Say Things Is More Important Than What You Say

Watch your tone and language (verbal and nonverbal). Parents can be sensitive about how teachers feel about their children and may interpret any negativity in tone or language (judgmental words) to mean that you don’t like or “have it out” for their child.

Negative feelings for a student are often apparent to those watching and listening to a teacher’s report.  We don’t always love every student; be conscious of your feelings and be aware of conveying negative feelings to the parents (and students).

Make Suggestions And Ask Questions

You are there for your insights on the student’s progress. If you have seen success with certain interventions with this or other students, say so. 

Be careful about recommending anything that might make your Case Manager go nuts.  For example, don’t advocate for a one-on-one aide. While most parents and advocates would argue that the financial burden is why the CM would get upset, this is rarely the case. I don’t care about the district’s money. I don’t get paid based on the special education budget.

However, the student’s parents or advocate might be fighting for an aide and the team has disagreed—we are charged with having students in the least restrictive environment and pushing them towards independence; an aide might not be appropriate.

Bring these concerns to the Case Manager before the IEP meeting. You could end up at a DESE hearing to testify on behalf of the student against your school district.

Don’t Fight Or Argue

Parents are advocating for their children.  Never hold that against them.  IEP Meetings can become very intense and emotional.  However, it takes two for an argument or fight to occur. If you don’t engage, there cannot be an argument.  State your case and agree to disagree.

Would you like to hear more about specific cases or meetings?  Do you have questions for me or anyone on the ETI team about any school issues or MTEL preparation? 

If so, contact me directly at chuck@joinETI.com or 978-332-0624.  I’m happy to hear your ideas for future blogs or answer any questions you have.  And, of course, we are here to assist you with getting past the MTELs and getting certified! Check us out here.

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