It is fall and IEP season is upon us.
IEPs suck. I hate them, even the word makes me angry, although that's a totally different post. Unfortunately, they are a necessary part of being a parent or caregiver of a special needs child. So today what I want to talk about are three things that you can do to make this IEP process work for you to get the most out of it that you possibly can.
IEPs are tricky. If you've never been to one before and this is your first rodeo you are going to learn a ton. I did a lot of research before I started going to them and I still learned a ton after my first IEP meeting. Actually, I didn't have a firm sense of what was going on, and really how to operate it until I had been through about two or three. These are the successful techniques that I know to make your IEPs productive, collaborative and positive.
Number one food. I know that sounds weird, but food is important. When you break bread with people, there's a sense of community. I don't care who you are, bringing food just sets the tone. It lets the staff and therapists know that you're there for them too; that you're a team player. Not only that, but if you are a hard advocate for your child like I am, IEP meetings are not short. They're almost never an hour. Usually they are about an hour and a half. I have been in more than one IEP meeting that has been longer than two hours.
Bring food. Whether it’s the end of the day, middle of the day, or in the morning everybody appreciates having something to nibble on in a meeting. This doesn't have to cost a lot of money. Pick up a fruit tray at the grocery store or a bunch of doughnuts on your way into the school in the morning. Whatever it is, it's appreciated, even if nobody eats it, which is not really the point anyway. (Although now people make sure they don't eat when they know they're coming to my IEP meetings because I am sure to always have something to snack on.)
Number two, intention. This is critical. I cannot overstate how important it says. If you go into an IEP meeting and declare war, you've lost. You can't, nobody wins when you go to war, everyone loses. So your intention going into the IEP needs to be one of collaboration and support. I said I was a hard advocate for my son and I am, but that means I am equally a hard advocate for his IEP team. There are a lot of people with this idea that they need to fight the school to get services for their kid. I'm not saying you're not supposed to advocate and sometimes you do have to push very hard, you do. But this is not a fight. And most importantly, it's not a personal fight.
There are, in truth, more teachers that are actually in special education that love special education, then there are people who don't care about your kid.
Most of the teaching staff really loves your kid.
I know there are a few offsetters. I know there are a few assholes, but by and large, most people are really there because they want to be. It's the system that's broken y'all, not the people. If you're fighting against anything you're fighting against the system, not the teacher you see across from you in the IEP meeting. Your job is to support them too. And when you go into an IEP meeting with the intention of advocating for the staff as hard as you advocate for your child, everything changes.
What do you need, how can I help you? Is there something that you need me to do? How are you doing? All of these things go a long way towards making sure that your child is actually getting access to the services that they really need and you really want for them. And this is because this intention is birthed from my third point, leadership.
Number three leadership. Any intention should be set from a place of leadership. It took me a little while to figure this out because when you're new to this process, you feel like you're just kind of being drug along and the staff and administration are sort of telling you what's happening. But what you really want to do is go in there with an air of leadership. You are in control of this, not the teaching staff even if they make you feel differently at your first IEP meeting. While decisions are supposed to be made collaboratively, this is your rodeo. So when you go into an IEP meeting, as if you're the chairman of the board, everything shifts. The reason why that intention step is so important is because it comes from leadership. See real leadership is not bossy. It is not accusational or blaming or pushy or angry or aggressive. It's service-oriented. It's collaborative, it's supportive. It's positive, it looks for strengths. It finds win-wins. That's leadership, y'all.
So yes, you are leading this rodeo. You are the chairman of the board. You are the CEO of this process. Your child your rules, but you need to do it with an air of leadership. When you go into a space, and you portray yourself as the leader with confidence, there's no longer this panic energy of needing to fight for scraps for your kid to get the services they need. You walk into that space as if you own it because you are confident that you are going to be able to find solutions. When you are bringing yourself to the table, leading, supporting, and advocating for the staff, including the administration sometimes, then you're going to find people who enjoy working with you and want to do their best to make it as good as possible. This is just really simple cause and effect shit. When you help and support people, they want to help and support you. And being the leader in this environment is exactly the space that you're supposed to take up. I dress professionally for my meetings. I walk in with all of my paperwork and a little folder. I portray the outcome that I want, and I bring food and a smiling face. It's a win win for everybody.
A couple of things start happening when you set yourself up like this. First, the process is so much more enjoyable. You don't leave crying, you're not fuming and angry. You're not distressed. Everything is just a little bit more relaxed and easy and relational building even. The other thing that starts happening is people really do start taking you seriously and listening to what you have to say. The start making shifts for you so that you get what you want. The more you can do this, the more this process helps your kid out, the more it helps your kid out, the less stress you feel and the more confidence and power and control you feel like you have over the situation. Another huge bonus is that every win you and your child has, helps every child in that classroom. Promise.
Hopefully you’ve noticed that only one of these things has anything to do with what’s going on outside. Everything else is happening behind the scenes up in your head. These shifts, these mental mindset shifts are absolutely critical to the success of your child in the classroom. Whatever it is that that looks like for you.
So I hope that's helpful. Take these tips guys and run with them. Do you have some tips for successful IEP meetings? Got a great story? Had a good experience?
What about a bad one? Do you need more? Reach out, maybe I can help.
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