What Purpose Does a Special Education IEP Serve?
A Special Education IEP stands for Individualized Education Plan. Any students on your special education caseload will have an IEP. It is the special education teacher's role to make sure that the IEP is up to date each year, being followed by the student's school team and that the student has appropriate goals and services to meet their needs. This IEP is the ultimate plan that the school should follow when a student qualifies for a disability under the state's regulations. This individualized Education Plan lists many different things such as how many minutes the student will be in special education and general education daily, what their annual IEP goals are, and any modifications and accommodations, amongst many other things.
What Should a Teacher Do Before an IEP Meeting?
If you are a brand new special education teacher or even if you have been in the field for a few years, IEP meetings can sometimes be the most intimidating part of the job. I remember my first IEP meeting-I looked like a deer in headlights. Honestly, this was true for probably my first entire year of special education IEP meetings. It breaks my heart that colleges don't do a better job in training us special education teachers on how to run effective IEP meetings.
After leading many IEP meetings throughout my teaching career now, I can honestly say that my first and most recent IEP meetings were completely different- in a good way!
Let's chat about 5 tips to be totally prepared for your first special education IEP meeting.
Tip #1-Take Plenty of Data Ahead of Time
Data is what drives almost all decisions in the special education world. Data is what will show what kind of progress your students are making on their IEP goals and what goals will be appropriate next. You need to have a good understanding of their reading level (even if that's letter recognition or below), what they are capable of doing in math and even their on and off task behavior data. It is extremely important for parents and guardians to understand that even if their child isn’t performing on grade level, that they are still making progress on academic goals at school. I live by this set of data collection sheets in my classroom or I would be LOST! If you prefer to take data digitally through Google Forms, you may want to check out this blog post.
Tip #2- Prepare the Paperwork in Advance
You might be surprised to find out how many people come into IEP meetings without all of the necessary information they need. Make sure that you have gathered all of the data and documentation that you will need to present at the meeting. This includes things like test scores, progress reports, and any other evaluations that have been done. I like to keep track of all of this in my teacher binder to stay organized. When I was first starting out, I was looking for a teacher binder that fit me and my style and I couldn't ever find one, so I spent months creating the perfect binder for my special education classroom.
This step might also require you to chat with other teachers in the student's world-especially if they spend certain times or subjects in general education. Always check in with other teachers BEFORE the IEP meeting to make sure you have a firm understanding of the progress that the student is making while with them. This includes talking with your paraprofessionals if they spend time with that student!
Tip #3- Lead with the Student's Strengths
Always always always start with the student's strengths (after you make introductions of course!). Let me repeat that: always start with talking about the things that the student does well and is great at. Special education meetings are heavy and they can be overwhelming for families to sit through. I have sat in meetings that can last anywhere from 1-4 hours! It is draining and it doesn't always have to be. As a mom with a special needs son this is even more important to me. I cannot tell you how many IEP meetings that I have been to where they start with deficits and it totally breaks my mommy heart.
I know sometimes it can be hard to find the strengths, but be prepared and come up with lots of positive things to share about the student. It will go over a lot better when you have to start talking about all the needs the student has with the family and will be better received. This helps make the IEP meeting not to “feel so negative” also.
Tip #4- Keep it Parent Friendly
This fact become very real for me when I had my son with Down syndrome and began sitting in IEP meetings on the other side of the table. I remember being in my son's first special education meeting and leaving thinking-Wow! I'm so glad that I am a special education teacher and understood all of that. I had to help explain a lot of things to my husband after the fact and since then, I ran IEP meetings totally differently as a teacher.
There are so many abbreviations and jargon in the world of special education. As the meeting facilitator, it really is our job to make sure there are no surprises in the meeting. When the parents and guardians leave, they should know what the education plan of action is for their child. I can't imagine if I didn't really know what was happening with my son while he was at school! Especially if I didn't understand the reasons why certain accommodations or services were important in his day.
When presenting information, make sure that you are doing so in a way that is easy for everyone to understand. Use clear language and avoid jargon. Also, make sure that you are staying on topic and not going off on tangents. It can be easy to get sidetracked during an IEP meeting, but try to stay focused on the task at hand.
Tip #5- Send a DRAFT home
This part needs to happen BEFORE the special education IEP meeting takes place. It is best practice to send a rough draft home at least 3 days in advance. There have been many times that I have had to reach out to teachers and ask for the draft ahead of time. I always have a meeting before the meeting with my parents. This allows us to go into detail if they have questions about anything. In addition, it helps so the actual IEP meeting doesn't last too long. Trust me when I say effective communication with parents is extremely important for a successful school year.
Also, BONUS TIP: be prepared to answer questions during the meeting. The people who are attending the IEP meeting will likely have questions for you. Be prepared to answer those questions in a way that is helpful and informative. If you don’t know the answer to a question, don’t be afraid to say so. It’s better to admit that you don’t know something than to try to fake it. I hope that these 5 simple tips to prepare for your first special education IEP meeting were helpful to you!
What other questions do you have about special education IEP meetings?