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- Do IEP Meetings Scare You?
You are not alone...how to conquer the IEP meeting scaries. Prepare Yourself Knowledge is power and you need all the confidence you can muster up before entering an IEP meeting. Make sure you have plenty of time scheduled in your day for the meeting so you have time to prepare before the meeting starts and debrief afterwards. Take time in the days leading up to the meeting to get organized. If your meeting is in person, I highly recommend creating a binder with past IEPs, progress on goals, test results, etc to bring with you to the meeting. See my post about organization for more tips. I always ask the IEP team to provide drafts of assessment reports, and specific parts of the IEP ahead of time, especially when the meeting is virtual. The law doesn't require schools to comply with the request, but it doesn't hurt to ask. If you have time to review those items before the meeting starts, you will be able to process the information and formulate questions about it. Technically, an IEP should be developed by the team, but the present levels of performance and drafts of the proposed goals could be sent to you ahead of time. Make sure you ask the team for these documents well ahead of the meeting so they have a heads up that they will need to complete them and send them to you with enough time for you to review. Even if they refuse to send them to you early, they should have the capability of sending you drafts of the documents they are presenting (during virtual meetings) on the screen so that you can look at it. This gives you the ability to flip back and forth between pages, or even print them out so you can take notes and refer to previous sections during your discussions. Ask Questions Even though sitting at a table full of professionals may be daunting, it is important that you ask questions when you don't understand. You will be hearing jargon and acronyms that you aren't familiar with and you will be processing a lot of information that is new to you. The professionals at the IEP often forget that parents don't have the same base of academic knowledge that they do and often rush through meetings without even checking with parents. Whoever is moderating the meeting should stop frequently and ask you if you have questions. If they don't, stop them and ask for clarification. Keep a notepad of questions that you want answered before the meeting even starts and add to it as the meeting progresses. You shouldn't sign anything unless you fully understand everything on the IEP. Asking questions can also be a great tactic when a district isn't giving your child what they need. Try asking questions about the service, program, or accommodation and let them explain what it is, how it works, and why it is or isn't appropriate for your child. For example, you want a reading program that is researched based and is proven to work with students with dyslexia. Instead of demanding, ask questions: What reading program(s) is the teacher trained to use? What does the research say about it's effectiveness for students with dyslexia? Are there other programs that the district has that could be more appropriate for your child? Can you explain that a little further? Record Everything Recording an IEP meeting is a very helpful strategy. It gives you the ability to be present and fully focused during the meeting, knowing you can review it afterwards. It may also help when disputes arise. Check your state's laws about recording before you do anything. Many school districts have different policies about recording IEP meetings, so check with the school first. In California, for example, all parties being recorded must consent to it. Some school districts require 24 hour written notice before you can record a meeting. With the capabilities of video conferencing, you must also check with the school about recording the meeting via Zoom, Google Meets, or other systems. If you can't record, take detailed notes. Always follow up a conversation with an email recapping what was discussed. This gives you a paper trail that could come in handy. Don't Feel Pressured to Consent You absolutely are not required to provide consent to the IEP at the meeting. Many times, you will be asked to sign a section indicating that you participated in the meeting, which is fine. Just make sure you take home the entire document to review carefully. Make sure you understand everything, and if you don't, ask questions. Additionally, you can consent to parts of the IEP while the disputed parts are considered. Just make sure to note the exceptions to your consent. It is also a good idea to have a second set of eyes review the document, which a trained advocate can do as well. Bring an Advocate If you feel overwhelmed at the prospect of navigating the IEP process alone, get in touch with an advocate. A great advocate should provide some peace of mind for you that your child's IEP meeting will be more productive and result in a good plan for your child. You have the right to bring anyone to an IEP meeting as a support for you. It is very helpful to have someone with you to take notes, keep lists of action items, and questions that come up during the meeting. It is also so important to have someone to debrief with after the meeting, and it is especially helpful when that person was there with you. For more information about how an advocate can help, reach out for a free 30 minute consultation.
- Building Bridges
How to have a positive working relationship with your child's school Win-Win Situation Isn't this what we all want? Building a strong relationship with your child's school not only makes your life easier, it has critical benefits for your child. When your child sees all the adults working together productively and respectfully, they will feel more positive about going to school. Other benefits for your child include: positive model for relationships how to be respectful to others increased academic gains increased social-emotional well being positive classroom environment But what's in it for you? You will feel more comfortable being in the school environment, meetings will be less stressful, and you'll be able to communicate more effectively and efficiently when there is a problem. Get Involved I know parents are busy and have full plates, but finding ways to get involved with your child's school will make a huge impact. Even if you work a full time job, find ways to support the school and your child's educators. You may not be able to volunteer in the classroom, but I would bet that the teacher would appreciate donations of supplies for the classroom. When I was a teacher, I had a wonderful parent who would pick up random supplies such as glue sticks, markers, or even tissue for the classroom each time she went to Target. It was such a small gesture, but made such a difference. If you can volunteer in the classroom, there are so many ways to help out. Going on field trips is fun and helps teachers have a smooth day. Small tasks such as laminating, stapling, or cutting are things you can do at home while watching your favorite show. If you have more time, ask the teacher how you can help. If you are crafty, maybe you can change a bulletin board once a month or even come in and do a read aloud once a week. These things will free up a teacher's time so they can focus on other tasks. Another important thing to consider is how to get involved at the school level. Chances are you have some pretty awesome skills that your school community can use. There are many people working behind the scenes to make a school run well and build a positive community: participate in fundraisers join the PTA/PTO volunteer for school events and assemblies ask the principal how you can help participate in school events volunteer in the school library 2-4-6-8...Who do we appreciate? If you have been hearing about teacher shortages in the news lately, you can probably guess that teachers are leaving because they feel unappreciated. Showing your appreciation doesn't have to cost a ton of money. Of course, everyone loves getting gifts, but honestly appreciation should happen more often than once a year. Once in a while, bring your child's teacher and support staff their favorite drink or snack. Send them a note or card telling them how much you appreciate their efforts. If they are truly doing a great job, write a letter to their principal. The cost is zero, but the rewards are huge. Wouldn't you love your boss to hear how great you are? At IEP meetings, don't forget to thank everyone for their efforts in working with your child. Be sincere and specific to make the most impact. You don't have to bring donuts to a meeting, but definitely bring your kind words. In most cases, the professionals working with your child have positive intentions and do work hard to help them grow. Be Cool Things don't always go as expected and people make mistakes. When you feel yourself getting fired up about something that happens (or isn't happening) at school, take a minute to collect yourself. Never shoot off a scathing email without giving yourself a cooling off period. Take a walk, call a friend (or your advocate), get some exercise, or sleep on it. If you are able to compose a calm and measured response to an issue, the chances of getting it resolved are much higher. Don't threaten and don't use emotion. Be clear, concise, and ask for clarification. It is also a good idea to have someone else read your letter first. If you happen to be having a concern at a meeting or in a real time conversation and find yourself getting upset, excuse yourself to collect your thoughts. Go to the restroom, take some breaths or a quick walk outside. You are allowed to ask for time to consider and reflect. If your advocate is with you, have a signal to let them know that you are becoming upset. If you have to table a meeting because it is going nowhere, do it. Take some time to regroup, gather your thoughts, and take some notes about your concerns. If you are talking on the phone, don't be afraid to tell the person you need to call them back. Again, document your concerns and call back when you are ready. For more information about how to build positive relationships, check out this article. It also includes key information about how to communicate with your child's school. As always, if you have concerns that you don't think you can address on your own, contact me for a free consultation.
- SMART goals
Why your child's IEP should contain SMART goals What is a SMART goal? Specific Any goal worth having needs to be specific. The only way to work efficiently toward a goal is to have a specific goal in mind. I'm sure we are all guilty of setting goals that are too vague to be accomplished. My New Year's Resolutions were the worst! How many of us have set a goal like "get healthy". It's a good idea to be healthy, but what exactly does that mean? What does it look or feel like to be healthy? It is the same with IEP goals. Your child and their team need to know specifically what to work on. You can't simply state that you want your child to read at grade level. This goal just isn't specific enough. As a former elementary teacher, that can mean so many things. Do you want the child to read at a specific rate, accuracy, or with comprehension? The other pitfall with "grade level" goals are that so much growth happens in a year that a 2nd grader in September is a much different reader than a 2nd grader in May. A SMART goal can help narrow down a broad goal. Measurable Having a specific goal is a great step in the right direction, but now it must be measurable. What will it look like or sound like to accomplish this goal. How will you know the child has attained the goal. If this was our "be healthy" goal, we might be setting a few benchmarks to determine if we have achieved it. It could mean you lower your blood pressure by a certain number of points, which is something that can actually be measured. It is the same with IEP goals. A goal that doesn't include language that is measurable won't be able to be achieved. It must include criteria for how the data will be collected in order to measure the student's progress on the goal. Attainable or Action I have heard two different explanations of the A in SMART goal and I think they both apply. First, a goal should be attainable. In terms of my health goal, I know I will never be a professional soccer player, so that isn't an attainable goal. However, I could set a goal to be in good enough shape to play a 90 minute game without collapsing. Creating an attainable goal is tricky business. I am a huge believer in having big goals. I would never write an IEP goal that is easy to attain, just to have something to brag about in a year. I would much rather report that a big goal is almost achieved, than to report that an easy goal was achieved. When you have high expectations for students, you'll consistently be amazed at what they can accomplish. The other A in SMART refers to action words. The goal should be something you can observe and should include verbs that refer to the direction (increase, decrease, etc.) you want to see the action move toward. Relevant Having a relevant goal is sometimes undervalued. I have seen my share of irrelevant IEP goals that are a waste of time. Certainly, my health goal is relevant to me because I want to live a long and happy life. However, since goals aren't written about every single thing a child can learn in school, it is important to focus on the most relevant goals that will help the child lead a productive and meaningful life. I once got into a debate with a teacher about including a goal for reading an analog clock. It was a goal that the student had the previous year and hadn't mastered it, so it was going to be included in the future IEP. I asked the family if they had any analog clocks in their home, and after some thought, they concluded that there wasn't one single analog clock in their home. Why would it be relevant to waste more time teaching a child to read an analog clock, when that time could be spent learning another skill such as determining elapsed time on a digital clock? I try to envision how the proposed goal will build on future and past skills that will be beneficial for an adult to have. If the goal can not build upon current skills and lead to important skills a child needs to have in order to be successful in school and adulthood, then it might not be relevant. Timely This one is pretty simple, as it pertains to a time frame that the goal is to be achieved within. Most IEP goals are set for one year, with benchmarks and progress reported 2-4 times in that period. Examples and Nonexamples Why use SMART goals? By now, you can see how to write or recognize a SMART goal, but why should you insist that your child's IEP contain them? Simply put, a SMART goal is going to contain everything your child's IEP team will need to know in order to work towards the goal, determine progress, and, ultimately, know when the child has achieved it. Using the SMART criteria can take the guesswork out of it. If you want more in depth information about IEP goals, check out this SLP's post about it. To read more about how the importance of SMART goals, check out this website. I have also included a SMART goal template that can help you determine if the goals on your child's next IEP have everything they need. You can find it on the Resources page. As always, if you need support or advice about IEP goals, contact me to set up a free 30-minute consultation to see how an advocate can help you take the stress out of IEP meetings.
- Let Me Introduce...
Start the school year right by creating a fact sheet for your child's school staff Hit the Ground Running A new school year is upon us and that can bring some anxiety about how your child will do this year. There will likely be new staff members, support staff, and teachers working with your child, so how can you get a head start on having the new people get to know your child? All new staff members working with your child should have read through your child's IEP before school starts, but it is a good idea to make a one or two page fact sheet that highlights the most important things you want an educator to know about your child. This is also an easy way to open communication with staff in order to advocate for your child more effectively. What to Include A one page student fact sheet doesn't have to be complicated. Some possible information can include: Child's name, grade, age, birthday Parent name(s) and contact information Strengths, interests, hobbies, or favorite activities Social skills you're working on Learning style (hands-on, visual, auditory, etc.) Reinforcers and motivators Summary of goals Strategies for behavior supports Keep it Simple A fact sheet doesn't need to be complicated, and you definitely don't need to recreate the wheel. If you don't know where to start, try out the free templates on the Resources page in the Parent Resources and Information folder. Or Write a Letter Instead If you want to provide more information than a one pager, try writing a letter. Just remember that the beginning of the school year is hectic for educators and you probably won't get them to read a novella about your child, so keep it short and to the point. Remember that this can serve as a quick reference guide to help make those first few weeks a bit smoother. Here are some other ideas: Older students can fill out this form with your help Write a letter to the child's teacher Use this template to organize your thoughts No matter what template you choose, make it personalized and easy to read. It's also a good idea to have your child help you decide what to include. For smaller children, you can even include a little drawing to give to the teacher.
- Back to School: IEP paperwork organization
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. 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.