I asked the parent from the IEP meeting I described in this IEP article to share her thoughts about creating a cooperative environment with the IEP team. Here is what she had to say:

“As a parent of a unique learner, I know how much each of us wants to help our child. And we can feel pretty emotional about it!

IEP’s can create anxiety for several reasons. First, there is all kinds of legal paperwork that feels like a barrier to begin with. Then you have a group of people who all feel like they are across the table and you will need to fight to protect your child.

I get these emotions. The trouble is, they aren’t a true reflection of what is actually happening in the meeting. I found that by viewing the whole process differently I could approach the meeting with a much different mindset. That made a huge difference in the outcome for my son.

First, I choose to see the legal paperwork as evidence that I don’t have to fight for services. I don’t have to get anybody to do what they should, because they are already mandated by state and federal governments.

The second, and more important factor in my opinion, is how I view the other people in that room. To begin with, I assume that these are people who went into education because they liked kids and want to help them. This is my choice to believe that. It doesn’t matter if this is even true – it’s my view of other people that results in my emotions and thoughts toward them. I also view the people in the room as being on my son’s team with me. I assume going in that we all want the same thing.

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I know how defensive the staff can feel, and I didn’t want that to be a factor in my son getting help. So, every IEP, I would start it off with the tone that I wanted. As the meeting leader would start handing around the sign in sheets and other paperwork, I would say something like this:

‘Before we get started, I just wanted to let you know how much I appreciate each of you being here and what you are already doing to help my son. Being a parent of a unique learner can be painful and you can feel really alone and unsure of how to help your child. Having you all here and part of my son’s team is a relief to me. Anything you are able to do to help my son is deeply appreciated!’

Sometimes I would say more, but I always, completely, 100% meant every word.

Suddenly, no one in the room was defensive. We were immediately on the same team, and, in my view, everyone worked harder to find solutions that would really help.

Now, I still needed to be assertive and contribute my views on what would or would not help my child. I remember one meeting where the proposed solution was having my son take a paper from teacher to teacher to make sure he had written down his homework for that day. While I knew kids that this did work for, I knew it wouldn’t be effective for my son. By this time, he was in high school, and I knew pretty well what did and didn’t work for him.

I shared how many academic planners we had purchased that had never been used, except for drawing space. Then I shared that I personally didn’t use that type of calendar. I had much better results from using the calendar on my phone with reminders set.

I told the team that what I wanted was to give my son tools that he could actually use in his adult life. That I cared more about him learning to manage his time and obligations in a way that was effective for him than I did about whether he read page 47 in his history book.

Blasphemy, I know. But my son came up with a simple method to remember where his important papers were.

I made it clear to the teachers that when I emailed them to clarify the directions for an assignment, it was not because I thought that they hadn’t gone over it. Rather, because my son didn’t retain information in the way it was given, there were holes in his understanding. When I understood the assignment, I could explain it in a way he did understand.

This type of approach worked really well. I want to point out that it was genuinely how I felt. If you don’t currently feel that way, understand that you can choose to view the situation in a different way. After all, you really are all on the same team. Why not try to set a tone that will result in productive goals being set with solid plans that everyone feels positive about implementing. That works so much better than a battle!”

Read the article How to Make the Most out of an IEP.

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