IEP Meetings Gone Wrong: 5 Fixable Mistakes

Thinking back to my first years as a special educator makes my heart rate go up. I wish I could go back and apologize to the parents for holding such cringe worthy IEP meetings.

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I've found throughout the years that there is a craft to holding a highly successful, smooth-flowing, productive IEP meeting and I feel like I am getting about as close as I can get to achieving that elusive unicorn.

It’s entirely possible, and maybe even highly likely that you have in fact held one of the IEP meetings I’m about to discuss. I know I've held my fair share of most of them. But guess what? 

It’s fine. You’re fine. The parents are fine. The child is fine.

When we know better, we do better and my job today is to help you know better because I want you have the knowledge in your toolbox to not make the same mistakes over and over.

IEP Meeting Mistake #1: The overly specific or too generalized meeting

The first type of mistake special education teachers make is being too extreme on different ends of the spectrum. It’s neither good to be too specific OR too generalized. Let me give you an example. I received an IEP from another state and they included in the IEP that the child would be taught using the Red Reading Milestones Series. That is a very specific program and luckily my district did happen to have this program and I was able to get my hands on it, but what if I hadn’t been able to? Then my IEP would have been out of compliance.

You should never ever ever write specific programs into the wording of your IEP.

And then you can go to the opposite end which is being too generalized. I have also received this information for a student:  “Sara is behind her peers in reading and needs to improve.” 

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Needless to say, in both instances, a new meeting needed to be held right away to rewrite the IEP.

IEP Meeting Mistake #2: The deficit heavy meeting

Pump the breaks on the negativity. I mean, you know why a child has an IEP. The teachers know why the child has an IEP and your administrator should know why the child has an IEP.


Your parents very possibly DON'T. Being in a formal meeting with a bunch of educators, related service providers and administrators for the school can be a very overwhelming situation for a parent, especially if it is a new placement.

For you, it’s just another Monday.

Put yourself in their come into an uncomfortable situation AND THEN hear negative comment after negative comment about your child...year hear what they cannot do compared to what their peers can do. It can all be too much.

I suggest that for every deficit you plan on discussing, that you have at least 2 lead comments (or positives) that you can bring up. If it is a continuing IEP meeting, focus more on the skills they have gained over they past year and the progress they have made. I promise you, parents will trust you and have a better relationship with you when they know you see their child as one with potential and not a lost cause. 

IEP Meeting Mistake #3: The never-ending meeting

This one can be brutal. It's where the special education teacher goes over the IEP word by word basically reading the 20 page document to the parents.

Can I just say “Ugh”.

Ain’t no one got time for that business. Not the parents, not the general education teacher and definitely not have some kids to teach! And, IEP meetings that drag on for hours at a time can often be more counterproductive than productive.

I have been doing this job for 26 years now and I have NEVER seen a federal mandate saying a special education teacher has to go over the IEP word for word, line by line.

Don’t get me wrong..there are statements that should be made directly, such as what services will be provided, but it will serve everyone on the IEP team so much better if you can get really good at summarizing the information and presenting it to the parents through a conversation and not just reading it to them.

A warning though...don’t let this slide the other way, where you just touch on each present level and call it good.  That’s not in anyone’s best interest either. 

Most of my IEP’s tend to lean towards the 30-45 minute mark, longer if they need to be translated. And this is for an annual, continuing IEP. Of course a new placement will take longer because you are going over extensive testing but for an annual...try your best to get that parent out of there within an hour. 

So you might be asking, is there a way to avoid the never-ending IEP meeting? Glad you asked. That leads me to #4.

IEP Meeting Mistake #4: Failure to Prepare

Ideally, you should have done most of the work up front by talking to gen ed teachers, parents and the students about what will be included in the IEP. In the Sped Prep Academy Resource Library, you can find forms, questionnaires and surveys to give to the different individuals that help you obtain this information. Talk to your students about their likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses...I mean isn’t this the whole make it individualized to the child. Who better to tell you about the child than the child themselves. So make sure you don’t miss this step. If you want access to the forms you can get them for free at (all one word)

Another way I make sure I’m prepared for the meeting is to use a checklist. Our district provides us with a checklist for when we turn our paperwork into district office. I use that same checklist before walking into a meeting to make sure I have everything I need. I still after all these years make mistakes (like the other day I took Vietnamese rights instead of Spanish) but having that checklist makes me feel secure in the fact that I didn’t completely forget something. 

You also want to make sure and edit your IEP before the meeting. Having the wrong name within the body of the IEP does not look too good and I will admit this has happened to me. It’s nothing you can’t cross out and fix and apologize for but it looks really unprofessional to the parents and your admin when it happens.

And IEP Meeting Mistake #5: The Revolving Door

This one does not happen at my school because my administrators have done a dang good job of clearly communicating to the teachers that they are a Federally required part of the IEP process, but by reading threads on social media, this mistake does happen so I wanted to address it.

The “revolving door IEP” is where one teacher comes in, gives a report, and leaves. Then another teacher comes in, gives a report, and leaves. Or the administrator gets up and excuses herself unexpectedly. Or a related service provider states that she can only stay for 10 minutes and then must get to another meeting and so on and so on.

No one stays for the entire meeting, except for the special education teacher. I’ve heard This happens more often at the secondary level but either way, it is a mistake.

By law, school officials must ensure all relevant participants attend the IEP meeting. Typically this includes parents, the special education teacher, a general education teacher and an administrator. If the child has any related services, those individuals should be there as well. If the child was just tested and is being placed for the first time, it may also include a school psychologist or psychometrist.

Not having the individuals stay for the entire meeting is a violation of Federal law and specific forms will need to be completed and signed by the parent if they absolutely had to leave. 

So what's the solution?

Make it clear up front that all required team members should stay for the entire duration of the IEP meeting and that it is integral to the success of the IEP process. If a child has multiple teachers and can’t all attend the IEP meeting, they should provide a written report to be given by one classroom teacher representative.

Your administrator should make it clear to classroom teachers that leaving an IEP is not acceptable.  It’s human nature to continue to do what you have been allowed to do and so this might be a hard habit to break in your building. But by working with your admin in making it a non-negotiable, your teachers will be more likely to stay which allows you to be in compliance with federal regulations.

So there you have it…. The 5 IEP Meeting mistakes and how to overcome each one. 

Remember... holding a "bad" IEP meeting does not mean you are a "bad" teacher. It most likely means that you were not taught how to hold a highly effective meeting and therefore didn't know that what you were doing was wrong.

Make sure you head over to where you can get access to those forms and so much more. 

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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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