How Special Education Teachers Can Improve the IEP Meeting Experience for Parents

As a parent, heading into an IEP meeting is overwhelming.  Even well-seasoned parents of children with special needs get nervous before walking into a meeting where the sole purpose is to dissect what their child can and cannot do.  There are some things that special education teachers can do for parents to elevate some of the anxiety that comes with attending IEP meetings.

Be honest with all communication.

Communicate with parents often.  When you talk with parents throughout the year, do not sugar-coat everything.  There is nothing worse than feeling blindsided when you have been told that "everything is fine" all year long only to hear a more realistic description during the IEP meeting.  

Phone calls, emails, and daily communication logs are all options, depending on the level of need.  If you have a student that needs daily communication, this communication log saved me loads of time at the end of the day.  

Give as much unofficial notice as possible.

The law says you need to give written notice five business days before an IEP meeting.  However, for a lot of parents, that may not be enough time to make arrangements with their places of employment or for childcare.  When you find out the date, even if you don't know the exact time, let the parents know so they can plan ahead.

Supply a draft IEP and call home ahead of the meeting. 

Giving a draft IEP ahead of time allows parents to really review the IEP and come up with questions.  Adding a brochure about IEPs like this one is a nice touch too.  Do not tell the parents to call you with any questions because that can be too intimidating for some personalities.  Instead, call home a few days after you send home the draft to go over the IEP with them.

Set a positive mood in the meeting room.

Many of the meeting spaces I have attended meetings in have been very formal conference rooms.  One way to make the meeting space feel less formal and more inviting is to add a centerpiece and a small tray of snacks.  A simple vase of fresh flowers along with a plate of cookies in the middle of the table can turn a cold boardroom into an inviting space.  

Have a familiar person collect the parent from the waiting area.

When possible, have a familiar face walk the parents back to the meeting.  Engage in casual conversation on the way to the meeting room.  Chances are, the parents are really nervous and chatting with a familiar person can calm their nerves a bit.

Have everybody introduce themselves.

At the start of the meeting, have everybody introduce themselves and give their role in the meeting.  Even if the parents are seasoned and have been to several meetings, they may only see the people at the table once a year.  Introductions are important.  A warm smile and a hello can go a long way to help a parent feel at ease.

Give an overview of the meeting.

For parents attending an IEP meeting for the first time, not knowing what the meeting will look like is a major concern.  Sharing a meeting agenda is helpful, even for parents that have attended IEP meetings in the past.  I love this one that also includes space for the parents to take notes if they would like.  

Share growth and positives.

When each person takes their turn to talk about the student, make sure everybody begins with positive qualities and growth.  After you share growth, then go into detail about struggles, concerns, and goals.

Always remember who you are talking to.

You are talking to these parents about their greatest love of all time.  Put yourself in their shoes and show those parents the same compassion and honesty you would hope for.

Check in after the meeting.

Call the parents within a few days of the meeting to go over the decisions made and to answer any additional questions.  Remind the parents that you are always available to answer questions about the IEP and about their child's educational programs.

These are just a few things that you can do to make an IEP meeting less overwhelming for a parent.  What else do you and your team do to make parents for comfortable with the process?

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