Back to School: IEP paperwork organization

Updated: Aug 10

How to get yourself organized for a successful school year.


Back to School time is here and this can either bring cheers or tears for parents everywhere. When I was a kid, I loved nothing more than getting all my brand new supplies organized, labeled, and packed up in my backpack the night before school started. As a parent, it was different because I was the one paying for all those supplies! As a teacher, it was a bittersweet feeling. I knew I would miss the lazy summer days, but I was always eager to meet my new students and families.


No matter your outlook on back to school time, you'll need to get organized too. Those special education documents can pile up and get lost without some type of organization system.


To Print or Not to Print

I know this one can be a little "controversial", but I'm not here to judge. I personally hate having stacks of paper and files everywhere. On the other hand, I just do better with a paper and pencil to organize my ideas. I guess you could say I have a hybrid system. For the big stuff, I'm a digital organizer all the way. For the day to day, I gotta have the paper. I also love a paper planner because it is in my face when I sit down at my desk.


Whichever type of person you are, you'll need a system.



Binders are Brilliant

If you need everything printed, then you should definitely invest in a few heavy duty binders, dividers, and binder folders. Binders are an awesome and easy way to keep those IEPs, evaluation reports, communication logs, and notes in one easy place. Plus, it gives people the idea that you have it all together when you walk into an IEP meeting with a binder. A binder can also give you the confidence you need to advocate for your child's needs during the IEP meeting.



Consider size and quality when purchasing materials. Will the binder be your go-to guide or more like an archive? If you plan on using it regularly, splurge for a good one. Size matters too! I prefer smaller binders to archive old paperwork and have a medium size binder for regular use.


A binder can also give you the confidence you need to advocate for your child's needs during the IEP meeting.

Think about what you'll want to have access to and which sections your binder should have. I suggest you have a list of school personnel and important phone numbers at the front in a sheet protector. You'll also most likely want sections for current IEP, previous IEP, evaluations/testing, communication, progress reports, and notes. I also highly recommend getting a couple of binder folders that you can use to tuck away papers that aren't hole punched yet. I always keep a small pencil pouch with sticky notes, a few pens/pencils, highlighter, and some notebook paper or a pad of paper for taking notes during meetings or phone calls.


Digital is Dynamic

If the thought of keeping a bunch of paperwork has you feeling a little on edge, don't worry! Keeping digital records can be easy and have benefits that binders can't touch. What you'll need to decide is where to keep everything. I personally love Google Drive because you can access it from anywhere and easily create folders to keep items organized by any category that works for you. I also like to change the color of my folders and have folders within folders for better organization.




An important thing to remember to do is to actually file the documents and attachments you receive via email. There is nothing worse than trying to locate a file within your email, but not being able to remember who sent it, or what the subject is. If you can't do it right away, set aside a time to go through your emails and save the documents. Your future self will thank you. Additionally, consider putting emails in folders to keep your inbox fresh and up to date. I have a variety of email folders that I use so my inbox just has the most important or current things I need to take care of.


Another thing you will definitely want to do is create a file naming procedure or protocol. If you want to nerd out, check out this article about file naming conventions. Not everyone uses a system, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't. Just change the name while you save it.


I recommend keeping a date in the file name so you can locate the most updated version of the document. This is especially important when you have to go through multiple drafts of an IEP. You definitely want to be referencing the most current document. It isn't a bad idea to keep a folder titled draft if you want to keep those documents but not get confused.


Here's a few examples of organized file names:

2022 IEP draft v1

2022.09.15IEPfinal


If you have more than one child, organize by initials:

2022_SP_IEPv1



Caution about emails

The tricky thing about emails is how easily they can disappear. If a school staff member sends you an email about anything that might be important, you may want to consider printing it. I once worked with a district that automatically deleted staff emails after 3 months. This is documentation that can be subpoenaed but if the district deletes the emails, you still have a paper copy.


Can't decide?

If you are still on the fence, here are some pros and cons for each type of organization system.

Binder

Digital

Pros

​*Easy to maintain, you don't have to be techy *Showing up to a meeting with a binder makes a statement *You can easily annotate on any paper (highlight, take notes, underline, etc.) *Having something physical can make it more likely you'll reference and use it

*Easily searchable *Accessible wherever you go (if you have a device with you) *Save trees and space in your house *Free!

Cons

*You have to remember to bring it *Costs a little to get supplies *May get cumbersome *You may have to make copies for others, rather than email files

*Out of sight, out of mind *Need a tablet to annotate on documents (and to be a little techy) *You may need to consider additional storage if you have a lot of files. *You will still get papers from people and need to scan them in

Whatever system you choose will most likely evolve over time. You'll have to try things out to see what works for you. There is no wrong decision, except not to get organized!



Ready, Set, Organize

I hope this post inspired you to get your special education documents organized. Once you get this done, you will feel so much better. Maybe you'll want to apply these strategies to other areas of your life.

Need help getting your binder set up? Check out my free binder divider pages on the Resources page. Need more help? Contact me to schedule a FREE 30 minute consultation to see how I can help you learn to advocate for your child.

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