Handling Stressful IEP Meetings
We all have them: those stressful IEP meetings when you and the parent have some differences when it comes to objectives or service times. It doesn't matter if you've been in the field for 1 year or 30 years, we all experience those meetings.
The following are some suggestions that I have found help relieve the stress, as well as maintain (or establish) good rapport with the parent:
- Be prepared. Go into the meeting with test results, written results of observations, data collection, progress charts, attendance records; whatever you have to support your recommendation.
- If possible, have a "meeting before the meeting" with the school personnel involved. There's nothing worse than going into a meeting only to discover that school personnel aren't on the same page. Have an outline of the meeting, know who is going to present what information, and discuss any situations that may be brought up by the parent. Having a script of what you're going to say during the meeting will keep you on track and help you to remember the key points you want to make.
- Remember that you're the professional. When you have a meeting that involves advocates as well as professionals outside of the school setting, it can be a bit intimidating. Sit up straight, shoulders back, and make sure you dress as a professional. Chances are, the other attendees are also intimidated; especially since they are not in their typical setting.
- Be flexible. In the early years in my career, I had a special education director tell me that I needed to learn to be more flexible. Learn to pick your battles: if you feel strongly about a recommendation, make sure you have the documentation to back it up.
- Remember that you're part of a team. As public school speech pathologists, we're used to being the case manager, and thus having the parents' trust when presenting the IEP. When a parent brings in an independent evaluation, the team looks to the SLP to interpret the information, and then present it to them so that they have enough information to take the report into consideration. It is the team's responsibility to determine whether or not the report is applicable to the educational setting.
While all of the suggestions are important, documentation is probably, in my opinion, the most important. Having worked in a nursing home for a couple of years, I learned just how important documentation is. I can't even begin to tell you how many times I heard: "If it's not on paper, it didn't happen." When writing a Present Level Of Performance, share it with the special education teacher, LEA, and any other member of the IEP team. They may be able to help you reword phrases, or play "Devil's Advocate," which could prepare you for questions the parent may have.
Finally, remember that the parents want the best for their child. Parents are learning to become advocates for their children, and know their rights. It is our responsibility to listen to them and take their concerns into consideration, and the team's responsibility to develop an appropriate plan that will best benefit the child.
Mary Cooper is a speech language pathologist for Blount County, Tenn., schools. A graduate of East Tennessee State University (BS in Communicative Disorders) and Georgia State University (MEd in speech pathology), she is the author of the blog "Old School Speech" at oldschoolspeech.blogspot.com.