4 Suggestions for a Better IEP Meeting

If you’ve spent more than 5 minutes with me around IEP time, you know this process is the bane of my existence.  It starts with a fundamental dismay that I must fight for my daughter to have the basic right to an education that my son will be granted without question.  But that’s a post for another day.

Today I just want to talk about the inefficiencies that, if addressed, could make this process a whole lot less frustrating.  Today I present to you 4 suggestions for a better IEP meeting.  (Note: If you work in corporate America, you’ll notice a few – OK, 4 – similarities to the makings of a good business meeting.)

Now I’m not claiming to speak on behalf of anyone here but myself.  But if I could manage the process, here are just a few things I’d suggest the school do differently:

1. Share the IEP with the parents ahead of time. In my experience,  the plan is created behind the scenes beforehand without input from one key team member – me.

That’s totally fine – in fact, that’s what I would expect.  The problem (again, in my experience) is that there’s no pre-read.  It’s presented live at the meeting without adequate time for me, as the parent, to prepare and respond intelligently.  I’m thrown a ton of information – and usually a curveball a two – then left to go off and think about it.  Year after year, I’ve had to reconvene the team to discuss.

Now hold up.  At work, I don’t go into a meeting to present something I haven’t already sent to my business partner in advance.  It’s common sense to give the person on the other end of the table time to review and formulate questions, because ultimately, it makes for a more productive conversation.  (Not to mention it saves customer dollars.)  Ideally a single productive conversation rather than two or more.

The school doesn’t like having to reconvene.  Nor do I.

They also don’t like extra paperwork.  And I don’t like having to leave work multiple times, especially knowing my tax dollars are going to inefficient meetings.  Going forward, I’d love to see us all save time and money by sharing the proposed plan with parents a week or so ahead of time.

2. Use real words. I write for a living so I guess I shouldn’t expect everyone to understand this as gospel but it seems like it should just be common sense: use language that everyone understands.  All you parents out there know what I’m talking about.  My favorite term is “scaffolding”… My kid can accomplish XYZ goal, but with lots of “scaffolding.”  That means help.  JUST SAY HELP.  Half the reason for my number 1 suggestion is so I have time to figure out number 2.

3. Make it user-friendly. This is closely related to #2.  I have to bring in people I happen to know from the outside to help me navigate the language, the law, and the process because it is so complicated. I bring experts (several experts) with me to these meetings to act as a translator and speak on my behalf.

Essentially I’m walking into these meetings automatically on the defensive because I can’t communicate with these people without a translator.  Because I don’t have a masters degree in special education.

I do have a masters degree, though.

In Communication.

Which brings me to…

4. Simplify, simplify, simplify. There is so much waste and re-work in this process – and that’s just from my perspective.  Where my Lean friends at?  Let’s start process-mapping this bad boy and make everyone’s lives easier.

My girl’s second grade year is off to an amazing start, having had a couple pleasant surprises already in our first week.  Here’s hoping we end it the same way during our IEP season in the spring.

Happy advocating!

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