Navigating IEPs: IEP Steps for Educators

Guest post by Laurel Mendoza, MA, CCC-SLP, in partnership with eLuma Online Therapy.

As an educator, you’ve likely participated in an Individualized Education Program, or IEP. The IEP process plays a central role in the world of special education services. IEP steps include evaluating a student’s strengths and challenges, gathering input from parents, teachers, and other professionals, and collaborating to create a plan that lays out the specialized instruction, accommodations and support, and services the student will receive in school.

Educators, because you work so closely with students, you play a significant role in the IEP process. Whether you’re a new teacher participating in the IEP steps for the first time or a seasoned educator, it’s important to be prepared. Here are several tips to help you feel prepared and confident for your next IEP:

Before the IEP meeting

  • Find an IEP checklist or template you like to help you stay organized throughout the process. 
  • If you are initiating the referral, follow your district’s procedures and be prepared to express specific concerns regarding the student’s academic performance. You can pull work samples to help illustrate the student’s areas of need.
  • If you are the case manager, you will need input and data from other educators. Reach out to them to make the request, and be sure to give them ample time to submit their information before the meeting.
  • Be prepared to discuss the student’s present levels in various areas, including but not limited to reading, math, communication skills, motor skills, and social-emotional skills. Work and data samples will support your concerns here as well. 
  • Make note of your recommendations regarding goals, accommodations, or modifications. 
  • Connect with the student’s family before the IEP meeting to provide them with information about what to expect from the meeting. Developing a relationship with the family before the meeting will put them at ease and ensure everyone feels like they are on the same team.

During the IEP meeting

  • Verbalize guidelines for the meeting to ensure every team member’s time and thoughts are respected.
    • Example: Asking members to silence their cell phones, speak one at a time, and remember the common goal of the meeting, which is to address the student’s needs. 
  • IEP meetings can often be emotionally taxing or tense. Set a positive tone for the meeting by prefacing with a statement such as this one:
    • Example: “Before we begin this IEP meeting, I just want to take a moment to tell you how amazing your child is. Although we’re going to discuss your child’s challenges, we are all aware that they are so much more than the sum of their deficits.” 
  • When discussing a student’s performance, use the “sandwich” method – state a positive trait, address an area of need, and end with another positive.
  • Listen to understand, not to respond. Be present and fully participate.
  • If the student is present, invite them to share their own perspectives on their strengths and struggles. 
  • Check for understanding frequently. After going over each major section, ask the group if there are any questions.
  • Take notes. A student may be new to you or to the school, and taking notes will allow you to gather useful information, such as interventions that have worked or not worked in the past.

After the IEP meeting:

  • Implement the accommodations and modifications recommended in the IEP.
  • Track progress, perhaps with tracking charts like this one
  • Communicate when something isn’t working. If a specific intervention was implemented without success, the IEP team can offer modifications.
  • Continue to support the student’s family. Let them know you are happy to provide them with extra resources or information when needed.

As an educator, providing support for your student throughout the IEP steps can be done in a variety of ways, only some of which are specified above. By being prepared, empathetic, and actively involved, you can help ensure the IEP process is a success!

Additional Resources:

Everyday Speech has really changed the way my students are able to learn and generalize social skills. There is video modeling and instruction for so many of the skills that are needed in daily life that my students can actually relate to. It is by far the best purchase I have made!

– Catherine D., M.S., CCC-SLP

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