I.E.P.[Individualized Education Program] meetings/conferences are places when emotions run high and tempers may flare. What should be a constructive respectful conversation between key team members, can end up sounding like a shouting contest. No one wants to listen; just talk-dictation, in fact.There is a lot of unfamiliar jargon, educator-speak, and talking that seems words are coming at you instead of coming to you. No two-way communication. There is scarcely any time in this discussion when the ‘professionals’ and ‘experts’ stop to ensure you understand what is going on. It IS your child and you, too, are an expert with valuable knowledge to share and questions to ask.
You may object to something being said, need further explanation, or wish to see the evidence that supports determinations regarding your child’s mandated or recommended services. As your child’s advocate, an expert in your own rights, you must speak up. Parents are equal members of the IEP team, and therefore should be heard. You have a voice. So, respectfully exercise it. Whether you are English language proficient or possess limited grasp of the language, your voice matters. If translation services are needed, insist.
Make sure that you understand all that’s being discussed, and the relevance to your child’s education. Don’t leave meetings confused, and don’t let anyone else exit the meeting with you not fully understanding, in laymen’s terms, what’s been said. Never leave a meeting filled with anger or confused, either. Here are a few phrases to help to ensure that you are respected, valued, consulted, and heard while defusing any tension in the room:
#1 ” I can show you!”
If anyone attempts to derail the conversation by telling you that they aren’t sure where your information is coming from, show him/her.
Example: “I’ve highlighted that information in the text of my progress notes. I can show each member of this team, and you will receive a copy, as well.”
#2 ” I may be misunderstanding”
IEP meetings can get heated when there is disagreement about interpreting test results and laws. It can be diffused by taking a step back and allowing the school to explain its position. However, if you are certain that you are correct, just relax, you’ll get your chance to say so.
Example: “I may be misunderstanding this. Can you show me a clear interpretation of that law? Here’s what I have with me that speaks to that issue.”
#3 ” How can we work together to make this happen?”
Hearing someone at your child’s school tell you it doesn’t provide a certain service can be frustrating. Or they tell you that there is no staff to implement it. The law is on your side, so it is best to focus on collaboration-working together to accomplish IEP goals.
Example: “How can we work together to make this happen? Legally, educational related services must meet my child’s individual needs and this service is recommended.”
#4 “May I see a written copy of this policy?”
A school staff may say to you: “this is how we’ve always done things.” Well, that doesn’t mean that it is a policy. Ask to see it in writing that this IS how they handle situations.
Example: “I understand this is how you do things, but may I see a copy of this policy that outlines the procedure?”
#5 “I understand”
This simple phrase can calm a heated discussion in so many situations. Saying this is not the same thing as saying,” I agree”. It just means that you acknowledge hearing what was said.
Example: ” I understand that you have another meeting beginning in 10 minutes. However, while we are here now, is it possible to schedule a time to continue this conversation in the near future?”
#6 ” I’ve noticed…”
Since parents are key members of he IEP team, if you feel your concerns aren’t being heard, pause, take a deep breath and then very calmly speak up. Be specific about what you know and see in your child.
Example: “I’ve noticed that towards the end of the day, my child is unable to focus on her/his homework without getting frustrated. Can we talk about how to make it less frustrating for my child?”
#7 “Shall we talk about what is working?”
It can seem as though an IEP meeting is a lengthy discussion centered on what’s wrong. It doesn’t have to be. You can shift the focus onto what is going well-what works. In fact, with this in the fore, you can discover ways to ensure a continuation of progress and also address other related issues.
Example: ” Let’s talk about what’s working. Maybe some of those difficult troublesome areas can be addressed and helped by exploring some of the identified strengths and effective strategies already in place.”
IEP meetings/conferences don’t have to be a gathering of opposing mindsets in which collaborative consultation is impossible. Every member of the team, including the parents and the child should be on the same page, with the same objective-to maximize learning progress and ensure, comprehensively, the development of total wellness and optimal academic achievement of your child. You can be a confident and effective advocate for your child at school, home and in the community. Be that person!
It is vital that you keep a ‘cool’ head should others lose theirs. Maintain self-control, stay calm and articulate your thoughts as clearly as you can. Mutual respect should be the framework within which these conferences are conducted. However, if tempers do flair up, and there are any perceived ‘bad guys’ at these meetings, let it be the other person- not you. Be the ‘good guy’ for your child, for it isn’t about you nor staff; it is about doing what’s best for your child, and ensuring your child receives services that address their learning needs according to IEP mandates. It’s about achievement!