As a parent of two boys on the Autism Spectrum and a high school teacher, I have the pleasure of sitting on both sides of the table in numerous Individual Education Plan (IEP) meetings. Some have been productive while others were frustrating and unbearable. Despite my perspective of the outcome, it is the child who ultimately gains or loses the most from the meeting.
I’m hoping to give some advice to both teachers and parents to help make these annual meetings productive for everyone involved–especially the student.
Start with perspective
As a teacher, I have experienced meetings that made me feel as if they went well and everyone was on board. I have also sat in meetings feeling like I was dealing with parents who were overly protective of their child–one who is unwilling to allow the child to take responsibility for his/her development.
As a parent, I have experienced meetings that made me feel as if they went well and everyone was on board. I have also sat in meetings feeling like I was dealing with a teacher who was difficult and unwilling to accommodate my son.
I am sure that I have been viewed as both a caring and supportive teacher and the in unaccommodating teacher as I am also sure I’ve been viewed as the open and involved parent as well as the overbearing and narrow minded parent.
The truth is, I care deeply about my students’ and my children’s success and want their educational experience to be positive, enriching, and meaningful. I did not become a teacher to make my students’ lives difficult, nor do I walk into my boys’ school looking to tear the teachers apart and make them cringe. In both cases, I am there because I care.
I think the first thing that both parents and teachers need to assume when entering the meeting is that everyone sitting around the table has an invested interest in doing what’s best for the student. If that can be a starting point, then it lays a foundation for success. However, in accepting that every member is there for the student, we have to concede that what each person values may be different. Some parents want more structure for their student while others what more choice and acceptance. Some teachers value compliance and teaching routine and responsibility while other teachers will emphasize creativity and choice. These are all acceptable models and can act as positive experiences for the student.
Allow all parties to have a voice
Often, during the IEP meeting can appear to be mostly one-sided. Because these meetings take personal and/or professional time, there is often an unspoken consensus to get through the meeting as quickly as possible. The moderator will often start with allowing the classroom teacher to speak first so he/she can leave as soon as possible. The teacher will present her narrative of the student’s successes and struggles, will ask if the parent has any questions, and is welcome to leave. There is something missing from this. Often the parent and student’s narrative are left out of the equation.
The moderator should should start the meeting by asking both the child and/or parent (depending upon the age and ability of the child) the following questions:
- Are there any subjects, units, or projects your child is bragging about?
- Were there any that your child has complained about?
- What homework assignments have been enriching for the family?
- Have there been any that caused undue stress?
- What are some things your child likes about school?
- Is there something your child is frustrated with?
These questions can better inform teachers about the behaviors of the child and his/her attitude toward school. They will also give the student and the parent a voice that can help make school a more positive experience for everyone. And if time is an element, have the parent and student complete a questionnaire prior to the meeting. If the meeting is about the student, who knows him or her better than the student and the parent.
Think outside the box
We all have our routines and expectations and sometimes they do not match those of others. Allow ourselves to remember it is the child’s education and it is the parent and teacher’s role to promote learning and not satisfy our preconceived ideas of education.
Many of the accommodations written into the IEP are generic such as:
- More time to complete assignments.
- Preferential seating.
- Modify the number of problems to be completed.
- The ability to test in an alternative setting.
These are all good, but they do not always address the individual interests and needs of the student. I think we can be more creative in developing accommodations for the child.
I had a conversation with a parent of a boy with autism who said her child struggled to write. The boy had an essay due for P.E. on the benefits of physical exercise. The boy had no interest in the topic nor in the task. I told her to find out what it was the P.E. teacher ultimately wanted the child to learn. Was it to write effectively? Was it to understand the benefits of exercise? Did these objectives need to be combined?
If the objective was to understand the benefits of exercise could the student make a poster, create a PowerPoint, write a story, put together a brochure, or make a video? Could the child tap into his personal interest and do research on a video game that promotes exercise or develop an idea for a game that would require physical activity?
If there is a need to integrate writing into the assignment could the student write a short essay about what he liked about the project or how he could have done it differently? There are so many options the child could pursue that would meet the learning objective and accommodate the child.
In one of my son’s IEP meetings the math teacher said she allowed students to use notes on her test. The problem is my son struggles with processing too much information. To organize himself to read and think about the problems on the test and then to correlate those questions to words scratched on notepaper is too much for him, so he does not use his notes when he takes tests. We came up with a strategy to better focus him and use the available resources. Prior to the test, the teacher would highlight notes to match the questions to which they correspond on the notes. Later on we will start having him highlight his own notes and then eventually highlight both test and notes.
If parties are willing to think outside the box, solutions can be found.
Request alternate grade reporting
If the child struggles with a specific subject parents can request an alternative grade reporting systems such as Standards Based IEP and a pass/fail grade.
Standards Based IEPs require students to be assessed only on the standards. This makes it clearer to all (teachers, parents, and student) what learning targets are expected of the student. Formative items like homework, classwork, and other compliance pieces are not calculated into the grade–only summative assessments on the learning objectives.
Requesting a Pass/Fail grade will allow the student to earn credit for the class without it calculating against the GPA. A Pass/Fail grade can make it clearer as to what the student needs to be doing a class and the grade is not seen as punitive.
Allow all parties the opportunity to settle into the new accommodations. However, either the parent or the teacher should follow up to discuss the effectiveness of the IEP. Be willing to share what is working and what is not. Brag about successes but be willing to make adjustments.
When all parties work together agreeing that the IEP is about the child and are willing to listen and think creatively the child will reap the benefit of a dynamic education that takes his/her interests and needs into account and learning will flourish.
What are some positive, innovative IEP accommodations you have seen? Please share them in the comments below.