It can be intimidating for parents of children with specific needs to address school teachers and leaders in IEP meetings. Over the years, my husband and I have attended many IEP meetings together. We’ve found that mutual success occurs when good negotiation skills are learned and practiced. We hope you’ll find the following tips helpful as you customize them to suit your own situation:
- Make a list of items to address. Before the meeting, jot down what you want to accomplish in the meeting. You only have a set amount of time to address everything, and you don’t want to accidentally omit something important.
- Attend as a couple, or bring someone to help. My husband, Cole, attends every IEP meeting with me. We’ve been told many times that it’s highly unusual to see both parents in attendance. I think it makes a HUGE difference in the outcome. Before we even say one word, we’re showing how important our child is to us and that we want the best education for him.
- Keep emotions in check. If you tend to get frustrated easily, you may not be your child’s best advocate in an IEP situation. You cannot yell, swear, or insist on unrealistic expectations. If you do, you’ll lose credibility instantly. Instead, you’ll need to bring someone who’s good at discussing your child’s needs in a calm manner. You might even invite them to nudge you under the table if you’re starting to lose control.
- Take notes. Don’t be a passive listener. Cole takes copious notes. I take some too. It’s amazing how many follow-ups we’d miss if we didn’t jot them down. Even though someone from the school will be taking notes, make sure you take your own as well.
- Stick to the facts. If there are problems, state specific instances. Keep a journal or notes in a planner so you know what those facts are. The school team can’t help you with generalities that aren’t clearly defined or well thought out.
- Pick your priorities. Your child may have a huge list of needs, but it’s not realistic to think the school can address every single one. Choose the most important ones; we recommend focusing on the top three. When those have been addressed, you can mention more.
- Make sure IEP goals are doable. Yes, teachers and school staff are required by law to accommodate your child based on his or her IEP requirements. But are the IEP goals you’ve set realistic? Given the time constraints of teachers, you’ll see better results if you make sure they can be done quickly and efficiently. Your child is probably 1 of 25-30 students, each with needs for the teacher to address.
- Set concise goals. A therapist worked with our son and determined that he could achieve at least an 85% success rate on academics. She wrote a letter to the school stating so, and we were able to use that statistic as an IEP goal, meaning our son could achieve A’s and B’s on his schoolwork.
- Set goals at home. Tell the school team what you’re doing as parents to supplement your child’s education at home. Then ask them what they recommend you do. You’ll gain their respect if they know you’re making efforts at home too.
- Volunteer. Ask how you can help the teacher or the school. You’re asking them to do extra things for you and your child. That takes time for them. Be considerate and find out what you can do to relieve some of their workload.
- Communicate. Follow up with teachers and the school team when needed. Short, concise emails are appreciated and easy for them to address. Meet after school if you need longer discussions. Don’t expect the school to initiate follow ups.
We recognize that circumstances for each child with special needs vary. These tips are primarily suggestions for high-functioning children who are capable of a mainstream education, but we hope they’re also helpful for any parent who needs to become an “IEP expert.” When parents learn to be their child’s best advocate, they can do much to help educators find win-win solutions, creating the most optimal educational experience possible.
What tips would you add?