5 Tips for Running an Effective IEP Meeting

It's the cornerstone of our jobs. It's the basis of our instruction. It's the method of building relationships with parents.

If it's not super obvious yet...it's the IEP Meeting.

Whether you are holding less than 10 a year or your numbers fall in the upper 20's-30's or even 40 😳 (you poor thing), IEP meetings can be a constant source of overwhelm, stress and anxiety.

It's sad that college courses don't do a better job (or at all) to prep us on how to run an effective IEP meeting. There should be a whole class set aside for practice and simulations to at least give some semblance of what one will look like, but instead most special education teachers are thrown into their first meeting looking like a deer in a headlight.

I started my job in the middle of the school year, and bless her heart, my Principal would not let me run an IEP meeting. She had me sit in with the other special educator in the building and just watch. When the next school year rolled around, I was somewhat prepared but I'll admit...I held some pretty cringe-worthy IEP meetings back in the day. In addition, I have been in on some pretty bad meetings within my district where I just wanted to take the reins and help the poor soul out.

I feel like it's just something we all will go through and it's ok. The parents will be forgiving, you aren't going to get fired over it and the instruction you give to the student will not be representative of your bad meeting. 

But when we know better, we do better, so let's learn 5 tips for running an effective meeting.

Before we start in with the tips, I want to clearly communicate the #1 way to run an effective IEP meeting. It's not an actual 'tip' because it is a non-negotiable.

 Act Professionally

Every tip below falls under this one over-arching concept. If you show up on time, look nice, are organized and act in a professional manner with a sense of confidence, your parents will come to know, like and trust you and the decisions you are making on behalf of their child.

Tip 1: Pre-Conference with Team Members

This is a 3 part necessity. Your IEP meetings will run more quickly and more smoothly if you talk to the involved parties before hand. Be sure to talk to the regular education teacher(s), the parents and most importantly the student. 

Collaborating with general education teachers can provide insight into what accommodations or modifications need to be made to help the student be successful in their classroom.  

One of the best ways to develop a strong working relationship with the parents of the students you serve is to build that relationship from day one. This parent handbook outlines the processes and procedures for placement into special education and provides parents with something concrete they can take home. Also included are forms that help parents be an active participant in their child's IEP meetings.

And last, but definitely not least, get input from the child.  The easiest way to do this is to just have a conversation with the child to get an idea of likes and dislikes. This is the best method for your younger students. For older kids, using surveys, questionnaires or inventories are easy ways to get the information you need. 

Tip 2: Get Organized

This cannot be stressed enough. There is nothing more embarrassing than walking into a meeting unprepared with missing documentation, mistakes in your paperwork or looking frazzled (trust me...I would know..I've made these errors several times in my career).

While the parents and administration will most likely overlook your mistakes, it makes you will look highly unprofessional.

Take time before the meeting to make sure you are truly prepared. Use some type of checklist or organize your file and make sure you have all the necessary forms. Organize your paperwork in such a way that lends itself to easily follow along with the meeting. 

Also, check over the IEP for mistakes. And then check it again. I'll admit...I hate this part because it's tedious and there are only so many hours in a day. But I've come to realize that I'm not the perfect typist that I think I am and I work so fast that I do make mistakes. Look for spelling and grammatical errors but also make sure you haven't accidentally copied and pasted a sentence that has another child's name in it. Not only is it embarrassing but it's a violation of confidentiality of the other student.

Tip 3: Have an Agenda

Not all IEP meetings are the same, but usually they follow the format of the IEP document. Therefore, most meetings have a similar agenda. 

You can find a sample agenda in this FREE special education resource library but if you don't find this form to work for you and your department, feel free to edit it to make it work for you.

Whatever agenda you use make sure that introductions happen first and foremost. Don't take for granted that the parents know who everyone is. Even if you know for a fact that they have met someone before, it's best practice to reintroduce everyone and have them state their role at the meeting.

Having an agenda keeps everyone on the same page. You can have one printed and hand it out at the beginning of the meeting, just keep one for yourself to follow or do what I do and have it posted on the bulletin board in the conference room.

Tip 4: Focus on the Family

It's important to not get caught up in the process and forget who the IEP is all about. To a family, even one whose child has been in special education for a long time, an IEP meeting can be emotional and often overwhelming.  Pay attention to how the family is doing.  Do they seem like they clearly understand what is being said?  If not, stop and see if they have questions.  Give them an opportunity to take a break.  We throw a lot of information (and paper) at them during a meeting and asking them to process it all immediately is difficult.  Sending drafts home before hand can help this, but it’s important to give them an opportunity to talk about goals and objectives that are proposed, discuss services and what they will look like for their child, and ask questions that occur to them–even if they were about something we talked about 15 minutes ago.  

Another way to ensure that you are focusing on the family is to stay in a positive frame of reference at all times. Remember the whole reason a student is having an IEP meeting to begin with is because they have a disability of some kind. Whether it be in reading, math, writing, speech/language, cognition, behavior, or social interaction, there is going to be a lot of talk about what the child is struggling with. This is why it’s so important to start with positive statements, come back to positive statements and then end with positive statements. It could be anything from what a joy the child is to teach to how hard she works or to how seeing him each morning starts one’s day off right. You can brag about the child’s great smile, their eagerness to help out or what they excel at. You might also talk about how the student is well liked or how he gets along well with others. Many parents of children with a disability want more than anything to know their child has friends. Reassuring parents that other students are being kind to their child helps set their mind at ease. Words of affirmation are powerful and get the meeting off to a feel good start. Make it happen!

Tip 5: Follow-thru and Follow-up

Sometimes, the parents will ask for certain things to happen within their child's program. They might ask for a set of sight word flashcards or homework to be sent home. They could ask for an OT or PT evaluation or they might ask for help completing outside agency paperwork. Whatever it might be, make sure to follow through with their requests. Not doing so will cause a loss of trust.

In addition, the annual IEP meeting should not be the only the contact you have with a parent throughout a school year. Follow-up with the family on a regular basis. While federal regulations require a yearly check-in, a student may be more likely to make progress if their teacher, specialist, and family are continually updating one another. Ask parents what their preferred method of communication is and then make it happen. Working hard to build a partnership with the family will pay off tremendously in terms of support during the duration of your professional relationship.

So those are my 5 top tips, but surely there are others that are equally as important. Please share your favorite IEP meeting tips in the comments!!


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P.S.  Need help learning how to build a relationship with your paraprofessionals? Get the free 10 Steps to Building a Cohesive Special Education Department

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