5 Simple Ways to Have the Most Effective IEP Meetings

Thursday, February 7, 2019

IEP meetings can be super daunting - for both teachers AND guardians. We as educators spend so much time crafting effective (seeming) IEPs with our students best interests at heart - but the meetings don't always go as smoothly as we'd like. Here's 5 considerations when planning for these important and often stressful meetings.

1.) Plan with the family 
Family members (guardians, parents, etc) are an integral part of the IEP process, they even have a spot in the IEP for "guardian concerns". I feel a common mistake is using that box DURING the meeting - it can be really overwhelming for a family member to be asked in the middle of a meeting where an already written IEP is being presented, "Any concerns?"

Some school districts allow teachers to send home drafts of an IEP, while some do not. Either way - get family involved!! Two ways I have done this are hosting an unofficial pre-meeting. During this short meeting, it's guardian focused. I gave them the opportunity to share barriers their see at home, and anything they'd like to see their child completing. This allowed me to ask follow-up questions and the guardians knew that I was taking their considerations seriously and making them an integral part of the team. Another idea is sending home a simple (KEYWORD: SIMPLE!!!) questionnaire asking what their child's biggest barriers are at home and any tasks they'd like to see their child completing - essentially, any questions I would ask in that unofficial pre-meeting.

Listening to home concerns, implementing that into the IEP, and during the meeting pointing out where you addressed that concern is a HUGE way to create a fluid sense of communication, build trust, and ultimately ensure carryover is an important way that we can support our students holistically in our IEP writing.

2.) Eliminate jargon
I feel like as special educators, we always hear this as a tip - but we need to really take it seriously. It's no secret that we love acronyms (SPED, LRE, FBA, BIP, ABA, SLP, OT... shall I go on?), but sometimes I think we assume competence in areas in which our families might not be confident enough to advocate for themselves.

When starting out an IEP meeting, I truly believe it's important - even with a seasoned guardian - to say a phrase such as, "We're so glad you could join us this morning for Jayden's Individual Education Program annual review meeting - we refer to it as an IEP meeting. This means we're reviewing Jayden's progress on his yearly goals we determined last year, and sharing our new goals for him for this year." After that I like to have every team member introduce themselves, not with an acronym (ex: speech language pathologist, not SLP), and explain what they do. If you're not in the field, you may not know what an Occupational Therapist does (teach about occupations?!) or why a child might see an itinerant teacher. Lots of smiling and nodding happens around the IEP table and we want to ensure that families also are fully aware of exactly what services their children are receiving so when they have questions, they feel empowered and confident on which team member is the expert on that topic.

When we discuss present levels of performance and assessments, we often also get jargon-y. Guardians won't always know what a "reading level C" means or what "MAP testing" is. Be specific! Explain! This meeting is hugely important for their baby, and they deserve to know and fully understand every second of it, even if they don't ask questions.

3.) Be a partner
Repeat after me: "This family wants what's best for their child. This family is not out to get me." IEP meetings can get litigious and it can be overwhelming and stressful as a teacher. It feels like you're under attack at times, and that the family will do whatever it takes to "take you down". Remember that mantra I had you say? That's true. I promise.

IEP meetings can also feel overwhelming and stressful as a guardian - especially if you're used to not having input and hearing jargon you don't understand at every meeting. If that's your history, you might feel compelled to come in with armor on, which could be in the form of a special education advocate or lawyer.

When we include guardians in the process of writing an IEP, make IEP meetings as user-friendly as possible, we are more likely to have effective and trust-focused IEP meetings. Still, we might have guardians that come in with bold ideas, advocates, or both. Just remember - it's okay. If you're consistently using data and research to drive your students IEPs, you're doing everything you're supposed to do as a special educator. This is their child, their baby - it's normal for them to bring in every resource they can to ensure their child - their world - is getting the best education possible.

4.) Be present
IEP meetings can be long and we have big caseloads (which means more long IEPs!). This isn't an excuse to keep your laptop open and be checking emails and writing other IEPs during the meeting you're in. Being upfront with guardians about what you're doing during a meeting can be helpful in them understanding your behavior if you have to take notes or be typing a lot - "Hey, I am taking notes for this meeting, so if you see me typing a lot, it's because I'm making sure I capture all the important conversations we're having around the table today." If a member has to step out of the meeting to meet with a student or return to their class, make sure that's stated at the beginning of the meeting (but avoid it if possible!). Eye contact and active listening body language help anyone feel at ease and feel heard - being present with our mind and our body language is so important to creating a successful IEP meeting.

5.) Give guardians time to process it all
We typically schedule time for IEP meetings to be about 60 minutes long, which can be really hard when a family is still processing information and likely has questions. This is one of those times where advocating for best practices is huge, and we need to advocate more time for our meetings. Sometimes 60 minutes is plenty of time, and sometimes it really isn't. We need to give guardians time to ask questions, reference parts of the document, and make sense of what was just said. IEPs are literally the definition of information overload. It's SO much - strengths and weaknesses, reminders of what their child cannot do yet, assessment data, and more. Give families time to process!

I have been in countless IEP meetings where it is clearly the expectation that the guardian sign the IEP at the conclusion of the meeting. Sometimes, this makes sense and it's obvious the family is comfortable with everything discussed. Sometimes, it's hard to tell. Over the last few years, I started making a point to stating that they had time to bring the IEP home with them to review it before signing it, and I wish I had always done this. If it were me on that side of the table, I know I would need to come back to it with a fresh set of eyes before I was sure I was comfortable with everything written.

What are your IEP hang-ups? What factors do you consider when writing IEPs and conducting IEP meetings? Comment below!



  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. As both a special educator and a parent of a child with special needs, I whole-heartedly agree with everything said here - especially with BE PRESENT. I remember walking into my son's first 3 year review - all those total strangers sitting around the table, making small chit-chat, on their laptops the entire time, etc. My husband and I were so overwhelmed, had no idea why we were there, etc. The case manager was cold, everyone talked about their fabulous weekend, etc. We felt like absolute outsiders.

    To this day, I never have my laptop open at a meeting unless I'm reading my goal drafts. I call each parent by their first name, and I always make sure that they have all of my contact info on Day 1 in case they have any questions or concerns. I'll never forget that horrible 1st meeting we had. Please folks - - focus on your parents. It makes all the difference.

    1. I so appreciate your comment. Being present is hugely important to the success of a meeting from all stakeholders. Thank you!


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