Engaging Families During Individual Education Plan Meetings

By Jennifer Krystopowicz February 13th, 2014 11:10 AM

Fear. Dread. Anxiety. Confusion. These are emotions that some parents or guardians of students with special needs feel during their child’s individual education program (IEP) meeting. As a special education teacher, it is my responsibility to ensure that parents do not experience such apprehension because they are the driving force when it comes to supporting their child’s education. Having conducted over 90 individual education program meetings in DCPS, I would estimate that my last 40 meetings were most effective in terms of fully engaging participating parents or guardians. If I could go back in time and redo the other 50 meetings, I would incorporate the following guidelines to ensure a successful meeting with all family participants.

Before the Meeting:

  1. Before creating the letter of invitation, ask the parents or guardians what date and time is convenient for them to attend the meeting. In my experience, when they have the option to select a date based on their availability, they are more likely to attend.
  2. A week before the meeting, send home a rough draft of potential goals that you are considering to include in the IEP. This will give the parents or guardians a chance to understand and process what their child is learning and how their child will reach mastery. It also gives the parents or guardians the opportunity to prepare any questions they may have surrounding their child’s goals.

Draft Goals List

During the Meeting:

  1. Always begin the meeting by having every participant, including parents or guardians, share a positive comment about the student. This releases tension from those parents or guardians who view IEP meetings to be a stressful situation. My Special Education Coordinator does a wonderful job at this, always opening meetings with encouraging words about the student. For example, you can say “Maya is a self-starter who takes pride in her work,” or “Nicholas is a hard worker who always wants to help other students.”
  2. Sometimes, acronyms can be very daunting to parents and make them hesitant to engage in the information when they do not understand what the terms stand for.  When presenting the “Present Levels of Performance” to parents or guardians, take the time to translate what the TRC, Dibels, DRA, BIP, 504 etc. terminologies actually mean. It is essential to break down the scores into simple forms so parents or guardians have a full understanding of where their child stands both socially and academically. For example, don’t just tell parents or guardians that their child is reading on a level C. Tell them that their child is reading at the Kindergarten level and what those reading behaviors look like.
  3. After presenting each section of goals, ask the parents or guardians if they agree with the goals, would like to add anything, or if they have any questions. This will open the door for conversation and provide an opportunity for those parents or guardians who are hesitant to ask questions the time to do so.
  4. After you have covered all goals and sections of the IEP, offer a few suggestions about what the parents or guardians can do at home to support the child in mastering their goals. This enables parents or guardians to become an active participant in their child’s IEP. This is crucial because students with disabilities are already behind in academic areas and need all the reinforcement they can get to achieve academic success.
  5. At the conclusion of the meeting, express your appreciation to the parents or guardians for attending the meeting and supporting their child’s progress. It’s just as important to end the meeting on a good note as it is to start it!

After the Meeting:

  1. Keep open communication with the parents or guardians. Ask them how they are doing when it comes to supporting their child with their goals at home. Ask them if they need more ideas or suggestions.
  2. Celebrate success! Let the parents or guardians know when their child has mastered a goal. This can be done through a simple text, letter home, or phone call depending on the method of communication the parent prefers.

I am confident that this list will continue to grow over the years; however, these practices have enabled my parents to feel confident and fully engaged when attending an IEP meeting. A successful meeting occurs when the parents or guardians walk away knowing that the success of their child is a team effort and they are fully supported by the school to drive achievement.

Jennifer Krystopowicz is a special education teacher at Tyler Elementary School.

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