Talking to Parents about the IEP
Before the IEP Meeting
The IEP might not be familiar to parents who are learning for the first time that their child requires the additional support such a document provides. When the school team announces to the parents that it intends to develop an IEP to meet their child’s needs, it can result in two opposite emotion reactions. Some parents will recognize their child’s special needs. These parents may feel relieved and supported when an IEP is suggested. For other parents, having to face their child’s difficulties may result in feelings of disappointment, annoyance and even sense of failure.
No matter what their reaction is, it is important to invite parents to participate in the IEP development process. This is an ideal opportunity to show parents to what extent the school team knows their child (providing evidence, for example by sharing an anecdote showing happy times between a staff member and the child). In addition, a more personal invitation, made directly, will make it possible to quickly assess the parent’s attitude and to be sure to adjust actions accordingly. Furthermore, the time spent informing parents about what an IEP is and listening to their fears and apprehensions greatly decreases any anxiety felt regarding this official procedure and encourages them to be active participants throughout the entire process. This is also the right moment for the school team to ask the parents for information that it is seeking. In this way, the parents can feel that they are valued, listened to, and that their input is being considered.
Talking to parents before the IEP meeting can:
- Allow the school team to show parents that they care for the student and their learning is a priority for everyone involved in the IEP process.
- Allow educators to assess the family’s attitude towards their child’s learning struggles
- Decrease anxiety around the IEP process
- Allow parents to contribute information
During the IEP Meeting
At all times, educators must ensure that parents have correctly understood the obstacles encountered by their children at school. It can be complex for someone who does not work in education to understand the impact certain behaviours or difficulties can have not only on learning, but also on the student’s progress. Also, care should be taken to ensure that more specific education-related terms (IEP, modified expectations, transition plan, level of achievement, etc.) are meaningful to the parents.
During IEP meetings, a huge amount of information is conveyed and educational jargon is used, which can lead to moments of uncertainty, confusion, or inattention. Thus, some students with LDs and even parents may have trouble maintaining attention or understanding fully what was discussed. Whether it is a graphic organizer or an illustrated metaphor, visual aids can help families understand the discourse and more abstract concepts, such as educational differentiation.
After the IEP Meeting
Leave some time for the parents and the child to become familiar with a preliminary version of the IEP. This will certainly contribute to more active involvement during the meeting since the parents can digest the essential information ahead of time, without any worries, and jot down their questions, if applicable. This will enable the parents to arrive at the meeting with a feeling of being engaged in the process of developing the IEP and a sense of being included as part of the team supporting their child. It is easy to increase the impact by proposing a few leading questions: “What works well for you?”, “What would you like to change at school?”, “Which school task, and not just a subject, is difficult for you?”. Otherwise, providing a significant preparatory activity to do at home will allow the parents and the child to have a discussion for which guidelines have been set out on strengths and needs, but also on the different strategies that seem to be the most winning. This can be in the format of a self-assessment grid on the use of accommodations, or a self-awareness questionnaire. In addition to creating engagement in the IEP process, this will contribute to developing the child’s self-determination, which is a major factor of success during school transitions.
For more tips on talking to families before, during and after the IEP process, click the play button below to listen to a clip from the TalkLD podcast episode, “Managing Parent-Teacher Relationships”. In this clip, Lawrence Barns speaks with Kelli Cote, a parent of a child with LDs and an educator who has worked with many families of students with LDs. Having both been through the IEP process with their children, Lawrence and Kelli share their tips for educators to support parents: