Are you a new Special Education Teacher or have you been doing this for awhile? If you are a new special education teacher this year, it may mean that you will be preparing to lead your own IEP meetings.
I remember my first IEP meeting-I was nervous, not confident and less prepared than I would have liked. I don’t want that for you! (Don’t make these 5 Mistakes as a New Teacher either) After leading many IEP meetings throughout my teaching career, I can honestly say that my first and last IEP meetings were completely different- in a good way! I have 5 tips to help you lead your first IEP meeting with CONFIDENCE!
When I was in the middle of student teaching, I remember going to a couple of IEP meetings with my co-teacher. However, that meant sitting and listening to the meeting, not leading and preparing for the actual meeting itself. Sitting in an IEP meeting and leading an IEP meeting are very different!
As the special education teacher, you are in charge of leading the IEP meeting to make sure:
- things are moving along and staying within the timeframe
- the paperwork is prepared
- parents understand the special ed jargon
- team decisions are being made
- all data is true and accurate
- you are providing the student with the least restrictive environment
- special education and regular education minutes are calculated correctly
- your student is showing progress on his/ her IEP goals
Whew! That is a lot of pressure for one person. Now, if you have a great administrator and amazing special education team they may be very helpful with some of these things. But believe it or not, some administrators don’t know all the legalities or jargon of the special education world and will look to YOU as the EXPERT! (Yes now that you are a special education teacher you are automatically considered an expert in this field!) Many of my administrators trusted my judgement when running IEP meetings and only absolutely stepped in when they needed to. Okay, so how do you lead your first IEP meeting with CONFIDENCE?
Here are my top tips for you:
IEP Meeting Tip #1-Take Data on All Student Goals
This sounds simple because it is literally our JOB as special education teachers but you would be surprised that sometimes time gets away from us and before you know it, it’s the 2nd quarter of the school year and you haven’t taken any here on Sydney’s math goals yet but her IEP is due next month. Give yourself grace if you are a new teacher but make sure to stay organized and on top of your caseload and each of their IEP goals. Their IEP goals are literally how they show progress in school if they don’t receive grades and a report card like their peers in general education. 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.
Need help writing IEP goals as a new teacher?
Check these out:
- 5 IEP Goals for Severe-Profound Teachers
- 5 IEP Goals for High School Special Education Teachers
- 5 IEP Goals for Preschool Special Education Teachers
IEP Meeting Tip #2- Have all Paperwork Prepared in Advance
My motto has always been-”Be OVER-prepared.” This has served me well and I would encourage you to develop this same mindset as a brand new special education teacher. Do not come to school the morning of an IEP meeting and try to print out the paperwork or finish inputting data-that is too stressful! Make sure you have all of the documents that you need for the meeting well in advance and that they are ready to go when you leave school the night before. When I planned for IEP meetings, I used this Simple IEP Planner to help keep me organized. By using this system to keep my organized, I was easily able to ensure that I had everything ready for my IEP meetings throughout the year.
IEP Meeting Tip #3-Start with Introductions & Student Strengths
In some cases, this could potentially be the very first time that you are meeting a student’s parents or guardians. If that is the case, this could make the IEP meeting a little bit tougher. Why? Because IEP meetings are a sensitive time for parents and guardians. It is a LOT of information at once, sometimes its not always great news and honestly-it’s a HUGE reminder that their precious child does in fact have a disability. Try to put yourself in their shoes.
Always start off the meeting by having everyone introduce themselves. There is nothing worse than sitting in a room full of strangers that are all talking about your child. Now, if the student is a fifth grader, they may already know everyone at the meeting and be comfortable. If this is a preschool or kindergartner, there’s a very good chance they may not know most of the people there.
After introductions, I make sure everyone has a copy of the IEP in front of them so they can look through it during the meeting (I am a visual learner) and I start leading the meeting by telling these parents all of their child’s strengths. And I don’t just mean saying something like, “Molly is great at sharing.” Dig deep! Get specific! List as many strengths as you can. I’m not going to lie- for some students this can be more difficult than others; but there are always things to say. How much easier is it going to be 10 minutes from now when you need to discuss something more difficult if you have made parents proud of their child right off the bat? In addition, they will remember that YOU, their teacher said these things and appreciate what you are doing if the entire meeting is not negative news (which it should never be!) Ever heard the saying, “Kill them with kindness?”
IEP Meeting Tip #4-Send a Rough Draft Home
I’ve learned over the years that IEP meetings always go smoother if there aren’t many surprises. Send a rough draft of the IEP home a few nights before if possible. Make sure parents and guardians know that it is a rough draft (I always send a little note home to read it over before the meeting and let them know we will go over it in more detail at the IEP meeting).
Sending a rough draft of the IEP home before helps with many things:
- Making sure the IEP meeting doesn’t last too long.
- Giving parents and guardians a heads up with any new information that they have time to think through before the meeting.
- Gives them time to prepare any questions for you or ask about anything they may not understand.
IEP Meeting Tip #5-Make Sure Parents/ Guardians UNDERSTAND the jargon
This tip is very important in my opinion! Here’s my analogy-have you ever been to a different country in which not a lot of English is spoken? Was it difficult to communicate with other people and understand what they were trying to tell you? I know that this is sometimes how our parents feel. In special education there are so many different abbreviations and jargon. Truthfully, most parents may in fact not even know what the abbreviation I.E.P stands for. It is your job as the case manager to bridge the gap while still maintaining a professional status.
Don’t read the Present Level word for word, they can do that. Talk to parents like they are normal human beings and use common language whenever you can. Don’t assume that parents know and understand something (like how you calculated their child’s minutes in general education). Explain to them what and how you are getting that number. Remember, when it comes down to it, this is their baby and they are trusting you with him or her during the school day. Parents will appreciate you normalizing IEPs and leave the meeting with a better understanding of the things that are in place during the school day for their child.
Are you ready to lead your first IEP meeting with CONFIDENCE now?! I sure hope so! Are you a new self-contained special education teacher? Did you know that there is a course that I created just for you?
With my new course, Simple Self-Contained Setup 101, you can say goodbye to that uneasy and apprehensive self-contained teacher who dreads the daunting classroom setup, back-to-school prep process and IEP meeting overload! You’re not even going to know her anymore. You will instead be CONFIDENT and EAGER to take on anything that comes your way with rock-solid plans and systems in place from day 1.