Student Led IEP Meetings - Why They Are Important and How To Get Started

Do you invite students to be active participants in their IEP process?  

This time of the year I am busy preparing for annual reviews.  Writing multiple IEPs is a lot of work for me, but the biggest contributors to this process are my students.  I am always so impressed by how serious my 4th grade students take this process.  Because of this process and hearing my students' voices, we have been able to create better IEPs that reflect what THEY tell us they need.

While it can be hard to believe that I include my young students in their IEP process, it can be done to varying degrees at any age!  In our district, we have students as young as kindergarten participating in their IEP process in some way.  Of course, this will look different depending on the age and developmental level of the student.  

For the most part, my fourth graders participate by working closely with me to create a presentation.  In almost every situation, my fourth graders join the Committee on Special Education (CSE) meeting to present their slide show and answer questions before heading back to the classroom.  Sometimes, students ask me to present their slide show for them.  

Why Student-Led IEPs?

* teaches advocacy skills
* students are empowered
* IEP reflects student's needs and wants

What My Students Include in Their Presentation

I created a template for my students to use when creating their presentation.  I walk them through the process and we brainstorm together a lot before they start working.  I help them out with organizing their ideas and things like spelling and mechanics.  Some of the things they talk about in their presentation are words that describe them, their favorites at school, their favorites at home, likes and dislikes, their strengths, and the things they want to get better at.

The most important part of their presentation is the goals section.  We work together to come up with three goals for their IEP.  I try to get my students to have at least two of them be school-related, but I do let them pick a goal for outside of school if they really want to.  While developing their goal, I help them come up with a plan to achieve that goal by their next annual review.  We also talk about what they will need from their team (teachers, specialists, parents, coaches, etc) to help them reach their goal. 

The goal-writing section is where I get to know my students the most.  It is also where they learn the most about themselves and how they learn best.  I have seen big moments happen while brainstorming goals and plans.  It can be such a magical time!

The Impact on IEPs

When students are involved in creating their own IEPs, the IEPs become more customized to their needs.  The IEPs become better written which leads to better services being delivered.

For example, one student had a goal to get better at answering reading comprehension questions during reading group.  His plan was to be a more active participant in the discussion.  He said that he needs his team (teachers and/or parents) to give him more wait time to process the question and formulate the answer.  Because of his participation in the creation of his IEP, we added "additional wait time" to his accommodations.  

Another student had a goal to be more focused during whole-group lessons.  His plan was to keep his eyes on the speaker.  He said that he needed his team to remind him to clear his desk and to keep his hand on top at the start of a lesson.  Because of his input, we added on-task focusing prompts to his accommodations with special instructions in the notes section.  

The Impact on Students

Self-advocacy is a life-long skill for all kids to have and it is never too early to start teaching them to be the best advocates they can be.  Part of teaching self-advocacy is teaching students about their learning differences and helping them to sort through what works for them and what does not work as well.  

Being a part of their IEP process promotes self-awareness and increases self-confidence in the school setting.  It empowers students to let their voice be heard and encourages them to use their voice to ask for the things they need in order to be successful. 

How To Get Started

I put together a start-up kit for implementing student-led IEPs with your students.  It contains answers to commonly asked questions, a guide for getting started, a guest list organizer, invitations for the students to create, and the template that I use with my own students for their presentations.

Overall, implementing student-led IEPs does not add too much time to the process and the benefits are immeasurable.  If you are nervous about trying it out, I challenge you to try it with just one student on your caseload this year.  I guarantee you will see that the extra time spent is well worth it.  Your student will become more empowered and you will be able to deliver stronger IEP.  

I'd love to answer your questions about student-led IEPs.  Feel free to email me or tag me in an instagram post!

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