Setting Up the Meeting
The way teachers reach out to families to schedule the IEP meeting sets the tone for their partnership. This communication can change a family’s thinking from “the school requires me to attend this meeting” to “my child’s teacher needs me in order to understand my child.”
To make families feel valued, Mapp, Carver, and Lander suggest that teachers:
- Call home ahead of time to discuss the meeting, rather than sending an informational letter home with the student.
- Describe what the meeting will entail, and how the family can prepare.
- Explain who will attend: the teacher, the parent, a learning or behavioral specialist, and a district official.
- Arrange the meeting around the family’s schedule.
Planning the Meeting
Schools are often intimidating places for families, especially those who are low-income, immigrants, or people of color. To avoid the dynamic of “school versus family,” teachers should:
- Think carefully about where the meeting will take place: Will a classroom be more comfortable than a specialist’s office? Is there a way to arrange the seating so that everyone is on equal ground?
- Brainstorm how to position the family as an active participant, rather than just a listener. Prepare questions to ask the family about their dreams, expectations, and concerns for their child.
- Create an “IEP one-pager” to use at the meeting. This document should leave space for the teacher, specialist, and family to list together what the student can do independently, what she can do with support, what areas of growth they will focus on, and the key accommodations they’ll use.
Holding the Meeting
“IEP meetings should be anchored in listening to each other and sharing goals,” say Mapp, Carver, and Lander. Their suggestions:
- Regulations and legal requirement are important — but don’t let them dictate the structure of the meeting.
- Talk together about the student’s strengths and areas of growth. Create supports and accommodations that can be used in school and at home. Connect accommodations to the family’s dreams for their child.
- Avoid jargon, which can be alienating. Watch out for body language that reveals family members are confused or uncomfortable. Don’t be afraid to step-in with clarification or reassurance.
- When working with low-income or minority families, keep in mind how their children, particularly boys, are often overidentified as having learnning or behavioral challenges. Make sure you’re getting to know each family’s history, experiences, and culture, and frame that background as an asset for your classroom.
The start-of-year IEP meeting is only the beginning of this partnership.
- Schedule regular follow-ups with families. While regulations require these yearly check-ins, a student may be more likely to make progress if their teacher, specialist, and family are continually updating one another.
- Be flexible with how you communicate with one another. In-person meetings can be difficult to schedule. Ask parents if texting, calling, or emailing would work better.
- Use the IEP one-pager throughout the year to update families on their child’s progress.