As special education teachers one of our main responsibilities is to develop Individual Education Programs (IEP's) along with a team of individuals including the child's parents or caregivers. The process is very time consuming for Special Education teachers. It is not usual spend upwards to several hours just gathering information and getting ready to conduct the IEP meeting as well as write it. Some IEP's are only a few pages long but others, especially for a child who needs many services, can be twenty or more pages.
The purpose of the IEP is for a team to develop goals and objectives as well as outlining services the child needs for the at least the next year. IEP's are written annually and some require revising or writing more often.
Each individual on the team is supposed to have input into helping develop the IEP goals. The key term here is "supposed". While some team members are more involved than others, the burden of producing and writing a correct IEP is on the Special Education teacher.
As often happens, the Spec. Ed. teacher arranges the meeting, sends out the needed notices to the participants and then will write the IEP. While the goals and objectives are usually written during the meeting itself, the Spec. Ed. teacher has a good idea as to what goals to include. She has also spent time writing the narratives for other parts of the IEP.
Team members who are invited to the meeting have little or no input into the process and will just show up to sign the document produced. Ideally, the team members who should have most of the input into the IEP are the Spec. Ed teacher, classroom teacher, key support personnel and the parents.
The struggle that most Spec. Ed. teachers face is how to get the parents to become more of a participant in the IEP. Parents along with their child are the key stake holders in developing an appropriate IEP. What can Spec. Ed teachers do to get parents more involved in the process?
Here are 12 tips for Special Ed teachers to get the parent involved in the process:
1. Prior to the IEP meeting, the Special Ed. teacher should interview the parent to see what their concerns are for their child and what goals and objectives they would like to see implemented in the IEP.
2. At least a week before the meeting, send home a list of possible goals and objectives for the parent to review and make additions to or corrections to them.
3. Probably the most important is to set a time for the meeting that is mutually agreeable to all but most especially the parent.
4. Be sure during the meeting to welcome comments and concern that the parent may have. Ask questions specifically addressed to them. Don't let anyone interrupt them.
5. If a parent begins to speak, let them and be sure that others allow time for them to talk as well. If team members feel the need to talk among themselves while the parent is talking, ask them to go out of the room so that a parent does not have to compete with others attention.
6. Keep a steady flow of communication with the parents all the time – not just at the IEP meeting.
7. Keep the parent appraised of what is happening with their child. This means not just report card or parent conference time. This means at other times as well. This way the parent can know what is working and what isn't working.
8. Let the parent know of successes their child has experienced as well as what things need to be done differently.
9. During the meeting be sure to acknowledge the parent as a part of the team and let the other members of the team know that what they are saying and discussing is important.
10. As teachers we get very attached to the children we work with, especially those that we work with for multiple years. It is important that we keep in mind that this child, for whom we are meeting, is not our child but belongs to the parent. We may not always agree with the parent but their wishes should be considered and acknowledged.
11. The most important skill we can develop as facilitators of meetings is to listen, listen and listen when the parent talks. This means active listening – with eyes and ears.
12. Lastly, let the parent know that you care about their child and about them as a family. Parents of children with Special Needs often need reassuring that their child is a part of the classroom, has friends and others who care for them.
Try these tips and see if they help to get parents more involved in the IEP process.