This is the first post in a series on what to do before, during, and after an IEP meeting. This covers the what to do before an IEP meeting happens. We will soon share tips for what to do during and after IEP meetings.
Preparing for an IEP meeting can be difficult. If it is your first IEP meeting ever, or the first in a new school, you are probably focused on the people who may be there, processes the school has in place for IEPs, or trying to balance the meaning of every component of an IEP with expressing your child’s needs clearly. We want to ensure that you are focused and ready with minimal stress possible.
There is no perfect way to prepare for an IEP, but you can employ best practices to build your way to a successful IEP meeting. To pull it off, we want you to remember FICK! Yes, you can remember that it’s our name, but we’ve identified four easy to remember guidelines for your IEP prep.
FICK IEP Preparation Guide:
F – File gathering.
This should be done on a continuous basis, of course, but good IEP prep begins with gathering and review files on your child’s academic journey. This should include previous years’ IEPs, and it’s reasonable to annotate and highlight any key findings from those IEPs. (Were academic goals met? Was there an adequate level of progress? Did the district fulfill their obligations? Have there been any major changes?) Keep in mind that students may be seeing new teachers each year, and it’s always better to have more context you can bring into the meeting.
Apart from IEPs, consider academic transcripts a key file to gather in your IEP prep. Quantifiable data in hand can help you keep a good focus during meeting day. Don’t shy away from the negatives, either; include any written disciplinary records related to issues that may be addressed during an IEP. Finally, consider filing away any key communications from the academic and school team. This might include progress reports emailed to you, correspondence about the details and process of the IEP meeting, or conversations with an advocate regarding the IEP meeting.
It’s never to early to be prepared, and impossible to be over-prepared. Remember to gather files and records that might help you during an IEP, but also to review and mark them for use in an IEP meeting. For example, a sticky note on the page of last year’s IEP containing the child’s accommodations will show you take the process seriously and are ready to ensure that portion of the IEP gets the attention it needs.
I – Itemizing and Prioritizing
Our “I” flows naturally from the first. This is essentially you formulating your plan and goals for the IEP meeting. Itemizing and prioritizing involves both literal and mental organization, but I encourage you to physically prioritize what you bring to the IEP. Align your physicial itemization with your mental itemization of goals for the meeting.
Ask yourself: “What is the one thing above all that I want this IEP to achieve for my child?” That should hit #1 on your list to address during an IEP meeting. Then ask the follow up: “What obstacles need to be overcome or what steps need to be taken to reach that goal?” The answer to that question will be the following priorities for you during the IEP meeting. Continue the cycle of what goal you’d like to see achieved for your child followed by the how to achieve that goal. Soon, you will have an itemized list of priorities to discuss during your IEP.
Keep in mind that an IEP serves to formulate a plan for your child, so there may be some complicated answers on how your child will achieve their goals. It helps to share this itemization and prioritization with the IEP team at the school. They’ll have a better idea how to prepare for the IEP and have a more clear view of the type of parent you are; that is, a parent who is highly involved in helping their children succeed.
C – Communicating Expectations
Again, the segue from Itemizing and Prioritizing here is clear: once you know your goal, contexts, concerns, and ideals for the IEP meeting, share it with the rest of the IEP team. Nobody wants the day of the meeting to be full of surprises, and not addressing concerns or questions before an IEP meeting takes time away that could have been used for planning and strategizing to help your child succeed. Communicating expectations serves to get everyone on the same page regarding goals and components of the IEP.
It is also helpful to communicate expectations on the meeting itself. Make sure you understand the time frame and location clearly, especially with virtual meetings becoming more and more common. Share with the team if you intend to include your child at the IEP meeting itself, and if yes, decide how much of the meeting you would like your child to be present for. Additionally, if you are bringing an advocate to the meeting, I recommend communicating this as early as possible!
A key way to ensure reciprocal communication is to ask for a draft of the IEP as well as an agenda as far in advance of the meeting as possible. It seems almost obvious, but don’t be afraid to take this important step! Again, the goal of the IEP meeting is to plan and strategize on how to achieve the laid out goals for your child. If you have access to a draft of the IEP even a week before the meeting, you can nip issues in the bud or rearrange your priorities heading into the meeting. (Plus, you’ll spend less time familiarizing yourself with the IEP.)
K – Know who will be present
Another tip that sounds simple, but is especially important for new schools or first time IEPs. Ask which teachers, counselors, school psychologists, or faculty are joining and when. Make sure you are familiar with everyone’s role in your child’s education. Every person should have a role at the IEP, and knowing the context in which they interact with your child will help you ensure that their roles and responsibilities in the coming year are clear. This will also help you understand the flow of the conversation better and not feel surprised due to an unexpected participant in the meeting.
It also may be just as beneficial to know who is NOT going to be present. Teachers highly involved in your child’s education should be present, but it may not always be possible, especially as your child gets older and has different instructors for each subject. For teachers who will not be present at the IEP meeting, it is important that there is a process in place to ensure they will be able to understand and execute the specifications of the IEP. Add that to your list of priority goals if that’s the case.
Remembering FICK is key! Now that you’ve pulled the Files you need, Itemized and prioritized your goals for the meetings, Communicated your needs, and Know who is involved in the IEP process, you should feel ready to attend this big meeting. Keep in mind that not evey IEP situation is identical, and you may find some of this guidelines need a bit more fleshing out, or perhaps you already feel prepared on some of these points. Above all, the goal of IEP prep should be that you feel comfortable and capable enough to walk into the meeting and determine how your child will achieve that their highest level for the next year.
Part two in the series will focus on what to do during an IEP meeting for the highest success possible. If you have questions about your specific IEP situation, call or email us anytime: firstname.lastname@example.org or (610)457-2199.