As parents, we are passionate about our child’s educational needs. We want to run into our IEP meetings screaming, “Listen to me, I’m the expert!” Unfortunately, what the school wants you to hear is usually the same message. So how do we bridge that gap? How do we get the staff and administration to open their ears when we have valid, pertinent information to share? Below are some tips for approaching the school that might get you farther toward that goal.
- Be prepared. Have a copy of your IEP, any recent medical records, outside psychological reports or testing with you. You don’t necessarily want to go into your first meeting with a file cabinet full, but you do want to make the impression that you are informed and ready to share.
- Have a list of parental concerns ready. It’s best to send that in before the meeting, but just a day or two ahead. If you have goal suggestions, include those too.
- Look professional. It’s hard to take someone seriously when they’re dressed in sweats.
- Bring an advocate, spouse or friend. That person should come prepared to take notes and cue you if you are forgetting anything important. Another professional to consider bringing is your child’s counselor. I don’t recommend going in with more than two people…at least the first round. You don’t want to seem like you are armored for war. Don’t bring your spouse if his/her approach is going to set off a security call to the police!
- Be appreciative. I know that sometimes the teacher or social worker is driving you crazy, but if you can find one positive thing to say about them it can break the ice. Consider putting a compliment in your parental concern letter.
- If you think the team isn’t going to be receptive to a particular concern, consider acting dumb! Stroke their egos. I know it seems contrary, but it can work. For example use sentences that start with, “I’m confused…, “Maybe you can explain how…”, “I know you work with him every day so maybe you can tell me…”.
- Listen! Let them talk. Sometimes you can get the school personnel to open up the subjects you most want to talk about or they’ll bring up an issue that is becoming a problem for them that will open the door to new services for your child.
- Consider their time and how long IEP meetings take. Sometimes working out a separate time with only the key staff that are needed to make decisions about any items left on your agenda is a good idea. Just be sure that official notes are taken or that you type a letter outlining what you think was covered for them to confirm or dispute.