Hearing that your child is struggling or not meeting expectations is difficult for any parent to hear. Professionals share both strengths and deficits of children in the IEP process, however more time is spent on meeting deficit areas in order for the child to receive proper support. While the goal of an IEP is to provide a struggling student with the support they need for success, parents may come to these meetings with feelings of anxiety. Parents are important members of the IEP team, and there are several things that school professionals can do to help parents through the IEP process, helping them feel less anxious.
Ask the Parent for Their Input
After the necessary paperwork, start the meeting by asking parents for any concerns they want addressed. Ask again after Present Levels and Goals are shared. Document these in parent concerns or in additional notes. If a draft is sent home, you can ask for concerns when sending the draft. This practice is important for making the parent feel valued, heard, and part of the IEP team.
Share the Positive
You’re about to spend the next hour going over all the ways a child may be struggling academically or behaviorally. It’s hard for parents to hear. A great way to make the parent realize that everyone is there because they care about the child is to start the meeting with this simple, positive ritual. Go in a circle and have everyone on the team share one thing they enjoy about working with the student. From the way they make their peers laugh or their wonderful imagination, there are many ways a child can excel outside of their academics. Share it!
Share the Data
All goals should be tied to data and documentation within present levels. Help parents interpret this data and connect the data to the goal written to support the deficit. It can be as easy as sharing where a child is performing now and where you want them to perform in the future, and explaining how you will implement and measure the goal.
Pause Frequently to Make Room For Questions
Present levels of functional performance? Accessibility features? To educators, these terms come naturally. But to parents, all this educational jargon may be new. Avoid using acronyms and explain each section’s purpose of the IEP as you go. Once the meeting begins, let the parent know that they may hear some terms that they’re not familiar with and assure them that you will answer any questions they may have.
Provide the Parent with an IEP Folder
The paperwork involved in IEPs can be overwhelming for educators and parents alike. Arranging these documents into a bright, well-organized folder or binder can really help make all of the data and information feel more manageable. Add colored tabs to separate sections of the IEP, put dividers between other paperwork, and most importantly, put the contact information of one of the educators, administrators, or case managers at the front, and assure the parent that this person is available to answer any of their questions or listen to their concerns, even after the meeting has concluded.
With professional and friendly relationships established between the parent and the school, IEP meetings can be an incredible time of collaboration.