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7 Tips for Constructive IEP Meetings

7 Tips for Constructive IEP Meetings

No matter what role you play at school, you’re going to love these tips for constructive IEP meetings.

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Whether you’re a general education teacher, a special education teacher, or an administrator, you have probably participated in an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) meeting this year. IEP meetings can be wonderful places for staff and parents to communicate, but they can also be contentious. Parents and school staff don’t always agree and an IEP meeting gone wrong can end up in a courtroom. No matter your role at the school, you can help an IEP meeting run smoothly with these suggestions.

1. Start with an Agenda:  Your IEP meeting should begin with introductions around the table. Each participant should also have a copy of an agenda that outlines what will be discussed and in what order. This can be a general agenda and the same one can be used for every IEP meeting, unless there’s a special circumstance. A sample agenda might look like this:

  • Introductions
  • Purpose of the meeting
  • Student Strengths
  • Areas of Need
  • Review of Goals
  • Services
  • Review
  • Signatures and Closing

2. Student Strengths: The first thing that should be presented about a child at an IEP meeting should be strengths. Each member of the IEP team should have thought about this beforehand and be ready to share. Make sure to ask the parent about his/her child’s strengths and include them in the IEP. 

3. Parent Concerns: Parent concerns should be asked about very early in the meeting. These should be written down and reviewed near the end of the meeting to ensure that all concerns were addressed. It’s helpful to “check-in” with the parent throughout the meeting. For example, “How does that sound, Mrs. Smith?” “Do you think that would be helpful, Mr. Smith?” 

4. What to Bring: Whether you are a general education teacher or a special education teacher, you need to bring some documentation to the meeting. This documentation should include student grades and work samples. It can also include behavioral documentation, especially if that is a concern. It’s important to make sure the documentation you are bringing is balanced and reflects both the student’s strengths and needs. If you are responsible for the student’s IEP goals, bring documentation that demonstrates the student’s progress on the current goal and any work samples that illustrate the need for a new goal in a certain area.  

*Usually just one general education teacher attends an IEP meeting, so the special education case manager should bring information and reports from any other teachers to the meeting.

5. Keep your Focus: The main goal of an IEP meeting is: “How do we help this child reach his/her full potential?” If things start getting heated, it is often helpful to remind the other members of the IEP meeting that every member of the team wants the same thing: To see the child be successful. Do your best to create an atmosphere of teamwork. An easy way to do this is to make sure all the school staff aren’t sitting on one side of the table while the parent sits alone on the other side. Make a conscientious effort to sit next to the parent.  

6. Be Creative: The IEP is a legal document and it must be filled out a certain way, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be creative with what is put on it. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box for accommodations and modifications that might help a student. You may already be informally implementing some accommodations that are helping your student. It’s good to get those in writing on the IEP, so that other teachers can implement them as well. Here are some common ones: 

  • Allow the use of a fidget or other sensory items
  • Allow tests to be taken in a different quiet room and/or give extended time
  • Allow a student to take a break in a quiet area when needed
  • Allow a student to type instead of hand-write
  • Implement a visual schedule, agenda, visual timer, labeled folders, etc. to help with organization
  • Implement a parent/teacher communication system, possibly through a journal sent back and forth from school to home 

7. Closing: At the end of the meeting, make sure every participant’s concerns have been addressed. Identify who is responsible for implementing each area of the IEP (for example, who will oversee the student test-taking in a separate room?) and make sure you know your part. Get a copy of the finalized IEP as soon as possible so you can ensure you are following the IEP.  

You don’t have to know every aspect of special education law to be a helpful member of the IEP meeting. All you need to know is your student. I hope these tips will help your next meeting run smoothly! 

P.S. Special education case managers can get my FREE IEP case management checklist here.

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  • “You don’t need to know every aspect of special education law, you just need to know your student.” I take great offense to this. If you are a special education teacher and you are writing a legal document, you absolutely should know what you are doing! I am a parent. Because teachers and administrators don’t know the law, I’ve had to take it upon myself to learn the law and then educate the educators. I’ve had to educate them on how to teach my child. I’ve had to show document after document on the ways they are not following basic federal and state laws. It’s upsetting and appalling. I have heard every single excuse as to why teachers don’t know laws. I’m tired of the excuses. If you don’t know the laws, you shouldn’t be writing the legal documents that supposedly uphold them. Please stop encouraging teachers to not know special education laws.

    • Hi Shana, I’m so sorry that came across that way. Special education teachers and case managers should definitely know the law. That sentence was meant for general education teachers, who don’t always participate as much in IEP meetings because they don’t know the law as well as special education teachers. But they still have a lot to contribute by knowing their student! I can completely relate to what you are saying as a parent who has had children on an IEP. I have had to point out certain aspects of the law to case managers before, too.

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